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

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Books read, early April [Apr. 21st, 2016|09:13 am]
Marissa Lingen
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John Allison and Lissa Treiman, Giant Days. A slice-of-life comic set among new university students in the UK. People sorting out their personal issues on a number of fronts. Charming enough that I kept going but not enough that I will seek out a sequel; it’s not really my genre-combo.


Walter Alvarez, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. About the extinction event from the front lines of figuring it out. Nerds probably know all this stuff, so the value in this is either introductory or hearing it from the source. Alvarez is a little bit of a dinosaur himself in spots.


Marie Brennan, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Discussed elsewhere.


Margaret Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. Fascinating stuff, emotionally wrenching, particularly in the intersection of these groups. White ladies of the time: not always filled with understanding of their fellow humans’ experiences, it turns out, particularly when propaganda they were exposed to at the time focused on the potential threat to them rather than the actual danger, injury, and loss experienced by Black people on a daily basis. The immigrant experience focused on here was German and Irish, in case that’s relevant to people’s interest level. Goes into the post-Civil War shaping of the Gettysburg story also.


William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. I would be fascinated to see how this book would be different if it was written today, but it’s still fascinating to have a look at how differently the two groups regarded land management, settlement, and sustenance/sustainability in the same area in the same period. Highly recommended, especially for speculative fiction writers who are thinking about cultural differences.


Michael J. DeLuca, Jason S. Ridler, Scott H. Andrews, Erin Hoffman, and Justin Howe, The Homeless Moon. A chapbook put together by five friends. That is, five friends of each other; I only know two of them. My favorite stories were DeLuca’s and Hoffman’s, playing most directly with personal relationships, but it’s a fascinating project, and I’m glad they did more together.


Diane Duane, Games Wizards Play. Argh. ARGH. This is book ten in an ongoing series. Definitely do not read it if you haven’t read the other nine. If you have…well, look. One of the pleasures of book ten in an ongoing series is spending more time with the characters you like, and I feel like GWP fails on that front. Duane has spent nine books establishing Kit and Nita as people who don’t care that much about what Kids At School think, people who have lives ranging around the universe doing cool stuff and having lots of teenage peers outside Kids At School. Now that they are dating, nearly the entirety of their dating relationship for this volume is obsessing about whether Kids At School think they are definitely having sex or definitely not. (They are definitely not. But this is far less important, apparently, than what people who are not characters in this or any other book think about whether they are or not.) They go on and on for pages and pages about how stupid these jerks are and how annoying it is. I agree. It is annoying. SO SHUT UP ABOUT IT. Think about what you want and what the other person wants. If you have to, think about the people you actually interact with. But for heaven’s sake leave off about Sir Not Appearing In This Volume because I could not possibly care less. And speaking of things I could not possibly care less about: wizard’s tournaments that have never been mentioned before this volume. Yawn. Jerkface young wizards who are supposed to be mentored for such tournaments because the Powers That Be say so: oh, is that the time? YAWN. Sometimes the Powers That Be are getting awfully darn convenient in this series. Why should I care about this stupid character? THE POWERS WANT YOU TO. WELL I DON’T. So there is a little charming bit with planets. And there is some cultural iffiness. And there is the increasing problem of the time slippage of when exactly these books take place, having started in 1982, taken about four years, and are now set in 2016, which is not helped when the author herself is not hitting her marks on setting them in 2016 but is trying. And…gosh I hope she recovers from this one. Because I really do like this series and think it has good things yet to do if only it gets there. But YUCK.


Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850. This is an overview sort of book, and I read it after the climate change-related book below. I do not recommend that ordering. But if you don’t know a lot about the climate shift in that period and all the things that went into it–and came out of it–this is a good short summary sort of book. Or if you just want to refresh your brain in that direction, which was more my case.


Mark Forsyth, The Horologican: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language. “Lost” is really an overstatement. Most of them were mildly obscure at best. But Forsyth has an entertaining enough set of stories to tell. It was a fast read, occasionally too centered on his own cultural experience to the point of making sweeping pronouncements. If you can cope with that, it’ll stay fun. If that makes you wince too often, it won’t.


Faith Erin Hicks, The Nameless City. Discussed elsewhere.


