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

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Books read, late May. [Jun. 1st, 2012|11:43 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Tim Akers, The Horns of Ruin. Dead gods and fun! I liked this a lot more than I expected to--it was not amazing and wonderful, it was just dead gods and fun--only I wish there were no zombies in. Whenever there are zombies, I wish for their absence, is the basic rule of thumb, except when they are integral, and then I wish the person had done something else completely. These are machinery zombies and not "I dunno it happened somehow braiiinz" zombies, but still: could do without. But they are not integral, and I wished for their absence. But I still liked this thing.

Chandler Burr, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York. I thought Sarah Jessica Parker was going to detract from this a lot more than she did, because what do I care about Sarah Jessica Parker? Answer: she is kind of a scent nerd. So I care about her marginally more than I thought. Who I really like in this book, though, is the author. He goes off on dear, nerdy tirades about how we would all be totally fine with it if perfumers were honest about what goes into which things, and...dears, he doesn't seem to mean us, he seems to mean us, like, we the people. Like, humanity. And I love him for getting that wrong, because honestly, no, I don't think the general public mostly does care which aldehydes. But he also has a charming rant about "natural" in perfumes and...yeah. This is a fun book if you're interested, or even marginally interested.

John Evelyn, An Apologie for the Royal Party and A Panegyric to Charles the Second and Mundus Foppensis, or The Fop Display'd. Kindle. So John Evelyn is one of those epitomes of the 17th century, a person who went around just sort of doing what he set his hand to, and there weren't that many people then, and a lot of stuff hadn't been done. So I first heard of him because of his forestry, and I have his work of forestry also on my Kindle for later. These...are not forestry. As the titles indicate. The first two are rather embarrassing political pamphlets--he was in fact embarrassed by them himself later, once he'd had Charles II around to see what he was really like. The first one was basically, "Cromwellians, you suck! You didn't make anything better, and look at all the crap you pulled! The Royalists would have been better!" Which...maybe? Possibly? But the Revolution happened for a reason, kiddo. And then the second one was on the occasion of getting Charles II back and it was basically...um...John Evelyn as cocker spaniel puppy, wetting the rug in joy because he was getting his king back. And the eye of history, it turns out, does not actually agree with him when he trills, "Oh, all subsequent monarchs are afraid to get compared to C2!" Yyyyeah, not so much. I mean, "not the worst of the Stuart kings," okay, sure, I'll go about that far. But the glory and piety of Charles II, John Evelyn was soon to find out, were perhaps the tiniest bit overstated. What put both of those documents in the shade, though, was Mundus Foppensis. It was hilarious. It's in some ways a perfect encapsulation of what the late 17th century was like. So there was another poem published that was attacking women for being frivolous and wanting to have pretty clothes and call them by fancy foreign names. And John Evelyn wrote this poem basically ripping this to bits, calling men hypocrites and cads for having fancy stuff themselves and not wanting women to have it, and then going on to argue that if you're going to have something, you need a word for it. And he did this with humor and mythological references, and it's lovely. I had this moment of thinking, "Why is this not what we give teenagers to read in either lit or history classes?" And then I realized that for it not to be a grim slog of looking stuff up, they need the classical references and at least some of the 17th century fashion references. But if that's you--and I know it's some of you--it's free at Gutenberg, it won't take you long to read, and it's a scream.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Outcast Blade. Um, this is a bit like the zombie thing, in that when people decide to do vampires and werewolves, I mostly wish they hadn't. But this is the second book in the series, so the vampires and werewolves were not a surprise, and I read it on purpose anyway. From this you may conclude that I was still pretty interested in the Venetian historical fantasy storyline. But: more stregoi, fewer vampires, that's what I say.

Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth. Mathematicians are such gossips. Lordy. And with Erdos you can see why more than with most. This book was not even slightly technical, but it was fun, lots of zany mathematician fun.

Jacqueline Kelly, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Children's historical novel. The evolution in the title is not accidental: the young woman in question is in 1899 Texas and has a grandfather (!!!) who is teaching her to be a naturalist and a freethinker, but not with the standard plot where Everyone Is Scandalized. It's a lot more solid and less melodramatic than that. I will be buying this book for my goddaughters and nieces, I think. It is a good book, and it has a grandpa.

Dominic Lieven, Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace. Horses. It is apparently all about the horses. One set of mythology has held it to be about the winter, and another about the Spirit of the Russian People. But Lieven is really pretty compelling in arguing that, no, transport it is, specifically horse transport.

Margaret MacMillan, Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India. MacMillan starts out being very clear about the flaws and failings of the British women, particularly in regards to the Indian people they were interacting with. Sometimes she slips into the language of the people she's studying, but for the most part she's very clear about their blind spots and prejudices. Sometimes this account got a little repetitive, and sometimes I would have preferred a little more depth, but for the most part I found it quite interesting and very readable.

William March, Company K. Grandpa's. The copyright date on this war novel was instructive. It was a very experimental style--each very short section (a page or so average length) was dedicated to a different member of Company K, and it was pretty dedicated to being overt about the brutal and gritty realities of war. And...the war it was dedicated to was WWI. For Americans this is not as usual. I think if you handed people a chunk of this book and said, "American author, what year and what war?", you'd get guesses of Vietnam and Korea and WWII, but you'd get very few guesses of WWI except for the rare places where there are specific technological dating issues. Tim O'Brien didn't invent nearly as much as some of his favorite critics would like to think he did.

John McPhee, The Control of Nature. A very lovely book about disasters like flood and debris flow and lava, and what people were trying to do about them at the time it was written. In some cases it hasn't changed much, and in the cases where it has, McPhee is interesting enough that it's still worth reading.

