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

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Books read, early June [Jun. 16th, 2013|03:51 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Daniel Abraham, The Tyrant’s Law. I am about as big a fan of the middle book as you might hope to find, and golly, this was almost too much middle even for me. It is very, very much a chunk off the next bit, and I can see that it’s going somewhere, but it was not in any great hurry to get there. Also, for the usual “too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby,” read, “too many spiders, not enough banking.” Still intend to be going on with the series, but I persist in hoping for more banking even though I know there probably won’t be that much more.


Louisa May Alcott, The Mysterious Key and What It Opened. Kindle. I had intended to read one of Alcott’s “adult” things at some point and downloaded some to my Kindle towards that end. This was a pretty cliched Gothic with a happy ending completely out of left field. If you are not an Alcott completist or happy with any Gothic no matter how badly executed, I would leave this one be.


R. J. Anderson, Quicksilver. Sequel to Ultraviolet. Even better due to not being set in a mental hospital. Seriously, very nearly everything about this book is a spoiler for the previous one, even though it stands alone pretty well. It would be trivially easy to use the first word of the first sentence you wanted to utter about this book and have it be a spoiler, and they’re not that old/widely read. So: non-dystopian YA SF, variety of interesting characters and relationships. (Including elderly Korean Presbys! Yay!) Recommended, but start with the first one if you think you might want to read the first one at all.


Carole Angier, The Double Bond: Primo Levi: A Biography. Grandpa’s. This was an incredibly hard book to read because of its subject matter (for those of you who don’t know Primo Levi’s work, he was a writer and chemist who survived Auschwitz and killed himself some years later). In some ways it was even harder but also more special because it’s the only book I have found so far in my grandpa’s collection in which he marked page numbers on the jacket flap. Having read those pages, I could only conclude that they were passages Grandpa found particularly moving. He would call me to share “interesting” or “funny” passages–I am still running into those, bit by bit, as I read–but not moving. That was not a type of communication about his inner life that my old Norsky Marine grandpa was much given to. So having that window was especially wonderful, and also very very difficult. I cried a couple of times. This is an exhaustive biography, and I think it will be mostly of interest to fans of Levi’s and people with special interest in Italian Jewry and its intersection with the Holocaust. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really quite well done. It’s just that it is a gigantic, legitimately depressing book, and people often want a reason to pick up one of those.


R. J. Astruc, Signs Over the Pacific and Other Stories. Discussed elsewhere. Kindle.


Lois McMaster Bujold, Sidelines: Talks and Essays. Kindle. Interesting to see how Lois’s thoughts on her work and the world have evolved, and how some things are quite constant. Fun background stuff here. Somewhat repetitive towards the end, but she warns you early on about that, so I think it’s fair play.


Junot Diaz, Drown. Short stories in the slice of life vein, very well-written, and the life they are slicing is that of a young Dominican/Dominican-American man, so it wasn’t “ho hum, yes, how like unto everything else this is” for me, the way some kinds of slice of life can be. Also I generally could see why stories began and ended where they did, which is one of the failure modes of slice of life for me. I enjoyed Oscar Wao more (more nerds and more arc), but this was worth my time.


Jane Fletcher Geniesse, Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark. Biography of a woman who traveled extensively in the Middle East in the early and middle parts of the 20th century and wrote about her travels. Interesting person, interesting bio. Goes in a nice set with Gertrude Bell stuff. Was probably the worst biography I read this fortnight without being at all bad.


Merrie Haskell, Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Discussed elsewhere.


T.H. Huxley, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood. Kindle. I just keep nibbling at Huxley’s speeches so I can do his voice for a future project. They are generally what they say on the tin–I’m just soaking up word choice here.


Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies. Very immersive style, very funny, lots of Boleyns and Seymours and Cromwells. These books are so discussed at the moment that I feel a bit superfluous, but I think she does a very good job of incluing the things that want inclued for people who don’t have a course in Tudor and Stuart England under their belts.


Val McDermid, A Darker Domain. I liked this entire book except the last half-page, and I see why she did it that way, it just…meh. But the rest of it was well worth it. This one is a mystery about the disappearance of a husband/father/union man during a miners’ strike, and like the other two McDermids I’ve enjoyed and recommended, it’s a mystery along two timelines, with very vivid setting, characterization, and eye to social detail.


Marla R. Miller, Betsy Ross and the Making of America. This book was probably the big discovery of the fortnight. I’m going around raving about it to everyone. I expected very little of it. It was one of those things that made my library list on the “huh, might as well” principle. And wow. Wow. So very many interesting things about colonial and federalist America that tie in so very well with this one historical figure. Early American Quakers and their foibles and schisms! The upholstering and furniture trade! Craftswomen of the period and their working lives! The treatment and consideration of the mentally ill in this period! So! Much! Stuff! Such cool stuff. Highly recommended for fabulists who are trying to look outside the kings-and-generals model, among other things. Okay, just a taste. Both of Betsy’s parents were living when her apprenticeship papers got signed. Guess who made the arrangements? Not her dad. Not her mom. Her grandma. I ended up just loving this book.


Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man on the Balcony. Depressing Swedish crime novel, check.


Jenny Uglow, A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game. I think perhaps I know too many academics. This was a quite good book on the Restoration, and I will look for more of Uglow’s work. I do recommend it to interested parties. But the central metaphor of the title…seemed tacked on at the last minute to me. It felt almost as though she wrote the book and then tried to figure out a way to make it more cohesive; or else as though she did not have the time to develop it as she had hoped. If one of my academic friends had sent me this manuscript, I would have talked to them about bringing out the central metaphor–or dropping it, because it was a fine and interesting book without it.


Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, Memoirs. Kindle. Several times reading this, I said, “Oh, honey,” out loud. Because the memoirist…does not seem to have gotten a great many visits from the self-awareness fairy. (It did not call upon Versailles or the tsar’s court all that often, so this is probably not surprising.) She was a painter from the mid-late 18th century well into the 19th century but never seems to have grasped what exactly the peasants were so ill-bred as to be annoyed about. Valuable perspective on several things, but valuable and wise are not at all the same thing here.


Mark Wolverton, A Life in Twilight: The Final Years of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Kindle. When you’re writing biographical material about someone who has already had a pretty definitive biography, specialization is your friend, and that’s very much the case here. Wolverton is not pretending that Bird and Sherwin didn’t write their bio, he’s building on it and elaborating on a part of Oppenheimer’s life that was fairly glossed over in their take. Nicely done. Of course, I have most of my ideas about Oppenheimer from personal conversations with one of the people Wolverton appears to have also consulted for this book, so it’s not entirely a surprise that I think so. Still, knowing who to listen to is a good trait in a biographer, or in fact in any historian. This should not be the first thing you read about J. Robert Oppenheimer, but if you have any interest in the topic it should definitely be on the list.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2013-06-16 09:29 pm (UTC)
Seriously, the Betsy Ross book is all kinds of awesome and I find myself shoving it at people even now, two or three years after I first read it.

Uglow is good (check out The Lunar Men if you haven't already), but I'm starting to wonder if she hasn't had a few too many irons in the fire to do the best job she could with some of her projects--not that what I've seen has been bad--but what you said.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-16 10:47 pm (UTC)
I am very much seeking out a copy of The Lunar Men.

The thing that was not about this book that infuriated me beyond measure--so I am putting it in comments rather than in the main post--is that my library had it filed under "Jennifer S. Uglow" only. The cover says "Jenny Uglow," and she is involved enough in publishing that one has reason to think this was her own selection and not an accident based on what her agent happens to call her. But my library saw fit to change it so that if you search on "Uglow, Jenny" or "Jenny Uglow" you get zero results. I was holding their copy of A Gambling Man in my hands and it was telling me that they had zero items by that author. Luckily I thought of just searching on "Uglow," or I would have been sunk.

And this is why so many things about the "being polite to trans* individuals" lists and articles kind of boil down to "politeness does not disappear as a requirement when you think the person you're dealing with is trans*." Because it doesn't matter if you think the person's "real" name might be Jennifer or Steven or Bao Er, if someone says, "Hi, I'm Jenny," the polite response is not, "No, but what's your name really?", the polite response is, "So pleased to meet you, Jenny."
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2013-06-17 02:55 pm (UTC)
And this is why so many things about the "being polite to trans* individuals" lists and articles kind of boil down to "politeness does not disappear as a requirement when you think the person you're dealing with is trans*." Because it doesn't matter if you think the person's "real" name might be Jennifer or Steven or Bao Er, if someone says, "Hi, I'm Jenny," the polite response is not, "No, but what's your name really?", the polite response is, "So pleased to meet you, Jenny."

I have kind of mixed feelings about this argument. Because when people insist on calling Bill "William," it's usually not the same scale of denying identity as calling Melissa "Michael" or calling Awale "Anna." So William might think he knows how they feel, but it's a smaller microaggression for him because it's not denying his gender or ethnicity.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-17 03:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, certainly it's not the same magnitude of response, but my point was that there is not a special rule that you have to remember for people you have filed as unusual to your experience, whether that's gender identity or ethnicity or what. You just don't do it.

