Tuesday, August 4, 2015

summer books

Heavens, I have been remiss here. Things have been very busy, and then very relaxing albeit buggy (five days in Vermont), and then very busy again. Plus it's been 95 degrees and airless, so the diaper pail is a living beast in the corner of the room and the kitchen ants have stopped even pretending to give a fuck ("oh, you're washing dishes? I'll just march my enormous self over your arm to get to these crumbs on the other side of the counter, no problem"). The less said about the earwigs living in our mailbox the better, but if we don't get mail delivery again until October I would not blame our carrier one bit. I tend to get a little hamstrung by my own sullenness under such circumstances.

But I have been reading! Perdita was magnificent about the newly-instituted "quiet time" that I tried in Vermont, which meant informing her it was quiet time, putting her in the play pen with a stuffed animal and some board books, and settling down myself to read. I tended to get about forty-five minutes to an hour of her happily looking at her books or marching the stuffed animal around the play pen while chatting to herself, presumably about his adventures. Amazing.

The books:

On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Bliss. I almost put this book down two minutes in, when Bliss says that she was undecided about vaccinating her child, but I'm very glad I didn't. Bliss writes elegantly and compassionately about her journey from "meh, vaccines" (although it ultimately sounds like she was never as "meh" as she initially states) through the history and science of vaccinations, and her arrival at being a passionate advocate. Should be required reading for anyone similarly undecided.

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases, by Michael Capuzzo. I hated this. It's ostensibly about the Vidocq Club, a group of people from various law-related arenas who get together and work on cold cases, but it's really only about three of them, and they are all incredibly sexist and homophobic. Capuzzo cheerfully recounts their dialogue about homosexuality being a perversion and how sexually-active women should have known that they were inevitably going to be murdered, and expects us to find these three guys just as charming and fascinating as he does, and I have no idea why I finished this.

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest, by Carl Hoffman. I am not sure that Hoffman convinced either me or himself that Rockefeller's collecting of "primitive art" because of daddy issues was actually a Tragic Quest, but getting eaten is still not a good way to go. I enjoyed this book, though pop anthropology is so hard to do without paternalistically othering hard-core. Hoffman acknowledges his urge to do so, which is maybe all we can ask. And he writes well.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. This took me a long time to read - kept putting it down for a while and picking it back up. It's astonishing in some ways, but the four impossibly-different sisters felt like a gimmick to me, especially since for the first two-thirds of the book we have to get every plot point retold four times in their different voices, meaning this book really didn't have to be the length it was. Also the fact that one kid is going to die (not a spoiler: we're told this at the very beginning) made it hard for me to keep going. (I am such a wuss about this now that I have a kid.) Once that fatality was out of the way (it's horrible, but the anticipation of it was worse) and the three remaining sisters all go their separate ways and start having separate adventures, I enjoyed it much more.

Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, by Mara Leveritt. Meh. This was redundant for me since I've seen all the documentaries, and not that great.

The Day of Atonement, by David Liss. Revenge Monte-Cristo-style, except that our hero is a pugilistic Jew who returns to eighteenth-century Portugal and beats up everyone he encounters on his way to defeat the Inquisition, and then there is an earthquake. Utterly silly and fun.

Sovereign, by C. J. Sansom. A lawyer during the reign of Henry VIII must solve mysteries (this is a series, apparently). The period detail is glorious and the infodumping as painless as possible. I liked it a lot.

Dead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West, by Dan Schultz. Interesting at the time but I can already feel it fading from memory.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. Rather engaging, rather beautifully written, but you can see what's coming a mile off and the supporting characters are broad-stroke stock.

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial, by Kenji Yoshino. A wonderfully clear, compassionate, and wise description of the legal challenge to Prop 8. Very timely read right now.

May you all avoid earwigs and have whatever adventures, or quiet time, or adventures during quiet time, that you desire.

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