William H. Patterson, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Vol I: Learning Curve, 1907-1948. Exhaustive biography, and I do mean exhaustive. Some of the stuff about Heinlein's early years, Patterson is really stretching it to demonstrate the greatness of the great man, in a way that I find detracts rather than enhancing. Example: he talks about Heinlein delivering papers in minus twenty (F) weather. In Kansas City. I lived in Kansas for a short time, so this tripped my bullshit alarm. Do I believe that it got down to -20 F at least once in the winter in question? Sure, possibly. But I looked it up; -23 F is the record low for Kansas City ever. It simply was not routinely -20 F when young Bobby Heinlein was delivering papers. And why on earth should he write the sentences to imply that it was? Who would say, "gosh, that young Heinlein, he was not a tough hard worker if he was delivering papers when it was -15 F, or even 5 F" or "he should have commuted to International Falls for his paper route while he was an adolescent and his parents were living in Kansas City, just so that future biographers could have more impressive temperatures to regale readers with"? I mean, really. And then having a little digression about how maybe Heinlein got a B+ in something at the Naval Academy because A's were considered less good for officer material in some circles...maybe...or maybe the kid just got a B+ in something and it is neither interesting nor made him a worse writer nor a worse person, and since we have no contemporary evidence that he threw his grade, we should not make up that kind of nonsense? Maybe? Sigh. I thought this biography improved immensely once it got to the segment of Heinlein's life when Heinlein was actually writing. Oh, and one more thing: most of the things Heinlein is most famous for, he hadn't done by the time he was 40. People who start panicking about feeling like everyone in this field has done everything by the time they're 18 should remember that.

Henry Petroski, Small Things Considered: Why There is No Perfect Design. This title was accurate: Petroski went around considering the design of all sorts of small things and how they evolved in their context and what tradeoffs they required. It never really added up to one big thing considered, but that was all right.

Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312. Every time I read one of his books, I want it to be the book that gets me loving his books again. This one had solar system scope! It had time scope! It had trust issues and family issues and...no. Not the one. What do I like about Robinson: the nonfiction infodumps. What did he do this time: he mostly made them into lists. Fie. No. And despite tweaking gender and sexuality and lo these many things, the people were...the exact same people he always writes about. Sigh. Not the loving his books again book. With a few sad points of fail, even.

Aseema Sinha, The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India. This was wayyyy more economics than I expected. But it's a lot of stuff about different regions of India that I didn't know before. Chipping away at the ignorance bit by bit....

Hiroshi Yamamoto, MM9. The MM in the title stands for Monster Magnitude. This was a little Japanese monster-fighting--no, monster-handling book. And it was exuberant and fun and SFnal and I liked it. It was not the world's most awesome whatever. But it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. Monsters! Rarr! Etc.! I am all for taking things seriously sometimes. I am also all for monsters sometimes. One can have both.
LinkReply

Comments:
From: swan_tower
2012-06-01 05:04 pm (UTC)
piety of Charles II

ehehehehee NO.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-01 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yah no kidding. When I got to that part I had a good laugh and thought, "Boy did you get snookered."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-01 08:27 pm (UTC)
This is what the Gutenberg is for! Is for you getting John Evelyn for free and laughing!
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2012-06-01 07:17 pm (UTC)

blurb for the second printing

"Monsters! Rarr! Etc.!"—Marissa Lingen
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-01 08:27 pm (UTC)

Re: blurb for the second printing

Exactly!
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[User Picture]From: gaaldine
2012-06-01 08:29 pm (UTC)
What did you think of the MacMillan? I've taught Calpurnia Tate for several semesters and did a conference paper on it . . . in many ways Kelly really writes a 21st century 19th century girl. Not that she has many other choices if she wants to sell books today . . .
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-01 08:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, crud, I missed those two. I will write them in.

But yes, Callie is...at least atypical. But she isn't the kind of atypical that earlier days would have called prunes-and-prisms, which is something of a relief to me. I have something of a horror of 21st century children's historical novels all being used to keep 21st century children In Their Place.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-06-01 09:08 pm (UTC)
I refrained from mentioning the oversight on the theory that it was probably intentional. I'm guessing I should not do that in future...
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-01 10:07 pm (UTC)
True, you should not.
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From: diatryma
2012-06-02 04:00 am (UTC)
What do you mean by prunes-and-prisms?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-06-02 12:26 pm (UTC)
Butter wouldn't melt. Priggish, proper.

I looked it up, and apparently this comes from a Dickens reference where these are recommended words to say to make your mouth go in the right prim-and-proper shape.

I have a friend whose parents let her read historical novels because the clothes were more modest and surely people couldn't get up to too much mischief in Olden Times. While I'm glad she could get away with it, I don't want that to become a vicious circle, where historical novels for children are thought to be Proper And Edifying and therefore the people who are drawn to write them want them to be Proper And Edifying in those particular directions also.
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From: diatryma
2012-06-02 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. That would be a nasty cycle, especially since no one would mention how many outlandish behaviors we don't think are outlandish any more.

Now I'm repeating 'prunes and prisms' to myself and trying to figure out just how my mouth moves on the last word. I am already fairly prim, but how much more so could I be?
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2012-06-01 11:55 pm (UTC)
I adore John Evelyn. He was a geek!
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[User Picture]From: mcwetboy
2012-06-02 07:26 pm (UTC)
Patterson is really stretching it to demonstrate the greatness of the great man, in a way that I find detracts rather than enhancing.

I got that impression too: a bit too much hagiography and hero-worship. You note that it got better once he turned to Heinlein-as-writer, which makes me wonder whether he decided that the gaps in the historical record could only be filled in with Awesome.
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