Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Too Many Books - not a review

Having just finished a series of rather ‘heavy’ books – most recently Chantal Hebert’s French Kiss: Stephen Harper’s Blind Date with Quebec – I wasn’t up to yet another political, biographical, or military history book. It was time for a break, and so with the temperatures outside hovering around the 32C mark, it was off to the bookstore in search of some summer reading - a good page-turner.

Robert Ludlum’s The Ambler Warning was on prominent display so the decision was easy and I’m now enjoying this classic Ludlum thriller. But that will only last a few days and then it will be back to the store to choose something else from the myriad titles available – truly a daunting task given the number of new books being published every year.

According to Bowker there were 375,000 English language books published in 2004 ( Of that number, approximately 18%, or 67,500 were “Adult fiction, poetry, drama and literary criticism”. With poetry, drama and literary criticism being, I assume, a small part of the total, let’s say that adult fiction accounts for 50,000 of those new titles. With a further assumption that fiction has, on average, a shelf life of two years, that means I will have 100,000 titles from which to choose a few books to keep me company on the dock this summer.

100,000 titles. Even if I had the time to read 2 books a week, I could, at best, read 100 books next year - 1/10th of one percent of the books that are available. Clearly the odds are stacked against me picking the best fiction out there so I will do what most of us would do, which is to go with what we know. It’s not unlike eating at MacDonald’s or staying at The Holiday Inn - it may not be 4-star, but you know what to expect. Ditto with the popular authors - Ludlum, Grisham, P.D. James, Follett, Crichton, et al. While the list of books published by these authors can still be somewhat overwhelming (and confusing when books are republished years later with different titles) it’s at least manageable.

So when I’m done with The Ambler Warning, I will return to the bookstore, head to the fiction section and look for authors I know. If, in the process, I happen to come across something by another author that looks interesting, I may pick it up, but that will be by chance only. A pity really, as I know I’m missing lots of good reading, but I’m also missing a lot more bad reading.

Life’s too short to waste on bad books, so we make our choices accordingly.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Oil On The Brain

By Lisa Margonelli.

Well I’ve been somewhat remiss in the past week, not keeping my blog up to date. My only excuse is this nasty summer cold which has made me feel about as much like writing a blog entry or two as getting a root canal without anaesthetic (and I’ve had two of those so I know whereof I speak). But on the good news side of the ledger (mom always said to look for the silver lining) I have been able to spend some quality time reading my latest book – Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline.

Now this isn’t a book that would tend to jump out at you from the shelf – the cover is somewhat nondescript and the title is, well, not a real grabber, but recently while I was waiting for the spousal unit at the local Chapters, I picked it up and started browsing. Hooked!

The author takes the reader on a global tour of the oil business, literally from the pump back to the well and the oil-producing countries that are the source of this “black gold”. It's quite a trip, described with humour and spotted with interesting and fascinating facts. For example, did you know that it takes 1 ½ gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of gasoline? Or how about the explanation of how a US gallon of gasoline that weighs only 6 pounds manages to pump 19.5 pounds of CO2 out of your exhaust pipe (it’s in the way the carbon atoms link up with two oxygen atoms after combustion).

But most compelling are her descriptions of how oil has shaped, and some may say ruined, the social structures in countries where it has become the premier, or only, source of external revenue, generally in US dollars. Countries like Venezuela, where the national oil company PDVSA is actually larger than the state and provides schooling, housing, and medical services to the population – services that rightly should come from the state. Or Chad, where Exxon signed sweetheart deals with illiterate leaders as the country spirals into civil war. Iran, Nigeria, China, Saudi Arabia – it’s a long list and the author visits each of them in turn to uncover the corruption, graft and sundry abuses heaped upon the populations by, variously, oil multinationals, their local governments, and western governments (i.e. U S of A) quenching their unending thirst for oil at any cost.

It is an easy read, but a disturbing one, and it certainly gives one a far different perspective on the entire business than one gets at the pumps at the local Esso station.

Highly recommended.