Monthly Archives: October 2012

Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (Harper, 2012).

I thought this novel lived up to its enthusiastic reviews, unlike some I’ve chosen from the New Books section of Book Page. The descriptions of the urban Oakland, California neighborhood were vivid, and the characters (a white couple, a black couple, and their friends, relatives, and customers) were well developed. The two men owned a used record store together and their wives were midwives (one pregnant herself). They and their friends were struggling to keep their Telegraph Avenue small businesses afloat in the face of the general corporate takeover of things. The book jacket sported a clever design incorporating a 45rpm record. The writing was very densely packed, with enormous run-on sentences full of fascinating tidbits interspersed with fast-paced dialogue and plot. Every time a record was mentioned, they cited the label that produced it and the year. This novel was quite different from the style and genre I usually read, but I enjoyed it.

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When Corporations Rule the World

When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten (2nd edition, Kumarian Press, 2001)

My purchase of this book is ironic in two ways. First, I bought it with the Amazon gift certificate given to me for participating in a focus group from a major scientific publishing corporation. And second, I only knew about the book because Amazon mined its data about my previous purchases and marketed it to me as the kind of book I would be likely to buy. So, hah, you big corporations, I got you good…or did you get me?

Corporations definitely rule our world in 2012, but David Korten actually wrote this book originally in the mid-90s, and updated it after the big Seattle anti-globalization protest in 1999. However, most people didn’t really pay attention to the issue until the Occupy Wall Street movement began last fall; in the intervening years corporate control of our lives has gotten much worse, and climate change has gone from a threat to a reality. The book is remarkedly prescient, especially as far as the financial industry failures and worldwide debt crises of the past five years. Korten demonstrates a keen understanding of a situation that the rest of us are only now starting to see clearly. Of course, those of a more conservative persuasion might disagree with his conclusions.

My only argument with Korten is that like many liberal (and conservative) thinkers, he puts too much faith in local communities. In today’s economy, many people don’t get to choose where they live, and get stuck in places where their neighbors don’t share their values. So giving local governments a lot of power results in laws banning the teaching of evolution as often as it does grassroots solutions to economic and environmental problems. Korten seems to be as much against big government as against big business, which is problematic for me. Nevertheless, the website mentioned in his book,YES! a Journal of Positive Futures, is still going strong and has links to both the Occupy movement and the Green Party.

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