bunrab: (me)

First off, a couple of books I didn't like, but they were part of my "quest" - I made it a goal of my own to try and read some things that aren't the kind of stuff I always read. So we have a couple of books that are by authors I've never heard of before.
1. A Kindle book, cheap. Witch for Hire (A Witch's Path Book 1) by N. E. Conneely The premise sounded amusing - a witch who works for several police departments in Georgia, as a consultant, when supernatural things cause problems. In execution, however, the book was weak - it read more like a YA than anything else, even though our protagonist isn't a teenager. There's absolutely no sense of how a real work day goes, or what real jobs are like. The family secret is revealed, with reasons for keeping it that sound incoherent, and the resolution of it goes far too smoothly and quickly for what it is. New magical beings spring out of nowhere, as needed, just to give our heroine something to do. The dinner table conversation at the boarding house she lives in is there just so that there are other characters for Michelle to bounce off of - and it's difficult to tell one kind of supernatural humanoid character from another. And the love interest is barely even there at all - and really, Elron? An elf named Elron? Reeeeally? No convincing reasons why said elf should be attracted to Michelle, and even fewer to explain why she should be interested in a middle-aged elf; their repeated interactions seem to be a series of non-sequiters. The ending is ambiguous enough to pretty much guarantee that the author intends a sequel; I don't intend to read it.
2. From the library, allegedly first in a new series: Pile of Bones (A Novel of the Parallel Parks) by Bailey Cunningham  - I'm providing a link to Amazon, because that's easier that linking to a library site most of you won't be signed in on. " In one world, they’re ordinary university students. In another world, they are a company of heroes in a place of magic and myth called Anfractus" RPGers playing a game in a park in Regina, Saskatchewan. The university students are allegedly grad students, and honestly, the grad students I know don't have time for this much game playing. And /everybody/ needs more sleep than any of these characters get - even medical interns on call get more time to sleep between shifts than these guys seem to get between playing their game all night and TA-ing all day. Anyway, the magical world inside the park.seems to be vaguely based on ancient Rome, with lots of Latin words and place names and professions. Why a magical interface from a park made over a Cree area full of buffalo bones should be European rather than Native American/First People/Indian, I haven't figured out. And after chapter 3 or so, I stopped trying, and started skimming, because it became obvious that this book is written for gamers, and is just a novelization of a game, albeit a game the author invented. And I think you'd have to be a serious live-action RPG-er to care what these characters are doing, or to follow their reasoning, even when they're in the real world. You'd also have to be more familiar with Regina than I am, and I don't care to have to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods of an unfamiliar small Canadian city just in order to be able to follow a fantasy novel. In short - not at all interesting to someone who isn't fascinated by novelizations of someone's D&D games from college.

Now on to one I did like:
3. Dragon Bones (The Hurog Duology, Book 1) by Patricia Briggs - I've read her entire Mercy Thompson series, but had never gotten around to any others of hers, so I grabbed this one from the library. And I like it. I like Briggs' writing style. It isn't exactly humorous - well, the Mercy Thompson books have plenty of humor, but that's not their main raison - but it is wry. Most of the characters have a good sense of the fact that so much of what they have to do is ridiculous, and that life is an awful lot of trouble, and that other people are usually inexplicable. Our hero, accompanied by the family ghost, gives up his fortress/leadership of the clan because he can clearly see that no physical castle is worth as much as saving the lives of his people. There are plenty of plot twists that I'm not going to give away. I'll just say, I found the premise - the last set of bones of an extinct race of dragons is buried under the keep of the Hurog - to be carried out well, and I really liked the characters. Ward does what he has to, to make sure his father doesn't kill him, and then has to figure out a way to get out of the hole he's dug for himself after his father dies. He has siblings, and cousins, and faithful followers, and not-so-faithful members of his band of misfits, and he has the aforementioned family ghost. Keep an eye on the ghost. Some particular things I liked about this book, as specifically pertains to fantasy: first, there's not /that/ much magic in it - there's a lot going on that's people interacting, not magical things happening. And the magic seems to follow a reasonable set of rules; there aren't new magical things popping up every few pages just to solve problems or just to give our hero something to kill, as happens in far too many fantasies. There are the dragons, and there are mages, some with more magical abilities than others, and that's about it. The rest of it's real people, doing what real people in feudal societies do, and frankly, when magic comes messing with their lives, they aren't all that enthused about it - it's usually more trouble to people than it is a help. And yes, that has some parallels to Game of Thrones, such as the line that the series is named after. In fact, if you liked Game of Thrones but would prefer to read something with far fewer gory deaths and far fewer pages, you could do far worse than this. It's got the hardworking people of the north, and the king in the south who maybe shouldn't be king, and some other similarities, but all in a normal-sized volume and with not one single toilet disemboweling. I plan on reading the sequel, and on finding more of Patricia Briggs, because I like her voice.

I think that completes
for this year; I probably won't have time for another quest, as there is real stuff I should be doing. Maybe next year.
bunrab: (me)
I regularly grab large armfuls of stuff off the new books shelf in the library, on spec, to see if there are random authors out there I haven't run across who might be any good. This is particularly the case with murder mysteries - I read 'em faster than the authors write 'em, so I am constantly on the lookout for new series, or new to me, anyway.

One of the things that I've noticed is that there are more and more gimmicks in the mystery genre.
A long rant about gimmick escalation. )
One example of too many gimmicks, that I skimmed through and could hardly stand even the skim version: our protagonist spends lots of time drinking brand name liquor and talking about kinky sex with her neighbors, but still has time to have a really successful career! And she has a boyfriend who's a cop, and he doesn't mind at all that she constantly gets involved in murders and solves them for him! And she's going to be on a reality show! Which is supposed to be a bunch of women from whom the rich guy will choose a spouse, but really he's gay and it's one of the men in the house that he's going to choose! Only one of the guys is secretly straight and pretending to be gay in order to get the rich guy's money! Oh, and there's a guy who's secretly his son he didn't know he had! I'm pretty sure there were designer shoes in there somewhere too, but I couldn't hack even skimming more than the first two chapters and the last one.

And then there's the other bane of the random book grab, the self-published book. These show up on the library shelves, often because a local author has donated copies to the library. Where do I even start about the horrors of most self-published books? I won't even mention the lack of proofreading in many; that's just pitiful - but the stuff beyond typos and obvious grammar errors? The dialogue that clearly no one has ever tried saying out loud? The massive info dumps as filler? The continuity errors, oh gods, the continuity errors. Bad enough when it's just that the spelling of someone's name changes from Marjorie to Marjory, a little worse when someone's physical characteristics such as hair color change suddenly, or their background information changes. Then it gets to the point where someplace that we were told 2 chapters ago is a place our protagonist has never been, but suddenly he's familiar with it and has spent years there. Or there's dialogue and suddenly one of the characters who's speaking is someone who wasn't in the book at all until suddenly they were in the middle of this conversation! And then there's the really egregious stuff - the narration changes from third-person to first person at random times that are clearly accidental, not a deliberate viewpoint change to make something clearer. Or similarly, the tense changes for no reason, and a paragraph that was in standard fictional past tense is suddenly being told in the present tense, even though nothing else has changed. Or someone who was speaking standard English (albeit stiffly and without contractions or very unrealistically) suddenly starts speaking in a dialect, with the dialect spelled phonetically.