Kelly Link, Get in Trouble. I went to write my thoughts on this book right after the Pulitzer Prize committee wrote theirs. Um. So I liked it too, it turns out. I liked it first? No, probably not. I feel like there is more of a YA shift here, but I haven’t read the intervening collections yet–they’re on my list–between this and Magic for Beginners–so I may just be late to the party. Anyway I approve of the teenward shift, of the awkward and hidden things in young people and the awkward and hidden things in the world finding their way toward each other in Link’s work.


David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé, The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. The section on symbiogenesis was really interesting. The rest…puts soil development and microbiome development together in interesting ways I guess but none of it is earth-shattering. Montgomery’s book on dirt is better. This meanders around food and cancer and all sorts of stuff that seems like it should be more interesting than it is, probably because this is highly popularized and not very deep. (Symbiogenesis, though! Let’s have more on that.)


Steven Ozment, The Burgermeister’s Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town. Sexual virtue and politics and lawsuits and female agency in the courts. Ozment is always so good at microhistory. He is my favorite historian of Germany.


Robert W. Patch, Maya Revolt and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. Another book about agency in court systems where it tends to be discounted, and also what happens when that agency is undercut. In this case it’s indigenous people, including women but not limited thereto, whose agency is examined. Still, an interesting commonality with the Ozment that I didn’t expect. This is very very case-study based, giving the names of every single person involved.


Jeffrey Quilter, The Moche of Ancient Peru: Media and Messages. Lots of pictures of Moche pottery. This is the least obscene set of Moche pottery I have ever seen in my life. I don’t mean that as a criticism per se–there are some pieces like one of the llama ones that are really quite lovely. But I raised an eyebrow at how selectively non-obscene it was.


William Rosen, The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century. This is a much deeper, more thorough, and more interesting exploration of the effects of climate change on a period of history. It’s also remarkably cheerful considering the title. The famine doesn’t come until well over halfway into the book, and there’s lots of squabbling over the throne of Scotland and various other upbeat topics. Um. I think the person who writes this sort of book must be a person very much like myself in some regards? might be why I can find it so chipper? But really it’s not a gloomy book at all, it races right along through rains and Viking raids and other things that make a person happy.


Oliver Sacks, Gratitude. A set of essays from the very end of Sacks’s prolific life. Not offensive in any way–cheering, in fact–but probably only of great importance to the Sacks completist.


Øystein Sørensen and Bo Stråth, eds., The Cultural Construction of Norden. A very curious set of essays about how the modern Norden countries (that is, Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland) got to where it is, culturally. It makes several very weird assumptions, such as not talking about immigration or emigration. So…no Turks, no Finns-in-Sweden, no anybody, right then. Also the Haugean movement and similar movements are described as though their remains in Norway (or the rest of the Norden region) settled into their current form without any influence from bleeding their radical elements off into the US and Canada. As if by magic. So…I ended up eyebrowing at this book a lot more than I was enlightened by it, and I wouldn’t end up recommending it.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2016-04-22 12:30 am (UTC)
I gather that the obscene examples of Moche pottery were kept hidden in government and private collections in Peru until the '70s or so? But given their prominence in museums since then (and, ahem, certain restaurant bathrooms) that does sound... remarkably selective.
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[User Picture]From: thistleingrey
2016-04-22 01:32 am (UTC)
I am sorry to hear about Games Wizards Play.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-22 01:38 am (UTC)
Me too.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2016-04-23 01:55 am (UTC)
Me three. I have found myself... not rushing to pick up her last few books. And yet, her earlier stuff is so foundational to my book brain that I'm reluctant to class her as an author I no longer rush to pick up.
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[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2016-04-22 03:45 am (UTC)
Duane has done something about the time slippage: the earlier books have now been revised into "Millennium Editions" and the timeline start is now sometime in the mid-2000's. I have not read the new editions to see just what has changed. I do gather just from reading Games that High Wizardry gets a revised ending with Dairine seriously nerfed. Remember the girl who squees at her, "You're the girl who WOULDN'T MOVE THE PLANET!"? In book 5 as it was originally, that was "galaxy". (I went back and checked!)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-22 01:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, and that not only does not fix the problem, it makes things worse.

Because time keeps marching on. So the "vague present" keeps receding from the start of the series. It's now receding from a closer start, but 2004, say, is still quite technologically far from now, and it's still twelve years taking four years of book time. It's also far from now in terms of fashion and teen social mores, both of which Duane has gotten all over the map in Games Wizards Play.

