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Showing posts from 2021

The Problem With Everything

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  The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, by Meghan Daum I enjoyed this book, which is pretty much exactly what it says: Daum's thoughts on #MeToo, the 2016 election, and everything that's been going on for the last few years.   She spends a good deal of time meditating upon the differences between people her age -- GenX, like me -- and the other generations, and her conclusion is pretty much that we've always been irrelevant and will never not be irrelevant (well, fooey). For example.  #MeToo.  When we were young, GenXers valued toughness; we desperately wanted to be tough.  Harassment was inevitable, and ideally we'd come up with some cool, dismissive response that would get us out of the situation and also make us feel like we were too tough to be bothered.  Millennials, logically enough, asked why they should have to be tough in the first place -- why do we have to put up with this?  While I do feel that a certain amount of toughness is

The Drowned World

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  The Drowned World, by J. G. Ballard  In 2145, decades of solar flares have melted all the ice on earth, drowning cities and leaving most of the world uninhabitably hot for humans.  Dr. Robert Kerans grew up in the 85-degree Arctic circle among what's left of the world's population; now he's a scientist with an expedition to explore an old, flooded city to see if it can be rendered usable again. The drowned city now has only some tall buildings poking up from the water, and enormous plants grow everywhere.  Solar radiation has changed plant life, rendering it Triassic in character; everywhere, both plants (and reptiles too) are huge and tropical.  The world seems to be regressing into the far-distant past; humans and other mammals are on their way out, and reptiles are taking over. Soon the heat and ancient atmosphere are affecting the crew with dreams and hallucinations.  The psychologist Dr. Bodkin theorizes that everyone is experiencing the surfacing of ancient genetic

Breaking Bread With the Dead

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 Breaking Bread With the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, by Alan Jacobs I quite like Alan Jacobs and have been following his blog, Snakes and Ladders .  I only ran into him a couple of years ago when I read his book, How to Think.   Evidently he's doing a sort of series of that, this, and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction , which I have not read.  Here, Jacobs lays out his reasoning on why old books is a good idea, and important to do.  With me he's pretty much preaching to the choir, as a look at Howling Frog will show, so the question is, was it worth reading as an already convinced old-book-reader? Jacobs starts by acknowledging that reading old books is often painful.  Yes -- old literature is frequently racist, sexist, or just plain alien.  Why should we even subject ourselves to reading difficult or ugly or incomprehensible books when there are plenty of less painful books to read that we can more easily understand and agree with? Well,

My 26th lucky number!

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 The lucky number for the CC Spin is.... That gives me Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North , which is about newly postcolonial Sudan.  It was originally published in Arabic in 1967, and the English translation in 1969.  In 2001 a panel selected it as the most important Arabic novel of the 20th century. Honestly that sounds on the intimidating side, but also like something I want to read!  So here goes.  I'll report back on May 31st.

More Time Traders!

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 The Defiant Agents and Key Out of Time (Time Traders 3 and 4), by Andre Norton I got so into the Time Traders books I read in January that I went ahead and got the next two, which kept up the excitement.   The Defiant Agents : Travis Fox, Apache rancher and accidental time agent, has gathered a whole team of tribal members for an expedition to explore the planet Topaz.  It was once part of the now-vanished alien empire, but nothing else is known about it, except that they're trying to beat the Russians there.  Everyone in the ship will be put into suspended animation, and the explorers will be given a new treatment that will awaken genetic memories from the past, rendering these scientific experts more skillful in survival and teamwork.  Plus they have enhanced psychic wolf companions! They do not beat the Russians to Topaz, and so the ship is shoved off-course and crash-lands.  Travis Fox and his teammates awaken with little idea of what is going on, but they survive and begin ex

Midway

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 Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, by Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya  After I read Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo , my brother informed me of the existence of this book, so I borrowed it.  While I love reading history, and I'm fascinated by lots of things around war, I'm not much on reading the actual military war part with battles and weapons.  As a result, I'm somewhat ignorant; I've hardly ever heard of famous war books like Thirty Seconds , or this one, and a month ago I could not have told you about the importance of the Battle of Midway.  Which was pivotal! Mitsuo Fuchida, the main author, explains himself as a naval aviator.  After being badly injured at Midway, he went to teach at the Japanese naval academy and was asked to write up an analysis of the battle for his superiors -- the truth of which had been covered up in Japan.  He was given access to secret documents, wrote the analysis, and the copies were sent off.  In the Japanese surrender, all these do

