Nov/Dec 2019 ~ What non-fiction books are garnering . . .
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I often think about what it must have been like in the midst of some historical crisis or major drama, such as a revolution or serious catastrophe, when the people didn't know how it was going to turn out. When we look back on it from here, it's so hard to remember that, to see it without the perspective of subsequent events.
We're in a similar in-the-midst-of-things place right now, and no one in the future will be able to see these unfolding current events as we do, although no doubt many books have yet to be written about them. For one thing, we know there are not just one but numerous views at present, and any future account will have to include them in order to be faithful to present experience.
Some of those views are represented and documented in this book.
(see link: https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/prizes-medals/nayef-al-rodhan-global-cultura...)
So that's another set of books to add to the totteringly tall to-be-read tower!!
I'm reading The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre.
Wonderful graphic novel/biography about the trials of George Takei (Star Trek's Sulu) and his family when they were forced to leave their home after the Pearl Harbor attack and go into a internment camp simply because they were Japanese. Well written! I had read of his interment in one of his previous books but I feel this provided a little more information.
This is the true story of Thomas MacFadden, who on a trip to South American got caught by the police with drugs at the airport in Bolivia. He is sentenced and sent to the San Pedro Jail in Peru. McFadden is confounded by the prison set-up. To get a room to live in, you have to buy a cell of your own. Families live with their relative who is a prisoner, in their prison cell and businesses are run by the prisoners in the jail. Drugs are prevalent in the prison and are a main source of revenue to buy items and bribe the guards and judges. I thought this was a fast and interesting read!
Wonderful documentary about music and LA's Laurel Canyon that produced the California sound in 1965-1967. Bands, including The Byrds, the Beach Boys and others came together to produce a new sound as folk music declined. There is also a separate CD with the songs on it but I haven't listened to it yet but I really enjoyed this show on DVD.
In Fall of Heaven: Whymper’s Tragic Matterhorn Climb, Reinhold Messner looks back 150 years to the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. With Messner, a prolific author and legendary mountaineer, we should be in good hands as he judges Englishman Edward Whymper severely for the calamitous accident occurring during the peak’s descent. After reading his book, though, I think Messner should be judged wanting. He makes a poor case.
For anyone reading Fall of Heaven, Whymper’s classic Scrambles Amongst the Alps is a fine companion volume. It covers a lot of climbs and other material that aren’t part of Messner’s book but has a substantial account of the Matterhorn climb too. While I didn’t fully trust Whymper’s version either, I liked his book much more.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (5 stars)
by Rachel Ignotofsky
An absolutely delightful book, written with wit, passion, and a bit of geekery:)
This is the biography of actor and comedian Robin Williams. Itzhoff follows Robin from his very beginnings to the sad ending of his life. I thought this was a really well written biography and I just flew through it. If you are fan of his, this is a must read!
A Warning by Anonymous
early tomorrow morning!
1 a.m. Tuesday
Anonymous takes the reader on a pedal-to-the-metal ride. I've finished about 10% of the book in record time. It appears to me that the Electoral College has turned out to be a ticking timebomb that unfortunately exploded during this decade.
General observations ~
It is hard to imagine a more dysfunctional workplace than the Trump West Wing. It is a three-ring circus most days thanks to the extremely flawed executive who is in charge. Remembering that this particular workplace is command central for the leader of the free world is very alarming. I am grateful that people like Anonymous continue to inform the public about this malfunctioning administration. Placing country over party should be a no-brainer during a cautionary-tale era like this one.
By Michael D’Antonio
This is the true story of a group of boys and girls from the 1940’s in Massachusetts who were imprisoned in asylums during the time of the rising theories of eugenics. Entry into these schools was not equal and some of these children should not even have been in there. These children were abused, made into laborers, poorly educated and experimented on until they rebelled. Unfortunately, after release some did not do well and had trouble adjusting to outside life but they felt fortunate to be free. The book also talked about the influence that Pearl Buck and Dale Rogers had on opening up the institutions. They kept their developmentally disabled children at home which influenced families of the disabled to do the same thing. This is a shocking book and though I was familiar with the time period, I never realized the extent of the abuse at these homes. Well written!
By William Pack
Author, William Pack has written a captivating biography of the life of Houdini. The book is short (about a 130 pages) and covers the very interesting highlights of his life and career. I found out about this book when the author came to our library and did this wonderful program on Houdini. He even demonstrated Houdini's escape from a strait jacket. I definitely would like to read more about Houdini.
So, as a member of Coates' white audience, I can say that this book added in very important ways to my understanding of Coates' subject matter, but more importantly to my understanding of the enormity of my ignorance on these issues. Coates writes of the always fraught experience of walking down the street, any street, in America as a black person. He speaks not of "white people," but of "the people who think they are white" and calls us "Dreamers," people who are able through our own privilege to believe in a dream of an upwardly mobile and potentially color blind society, secure in the fantasy of our own innocence regarding racism. It all touched a nerve for me, having grown up in a liberal household with the mythology of an American Dream hypothetically accessible to all. Please believe me that I am barely scratching the surface of Coates' powerful material with this synopsis.
