A couple weeks ago I broke down and actually did some non-class, non-Economist reading. Crazy, eh? It was a weekend where I didn’t feel up to socializing, but didn’t feel up to homework either. So I looked for something light in my book pile, and this is what I read.
Bobos in Paradise, by David Brooks
I’d meant to read this book for a while, but never got around to it. I saw it in the Strand for $5, so I picked it up. It’s the “comic sociology” of the rise of bourgeois bohemians. For decades, the two cultural forces of bourgeois and bohemians had been battling, culminating in the culture wars of the sixties. But as we entered the nineties, the two cultural forces had merged. “WASPy upscale suburbs were suddenly dotted with arty coffeehouses where people drank little European coffees and listened to alternative music. Meanwhile, the bohemian downtown neighborhoods were packed with multimillion-dollar lofts and those upscale gardening stores where you can buy a faux-authentic trowel for $35.99.”
Brooks takes a look at the two cultures throughout history (or at least since the Industrial Revolution, which really defined them) and how we’ve gotten to this point, with chapters discussing the ways in which the mix of cultures has permeated all aspects of society, including:
- Consumption, where it’s okay to spend ludicrous amounts of money on “utilitarian” things, like a Viking stove or a $4000 mountain bike
- Business life, where the creative class is taking charge
- Intellectual life – he has a fantastic description of the rise of an intellectual from interning to picking an appropriate subject niche to publishing essays and then books to conferences to television – this career trajectory is the most brilliant part of the book
- Recreation, where one must be serious about recreation. It’s not enough to climb, you have to go mountaineering. It’s not enough to jog, you have to run marathons, etc.
- Spirituality – “The generation that gave itself “unlimited choices” recoiled and found that it was still “searching for something.””
I don’t feel like the book had much in the way of deep insight, but it was a pleasant quick tour of a culture of which I’m probably a member.
Joe Quirk wrote a novel called The Ultimate Rush a few years ago. I’m not sure how I found it, but I really enjoyed it. It’s basically Snow Crash set in modern-day San Francisco, but it’s loads of fun. I actually ran into him at a Future Salon at one point, and asked him what his next book was going to be. And he said it was going to be a non-fiction book on evolutionary biology. And I was like, um?
But here it is. I’ve had my eye out for it for a while, but picked it up in the half-off section at The Strand. Another quick, fun read. Quirk is not a scientist, just an interested amateur, but he takes the ideas of evolutionary biology and relates them back to common questions of sexuality in chapters such as “Female Promiscuity Controls the Size of Your Testicles”, “Male Promiscuity Decides Your Height”, “Why Women Are Coy, Men Clueless”, “Why Your Clitoris Is Hard To Find”, etc. It’s pretty entertaining for him to relate the penis to a peacock tail. I’d heard many of these ideas in bits and pieces, but Quirk’s a good writer, and it’s fun to have them all in one place. It does make for a depressing read in places, as he draws (sometimes tenuous) connections between a lot of really stupid sexual behaviors and evolutionary biology. I’d recommend it as a quick read from the library if you want to become even more cynical about dating.