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

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Books read, late April [May. 1st, 2015|11:32 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Johnson Heade. There is less Twain than a person might hope if they were partial to Twain, but there is quite a lot of Mark Johnson Heade, and if you’re partial to obscure bird artists–which frankly I kind of am–that works out all for the best.


Jennifer Coopersmith, Energy: The Subtle Concept. A history of how we have thought about energy (in a physics context, not a colloquial one). Worthwhile even for the physicists among us for how it covers dead ends and experiments that reinforced wrong notions as well as covering progress towards decent approximations of understanding. I love mad scientists and wrong science. They are the messy way the world works.


Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard. Reread. The thing that struck me on this reread is how astonishingly filmable this story is. I am completely boggled that it has not become a movie yet. There are aspects that fall away as the series deepens, and it gets much, much better from here, and yet the basic elements are there, Kit and Nita starting to work as a team, personality from unusual places starting with Fred the white hole but also including the cabs in the dark universe, and always always placing oneself squarely against entropy. I’m going to keep rereading this series. This was a good reminder of why I love it–and how simply complex things can start successfully.


William Gibson, The Peripheral. I respect this book a great deal. A friend suggested that it might be the best thing Gibson has done, and she may well be right. The science fictional thing he’s doing with information traveling through time but not matter–that’s not something I’ve seen much before if at all, and he does it very well. I did not, however, find it particularly well-characterized. I had difficulty caring about the characters. So I respected but didn’t enjoy this book. Ah well; these things happen.


J. N. B. Hewitt, Iroquois Cosmology. Kindle. Highly archaic language, retelling origin stories from more than one Iroquois group. Somewhat repetitive and not very good quality prose, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to recognizing diversity/variation of Native American/First Nations pre-Columbian thought.


Megan Marshall, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Kindle. Very weirdly structured. Because this was on my Kindle, I couldn’t tell that fully 40% of it was endnotes, and that therefore it was going to stop once two of the sisters were married. Their careers and interesting behaviors did not stop at that point, nor did they sink into obscurity (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other Horace Mann), so I’m not at all clear why Marshall decided that this was all the Peabody we got. Other than that it was quite good, digressing in a most engaging way into the history of canals and Unitarianism in the US and all sorts of stuff, just the right amount to be sparkly and interesting but not enough to lose coherence. I also added to my list of “women Bronson Alcott screwed over; reasons Bronson Alcott should have been shaken until his teeth rattled,” which latter act I would not even have thought of without Louisa May Alcott, so…appropriate I guess. But Bronson Alcott did not take over the book, and I have hopes that he will not take over Marshall’s bio of Margaret Fuller.


E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act. This is the book with which my ability to read nonfiction ran aground in March when I got sick. There’s a lot of dense chewy stuff about poaching and commonly held lands in English history. Worthwhile, but not for when your brain is not at full capacity.


Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. I still love how this all fits together, how the worldbuilding works with something this complicated. Before it came out, I was saying that there weren’t many people other than Jo I would trust not to make something like this a hot mess, and that’s still true. For those who haven’t read it: the main characters are a complex family, and time runs differently depending on where you are geographically. And it’s substantially domestic. It’s lovely, and I love it, but I can’t think who else could have written anything even with a similar setting, much less the whole thing.


Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs. The first in a mystery series that focuses more on the effects of WWI on the heroine’s life than on the mystery, but since that mystery is also WWI-related, the imbalance doesn’t grate. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series works, though, since it doesn’t seem all that repeatable. The best mystery series don’t rely on repetition…but most do.


Zong In-Sob, Folk Tales from Korea. This is from 1952. All sorts of interesting pieces and parts in it, useful thoughts for later projects. Does not have everything one could want; duh, really, it’s only one book. Very glad that Half Price had it, though.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 11:40 am (UTC)
There was also a lot of Emerson in the Peabody book, alas.
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[User Picture]From: netmouse
2015-05-02 12:23 pm (UTC)
The Benfey sounds really interesting. Emily Dickinson in my experience is almost always described as shyhermetish-retiring or antisocial, as though she had no friends or society.

