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Books read, late April - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, late April [May. 2nd, 2010|03:44 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Ally Carter, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. I did not find this as charming as the first one. I guess it felt to me like the spy boys they encountered not only behaved as the girls' superiors, they bested them far too many times in too many things to have it really feel like the text didn't endorse that as well. Also the areas in which the boys were scornful of the girls' lessons were not really, in my opinion, shown to be valuable. I hope that the third book in the series does better than this by the girls, who had every reason to believe in their own awesomeness before.

Kylie Chan, Red Phoenix. Second book in a trilogy. Pure crack. The heroine's two main problems in this book, in order of page time: 1) she just won't believe how truly awesome she is, and various members of the Chinese pantheon have to keep telling her; 2) demons want to kill her and her friends. I'm enjoying these books, but I am also amused at myself for enjoying them.

Brian Kennedy, Growing Up Hockey: The Life and Times of Everyone Who Ever Loved the Game. Subtitle edit: The Life and Times of Everyone Male Who Grew Up Anglophone In Quebec In the 1970s And Loved The Game. There, fixed it for you. Kennedy keeps trying to force meaning on anecdotes whose meaning ought to have been left at, "I sure like hockey." I like hockey, too! It would have been enough! His complete lack of self-awareness made me sympathize with every person who ever had a penalty called on them when playing against Mr. Brian Kennedy. Brian Kennedy is, you understand, the epitome of a hockey fan in his own mind, and anybody who doesn't fondly remember the games he fondly remembers is No True Fan. Even if they were, y'know, not born. Or had some other good reason. He describes dousing himself with a soda in the backyard after watching his team win the Cup on TV. By himself. Dude. Dumping a soda over your head in your own backyard, as a full-grown adult, by yourself and theoretically perfectly sober? Not awesome, actually. Did I even have to tell you that? Not awesome at all.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I believe I am the last person interested in this book who has actually gotten around to reading it. I may be wrong. There were some little fun thoughts and tidbits in this book, but for me it was marred by the thoughtless reproduction of a particularly racist urban myth about names. (Dudes. No African-American person ever named their child Shithead, pronounced shuh-TEED or not. It is one of those urban myths people tell to make themselves feel superior to "Those People." "Those People"? DO NOT NAME THEIR CHILDREN SHITHEAD. You may not like the name Shantelle, but you are cordially invited to get along with your own life, not use it as a name for your own child, and not make shit up to make other people, as an ethnic group, sound stupid and low-class because of it. Someone here is Shithead, and IT IS NOT THEM.) It made me wonder what else was being presented as true that was a well-known myth. Also I find it very tacky to have a short book padded by quotes from a piece one of the authors wrote about the other. Meh. Meh, I say! Not that my meh will affect their millions of sales. Still: meh!

Kathy E. Magliato, Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon. porphyrin's reaction to reading this was, "You are such a surgeon," every few pages. I don't know as many surgeons as she does, but uff da, I will have to concur. Brash and oddly defensive by turns, anti-sexism without recognizing the bits wherein she is totally sexist...yah. Weird little book. Much of what I wanted out of this was the descriptions of what heart surgery physically feels like, so I have those now, and that was interesting. It's a fast read, but I'd only recommend it selectively.

Ian McEwan, Saturday. I wanted to like this book more than I did. I think I will try another of McEwan's, because mostly I just didn't care that much about the characters. They all did interesting things--it's not that problem. I just...didn't attach, I guess.

Michael Pastoureau, Blue: The History of a Color. This book is a beautiful example of how badly wrong things can go when you take the attitude that only the dominant culture in Western Europe at a given time is interesting. Most of Pastoureau's arguments were completely undermined by the fact that he was doing the Roman Empire-Holy Roman Empire-England-Napoleon-More England dance. Other cultures? What other cultures? Trade with other cultures? What might that have to do with anything? Clearly irrelevant on all fronts chemical, sartorial, artistic, and linguistic. Yah. Clearly. Oof.

Robert V. Redick, The Red Wolf Conspiracy. Fun high fantasy. I am a dreadfully hard sell on several of the tropes in this and had fun with it anyway. (On the other hand, I am apparently a terribly easy sell on boats. Give me boats, or give me...more boats! I blame C.S. Lewis and Arthur Ransome.)

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History. Grandpa's. Very interesting to read from 25 years later and see which things look completely prescient and which look completely ridiculous. Schlesinger is erudite and easy to read. I also found this interesting as a symbol of what a complex man my Grandpa was: Grandpa was pretty die-hard conservative, and Schlesinger was, er, not. Makes me look forward a bit more to some of the conservative tomes on the pile, actually. Other people's ideas not a threat and all. I do wish I'd had a chance to ask Grandpa if he thought Schlesinger was right about Eisenhower.

Marcus Sedgwick, Floodland. YA dystopia, after a full generation of rising oceans. Did not, for me, rise above its subgenre. If I were more interested in YA dystopia, I'd have a lot of reading material ahead of me. Ah well.

