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Books read, early January. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early January. [Jan. 16th, 2013|01:51 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Mandy Aftel, Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. This is not a good book. It's okayish if what you want is the direct dictates of someone who makes perfumes from non-synthetic ingredients. But it is full of woo-woo. She has been eaten by the woo. And there are things that are structurally quite random, things that are just plain wrong, and things that may or may not be wrong for her but have no business being phrased as universals. (Example: not everybody likes the smell of roses, sorry lady, game over.)

Kelly Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack. Children's book set in Iowa. I hoped for more stuff with Jack's brother in the ending, but it still worked and was generally a fun read. I'll be looking for her next book.

Jeff Byles, Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition. This is another non-good book. Byles appears to be against demolishing anything at any time. This includes buildings that have become unsafe and apparently buildings with no discernible contemporary use or historical or aesthetic value. Also he appears to live in a world where nobody has to make any choices that balance different elements, ever: the choice is always "demolish building" or "do not demolish building," and never "pay to maintain vacant building in its current state" vs. "use that money for something else," much less the space considerations. In Bylesland, if you insist on keeping a couple blocks of downtown in some city as unused housing--or even used housing!--and do not demolish them to build an office complex, the other options are not fewer jobs or using up some former farmland and increasing urban sprawl. The option is just that there is no demolition and Jeff Byles is happy! Yay! He spends a fair amount of time sneering at demolitions experts for having industrial conferences in Las Vegas, where they apparently have cocktails, and possibly even eat beef. This is, of course, unlike architects, who are holy priests who wear hair shirts and subsist on locusts and honey. It is also apparently a strange thing that some of the people do both demolition and design/construction of new buildings...because structural engineering apparently has no common components in both directions. Seriously, there needs to be an interesting book about the process of demolition both physically and politically, but this is so not it.

Jon Calame and Esther Charlesworth, Divided Cities: Belfast, Beirut, Jerusalem, Mostar, and Nicosia. This, on the other hand, was clearly written with an understanding of hard choices, and thank heavens for that. Calame and Charlesworth demonstrate in some detail how building walls between neighborhoods or sections of a neighborhood generally increases negative outcomes in those areas, and yet they don't then decide that if all walls are torn down, Beirut (for example) will be an urban paradise. Nuance! Complexity! Acceptance of multiple perspectives within each side! I could have wished for more of this book, with some additional historical examples.

Rae Carson raecarson, The Crown of Embers. Second in this series. Elisa is really starting to come into her own as a heroine, and I'm a sucker for middle books. Recommended.

Thomas Christensen, 1616: The World in Motion. This one is kind of a jittery mess. Which--I mean, it's hard to cover the entire world, especially when you have to give enough context for events and trends that it's not just, "Yep, so and so was born," and a list like that. But the net result is that this is more a set of suggestions of cool people and things you might want to find out about than a book that works as a book per se. They were, in fact, cool people and things. But it was all entirely surface.

Rich Horton, The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2012. I make a policy of not reviewing books I'm in. So: this book. I'm in it. I read it.

Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom--and Revenge. Sometimes I think that one of the main lessons of history is, "Do not kick groups of people en masse out of your country, and if somebody else is doing it, snap those people right up." Because seriously. This is one of the major canary-in-mineshaft things, historically: if you are kicking out entire groups of people, your country is already pretty screwed. In Europe, it's often Jewish people who get the "joy" of being the kicked-out group, but it doesn't just apply to them, or even to religious/ethnic groups--look at the good the US has gotten out of Chinese intellectuals from the Cultural Revolution, for Pete's sake. Aaaanyway. There were lots of fascinating tidbits about Jewish piracy and resettlement in here, and the French monarchy, and the Dutch Republic, and...stuff. Also it's not horribly long, so by the time you're thinking you're about done with Jewish pirates, so is the book.

David Leviathan, Every Day. The premise of this one is that the protag (A) spends each day in a different person's body--all people approximately A's own age, but other than that a quite diverse set of people. And Leviathan handles the lives of these different people with compassion and understanding, with the exception of the fat kid. Which was pretty jarring after Leviathan had handled so many different kinds of person so well. Also I felt like the ending...well, the ending was an ending to the interpersonal plot, not to the speculative plot. I would have hoped for both. Ah well. Still an interesting book.

Vilhelm Moberg, The Last Letter Home. Grandpa's. Last in the Emigrant series. This is about as cheerful as one might expect of Swedish literature when the main characters are all dying. It also...look, the intro was talking about how sympathetic Moberg felt he was being towards the Sioux Nation, and how some Americans at the time thought he was too sympathetic. But seriously, by modern standards? Not at all sympathetic. Not even to the point of fair-mindedness. So know that, going in: it's the 150th anniversary of the Uprising covered in this book, and some people will want to be forewarned if they're about to encounter it in a not-very-nuanced way.

