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Book Review: The Natural Order of Things

The Natural Order of ThingsKevin P. Keating's debut novel, is set in a decaying Midwestern neighborhood where the only semblance of its former glory resides in the all-boys Jesuit school. While Keating is from Ohio, the 15 interweaving stories could take place in any Midwestern town that has been witness to its own decline. Through parents, teachers, students, and priests Keating reveals some of the darker elements of the human condition and how they, inevitably, affect the whole.

The Natural Order of Things by Kevin P. KeatingKeating's work has been compared to a lot of writers, and even his name hearkens back to such greats as John Keats, which certainly can't hurt his credibility. I honestly couldn't tell you if his writing resembles anything of Keats', because Keats isn't a writer I fangirl over. However, I will gladly share that from the first few pages there is a resounding Joycean quality to Keating's language and the world I had been invited to enter.

If you've ever read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the image of prostitutes scurrying about in front of the school, followed by that of the boys kneeling to pray to the school's saintly namesake will bring back fond memories. At the time, I had no idea if Keating himself was Catholic. Though I eventually discovered he, too, attended a Jesuit school, it was almost irrelevant because, regardless of his personal background, he creates scenes that are so alive on the page that they are real.

Considering the many praises and literary comparisons, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised that I found myself thinking about his prose, characters, and scenes even when I wasn't engrossed in the book itself. Like Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Keating's novel follows a multitude of "main" characters. At times confusing, the chapters and individual stories progress in a way that connects any missing links—and, in all honesty, I'm not sure it's even necessary to keep it all in a proper line with novels such as these.

The Natural Order of Things isn't anything I'd recommended for: the perpetual optimist, faint of heart, easily offended, or anyone else that sees the world through rose-colored glasses. But for a realist, or anyone intrigued by the darker aspects of humanity, Keating offers sex, sin, violence, and misdeeds all underpinned with the hint of salvation. The Natural Order of Things was my first taste of Kevin P. Keating, but I find myself wanting more.


Ashley Houk is an Online Editorial Assistant for Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. When she’s not reviewing books and producing online content for Ogden, she’s probably still reading and vigorously scribbling poems, or blog posts of her own. Find her on and .


Book Review: Slip of the Tongue

Slip of the Tongue is an exploration of linguistics, but not the linguistics you’re probably thinking of with gutturals and palatization. Katie Haegele’s version is presented through her life experiences and surroundings, along with some serious linguistics education. The book is short, broken into two sections: Essays (the longer of the two) and Journalism. In both sections, however, we see how Haegele uses language to make sense of the world and her place in it.

Slip of the Tongue

What Haegele does well is being herself. She writes with honesty and fondness for her family, memories, and relationship with language. If language is what makes us human, Katie Haegele is one human I wouldn’t hate to know.

Her essays revolve around varied and relatable personal experiences that bring a smile to the face—even when they’re a bit sad. In one essay, Haegele acknowledges that we all probably hate our handwriting, yet assures us that she loves it, for what it says about who we are. As someone who doesn’t hate her handwriting, I still find it odd when others rave about it. But what really struck me, as a writer and bit of a word-nerd, is the research and science behind how handwriting affects language. After thinking about it, I can attest that I do create differently and find a wider array of words when writing by hand than, say, pounding it out on a keyboard. These themes of word use and changes in language culture carry into her journalism as well.

While I wasn’t as struck and “in love” with the journalism section, Haegele still manages to present her subjects with a tenderness and warmth that I would assume is not often associated with graffiti, Noah Webster’s first American dictionary, or the word “ye.” Yet, she manages to spread the same clever wit and jovial spirit through all of her observations.

Haegele’s voice is fresh and distinctive, and she covers everything from how a single word can encompass an entire being, to obsolete words and regionalisms, to how different languages offer us things that English simply cannot. Haegele’s presence and language subtly invites the reader into her life and to become a part of it. Part memoir and part intellectual ruminations on language, how we use it, and how it has changed, Slip of the Tongue will please anyone who fancies themselves a logophile or linguistics genius, or even just someone looking for a good, fun book.

Still not sure? Read an excerpt from Slip of the Tongue.


Ashley Houk is an Online Editorial Assistant for Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. When she’s not reviewing books and producing online content for Ogden, she’s probably still reading and vigorously scribbling poems, or blog posts of her own. Find her on and .


Book Review: The Infinite Resource

 infinite resource new  

“Our challenge isn’t that we’re running out of energy. It’s that we’re tapped into the wrong source—the small, finite one that we’re depleting,” writes computer scientist, Ramez Naam in his book The Infinite Resource, a refreshingly thorough roadmap of solutions to our energy and climate crisis.

“We live on a planet that is a mostly closed system for raw materials… But the earth is not a closed system for energy. We have a huge and continual influx of energy,” Naam explains. At the current rate, the world uses seventeen terawatts of power a day; the sun strikes the earth with as much power in only nine seconds.

While media saturates us with the doom and gloom of our unsustainable raw material-powered society, Naam is geared toward the action phase, outlining a solid, supercharged course. The Infinite Resource comprehensively offers the facts of our crisis, emphasizes its criticality, and moves along toward crafty innovation ideas, encouraging the employment of our most powerful resource: our minds. “We can, as it turns out, make choices about the structure of our societies that affect the pace of innovation,” he writes, citing examples throughout human history of overcoming crisis with brainpower.

The Infinite Resource illustrates how the cost per kilowatt of alternative energies deterred tapping into the methods in the past, but shows how wind is now competitive with the wholesale prices of coal and natural gas. Solar is experiencing the rapid learning curve in manufacturing efficiency necessary in making it a competitively affordable alternative.

