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Showing posts from June, 2021

A Friend in Need

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 Hey folks, I'm putting this here because if you read my blog, you've seen this person's influence in my life.  She was my favorite professor at Cal, and from her I learned the joys of medieval literature, such as the Quest for the Holy Grail, Lancelot , and Eneas .  She's also just a wonderful person in general, and endlessly kind and patient with worried students (who invariably treat her as a confidant).  Her daughter, who was born just after I graduated from Cal, has just posted a fundraiser, because between chronic health problems, less income in the pandemic, and the insane costs of Bay Area life, she's about to lose their home.  If you happen to have a little bit extra and can put something towards helping somebody I'm very fond of, please do. I don't want to steal the fund picture, so here's an illustration of Sir Eneas in his ship.

Summerbook #4: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

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 Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal For most of the 20th century, Western scientists stubbornly denied the possibility that animals could have anything approaching consciousness or intelligence.  Surely they could not truly learn, have memories, make deductions or plans, or have real social networks.  Anything that looked like that must really be instinct, blind chance, or in the behaviorist category of learning to do a simple action for an immediate reward.  There was a distinct demarcation between human and animal, and humans have something that animals never have. Well, Frans de Waal is here to tell you all about what he thinks of that nonsense.  After decades of working with animals and studying their intelligences, he has collected lots of research from many biologists, and he's going to teach you about animal cognition -- which we're only getting started with. It makes sense that if you're going to test an animal's intelligence, y

The Library of the Dead

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 The Library of the Dead, by T. L. Huchu When I first saw somebody post on this title, I wasn't sure I wanted to get into yet another 'supernatural library' type of book, even though I've enjoyed the ones I've read.   But it did sound interesting, and the public library had it...and I'm very glad I gave it a try. In a future desolate Edinburgh, in which nothing seems to function any more, 14-year-old Ropa is the breadwinner for her little family.  She works as a ghostalker; when somebody has a haunting, she can communicate with the ghost and strike a deal.  She can also go into another dimension, the everyThere (there are many other dimensions).  Ropa doesn't do charity -- she needs every penny to pay the rent -- but a newly-dead mother won't stop bothering her to look for her little boy, who went missing just before she died.   Ropa's decision to look into the boy's disappearance sets her on a dangerous road.  Children are going missing, and if

Summerbook #3: A Place to Belong

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I'm back!  We had a great roadtrip, but we didn't really do anything terribly exciting; we went and saw old friends, hung out at the beach, and ate a lot of perfect tri-tip, which is exactly what I wanted out of it.  The drive back home up I-5 was brutal.  Now it's back to life, back to reality. my idea of a perfect day at Pismo Beach -- no hot burny sun   A Place to Belong: Reflections From Modern Latter-day Saint Women, ed. Hollie Rhees Fluhman and Camille Fronk Olson This was my reading on the trip; I couldn't take my giant Nazi history book with me, and that was just as well.  This is a book of essays by LDS women ranging around a general theme of belonging, but covering just about every facet of life: career, children, education, faith. A funny thing I've noticed about LDS women is that we all think we're the odd one out, and feel we don't really belong...somehow or other.  I was lucky to figure this out at 19, when I got together with two high school f

Piranesi

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 Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke I finally got my hands on a copy!  It's been so long now that it's out in paperback, so I'm probably the last person on the block to read it.  Since it's not technically on my summer reading list, it's a bonus; and if I run out of time I'll count it, ha.  In an endless labyrinth of halls and statues, Piranesi wanders and explores, making careful notes.  This is the world and he, as a scientist, is bound to explore it.  Some of the halls are flooded, and the shifting tides are dangerous, but Piranesi understands how to live here.  The Other meets him every few days, and they exchange information -- it is the Other who calls Piranesi that, although it is not his name. This is such an amazing story -- all otherwordly and fascinating, and very worth the wait.  You've just got to read it one of these days.  I loved loved loved it!  It's just wonderful.     What does 'Piranesi' mean, if that's not his name?  Piranesi wa

