Blurbs ‘n’ Beers

I drink a fair amount of wonky beer.

I read a fair amount of wonky books.

Sometimes I catch myself doing both at once – and as this self-study shows, wonkiness is a closed system that tends toward equilibrium. Too much wonk feedback (drinkback? readback?) triggers self-correction…maybe I’m overcompensating, but I will almost exclusively photograph “bad” beer with whatever it is I’m reading at the time.  See for yourselves:

Schlitz, Milwaukee, WI (Consumed in February, 2014 in Somerville, MA)

It’s the beer that looks like the beer that tastes like the beer that made Milwaukee famous – or is it not that same beer?

“Quite a disappointment, actually two of them since the book I ordered at the same time, How the States Got Their Shapes, was disappointing also. Truly a record to get two losers at the same time. I disliked this book so much I stopped reading it. Very boring which is a shame since I am normally interested in this subject. I love American history also but this book didn’t cut the mustard for me. I think it may have gotten better if I had stayed with it but I had had enough. Sorry there aren’t many reasons given to back up my review. It was such a forgettable book, to me, I simply forgot them.” reviewer USNSPARKS

The following exchange smoldered for several years on USNSPARKS’ review page:

“To me saying George R. Stewart’s NAMES ON THE LAND is forgettable is like saying America is forgettable. It’s like touring the country and not remembering a single city, town, or village…it was all so “meh”.” – Reviewer R.W. Warren, 5 years ago
“Cut the Muster. not Mustard” – Reviewer S. Bruno, 5 years ago
“For what it’s worth, the phrase actually is “cut the mustard.” The fact that it’s actually “cut the muster” is a relatively common misconception.” – Reviewer N. Solon, 3 years ago
It’s a good thing I research place-naming and social memory.
Samuel Adams Winter Lager, Boston, MA (Sat through in January, 2015 in Somerville, MA)

Snow’s sticking, vinyl’s popping like the morning griddle, seasonal brews seem to stick around forever in these quarters…see you on the dark side of the doubloon.

“In 1977, Feynman and his sidekick– fellow drummer and geography enthusiast Ralph Leighton–set out to make arrangements to visit Tuva, doing noble and hilarious battle with Soviet red tape, befriending quite a few Tuvans, and discovering the wonders of Tuvan throat-singing. Their Byzantine attempts to reach Tannu Tuva would span a decade, interrupted by Feynman’s appointment to the committee investigating the Challenger disaster, and his tragic struggle with the cancer that finally killed him. Tuva or Bust! chronicles the deepening friendship of two zany, brilliant strategists whose love of the absurd will delight and instruct. It is Richard Feynman’s last, best adventure.”

– from the W.W. Norton publisher’s summary

Amazon reviewer Carper had this to say about “Tuva or Bust!”

“Ralph Leighton may well be a fun guy to hang out with, and Richard Feynman almost certainly is, but this book really has no reason to have ever been in print. There’s almost nothing about the obscure Russian province of their obsession in the book–it’s mostly a chronicle of the hobbies of various people who are probably about as interesting–but not more interesting–than most of your friends. The childlike enthusiasm they develop for the language and history of Tuva is charming at times, but after a while their relentless ignorance even of the most basic ways of going about collecting information starts to wewar. Their insistence on providing direct translations of Tuvan in the original turkic word order must seem to the author to be cute–to this reader it came across as mocking the language. Almost any foreign language would sound ridiculous if translated word for word with no corrections for grammar or word order. Both grammar and vocabulary of Tuvan appear to be extremely similar to turkish, so they had huge resources available to them to decipher the language, but it appears from the book that none of them ever figured out that they were even dealing with a turkic language. They never even mention the total lack of words for gender in Tuvan, or the lack of irregular verbs–a huge boon to a prospective langauge student. I’m sure they’re fun guys, but this really is a waste of perfectly good tree…”
Could really drive a person to drink another winter lager…
Third Shift Amber Lager, Boulder, CO (Ignored since February, 2013 in Bound Brook, NJ)

As I’ve been tuttling around with this beer blogging shtick, I haven’t really found anything to go on about. Broke habit and bought a six pack of this stuff. Drinkable; so’s water; sturdy inland megabrew workmanship, like an overpass. It’s a Coors-built Vienna lager, grey and bland as infrastructure.