Tangled Up In Blue

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  Tangled Up In Blue: Policing the American City, by Rosa Brooks I heard about this book from a podcast interview with the author; if not for that, I would never have known that this book is what it doesn't look like -- a memoir about a Georgetown law professor in her mid-40s becoming a reserve police officer in Washington DC.  And it so happens that the law professor is the daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, the well-known writer, activist, and cop-hater. Rosa Brooks has traveled the world, studying law and violence, and as tensions around race issues and policing heated up, she wanted to know what the world looks like from the cop's point of view.  She wanted to try it herself and think about what good policing is and whether we even know what we want from the police.  (Seems like no.)  And in DC, it's possible to become a part-time reserve officer, complete with swearing-in.  So she went to reserve police academy, while her mother had a meltdown. The world of the police and

The Woman Who Had Two Navels

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 The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic, by Nick Joaquin I really like this wonderful cover image, which illustrates one of the stories.... Nick Joaquin (1917 - 2004) is, as far as I can ascertain, a fairly major Filipino writer.  His full name was Nicomedes Joaquín y Márquez, and he also wrote as Quijano de Manila.  Although his first language was Spanish, he wrote his stories in English, and he wrote for 70 years.  These stories were written over time, with the earliest in the 30s and others in the 60s.   Joaquin started off wanting to be a priest, but decided that his calling was to be a writer.  These stories are suffused with Catholicism both cultural and faithful, but not conventional.  In fact none of Joaquin's characters could be described as conventional; they seem to exist in order to upend expectations. The first stories are set in the days of Spanish colonialism, and are indeed Gothic in tone.  A girl meets her own granddaughter and decides that s

The Man Who Sold a Ghost

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  The Man Who Sold a Ghost: Chinese Tales of the 3rd - 6th Centuries, translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang One of the fun things about working at a college library, even one as small as mine, is the interesting things you run into on the shelf.  I found this in the Chinese literature section, and the book itself is ten years older than the college is, so it must have been donated when the library was started.  It was printed in the PRC and is clearly part of a Chinese classics series meant for export and education.   This book is not rare, however, and you can easily find it used or in ebook format. This is just a small book of tales gathered from several historical sources, so the contents are highly varied.  There are anecdotes of the doings of various emperors and sages, moral folktales about kindness to animals, honesty, and so on, ghost stories and tales of marvels.  A lot of people die and come back to life, and sometimes they tell about the land of the dead.  They are a

It's time for Classics Club Spin #26!

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 Yippee!  I've been thinking for the last couple of weeks that it's about time for a Spin, so I was overjoyed to see the post about Spin #26 .  You probably know the rules, and if you don't, check out the CC post; it's easy and fun.  I am ludicrously overexcited about these things, but you gotta enjoy them when they come along, right?  Especially now, when we're all sick to death of staying home but are still waiting for things to open more. So here's my 20 titles, all available within my house: Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana The Little Grey Men, by BB Samguk Yusa: Legends and Histry of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, coll. by Ilyon Mules and Men, by Zora Neale Hurston The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame Conjure Tales and Stories of the Color Line, by Charles W. Chesnutt  The Gray Earth, by Galsan Tschinag It Is Acceptable (Det Gaar An), by C. J. L. Almqvist The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox The Obedience of a Christian Man,

The Glass Hotel

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 The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel I read Mandel's earlier novel, Station Eleven , a few years ago and enjoyed it quite a bit.  I wasn't really planning on reading this, though, until I heard an interview with her and got intrigued.  So here we are.  And it's a really good novel! At the north end of Vancouver Island, far away from anywhere, there stands a luxurious hotel facing out to sea.   2005: graffiti scrawled on the window: " Why don't you swallow broken glass? "  It's quickly covered with a large plant, and Vincent, the bartender, doesn't know what it means.  She flirts with the wealthy hotel owner, and within a few months they are living together, telling the world they're married.  2008: Jonathan Alkatis is arrested for running a huge international Ponzi scheme.  His investors' retirement funds are gone, among them a retired painter, a shipping executive, a Mafia gangster.  Vincent walks away and melts into the crowd. 2018: Vin

Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich

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 Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, by Alison Owings We all owe Alison Owings a debt of gratitude for the work she did.  In the mid-80s, she realized that there were all these elderly German ladies, and nobody had ever really asked them about their experiences in World War II.  People interviewed German men, and survivors, but what about the women who had lived through the war, who had experienced life under the Third Reich?  What had they thought, done, believed?  Owings spent several years finding and interviewing an enormous variety of women, and put 27 of those interviews together into this book.  That generation is gone now, and I hope other people thought of asking them about their experiences too. Each lady gets a chapter, and tells her story, partly in her own words and partly through Owings' eyes, as she observes tone, body language, and so on.  Sometimes there is a sister or daughter to supplement, sometimes even a gathering of women with differing opinions.  Ow

Jews Don't Count (what a title!)

