Some Books You Can Get Me For Christmas


Or my birthday. All you have to do is buy them first. But before first, you have to get someone to sell them. And before before first to publish them. So before before before first you need someone to write them. And before that has to be research. So, like, around fifth you have to buy them, and sixth give them to me.

Perfect Pitch: A History of Asphalt, the Construction Material that Changed the World. Sure, we all rate asphalt as one of the things roads are made of, but how much do we really know about them? Where does asphalt come from? Where does it go in spring when all the potholes appear? Finally a book that can help you keep up with that friend who’s a little too deeply into Nixie tubes and keeps correcting you when you say things about pavement. 318 pages.

Umbrellas: The Head Coverings that Made the Rain Avoidable, Created the Sun King, Saved America’s Space Station, and Changed the World. Who hasn’t remembered they left a travel-size umbrella in the car, for cases where they’re out somewhere and there’s a sudden rainstorm and they need to hold a small piece of fabric up with a bent metal skeleton until they get annoyed by it all? Partly a narrow-focus history, yes, but also partly an exporation of what the idea of being able to moderate the weather at will means to people. The umbrella takes us on a journey that connects to how society’s ideas of what outdoor recreation is for has changed, and how buildings have changed to control the climate rather than to harmonize with the climate for comfort. 422 pages including 26 pages of illustrations and pictures of impractical 19th-century umbrella-related patent follies.

What Color Is A Peace Conference: The Work of the Diplomats, Historians, Demographers, and Sociologists that Changed the World. If you’re like me you have a vague and very child-like idea what goes on at peace conferences. Like, these things usually take some time, but time doing what? The deepest thinking of my brain, which was able to earn an advanced degree in mathematics, is to imagine that one side’s rep says, “Stop shooting as us”. And then the other side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. If the first, great, they’re done. If the second, then the first side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. Either way, they’re done. So that takes maybe ten minutes, including the time it takes for everybody to forget each other’s names. What’s happening the rest of the conference? Don’t you want to know too? 240 pages.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Christmas Carol that Changed the World. How did this silly little anapestic tetrameter escape its department-store promotional origins? How did it turn into a beloved song, then beloved cartoon, then beloved song again, then beloved stop-motion animation project, and then core of the surprisingly intricate Rankin/Bass Main Continuity, and then the center of 38 known spoofs and comedic rants? It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2006 it was still pretty fresh and novel to point out that nobody can think of a single thing wrong with Clarice that would send her to the Island of Misfit Toys. This exploration gets really good for about ten pages in the late middle part where it talks about folklore being created by corporate entities, and then it turns into a lot of lists of comedy sketches that are really easy to skim through without feeling like you’re missing anything. 260 pages plus a web site with some pictures of department-store mascot costumes from before the 1989 discovery that mascot costumes did not have to be hideous.

Sand: The Hidden Story of the Grains that Built our Roads, Formed our Glasses, Timed our Days, Challenged our Ideas of What Waves Are, Taught us to Navigate, Made our Computers Think, Gave us Beach Holidays, and Changed the World. I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not thinking of Vince Beiser’s book. That’s The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization and I am ignoring that for the third reason you would think up. 362 pages, plus a 40-page preview of the author’s next book, Bauxite: the Unpresupposing Ore that Overthrew Empires, Built Cities, Created the Modern Kitchen, Made the 20th Century, and Changed the World.

What’s funny here is you could also give any of these to my dad and he’d be happy with it too. What’s also funny here is I started out mocking my reading habits and I think I ended up writing at least two viable book pitches. Whoever publishes everything Mark Kurlasky writes, call me.

Belarus Diplomat Delivers Warning From Dream World


I want to thank whoever at Reuters created this headline, because it’s one of the best I’ve seen in ages:

Belarus diplomat worries topless, mayo-throwing women could disrupt U.N.

Specifically, in a discussion about opening up the Conference on Disarmament discussions to the general public the Belarus delegate worried about what this could do to security and allegedly, according to the official summary, said, “What if there were topless ladies screaming from the public gallery throwing bottles of mayonnaise”. Reuters doesn’t say what the answer was, but then, what kind of answer could you give besides “hope the sergeant-at-arms hasn’t run out of catsup”? The correct answer was given by Mexico’s representative: since the public was already allowed to attend plenary sessions, “in theory [they] could already drop mayonnaise onto delegates”. Also there were only two people watching right now, anyway.

Actually, Reuters doesn’t even say who the Belarus delegate was, so I can’t swear that this isn’t entirely a prank put in to see if anybody’s reading the summaries. But if it did happen, then, I have to suppose that Belarus has gotten a warning from the dream world about a future in which Disarmament Conferences are held much closer to a Roy Rogers’ Fixin’s Bar, which is good news for the people trying to bring the Roy Rogers franchise back from being just four stands in service plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike. It just feels like the sort of thing you wouldn’t fear unless you had some specific reason to, though, doesn’t it?

Yet I can’t help feeling a little sad. I can’t convince myself that the guy from Belarus wasn’t making a really sly, snarky joke — I mean, the specificity of topless women with mayonnaise is suggestive — and then Mexico’s guy didn’t realize it and answered flatly. If that’s the case I hope the Belarus guy just went home with that smug feeling that comes from making a joke so deadpan that nobody realizes you’re joking.