I've been sent a few such books by authors who see my name on Amazon; so far, there hasn't been a one of the self-published books where I'd be able to write a positive review.

Sometimes it really makes me question whether it's worth trying to read anything new. But in the next post I will describe a couple of books I liked, one with a gimmick that was a little bit gimmicky but the characters were likeable and the plot was good, so it worked; another that was self-published but turned out to be quite decent.
bunrab: (me)
The local library seems to have gotten a big shipment all at once from Prometheus, publishers of assorted skeptical stuff and also way-out-there stuff occasionally - people who are skeptical of the real world to the point of massive conspiracy theories, etc. The quality of books from them varies. Sometimes it's straightforward "my doctoral dissertation turned into a book" stuff, sometimes it's stranger than that. Anyway, I grabbed a few of them to look at.

First up: Radical Distortion: How Emotions Warp What We Hear - John Reich. First the totally obvious: people with extreme views on a subject don't like to hear contrary opinions. Then the slightly less obvious, with several studies: people with extreme views on a subject are more likely to rate neutral statements as being negative/against them/contrary, rather than neutral - holding extreme views makes one incapable of perceiving neutral ground. Many of the studies cited are actually from the 50s and 60s, not from current issues that are polarized, showing that this aspect of extreme views has been around for a while.
For example )
Next up: Second That Emotion: How Decisions, Trends, and Movements are Shaped - Jeremy Holden. This turns out to be mostly stories about how to use social media to spread propaganda - not as interesting as the title, and not even that informative - it's anecdotes, and no real studies showing whether what the author thinks made the "movement" in each anecdote work, is actually what fueled or spread it. It's just stories, no analysis. Waste of time.

Last from this batch: The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness - Giles Slade. It's the Kindle's fault that people don't talk to each other any more and are rude when they do. No, it's Amazon.com's fault even before the Kindle. No, it's the Internet's fault!! The author's thesis is that since we buy more stuff online now, we have fewer daily interactions that consist of saying "thank you" and "Have a nice day" with store clerks, and that's making us lonelier and ruder. My opinion: Um, no. For one thing, for most products, the percentage of people who buy them online is still vanishingly small - almost everyone still buys their groceries in a grocery store, and even if they order them online, they talk to the delivery guy. Likewise restaurant meals, haircuts, dentists, all that other stuff that CAN'T be done on the Internet - still far, far outweighs the commerce that is done on the Internet. I wound up chatting about this book with the guy next to me at a restaurant - the only seats left at the place across the street before a concert were at the bar, so we were squished together, and he had an e-reader, and we had a nice long chat about reading books (news flash: people who have e-readers still buy lots of hardcopy books too! The more you read, the more you buy!) and whether having a tablet to read on alienated you from other readers. Conclusion: no, if anything, e-readers seem to spark more conversations than carrying around a dead-tree book, if anything. So our joint conclusion was that The Big Disconnect is full of crap.

I also grabbed The Pickwick Papers in my quest to read a few more classics, but discovered that my tolerance for that particular type of humor is quite limited, and after 4 chapters I was too tired of those characters to continue. Oh well, I'll try a different classic soon.
bunrab: (me)
A Christmas Garland - Anne Perry. Novelette, Christmas-themes, annual, features one of her regular characters at a much earlier point in his life. Good mystery.
The Member of the Wedding - Carson McCullers. I sorta resolved at New Years to try and read a few "classics" this year, and since this was on the "classics" display at the library, I grabbed it. I have no idea why it's a classic. I am reminded once again, even in this relatively short novel, of everything I don't like about the style of "Southern" writers and of the whole southern-gothic-sort-of genre. Stories of family scandals based on ignorance, disease, and discrimination, will just never be my cup of tea, I guess. And our protagonist is actually too young for this to be coming of age, nor does she particularly come of any pieces of wisdom from the incidents. I guess it's a good description of the intense but scattered emotions and lack of logic typical of a girl on the brink of adolescence, but so what? Not that interesting.

Tried a bit of chick lit, since it involved a bookstore; I thought that might make it interesting. It didn't, and I didn't finish The Book Lover by Maryann McFadden. I stopped at about the second point where I was mentally shouting at someone, "Why the hell do you people keep lying to each other on the spur of the moment for no logical reason???" Life's too short.

Now reading: Rage is Back - Adam Mansbach. Very, very funny. It's told in the first person, and some of it in New York City dialect, if that's the right word - our protagonist is the teenage son of an absent father who was a famous graffiti-writer in his day. Said son, unfortunately named Dondi, is quite intelligent, and has only recently been kicked out of what he refers to as the Whoopty Whoo Ivy League We's A Comin' Academy, which he was attending on a "What the Hell, Let's Give a Clever Young Colored Boy a Chance to Transcend His Race Scholarship."
Here's an excerpt from where I just reached, in which our narrator's reappeared father has described an alleged entheogenic serum from a talking tree, and our hero is deciding whether to listen to him:

I'm taking the time to acknowledge this out of respect for you, the reader, because I hate stories with fuzzy internal logic. Kids who've grown up on Harry Potter don't know any better, poor schmucks: the people in those books are constantly doing things that were impossible five minutes earlier. In a few years, you'll see. The Rowling generation's going to be the most fucked up yet. Whereas you could break into George Lucas's house right now, traipse into his study, and say, "Hey George, what exactly is a parsec?" and as soon as he finished taking his bong hit, he'd be able to explain. Probably before security arrived. Or take Tolkein: not only could J.R.R. have told you why they didn't just ride those giant fucking eagles straight into the heart of Mordor instead of walking, he'd have done so in High Elvish, or the Tongue of the Woodland Realm, your choice.

bunrab: (Default)
The heart stuff first: yes, I did go to the doctor's the next morning, just to confirm that it was a real episode and what I felt was what I thought it was, and test the device just to make sure nothing's wonky with it. And indeed, yes to all of that. And they raised my dose of Coreg again, now all the way up to what it "should" be - I had previously been taking only half the full dose, for years, because it made me so tired and because nothing much was going wrong and the Coreg wasn't helping my blood pressure that much over and above all the other meds I take - the Diovan or enalapril, the diuretics, etc. And for years, that was fine. But now, it appears that I need it for the anti-arrhythmic effects as well as the antihypertensive effects, so full dose it is.

a couple more paragraphs of whine )

Now, books. Part of moving is, I have to de-acquisition a LOT of books.
whining about why I have to give up a few )
One of the things I'm doing is reciting a mantra that goes like this: "The library has this book. The library has this whole series. Every library in Maryland and the surrounding states has this whole series!!" That mantra is useful for a lot of the murder mysteries and some of the science fiction. Of course I am not giving up the Lois Bujolds - I want to be able to reread any Miles book on any spur of the moment! - but the mantra helped me get all the J.A. Jance out the door, because, really, libraries are very good about murder mystery series. And a bunch of Steve's vampire collection that I still had - since vampires have been more popular these last 10 years than they were when I first started reading them or when I turned Steve on to them, more libraries have them, more used book stores have them, and more of them are available as e-books. So I don't need to keep most of them. (The complete Yarbro St. Germain series stays. Don't try to talk me out of that one.)

