Coming down from the trees: or please don’t edit library books

I decided to shift genres and read some nonfiction after checking out Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food at my neighorhood library. I’m slowly jumping on the food/nutrition/health bandwagon, as I’ve hit my forties and have been trying to eat more vegetables, and be a little bit healthier in my habits, both physical and mental.

When I started reading the book yesterday, I had only read a few pages of the book and  found a curious editing choice in the copy I checked out. Library books, of course, are often abused: they’ve been marked in, had coffee spilled on them (I’m guilty of this abuse), have torn or even sometimes missing pages. I once even found a leaf in a copy Arthur Plotnik’s The Urban Tree Book 

On page 6 of the library copy of the book, the previous borrower decided to take action (see PDF) and quibble with the author over word choice, scratching through the line “coming down from the trees,” not because the line is cliche, but because Pollan has chosen to refer to humans as an evolved species and not a divine creation. The “editor” in pen has inserted in the margin “being created by the All mighty God.”

I alternate between finding this funny in a Ned-Flanders sort of way (recalling Flanders marking out “darns” and “hecks” from either Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew) and finding it annoying. I can imagine this reader with pencil in hand, grumbling to himself and thinking, Gosh darnit I’m so sick-and-tired of these liberals and their making monkeys of us, I’ma gonna make the next person reads this here book think about the Truth and facts. Yep, they gonna know the Lord created the universe in six days and our world is six-thousand years old.

The  comment is not relevant to Pollan’s argument. The previous reader has co-opted the book as his own, as if it were his desire to have written a book about food and nutrition, but from the perspective of creationism.

After I posted this entry yesterday, I flipped through the book and discovered the previous reader had kept editing  as he read when Pollan made reference to humans being an evolved species, an animal, a mammal, a primate.

The first thing these edits caused me to think of is my own obsession with debates over evolutionary theory (a theory based on hard science; of course, the scientific method could arguably be an ideology; certainly evolutionary theory, or rather correctly, the theory of natural selection proposed by Darwin, et al, was much abused in Darwin’s own time through Social Darwinian theories) and creationism (an ideology that is a subset of the ideology of religious fundamentalism that makes serious leaps of logic, faith and misreading).  Pollan, interestingly enough, talks about currents in food science as nutrionism, “an ideology . . .[a way] of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions.”

Anyhow, I believe in evolution, in natural selection; I believe we are animals, mammals, and primates and there is good, solid, examined evidence to demonstrate that life primeval wasn’t Flinstonian in nature, as some creationists try to demonstrate.

That said, the next thing the creationist editor caused me to think about was a recent Facebook discussion about artistic intention and the intentional fallacy. Clearly, the creationist editor misread Pollan’s book, and read into it an argument against creation, and seems to ignore Pollan’s—from what we can gather through textual evidence only—intention: “My aim in this book is to help us  reclaim our health and happiness as eaters.”

Or is this Pollan’s intention? Perhaps he really is trying by writing about an interesting topic such as food and health to sideswipe us into believing we evolved tens of thousands of years ago and monkeys are our uncles ?

I tend to think opening the evolution-creation debate wasn’t Pollan’s intention, but I’m just another reader of a so far well-written book-length argumentative essay that tries its best to examine unexamined assumptions about food.


Booking Through Thursday: The books I carry, or the books that carry me

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Do you carry books with you when you’re out and about in the world?

And, do you ever try to hide the covers?

Yes, I carry books when I’m out and about. Of late, when I go to substitute teach, along with my lunch in my backpack, I carry Year’s Best SF 12 to read on my breaks.

It’s a short story anthology from 2006 and includes Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, and Ian MacLeod.

Short stories are really good for the hour or so of planning period time I usually have available for myself. Much better than reading the same copy of Wired or Time or Newsweek found in the teacher’s lounge.

No, I don’t hide the covers of books I carry around, unless it’s a big stack in the shopping bag from the bookstore I’ve bought them from.

Booking Through Thursday: Will Deep Space Be My Dwelling Place?

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday (a little late):

What are you reading now?

Would you recommend it?

And what’s next?

I’m reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. So far I would recommend it. It’s sort of a post-apocalyptic steampunk/cyberpunk blend set in a near future Thailand, in a world where food and calories are assets and genetic modification has run amok. So far very readable. And Bacigalupi’s world is well-imagined.

The next read will probably be a reread of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.

Gully Foyle is my name

And Terra is my nation.

Deep space is my dwelling place,

The stars my destination.