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

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Books read, early September. [Sep. 17th, 2012|11:16 am]
Marissa Lingen
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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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Comments:
[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2012-09-17 04:39 pm (UTC)
I you have plans to be at the Fall con, I would greatly appreciate a chance to look over the book on ice.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-17 04:52 pm (UTC)
Alas, it belongs to the Dakota County Public Library and has already gone back there.

Happily for you, you might also belong to the Dakota County Public Library and could also go back there.
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From: athenais
2012-09-17 05:28 pm (UTC)
I read Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach when it was published in 2005. I got the impression that she was spoiled, vain, very bright and wanted more than anything to be taken as seriously as a man while still retaining the privileges of Victorian womanhood. I thought it clear from this biography that she broke her own heart because she couldn't have it all her own way and never much cared who she stepped on while attempting the getting of that way.

I've stopped reading Terry Pratchett and have not even looked at the books co-written with anyone other than his wife. I want to remember the good ones.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-17 09:00 pm (UTC)
There is recent Pratchett I adore. The Tiffany Aching books are very much for me. But some of it is in Third Verse, Same As The First mode. This, however, was not even that. It had none of the virtues of Pratchett as well as none of the vices of recent Pratchett.
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From: athenais
2012-09-18 01:41 am (UTC)
Oh, I do like the Tiffany Aching books so much. They remind me of what I used to love about Pratchett. But mostly I haven't liked his other Discworld novels for about ten years now.

Have you read about Freya Stark? I suspect you have. She's quite a character herself.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-18 12:15 pm (UTC)
I have only read about Freya Stark around the edges. Do you have books to recommend?
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From: athenais
2012-09-20 03:51 am (UTC)
I've read quite a few of her books and one biography: Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse. It's not new, but it was the newest available back in...1999? Quite interesting. She seems to have been an enormous pain in the ass to the British in the Middle East and also to have been very important in making the Arab world sympathetic to people "back home" during the 30s and 40s through her essays, books and lectures.

The two books I liked best were The Valleys of the Assassins and The Southern Gates of Arabia.

Edited at 2012-09-20 03:59 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-20 03:07 pm (UTC)
My library is useless, but I have wishlisted. I like pains in the ass.
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From: diatryma
2012-09-17 09:45 pm (UTC)
The guy who shot Garfield was from my hometown. Freeport is not kind to presidents sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2012-09-18 05:03 am (UTC)
Have you noticed that Mr. Palmer also has one about the Habsburgs?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-18 12:13 pm (UTC)
I have not, because we are a lot more knowledgeable about the Habsburgs, as a household, and therefore a lot less likely to see a single volume of that type and say, "Oh good, just what we need!" and snap it up.
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[User Picture]From: seagrit
2012-09-18 12:20 pm (UTC)
I just finished a bunch of Heyer, and A Civil Contract was more on the serious side of the Heyer books. Liked it OK, but I prefer the funny ones, _The Corinthian_, _Sylvester_, and my favorite (despite an anti-semetic scene with an evil money lender) _The Grand Sophy_.
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[User Picture]From: careswen
2012-09-26 08:31 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to be better about keeping up on LJ, at least with the Honey Family, so just stopping in after reading your post to reiterate how much I enjoy your writing about books. I often find myself nodding, even if I've not read the book in question (which is usually the case). I personally don't usually enjoy reviews of books I haven't read, because they often just summarize the book in as boring a way possible, but I'm generally quite entertained by your comments.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-09-26 08:33 pm (UTC)
I am glad, dear heart. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: moiread
2012-11-01 01:06 am (UTC)
(I am going back through your book posts to look for new things to read. This is probably obvious.)

I somehow completely missed this post the first time around, but I am pleased as punch that you read a book I recommended and liked it. Most of the time when I recommend books, people come back and say something that amounts to: "This isn't the kind of thing I like. It's too political/intense/weird. Can you suggest something with less thinking and more kissing? Do you have any, like, normal books?"

This is pretty much why I have stopped recommending books to anyone except my brother, whose taste in reading material I may or may not have firmly shoved where I wanted it back when we were kids. (Insert awkward cough here.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-11-01 01:58 am (UTC)
Well, I'm not your brother, but I don't think I've ever in my life asked anyone a question that amounted to, "Do you have any, like, normal books?"

This does remind me, though, of a Locus interview I read once, and I only wish I remembered the author. The exchange went roughly as follows:

Q: What question do you get asked most about your books?
A: "Why don't you ever write about nice people?"
Q: Uh...do a lot of people ask you that?
A: No, only my mother. But she asks it a lot.

Ever since I read that interview I have been grateful not to have that person's mother.
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