|Books read, late March.
||[Apr. 2nd, 2013|12:09 pm]
I was away from most of the internet all weekend, and then I got home yesterday to find that we had neither phone nor internet. Blech. That's back now, and with it my book post.
John Joseph Adams (johnjosephadams), Epic: Legends of Fantasy. For me this was a volume with very few surprises. If I liked an author's work at their usual (much longer) length, I generally liked it short, too, but none of the stories converted me to thinking that perhaps someone I didn't really care for was better than I thought. (This is a little surprising, actually, because the short form has some distinct requirements; I would expect somebody not to live up to expectations in one direction or the other.) For me the standout stories were Ursula LeGuin's and Aliette de Bodard's. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that these were not minor incidents in their major settings and both of them regularly write short stories; maybe there's something to this skillset idea after all.
Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. This is one of those books that makes a person ask, "How on Earth did humanity survive this far?" The sheer variety of chemically crazy things we did with our households is simply mind-blowing. Many of these allowed for opportunity of deliberate murder, which is the main topic of this book, but the introductory and sidelong remarks about things people were doing routinely were just appalling. While it was a fast, enjoyable read, it wasn't very organized--sort of a hybrid between a study of the forensic scientists in New York at the time and a more general discussion of chemistry and poison. Still, "Ack, wood alcohol, what?" can make for pretty interesting reading.
Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds., Queen Victoria's Book of Spells. Discussed elsewhere.
John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. This book did reasonably well with what it was doing, which was not what I wanted it to be doing. I had been hoping that there would be some reasonably in-depth discussion of the lives and possibly politics of the Abenaki who took English captives. Instead it focused fairly firmly on one English captive and his (also captive) family. Though I'm sure the stuff Demos discussed is far better documented, the fact that his daughter chose to remain with the Abenaki provided (I felt) an opportunity to discuss why and what her life became in terms that were not so purely...English. The Abenaki in this book are a vague outline labeled Indian, and while it's possible that we have stereotypes of what Native American/First Nations life is like based on the Abenaki and similar groups because of the order in which English settlers encountered Native American groups, I still felt that there were huge chunks missing in Demos's assessment of this young woman's decisions and prospects.
Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. Mostly about 19th and early 20th century archaeologists in the Taklamakan Desert. I had hoped for more of what the archaeologists were studying, but it still filled in some gaps in how we know things and why, so that was okay.
Ellis Peters, Who Lies Here? and Black Is the Colour of My True-Love's Heart. Two Inspector Felse novels, one in a Cornish seaside town and the other covering this new folk music craze all the kids are so wild about. Either would be a quite reasonable place to start this substantially stand-alone series, I feel. I've skipped several that my library doesn't have, and while I feel I'm missing something in that I will pick them up as I have the chance, I don't feel like the later volumes become unreadable if you have to infer that the inspector's young son picked up a serious girlfriend a book ago or whatever.
Madeleine Robins, Sold for Endless Rue. Discussed elsewhere.
David J. Schwartz, Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib (episode 3). Kindle. The further I get into this serial, the larger chunks I want of it. This is no bad thing, but I may be moving closer to letting it all pile up and reading it all at once. We returned to more of the community college teaching aspects early in episode 3, which I was glad to see.
Russell Shorto, Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. This title is quite literal: it's about the way Descartes' remains got carted around Europe and handed from pillar to post because of various political and religious statements people wanted to make about/with them. Shorto spends a fair amount of time wandering off into elementary philosophy, but if you haven't spent a lot of time on Descartes and his peers, this would probably be useful grounding in the topic.
Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. Third in this series of near-Pinkwaterian children's semi-surrealist novels. I continue to enjoy these and feel that I would probably have enjoyed them even more at my godson's age. Also I firmly believe in introducing children to game theory at a young age, ideally in a pleasurable way, so go Mr. Stewart, go. (But start at the beginning.)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven. Related to both of his previous adult books. Still in thriller/near-fantasy-sort-of mode, with the Cemetery of Lost Books and other elements. The French Romantic influence is even stronger here, with the Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables references coming thick and fast and relevant. I like this series a lot and hope that he writes more and/or gets more translated into English.