September 2020

The smoke is mostly out of the Bay Area, and I’ve been outside and running again. I’m a much happier camper, and I’m back to reading more substantial material. First, though, I finished a book about wood.

With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood by Christian Becksvoort

I’ve been getting into woodworking recently, and I wanted to understand more about wood’s properties before getting myself into trouble. I learned a ton from this book, but I mostly learned how temperamental solid wood is . It expands and contracts with humidity (I already knew that) and that variation is different across axes relative to the grain (I did not know that). You need to take care to use the right joints between pieces of wood and to allow for varying amounts of give. That sounds like a lot of work! I’m going to stick to plywood and maybe pine from the local home center for the time being.

I love all the wood trivia that I’m going to carry around after reading this. Did you know that walnut was used for railroad ties and house frames? Or that live oak is so dense that it sinks in water? Or that molding on the sides of furniture was historically nailed instead of glued because nails can withstand expansion and contraction while glue won’t? Or that wood from a tree that grew at an angle is more brittle than wood from a tree that grew straight up?

The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed by Martijn Konings

The Emotional Logic of Capitalism is a solid critique of the most common progressive critiques of capitalism. I went in totally blind to this book, and it surprised me. The first half focuses on semiotics, theology, and pre-modern understandings of “economy” - not at all what I expected. I think it works? I need to write my notes down and sit with the book some more to see how it all ties together. Konings’s arguments are actually convincing without the semiotics stuff, but I want to see if there’s some depth I’m missing.

I read Capital and Time by Konings this May, and I still think about it despite my frustration with the writing. This book is a similar deal: frequently dense and academic prose (I mean the fourth chapter’s title is “The Semiotics of Iconicity”) and lots of novel ideas. The writing in this book bugged me less than the last one - I’m not sure if it was me or the book that was different, but I had a lot more fun reading this one in the moment.