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 Jews Don't Count, by David Baddiel I'd never heard of David Baddiel, but I came upon a strong recommendation for this book, and oh it was a good idea.  It's a short book, and it's kind of an angry polemic rather than a carefully constructed argument, and it's riveting reading. So, for my fellow Americans, who the heck is David Baddiel?  He's a British comedian/TV guy/writer who says he's one of the relatively few people in the UK who are famous as Jews.  And this is a very British book!  He talks a lot about famous Brits and events -- about half of the things mentioned were things I'd never heard of.  (Even I know about Jeremy Corbyn and the mural, though.  I'm still not too sure who Piers Morgan is but this week I learned that he is a TV person, not a politician.)  American issues sometimes get in, but this is mostly a very UK book, which means I learned a lot. The premise here is one that I think is completely true.  Baddiel argues that, during t

Guards! Guards!

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 Guards!  Guards! by Terry Pratchett This was a great re-read.  It's been so long since I read the early Watch novels, and I think I should revisit them.  I ran into many moments that I remembered well, but that I did not remember as being in this particular book -- the introduction of L-space, for example, always a favorite among librarians. Sam Vimes is an officer of the Watch, but nobody takes the Watch seriously any more.  There are only a few of them left, and Vimes is best known for being drunk at all times.  Lord Vetinari has deliberately arranged the city to be full of rival Guilds that he can control, and for the Watch to be utterly irrelevant.  And then, young Carrot Ironfoundersson, a surprisingly tall dwarf with a very pure heart and a lot of energy, signs on.  And a dragon appears in Ankh-Morpork -- not your small swamp-type dragon, but the real, huge, people-eating kind.   There's plenty of Pterry's trademark observations about humans that are always painfully

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

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 The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix I fell behind again.  But I've been reading a lot, which has been very pleasant.  And I made a skirt I've been meaning to make for years, and I got my fancy big project quilt in for quilting!  Sewing the backing was a lot of work. This novel has been making people's lists lately, and I happened upon it at the library, so I thought I'd see what the fuss was.  I've actually never read Garth Nix, though of course his name is familiar as one of the juvenile fantasy writers who gained popularity in the last 20 years.  Plus I'm always a sucker for a London story.  So: it's 1983 (and a slightly alternate universe), and Susan Arkshaw has just turned 18, and is off to London to make her fortune -- and find her father.  Her dreamy, will-o'-the-wisp mother has dropped hints here and there, but has never identified Susan's father by name.  Susan just has a collection of vague clues and names.  So she starts wi

Song of Names

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 Song of Names: A Mormon Mosaic, by James Goldberg and Ardis E. Parshall Here are another two LDS writers I've followed for a while, and they have produced an amazing, lyrical work.  Ardis Parshall is a historian and runs a fascinating blog of historical bits, Keepapitchinin .  James Goldberg is a writer and poet, and also has a blog, Mormon Midrashim, which he hardly ever posts to but it's worth it when he does.  James writes: A few years ago, Ardis and I started writing a book together. An ambitious book, that would combine history and poetry to give people a viewed of Mormon history through individual lives as varied as stained glass. We wanted to take the extra research steps and writing steps to get at pieces of the past left out past the edges of our collective memory.   We did our best to find and sing forgotten names. So this is a book of poems about the lives of real people.  Each one starts with a page of context -- a short description of the place and time.  Th

The Burning Girls

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 The Burning Girls, by C. J. Tudor I'd seen good reviews of this gothic thriller, so when I saw it at the public library I took it home.  Then I had to read it since library books come with a deadline! Reverend Jack Brooks, single mom, is forcibly transferred to the tiny Sussex village of Chapel Croft after a devastating tragedy in her previous inner-city parish.  Her daughter Flo, age 15, is naturally none too happy about this.  And Chapel Croft has a history -- several Protestants were burned as martyrs under Queen Mary I, and thirty years ago, two girls disappeared and were never seen again. Everyone in the village talks a lot about fresh starts and leaving the past behind, which is remarkably unhelpful as Jack promptly starts getting warnings and strange packages that nobody wants to talk about.  Flo meets both the local outcast nerd boy and the local bullies, and Jack is nervously protective about the whole thing.   As they try to settle in, it becomes clear that in Chapel Cr