Another way to get rid of books )
Some of the reading I've done this past 6 months has been new stuff, and there's thoughts on that.
Reading and rereading gets tiring )
So that's the process. I am trying to remember to record all the re-reads on Goodreads as I go along, and also the library books I have been reading interspersed because a body can't read 100% fantasy series 100% of the time. If there's still any of you who I haven't found or haven't found me there, well, I'm easy to find.
bunrab: (Default)
First, some tea reviews:
Ginger Bread Cookie from Teavana http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5282 Thanks, Chas! Yummy tea!
Smoky Earl Grey from Fortnum & Mason http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5276 Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] parelle! This is one intense tea! (Other one to be reviewed soon!)

And some of my other recent tea reviews:
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5375 Pomegranate Oolong from Harney & Sons
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5332 Ginger Peach Black Tea from Let’s Do Tea
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5327 Starry Night from Liber-Teas

And some book reviews on Amazon.com:
The Enthusiast by Charlie Haas - read the review here: The Enthusiast
Monster by A. Lee Martinez - read the review here: Monster
As usual, you might have to scroll down through several reviews to find mine. And as usual, if you like the reviews, please click the little Yes button! Thank you.

Other recent reading:
A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: there's a cute visual pun on the cover - in place of the word "the" in the title, there's an elaborate tea tin, looking like it's from an era when the French went in for Chinoiserie - and the French word for tea is thé. The book is a bit superficial, but fun, and let's hear it for beer, bringer of civilization!

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris - latest in the Sookie Stackhouse series, a bit too much blood, gore and torture - catering too much to the Anita Hamilton fans? Lots of action, but some of it totally unnecessary to the plot. If you are a reader of diverse and sundry fantasy and SF and have read Miller & Lee's Liad series, you can compare Sookie's accidental marriage to Eric with Miri accidentally marrying Val Con - both have knives. I didn't bother to do an Amazon review of this one because (a) there were already 493 reviews of it on there, and (b) my review would have been more negative than not, given the aforementioned blood and gore and torture, and the loyal fans don't want to see any negatives.

Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele - 4 connected novellas in his Coyote series, ties up some loose ends but creates others with its semi-cliffhanger ending.Won't make much sense if you haven't read the earlier books - but I do recommend them; it's good, straight-forward SF. Many people have compared Steele to earlier Heinlen (before the porn) - but Steele's politics are more nuanced and complex than Heinlein's rabid take-no-prisoners libertarianism.

Now the request: I can read Latin, more or less, as long as I don't have to get the tenses right, but I can't generate grammatically correct Latin. And there's two things I really want to make needlework samplers out of.
(1) Rust never sleeps.
(2) I know it's in here *somewhere*. (As in, someone asks whether we own such-and-such a book or object; our reply is that we do own it, but haven't the foggiest idea of where in the house or garage, packed or unpacked, it might be. This is pretty much our family motto, and has been, since the day we got married. So, I want Latin for something equivalent to "I know it's in here somewhere" although to sound euphonious, you might have to be a little elastic with the exact wording - I know that these objects are located within somewhere? Anyway. Something like that.)
bunrab: (alien reading)
So, I read this book called How to Read Novels Like A Professor, which turned out to be great - imagine a course on literature, except instead of concentrating on all the boring stuff, he concentrates on bestsellers and genre fiction. And he's funny. He starts out by telling us how the first two sentences of the book can already reveal exactly how much effort and attention we'll have to put into reading it. Several chapters are spent on discussing the unusual narrative techniques of modern novels - as a contrast to Victorian novels, explaining too why those were written the way they were, and how much something can change from that and still be considered a novel. We have the usual discussion of POV, and what the limitations of first-person are, and so on. He uses a lot of examples, including Agatha Christie mysteries, and the aforesaid Dickens. Mostly, when he discusses Dickens, he talks about Great Expectations, which I didn't like and never finished; he doesn't mention my favorite, A Tale of Two Cities, at all. And he spends a lot of time trying to justify reading Joyce's Ulysses, leaving me totally unconvinced - I'm still never going to read it. On the other hand, some of the books he discussed were ones I had not previously considered, that he made sound downright interesting - see more on that below. Others, well, no - he spends a lot of time on Fowles' The Magus, which I read while I was in college in the 70's, and didn't like at all, and the very points that I didn't like are what he does like about it: how "clever" it is, where you have to *work* at figuring out what's going on. And when I read it, I kept thinking, this is an awful lot of effort for very little story; there's not enough plot under the cleverness, and if I want to do this much work while reading, I'll read a textbook and get a good grade for it, thank you very much. So, not everything he considers interesting is attractive. Nonetheless, an excellent book; the writers on my flist would probably enjoy it, too.

One of the books he used in illustrating POV was Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible which I had heretofore ignored. But his description of multiple third-person non-omniscient POVs sounded interesting. So I went and took that out of the library next, and wound up reading it through in only two sittings - it was that interesting. And going in knowing what to expect, the multiple POVs, some with limited information, were not too much work, and were quite enjoyable. Lots of story in there; it's not just character and cleverness.

I also finally got around to reading Koontz's Odd Thomas and one of its sequels, Brother Odd, books which illustrate yet another POV - the *unreliable* first-person narrator, as Odd himself describes himself, comparing it to the POV in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don't think I would have focused as much on how the unreliable-first-person POV affects the story had I not recently read the How to Read.... Anyway, I liked the first one, didn't like Brother Odd as much, mainly because of the excess of "Forbidden Planet" woo-woo - I didn't like "Forbidden Planet," for that matter, and for that matter, I hate "The Tempest" - I think it's the stupidest play of Shakespeare's that I've ever read, character and plot-wise. (Great language, but stupid.) Despite the "things man was not meant to create" vibe, though, I enjoyed a lot of the book, especially the Russian character.

Now off to more crocheting and some herbal tea.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Firstly, Gray Apocalypse by James Murdoch - see my Amazon.com review of Gray Apocalypse. I didn't actually like the book, but it was surprisingly well written for a self-published first novel, and I can tell that people who like thrillers would like it better than I did (I was expecting science fiction). Disclosure: the author sent me a free review copy. If you read my review, please leave a comment with it, about whether I adequately expressed my ambivalence. Thanks!

