News of the World

So Tom Hanks is starring in the film adaptation of this Paulette Jiles novel, and I have to say the film will probably be good, though I’m practically begging you to read the book first.

It’s a first rate yarn set in post-Civil War Texas involving an old war veteran who’s agreed to return to her family a young girl who was raised captive by Kiowa warriors and remembers nothing of her previous life. This cross-cultural and cross-generational bonding angle could have been a cliched mess, the kind of thing Hollywood loves to cash in on, but the book is a clear eyed look at the harsh environs of a lawless Texas wilderness, rendered in gorgeous prose.

The title stems from the occupation of the old veteran, who gathers up recent newspapers from all over and travels to distant small towns and outposts, giving public readings at ten cents a head. If this setup sounds like your kind of thing you will be well served reading the book first, or instead.

Vajra Essence

Considered to be vast
in its extent, the universe
which encompasses all

that could be imagined is enlarged
by the tightness, the constraint of a
mind deluded by grasping.

The smallness of the self
is what begs large the reaches
of the heavens. To interrupt

even briefly, this ghastly inflation
of the considered real, exposes much
—settles nearly everything.

The cultivation and continuance of
such interruption leads to realization
—the condition beyond conditioning.


Following is the foreword from the book Fathoming the Mind: Inquiry and Insight in Dudjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence, translated by B. Alan Wallace, with commentary, much of which touches on the seemingly intractable divide between the rationality of materialist science and the direct cognition methods of tantra.

It’s an excellent book for those studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism, and for people like me who tend toward morbid fascination with this controversy, which has been churning ever since they divided learning into the two branches called science and religion.


The otherwise decent folk, who
in life had not returned the books
they borrowed, now repay with labor
in windowless factory sweatshops
deep beneath the surface of some
nameless, skyless netherworld
hand-setting the type of each title
producing singular leather-bound volumes
with gilt decorations, and marbleized
end papers, then, donning brown uniforms
drive around mapless streets in rusty
little trucks with noisy mufflers
and expired tags, to deliver them
to their rightful owners, who are
here themselves, laboring fruitlessly
at other tasks, for other reasons.


You seem to have it in for me
and by my life, from you I flee.

Now I know I give you fits
because I chew your books to bits.

And eat them do I ever, man
the cloth and paper, leather tan.

It’s food to me, these tomes you love
that in my hungry mouth I shove.

How is it you can sit and look
for hours at a tasty book?

It’s three A.M. and still you read
please hurry, I’ve got kids to feed.


they express to us often
our customers, that their relationship
to books is sacred

and I don’t push my view
that it is the right to publish
and read freely that is sacred

it’s their business
if they want to practice idolatry
or view their shelves as altars

the books themselves are
no more durable than the
knuckle skin

of a man heaving soaking
wet books by the boxfull
into a dumpster

but, we do understand
these bound signatures are
in fact the medium

of something more potent
than mere talk, or knowledge
that has never been shared

and not just objects
to be bought and sold
by jaded, heartless merchants

I work at the used book store in Galveston, Texas, where our neighbors on the mainland to the North have been flooded catastrophically by a week of unrelenting, unimaginable rain. We got enough water in the store to ruin some of our used stock, and were back up and running a day later. Can’t stop thinking about our big sister Houston, and her suffering right now.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Adolph Meth-head

It is my conjecture that only two groups of people are interested in the scholarship of Nazi Germany: Those who wish to understand it better in order to avoid its happening ever again, and those who wish to understand it better in order to re-implement it and get it right this time.

Well, and now there’s me. My morbid curiosity is hereby piqued. The idea of the German high command being a bunch of crazed, hallucinating, meth-heads certainly would help to satisfy that whole WTF!? vibe associated with the unimaginable atrocities of the Third Reich.

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
by Norman Ohler

The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. But as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs. On the eve of World War II, Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth—the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories.

An interview with the author appears in the Guardian. Fascinating stuff, and it will have to do until the book comes out.

U.S. release is May, 2017.