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

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Books read, early December [Dec. 16th, 2010|05:58 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Side note: apparently if you buy a roll of packing tape and share it with all comers at the post office at Christmas, this makes you the best person ever. Seriously, everyone treated me like I was goddess-empress of the universe. Like we should all have to buy separate rolls of packing tape, of which we we will each use a tiny piece, because they've decided to stop having some out and available? Seriously, people. This is Minnesota. A simple, "Hey, thanks!" and a smile would be a) sufficient and b) a lot more comfortable.

So. Light fortnight for books, due to running about preparing for festivities, and also due to the nature of two slow-ish bits of nonfiction.

Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. This was full of fun tidbits, some of which I've already put here. There were also long stretches where I bogged down completely, either due to less interest in the bit he'd chosen to focus on--I know explorers aren't really a separate thing from scientists in that historical context, but I just don't care as much about Mungo Park, even though he was named Mungo and that ought to help--or from already knowing a fair amount. I had read a biography of Caroline and William Herschel already, so the chapters there mostly rehashed what I already knew; I have read a fair amount about Mary Shelley also. We got to balloonists and Davy, though, and those were worth the price of admission, and maybe you weren't already en-Herscheled and en-Shelleyed enough, or you'd want them in this context. Anyway, I think it's worth the time, I just had a few moments of finding it a bit difficult to be getting on with despite the zippy popular history prose.

Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science. There are some really good bits in this, thumbnail sketches of early women scientists I had no knowledge of, even in my own field. (Er. Former field. You can take the girl out of the lab....) I understand why Schiebinger felt the need to go over the change in state of the art scientific concepts of biological sex over the period she was discussing, because it was relevant to the treatment of women in the sciences, but for me it was substantially review and less interesting than learning about Laura Bassi and Maria Merian and others I'd never heard of. Also I felt there were a few spots where Schiebinger's enthusiasm sent her off the rails--for example, she was talking about Caroline Herschel as one of the women who had less cutting-edge equipment than her male peers, in this case her brother. And while that was technically true, William Herschel's cutting edge equipment was plagued with problems, and Caroline got a lot more work done with a smaller telescope than she would have if she'd been wrestling with the monster William had. So--no, it's no excuse for giving women crappy equipment in general, but this was not the best way to bring that problem up. (Yes, Herschels again! I'm surrounded by Herschels! Keep firing, Herschels! Um. Possibly I should get some food, since I wrote this after the following paragraph, and the trend is...a little goofy.)

Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone. When we were doing Titus Andronicus in my college Shakespeare class--no, seriously, this relates--my professor was obsessed with comparing it to an over-decorated Christmas tree. And I often kind of feel that way about things that fall under the steampunk heading: like the authors knew how to spell banana and didn't know how to stop. (Whee! My Shakespeare prof and Nanny Ogg within two sentences! Stop her before she analogizes again!) It can be endearing, but also a bit exhausting, when there are ten million props and none of them particularly well considered. But The Alchemy of Stone does not do that. The Alchemy of Stone is doing what it is doing, and its scope is very personal. The story is larger--there are implications beyond the ending--but Sedia wisely chose whose story she was telling and told it, rather than getting caught up in every last thing she could think of.

Nevil Shute, No Highway. This is the story of a homely crank who was right about the math. I am pleased. There is really hardly any of that out there, and here is some: it's about metal fatigue in airplanes. It's a novel. About metal fatigue in airplanes. Quite refreshing.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2010-12-17 01:48 am (UTC)
Sadly it's the kind of nice that is scarece these days.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-17 02:53 pm (UTC)
You know what else apparently makes me the combination of Mother Teresa, Wonder Woman, and either Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin depending on your political bent (whichever one is positive)? The three-year-old in line behind me for forty-five minutes of post office time was playing and talking to her parents, and as we got to the front of the line, I said to them, "It's such a long wait for a little one, and she's been so good."

Apparently this makes me the nicest person ever? Who knew? It is very upsetting that people's standards apparently have to be that low. "Look, I am not hating on your perfectly nice child! Hurrah for me!" Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2010-12-17 05:27 pm (UTC)
A contestant on Top Chef was talking about how he doesn't like children because they're horrible, "that's why they're called brats!"

And people find that acceptable behavior. I have one friend who I swear to God the next time he makes nasty anti-kid comment I'm going to look him dead in the eye and say, "that's almost as funny as nigger." Because it's gotten about that hateful out there.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-17 05:41 pm (UTC)
Good heavens. I haven't seen anything even close to as bad as the level that would make me compare it with that kind of systemic racism. I'm sorry that you have; that would be truly awful to experience.
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[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2010-12-17 10:24 pm (UTC)
It's the people who feel a need to have "childfree" as the focus of their life. I am all good with people who prefer not to procreate (It's almost always a good idea- I can think of only a few folks who I think "that's too bad, you'd make an awesome parent.) but when what you don't do becomes how you identify yourself it becomes sort of a sickness. I mean, really? We needed a "child free cat lovers community" so you wouldn't have to associate with the people who have kids AND cats?

There are those who cannot speak of people who are children as "people" or "children" but insist on using "funny" nasty names for them. I equate that to any other hate speech.

But yes, it's always lovely to have someone notice that my children are superlative. *I* know it, but it's nice to be recognized for my work. :)
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-12-17 07:42 am (UTC)
I keep meaning to read Nevil Shute, mainly because of Richard Bach's writing about him*. No Highway sounds like the place for me to start - in fact, it also sounds like one of the rare ones I should recommend to my husband that we'll both like. (Both having an aerospace engineering background has a lot to do with this, yes.)

You write the good kind of book reviews: the kind where, whether or not you liked the book, I can tell if I'm likely to. There are at least a few in my TBR pile (of electrons) just because of this post - In Ashes Lie, for one, and I read its predecessor as well due to your review of the third book.

*His famous books are Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions, of course, but anyone who's only read those has missed a whole side of Bach's writing - and I like his airplane writing a lot better.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-17 02:54 pm (UTC)
Be careful with Shute. Some of his stuff is really excellent, and quite a bit of it is like nothing else I know, but there are a few that are frankly appalling. Beyond the Black Stump is definitely not one I'd start with.

I'm glad you like my book notes.
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2010-12-17 04:31 pm (UTC)
You would probably appreciate No Highway, but I think you would also find Trustee from the Toolroom a good starting point. (Though it was the last book Shute wrote.) It's about craftsmanship, and community among craftsmen turning up in unexpected places. It also has plenty of travel, in small boats and aircraft.
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[User Picture]From: coalboy
2010-12-17 11:13 pm (UTC)
I -love- Trustee From the Toolroom, even found and bought in hardcover. And most of my stuff is paperback.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-17 02:58 pm (UTC)
Sigh. When I went to Bath, both times it was on a coach tour out of London that was doing a very quick thing for people who were not going to have much time. I hadn't seen Roman baths before, but that's all we got to do in Bath: the Roman Baths and the very nice expensive chocolate shop in the square adjacent. I was glad to do both, but I would have loved to see the Assembly Rooms and the Herschels' house and get a Bath bun and more stuff.

I still think the coach tour approach was the right thing for getting my folks and grands and markgritter to some things they hadn't seen and would really like to, and one day is about my tolerance for coach tours anyway, so having one out of our trip was not a bad thing. But next time I will just take a train or something and see the bits I missed. Whenever next time is.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-17 03:29 pm (UTC)
What a lovely thought if the circumstances work!
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