Books I didn't even finish:
Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead by Dr. Bob Curran. I was hoping for a sort of humorous species guide and some references to literature and genre novels. Instead, it's a dead-serious (pun intended) discussion of practically all of the historical beliefs in various sorts of risen-from-the-grave beings in cultures from thousands of years ago to now. And the illustrations are pretty but don't match the tone of the text at all. It's difficult to make zombies boring, but this academic treatise does it. I mean, a serious discussion of whether the Witch of Endor's calling up Samuel (from the bible) counts as a zombie? Ew.

One Bite With A Stranger by Christine Warren - one of the recent crop of vampire romances, this one has an emphasis on the romance aspect of it, for values of romance that equal sexual activity and not much else. Completely chick-lit stuff, with too much discussion of getting drunk on good wine and going shopping. Not my cup of tea, or of blood either. I don't know why I keep trying these things - oh, wait, I keep trying them because vampire romance genre fiction was how I first discovered Chelsea Quinn Yarbro some thirty-odd years ago, and I keep hoping that I'll run into something surprising like that again. But this book wasn't it.
bunrab: (Default)
and now they go past yours via Twitter:

  • 21:45 @caviaporcell I,m so sorry to hear about Chico. Not unexpected, but still. He had a wonderful life with you. #
  • 21:48 @caviaporcell I miss Bob. I'm glad they'll be together. #
  • 21:54 Rigoletto in 6 words: Hunchback versus Duke; just add women. #
  • 21:58 I Pagliacci in 6 words: Evil clowns! Run for your lives! #
  • 22:57 New Yorker Style #
  • 22:58 New Yorker "Style" issue boring, except for Roz Chast cartoon. #
  • 23:26 Also in the New Yorker: article about the latest annotated edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Done almost completely without reference to... #
  • 23:28 ...the place of vampires in modern fantasy. Mentions only Twilight series (roamnce, really,not vampire) and The Sookie Stackhouse series. #
  • 01:32 At least no one's going to complain about your spelling if you limit yourself to TLAs. OMG! #
  • 02:49 @EmperorNorton That goes with the territory! You should see when pushy rabbits all pile in for some dried fruit! #
  • 15:49 books being returned to library: Virtual Evil and Madman's Dance - 2nd & 3rd Time Rovers. More about those later. #
  • 15:51 also Death of the New Gods - comic book blech. Almost no plot, just complications without a plot. Unsuccessfully "dark." Only good part... #
  • 15:53 ...was Superman. Most of dialog was "prepare to die!" and "Wait, it was you all along!" Nice drawing, though. #
  • 15:54 also being returned - several episodes of Twilight Zone done as graphic novels, which works Ok. And handful of usual murder mysteries. #
  • 15:56 OK, one doesn't see that many tractor_trailer cabs painted lilac. #
  • 16:11 ah, the WashPost as local paper for the Pentagon. Today, a full-page ad for the "combat-ready Super Hornet Block II" fighter plane. #
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bunrab: (Default)
Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - second in his series about PI John Justin Mallory; I liked it better than the first (Stalking the Unicorn) - it made more sense as a mystery, if one can say that about farcical fantasy. Anyway, John Justin, aided by ex-military Winifred Carruthers and 90-pound cat-girl Felina, have to determine why Winifred's nephew seems to be turning into a vampire. This winds up involving several funeral homes with odd names not to mention the Vampire State Building. This is definitely the other Manhattan.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Who could resist a title like that? Not I, certainly. I hadn't enjoyed what little I'd read of Webb's "Desert" series, but this is a new series, taking place in a small zoo in California. It's still not a great book, or a great murder mystery, but it's OK, and the details about the animals and their care are interesting enough and funny enough to make up for the stereotypical nasty rich people who populate the surrounding town. Among other things, we get a giraffe giving birth, as well as the banana-obsessed anteater giving birth. Spoiler: neither the anteater nor the butler did it.

The Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. Probably the most boring pop-science book I've read in a while, partly because very little has been done to turn it from academese to pop. Excessively long to convey a fairly simple idea, the authors insist on dragging EVERY possible feature of an animal into play as a handicap for mating competitions, including, for pete's sake, why men have beards and women don't. The authors claim, you see, that it's because men fight a lot, and having a beard makes it easier for other men to grab them, so by displaying one, a man is claiming that he can win any fistfight, even with the handicap, thereby making him a more attractive mate. Women don't have beards because they don't get into fistfights. Honest, the authors say this!! Also, besides dragging their premise to absurd lengths, the book has crappy illustrations that do nothing for it. Would be much improved by editing out the more outrageous half of their claims, and filling the space with photos of the animals and some side-by-side comparison illustrations. Also including more rodents, perhaps overlooked here because so many of them aren't flashy and aren't terribly dimorphic in size and therefore would be difficult to stretch into the authors' thesis.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Known for her work with livestock animals, Grandin here adds pet animals to the mix, discussing how improving our pets' lives by considering their evolutionary environment can also improve our own lives. Some of it is redundant stuff from her other books. The chapter on cats is interesting - a good explanation of why, although cats and dogs are both "domesticated" animals, a cat is a lot less domesticated than a dog.

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson, edited by Hank Davis - a collection of some of the Van Rijn and Falkayn stories, nothing one hasn't read before, but with introductions to each explaining a little more of the big picture of Anderson's future history. Also, at the end, a very good timeline showing how the Polesotechnic League develops and dissolves and the eventual development of the Empire period of Ensign Flandry.

The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven Havill - grabbed at random off library shelves, looking for more to read, this turns out to be a recent volume in a long-established series. It takes place in the Southwest - New Mexico, near the Mexican border - but is NOT, thank goodness, another attempt to be a Hillerman clone. (I get tired of those - all the Hillerman wannabes who toss in a Navajo and a mention of Navajo religion, and then expect that we'll all enjoy their books just because of that, regardless of how superficial or unrealistic it otherwise is.) Main protagonist is a woman under-sheriff. Plot is based around a financial scam we only slowly find out about; side plots include illegal immigrants, perhaps unavoidable given the location.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs by Steve Otfinoski. Although it hits most of the high points, I can't entirely agree with a book that devotes almost an entire chapter to Alvin and the Chipmunks and only a couple of sentences to "Camp Grenada." And in the chapter about Christmas novelty songs, he doesn't even MENTION "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" - hmph! Includes photos, and does include things you might not instantly think of in the novelty song genre - Cheech and Chong, and William Fries (better known as C.W. McColl), along with the ones you would instantly think of - Napoleon XIV, Homer & Jethro, The Chad Mitchell Trio (my favorites! for their song "Lizzie Borden.")