It would be shockingly rude for someone to ask me what my genitals were like and whether I'd ever had surgery upon them. It's even more upsetting if they're asking it to try to argue with me about basic facts of identity, but it's not like we have a general policy that everybody else should field questions about their genitals at all times and it's only trans* people who are a fussy exception case. Empathy may not get people far enough in the "how would I feel if it was me?" question, but it should get them at least that far.
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[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2013-06-17 03:17 pm (UTC)
That is so wrong. Both Rude and ignorant!

If you have a name on the cover, you file by that name. You can, of course, cross-reference under other applicable names. But the name the book appears under is the author for cataloging purposes. Let us imagine inhabitants of a fictional world looking for works by a favorite mystery writer: do they ask for a book by Harriet Vane, or one by Lady Peter Wimsey?</p>

Also, what you said about good manners. +10

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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-06-25 04:36 am (UTC)
Although, to use the current example, I have a friend that has gotten so used to be called "Jen" that she introduces herself as such, despite actually preferring the full "Jennifer." Which I never would have learned about without inquiring.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-25 10:58 am (UTC)
Okay, sure, but it's never rude to call people what they use to introduce themselves, even if sometimes asking their preference can come up with an even more considerate answer in some cases.

However. Nicknames do not go on book covers by accident. Even though every time I've heard someone who is actually friends with author Elizabeth Hand refer to her, it's been as "Liz Hand," not "Beth Hand" or "Betsy Hand" or any other variation of Elizabeth nickname, her books say, "Elizabeth Hand." A great many people who are Mike or Dave or Pat or Sue will be Michael, David, Patricia, or Susan on their book covers. Nicknames on book covers are a pretty strong indicator of preference--certainly of preference on how the person wants their book's author to be referred to--with one exception I can think of, and that is namespaces that are crowded. If there is already an author named Michael Peterson who is prominent in your field, you might decide that Mike Peterson was the way to go on your book cover--but if you hated being called Mike, you would more likely decide that Joseph Schmidt was a better name for your book cover.

Jenny Uglow's last name is Uglow. This is up there with "Lingen" in the realms of "not a crowded name space."
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2013-06-17 11:26 am (UTC)
Yes, I found that A Gambling Man wasn't quite up to the standard of the other Uglows I've read, but wasn't sure how much was the book and how much was me not caring as much about Charles II as a person as about what almost anybody else in the country was doing at that time.

I liked Lunar Men but so far my favourite is Nature's Engraver.
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[User Picture]From: betedanslecoeur
2013-06-16 09:45 pm (UTC)
Speaking Alcott's adult work, I loved this tidbit from a random 10 Things article and so I share it with you:

"Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women for the money. And it made her miserable.

As a young writer, Alcott concentrated on lurid pulp stories of revenge, murder, and adultery-'blood and thunder' literature, as she called it-and enjoyed writing very much. She was in her mid 30s when an editor suggested she try writing a book for girls. Alcott wasn’t very interested, but her father was a complete moron with money and had left the family in terrible financial trouble. Alcott wrote Little Women in hopes of some decent sales and a little breathing room and got way more than she asked for. The money in sequels was too good to turn down (and her father didn’t get any smarter with a dime), but Alcott hated writing what she called 'moral pap for the young' and longed to return to the smut and violence of her early endeavors."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-16 10:42 pm (UTC)
Ah yes! I actually did know it about Alcott, but I'm glad the author of that article included it, because more people should know that sort of thing.

The thing is, the moral pap aside, Eight Cousins is immensely better done than the stuff she enjoyed. Which I don't think should mean that she should be forced to it--it's just that one of the common assumptions I see in the arts is that artists have to love and believe in what they're doing for it to be the best it can be, and I think that's not actually true. It's just that tormenting artists for their own good is also not the way for things to be the best they can be.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2013-06-16 09:49 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, Vigée-LeBrun. Wonderful painter, wrote pretty well for a non-writer, needed some clues.
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[User Picture]From: stillsostrange
2013-06-17 12:26 am (UTC)
"Too many spiders" is not a concept I often see in literary criticism.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-17 01:15 am (UTC)
AND YET.
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2013-06-17 01:25 am (UTC)
I am such a fan of Primo Levi. My father and I read his stories together, about chemistry as it was in the olden days when I was just thinking about chemistry as a career (only of course the time Levi was learning chemistry didn't feel like the same kind of "olden days" to my father.)

I am feeling the least little bit dubious about picking up The Tyrant's Law, because the combination of sympathy for genocide and sympathy for a nebbish is kinda daunting. It's hard for roller derby to get past that, no matter how much there is.
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[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2013-06-17 03:07 am (UTC)
I saw an interview with Daniel Abraham in which he says that Cithrin bel Sarcour is his version of Beth Harmon, from Walter Tevis's novel The Queen's Gambit. Which is a connection I'd never have made on my own, but which I think is cool.
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