Naomi Novik, Crucible of Gold. I went into this knowing that it would not be doing anything particularly interesting with history and how it changed with dragons, because the entire series is not. Having that expectation set allowed me to enjoy the Incan dragons and their relationships with humans, and particularly Iskierka and poor Granby meeting and interacting with them. If you read the early Temeraire books and want a Poor Granby book, this is it.

Francine Prose, Goldengrove. Occasionally I read a book that has nothing in particular wrong with it and yet cures me of reading that author. Goldengrove was such a book. It's the account of a young teen girl's grief, and her family's grief, in the aftermath of her sister's accidental death. In some ways it's a more real depiction of adolescent grief than most: she screws stuff up and gets stuff wrong and is kind of a mess. And her parents are also pretty much a mess. But in other ways it's...just not very gripping. The Summer X Died And Y Screwed Up Some Stuff But Didn't Ruin Her Life: okay, sure, if you want one of those. I guess. It's just that it's the nth Francine Prose novel that's made me go, "Okay, sure, if you want one of those," which makes me think I'm ready to stop reading them.

Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: the United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. Lots of social stuff surrounding disease outbreaks, lots of interesting medical history--in just those 34 years things changed quite drastically with medicine in the US, and cholera was an interesting exemplifier of that change.

Laurence Yep, The Tiger's Apprentice. Middle-grade fantasy novel with a Hapa main character (Chinese and Irish, in this case) and lots of Chinese mythology referents. Fun, fast read. I would buy it for kids in my life.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: takumashii
2013-01-17 02:23 am (UTC)
Occasionally I read a book that has nothing in particular wrong with it and yet cures me of reading that author.

Oh, what an excellent description of that thing!

This year I read one of those -- and it was really quite a good book, end ended up being one of the most hyped and popular books in my field this year, and I see what people love in it and yet my only reaction is "Yup, ready to stop reading these now."
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2013-01-17 02:52 am (UTC)
The Kritzler book sounds delicious. And not something I would have stumbled across otherwise. So thanks!

I wonder if I would like The Tiger's Apprentice while I'm waiting for City of Death to come in at the library...
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-17 03:18 am (UTC)
You might well. I like the City of Blank books better, but The Tiger's Apprentice was still good fun, and short enough that there's no real harm in finding out.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2013-01-18 03:52 am (UTC)
I need to read more Yep, I think. I have Dragon of the Lost Sea, which I recently reread because I was looking at it on the shelf and realized the only thing I remembered about it was misreading "inland sea" as "island sea" when I was about ten or so (which I still like as a mental image) but I never even tracked down the rest of the series.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-18 02:08 pm (UTC)
Do you have a preference on whether you get his speculative or non-speculative work? Because the titles are not always a good indication. I like both, so it's easy for me.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2013-01-18 02:24 pm (UTC)
For me, I usually pick speculative and/or historical when given the option, but I'm also less picky about childrens' books. (and on the whole, "good" seems like a better criteria when picking for someone who hasn't had a chance to develop preferences yet...)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-18 04:53 pm (UTC)
Most of the Yep I've read that is not speculative is historical, so you're in the clear there.
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From: zwol
2013-01-18 05:17 pm (UTC)
The other month I read a report on a planned renovation of a stretch of San Francisco's waterfront, and it was just crammed full of "well, on the one hand these piers are ugly, falling apart, and mostly useless; and on the other hand we don't want to tear them completely out because they're historically important; and on the other other hand if we don't do SOMEthing the seawall is going to collapse the next time there's a major earthquake and possibly three or four blocks of city will slide into the bay; oh, and whatever we do it has to cost less than $X, because that is how much money there is." And then they try to come up with a plan that fits into all that. As you do.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-18 05:51 pm (UTC)
Because the world has multiple variables, not like Mr. Byles's book. Sigh.
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From: zwol
2013-01-18 07:49 pm (UTC)
My father actually wrote a whole book about the rise of historic preservationism in the USA. I would like to recommend it to you but the embarrassing fact is I've never read it myself.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-18 11:18 pm (UTC)
Still and all, a title would be nice.
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From: zwol
2013-01-18 11:24 pm (UTC)
Preservation in American Towns and Cities by Nathan G. Weinberg. Published in 1977 and very out of print, but your library oughta be able to dig a copy up.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-01-19 05:25 am (UTC)
The Byles book sounds like an enormous shame, because that title deserves to be on something Awesome.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-19 12:07 pm (UTC)
I know! I was so excited about it!

This is why I tell people that bad books aren't necessarily bad presents, because neither of us can know without reading the thing, and I really did want this book for Christmas. So it was a good present even though it turned out to be a bad book.
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[User Picture]From: ethelmay
2013-01-20 01:02 am (UTC)
I just read the Levithan as well (by the way, it's not Leviathan, though it so wants to be when I type it), and I agree with all you say, pretty much. Though I can't actually tell what zie's meant to be doing at the end.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-01-20 05:54 pm (UTC)
Fleeing from both of the situations, I thought. Disclaiming interest in either of them.
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