There, now I'm only a couple weeks behind on the news.
bunrab: (alien reading)
First, some "real books" -
Living With the Dead by Kelley Armstrong. Her Women of the Otherworld series features various types of supernaturals living hidden in plain sight among humans. In this volume, several of the threads that have each been the subject of a separate book previously - the tabloid reporter, the rogue werewolf, the wizards' corporations, all get pulled together around a commune of clairvoyants and a completely ordinary human personal-assistant-to-a-celebrity whose celebrity gets murdered. If you like the series, you will like this one; if you haven't read any of the others, this is definitely NOT the place to start, since much depends on the reader already knowing about half-demons' powers, werewolf pack structure, etc.

Sojourn by Jana Oliver. Subtitled "Time Rovers, Book 1." Time travel agents of a private corporation have to sometimes drag the paying customers back from the eras they've gone to. Cynda has to retrieve someone from Victorian London during Jack the Ripper's spree - while also battling the fact that the company she works for is going bankrupt and trying to strand her away from her own time, to save money. And then there's the factor even Cynda didn't know about: the mysterious Transitives, who can change their appearance at will, though they have no other special powers. This serves as an OK murder mystery (one of the Time Rovers; although we're given some insight into the Ripper murders, the novel doesn't take on the issue of who did them or what his real motivations were) and a bit of Victorian romance. I started the sequel, Virtual Evil, but haven't finished it yet - it seems less interesting (for one thing, we're still in 1888 - no new time period, new characters not as interesting.)

And then there's a bunch of
Graphic novels/comics
Those of you who think you're not interested in graphic novels can skip this bunch of books - though you should think again; some of the best new science fiction and fantasy is coming out as graphic novels rather than plain-text novels. And other stuff.

Cryptozoo Crew, Vol. 1 by Allan Gross and Jerry Carr. Very funny - Tork and Tara Darwyn search for everything from cave monkeys to the abominable snowman, in a collection of several episodes of this comic book. No particular continuity from episode to episode - this is not a graphic novel - though once found, the cave monkeys do show up again as background characters in subsequent episodes. A lot of puns. An awful lot of very bad puns. The last episode features space aliens, with a funny epilog.

Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon et al. A complete waste of the time it took to read it. Only worth looking at if you are a fanatic who must have every single Firefly item ever marketed. As a graphic book, it's a complete failure; the characters go unexplained, the plot is patchy to nonexistent, no background is provided, so we have no idea of what the pretty people in the drawings are about. The brief text introduction provides no useful information in that regard. Impossible to follow what might be the plot unless you've seen the movie, and difficult even then.

Bram Stoker's Dracula works quite well as a graphic novel. Stoker's original words are used; this isn't simplified. The drawing style is rather manga, with big heads and huge round eyes, but surprisingly, I didn't find that offputting. Catching Renfield, burying Lucy, and the death of Quincy Morris are all quite nicely done. In short, this is an arrangement of the original that carried most of the proper characterization and plot elements, and could indeed serve to draw younger readers in to the idea of reading the book. (Unlike, say, a recent graphic version of Merchant of Venice that I read, where the language was simplified, often right into totally inappropriate 21st century idiom, and where the contrast between the modern dress of the characters and the ships that were at risk rendered the plot less comprehensible, rather than more.) Heh - a first-rate estate agent is always prepared.

American Born Chinese - Gene Yuen Lang. Very nicely done semi-autobiographical graphic novel, mixing portions of everyday Chinese-American schoolchild with the WASP schoolchild he wishes he had and episodes of fantasy drawn from traditional Chinese myths and legends, to illustrate the problems of coming to terms with being a minority. All of which makes it sound terribly serious and sententious, and it isn't. It's a nice story, plot moves right along, neat characters, and I love the Monkey King stories. Not only is this a good story, it's one I don't think would work as a plain-text novel; it really does show the advantages of the graphic novel form to certain kinds of stories.

Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes. Subtitled "a comic-strip novel" rather than a graphic novel, each chapter of this book is a separate little two or four page episode, some of which don't seem to be connected at first. The different stories eventually twine together. As in a real mystery, a few threads are left unresolved. The characters include the comic book critic, the pompous would-be poet, the schoolchildren, the visiting niece, Leopold & Loeb - yes, Leopold & Loeb. You'll recognize the little kid David - if you've ever seen any of Clowes' work at all, even just illustrations in weekly free papers, you've seen the fuzzy-sweatered kid with no expression.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Finally! A genuine post instead of a bunch of tweets!

First, the best book I've read in the past month is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett - it's a really original fantasy. My Amazon.com review is here and as ever, I'd appreciate it if you read the review, voted Yes for it, and commented on it if you have the time and willingness to do so.*

Then, books that I tweeted, but haven't mentioned in more detail:
Salvation in Death - JD Robb, latest in her Eve Dallas series, not bad, has to do with a televangelist who suddenly goes honest.
Bones and Obsession - Jonathan Kellerman, latest in his Alex Delaware series; Alex and Milo sound more alike than ever, both of them frequently leaving any personal pronouns off the beginnings of sentences; the new sidekick that Milo acquires in Obsession shows some promise as a character.
The Best of Michael Swanwick - anthology of short stories, some of which I had already read when they appeared in SF magazines; perhaps the most famous is "The Feast of St. Janis."
A graphic novel of Thor based on the comic books of the same name; the book uses up quite a bit of space on the set-up of why Thor is coming back, and a lot of it is pretentious panels that show almost nothing. Thor establishes a new Asgard - hovering over a farm in Oklahoma. There are some good bits in here, such as when someone from the town wants to deliver an invitation to the residents of Asgard to attend a town hall meeting, and has to first install a mailbox under Asgard, so he has something to deliver it to. Also the scene where the gods come to the town meeting - that's where the quote "What unfortunate day's events are not made gladder by cake?" comes from.
Manga Shakespeare Julius Caesar - worst in the series so far; the artwork is so ugly it makes it nearly impossible to tell the characters apart. And having the characters wearing togae in one scene, and then put on zoomy helmets and hop on motorcycles, is so wrong. I can't see where anyone would ever be drawn to a deeper understanding of Shakespeare or toward reading more of his plays, from this presentation; if anything, it'll drive new readers away.
Cretaceous Dawn by L. and M. Graziano - sorta like Jurassic Park, except it involves the scientists actually being dumped back in time. A couple of characters seem real; others are cardboard, but overall it's readable. Manages to involve a turf war between OSHA and ONR (Office of Naval Research) and a couple of crooked physicists, to give more interest to the modern end of things. The entomologist gets the girl.
A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironsides - from the cover illustration, and even the back cover blurb, I thought this was going to be a historical mystery, but it turned out to be modern, far too British for me to understand what was going on, and it had a totally implausible ending where after everything is over and one person is left packing up, the real killer just wanders in and confesses.

And a few I hadn't mentioned at all yet:
Stat-Spotting by Joel Best - lightweight, but good summaries. Perhaps his best chapter is the idea of knowing benchmarks - there are about 300m americans, 4m babies born each year in US, 2.4m die each year and a few other general ones - so that you can recognize totally bogus stats (like one claim I heard, from a relative, that there are 150 million abortions a year in the US - oh yes, 50% of every man, woman, and child in the country had an abortion last year? Really?)

Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee - a lot about her daughters. No sense anyone who doesn't knit or haunt yarn shops reading it. It's humorous, but only for yarn addicts.

Ageless Memory - Harry Lorayne - a reminder of the old trick of putting absurd images to things you need to remember. I used to do that and then didn't and now Lorayne has reminded me that it works.

A Just Determination - John Hemry (not Henry) - well-written and fascinating, and at the same time way too much detail of every sentence needed to launch a ship or start a court-martial. He's best known for a particular mil-fic series, which I haven't read and which this isn't in. This one has a touch of Young Adult coming-of-age stuff in it, but it isn't juvenile. I liked it. Our boy is a newly minted lawyer (well, that's not what they call it, but that's what it is) on a battleship on a supposedly peaceful mission. Which of course goes awry. Warning: unless you're already deeply into Navy stuff, you'll spend a while getting straight about the difference between Captains and Commanders and whatnot, and the exact chain of command, and who isn't on the usual chain, and more of that nature.

Gaaah, and there's still a short stack of books here - I'll include the 4 remaining in a second post, before this one gets big enough to invade a small nation.


Sep. 15th, 2008 11:53 pm
bunrab: (Default)
Okay, so after the flu in the middle of August and then a week at Sally's inhaling dust, I couldn't stop coughing and I felt even more fatigued than usual; eventually I started thinking maybe there's fluid in my lungs, so I went to the doc. Apparently not fluid, just inflamation, so using steroid inhaler (as of this past Wed) to reduce inflamation; it's working a bit, I guess - still coughing and stuff, but nearly back to only tired all the time instead of exhausted to the point of not getting out of bed.

I got a couple of RL projects done - finally finished a couple of bedside rugs I've been working on for me and [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet, since cooler weather is coming and we may not want to step onto cold floors. I'll try to get pictures of them sometime soon. Started work on wedding gift for my cousin Jesse who got married last September - goal is to finish the stuff (quilted table runner and 4 placemats) and mail them off by the end of this month, a year after the wedding. Still cleaning up bits and pieces at old house; we buried Lamarck chinchilla who passed away this past spring and had been in the freezer, and I put a stepping stone on his grave - I'll take a picture of that, too, when I get a chance.

And there has been reading, as usual:

Book I did not finish: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Forty years ago I didn't make it ten pages in before giving up out of total lack of interest in figuring out who these characters were; twenty years ago I made it about twenty pages in; this time, all the way to page 27 before closing it again. I do not care enough about Hindu mythology and other mythology to follow who these characters are, who is an avatar of who else, who is on which side... I just don't care.

Book I didn't like: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. This was apparently a big bestseller and very popular with book clubs, and it reads exactly as if it were written to be a book club discussion subject, and I don't mean that kindly. Where some reviewer sees a "surprising journey of self-discovery" I see a protagonist who stays stupid the whole way through - she doesn't make the same mistake twice, but she makes new and dumber ones all the time, and never seems to wise up and stop approaching life as a manipulating but clueless slut. We're supposed to care about what she learns from each of her foster mothers, and compare them, but she doesn't ever seem to learn any rational kind of lesson. Even when her own mother gets out of jail, she isn't really happy. This book doesn't really have much of a plot; the character grows older but doesn't grow up; her mother gets out of jail but that's just a small paragraph amidst the general whining and indecisiveness. Bleah. I know thousands of people disagree with this evaluation of the book; clearly, many people are looking more for "emotionally gripping" than for "fast-moving plot and rational characters."

And for stuff I did enjoy: Watchers by Dean Koontz - not great literature, but a fast-moving plot and nice characters! This is the first Koontz I've ever read - somehow managed to not get around to any till now. This one features a golden retriever named Einstein, genetically modified to near-human intelligence, able to read and even converse in writing. Plot also includes a nastier genetically modified character, the Outsider, and along the way we are supposed to compare the Outsider and Vince the mob hit-man, and notice which of them is really less human and kills more people. That part is a bit obvious. But hey, it's a good story, and most of the characters are likeable, and there's a more-or-less happy ending.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a novel about a historian who is researching Vlad Tepes, who turns out to be an immortal vampire after all, sort of, only not. It's a very long book, and some of it was longer than need be - in almost a deliberate imitation of Victorian style, there is much more exposition, and jumping back from generation to generation, and words upon words, than is really necessary. Sometimes one can lose track of which generation is taking place - is it our female protagonist as a teenager listening to her father tell about his research, or the father listening to his mentor from a generation earlier, or is it 30 years later? We run through all sorts of minute historical detail from the 1470's onward. I admit to skimming in spots.

Smoke-Filled Rooms by Kris Nelscott - a murder mystery set during the 1968 Chicago convention, featuring a black, male, PI - written in the first person by Nelscott, which is one of Kristen Kathryn Rusch's pen names. So, quite a feat of characterization. Anyway, a decent mystery, though a bit of gory torture of the sort I really don't think could go unnoticed for so long. Much of the plot is timely enough given this election year. I'll probably look for the rest of the series.

The Apostate's Tale by Margaret Frazer - most recent in her Dame Frevisse series, and this one returns more to the priory (convent) after the last couple of very political volumes. The last two were almost entirely about English political uprisings and Frevisse's cousin Alice, and I was not crazy about them; I was glad to see this one get back to the day to day details of everyday life in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, it's probably the last one, since it ends with Frevisse becoming Prioress, and also it's set in 1452, so any ten minutes now the printing press is going to come along and destroy the priory's book-copying business and only source of income.

Warning: I am going to attempt Twittering. No telling what may show up.

Now to go see if I can catch up on a couple of weeks of unread flist. Speaking of, Chas, your bday present will be in the mail tomorrow. [livejournal.com profile] richspk, speaking of addresses, I need your snail mail address. Email me, plz.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Crime fiction:
Holy Moly by Ben Rehder - Read my Amazon.com review here. (And clicky the helpful Yes button, plz.) Latest in his Game Warden John Marlin series, set in Texas.
Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews - Read my Amazon.com review here. Latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and not as funny as the previous ones.

Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Sky Horizon by David Brin - Read my Amazon.com review here. Ick - young adult, full of teenage angst, highly improbable alien attitude.
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris - latest in her Sookie Stackhouse series. I didn't review it on Amazon.com because 152 people had already done so. I actually liked it better than many of the reviewers did, though - I liked that it had numerous different plot threads, and a lot of ongoing issues were resolved, though by no means all of them - things were neatened up considerably, so that we can start in on some new plots next volume. Spoiler: Bob the cat finally gets turned back into a human.
bunrab: (alien reading)
A certain amount of time being spent here waiting for the electrician to show up (yes, Waiting For the Electrician or Someone Like Him), waiting for the people giving an estimate on landscaping to show up, etc.