Farish is a superb guide through many of the machinations – military, diplomatic, mundane – of this constructed geography.  This book is a compilation of essays across an impressive range of fields, some covering relatively familiar terrain, some not, but his amalgam makes this a very useful resource and contribution.  It significantly advances the collective attempt to reclaim the history of geography as integral to the geography of history.  The book’s organization is broadly scalar, offering a detailed series of vignettes of US geopolitical engineering in the two decades after US declaration of war in 1941.  He begins with “global views” and while it remains preponderantly global throughout, subsequent chapters address the militarization of geographical intelligence along regional lines with the rise of area studies, the Cold War sculpting of social science toward strategic ends, the manufacturing of North Americaas a cybernetic continental defense platform, and the discursive cum practical orchestration of an atomic urbanism.”

– Neil Smith, “Society and Space” review, (2010)

No reviews of Farish’s book exist on …Wonk city, here.

Tusker Lager, Nairobi, Kenya (Endured June, 2012, in Bound Brook, NJ

Strong desire to appropriate this beer, condemn it, and build a park in its stead. Instead, I will study Russian.

“There’s no sense in asking me about the recession. I don’t understand the world of finance. Would you like a chocolate-chip cookie?”

Robert A. Caro

Two one-star reviews from Amazon:

“This book weighs 4.3 [pounds], and is enormous.” – TheBestPlaceEver

“Extremely disappointing. I bought this book hoping to find out how Moses became a genius in making the law being passed the way he wanted, how he did political transactions with others, how he maintained his grip over people. The author glossed over all of them.” – Amazon Customer

How does the author gloss over exactly what Amazon Customer required of him after the fact – and delivered – in 4.3 pounds worth of text?

Marston’s Pedigree, Wolverhampton, UK (Enjoyed, February 2013 in Bound Brook, NJ)

Trad pint o’ bitters! Actually, this is the best beer of the lot pictured here.

“The Classic-period Maya, the kingdom of Urartu, and the cities of early southern Mesopotamia provide the focal points for this multidimensional account of human polities. Are the cities and villages in which we live and work, the lands that are woven into our senses of cultural and personal identity, and the national territories we occupy merely stages on which historical processes and political rituals are enacted? Or do the forms of buildings and streets, the evocative sensibilities of architecture and vista, the aesthetics of place conjured in art and media constitute political landscapes—broad sets of spatial practices critical to the formation, operation, and overthrow of polities, regimes, and institutions? Smith brings together contemporary theoretical developments from geography and social theory with anthropological perspectives and archaeological data to pursue these questions.”

University of California Press description

One reader’s plea for “instant intelligiblity” continues to broadcast to Shivini, solar god of the Urartians:

There are some extremely interesting ideas within this book, and Adam T. Smith also provides some useful discussion of past landscape (and archaeological) theory. However, my big complaint is about the language the author uses throughout. While I agree that sometimes it is necessary to express complex ideas in a complex way, as a general rule the simpler the language, the better the work. It is almost always harder to write well using simple words and sentence structures, but surely being instantly intelligible makes this effort worthwhile?
I’m sure academics will find this a useful volume, but only the most persistent students will benefit from it.” – A Customer

And so we wait.

Bohemia Regent lager, Trebon, Czech Republic (Immediately regretted, October, 2014, Somerville, MA)

Another horde of offbeat Central European bottlery. Bohemia Regent is no pilsener – that’s a different part of Bohemia, and this beer’s home town of Trebon is twinned with Utena, Lithuania…known for its burnt-yellow colored ale, Utenos, which comes in a clunky clear bottle. Subprime lagers, this and that!

“For a beginner, the book is probably worthless, and possibly unfinishable. The writing is not elegant or easy. The author assumes too much familiarity with historical figures, and with archaic geographical terms (like Bactria, Sogdiana and the Qipchaq plains) which are not defined and which do not appear on modern maps. An undergraduate-level student will find the sources, very few of which are in English, almost totally worthless.” review

Xirdalan Beer, Xirdalan, Azerbaijan (Went down smooth as it ever did, July, 2013 in Baku, Azerbaijan)

This will take the sting out of learning any agglutinative language, Tuvan or bust.

A word about the featured image – if you’re ever in Portsmouth, NH, stop by the Portsmouth Book and Bar for a pint and a poem. Read free or die, I suppose they’d opine.


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