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Kaethe

Kaethe

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The Dark Clue: A Novel - James Wilson

The Dark Clue: A Novel - James Wilson

Despite my very good intentions, I can already tell where my new efforts at journaling are going to fail.  For one thing, I have more time to spend reading (while eating, while waiting for my husband to pick me up at work, etc) than I have to spend writing about my reading.  So, even though I'm making more notes as I read, and thinking more about my reading, the time to synthesize and distill those thoughts is lacking.  Also, I read fast and a lot.  Currently I'm seven books behind in my journal and I just know it's going to get worse.

So. Even though I'd like to say something about this book, I'm at a loss.  Because my youngest is sleeping on the sofa behind me, and I don't want to wake her up turning on the light to see what I wrote in my notebook as I was reading.  Seven books later I'm having a hard time remembering details.  Okay first:  my one big disappointment with the book.  I really expected a traditional mystery-that-will-be-solved.

Library copy

 

 

17776: What football will look like in the future by Jon Bois

 
 
 
Available online only.
 
This is a weird and wonderful thing. I don't care for football even a tiny bit, but don't let the title mislead you. As a work of storytelling it is brilliant. In 2018, the story won a National Magazine Award for Digital Innovation and was longlisted for both the Hugo Awards for Best Novella and Best Graphic Story.  But don't go looking it up: I think it's probably much more intriguing if you come at it cold.
 
Enjoy.

WORDSLUT: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language - Amanda Montell

WORDSLUT: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language - Amanda Montell

Well done! Witty, zippy, a strong emphasis on the value of actual research. Montell addresses many of the topics that make so many cranky these days: all the things that are primarily ascribed to women or girls, of course. A bit of intersectionality, although without losing focus on the core theme. A good overview of linguistics for those who aren't already familiar with the field.

I just read through thirteen pages of definitions and examples on Urban Dictionary, a staggering number seemingly by offended men, which fail to mention Solnit's essay "Men Explain Things To Me", or the first recorded appearance of the word on LiveJournal, and also fail to provide a usable definition or an appropriate example. One entry appeared to conflate "manspaining" with "manspreading". The irony, it burns.

Library copy

 

Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed - Jessica Weisberg

Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed - Jessica Weisberg

Well, that was fun and enlightening. I love etiquette books, and am neutral on advice columnists in general except for Daniel Ortberg's Dear Prudence. But then there's that whole other aspect: the how-to-do-anything-better field is one I appreciate. Paradoxically, I have never been a fan of the Self-Help book genre. Yes, I think there is a great deal we can all learn from the billions of other people in the world, many of whom have struggled with the same issues and also, at the same time, skeptical of the idea that reading a book is ever going to really turn anyone's life around. Mari Kondo has much to teach me about how to best put things away, for example, but neither her book nor show is going to convince me to spend a month finding every book in the house and putting it into one big pile in order to hold each one and wait for the spirit to move me in a joy spark or not way.


Much of the historical stuff was completely unknown to me. I had heard of Poor Richard's Almanack, but knew next to nothing about Franklin or his publishing. I knew of Graham, but Alcott was a surprise. Etcetera.
Clever and also entertaining.

Library copy

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - Hallie Rubenhold

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - Hallie Rubenhold

I'm not finished yet, but this is pretty amazing. Rubenhold has gone to primary and secondary period sources to discover a great deal about the women who have existed merely as "murdered prostitute" all these years. The scholarship is impressive, as is the imagination to start over, virtually from scratch. Given how very much has been written about their murders since 1888 it's kind of amazing how little we ever knew about the victims, when there was so much available.There is a bit much speculation on the mundane presented as fact: there is a great deal that can be inferred with high probability, but the construction "she would have" grates on me. There is also a rather constant refrain of how the women were assumed by the police of the time to be prostitutes in the absence of any positive evidence that they were. But that is a welcome reminder not to accept stereotype as proven fact. Everybody lies, including the police.