Further alternatives include mining the air and using genes found in the gut flora of termites to break down cellulose. He tackles ideas of carbon taxes, fixing our markets to properly account for the value of the commons, investing to fund long-range innovation, embracing technologies that improve our lives and the planet, and empowering all humans educationally to turn them into assets to produce ideas for the betterment of society.

Naam closes with a picture of the world circa 2100 on the track that he proposes, not a world struggling toward survival, but a world with abundance to meet the needs of its inhabitants. A world still visibly healing its wounds, but a world with lessons learned.

 

 

Long Live the Palomino Blackwing 602

palomino blackwing

Nostalgia for a legendary pencil no longer in production paves the way for its return.

For fans of the vintage Blackwing 602 pencil produced by Eberhard Faber from 1934 to 1998, a great pencil is hard to find.

Made legendary by John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim, and Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones, the Blackwing 602 featured smooth, dark lines and was known for its resilience. But in 1998, Eberhard Faber decided to cease production of the fabled writing utensil, forcing its cult following to pay as much as $40 for single, unsharpened examples on eBay.

The good news for Blackwing fanatics is that it’s back, albeit under a slightly different name. As Sam Scott reports in the January/February 2013 issue of Stanford, the Palomino Blackwing 602 produced by California Cedar Products Co. in Stockton, Calif., has earned recognition from enthusiasts as the second coming of the Blackwing. While it’s just an article about pencils, Scott’s piece about the resurrection of the Blackwing 602 is a fascinating look into how nostalgia still has value in our quickly changing society.


Image courtesy tsuacctnt, licensed under Creative Commons

Bookmarked: Monks, Yoga, and (Not) Shopping

Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy! 


 

The Monks And Me By Mary PatersonMary Paterson was forty years old when her father died and felt suddenly destabilized and adrift by the loss. Paterson’s response to this life crisis was to embark on a pilgrimage to Plum Village, the retreat of Nobel Prize-nominated Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The Monks and Me (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2012) chronicles her 40-day journey arriving at the conclusion that it is important to always find a home within ourselves. Mindful breathing and remembering The Four Noble Truths helps Paterson find peace among distractions in this excerpt taken from the introduction.


 


 

 

Fierce Medicine By Ana T ForrestAna T. Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, says the key to self-actualization is to understand your fear and then hunt it down. It’s not about killing fear but becoming its ally—taking its power. Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit (HarperOne, 2012), chronicles her transformation from an abusive childhood to her position as a national leader in emotional healing through Yoga. In this excerpt from chapter one, “Stalking Fear,” she tells of how to get past one of the biggest blocks to happiness through self-study and training—how to go from victim of fear to its attacker.


 


 

You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap) By Tammy StrobelTammy Strobel lives with her husband in 128 square feet. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. After years of living with high stress and high debts, the pair changed their attitude toward the stuff in their lives, deciding to dramatically cut the clutter. Strobel blogged about the lifestyle changes and found a huge, receptive audience. You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too (New World Library, 2012) is her “biographical manifesto,” a combination of her story and advice on how to join the simplicity movement.

Bookmarked: Arctic Tribes on Weather and Communities Holding Corporations Accountable

Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy!
 

Arctic Voices By Subhankar BanerjeeArctic Alaska has quickly become the most contested land in recent U.S. history. It’s home to vast natural resources and a precariously balanced—and highly threatened—ecosystem. In this excerpt from the collection Arctic Voices (Seven Stories Press, 2012), writer Nancy Lord gives an account of a gathering of Yup’ik Elders facing the troubles of thinning ice in the Bering Sea.


 


 


 


Civic Empowerment By Edward C. LorenzIn the late 1970s, the residents of St. Louis, Michigan, found their community in the middle of a Superfund site—an area of land and water deeply contaminated by Velsicol (formerly Michigan) Chemical. Years later, with the cleanup largely failing, a citizen taskforce took on responsibilities of rebuilding. In Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed (Michigan State University Press, 2012), professor Edward C. Lorenz evaluates several case studies in community development—perhaps the solution to rising, damaging corporate irresponsibility. In this excerpt from the book's introduction, Lorenz begins the argument that communities are the agents of civic reform.

 

Bookmarked: Monopolists & Fleas

Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy! 

 

The Endless CrisisThe increasing trend of monolithic companies taking over large shares of industry has created a “financialization-stagnation trap” that’s negatively affecting economies across the world, particularly in the Global South. That’s John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney’s argument in The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China (Monthly Review Press, 2012). In this excerpt from the book’s introduction, Foster and McChesney explain how understanding the rise of financialization stagnation is essential to understanding global class struggle.     

 



 

 

Killer StuffMillions of Americans are drawn to antiques and flea-market culture, whether as participants or as viewers of the perennially popular Antiques Roadshow or the recent hit American Pickers. This world has the air of a lottery: a $20 purchase might net you four, five or six figures. But as Killer Stuff and Tons of Money (Penguin Books, 2011) illustrates, you’ve got to know your history to find those hidden gems. Author Maureen Stanton shadows charismatic autodidact Curt Avery, a master dealer, to flea markets, auctions and high-end antiques shows—and discovers a true behind-the-scenes look that reveals the deep knowledge and obsessive passion necessary to earn a living selling old objects. Through the eyes of Curt Avery, learn how objects’ histories and aesthetics unfold in the flea market world in this excerpt taken from Chapter 1, “Opium Bottles and Knuckleheads.”