November 16th, 2010


Books read, early November

Jim Butcher, Side Jobs. A collection of short stories in the Harry Dresden universe. I have some personal interest in a short story collection from a smartass hero's perspective, somehow. This was highly varied in quality, and Butcher made it clear in the intro to the first story that he was well aware of that in the first story's case. Less aware, I think, in the case of the final novella, which was from Murphy's perspective. I have occasionally referred to this as "the Murphy, Mouse, and Molly series" to indicate why I read it, and...well. I think he pulled off the story from Thomas's perspective. Murphy's not so much. Um. At all. I had fun with some of the stories, but...not really the Murphy one. (Also, major suspension of disbelief moment: a LARPer was wearing Prada heels. To LARP in. Really? Really? I...just, no. Prada knockoffs, maybe, if it was essential to the character. But real Prada? A LARPer? I had a very hard time with that.) (Yah, I know. But it's the little things. You're the storyteller: if you tell me for the duration of this story that there are three kinds of vampires and they hate each other, I'm fine with that; you get to set the rules on vampires. But the minute you're setting your story in a near analog of our world, you're trying to use preexisting rules as shorthand, and those can bite back.)

Charles de Lint, Muse and Reverie. Discussed elsewhere.

Jyouji Hayashi, The Ouroboros Wave. Discussed elsewhere.

William Hillcourt, The Scoutmaster's Handbook. Grandpa's. 1960 edition. I said I was going to read Grandpa's books, and I meant it; when a little dude I'm fond of said he wanted to be a Cub Scout and I started hearing about his first meeting, I thought I'd give this one a look. And oh, the differences. For one thing, I was struck by the completely neutral use of the word "gang." The handbook talks about how the natural organizational unit of boys is the gang, and it means it completely neutrally, as we would say "group" or "team." There is no hint of "street gang" or "gang of toughs"; this is in an era where "gang" without modification just as easily means "Hail, hail, the gang's all here" or "we're getting the whole gang together for a party." The recipes for things like "pork chow mein" are also culturally...quite instructive.

But one of the things that was really sad to me was how much autonomy the boys were assumed to have. Granted, these were Boy Scouts--starting at age 11--not Cub Scouts. But my little friend is not allowed to attend his meetings without a parent in tow every time. Contrast this with the scoutmaster's handbook of 1960, that says that the boys should get to plan their own fun, and that if the scoutmaster has to get out of his armchair too much in the planning meetings, he's doing it wrong. It seemed like a sad progression to me. It represented not only the loss of kids' autonomy, but the fact that the people who most needed the group were the ones who would no longer have access to it. My little friend has not only the adults in his own family but also local "aunt" and "uncle" and other adult friends; if his parents couldn't take him to Cub Scouts, something could be arranged so that he could go. And if something couldn't be arranged, his parents or other adults could arrange to take him and some little buddies hiking or on some of the other outings that Cub Scouts would do. Because he has the people in his life who can provide the adult to come to every meeting, he can have Cub Scouts--and doesn't need it quite as much as his hypothetical classmate who doesn't have those adults. I know that Boy Scouting, like church groups, like everything else in our culture that gives adults access to children, has had abuse problems. I just think that we're trying to solve one problem and in the process exacerbating another, possibly even more widespread one. It's like being afraid that kids will be abducted and keeping them inside and then watching all sorts of secondary consequences pile up, like the diabetes rate and the fact that many of them have very little idea what to do with themselves in a forest or in some other kind of natural setting. You try to prevent active abuse, and you end up with kids who don't have functional relationships with adults who aren't their parents, and who don't have opportunities to do stuff in less formal settings and don't even know how that's supposed to go. And that's a really big hole in our culture, and I think the repercussions of that cultural shift will be messing with us for quite some time. And this one little handbook from fifty years ago is in some ways a shocking example of change. The good ways are, I think, fairly obvious to the people I socialize with. The bad ways not always so much so.

Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. This is the one that took up the lion's share of my reading for this fortnight. It's not one of Grandpa's. It's a bit more complicated than that. It's the book I got home from the bookstore and belatedly realized I'd bought because I'm not ready to be done buying books to share with Grandpa...even though Grandpa isn't around to read them with me any more. (Except, my mother noted when I said this to her, in my heart. Which is true.) This is the first of a three-volume biography. Spoiler for the last page: he becomes President of the United States. Sorry for those of you who wanted to wait and find out yourselves. It's a good biography--it feels like it's rattling along swiftly--but Teddy Roosevelt did a lot of stuff, so you find that the rattling along swiftly has gotten you a hundred and fifty pages since you made your tea...and it's an eight hundred page bio and there are still two more volumes. This was, holy crud, a busy sort of man.

Housuke Nojiri, Rocket Girls. Discussed elsewhere.