Does this present a different picture?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 12:32 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. While she is obviously a homebody, this book goes into her social and potentially romantic connections and also her family.
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[User Picture]From: dormouse_in_tea
2015-05-03 05:23 am (UTC)
Ooops! Sorry, I had an old page view when I left my comment, and didn't see...most of the discussion, actually. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: jenett
2015-05-02 02:07 pm (UTC)
I've liked the Maisie Dobbs books, but thinking about this, I think I read them less as mystery and more as something else. Character studies? Historical studies?

Winspear's really good at taking interesting parts of the time period, and the way people tried to rebuild lives after the Great War and turning things sideways, or going at it in a way that's very personal, and the mystery (who did this thing why?) part is sort of secondary.

I haven't read the most recent one (though it's in my kindle app) but have read up to that, and generally like them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 02:38 pm (UTC)
Good to know! The library has several more, so I will be well-stocked.
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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2015-05-02 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the pointer to Mark Johnson Heade-- his paintings are lovely, and I hadn't heard of him.

I don't know if Edward Lear counts as obscure, but his nonsense verse is much better remembered than his wonderful lithographs of birds.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 02:39 pm (UTC)
Very true, hardly anybody remembers him as a lithographer. We can't always choose what will strike other people as important in our lives.
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[User Picture]From: fadethecat
2015-05-02 06:51 pm (UTC)
I loved the Peripheral, but only one of its protagonists. Specifically, I adored Flynne, and started off actively disliking the other guy. He did grow on me! By halfway through the book, I kinda liked him. And by the end I actually cared what happened to him. But I do wish it could've started on a Flynne chapter, instead of one of his, because I'm not sure I would've gotten through the book if I hadn't been reading it for book club, with the way it opened.

That said, I'm still very happy with it on the whole. I've reread it twice now, but usually I just reread Flynne's chapters, and then the later other chapters when she's in them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-02 09:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, honestly if matociquala hadn't recommended it so highly, I probably would have bailed early on too.
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[User Picture]From: fadethecat
2015-05-02 09:13 pm (UTC)
I wandered past Amazon to check on protag names, and noted that:

1) The blurb on Amazon talks entirely about Flynne, which is a useful "Keep reading for this more interesting character!" incentive for someone who starts the book and finds this other asshole there first;

2) The current top-rated review says it's a great book, but not a good place to start reading Gibson.

Now, I had tried to read Gibson before, and not gotten as far; I never finished any of his other books. But! I hadn't encountered such an off-putting opening in the others, either. So those both seem like good calls overall.
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[User Picture]From: glinda_w
2015-05-02 11:37 pm (UTC)
I've read everything by Jo Walton that's available. Lifelode has been my favorite since I first read it, displacing Tooth and Claw. And now The Just City is up there, as well... but Lifelode will probably always be a comfort re-read.
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[User Picture]From: mechaieh
2015-05-03 01:05 am (UTC)
Bronson Alcott should have been shaken until his teeth rattled

Yes.
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[User Picture]From: thistleingrey
2015-05-03 02:33 am (UTC)
I hadn't realized that the Zong book is of that vintage. (Increases interest!) A friend gave me a copy while downsizing to move house--I haven't read it yet.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-03 03:23 am (UTC)
Fascinatingly, in the introduction Mr. Zong talks about how he also wrote a book of Korean folk tales for the Japanese audience in 1927. What an odd niche market for a person to work in! folk tales for the people who had a military force in one's country.
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[User Picture]From: thistleingrey
2015-05-03 05:34 am (UTC)
Hmm, that is interesting. I wonder to what extent colonial-type bowdlerization may be peeled back after several generations. (There are Things You Don't Discuss on both sides of my family, i.e. former wartime children; my mother talks about some things, but she was young in 1952. Her older siblings say she has some things wrong. Whether or not that's so, I infer that some things are unrecoverable....)
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2015-05-05 01:59 am (UTC)
Probably reasonably lucrative, though.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2015-05-05 02:00 am (UTC)
Oooh! That energy book looks delightful.
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