Saturday, December 31, 2022

Books Read - Q4 2022

Read three books this quarter, and a total of 21 for the year.

[Previously: Q3 2022, Q2 2022, Q1 2022, our 2021 Book Review Compendium, 2020 Book Review Compendium, 2019 book compendium, 2018 book compendium, and pre-2018 book compendium.]

  • The Best American Food Writing 2020 (1/5) I used to enjoy reading these annual anthologies in different categories - science and nature writing, food writing, travel writing, for example. It was a neat business idea created by Mariner Books (an imprint of HarperCollins) to compile them, and when done right they are a great way to maximize serendipity: discover new authors and new ideas with a small risk of time to read one essay-length piece. But like so many things, these anthologies have been captured by woke extremists. The phrase "white supremacy" is in the title of one of the essays. There's an essay - which has nothing to do with food or cuisine - about a community dinner to "discuss how to end gentrification in North Nashville." Of course, "gentrification" means white people moving in to an area (aren't we all free to do that under fair housing law?) while "white flight" means whites leaving an area. The propaganda terms are set up so that whites can't win. And in the actual arena of food and cuisine, whites are damned if they eat other ethnic groups' foods (appropriation) and damned if they don't (bland or "white bread"). The only good essays are We All Scream, about modern super-premium ice creams like Van Leeuwen, and Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now It Sputters, which we had in a Links post before this book was published.
  • The Great Demographic Reversal: Ageing Societies, Waning Inequality, and an Inflation Revival (3/5) See our full review, as well as our other inflation posts. Also see the latest from Scott Grannis, Convexity Maven, and Inflation Guy.
  • Steel on Stone: Living and Working in the Grand Canyon (4/5) This was written by a Peace corps hippie type guy that worked on a GCNP trail crew for a number of seasons. He learned a lot about building walls: "he once pointed out a retaining wall that held up a section of the South Kaibab Trail and described how he and two others had built it, side by side, and how different their building styles were, and right away I saw the marks of the individual craftsmen: one section with untrued faces and knobby with protruding deadmen, one section clean and tight, almost ashlar quality..." The rock: "sandstone, limestone, mudstone, shale, schist, gneiss, lumpy chert nodules on the rim and slick schist flutings along the river, basalt slabs scabbing over the western Canyon's cliffs and Cardenas lava vomited forth in the earth's infancy. Knowing the nature of each rock type was a vital aspect of much of Canyon life. John Wesley Powell, the first man to run the river through the length of the Canyon, noted in his journal on August 5, 1886: 'We have learned to closely observe the texture of rock. In softer strata, we have a quiet river; in hard, we find rapids and falls.'" "The eastern Canyon's four-hundred-foot-tall cliffs of Coconino sandstone are the lithified remains of an ancient, Sahara-sized desert. The dunes in this desert were made of pure quartz sand. For 10 million years wind had whisked the rounded sand grains off the top of dunes and deposited them either on the same dune's slip face or on a downwind dune's windward flanks. As the dunes migrated, these minute shifts in sand were preserved as distinct lamina, some millimeters apart, some feet apart, some stacked parallel, others in beveled cross-beds. Two hundred seventy million years later, these layers are still so distinct that geologists can determine the direction of the ancient winds..." "Like most Canyon neophytes, I'd started hiking in the Canyon along the Corridor trails. But since I hiked them every day for work, and since they were crowded, and since they were redundant in terms of the Canyon regions to which they provided access, I started hiking the 'Backcountry Trails' - the Boucher, the Tanner, the Nankoweap - trails far less traveled than the Corridor trails, but still clearly delineated on maps, occasionally maintained, and still hosting thousands of people a year. When I had hiked most of those, I began looking for routes." "These routes did not afford the backcountry ramblings one can enjoy in a place like the High Sierra, where one can see for miles upon miles across the open granite and choose dozens of ways to traverse that distance. The Canyon's enclosed topography offers a bewildering array of ridges and slots, cliffs and terraces. Water was scarce. The sheer cliffs and paucity of water sources funneled hikers toward certain routes - there may be only one break in the massive Redwall cliffs for a span of ten arduous miles. Reaching that break, descending it, and then winding your slow, thorny way through the immense, tortuous, and torturous rock labyrinth to the next water source: that is a route." "I'd crack a cold beer and stare at my five-foot-by-three-foot USGS topographical map of the Grand Canyon." "The map helped me grasp the Canyon spatially, objectively. It also revealed something else: stare at it long enough and out of the convoluted madness emerged certain patterns. [...] One of the reasons I searched out the surface faults is that these rifts enabled the Canyon's trails and routes. The Canyon's cliff banks afforded few opportunities to descend into the Inner Canyon; generally one can pass through the layered rock only where these cliffs are broken by fault or covered by an apron of erosional debris." "In his exquisite book The Secret Knowledge of Water, Childs makes a compelling case that the Southwest monsoons should be called chubascos - an unrelenting stream of convective thunderheads, as opposed to a significant weather front." "The once diluvial Colorado River system is now constrained by more than a hundred dams between headwaters and delta. The once volatile river has been reduced... to little more than a giant plumbing system." He mentions that the Paria River brings a lot of the silt into the Colorado and carries "greater concentrations of suspended sediment than any other river in North America; concentrations of up to 2 pounds of sediment per quart." A drink of the river is thus "a desert communion: the dolomites and mudrocks of Nankoweap or Kwagunt basins." "Deer Creek Falls is one of the most spectacular sights along the entire spectacular river corridor, in part because it's so unusual. Nearly all the Colorado River's tributary canyons enter the main passage at the same level - not from a 130-foot cascade. The difference can be attributed to the disruption of the Surprise Valley landslides, which buried both the original Deer Creek Canyon and the Colorado's original course. The Colorado eventually cut a new channel through the debris (though this channel is still the narrowest section of river in the entire corridor: seventy feet across and some eighty feet deep). At some point, relatively recently, Deer Spring worked its way through its joint in the Muav, and Deer Creek began working its way through the fill, trying to reestablish its grossly distorted equilibrium gradient with the Colorado River. The erosional knickpoint that is Deer Creek Falls represents that disturbed equilibrium."

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