Recent book reviews — August 2011
For the last few years I have been loosely tracking my energy consumption and CO2 production. The one clear message is that driving and flying are by far my worst activities for the environment. I am struggling with how to move toward a more sustainable approach to transportation, and how to balance environmental concerns with the needs of being a touring musician. One idea: limit myself to only touring certain months of the year, stay on the west coast, and go by bike.
Hiro and I recently rented a tandem recumbent trike and went for an afternoon ride of about 22 miles. It was delightful. I’m now thinking I might try and build one and see if we can tackle longer distances. The Essential Touring Cyclist includes great info on both the technical and social aspects of touring. It’s well written and authoritative.
gear inches = (wheel diameter in inches X teeth in chainring) / teeth in rear cog
For loaded touring in hilly terrain, I like a gear range of at least 21-100 inches… If your bike shop can get a suitable cassette, I recommend an 18-inch gear as your lowest.
If you’ve ever seen bike racers, you might have noted that their feet spin at a fantastic pace — well over 100 revolutions per minute. That’s because racers know something that most beginning cyclists don’t: spinning at a rapid cadence is easier – both on knees and on stamina – than grinding along in high gears. … Increasing your cadence takes practice. … Riding at your normal cadence, try downshifting one gear spinning faster to maintain speed. Your cadence should increase by 10-15 percent — for example, from 65 to 75 rpm.
What is the appropriate mileage base (for training)? … if your goal is simply to complete a long, single-day ride or a two-day self-contained tour in reasonable comfort, you can manage quite well if your weekly mileage is at least 125 percent of the distance of the ride on tour.
Most commercial campgrounds will sell you one (a shower) at a reasonable price, but for an even cheaper shower, go to a municipal swimming pool. State park campground showers could also be available to cyclists, sometimes with no fee.
An excellent reference for preparing tasty dishes with a minimum of equipment is Don Jacobson’s One Pan Gourmet: Fresh Food on the Trail.
The organization (Adventure Cycling Association) has mapped thousands of miles of cross-country routes… For self-contained touring, its superb maps make for easy route finding.
Continuing my research into the plausibility of bike touring, I’d heard good things about this book. Jacobson’s philosophical thoughts on the importance of eating well on the trail, along with useful, technical details like how to assemble your travelling kitchen and how to make a portable oven, make The One Pan Gourmet definitely worth the quick read. Vegetarians can skip most of the recipes but Jacobson has included a vegetarian section and most recipes can be converted. The take-away for me is that cooking and eating well on tour for two people is very doable and many of our current recipes (like koya-tofu and ramen) would travel surprisingly well.
Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook has particularly useful gear recommendations. The bulk of the book is dedicated to country-by-country route overviews… not quite what I’m looking for, but a great resource for the cycling tourist. I’ll check this out again when I get closer to building/assembling a bike and touring kit.
Although basic concepts like composition and proportion are probably explained well, I was unable to see past the countless examples of form over function. Almost every picture features flashy, gaudy furniture with image descriptions to match — “The directionality of forms, which is reinforced but not overpowered by the bright red spear, is dominant in this bench…” It’s like the set design of Beetlejuice.
A fantastic book from Taunton Press! A collection of articles by experienced woodworkers and designers, Practical Furniture Design has beautiful diagrams and clear descriptions. Many of the articles proved relevant to my current project to design and build a tool chest. This book was a welcome relief after the disappointment of Designing Furniture.
This is a fantastic overview of the why’s and how’s of tool sharpening. Most of the book focuses on the essentials – chisels and plane irons – but there is a useful section on kitchen knives as well. Hock is even-handed in his evaluation of different techniques and sharpening jigs. I have a set of Shapton stones and look forward to getting good at maintaining my chisels!
Great Soul presents a considered, un-sensational portrait of Gandhi as a man of remarkable discipline and bravery. This discipline, however, is grounded more in religious faith than liberal humanism, and while I began this book with the hopes of learning how I might alter my own lifestyle, specifically in relation to diet, there were few such take-aways. Gandhi’s experience is a remarkably complicated mix of Hinduism, Indian culture, politics, and ambition, and for every trait I push myself to mimic, there is another that is inapplicable. I try to eat responsibly, for example, and in small quantities, and look to the vegetarian, fasting Gandhi as a role-model. But reading Great Soul I realize I can’t adopt his actions whole-sale. His constriction of diet is part of a larger concept of self-sacrifice, which leads to self-imposed chastity, for example; misplaced diligence in my book. Gandhi’s famous fasting against what he considered political disenfranchisement of the lower castes is an inspiring example of non-violent, self-sacrifice, but it was also emotional blackmail. The complicated political issues led some of those he sought to help to disagree with his interpretations.
In every aspect, Gandi’s life is a confounding mixture of culture, politics, and religion. While I am inspired by his strength, I realize there are no simple solutions to the hard, personal questions of what I should eat, what I should do, and how I should be in this world. One has to figure these out alone. I suppose Gandhi would have said the same.