The Zookeeper's Menagerie by Joanne Duncalf. Ew, Christian allegory even less subtle than Narnia, which is to say, hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-brick unsubtle. That said, the little family of hedgehogs is cute (even if they were intended to demonstrate the superiority of the nuclear family with lots of children over gay couples adopting a child).

Ten Tortured Words by Stephen Mansfield. Ugh, another religious conservative - I have got to start applying a better filter to the "New Books" shelves at the library than "hmmm, interesting title." In this case, Mansfield claims to know what the founding fathers were thinking much better than what Thomas Jefferson *said* he was thinking. Everson v. Board of Ed evil! Lyndon Johnson evil! PFAW and FFRF evil! Thomas Jefferson's opinions on the first amendment are derided because his famous letter was written fourteen years after the first amendment was written, yet the opinions (about what the first amendment means) of one Joseph Story (Supreme Court 1811-1845) in his book published in 1851 are perfectly valid because he was appointed to the Supreme Court by James Madison. Also, the index is sloppy - invalid page numbers for some references, absence of citations of things that do appear in the book, ridiculous assorted spellings of "Mohammedanism." Yes indeedy, gotta refine that new book filter.

Planet Cat by Sandra Choron, Harry Choron and Arden Moore. Lots of cat trivia. Every cat joke that has appeared in email for years. Lots of illustrations, from old woodcuts to 20th-century ads using cats. Some of my favorite things: detail of a 1647 woodcut showing two seated witches as they name their familiars - which include not only a cat named Pyewacket, but a rabbit named Sacke & Spice. "The Cat's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer's Cat, which features a fairly nice pun. Cat cartoons (Executive at desk: "I'm leaving early today to have my cat neutered. While I'm gone, select 9 people to be Employee of The Month and award each of them with a kitten.")

Peeping Tom's Cabin - comic verse by X.J.Kennedy. I took this one out in April, for National Poetry Month. Nothing in it was particularly worth quoting. Some of the verse is amusing, some of it just pointless, and some crude. Poor imitator of Ogden Nash.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. Very funny; as convoluted as the previous books in the series. If Pride and Prejudice appears on TV as a reality show called "The Bennets" and various daughters get voted out of the family, it's time to panic.

Damsels in Distress by Joan Hess. Latest in her Claire Molloy series of cozy mysteries. Makes fun of the SCA through a fictional clone called ARSE.

Head Cases: Stories of brain injury and its aftermath by Michael Paul Mason. A few hopeful notes, but mostly depressing, both about the overall state of our knowledge of how to treat patients with Traumatic Brain Injury and the state of our health care system as totally inadequate to deal with the number of patients. Don't expect miracles.

There, that's enough for now.
bunrab: (alien reading)
A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark. Possibly the most annoying book I'll read this year - but I knew it would be going in; I just wanted to see whether the reviews I had read had conveyed an accurate impression. Sure enough, they have. Clark is a conservative English economist who thinks that it's your own fault you're poor if you didn't have the good sense to choose to be born White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And that the English class system is actually the ideal system for breeding the sorts of person who would be perfectly suited for taking over industrial capitalism. We have graphs that don't show what he claims in the text they show, mistakes of correlation for causation, switching of cause and effect, and a great many blanket statements with no supporting evidence whatsoever.
Countries such as Malawia or Tanzania would be better off in material terms had they never had contact with the industrialized world and instead continued in their preindustrial state.
Oh? While the rest of the world advances?
...there is ample evidence that wealth, and wealth alone, is the crucial determinant of lifestyles, both within and between societies.
And later on he goes to state equally blanketly that wealth, and the amount of stuff you can purchase as a consumer, are the main, if not only, determinants of how happy you are. Oh, and here's another one, wherein he manages to get things exactly backward:
...Europeans were lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own feces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Poor hygiene, sombined with high urbanization rates with their attendant health issues, meant income had to be high to maintain the population in eighteenth-century England and the Netherlands. The Japanese, with a more highly developed sense of cleanliness, could maintain the level of population at miserable levels of material comforts, and they were accordingly condemned to subsist on a much more limited income.
He makes fun of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and pretends that comparing wages and prices in Malawi in 2001 is not completely apples-to-oranges with English wages in 1800, as though subsistence farming were exactly the same in both, and the types of craftspeople needed, and products needed, were the same in both, and as though initial climate conditions, health conditions, geography, degree of urbanization, etc., were the same in both, so that he can prove that the English are superior in all ways. He feels that the only area where England historically was not perhaps perfect was in the area of intellectual property rights. Really. Enough of that. Let's change the subject, he's not worth continuing with.

The History of the Snowman by Bob Eckstein. Very funny, though those who collect snowglobes may be a little offended at his suggestion that they are the ultimate form of kitsch. This would be a perfect secular winter holiday gift for many people. And the illustrations are the best part - the history of the use of snowmen in advertisements, the very first occurance of a snowman in artwork in recorded history, the world's largest snowman. He runs into feminist criticisms of snowmen, and also a giant French snow-woman representing revolutionary Paris. Perhaps my favorite illustration was the print of an anonymously-done fresco in Italy from 1403, the very first depiction of a snowball fight in recorded history. INcluding a lady in full dress being smushed in the face by a snowball.

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. A must for biology nerds; perhaps a skip for people who have no idea what a Hox gene is - although portions of the book are about gross anatomy, it's not just molecular biology. I should note that I have been reading this one at supper while [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet has been reading Napoleon's Buttons which is pop science about organic chemistry; we have looked really nerdy. Anyway, Shubin, the guy who more or less discovered Tiktaalik, the fish with wrists, is a good writer, and we hear lots about what it's like to go on paleontological expeditions, as well as how to give a skate an extra set of wings.

The Book of Ballads illustrated by Charles Vess. Introduction by Terri Windling. Various fantasy authors (and Sharyn McCrumb, who uses folk songs in her mysteries) pick their favorite Child ballads and construct some sort of back-story, and then Vess illustrates the backstory and parts of the ballad. Neil Gaiman chooses "The False Knight on the Road" and we see the boy at home with his elderly ma before heading off to school. Jane Yolen chooses "King Henry" which is one of my favorites of Steeleye Span's - oh, and in the back of the book, there's a discography of various groups who have recorded these songs, with Steeleye and Fairport Convention being the main suspects, of course. Sharyn McCrumb chose "Thomas the Rhymer." Midori Snyder chose "Barbara Allen" with perhaps the most complicated backstory. Elaine Lee chose "Tam-Lin" and I was least happy with the illustrations of that - not a style I liked at all. Anyway, there's several more, and if you are fantasy fan or folk-song fan or both (yes, I'm looking at you, [livejournal.com profile] angevin2), you will want to take a look at this book.

This is my Funniest edited by Mike Resnick. An anthology of "leading science fiction writers present their funniest stories ever" thereby proving that an author is not necessarily the best judge of what's funny. My favorite was Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" but although it's funny, I don't think it's his funniest. Gardner Dozois' "The Hanging Curve" didn't even strike me as funny (and there's an intended pun there.) Anyway, there were enough good ones that it wasn't a waste of time, but not enough that you'd necessarily want to pay brand new trade paperback prices - used would be about right.

