Good Reads: From writer’s block, to edible insects, to an unexpected nuclear leader

This week's roundup of Good Reads includes a remedy for writer's block, a call to eat insects, a growing culture of sharing, countering the false perception of Europe's decline, and a nuclear Kazakhstan.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Dried insect spices are displayed as part of a London exhibit, ‘Insects au Gratin.’

To face the blank page

What if writer’s block or the moments between creative inspirations didn’t bother us? What if they could be considered welcome moments or even essential to the game of creation? Most people don’t experience writing in one fluid bout of perfection, anyway, writes Leni Zumas in the Spring 2013 issue of Good magazine. In an essay titled “Working the Hole,” she investigates how to overcome those moments when “[t]he aversion to sitting down to write, or to staying at the desk, is fierce and physical, almost as if magnets were at work, rejecting each other.”

Make use of your time in between bursts of inspiration by becoming a scavenger, Ms. Zumas says. Not in the carrion bird of prey way, but by practicing deliberate awareness. “In order to show readers the world in ways they may never have seen it before, the artist herself must practice being open to raw, unbridled perception,” she writes. The only thing wrong with “the lacunae of inspiration,” as Walter Benjamin once described writer’s block, is how much we fear it.

Eat your insects

Lauren Alix Brown writes in Quartz that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says it’s time to get over it when it comes to the topic of eating bugs. Ms. Brown points out five reasons to follow through: (1) They’re good for you, “grasshoppers have comparable levels of protein to raw beef....” (2) They’re better for the environment. (3) It makes economic sense. The cost of raising insects is low, which is good for economic development. (4) They are less likely than livestock to transmit food-borne maladies like SARS. (5) Insects are everywhere, and many people already do eat them. 

“Humans, on average, already unintentionally ingest an estimated 1 pound of insects a year, mixed in with other foods,” writes Brown.

Why own, when you can rent – or borrow?

Americans have defined themselves by what they own: their cars, houses, books, music, power tools. But a cultural shift is changing definitions of ownership, as the Monitor’s Oct. 1, 2012, cover story reported (“The sharing economy”). Janelle Nanos of Boston Magazine delves further into the forces that have made sharing and renting more appealing: a poor economy, rapidly evolving technology that encourages sharing (share button on Facebook, anyone?), and growing city populations. 

Added to that is an increased concern for the environment “that’s giving rise to a new social and commercial landscape in this country, and even a new way of life,” Ms. Nanos writes. What does that new way of life look like? From Airbnb, the website that allows you to rent rooms in private homes for less than what hotels or B&Bs charge, to Zipcar alternative RelayRides (a national peer-to-peer car sharing service), peer-to-peer exchanges of goods and services are now hailed as a more economical, ecological, and social form of ownership. Of course, for a culture that’s not used to sharing, there’s still getting over what Nanos calls the “Ick Factor,” the fear of strangers and awkward social encounters.

Europe is faring better than it seems

Despite the ongoing euro crisis and the rapid economic rise of countries such as Brazil and China, Europe has not faded into utter irrelevance, argue Mark Leonard and Hans Kundnani in Foreign Policy magazine. 

Sure, Europe is in decline in one sense – for centuries Europe was pushing the lists of firsts: first in international relations, first to colonize, first to go through a world-changing Renaissance. 

But the game of catch-up that other rising players have been playing since World War II isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t making Europe obsolete. In fact, it’s helped spur another first for Europe: “[a] new model that pools resources and sovereignty with a continent-sized market and common legislation and budgets to address transnational threats from organized crime to climate change.”

The other nuclear Asian country   

We’ve heard the nuclear concerns about Pakistan and North Korea and Iran. But there’s another country in Asia to watch. Of course, unlike North Korea and Iran, Kazakhstan is positioning itself as a global nuclear leader, and is now in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency to host a global nuclear fuel bank.

Kazakhstan is uniquely positioned for this leadership role, writes Jillian Keenan in The Atlantic Monthly. Home to Semipalatinsk, once the world’s second largest nuclear testing site, the former Soviet state has seen firsthand what happens when nuclear testing goes wrong.

“A ninth of Kazakhstan’s territory, comparable with the territory of Germany, was turned into a nuclear wasteland” when the Soviet Union tested its nuclear bombs there, said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a speech at the 20th anniversary of the Semipalatinsk closure in 2009. (And here it might be worth mentioning that Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world.)

Those tests resulted in the first Soviet antinuclear movement, which succeeded in pressuring the Kazakh government to close all its nuclear facilities.

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