Dec 20, 2019

 

***

 

Now that I am finished my opinion certainly hasn't gone down at all. Although I knew generally how constrained the lives of Victorian women were, and how tenuous their survival, I didn't have a lot of specifics. It's kind of staggering how little progress we've made in the past 130 years. Forensics have improved but little else has.

Dec 23, 2019

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1 - Tove Jansson

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1 - Tove Jansson

Embarking on my Moominread.
Some time back I read a book of short bios of kick-ass women, that included Jansson. And then, the moomins are so freaking cute. Plus Jansson lived in Finland which is present in my mind since getting hooked on the ice hockey. so, I decided to do some further exploration before I wrote the books off as not for me.
I like the eccentric family of bohemians and their madcap adventures, sort of. I love that there are all these different-looking creatures and that Moomin seems to accept them as relatives or just as people without question. And the moomins are hella cute.
But the story-lines are predictable, and the dialogue isn't especially funny, and the convention of making every noun Moominnoun wearies me. So while I can recognize the need for cuteness after horror, and for acceptance after exclusion, I'm still not a fan. I have two of the novels in the queue, so we'll see if those work better for me.
If not I suppose I will stick with the coloring book. Or go back to Calvin and Hobbes which I am appreciating more at the moment.

And with that I am caught up with reviewing my holiday reading. Now I'm behind on everyone else's reviews, which makes a nice change.

Library copy

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II - Robert Matzen

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II - Robert Matzen

Biographies are not usually my thing, and biographies of celebrities even less so. Most peoples lives are terribly interesting, and the risk of learning something truly off-putting is high. So for the most part I'm a enjoy their art or athleticism or moment in history and move on, unknowing.
Like much of humanity who's seen her movies, I like Audrey Hepburn: so lovely, so stylish, willing to use her fame and popularity on behalf of the world's most desperate children. But I knew pretty much nothing about her life. Until recently I didn't know she was from the Kingdom of the Netherlands or that she had been associated with the Resistance during the war. Audrey Hepburn: Girl Spy sounds great but it rather overstates the case. Matzen doesn't oversell it. He's quite clear that she spent most of the war shy, lonely, and only interested in dance.
What her wartime experiences illustrate isn't tales of great daring and glamour, but the quiet day to day heroism of people under occupation, trying to carry on with their lives despite deprivations and ever-present danger.
There are interesting similarities between this and A Castle in Wartime. The Nazis were keen on holding hostages. Hepburn's family was not rich, but her mother was a Baroness and a fool. She was very keen on fascism and Nazis and Hitler's great charm right up until the Netherlands were invaded and people she cared for started dying. Hepburn's mother had rather a bad time of it after liberation when her earlier warmth to the occupiers was closely examined. While it is morally important to prosecute war criminals I'm not sure that it is any sort of deterrent and certainly shaming women for attention received from the occupiers is just mean and vindictive.
War is hell. It is particularly hell for the women and children starving and freezing in bombed-out cities like Arnhem or Aleppo. It's not surprising the Hepburn would become an ambassador for children for UNICEF. She never forgot what she had lived through and what it meant to her to receive aid at a most desperate time. In her honor I am donating to UNICEF today on behalf of all the children who have been refused a home or help when they needed it to survive. Donations made today will be tripled.

Library copy

A Very Scalzi Christmas - John Scalzi

A Very Scalzi Christmas - John Scalzi

I took my Christmas book credit and spent a tiny bit of it on a Christmas book. In part, because I really like Scalzi and I enjoy rereading him. And also in part because I couldn't get at my other Christmas books this year, which I think left me rather lacking in seasonal cheer. It has been a season of pneumonia (the Spouse) and lethargy with a side of struggle.

For example, after quite a few years of use and storage (more than six, less than fourteen), after carefully cleaning them and reinserting the points that had dropped out, and frankly, after marveling that they had survived so well for so long, this year I managed to break the frames of both of my Moravian stars.

But now is the time of recovery and rest and lying about with a fully stocked refrigerator and many delicious baked goods (ummm, breakfast cake!) and nothing to do for an entire week but eat and read since the university shuts down our whole department from the 23rd through the 2nd.