More later. Mostly, we've been doing house stuff - spent most of yesterday putting together flat-pack furniture in the new house; today and the next couple days, the electricity is off there while the electricians do the upgrades on the circuit box and attendant matters, so maybe we'll actually do some packing over here instead.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Charles Stross, Merchants War - fourth volume in the series, and it's a muddled mess. Has devolved entirely into milfic, bows and arrows against machine guns, who's got the nuke, and bunches of ridiculous CIA abbreviations. Stross is better when he's being funny; this series started taking itself too seriously, and there's too much action - can't even keep track of how many characters there are any more, let alone who is on whose side and who is spying on whom. Difficult to finish - and it's still not done, either.

Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government by Dana Milbank - done in a hokey anthropological study manner, it's really just an excuse to retell all the scandals that have happened inside the Beltway in the last 30 years. There's not really anything new here, nor any deep insight - mildly amusing, at best. Does include dirt on all sides of the political fence - it's not just against the current administration.

Gastroanomalies by James Lileks - making fun of horrible food from the '50's. Very funny. No redeeming social value, just fun. His new captions for pictures from old cookbooks are wonderful.

Conscientious Objections by Neil Postman - I remember being quite impressed and provoked to thought by this when it first came out in 1988, so when I spotted it on the library shelves, I thought, what the heck, let's reread it. It hasn't aged all that well in 20 years - parts of it are quite dated; Postman did not have an accurate forecast of what computers would do to us or how much stranger politics would become. His insights on why teacher education sucks are still valuable, though.

Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America by Cullen Murphy - the answer is: in a thousand ways, no; in a couple of very important ways, yes. Murphy makes the point that pretty much every civilization since Rome fell (which he puts at AD 476) has compared itself to Rome, and pretty much every one comes to the same conclusion: "yes, but we're better! And we're not going to make the mistakes they did!" and that there are still plenty more mistakes to make. History repeats itself, but not exactly. His comparisons include social, cultural, political, and military, and for each he points out what's different, what's similar.
In the Ellipse just south of the White House stands a granite Zero Milestone, intended to be Washington's version of Rome's Golden Milestone, the symbolic central reference point from which all things are measured. Well, it isn't our central reference point at all - no one has ever heard of it, though you could argue that modern America began on this very spot. This was the place from which Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1919, set out to lead the army's "transcontinental motor convoy" across America. By the time Eisenhower reached San Francisco, sixty-two days later, he understood that America needed what Rome had possessed, a network of good public roads. When he became president, he created the interstate highway system. Tourists pay no attention to the Zero Milestone at all, and yet our own descent into hell started right there. [emphasis his]

That whole stretch of the Italian shore was vacationland for the Romans. Museum drawers are filled with ancient beachtown baubles of glass or clay: "Souvenir of Neapolis, " they might as well say, or "This Mule Climbed Mount Vesuvius." Villas crowded the lush volcanic hillsides, Sluice gates brought the renewing sea into the teeming fishponds that each great estate would have; the truly rich were known as piscinarii, "the fishpond set."
(And he then continues to call the rich among the Washington crowd the piscinarii.)
It will be a while, I hope, before tourists stroll among weeds poking up through the Map Room and the Oval Office, or pose before the scenic remaining columns of the South Portico. In Rome today you see leathery men in cheesy centurion's garb posing with tourists in front of the ruins. I'm not sure I want to know what the Washington equivalent will be - Green Berets, maybe, or TV reporters or special prosecutors.

I bet you can tell which of these books I liked best.


Jan. 17th, 2008 01:13 am
bunrab: (alien reading)
A couple of knitting books. (One reviewed at Amazon.com here.)

A Larry-Niven-and-somebody collaboration that was supposed to fill in some of the gaps in Known Space - "200 years before Ringworld!" - it was so full of clumsy retconning and had so many distortions of Nessus' personality, along with some improbable captive-bred humans, that I didn't finish it.

Charles Stross - Halting States. Um, cyberpunk murder mystery gamer fantasy spy thriller. A little heavy on the gamer stuff, but not unintelligibly so. [livejournal.com profile] fadethecat, you may want to give this one a peek. Our heroes are a Python programmer with a checkered past, a forensic accountant (female) with a serious sword habit, and a lesbian Detective Sargeant with a strong enough Scottish accent that I had some trouble interpreting at first.

Um, a bunch of back issues of Ellery Queen mystery magazine.

Oh, Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class by Robert Frank. Liberal economist, those who like Juliet Schor should like Frank also; makes a case for a progressive consumption tax which he rounds up some conservative support for also. A book that gives one something to think about, without being so heavy or academic that you give up with a sneer about economists.
bunrab: (alien reading)
OK, let's see. The Cymry Ring by Michael Allen Dymmoch. I had previously read one of Dymmoch's books, Murder in West Wheeling, a humorous mystery, and I guess I expected another similar. Instead, what I got was time travel. Not terribly SF, since the mechanism by which the time travel works is never explained - just, her dad has a time travel machine, she uses it, poof it gets blown up, and that's all we ever hear about it. But an interesting story anyway; our protagonists travel back to Wales in Roman/Boudiccan times.
In the Company of Books; Literature And Its "Classes" in Nineteenth-century America by Sarah Wadsworth. Obviously started its life as someone's doctoral dissertation. Basically an explanation of how the market for fiction came to be segmented out into books for adults vs. books for children, books for women different from books for men, books for boys different from books for girls, books for the lower economic clases vs. books for the elite, and books for rural families vs. books for urban readers. Before the 1800's there really wasn't any such market segmentation. Examinations of Louisa May Alcott's specific role as a writer of "girls books" and how the marketing of such was being developed, and Samuel Clemens' ambivalence about being typed as a writer of "boys books." Having the brief recaps of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn here turned out to be useful, because I hadn't reread those since I read them once as a kid - I never liked them that much. Nonetheless, the refresher turned out to be useful for another book I read:
A Fictional History of the United States (with Huge Chunks Missing) by T Cooper and Adam Mansbach. A title which is hugely misleading, because although the book has 20 short pieces, not all of them are stories, or even fiction, some of them are only related to history because they're collected in a book that claims to be US history and otherwise nobody would think the stories were about US history. Certainly the David Rees comic isn't a story. OTOH, the story which purports to be the further adventures of Huck Finn in New Orleans was hysterically funny, and I wouldn't have appreciated it nearly as much had I not been reminded just previously of some of the details of the original. The story about a Russian immigrant girl in the early 20th century is touching. Most of the stories, however, were way too postmodern for my taste.
Air America: The Playbook with an intro by Al Franken, is mostly transcripts from the radio shows: interviews, excerpts from the Creep of the Week feature, etc. Funny in spots, but a lot of this worked much better on air than it does as reading.

Other than that, a bunch of magazines, as usual.


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