While Marks wrote his memoir in 1980, it had to wait until 1998 before the British government finally cleared it for publication. Haven't started it yet, but anticipate it will be a lively account about codes and spies that tells the opposite side of the story from what went on at Bletchley Park.
This is the fascinating history and evolution of the rise of cats and their dominance in the animal world. Tucker talks about their popularity as pets and the extremes humans will do to take care of them. Definitely for cat people but others who love animals will also enjoy this book.
This is the story of Ruth Handler who was looking for an adult female doll for girls to play with. At the time there were only baby dolls or paper adult dolls for girls to play with. While traveling in Germany she saw a Bild Lilli adult doll which inspired the creation of the Barbie doll and which became a toy sensation. This was the beginning of the rise of Mattel but life for Ruth and her family would be a whirlwind of ups and downs. What an interesting read!
Mary Roach, one of my favorite non-fiction authors, loves to explore the most unusual subjects and she doesn’t fail in this book about the science behind the problems that crop up when soldiers are defending us. Topics include stink bombs, flies on the battlefield, how to make shark repellent and much more. Not for everyone but for those curious in unusual topics.
While a child, she, her sister, and father spent most of their lives abroad on diplomatic missions to Japan and France. He saw to it that she and her sister received "Western" educations. As a result, they were multi-lingual, modern, and reform-minded. Der Ling viewed her function to be an advisor to the Dowager on liberalizing policies, her hopes for bringing China into the 20th C. at the same speed as the technologically advanced countries were entering the post-industrial age.
Annie Spence, real life librarian, writes of her love of reading and the books she adores by writing quirky love letters to them. Of course she also writes about some of the duds that she has read and those get breakup notes. A very charming book but be warned this may increase your to be read book list!
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. I heard her speak at a Sheffield Off the Shelf event in October - she was very funny, passionate and knowledgeable.
She-Wolves by Helen Castor. She was on a BBC history podcast talking about Joan of Arc - again, funny and knowledgeable.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder - lessons from the past to help us defend the future.
The book is presented as a series of short vignettes, each from five to seven pages in length, told more or less in chronological order, with Singer’s narrative evolving as the small boy begins to grow and to question his surroundings. In the early remembrances, the perspective is kept very tightly on his father’s fierce devotion to God and to Jewish biblical and rabbinical law, custom and mysticism. The tales told are about the people who arrive in the Singers' home, what their problems are, and how his father deals with them.
Soon enough, however, the outside world begins gradually to intrude. The family moves from a small town to the crowded streets of a Jewish Warsaw slum. Next come rumors and then the realities of World War One, with its uncertainties and sharp deprivations. Singer’s older brother becomes more worldly, and young Isaac begins asking questions himself and longing for information about the outside world. Zionism and socialism begin to be discussed among the young, further eroding the hold of the old ways over the community as a whole.
At the end of the entertainment, she continued on with the day as the Empress' guest at a sumptuous feast, a gigantic spread of many fine and exotic dishes served in exquisitely decorated sets of china. Empress Cixi dug in enthusiastically with her solid gold chopsticks. But Der Ling was dismayed. How could she acquit herself once more of all the edible bounty after having recently "snacked' on dessert first? It amazed her that Cixi had no problem and lustily partook.
If I spend Two Years in the Forbidden City with Princess Der ling, I shall explode from too much rich food!
The premise--that American popular society places restrictive boundaries on its expectations for how women should behave and the ways in which they are and aren't "allowed" to achieve success--is hardly a new one. Nevertheless, while I found some of Petersen's examples and explanations problematic, these are issues that, in my opinion, need to be addressed and brought to our society's (especially male society members such as myself) attention endlessly and in many different ways.
I thought that the best two essays were the first two: "Too Strong - Serena Williams" and "Too Fat - Melissa McCarthy." The "Too Strong" chapter explores the ways in which Serena Williams' physical strength and muscular body--and her unabashed pride in both--confounded the culture's expectations and caused pushback against her successes. Also particularly good was, "Too Pregnant - Kim Kardashian" which examines the ways in which women are and aren't allowed to be pregnant and famous in public.
I did not find all of the chapters to be as strong or as coherent, however. For example, in "Too Old - Madonna," Peterson seems as critical of Madonna for trying to maintain a youthful-looking body and overall appearance as she is of the culture for forcing her into such choices in order to retain relevance in the pop music world. In "Too Queer - Caitlyn Jenner," Peterson criticizes Jenner's attempts to be transnormative, to attain as closely as possible the appearance of a "normal" woman and follows Jenner's progressions and growth via the episodes of her reality television show. So, not until the very end, is Jenner unruly enough to gain Petersen's approval.