In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

In the Plex by Steven LevyI challenge you to think of a day sometime in the last five years or so that Google did not affect some aspect of your life. Maybe you did a Google Search for Black Friday deals or double checked the best way to brine a turkey before roasting. But let’s exempt any Google searches from my challenge. Google is, after all, a search company, right? That certainly was the case at the company’s inception in 1998, but I’m willing to bet that Google has made a major impact on your life within the last 24 hours and in a way that we take wholly for granted now in 2014. I’ve checked my secure and safely stored Gmail, was reminded of an event on my calendar (and am confident that I will continue to receive them), used Maps to find directions to a local business and am even typing this into Google Docs, a free alternative to Microsoft Office. Google was a David, the underdog of the internet that has slowly lumbered into the role of Goliath. It is an oft misunderstood target of fear and favor, both a champion of the common man and a black box that leaves us feeling a little creeped out. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy is a rare glimpse into the beginning, culture and process of one of the most powerful, influential and provocative companies the world has ever know. Google has been a target of public mistrust, has enabled me and a friend of mine to start a business, and has empowered me to explore my new hometown of Memphis. It’s easy to imagine a world with a Google more or less sinister or benign; but it’s impossible to imagine the world without Google at all.

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Review of Louisiana Purchase by Elizabeth Burk

Here, in Charlotte, North Carolina, early winter is grey with rain and clouds and cold. And something about the color of the sky makes me miss Louisiana. I picked up Louisiana Purchase by Elizabeth Burk (Yellow Flag Press 2014), and while I hoped that it would quell my craving for roux-based poetry, I did not know how fully it would suit.

YFP-124 Cover final

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(Revisiting) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Through the Cracks is a review series focusing on the ones that got away. These are timeless classics that everyone has read—everyone, that is, except the reviewer, who is finally getting around to reading a book which somehow slipped through the cracks and trying to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of those books that most of us read in our teens. Most of us, that is, except me, who read the first few chapters in my ninth grade English class and then faked it. It wasn’t that I was a reluctant reader; though I spent a lot of my adolescent years playing Legend of Zelda, it’s likely that I blew off reading Huck Finn because I was too engrossed in some Star Trek novel or the steamy Neanderthal sex scenes in Jean M. Aul’s Clan of the Cave Bear. I recently read Huck Finn for real, and though I recalled more of the plot than I realized (a testament to my English teacher since I hadn’t actually, you know, read most of it) I was shocked at how much different it is from the novel I’d always figured it to be. What I’d taken for a boyish adventure down the Mississippi turned out to be more of a scathingly satirical trip into America’s Heart of Darkness, as funny and troubling as Conrad’s little trip down the Congo and into the human soul is horrific.
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The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Dear Mr. Rothfuss,

Why is it that the more you love a book, the harder it is to review?  But the more you love it, the more you want to review it, because you want everyone else to know how great it is.  This is my current dilemma.  I recently read The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and I feel like I might explode from excitement.  But all the silly little words I’ve thrown at it so far have just flailed around in the air and bounced off its surface and finally crashed like paper airplanes.  And if I write paper airplanes, you write, let’s say, Air Force One or Starship Enterprise.  So how do I do this book justice?  I don’t think I can.  So I thought I’d just skip the heavy analysis that my English-teacher-brain always demands and just tell you how much I love your books, especially The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and how much Auri means to me.

Pat Rothfuss 2

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Congratulations! Now What? by Bill Cosby

I graduated from university a short 3 years ago. But apparently I didn’t get enough of it because here I find myself, teaching university students in China. Granted, it’s a far cry from my life as a student in America. My task is no longer finishing papers; now I grade them. Thank heavens, I don’t live in the dorm anymore. And my goal is no longer to graduate, but to teach and equip Chinese English majors to do my job – teach English. Unfortunately, of the 500+ students I’ve taught in the past two years, I can count on two hands those competent enough to be qualified English teachers by the time graduation rolls around. And most of those kids want to be translators in some company rather than teach anyway. So I resonated with Bill Cosby’s chuckling look at the failure of college education to produce productive individuals for society. If you’ll permit me, I’ll shine a Chinese lantern on a few of his resounding truths.IMG_2194

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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

India is a country—heck, an entire landmass—that I know very little about,IMG_2872 so maybe it was fitting that in ordering The God of Small Things I knew nothing about the book’s subject matter at all. Someone on Reddit (or maybe it was Quora) included it in a short list of absolute must-read books, which was how I became aware of it for the first time. Normally I wouldn’t make such a purchase on a whim, but this random Internet stranger seemed so convinced of his choices that I placed an order for the book based solely on that and didn’t even see an inkling of its summary until it arrived in the mail and I read the back cover.
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25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom by Alan Moore

AlanMoore

Last December, I found myself in a huge used bookstore outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I wandered, as I often do, to the Psychology section mostly because right next to the Psychology section is where the good stuff is at. That is to say, Sexuality. There, I happened upon a thin, blue and silver book with an Art Deco design on the cover. It was classy looking, something you wouldn’t worry about if another book enthusiast glanced your way as you skimmed the pages. The book was 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom, which is essentially a long essay about the history of pornography by Alan Moore. Yes, that Alan Moore. British. Scraggly Beard. One of the most successful and widely known graphic novelists of all time.  Apparently, he knows about porn. I was intrigued.

Throughout the 89 pages of glossy text (and pictures, by the way), Moore lays out a historical and conceptual perspective of our relationship with pornography over the last 25,000 years. He begins with the Venus of Willendorf (c. 24,000- 22,000 BC) which if you haven’t seen it is basically a limestone carving of an absurdly chesty and bottom-heavy women. While a symbol of fertility, Moore conjectures that she is also an object of arousal, at least to her creator. The first sex doll, if you will. He goes on to describe the pre-Christian cultures of Greece and Rome, places where murals of explicit sex acts could be found on your living room wall.

The point that he continues to make within the book is that throughout history, cultural progress and sexual openness are in direct correlation with one another. Conversely, with the introduction of Christian values such as purity, chastity, bodily shame, etc., the need to control individual’s sexuality stifles that progress. For example, the fall of the Roman Empire is often linked with its decadence. However, it had been an orgiastic, sexually permissive culture since its inception. Only after Constantine enforced Christianity upon the culture did it begin to crumple.

Moore goes on to describe attitudes toward porn/sex in the Victorian age in fascinating and infuriating detail. There is also an interesting passage linking sexually oppression to Adolf Hitler. Seems reasonable. He says, “sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization, and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. Not that I’m trying to load my argument, of course.”

But of course, he is. That’s something to be mindful of while reading this book. Moore is trying to convince you of something. Unfortunately, there are no footnotes with source material for his historical anecdotes which kind of leaves you to take his word for it. Also, most of his findings focus on Western culture from a distinctly male perspective. Moore writes in a humorous and compelling tone that makes this often taboo topic to be quite matter-of-fact. Personally, I found a lot of his points to be reasonable and plausible. At the very least, reading this book will leave you more informed about pornography and sex practices throughout history and hopefully, spur you on to reflect on your own values.