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These stories are set in Chile and Texas and Manhattan and Oakland, places Berlin knew well, and they feature women who learn to think early about what to take and what to leave in life. Read the review.

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Her narrator makes a banquet out of her objections to bourgeois verities. Brutal questions emerge: What if you decline motherhood in favor of your art and your art turns out to be mediocre? Romy, the young narrator, worked there before being sent to prison for life for killing the man who stalked her. This is a brooding book, one that dwells on Dostoyevskian notions of innocence and evil. It moves like a muscle car, oozing down the side roads of your mind. This volume of personal essays, book and television reviews and political observations, most of them written for The New York Review of Books, floods your veins with pleasure.

As a critic, Moore has an intimate and approachable voice. Moshfegh is a young American writer of Croatian and Iranian descent who writes with misanthropic aplomb. The unnamed heroine of her third novel is a kind of brand ambassador for ennui. Like Oblomov in the Russian novel, she wants to spend most of her time sleeping. She begins to wonder: Why climb out of bed at all? Though this novel is set 20 years ago, it feels current. Nunez has an interesting mind, and she shakes the dust from every topic — grief, writing, academia, sexual politics — she picks up.

He deals out the stories of his 12 characters, many of them related, as their lives move toward an event called the Big Oakland Powwow, from which some of them will not return.

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Tomalin, the esteemed English biographer of Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others, writes briskly and sensitively here of her own life. She attended Cambridge a year ahead of Sylvia Plath and she spent many years in swinging, sexist London as the editor of well-regarded book review sections. Her first husband, the journalist Nicholas Tomalin, cheated on her relentlessly before dying young while reporting in Israel.

One of their children was born with spina bifida, a defect of the spinal chord. Nicholson Baker once said that every novel asks the same question: Is life worth living? The books I loved most this year — a heretical, often form-shattering bunch — take it one step further. They are why we live: to encounter questioning, mayhem, wisdom and wit — to read books such as these.

He swoops at his subject from all angles, in a Cubist portrait of a lady — one chapter enumerates her most famous rebukes. For three decades, Enric Marco, a Catalan mechanic, was a prominent public face of Spanish survivors of the Holocaust, until his story was revealed to be a hoax in It is thrilling to be in the room with the two of them once their cat-and-mouse game commences.

Eisenberg is a writer of legendary exactitude, and slowness. This is her first new collection since , and well worth the wait — so instantly absorbing that it feels like an abduction. These are stories of painful awakenings and refusals of innocence, emerging out of the ashes of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, despoliation and environmental plunder. The sentences are full of syntactic fireworks, breakneck swerves and very black humor. A third section hints at the link between these two stories that never explicitly intersect. It hones your senses.

In these 70 sonnets, written after the election of , Hayes set himself the challenge of writing political poems in the guise of love poems. Each one is distinct: Some are sermons, some are swoons. They are acrid with tear gas, and they unravel with desire. Her visual memoir takes the form of an overstuffed scrapbook, jammed with letters, photographs and passionate paeans to household goods of her childhood — soap, a brand of bandage, a rubber hot water bottle — that speak to those unappeasable desires to wash away stains, mend scars, make whole.

The wisdom of this book is that it eschews such palliatives.

Listen to the trees

Metals, plastics, and ceramics tend to have a fairly uniform inner structure and that makes them isotropic : they behave exactly the same way in all directions. Wood is different due to its annual-ring-and-grain structure. You can usually bend and snap a small, dead, tree branch with your bare hands, but you'll find it almost impossible to stretch or compress the same branch if you try pulling or pushing it in the opposite direction.

The same holds when you're cutting wood. If you've ever chopped wood with an ax, you'll know it splits really easily if you slice with the blade along the grain, but it's much harder to chop the opposite way through the grain. We say wood is anisotropic , which means a lump of wood has different properties in different directions. Photo: Wood is a traditional building material, as popular today as ever. Because wood is anisotropic, natural wooden beams work better as vertical posts where they are in compression than horizontal beams where they are in tension. That's not a problem here, because these beams are laminated so they are equally strong in all directions.

The diagonal members add further strength to stop the horizontal beams from bending. Read more about how buildings work. That's not just important to someone chopping away in the woodshed: it also matters when you're using wood in construction. Traditional wooden buildings are supported by huge vertical poles that transmit forces down into the ground along their length, parallel to the grain.

