Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, early September.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, The Rapture of the Nerds. Discussed elsewhere.

Laura Goode, Sister Mischief. YA novel about a teenage girl forming a hip-hop GSA with her friends in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Texts and IMs and stuff are put in footnotes; this format works quite well for me, particularly when text messaging and spoken conversation are working in parallel. I really liked Esme and her friends. I liked her dad. I liked this book. Hip-hop is totally not my thing, and it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of this book. I immediately wrote to the friend who is sponsoring the shiny new GSA at my old high school to make sure she knew of this book's existence. It does not pretend that teenagers all use squeaky-clean language and never make choices that the adults around them (or even the other teens around them!) might disapprove of regarding sex, legal or illegal drugs, etc., so it's one people might want to step carefully around if there are censorship questions in play. On the other hand, other people might want to make a point of handing out copies if they like it for the very same reason.

Mariana Gosnell, Ice: the Nature, the History and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance. Gosnell knows an astonishing amount about ice. And here she is, willing to share it with you! There's not really an overarching argument here. There are just chapters upon chapters about different aspects of ice. Lake vs. river ice. Manufacturing of different types of ice for different purposes in different eras. Explorers, plants, animals, their interactions with ice. I like ice a lot. I like this book. It is useful. If you aren't into the "big book full of interesting tidbits" model, it may well not be for you.

Jo Graham, Stealing Fire. This is my least favorite Jo Graham book to date. It was still a reasonable read, but it fell into the thing I like least about books about the Classical world/ancient Mediterranean: it's chock full of dudes. And really: Jo Graham is permitted to write a book full of dudes when she wants to. That's fine. It's her prerogative. Except. I just get so tired of them. I feel like I'm walking along the side of a hill sometimes, where I can get books that are full of men or books that have balanced casts, but books that are full of women are hen's teeth unless I want to read lesbian porn (which I'm sure is fine for them as wants it, but it's not my interest--and books merely about lesbians but not porn tend to have balanced casts) or books aimed at grade-school aged girls. Which latter category I sometimes do but not always. Otherwise I sometimes stumble upon female-heavy casts in books, but it's really pretty rare. And yet male-heavy casts are so common that I have an entire desk full of them inherited from my grandfather, plus several more on my own reading list, and I can't predict when someone who has written balanced casts will suddenly turn up with another. And sometimes it just gets to be a bit much, like the Terry Pratchett dwarves singing, "Gold gold gold gold." And Jo Graham is a woman, so looking for female authors is not the solution to this problem. It's like the Bechdel test writ large. Passing the Bechdel test is not enough. I want more books where the entire book is not in some sense a conversation about a guy. I have some promising things on my pile. I'm reading something good right now. Stealing Fire is a fine enough book about one of Alexander's soldiers in Egypt after Alexander's death. It's just...not what I wanted when I read it, and also it's a book about after the things you liked best in the world have gone. And that's a very muted sort of thing.

Georgette Heyer, A Civil Contract. I heard from papersky and several others that this was the best Heyer. I think so. It's the best one I've read, anyway. It is very Heyer, and I like it.

Georgina Howell, Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations. This was...oh my goodness, oh, I can't decide who needs a kick more, Georgina Howell or Gertrude Bell, but Gertrude Bell is dead, so there's that. You know the expression about having been born on third base and thinking she hit a triple? Gertrude Bell was born on third base and proceeded to throw mud at the batter and heckle because she could not conceive of the idea that she and the batter might be on the same team. She was an anti-suffragist leader, and her biographer Howell does not seem to have gotten the idea that you can write a biography of someone without thinking that every last thing they do is perfect and wonderful and grand, so she was attempting to justify the anti-suffragist stuff with the idea that, well, of course Bell had probably done it to please her step-mother, and also other women probably didn't want the vote enough to deserve it, and those who did wanted it too much to be nice. Fie. Also Howell contradicted herself within the same page about the extent to which Bell used her money, privilege and influence. Multiple times. She had gotten it in her head that Bell wanted no special treatment, but in fact Bell wanted nothing but special treatment, and Howell shows this multiple times in the book while insisting that she didn't. It's nauseating. Howell also whines about how unfair it is that Bell never had a successful love affair. I'll tell you what. If you insist that the role of wives should be exactly what it is, unchanged, and that you personally have no intention of playing it. And then you're rude to pretty much every other woman you meet and treat them as your inferior (men have mothers and sisters and cousins and things! some of them even like them!). And then when given the opportunity to be a non-conventional non-wife lover to someone, you reject that out of hand. Not having a successful love affair? Is not unfairness. It is statistical likelihood. I don't know why Howell thinks that Bell deserves to have all the things when she had nearly all the things. Sheesh, lady. So the bits where Bell was actually helping with, you know, figuring out how the borders of the modern Middle East were to be constituted: that part was interesting and worthwhile. So interesting and worthwhile, in fact, that someone could have written a book about it. Sigh.

Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. I got interested in James Garfield after reading 1861, and this was the first library book I got towards that interest. It reminded me that 1880 America was in some ways a very small world. Alexander Graham Bell, for example, knew Dom Pedro of Brazil, and could come to the White House to try to find the bullet in the dying President after Garfield was shot. This is a short, interesting read that ended up making me feel very sorry for Joseph Lister and Alexander Graham Bell, because they knew what needed doing, and nobody would let them do it, and that's exactly the kind of situation that provokes my sympathy.

Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer, Damn Good Food: 157 Recipes from Hell's Kitchen. This basically let me know that I didn't need to make any of these recipes because they were not ideas I needed help with. Okay then.

Alan Palmer, The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. Filling in gaps. Very utilitarian. Does what it says on the tin.

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. This is the sort of collaboration where the premise feels very contrived to me, where they've set up all sorts of stopgaps to make it do what they wanted it to do and no more and no less. Which is better than not plugging the gaps, but not as good as just dealing with them. And actually having emotional resonance. And not going with the most obvious thing at every turn. And...sigh. I was reading along going meh for the first two thirds of the thing. The last one third switched to DO NOT WANT. Do not name your chosen one Joshua, people. If you have Joshua son of Maria, seriously, having somebody point out that he is your chosen one: stop. Stop stop stop stop you are not being clever stop aughhhhhh stop stop stop do not go stop. Nor is that the only thing that made me NOT WANT. But this parallel universe book was all convenience and contrivance and nothing that I like about Pratchett. I am all for people getting to try different things. The other different things that follow in this series, however, they can try without me, because I find them dumb.
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