Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read: early February

Two of my friends lost their dad today. One of my friends lost her father-in-law. (Same guy.) If you have one of the good ones for a dad, a father-in-law, a favorite uncle, whatever, appreciate him. I'm pretty glad I'm going to have breakfast with my dad in the morning, because I'm feeling the need to hug him right now.

In happier news, I read a bunch of books. So let's talk about that. Books read, early February:

David Bodanis, Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World. I just finished this one. It made me cry, because it was such a damn waste that she died so young. I cried for something like the last twenty pages. (I read fast.) Nonfiction more often has this effect on me than fiction. Anyway, it was a bit popularized for my taste, but on the other hand, a good popularization is a force of good in the world, and I'm glad it's out there. I'm going to have to read something a bit more scholarly about du Chatelet, I suspect. But this was lovely as what it is.

John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. This continues Boswell's main theses, which seem to be that 1) people we would currently label "gay" have existed for quite some time, and 2) historical settings were not uniformly unkind to them. He tries to be very careful not to push his conclusions too far, but sometimes the way they're written makes it seem that they've run away with him a bit.

David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century. This book was trying to be a biography of Oppenheimer while also giving more context about the rest of the world during his life than a standard biography would. I think it fell short on both counts. I far prefer the Kai Bird/Martin Sherwin biography of Oppenheimer I read last year, and there are other books that do better things with the context -- The Making of the Atomic Bomb, for example, and Reds. Of course, what I'm saying here is that about 300 pages of book does less than a total of 2000 pages or more will do, so it may be that I read things in the wrong order. Still and all, there were details I know quite well that were not right, and it makes me suspicious of the details I don't know as well.

Scott A. Cupp and Joe R. Lansdale, Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard. This was a freebie in my WFC bag. Here's the thing: when you're reading an anthology of Texans paying tribute to a particular author, it helps if you care about at least one of those two things for itself (Texas or the author). I don't. I care about Texas inasmuch as a few of you live there, and it would probably be inconvenient if it was to fall into the Gulf of Mexico suddenly; I care about Robert E. Howard...um...indirectly, at best. So while I enjoyed a few of the stories in this anthology, mostly it was Not For Me, and will be going to live somewhere else when I get around to having another of those book giveaway posts.

Kate Elliott, Spirit Gate. It is utterly unfair of me to have compared this book to unpublished work by one of you at every turn, specifically: "alecaustin would have done this better...oh, Alec actually did something like this better, too...Alec wouldn't even have wanted to do this part...." What can I tell you. An amiable reader, yes. A fair one, sometimes not. (The bond animals, at least, were minimally dwelt upon and thus minimally eye-rolling.)

Richard Feynman, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" This was not a reread. That's right: they somehow let me get through a physics major and into a graduate program in physics without reading this book. Don't ask me how, for I do not know. Anyway, now that I've admitted this in public, I'm also admitting that I remedied it, so my Six Geeky Uncles do not have to come find me and take my degree away. It was light, entertaining. If you were looking to know how modern physics goes, this is not the book, but as a scattershot memoir goes, it hit target, for me at least.

Feynman was utterly un-self-conscious about his treatment of certain classes of women, and I did wonder if my time as a female physics student might have been the wrong time to read about that, and this a better one. Maybe. Not sure.

Lian Hearn, The Harsh Cry of the Heron. Fourth and last in this series. This series manages to replicate much of the tone of early Japanese lit, which has its ups and downs. It mitigated my desire to thwap certain characters, because I was annoyed with the literary form rather than the characters. Umm...good? Successful, at any rate.

Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson, Variable Star. The good news is, this is not a horrible Frankenstein's monster of a book, patched together in chunks of each author. The bad news is, it's all the things that have frustrated me about Spider Robinson novels. If you've gotten bored of his recent work and don't care to hear yet another "sitting zazen is the answer to everything!" book, this is not the book for you. (Also, snarking at engineers with Heinlein's name on the cover? Bad form. At least in this form of snarking, external rather than internal snarking.)

Tanya Huff, Smoke and Shadows. Another WFC freebie. Light. Read when I didn't feel good. Good choice for a day like that. Going to get passed on, though -- I just don't see myself rereading it.

Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750. This is the unergonomic brick of a book I was reading at the time of my last post. It's not that it was such a thick book -- although it is a thick book, 810 pages with notes. But I've read larger books. It was that it was that large in fairly small print with trade paper binding that was fairly harsh on the hands, and it was the type of nonfiction that took awhile to get a thread going. So there was almost always a good reason to put this book down and then pick up something else. Not great book design, frankly. I did learn all sorts of fascinating things about Spinoza and about dissemination of banned and/or scandalous books in Europe in that century. I'm now much more interested in Spinoza than I ever expected to be. Israel did fall into a sort of fixation on Spinoza -- rightly so, given his subject matter, but it made me want to read the other of his books we have on hand (a thumping great Dutch history belonging to markgritter), because I began to suspect it would be something like, "And in this era, here's what the Dutch thought of Spinoza...but later they thought this about Spinoza instead...."

James Morrow, The Last Witchfinder. Clearly a different thing than his other books, right? A straight-up historical with literary framing rather than a quirky speculative book? Except...not, really. Thematically very, very similar. I know we all have obsessions -- Spinoza, sitting zazen, whatever -- but I think a little more variations upon themes would not be out of order.

Holly Phillips, In the Palace of Repose. And here are some variations. Ah. Yes. I did not want to put down or skim any of these short stories; I did not grow impatient. Perhaps you don't realize the magnitude of that comment.

Alistair Reynolds, Zima Blue and Other Stories. This made me want to write space opera. It did not make me want to write space opera like Alastair Reynolds, but that's all for the best, really, as someone's got that sewed up, looks like. Hmm. We'll see what I can carve out time for.

Rex Stout, The Doorbell Rang and Trio for Blunt Instruments. The former is Rex Stout taking potshots at J. Edgar Hoover -- not entirely, but largely. I am not opposed to such potshots. Fun. The latter was one of the better short story collections, with the unfortunate side effect of leaving me hankering for really good, really fresh sweet corn. Which we won't have in this neck of the woods for nearly another six months. Wah. And I haven't gotten over my langos cravings from reading A Certain Book last year, either. Wah.
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