Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

What I've Been Reading: Nonfiction

I think I'm staying on hiatus from novel_gazing for awhile, but one of the things that means is that I haven't talked much about what I'm reading except in tiny bits and pieces, as it free-associates to something else. And I've just finished two more library books this morning, so it seems like time.

John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Oh my goodness, this was lovely. Wallowing in Greek, for one thing. For another, I conceived of a personal affection for the author by the time I read the epilogue. You could just hear the exasperated impatience in his voice. The epilogue essentially said, "Look, you can argue that we shouldn't do this now. But you can't argue that no one ever did it before, because it says right here." He also has a firm grasp on things like how we don't know private behavior from public relationship, necessarily -- for any combination of genders, though, and he gets that part right. Read it, read it, read it. It's just boggling.

Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, Celebration, U.S.A.. The subtitle of this one is something like "Living in Disney's Brave New Town." It was...a bit alarming, actually, what people would say to these writers even knowing that they were writing a book about life in that town. The groupthink and the willingness to totally surrender not just civil liberties but the later possibility thereof -- uff da. On the other hand, some of the things people were up in arms about are by no means unique to Celebration, FL. Not all neighborhoods have CCRs (codes, covenants, and restrictions -- although not all neighborhoods have Credence Clearwater Revival, either, I'd imagine), but many do. Agreeing that people will paint their houses within a certain color palette is one of the reasonable choices people can voluntarily make, and the fact that they had little to no say in their own public school system seemed like a source of a lot more concern than whether they could paint their house violet. And I say that as a person who chose a neighborhood where we could paint our house violet.

Laurie Garrett, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. Scary and important and scary. There were long, extensively footnoted chapters on different aspects of this problem in different regions, but there were truly global references. Laurie Garrett is one of those authors I will read no matter what she chooses to write about next.

Andrew Marshall, The Trouser People. wshaffer recommended this one many moons ago. It's about Burma/Myanmar and about the author's experiences there, compared and contrasted with another British man's experiences a century or so earlier. Not nearly long enough -- or rather, I'd like a sequel. Also it may have given me an epigraph for a section of Sampo. I haven't decided yet. I'll have to think over whether I want to find epigraphs for all the sections or not. Epigraphs are A Lot Of Trouble, different kinds of trouble whether you find them before or after the main writing of the book. (And no, Sampo will not feature a trip to Burma/Myanmar. It stays put in Finland, mostly.)

Ted Morgan, Reds. The subtitle on this one was something about McCarthyism, but Morgan defined McCarthyism in such a way that we were halfway through the book before McCarthy was even doing anything. But I suppose "idiotic and immoral ways to fight communism" is much more of a mouthful. Not a cheerful book, either, and interesting but often just grazing the edges of the things that actually interested me.

Ethel Johnston Phelps, The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World. I classify folktale collections as "nonfiction" if the editors thereof are writing them more as "look, here's a study of what stories people told" than as "here's a good story, you should read it!" I intended to use the Finnish stuff in this (like the title story) to triangulate how much Phelps had changed the stories to make them more suitably feminist, but mostly she hadn't. My problem was more with dumbing down certain bits for an Anglophone audience. Sure, some of you might have trouble pronouncing Lemminkainen, but it's worth the trouble to not rename him Bob. As you know, Bob, not everybody is named Bob. Everyone clear on that? Good. Move on with your lives.

Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters. This dealt with Mary II and Anne more personally than my time in Eric's Tudor and Stuart history class did, and that was probably a good thing. Its organization was...not to my taste, let's say. For several chapters in the early part of the book, Waller was attempting to go with a chapter per major figure in the story rather than a chronological narrative -- but she kept having to talk about the other major figures anyway, as they interrelated, and so it felt more like pointless bouncing from my perspective.

From that history class with Eric, I'm a good deal more interested in the Stuarts than in the Tudors, I think because I feel -- wrongly -- that the Tudors are more amply covered in spec fic. I don't know of much dealing with the reign of Henry VII, though, nor with the chewy gristly parts of Reformation England. But I think I can just wave airily at Bear and say, "Go to, dear," and muddle around in the romantic-repulsive-wrong-wrong-wrong period. Sort of.

The problem with history and geography -- and science -- and literature, if it comes to that, and the rest of art -- the world, really -- is that everything touches. (<--voice of a small child whose peas are in the gravy against her will) And I'm not disinterested in enough stuff. So I read Celebration, U.S.A., and not only do I want more stuff about that particular social experiment, my brain wraps it up with some of the motivations that led people to utopian communes in the 19th century, and with earlier suburban experiments, and it all rattles and sticks and jostles other things loose, and there's not enough time to read it all.

Also, does anybody know of a utopian or semi-utopian social experiment that appealed or appeals to large numbers of racial-ethnic minorities? The reasons why most such experiments didn't or don't appeal seem abundant (and, frankly, sensible on the part of the racial-ethnic minority groups in question). I was just wondering if anybody had managed to get past those reasons in the planning of their particular corner of utopia.

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