That's a good way to use wood because it generally has high compressive strength resistance to squeezing when you load it in the same direction as the grain. Wooden poles are much weaker placed horizontally; they need plenty of support to stop them bending and snapping. That's because they have lower tensile strength resistance to bending or pulling forces across the grain.

Not all woods are the same, however. Oak has much higher tensile strength than many other woods, which is why it was traditionally used to make the heavy, horizontal beams in old buildings. Other factors such as how well seasoned dry a piece of wood is as discussed below and how dense it is also affect its strength.

Chart: Wood can be very weak. In tension for example, stretched horizontally in struts or beams , it's one of the weakest of all common materials. That's why it's more likely to be used in compression in vertical beams , where it's very much stronger. Concrete suffers from the same problem, which it's why it's often reinforced with steel.

All woods are different, and vary with atmospheric conditions, but typically they're 10—30 times stronger in the longitudinal direction than in the radial direction see the inset picture of a tree trunk for an explanation of these terms. One of the best things about wood is how long it lasts. Browsing through the daily news, you'll often read that archeologists have unearthed the buried remains of some ancient wooden article—a wooden tool , perhaps, or a simple rowboat or the remnants of a huge building—that are hundreds or even thousands of years old.

Providing a wooden object is properly preserved something else we discuss later , it will easily outlast the person who made it. But just like that person, a wooden object was once a living thing—and it's a natural material. Like other natural materials, it's subject to the natural forces of decay through a process known as rotting , in which organisms such as fungi and insects such as termites and beetles gradually nibble away the cellulose and lignin and reduce wood to dust and memories.

Photo: Under attack! The big problem with wood is that it's a natural material subject to attack from other natural things, notably fungi and insects. This is what Formosan subterranean termites can do to wood. Wood has many other interesting characteristics. It's hygroscopic , which means that, just like a sponge, it absorbs water and swells up in damp conditions, giving out the water again when the air dries and the temperature rises.

If, like mine, your home has wooden windows, you'll probably notice that they open much more easily in summer than in winter, when the damp outdoor conditions make them swell into the frames not necessarily such a bad thing, since it helps to keep out the cold. Why does wood absorb water? Remember that the trunk of a tree is designed to carry water from the roots to the leaves: it's pretty much a water superhighway. A freshly cut piece of "green" wood typically contains a huge amount of hidden water, making it very difficult to burn as firewood without a great deal of smoking and spitting.

Some kinds of wood can soak up several times their own weight of water, which is absorbed inside the wood by the very same structures that transported water from the roots of the tree to the leaves when the tree was a living, growing plant. What other properties does wood have? Although wood can absorb sound very effectively another useful property in buildings, where people value sound insulation shutting out their neighbors , wooden objects can also be designed to transmit and amplify sounds—that's how musical instruments work.

Wood is generally a poor conductor of electricity but, interestingly, it's piezoelectric an electric charge will build up on wood if you squeeze it the right way. Wood was one of the first natural materials people learned to use, and it's never lost its popularity. These days, it's particularly prized for being a natural and environmentally friendly product. Forestry is a rare example of something that has the potential to be completely sustainable : in theory, if you plant a new tree for every old tree you cut down, you can go on using wood forever without damaging the planet.

In practice, you need to replace like with like and forestry is not automatically sustainable, whatever papermakers like us to believe. A brand new tree has much less ecological value than a mature tree that's hundreds of years old so planting a thousand saplings may be no replacement for felling just a handful of ancient trees. Logging can be hugely environmentally damaging, whether it involves clearcutting a tropical rainforest or selectively felling mature trees in old-growth temperate woodland. Some of the processes and chemicals used in forestry and woodworking are also environmentally damaging ; chlorine, used to bleach wood fibers to make paper, can cause water pollution in rivers , for example.

But on the positive side, growing trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and planting more of them is one way to reduce the effects of climate change. Trees also provide important habitats for many other species and help to increase biodiversity the wide range of living organisms on Earth. Practiced the right way, forestry is a good example of how people can live in perfect harmony with the planet. How does wood get from the tree to the roof of your house, your bookshelf, or the chair you're sitting on?

It's a longer and more complex journey than you might think that takes in harvesting, seasoning, preserving and other treatment, and cutting. Here's a brief guide. Photo: Chopping down a longleaf pine is only the start of the fun: now you've got to get it home preferably without damaging the rest of the forest in the process. That's where this skidder machine comes in, lifting up the logs with a hydraulic crane and dragging them away with a powerful diesel engine. Photo by Randy C. Murray courtesy of US Army. Growing plants for food is called agriculture; growing trees for human use is silviculture —and the two things have a great deal in common.