If Truth Were A Child

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 If Truth Were A Child: Essays by George Handley I had been wanting to read this book of essays for some time, and when a friend had it on her summer pile I told her that I wanted to borrow it when she was done.  She loved it so much that she thought I needed my own copy, and gave it to me as a gift!  How lovely of her!   And, the odd title is explained by the use of the story of the two mothers who appeal to King Solomon.  George Handley is a professor at BYU who does a lot of writing about "the intersection between religion, literature, and the environment."  His degrees are in comparative literature (Spanish being one specialty) but he teaches in interdisciplinary humanities, which to me sounds a lot like 'comp lit with other stuff too.'    Anyway I followed his blog, when it existed, and I'm always interested to see what he's writing. And these essays are fantastic; I enjoyed them so much.  There must be 20 little tabs marking things I liked.  Handley writ

Old Testament Legends

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 Old Testament Legends: Being Stories Out of Some of the Less-Known Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament, by M. R. James Remember a little while ago I read the Apocalypse of Abraham ?  It's this very fun legendary story about Abraham figuring out that idols are just wood or stone.  Well, M. R. James (of spooky ghost story fame) thought it was a neat story too, so he put it into a book for children, along with other spurious legends about Old Testament characters. ...Perhaps I have now said enough to show of what sort the tales are that are told in this book -- some of them told for the first time in English.  They are not true, but the are very old; some of them, I think, are beautiful, and all of them seem to me interesting. The stories include the deaths of Adam and Eve, how Asenath became the wife of Joseph of Egypt, an elaboration of the story of Job, how Solomon controlled demons, and others.  There's one about a man who went to gather figs and then slept for 66 years!  T

My Best Friend's Exorcism

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 My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix When I saw this book, set in the 80s and obviously riffing on the popular worries about Satanism, I just had to get it.  I mean, look at it!   It's got a VHS cover and everything about the design is perfect!   The Kindle version comes with a link to a Spotify playlist to listen to, and claims to have animated cover art, though I certainly didn't find it.  Some of the fun extras were in fact a little tricky to find, so look carefully.  It's 1988, and Abby is a sophomore at a fancy private school where she's the poor scholarship student.  She and her best friend, Gretchen, are inseparable, and they do everything together with their two other girlfriends.  One night they try LSD, which seems to be a complete dud, but Gretchen gets lost in the woods and and after that night, she's different. At first, Gretchen appears to be alternately moody and terrified.  She's acting so strangely that Abby is the only friend she ha

Beasts in My Belfry

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 Beasts in My Belfry, by Gerald Durrell I've loved Gerald Durrell's books for many years, and if you've never tried them, I hope you do.  Durrell was the founder of the world-famous conservation zoo on Jersey , and he wrote the books for publicity and fund-raising...plus he had a massive talent for writing about animals, founded in his love of all critters.  I saw Beasts in My Belfry at the public library and grabbed it with gleeful cries, because this is one I've never read. From childhood, Jerry had only one ambition: to become an animal collector and perhaps even have his own zoo.  When he finished school, he wrote to every collector he could find, asking for a job as an assistant, but they all wanted someone experienced.  So Jerry applied to a zoo instead, hoping to gain experience with animals that someone would respect (because raising scorpions on your own doesn't count).   In 1945, he got a job as an assistant keeper at the Whipsnade Zoo, which is famous in

Three books by Diana Wynne Jones

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 I started March off right, with Power of Three , as I planned.  I love this story, which is probably familiar to most DWJ fans.   At first, it seems like a fairy tale set in a different place.  Adara and her people live in mounds, have swords, and use magic words, and they have two enemies: Dorig (who live in water) and Giants.  Only gradually do we realize that this story is in our own world, and we are the Giants; there are three races of people.  There are also three siblings at the center of the story, and it's up to them and their new friends to try to make peace between the three races, who at the moment can only see each other as aliens and enemies, even though the consequences of that enmity will be terrible for all of them. Two of the human races can work "green gold" and wear it as collars -- what we call torcs.  The gold has to be worn and exposed to sunlight, or it turns back into crumbly black ore. DWJ's unfortunate dislike (ingrained fear?) of being ove

Doing some catching up...

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Every time I think I'm going to catch up with this blog, I get one post up, feel proud, and then all of a sudden it's a week (or more!) later and I have no idea what happened.  Well, now I'm on spring break, and any big fancy plans I had fell through, so I have few excuses.  Prepare to hear from me a lot.  I hope. Also, just a quick note, I'm not seeing your posts right now, because my blog feed software was elderly and it gave up the ghost.  I'm working on getting something new going.... I've been doing a lot of cool stuff though!  I applied for a grant at work, finally finished a major quilt top I've had in the works for a long time, made a blank book, and today I went on our traditional spring wildflower hike.  Behold, Kellogg's monkeyflower!  (Regular monkeyflower is yellow.)  Too big to get into the photo A book!  With Coptic stitch! Stay tuned, I'm working on posts!