Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

books read, late November

Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. This book came out in 1931. I bought it as sort of an American companion to The Long Week-End, which covers both the '20s and the '30s but was published in the early '40s, and I am delighted to find that Allen did another one of the '30s. So I can find that and then I really will have sort of a balanced set. The thing that fascinated me about this was how little of it was obscure to me. Apparently the vast majority of things we think are important about the 1920s in America now are things that were apparent to people like Mr. Allen right away thereafter. There were a few sad moments--the idea that the Red Scare and the KKK had run their course in the '20s and were pretty much over by 1931--and I did wonder why more people haven't compared George W. Bush to Warren G. Harding. Interesting stuff both for its subject matter and for its similarity to modern perceptions of its subject matter.

Ronald G. Asch, The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618-1648. Very much an overview. Still somewhat useful, but we're going to want to dig in a great deal more before anybody in the house really has a handle on the Thirty Years War. This volume was complete with historian snarking, though, which always enlivens the proceedings.

Beverly Cohn, What a Year It Was! 1950. Grandpa's. Most of the books of Grandpa's I read this month were things people had given him as gifts without him specifically asking for them by title, which is an interesting bit of parallax by itself. He and Grandma were married in 1950, and this is one of the souvenir books people give as anniversary presents, talking about what the headlines of that year were and what things cost and like that. The layout and page design was really startlingly bad--lots of clip art, very visually busy pages--but I've already set one book in 1950 and have plans for another, so it's very useful to have salaries and wages and movies and things written down all in the same spot like this.

Anthony Gross, The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. Grandpa's. Another gift book, this one nakedly hagiographic of Lincoln. Some of the anecdotes were extremely dubiously sourced and others were impeccable.

Reginald Hill, An Advancement of Learning, A Pinch of Snuff, and Ruling Passion. All in the Dalziel/Pascoe series, which I am very much enjoying. I wouldn't recommend starting with A Pinch of Snuff. I will be glad to go on to more of these.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Johan gave me this when he was visiting from Sweden. I love how Larsson was steeped in the mystery genre and in Swedish literature at the same time. There were so many references, even in the translated form, to those who had come before him. I guessed some of the major plot twists, but I was enjoying the book so much I didn't mind. It does start a bit slowly for something that sold this well, for fair warning's sake.

John Land LeCoq, Cowboy Tales: Western Classics from American Masters. Grandpa's. Another gift book, this one of pictures of cowboys combined with stories by Mark Twain, Bret Harte, etc. Very short, highly varied--some with really obnoxious dialect and some with very natural colloquial dialog. Not something I would ever have picked up on my own, but interesting to see the changes rung in such short space.

Ian McDonald, Cyberabad Days. No wonder I'm feeling SF short: this is the only SF I finished this fortnight. (Alas, I picked up two others and had to put them down again rather abruptly.) This is the same future India as River of Gods, only in short story collection form. I very much like themed short story collections (the ones I don't like allow me to put them down faster, which is its own virtue), and I liked this one. I'd be interested to hear what some of my friends of Indian or Indian-American heritage thought of it.

Håkan Nasser, Mind's Eye. Yes, it's apparently Swedish murder mystery time around here. This one made the least impression on me. I didn't find the detective character as lovably hateable as I was apparently supposed to. Just: meh. So probably no more on this series.

Matti A. Pitkanen, Suomalainen Maisema. This was a book of photos of the Finnish landscape, with text in four languages. Neat. While the photos were cool, I was also fascinated to see when saying the same thing ran much longer in one language than another.

Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission. Grandpa's. Not the most cheerful book I've ever read, but it would be frankly creepy if it had been. Some subjects are not really designed for good cheer. This was about a prison break for a camp in the Philippines that held a bunch of soldiers, some of whom were on the Bataan Death March. Sides interviewed survivors extensively many years after the fact and got lots of letters home, contemporary diaries, etc. I can't say that I enjoyed this per se, but I learned a lot from it, and I really respected the effort. Sides also did a good job of being clear that not all Japanese people nor even all Japanese prison guards were alike--he was writing about things some Japanese people chose to do, not things all Japanese people did. And equally, not all American prisoners responded equally admirably to their situation, sometimes in their own estimation. Harrowing in spots. But very human, very humane, very well done.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Roseanna. This may be the most internationally famous Swedish crime novel before Stieg Larsson--certainly it's the earliest one I've found that got substantial international attention. To me this felt more period than dated. I'll want to keep on in the series.
Tags: bookses precious

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