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THE NY TIMES Review of
Novella Carpenter’s

I had a feeling I might like this memoir when I came upon on its first sentence, a gentle twist on the opening of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.” Here is Novella Carpenter: “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.”

But I didn’t truly fall in love with “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” until I hit Page 38. That’s when the bees that Ms. Carpenter has purchased from a mail order company arrive at her post office in Oakland, Calif. A panicked postal employee calls, begging her to pick them up because they’re attracting other bees and “freaking everyone out.”

So Ms. Carpenter hurries over, picks up the humming box, and casually plops it into the front basket of her bicycle. Then she has a parade. “I proceeded to ride down Telegraph Avenue, laughing out loud at the bees who tried to follow us amid the traffic,” she writes. “At stoplights I looked down at the mesh box, the bees churning around, and told them to get ready for” — and here she gives her neighborhood’s nickname — “GhostTown.” Fresh, fearless and jagged around the edges, Ms. Carpenter’s book, an account of how she raised not only fruit and vegetables but also livestock on a small, scrubby abandoned lot in Oakland, puts me in mind of Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”

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Novella Carpenter.

Hardcover: Penguin Press, 2009
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]

by Laura Jacobs.

Laura Jacobs is an urban miniaturist. In her sleek, pitch-perfect second novel, The Bird Catcher, she lavishes delectable attention on the subtle distinctions wrought by taste, class, money, and style in the city on which she trains her eagle eye. But there is nothing diminutive in her vision: Under the force of her piercing, halogen-bright gaze, the world cracks open, large and luminous.

Her latest protagonist, thirty-one-year-old Margaret Snow, is quietly but desperately trying to keep her head above water. A dropout from the graduate art-history program at Columbia University, Margaret now spends her days at Saks, where she creates extravagant displays for the windows that line Fifth Avenue. Much of her free time is spent bird-watching, either in the upper reaches of Central Park or at her weekend cottage on the Chesapeake Bay. Jacobs limns Margaret’s mounting despair with deftness and restraint; it’s not until page 59 that we learn Margaret’s adored husband, Charles—a scholar of ancient Assyria, university professor, and fellow bird enthusiast—was killed in a plane crash.

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Laura Jacobs.

Hardcover: St. Martins, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

A review of David Sedley’s
Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

In case you haven’t noticed: 2009 is Darwin Year. On 24 November, 150 years will have passed since the theory of evolution by natural selection was first fully presented and defended, in the first edition of the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory dealt the coup de grâce to the teleological way of thinking about nature which had dominated the minds of both the learned and the lay for more than two millennia, before it was gradually undermined by the rise of modern science (though, typically, perhaps, it spawned more arguments in its last phase than it ever did before). At least that is what people used to think where I come from. But then they had not yet been confronted with American Creationism.

‘Creationism’ in the contemporary everyday sense of the word is the view that the account of creation in Genesis is literally true and can be supported by science. According to recent polls, up to 66 percent of Americans share this view.1 Historically, this sense of the word seems to have developed from the more precisely defined (though extensionally wider) notion that the biological species inhabiting the earth have not evolved gradually from variants of other species but were created the way they are from the outset. Creationism in the everyday sense emerged in opposition to Darwinism. It invariably (I think) comes in a package with the belief that the biological species were created the way they are so as to be well adapted for a purpose. That is to say, it is closely related to a teleological way of thinking about nature.

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Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity.
David Sedley.

Hardcover: U. of California Press, 2007.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]