Yes, so a bunch of short humorous pieces and one absolute tear jerker. It's a good mix. With pictures, too. More books should have pictures.

Usually I don't mark a book Beloved until I've read it at least twice and was delighted both times. In this case I had read all but the three new pieces previously, so I decided to go on and count that.

 

Personal copy 

 

 

You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice - Tom Vanderbilt

You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice - Tom Vanderbilt

Here's a conundrum: how to review a book that's all about how people judge (and review) things? It's well-researched, really interesting, and has the potential to be widely popular. It's fascinating stuff about literal and figurative taste, what we like, and how we like. It is a dense book, full of information, but entertaining nonetheless. I also really like his book Traffic.

What follows is a very specific example of how my attitude towards this book is colored by an unrelated aside, and is not intended to be part of the actual review of the book, but just the bit that sticks out at me as an illustration of some of the concepts he writes about, and that I feel compelled to write about because while I'm aware that other people might read my reviews, they are primarily a journal of reading for me to look back at. So feel free to skip the following.

 <spoiler>I generally like it when nonfiction writers let a little of their personal lives bleed into their work: the pretense of detachment and disinterest and "fair and balanced" is bogus and everyone knows it. And mostly it works well here. But early on he casually observes how his neighborhood in Brooklyn happens to be mostly thin people. Okay, this is a guy who should know that thinness correlates with wealth and that fat people are penalized to hell and gone in the US in healthcare, education, advancement at work as well as the ubiquitous fat-shaming. It's not some kind of statistical fluke that his neighborhood is thin: it's thin privilege letting him be oblivious. Like I said, this is pretty early on, like the introduction or first chapter. So he kind of accidentally mentioned a topic that I know a fair bit about, and that brief flash of annoyance became attached to the signifier Brooklyn. And then (it seemed like constantly but couldn't possibly have been), he kept mentioning Brooklyn. So now even though I really appreciate his writing I'm left feeling really hostile towards smug Brooklynites, which by exposure to only possibly one is unfair both to the innocent smugless residents of one of New York's five boroughs, and probably to the author in particular as well. But there it is: my opinion of the book might well be forever colored by a casual aside and I'm quite likely to always be put on edge when I come across Brooklyn as well. And now I've written about three times as much about my emotional reaction to this aside as I have about the book in general, because that's how people's taste and discussion of same tend to roll. And if anyone else bothers to read this little spoiler, they will probably have an emotional reaction towards what I've written which could easily go "The hell?" or "Oh, me too, I hate that" and life is really complicated isn't it?</spoiler>

 

Library copy

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson

Because of complicated travel reasons, we had our Christmas yesterday. And because the Offspring are grown-ups, there was no one interested in starting the day early. but I have to set my alarm for the same time everyday in order to ever be able to go to sleep at the right time, let alone wake up appropriately for work. So I was up for a couple of hours before anyone else stirred. So I finished the first volume (27 Dec 2019 - I'll change the Read date with each successive volume)

I have no interest in over-examining the appeal of this comic. Watterson got it all just right. My personal favorites will always be the ones with snowmen. My personal favorites will always be the ones with snowmen.

Personal copy

The Evil Garden - Edward Gorey

The Evil Garden - Edward Gorey

This is my jam: Rhymed couplets about visitors to an Evil Garden being picked off, one at a time, with circumspect yet detailed illustrations. This is exactly the kind of thing I love as a Christmas present. I also received an Edward Gorey calendar to hang up at work. I really hope light verse makes a comeback one day.

In the spring I have been invited to come up and visit the Offspring at college and take her off to visit The Edward Gorey House museum. Other book-related tourist inducements: the Eric Carle museum, The Yiddish Book Center, Antonio's Pizza (from The Penderwicks!), the inflatable polar bear from Iver & Ellsworth, and numerous used book stores.

Yes, it would be a very simple thing to lead me into a trap.

Personal copy

Word Pirates, The - Susan Cooper

Word Pirates, The - Susan Cooper

I respect the idea of dedicating a book to Margaret Mahy, but this was just okay for me.

