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Jonah's Gourd Vine

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  Jonah's Gourd Vine, by Zora Neale Hurston Erica at The Broken Spine has started a two-year project of reading the works of Zora Neale Hurston, which I think is an excellent plan.  Although I'm not planning to participate every month (who knows, I might!), I am planning to join in here and there.  The first book on the list is Hurston's first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine, which was published in 1934, and I'm here to tell you that it's a great novel.  As a young man, John Buddy leaves home at 16 to escape increasing abuse from his stepfather.  He is strong and handsome, and is a great success with the other workers.  Lucy is only a schoolgirl when they first meet, but after a few years, they marry.  Lucy is a careful planner, where John tends to take things as they come. Eventually they move down to Florida, to an all-black town,* where John works as a carpenter and Lucy raises their many children.  John has a wandering eye, and Lucy has to put up with quite a lo

March Magics is Coming!

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 Holy moley, I've been a bit lazy about blogging, and now March is upon me!  So I'll publish this right away, in case you didn't know that March Magics is coming!  It's almost here! Once more, Kristen is graciously hosting, and the theme this year is... She writes: Many (most? all?) of us are obviously feeling lonely and isolated after this long ordeal and some of us need to be reminded that we can still come together past physical boundaries. Second, both of these authors do marvelous things with ensemble casts, whether it's the Chrestomanci clan at the castle or the Nac Mac Feegles under the chalk. Celebrating teamwork and shared responsibility in literature may even inspire us in our real lives. Finally, I have been seeking out music recently that brings me joy and The Beatles' All Together Now never fails to get me smiling and it immediately popped into my head when I was thinking about togetherness and the joy of this event so here we are!  Wel

Ordinary Men

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 Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, by Christopher R. Browning Wow, this was an amazing book.  Browning uses documentary history and interviews done in the 1960s to delve into the actions of these 'ordinary men' -- middle-aged, working-class German men too old to fight in the war, and drafted into the Order Police.  The Order Police were sent into occupied territories to enforce order -- or so they said.  In fact, they were an early vanguard of the Final Solution.   Whereas German Jews tended to be urban, educated, middle-class people who didn't stand out, Poland had innumerable tiny villages with relatively large Jewish populations.  It was the job of the Order Police to travel around, clearing Jews out of each village and town.  People were rousted out of their homes, collected in the town square, and then either made to walk into the countryside for mass shootings or crammed on to trains for transportation to camps.  Browning doc

Mazes and Labyrinths

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 Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development, by William Henry Matthews I had so much fun reading this very long book about the history of mazes and labyrinths.  Matthews starts with the first place ever described (by Herodotus) as a labyrinth, which was a large Egyptian complex with a zillion rooms, but wasn't what we would think of as an official one.  It's long gone. "Long gone" describes quite a few of the places described here, which is a real bummer.   I found out that a major candidate for the origin of the Minotaur's labyrinth on Crete was destroyed by the Nazis when they retreated; they were using it as an ammo dump and blew the whole place.  The Minotaur turns out to be a more popular figure than I had realized.   It seems to have been invoked constantly for centuries, right up through the Renaissance. One of the nice things about the internet age is that when I read a description of a place, I can go look for it, unlike Matthews' original re

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

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 Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death, by Caitlin Doughty Since my oldest is now enrolled in a funeral science course at college, I am learning a lot about how it all works.  And so I tend to pick up books by Caitlin Doughty, and that's what I did the other day at the public library.  Doughty collects questions sent to her by curious kids, and she gives full, detailed answers.  She does not pull her punches, but she delivers everything with warmth and humor. That said, it's not actually a kids' book.  It would probably go down well with ages 10+, but it's not published as a middle-grade or YA book, and sensitive kids should probably not read it. Doughty answers questions such as: Can I keep my parents' skulls? Can I give Grandma a Viking funeral? What about soldiers who die far from home? What if I ate a lot of unpopped popcorn and then got cremated? Can I be preserved in amber? And many more, some of which are on the gross side. 

Visible and Invisible

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 Visible and Invisible, by E. F. Benson This was one of those books that I got from archive.org or something -- who knows when or why.  I wasn't sure what it was, and had no memory of who E. F. Benson was.  (Turns out he wrote the Mapp and Lucia books, which I have never read.)  So, what was this book? It's a collection of creepy stories!  Ghost stories, or vampires, or strange happenings.  And they're really good.  This is Benson's second collection of creepy stories, published in 1923.  I now proclaim that I like Benson more than de la Mare when it comes to ghost stories.   A notable feature of these stories is that Benson finds tall ("Junoesque"), outgoing, attractive, cheerful middle-aged women to be scary.  The competent -- possibly the village busybody -- lady that you meet all the time in Agatha Christie stories shows up in several stories as a likeable secret vampire, or murderer. Seances are also a favorite theme, and I particularly liked a humorous s

Devolution

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 Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, by Max Brooks I never got around to reading World War Z -- zombie apocalypse novels are not really my thing -- but I was kind of intrigued by the notion of a Bigfoot apocalypse.  That's kind of unusual!  Since I live in Northern California, Bigfoot is a somewhat popular figure; this isn't actual Bigfoot territory but it's not uncommon to see stickers on cars and whatnot, and this is a popular quilt pattern at the local shop . The narration is provided through Kate's diary, after the fact, with some accompanying documentation -- interviews, articles, etc.  So, the story: Kate and her husband Dan have just moved up to Greenloop, an eco-tech 'village' of just six houses set in the wilderness near Mt. Rainier (which is south-east of Seattle).  It's all the convenience and ease of city life combined with the beauty and isolation of country living -- everybody telecommutes and gets drone or van d