Meister_des_Maréchal_de_Boucicaut_004The scribes have been busy here in Commugny, putting the final touches on various and sundry chapters of my novel, failing to blog and tweet, and preparing for a little ski trip to the Engadine.

Anyway, here’s this week’s collection of online reading that offers (I hope) a more mindful alternative to the usual clickbait…


kochbrosIf you think Americans live in a democracy, you need to read Tim Dickinson’s anger-inducing piece in Rolling Stone about how the Koch Brothers and utility lobbyists are preventing the development of solar power in Florida. The Sunshine State currently ranks 16th in the nation for solar power–mostly because $12 million in lobbying efforts have shut down incentives and set up regulatory hurdles to homeowners who want to generate their own power. But some people, including conservatives, are fighting back:

Coalition member Debbie Dooley helped found the Tea Party and today directs Conservatives for Energy Freedom. The 57-year-old grandmother may run her shoestring outfit out of the back of a 2010 Hyundai Sonata, but she has an impressive track record, spearheading a two-year fight that overturned anti-solar restrictions in Georgia in 2015 – creating thousands of clean-energy jobs.

While you’re at it, read my friend Erik Lundegaard’s thoughs on Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s account of the massive amounts of corporate money corrupting our political system.

800px-Umberto_Eco_1984Italian scholar and novelist Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, died this week at the age of 84. In a long interview he did with the Paris Review in 2008, Eco talks about historical fiction, the vibrancy of the Middle Ages, and his personal library:

I own a total of about fifty thousand books. But as a rare books collector I am fascinated by the human propensity for deviating thought. So I collect books about subjects in which I don’t believe, like kabbalah, alchemy, magic, invented languages. Books that lie, albeit unwittingly. I have Ptolemy, not Galileo, because Galileo told the truth. I prefer lunatic science.


Red_Wine_GlassIn honor of National Wine Day (which happened this week, or for some of us, every day) read Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle’s article on the neuroscience of wine drinking at Nautilus magazine. Are wine critics full of hooey? Not always, but research is finding that we often enjoy expensive wines less, but will often attribute higher quality to a bottle if we know its price.

But the real revelation was that a region of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex was hyperactive in every one of the subjects while he was making his choice. It seems that we all use the same part of the brain to make decisions about wine, at least when money is involved.


MatsutakeIn an interview with New Inquiry, Anna Tsing talks about her new book, The Mushroom At the End of the World, a thoughtful meditation on the strange, competitive world of matsutake mushroom hunters in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

It’s part of the ideology we sometimes call neoliberalism, which forces workers to take on responsibility for both the rewards and the working conditions of labor. Mushroom picking is like that and more. There are no wages; there are no benefits. Everyone pays their own costs and sells their own product.


glennagordonIn the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, a group of outspoken women write inexpensive romance novels that are sold a vegetable markets. Known as littattafan soyayya  (“books of love”) these books are giving women a voice in an otherwise conservative Islamic culture. This great long article by Laura Mallonee at Wired also features striking photos by Glenna Gordon, a feminist scholar who’s been studying Kano market literature for several years.

The ocean glows at night. The pirogue glides upon her own brilliant wake. Fish schools flicker like sunken treasure. You cast net: the float line lights up like a Christmas garland the instant it hits water, a floating halo in never-ending black. Luminescence seeps into the boat where it is leaking in blinking rivulets. You bail buckets of radiance. The outboard motor churns pure light.

So begins Anna Badkhen’s absolutely gorgeous essay on the fishing boats of Senegal, “The Secret Afterlife of Boats” in the latest issue of Granta. This piece flows like poetry as Badkhen contemplates how traditional pirogue fishermen are being affected by a steep decline in fish ecology off the coast of West Africa.


robert-fernandezFolder is a relatively new online magazine that dedicates each issue to profiling the work of a single poet. This month Robert Fernandez gets his due, with six poems that are crunchy with the physical experience of the spoken word, and lucidly engage all the senses, not least of which is taste. I’m fond of the poem “If I Offend You With My Leniency,” which includes the lines…

I am the brown bittered
fig skinned with tomb
leeks in brown sauce
and a winking eye
like a suede curtain


Image of scribe St. Jerome by Meister des Maréchal de Boucicaut, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Umberto Eco by Rob Bogaerts, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Nigerian woman by Glenna Gordon, aerial image of multicolored seas courtesy of NASA.

Glass of wine by by André Karwath aka Aka – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.