Tuesday, March 09, 2010

White Fang

This book about the harshness of the northern wilds by Jack London is shorter than I remembered, but just as excellent. The story follows White Fang, a part-dog, mostly-wolf, as he survives and finds his place in the Klondike during gold rush days. A main point of the book is how tough life is out in nature, and how one has to be pretty ruthless to thrive. When White Fang finds his true master, though, everyone learns the lesson that love conquers nature and its hunger pangs.White Fang, just like London's other books of the north, are really intense. This book starts with a couple of fellas trying to get to a settlement, but they are being tracked by wolves because food is scarce. Each night, the wolves surround their fire and the men have to wake up periodically to build up the flames and drive the wolves back a couple of yards. All the while, it's about thirty below zero.

I can't imagine voluntarily moving to the Yukon, but I guess the thought of gold was pretty enticing. That seems to be why Sam McGee went there:
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”


Toyota is still heavily featured in the news. This morning, NPR had a little story about a guy whose Prius was stuck accelerating, so he called a cop to drive in front of him as a buffer in case he crashed into anything. He was able to get the car to stop before any damage was done, but the obvious implication of the story was that Toyota cars are still sketchy.

The feds launched investigations and will likely create some new regulatory agency to help oversee car safety. But more regulation is probably not all that necessary. Customers are able to punish Toyota for its actions quite thoroughly: many Toyota lines have had sales drop as much as 20% from 2009 levels. And if consumers continue to perceive Toyota as a poor manufacturer, it will continue to falter. The market is fully capable of chastising bad producers.

That being said, Toyota is getting hit harder than is warranted. It is true that their cars have increased risk of accident due to manufacturing issues, but people need to keep perspective. The increased risk from Toyota is low:
"Replacing driving by walking really increases the risk of dying," Fischbeck said. "Walking a mile is 19 times or 1,900 percent more dangerous than driving a mile in a recalled Toyota. Driving while using a cell phone would increase risk much more than the chance of having a stuck accelerator."

Saturday, March 06, 2010


I have finished the first two Earthsea novels by Ursula LeGuin, so I'm combining them into a mega-post.

This book, The Wizard of Earthsea, is something of a fantasy classic, and it is indeed pretty good. The story follows Ged, a young kid who has an affinity for magic. He heads off to magic school (quite similar to Hogwarts) because he wants to become powerful in a hurry. While he does advance quickly, he gets too big for his britches and casts an overly advanced spell which unleashes some malevolent being. Most of the book involves Ged's dealing with the consequences of that spell.

The Tombs of Atuan follows in the series. Instead of focusing on Ged, it revolves around a girl who is sort of coerced into being a priestess at age 12, but she becomes disillusioned about her religion. Ged shows up after a while to first antagonize her, but later to help her figure things out.

Note to authors: if you've written an excellent book with a compelling main character, don't focus the sequel on someone entirely new and more boring. I was all excited to be getting back to Ged with Tombs, but he didn't appear until more than halfway through the novel. Because of this, I spent half of the book wishing things would move along and more excitement would happen. I'll probably keep going with this series, but Tombs has probably spoiled the rest of it for me.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Shopaholic and Baby

Ever since I "tricked" Abbie into reading Atlas Shrugged, she has been wanting me to read one of these Shopaholic books by Sophie Kinsella. Now that she is commuting with me one day each week, listening to it on my drive sounded like a good idea. For one thing, I finally got to see what one of these books is like, and for another, she for some reason wasn't interested in my picks of For a New Liberty or The Wizard of Earthsea.

Shopaholic and Baby was, I'll admit, much better than I expected. Since I am neither into shopping nor fashion, I was skeptical. And yes, the main character irked me throughout the book (who spends $3,000 on prams for one baby?!), but it was comically interesting overall. If you can get past Becky's complete disregard for money and her poor planning skills, it's a pretty fun book. Now, Shopaholic and Baby is the fifth book in the series, so I can't vouch for the prequels.

Despite my liking this book more than I anticipated, I don't think I'll be adding this genre to my preferred reading list anytime soon.