Sunday, March 6, 2016

spring's approach, in frightening times

The winter is winding up quietly, especially compared to last year. I am sure we will still get a few bits and pieces of snow, but the weather is mild and the weeks passing quickly. Except for that drive home from daycare, when Perdita alternates between demanding to see a truck, complaining about the radio, and making fun of me if I yell at her: she often throws things in the backseat and, when she's done it once and I tell her not to do it again, and then of course she does, I say, "PERDITA!" and she replies with a mocking, "MEH MEH MEH!" That drive goes slowly.

Read since last posting:
Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West--One Meal at a Time, by Stephen Fried. Fascinating non-fiction about the transcontinental railroad and the setting up of restaurants along the way. It also goes into the beginning of the conservation movement and the aviation craze, and Santa Fe and "Indian tourism", and America in the world wars, and it's really interesting and covers a good deal more ground than I thought it would from the title. I liked it a lot.  
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. I... Uh. Um. I guess I see why this was so popular? No, wait, I don't. I almost put it down after the first fifty pages or so, and though I stuck with it I don't feel rewarded at all. Everyone is awful. Every single person is just vile, and dull, to the point that I didn't care in the least what happened to them. You can write interesting anti-heroes, but Hawkins doesn't. The three female narrators are all nightmare stereotypes: the Drunk Stalker Ex, the Crazy Nymphomaniac, and the Motherhood is My Identity. None of them, crucially, have jobs or professional ambitions, and they are all completely obsessed with the men in (or previously in) their lives. This is one of the most anti-female books I have read in a long time. Also it was tedious, because you have to slog through pages and pages of self-destruction establishing that these women are, in fact, Men's Worst Nightmares, in between small snippets of the supposedly "thrilling" plot. Such a letdown, after all the praise.

A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger. Gower and Chaucer solve a crime in the reign of Richard II (okay, mostly Gower; Chaucer is not entirely innocent, as it turns out). It's a really fun, if period-accurate-grim-at-times, novel, and one of the main characters is transgender and their gender identity is handled super-deftly (I thought so, anyway).

The Fifth Heart, by Dan Simmons. Simmons, master of cut-and-paste from Wikipedia to needlessly stretch 200 pages of story into a 700-page book. And yet I keep reading, if skimming a good deal. This one involves Sherlock Holmes and Henry James teaming up to prevent the assassination of the president at the Chicago World's Fair, and it's just about as dumb as it sounds.

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, by Timothy Snyder. Hard, hard, brilliant, enlightening reading. Snyder's take on the Holocaust is that it was permitted by nation-states being nullified (Jews living in Germany throughout the war had a much, much better chance of surviving than Jews in occupied territories), and that the goal was chaos, so that when we think of Germany itself as the most dangerous place and the Germans of being coldly efficient, we're getting it wrong. Hitler said that Jews had ruined the natural order of things by being a civilizing force, which he claimed was unnatural. (Warning indeed, in these days of "political correctness is being shoved down my throat, so my candidate is the one who lets me believe that every white person hates non-white people as much as I do; the rest of them are just afraid to say so, and he's not".) Mercifully, Snyder ends with three chapters about people who protected Jews, which after the rest of the book is desperately needed. And provides some good ideas for the inevitable basement shelters some of us may need to start constructing for our immigrant and Muslim neighbors and friends.

God, I want to believe that humans are better than this. That in the intervening seventy years fewer people have been teaching their children to hate. But it's so hard to believe that right now.

The Ice House, by Minette Walters. A British author's first mystery, from back in the early 90's. Suffers from a lot of gender-stereotype silliness, including forced "punishing kisses" leading to relationships, but Walters does a nice gradual flip-flop in who we initially think is the hero and who is the boorish sidekick, and I liked her writing enough that I'm going to go back and find other stuff she's written.  

May you all find ways to work towards love, these days.

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