Library copy

Zoom City - Thacher Hurd, Patricia Hubbell, Jennifer Plecas

Zoom City - Thacher Hurd, Patricia Hubbell, Jennifer Plecas

2000 July 17
2000 Aug 31
2000 Dec 15

One of the differences between having one child and more than one is being able to capture moments. with the first or only child there are more pictures, more notes in the baby book, more attention to which books were checked out of the library and read. And capturing moments enables us to rehearse them and keep them in our memories.

So, an entry for a library book selected by first child, just over a year old, brings back the memory of the old town library, with the new children's books to the right of the entrance, sort of gaping out of the room to catch the eye of everyone who enters and leaves. They had a restriction on new children's books: a limit of 5 to a card. Which is why the baby had her own library card at six months. She loved to pick our books.

There are some board books that never really grabbed me, especially of the Classic flavor. Easter basket, birthday, Halloween, Christmas: any event was worthy of being celebrated with a new kid's book. But man, a lot of those old ones are creepy, or boring, or the rhyme scheme is off. The field has vastly improved with more entries and more competition.

This is an old one, and the library no longer keeps a copy. Look at the pictures at Amazon, and you'll notice that much more attention went into drawing the cars than drawing the critters who were driving. Favorite pages: "Red light. Stop." followed by "Green light. Go. Faster"

Anyway, it's good to capture how appealing this was, if only so I can buy a copy for someone else's baby (I like to give at least one older book and one current popular book both in the board book format, actually I don't know that I ever kept a child's book gift to a two book minimum.) See also Boynton's complete oeuvre and Go, Dog, Go! and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb which is burned deeply into my brain from the billion repetitions.

Library copy

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good - Helene Tursten

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good - Helene Tursten

This is exactly the kind of murder I'm in the mood for. More stories about women upwards of "a certain age" who can get away with murder. That's much more fun than solving one.

I've been a fan of the Christmas murder story nearly as long as I can remember: there was a tiny book of four short stories put out by Reader's Digest in the early 70s. It had a white cover and four images in black one of which was a bishop and another was a sprig of holly. One story was about a man who had planned the perfect crime to murder his wife before taking a sabbatical in the US for a year. One was a locked room mystery about a chess player. Well, that's what memory says and it is of course always so precisely accurate.

Only one of these stories is about Christmas, "An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime" as do we all. But they all share a calm, quiet, unhurried feel. Maud isn't a stereotypical granny. Now, having just learned that there is a book about Audrey Hepburn in wartime as a member of the resistance, I have a strong longing to read about Maud as a college student during the war.

 Library copy, but something I'd like to own and revisit annually.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - Hallie Rubenhold

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - Hallie Rubenhold

I'm not finished yet, but this is pretty amazing. Rubenhold has gone to primary and secondary period sources to discover a great deal about the women who have existed merely as "murdered prostitute" all these years. The scholarship is impressive, as is the imagination to start over, virtually from scratch. Given how very much has been written about their murders since 1888 it's kind of amazing how little we ever knew about the victims, when there was so much available.
There is a bit much speculation on the mundane presented as fact: there is a great deal that can be inferred with high probability, but the construction "she would have" grates on me. There is also a rather constant refrain of how the women were assumed by the police of the time to be prostitutes in the absence of any positive evidence that they were. But that is a welcome reminder not to accept stereotype as proven fact. Everybody lies, including the police.

Dec 20, 2019

***

Now that I am finished my opinion certainly hasn't gone down at all. Although I knew generally how constrained the lives of Victorian women were, and how tenuous their survival, I didn't have a lot of specifics. It's kind of staggering how little progress we've made in the past 130 years. Forensics have improved but little else has.

Dec 23, 2019

Max Attacks - Kathi Appelt, Penelope Dullaghan

Max Attacks - Kathi Appelt, Penelope Dullaghan

Max is a fierce cat. Max is blue, which is never remarked upon. I am in favor of a world in which cats can go around being primary colors without comment.

Library copy