Which is one of the places where Kids At School is a mistake, and where referring to what's fashionable is a mistake. Have them wear the fashions of some distant planet and you never have to worry about exactly what year and city they're from in Earth and whether they'd look awful and frumpy to teenagers from that year and city. Have a specific character behave a specific way and the reader can make excuses, fill in reasons why X is that way. But once it's Kids At School, you are representing a smeared out statistical average. You're asking me to believe not that Alice, Bob, and Chris have quirky behaviors that I can explain away by watching them--so Alice is a little socially awkward and Bob is old-fashioned, so what? that's Alice, that's Bob, some people are like that!--but that KIDS NOWADAYS are like that. KIDS. And then if they read like a weird mishmash of 1960s teen mores, something closer to my age, and now, it reads like a weird mishmash instead of Chris being really into retro stuff or something.

And then to nerf Dairine in the process? That's messing up books that work in order to try and fail to fix things. But it's also demanding that readers keep reading your revisions to stay current on the new things. That's not a fair or reasonable thing to ask either way: if the revisions are trivial, why should we use our time and money to find out that Dairine now has a different kind of computer and pants? And if they're important--why should we attach to any form of books where important plot points can be retroactively changed at any time?

And retroactively changed for the worse. Dairine is one of the best and most interesting characters in the series. I like Nita just fine, but the ending of GWP where they are suggesting that Nita should become a [SPOILER] is really heaping all the roles and honors on Nita. Whale-whisperer, seer, now this? really stop. She has not gotten to explore the stuff she's good at already. There was already plenty there to use, without the equivalent of "Ooh ooh and also she can fly and talk to wolves and has a magic sword and...."
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2016-04-23 02:00 am (UTC)
Gah. And all because someone's convinced her that kids can't figure out characters who lack modern technology. Which, um.
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From: diatryma
2016-04-23 02:23 pm (UTC)
Based on memories of books read for school (and for fun, but I'm concentrating on school ones): we did not notice. Julie of the Wolves, set during Vietnam, completely not noticed. Likewise basically any survival book-- Hatchet, Homecoming, probably My Side of the Mountain but I never read it (my brother read it three times for class). Never occurred to me that The Black Stallion was set in any older days than my dad talked about, or, honestly, a lot of Margeurite Henry.

Given that kids are often handed the classics of their parents' and teachers' days, and that this repeats, they are already used to correcting a bit for The Old Days. And had I a classroom to hand books to, I would definitely ask the kids to figure out *when* in setting, and maybe show them the other series that do the time slippage without caring. Like Julie, and The Black Stallion, both of which have sequels with a time portal between.

Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-23 02:25 pm (UTC)
I think it's at least as likely that the author herself wants her characters to get to play with modern toys. Which--fair enough, she did not set out writing an historical series but a contemporary one. It's a hard problem that a lot of mystery writers run into also. But this mode of retconning doesn't actually solve it, and introduces problems of its own.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2016-04-23 02:57 pm (UTC)
I recall a statement from Duane that the change was an attempt to raise sales, based on advice that kids were confused by the lack of cell phones, etc.

Sarah, as a kid, noticed that books took place in different time periods, but cheerfully assumed that different locations really were in different time zones--it really was 1900 in New York.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-23 04:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a shame. I'm sorry that it wasn't more self-motivated. Because I really don't think this solution even works in the short-term, much less the long-term, but if it at least was something she was having fun with, that would be something.
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[User Picture]From: ethelmay
2016-04-26 04:45 am (UTC)
A number of writers, notably Beverly Cleary, just went ahead and set the later books later and didn't worry about it. So Ramona is four or thereabouts in Henry and Beezus (1952) but doesn't get to go to kindergarten until Ramona the Pest (1968), when by rights she should be about twenty. She reaches age 10 over thirty years later, in Ramona Forever (1999).
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2016-04-23 03:11 am (UTC)
Oh, I think I read the Ozment one a while back and loved it! This is the one with all the lovely snarky bits about bathhouse culture of the time in it, I think?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-23 02:27 pm (UTC)
That's not what stuck with me here, and it's not turning up in the index--maybe another of the Ozments?
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2016-04-23 04:28 pm (UTC)
Or possibly an entirely different historical book about roughly that time and place. I remember reading that there were large public baths, and that some of these were mixed gender, with women getting one side of the large hot bath and men the other, and that one way of explaining away a pregnancy where the person wasn't married, without admitting to having had sex, involved blaming sperm that had floated around in the bath and ended up impregnating the bather. Which I was immature enough to find very funny.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-04-23 04:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that was not this.
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