Leora Tanenbaum, Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation. And once again we discover how ill-suited I am for books that are largely anecdotal and aimed at Rallying The Troops. I am definitely opposed to slut-bashing and slut-shaming. My experience of them in high school led me to be absolutely shocked at the idea that only 60% of young women surveyed report having sexual name-calling or comments directed at them. It makes me wonder if the other 40% did not fully understand the remarks directed their way. If my own charming schooling experience was any indication, people would thoughtfully stand so as to make sure that the deaf and hearing-impaired girls could lip-read when they made this type of comment, or would helpfully attempt to translate it into sign despite not speaking ASL, so "perhaps they didn't hear" does not strike me as a possibility. Also, the idea that you would have to tell people that slut-bashing is not particularly correlated with actual behavior says to me, "Hello, either my audience is stupid or I believe they are." And there is a bit where she says that it's much easier for teenage boys to be gay-bashed, because they only hear that sort of thing if they happen to be small of build, and they can go to the gym to fix that. No, seriously. She says that. Approaching the "more errors than words" problem there, even discounting the grief poker approach.

Heather Tomlinson, Aurelie. YA fairy tale fantasy. This is a prime example of tiny things bothering me that would not bother me if I was in the target audience: I had great difficulty with the characters in a secondary world not apparently connected to ours using French. If I had picked this up when I was 12, I would be a time traveler I would not have batted an eye, and it would be grandfathered in now. Strange but true. Still fun, but I wanted More Blind Girl Less Princess.

Walter Jon Williams, This Is Not a Game. I liked this a lot. I think reading it in close proximity to For the Win was a pretty good thing: it doesn't have the same strengths in portraying gamer culture, but it doesn't have the same weaknesses, either. I hear there's a sequel, and I can't wait. Williams totally used my own assumptions about geeks in general and gamers in specific as red herrings. Great fun.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jenett
2010-05-02 11:52 pm (UTC)
I have not yet read _Freakonomics_ but do intend to sometime soon. (This summer, maybe.)

It's a pity that _Blue_ failed. HAve you read Victoria Finlay's _Color: A Natural History of the Palette_? I am deeply fond of it, except for the problem that I wish there were chapters more on each color. (She organises by color.) She's definitely much better at a wide range of places and times.

Also, how can you do blue without getting into the lapis mines in Afghanistan and the complications of trade therewith at various points in history?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-03 12:57 am (UTC)
I have read the Finlay, and I think that was part of the problem: it set a bar that the Pastoureau could not clear.

Lapis mines. I know! I mean.

It was also physically very unwieldy. So I couldn't even say, "Well, he didn't have room, it had to be a very little book." Because it was a very big book. Just not a very intelligent one.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2010-05-03 01:55 pm (UTC)
Freakonomics pissed me off so profoundly because they make the same mistakes over and over - correlation is not causation, and assumptions will always (always ALWAYS) bite thy ass.

If I want to read cheerful odd theories, I prefer Michael Pollan and Malcolm Gladwell.

Also Swallows and Amazons Forever! I sailed to Wildcat Island and into the secret harbor on vacation in 2007. It was amazing.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-03 02:01 pm (UTC)
Wildcat Island! I am so jealous.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2010-05-03 01:19 pm (UTC)
I skimmed Freakonomics in a bookstore ages ago, decided there was less there than met the eye, and did not buy it. Further evidence, such as yours, has not contradicted this initial opinion.

At least when Malcolm Gladwell indulges in his habit of molehill-mountaineering, there is a molehill. And Gladwell's an interesting writer even when he's talking out his ass.

I've read Schlesinger but it was a long time ago and I don't remember what he thought of Eisenhower.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-03 01:27 pm (UTC)
Among other things, he thought "affable but not very political" was very calculated and more or less completely false.

Edited at 2010-05-03 01:28 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: careswen
2010-05-03 03:40 pm (UTC)
The Williams one sounds like something I should read. I'll add it to my "Someday, After Grad School (Sigh)" list.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-05-03 05:04 pm (UTC)
Kathy E. Magliato, Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon.

So would you rec this to me?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-03 08:28 pm (UTC)
If you're reading a lot, yah, probably. It's a fast one. If you're not in a mode where you're reading a lot, there are probably things that would be a better use of your time.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-05-04 01:30 am (UTC)
Right now I'm reading pretty much only New Yorkers. The magazine, not the people, although I suppose it's mostly the same thing? I'm trying to READ each one of the dang things instead of just letting them sit around my coffee table until I have to put them in recycling.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-04 12:35 pm (UTC)
I also have the goal of reading the periodicals that come into my house. They don't leave my desk until I do, and mostly they go from me to markgritter to a bag every few months for our young friend Z., so if I don't get to them, I'm holding up a whole line of people who would want them, not just the recycling bin. But reading only periodicals for more than, oh, half a day would make me crazy-sad. Neeeeed books.
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