Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Books read, early January

I'm not going to finish Liberation until later tonight or perhaps tomorrow, depending on how well writing the middle of this chapter goes, so I might as well do the book post now and put that in the second half of the month. I hope I remember to talk about standing between it and Battlestar Galactica then. Well, someone will remind me if I forget, or else they won't.

Joan Aiken, Arabel's Raven. About a small girl and her raven, the latter of which pair is extremely badly behaved. It eats stairs. That detail won me, I think, and then there were the vending machines. Things tend to stay far enough off beat to stay delightful for me. Also it was short, which helps my patience.

Chandler Burr, The Emperor of Scent. This...hmm. This was a biography of a living person, Luca Turin, which was weird. It was also very clear to me that this book was not written for My People when Burr explained covalent bonds in very careful babytalk but expected that we would all of course know and even perhaps care a bit about big name designers. Burr's explanations are vivid and reasonable, but--wait! I have a degree in science! So I really would have liked the grown-up version. And I wished that Burr could have read the papers that opposed Turin's theories, or had someone with those capabilities read them and explain them to him. The fact that Turin's opposition was not forthcoming with interviews didn't speak well of them, but I'm very tired of journalists who feel that the road to balance is to interview and quote one person, then interview and quote another (preferably "the" other), then call it good. Burr was a fairly true believer here. I have to say that the model of smell described made more sense to me than the alternatives I was taught in school, which made no sense whatsoever. But we'll see; it'll get tested, I feel sure.

Cecil Harris, Breaking the Ice: the Black Experience in Professional Hockey. Like most of the hockey books I've read, this book drew heavily on interviews with players, and demonstrated that hockey players are really fairly awesome to interview. Many of them say interesting things. Many of their mothers do, and it was the mothers who just broke my heart here. If you're the kid down on the ice playing hockey, you can focus on the hockey. If you're the mom in the stands and people are throwing bananas at your child (I had to have that ethnic slur explained to me, by the way, as I had only encountered bananas as a nasty anti-Asian slur and could not figure out what on earth they had to do with black hockey players), you can't skate faster, you can't check harder, you can't stick-handle prettier, the only thing you have left to do is cheer your heart out for your baby and make sure someone has bail money ready if you get booked for assault. (None of the black hockey moms--or the white moms of the black hockey-playing kids--got booked for assault in this book. Why? Because they are better people than I am.) I was reading this book because I'm writing an ethnic minority hockey player right now--in the next window over, in fact--and it sounds like things have improved but not as much as we'd all like, which is I guess what I'd expect. I do wish there was an equivalent book for other visible minorities, because, for example, one of the most egregious racial incidents described in the book came not from a white player but from a First Nations player, and I wondered about his experience and whether it was typical and a million other things. And then of course there's the "name a Chinese-American hockey player for me; time's up, and no, sorry, Richard Park is Korean" problem. The thing that I thought belonged in this book was some mention of the Francophone/Anglophone intersection in hockey and how it interacted with race for the black players interviewed. Ah well. Can't have everything.

Tony Hillerman, The Dark Wind and The Ghostway. Now we're talking. Margaret Billy Sosi is my favorite Hillerman character yet. Reading these in close proximity to the one below made me wonder about intersection points, though....

Ellen Klages, White Sands, Red Menace. I loved this. I liked it better than The Green Glass Sea, even. Just lovely stuff. Highly recommended. YA historical geek lit. (It was a little weird to have a late friend and professor of mine pop up as an offstage historical character, though. Not bad-weird, and certainly not misplaced: Phil Morrison was exactly the person Suze's mom would have wanted to talk to, if Suze's mom had existed. But it got me off on a tangent--I kept thinking about Phil and the tater-tots.) I always say I am a complete sucker for Los Alamos in fiction, but this one moved off Los Alamos, and I loved it even more.

John McPhee, Annals of the Former World. Rocks. Rocks, rocks, ohhhh, such nice rocks. I am getting my grandfather a copy of this for Father's Day, and we will bond over the rocks. Did you know that I am right now living on the oldest bedrock in the US? True story. Minnesota River Valley is it, Mr. McPhee's geologists tell him. I think this is a particularly good book for people who have driven great stretches of I80, because you can say, "Oh! Is that what that was! I remember that, how the hills went there in Wyoming, where there were cutaways by the roadside in Nevada, what it was doing between Lincoln and Omaha." I know this land, and now I know it better, and I am an immediate and ardent convert to John McPhee. (This is an omnibus of four of his books plus another essay. All rocks. Yay rocks.)

C.A.S. Williams, Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives. This was old stuff, early 20th century--pre-Communism. It wasn't as racist as the other old Chinese mythology book I read, but it still had several things to take with a grain of salt. (And sexist, uff da.) However, there were things I could blow the dust off and think about and probably use, so that's good. It's organized in short entries, alphabetically, so it's fairly easy to skim if you get to an entry you feel will not be useful for your research. If you're not doing research, there's really no reason to read this. Unlike the other nonfiction I read this fortnight, it was not engaging in itself.

T. Harry Williams, Huey Long. Whew. Good stuff, extremely thoroughly interviewed and researched, but I had to cut this one with other things: it was long and detailed, and it was appalling enough in spots that I just needed some space from this world where everybody kept yelling at everybody and not doing math. (Seriously. You need 2/3 of x to win something. You keep noticing that 1/3 x + N is firmly and thoroughly opposing it, for any positive whole number value of N, you have to change somebody's mind or quit. People of the past: how was this hard?) Also, do not believe the front jacket copy: it really isn't bawdy. That didn't make it uninteresting. But still, not bawdy. This is the kind of biography-of-administration that I want of FDR, actually. Like this but with FDR, please halp? One of the things I really liked about Williams's handling here is that he understood and appropriately cited the difference between "here is incontrovertible fact; you can look it up" and "here is an anecdote that is entertaining and seems illustrative but is not actually anything like proven." He still tells the entertaining and characteristic stories, but he knows the difference between them and things he was able to verify from multiple independent sources. Yay.
Tags: bookses precious, icy death potential
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