Summerbook #2: The Midnight Folk

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 The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield I've long wished to read The Box of Delights , but I've never come across a copy (and it's still a few years away from becoming public domain).  I think it's not very well known in the US.  I did find The Midnight Folk , though, and it turns out to be the story that comes first.  So now I'm all ready for the Box if I ever find it. Kay Harker is a nice little orphan boy of maybe ten, living in the care of a boring and fussy governess who doesn't really allow him to do anything.  His beloved toys are gone, he may not play with neighbors...but then the cat Nibbins talks to Kay and leads him into a night-time world of excitement.  Kay's great-grandfather, Captain Harker, comes alive from his portrait and tells his story of woe -- how he was entrusted with a fabulous treasure and lost it at sea.  And there are witches infesting the house!   So Kay embarks on an adventure, tracking down the lost treasure with the Midnight Fol

Summerbook #1: The Summer Tree

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 The Summer Tree: Book One of the Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay  Some time ago I found this trilogy on the donation table.  Having never heard of the Fionavar Tapestry, I was intrigued enough to take it home.  (Does that cover look like 1980 or what?  Though it was in fact published in 1984.) So: five Toronto college students go to a lecture by a famous professor, who turns out to have another identity; he is Loren Silvercloak, a mage of Fionavar, and he's looking for some earthly guests to visit his world for the occasion of the High King of Brennin's 50th anniversary.  Sure, why not, they say, and so he whisks them off -- but Dave, who didn't really want to in the first place, jerks away in the middle of the transfer.  Four guests arrive in Brennin, and Dave is...somewhere around. Fionavar, the original of all the worlds, is very Tolkienesque indeed, with touches of Frazer and Celtic mythology.  There are elves (lios alfar and svart alfar), Dwarves, maiar, valar a

Minutes of Glory

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 Minutes of Glory and Other Stories, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o  I've wanted to read Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o for a long time, but when I tried A Grain of Wheat , I just couldn't get into it.  I ran into this short story collection and thought that would be a great way to try him out. This is a selected collection of short stories, originally published in 1975 but now put into a second edition with some new stories added.  So most of them are from much earlier in Ngũgĩ's career.  I really liked those early stories; the first three are grouped together as being about 'mothers and children,' so of course I liked those.    Some of the middle group ('fighters and martyrs') were up my alley too, though not all of them.  One, "The Martyr," reminded me of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa -- if you told it from the other side.  (It's not that the stories are at all similar, and in fact I haven't read Out of Africa since 1994, so I don't remember m

The Book Smugglers

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  The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis: The True Story of the Paper Brigade of Vilna, by David E. Fishman Vilna, in Lithuania, was once "the Jerusalem of Europe" -- the intellectual and cultural hub of European Judaism.   The Nazis tried to destroy it -- not entirely successfully -- and the Soviets just about finished the job.  Fishman gives us a detailed and fascinating history of the Jewish writers, rabbis, and librarians who generated and took care of the books and cultural materials and were then forced to cull through them and decide what should be shipped out and what should be destroyed. Fishman gives us an entire cast of characters, most memorably a duo of poets, Shmerke and Sutzkever, situated in a detailed context of pre-war Vilna.  Communism, fascism, and Zionism are all in the air.  At invasion, the Nazis establish two small ghettos for Vilna's large Jewish population, and choose workers to sort the invalua

A Civil Contract

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A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer  When I run into a Georgette Heyer novel I haven't read, I usually grab it and put it on the shelf for when I want a light, relaxing read.  I wasn't necessarily going to write a post about this story, but it turned out to be unusual for a Heyer Regency novel, and very interesting. Captain Adam Deveril has been off fighting Napoleon in the Peninsular War, but upon the sudden death of his father, he becomes Viscount Lynton, owner of a landed estate and a truly astounding amount of debt.  His father, an optimist and big spender, has left everything neglected and heavily mortgaged too.  Adam needs to provide for his sisters and get his mother settled somewhere affordable, and it looks like he'll have to sell all of the family property to do it.  He and the enchanting Julia Oversley are madly in love, but their marriage is now out of the question.  Adam is left with a choice: he can sell everything (rendering his relatives miserable), or he c