Wood is a plant crop that must be harvested just like any other, but the difference is how long trees take to grow, often many years or even decades. How wood is harvested depends on whether trees are growing in plantations where there are hundreds or thousands of the same species, generally of similar age or in mature forests where there's a mixture of different species and trees of widely differing ages.

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Planted trees may be grown according to a precise plan and clear-cut the entire forest is felled when they reach maturity. A drastic approach like that makes sense if the trees are a fast-growing species planted specifically for use as biomass fuel, for example. Individual trees can also be selectively felled from mixed forests and either dragged away by machine or animal or even if it makes economic and environmental sense hauled upward by helicopter , which avoids damaging other nearby trees. Sometimes trees have their bark and small branches removed in the forest before being hauled away to a lumber yard for further processing, though they can also be removed intact, with the entire processing done offsite.

It all depends on the value of the tree, the growing conditions, how far away the lumber yard is, and how easy the tree is to transport. Another interesting form of forestry is called coppicing , which involves removing long, thin, low-growing branches from trees such as hazel and willow in a careful and respectful way that does no long-term damage.

Photo: These cottonwood trees might look too spindly for making poles or planks, but they'll not be used for either. They're part of a fast-growing plantation that produces biomass , a type of renewable energy burned in power plants. Biomass is better for the environment because the trees take in as much carbon dioxide when they grow as they give out when they're burned; leaving aside the energy wasted in harvesting and processing, a biomass plant produces no overall carbon dioxide emissions, unlike a traditional power plant fueled by oil or coal.

Other "energy crops" include willow, poplar, and eucalyptus. A freshly cut tree is a bit like a sponge that comes presoaked in water, so it has to be completely dried out or seasoned before it can be used. Dry wood is less likely to rot and decay, it's easier to treat with preservatives and paint , and it's much lighter and easier to transport typically, half a freshly felled tree's weight may come from water trapped inside. Dry wood is also much stronger and easier to build with it won't shrink so much and if a tree is destined for burning as firewood or an energy crop , it will burn more easily and give out more heat if it's properly dried first.

Typically wood is dried either in the open air which takes anything from a few months to a year or, if speed is important, in vast heated ovens called kilns which cuts the drying time to days or weeks. Seasoned wood is still not completely dry: typically its moisture content varies from about 5—20 percent, depending on the drying method and time.

In theory, wood might last forever if it weren't attacked by bugs and bacteria; preservatives can greatly extend its life by preventing rot. Different preservatives work in different ways. Paint , for example, works like an outer skin that stops fungi and insects penetrating the wood and eating it away, but sunlight and rain make paint crack and flake away, leaving the wood open to attack underneath.

Creosote another popular wood preservative is a strong-smelling, oily brown liquid usually made from coal-tar. Unlike paint, it is a fungicide, insecticide, miticide, and sporicide: in other words, it works by stopping fungi, insects, mites, and spores from eating or growing in the wood. Photo: A fence before right and after left treatment with wood preservative. Different kinds of treatment help to protect and preserve wood in other ways. It's a great irony that wood can be used to build a fine home that will last many decades or burn to the ground in minutes.

Wood is so plentiful and burns so well that it has long been one of the world's favorite fuels.

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That's why fire-protection treatment of wooden building products is so important. Typically, wood is treated with fire retardant chemicals that affect the way it burns if it catches fire, reducing the volatile gases that are given off so it burns more slowly and with greater difficulty.

There's a big difference between a tree and the table it might become, even though both are made from exactly the same wood. That difference comes mainly from skillful cutting and woodworking. How much cutting a tree needs depends on the product that's being made. Something like a utility pole or a fence post is not much more than a tree stripped of its branches and heavily treated with preservatives; that's an example of what's called roundwood.

Trees need a bit more work in the sawmill to turn them into lumber , timber , or sawnwood the three names are often used interchangeably, though they can be used with more specific meanings. Flat pieces of wood can be made from trees by cutting logs in two different directions.

If you cut planks with the saw running in lines parallel to the length of the trunk, you get plainsawn sometimes called flatsawn wood with ovals or curves on the biggest flat surface of the wood ; if you fell a tree, cut the trunk into quarters, then slice each quarter into parallel planks, you get quartersawn wood with the grain running along the biggest flat surface in broadly parallel stripes. See how attractive those patterns look? Not surprisingly, wood that's destined for furniture and other decorative uses has to be cut much more thoughtfully and carefully with regard to what's called its figure.