Whoo Hoo!

The first review I’ve seen of The Rough Guide to the Universe, and it couldn’t get much better:

“It’s difficult to avoid the clich, ‘If you could only buy one book… ‘ when this book is the topic of conversation. Anybody with even a smidge of interest in astronomy should have this book on hand, novice and expert alike, no question about it.”

Read it for yourself. Having a positive review of this particular book is a huge load off my mind, I have to tell you.


Reader Request #7: Ohio

Paula wants to know what I think of Ohio. She writes:

“Although some readers requested specific details relating to Ohio, I’d be interested in a general description of life in the Buckeye State. As a New Yorker, I’ve always had a romantic view of the place, and I’d like to compare the dream with the reality.”

Well, like any place it has its positives and its negatives. I think anyone who has read the Whatever for a while knows that it wouldn’t have been my choice to move to Ohio; I’m a southern California native who has spent most of his life in urban or suburban areas: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fresno (which, before you snicker, has a population of about half a million) and Washington DC. However, Krissy’s family is in Ohio and she wanted to be close to them, and as a freelance writer I can write from anywhere. Krissy had at one point packed up and moved all the way across the country from everyone she knew because I asked her to; now that she asked me to move I couldn’t really say no. So that’s how I came to Ohio.

My bit of Ohio is of course rustically bucolic, as you can see from the photo, and as mentioned has its pluses and minuses. Pluses: Dude, I’ve got a hell of a lot of land and a honkin’ big house for the same monthly cost as a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn or San Francisco. I have lots of fresh air, no urban aggravations, and I can go out at night and see the Milky Way from my porch. I’ve never been able to do that before. Everyone in town waves to everyone else as they drive by, my neighbors will plow my driveway when it snows without us even asking, and my dog runs around without a leash and no one gives a damn. It’s cool to watch the Amish roll on by on Saturdays. It’s quiet. A traffic jam here is a line of pcikup trucks waiting to pass a tractor on the road.

Minuses: Well, to put it bluntly, I’m kind of a freak around these here parts. Of my immediate neighbors, more than half drive trucks for a living, and most of the others are farmers of some sort or another. My neighbors are excellent people, but I don’t have many intellectual points of reference with them. This is not saying they — or I — am stupid, merely our interests and our life of the mind are fairly divergent. On the “let’s have an intense conversation” level, I pretty much have to commute. Or go online — I’ll be honest enough to note that this online thing is a bit of a release valve for the side of me that wants to have geeky conversations with people. Really, I’m glad y’all come by and talk to me.

Expanding on this a bit, living in the sticks does limit one’s cultural pursuits to some extent. This is not as bad as it could be — as I’ve noted, the great thing about being in the middle of nowhere in Ohio is that the middle of Ohio is still usually within of hour of somewhere (in my case, Dayton, which is more on the ball with local culture than you might expect), unlike, say, the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, in which you’re really in hell and gone. And of course having the ‘Net and satellite TV alleviates many of the symptoms of cultural isolation. But the fact remains I’m not able to just pop down the street for Thai food and a night of Celtic tunes down the pub. And if I were out here in the middle of no where and single, well. I’d just shoot myself.

And, as I’ve noted here before, I live in a very, very, very white little town. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but having lived in urban and suburban areas all my life, I default to expecting to see more shades of skin than I do, and when I don’t, it gets me sort of twitchy.

As regards Ohio in a general sense, it’s not so bad. It’s in many ways an ideal state in that it’s large enough in population and diversity to have a critical mass of cultural identity, and in most respects it’s a very pleasant place to be. It’s sort of like America’s Suburb, in that it’s a groovy place to grow up in, and then, between the ages of about 18 and 30, it’s a fabulous place to get away from while you’re off to college and doing that 20-something “I’m Exploring My Life” thing. After about 30, you’re married and have the Children Expansion Pack, it begins to look a whole lot more attractive again.

I have a very good friend from college who encapsulates this exactly: At college, she had a not a very high opinion of her home state, and she’s spent the last decade and a half in San Francisco. But the last time I saw her there (we had thai food!) she was saying that her and her SO were giving very serious thought to going back. It’s that whole “our family is there and it’s a good place to raise the kids” thing.

There are specific things that do bother me about Ohio, primarily that there are lot more very thick people here than I’ve ever seen before. The first time I went to the local grocery store, when we moved out here, I marveled to my wife that I didn’t know how these folks could even move. Say what you will about urban America, the fact is that the number of obese people, and more specifically obese people my age and younger, is nothing compared to out here. This says nothing about these obese folks as people — as I’ve noted, people here are very pleasant in a personal sense — but it’s just not healthy.

I’m not especially pleased with Ohio politics, either — but I’ll also note it’s not as bad as it could be. The state and national representatives in these here parts tend to be Republican, but they also tend to be reasonably moderate Republicans. Now, my own personal US Representative is John Boehner, and the less said about that the better. Be that as it may, in general, if you’re going to go GOP, better Ohio GOP than some other, more pointlessly conservative variant.

Also, I could not possibly care less about Ohio State football, which makes me both a rarity and possibly a communist rat bastard in these here parts. But, look: a) football — who cares. b) Ohio State — see a). I wasn’t born and raised in Ohio, so I didn’t get Ohio State-ness pounded into my head.

Given the choice to live anywhere in the US, would I live in Ohio? No. To be totally honest about it, I think the place that was the best fit for me personally was Northern Virginia, where we lived before we came here: It was suburban, it had lots of things to do thanks to the presence of Washington DC, it was diverse, and I had a peer group I had a whole bunch in common with. But having said that, Ohio is all around not a bad place. If you’re married and raising a family, there are worse places to be. And my wife and child love it here, and that’s a pretty good recommendation for any place. Swing on by sometime, Paula, and I’ll show you around.

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