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Entries in #books (5)

Friday
Dec062013

Psychological, Not Sociological

Thanks to Audible's Cyber Monday sale (which would be the only one I actually got it together to take advantage of), I'm now listening to Methland, by Nick Reding.

He quotes Douglas Constance, a rural sociologist at Sam Houston State University, as saying that the US is a psychological, and not a sociological, nation. That is, when there are problems in our country, state, or city, we'll look to the individual as the source of the solution, and the nexus of blame, and not the larger society.

This rings more true to me than just about anything I've ever heard said about this country. A quick glance back through older posts will reveal that I'm not exactly a fan of our penchant for seeking individual solutions to societal problems, which would be exactly where this viewpoint breaks down in its ability to lead to real, substantial change.

However, I'm well aware that problems on the other side exist. A year or so in Sweden, a sociological nation if ever there were one, will do that. Why address problems on the individual level at all if the state will step in? And while I know there are many, many cultural factors at play, it's hard for me to not see this impacting the way people deal with each other in public spaces, when I'm the only person in a crowd who helps a woman pick up her groceries, or my husband is the only one in Ikea who helps two struggling shoppers lift a giant box.

Fascinating. Douglas Constance, if I'm spelling your name correctly, I'll have to check out some more of your work.

Friday
Aug092013

Recent/Current/On Deck Reading Lists

Tuesday
Apr162013

Found at a Stockhom Flea Market

The weekend one at Hötorget, to be precise. I went with an eye for old Swedish books, and that's mostly what I found--with the notable exception of the 1926 Stanford yearbook, which was definitely odd. It's too big for my scanner, so I'll post portions of that one later on. I also came into a few Baedecker travel guides from the turn of the last century, filled with folded maps, and I'm going to have to figure out how best to scan them without hurting anything.

In the meantime, however, here are a few images of the books I brought home. I intended to cut them up, and maybe I still will...but several turned out to be far more interesting than I'd expected. So we'll see. I might have to go back for more.

"The White Slavetrader," 1943

An almanac with articles on industry, socialism, socializing, and other facets of Swedish life

"A Swedish Historical Novel," 1892

"Swedish Memories and Images," 1900

Monday
Jan282013

In Which I Make a Confession

Despite being heir culturally to many, many of his concepts of the horror derived other worlds adjacent to our own, until this weekend, I had never actually read anything by H. P. Lovecraft. With great shame I confess that this was true even though I had even bought my husband one of those big Barnes and Noble nicely-bound anthologies that we all know are just a guise to make money off of non-copyrighted works of literature (but buy anyway, because they look kind of nice). At least this meant that when I finally came to my senses and decided to rectify the situation, I had the texts close at hand.

I started with "The Shadow over Innsmouth." From the first paragraph, it was clear that while I had never read this particular story before, I already knew it. Lovecraft has been so absorbed into our collective cultural consciousness that I had already experienced so many of the tropes and plot twists that he employs (not that I'm going to give anything away). I put the book down with great satisfaction, enchanted to be in the hands of this writer.

That said, from what I can tell as I page through the rest of the giant book, Lovecraft is guilty of overuse of his Lovecraftian self, a bit repetitive, and apparently was a really interesting guy (not that that casts shadow on his work in any way). Some of his stories sidle up really close to the too-florid-to-read line. 

But so much in this book I have never read is familiar, including but not limited to:

 

  • Creepy inbred ("degenerate") New England towns
  • Monsters with interest in humans ranging from nefarious to indifferent to haphazardly desctructive just for the fun of it, often at the same time
  • Narrators who go insane based on what they've seen or experienced (shades of Poe are very evident here)
  • Drunk informants who tell the truth that no one believes
  • Arkham Asylum/Sanitorium
  • The Ancient Ones

 

What really resonated with me is a concept that the introduction alludes to, the idea that true terror comes from imagining a world in which humans are nothing more than a speck of dust, or a fly to a curious child, simply irrelevant to the larger powers that we so often assume are invested in our lives in a very tangible way. How close this comes to your own (or my own) view is a post for another time, but I can easily imagine how frightening this concept would have been in the '10s, '20s, and '30s, in light of the incredible scientific advancement that was taking place. For the first time, this horrific idea was all the more horrific because there was evidence that it might be true. And we all know that the best horror works with what we are all actually afraid of in the realm of fiction, thus making it just safe enough to finally consider.

So a belated salute to Lovecraft. And I hear that Del Toro might be looking into adapting the novella Mountains of Madness for the screen. Seems an appropriate combination to me.

Thursday
Jan242013

Books I've Loved Lately

Believe it or not, one of the quickest ways to catch me speechless is to ask me to name my favorite book. It's as though the very question makes all titles and authors vanish, instantaneously, from my brain, the opposite of the old "don't think of elephants" mind trick. And those of you who know me, as the kids say these days, In Real Life, know how hard it can be to get me to be quiet.

(No, Uncle Eric, I don't ever shut up. Deal with it.)

But now, alone in my quiet apartment, I can think of all sorts of things I've read and loved lately, and so, in no particular order other than non/fiction, here they are:

Fiction:

It's a shoo-in these days, high up on the best-seller list with all the fifty-shades-of-soft-core-porn, and it deserves every great thing that can be said about it: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. So high energy, so well-plotted, such great narrative voices--I know another writer who reads it between sessions on her own manuscript to keep herself going. 

And from 2011, another obvious one, but wow, I loved it: A Visit from the Goon Squad. It's not perfect, but most criticisms of it that I did have were tied to the structural decisions that I loved so much, so I won't even get into them. 

It might be cheating to list a book I'm currently reading, as I can't weigh in on it in totality, but Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist has me just waiting to see what disaster is going to befall the characters next--in a good way. I haven't actually read any other Lessing beyond The Golden Notebook, which I finished only because I was in a Shanghai hotel room, alone, getting over a nasty cough I'd picked up in New Delhi. Didn't actually like it much. But this one draws on the same dissolutioned view of a certain type of Communist organizing, and in a more standard story structure, it's providing great character development and a lot of tension.

Non-Fiction:

By Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook is amazing. It's a history of the development of forensic medicine in New York during Prohibition, and as such combines two of my favorite things to read about: the interwar period and medical/scientific history. Very well written and researched. Can't wait for her next one, whatever it will be, and I really need to catch up on her previous books. 

I have The Great Mortality on my Kindle, but next time I'm in the States I'm going to have to rustle up a physical copy, I loved it that much. A social and cultural history of what we call the Black Death in medieval Europe, John Kelly confesses in his introduction that he didn't set out to write about a historic plague, but as he researched for his intended book on HIV/AIDS, he was so captivated by what he found that he changed course entirely. Love the focus on the implications of this disease, not just the medical details, from depopulation to social mobility to pogroms on the one hand and waning religious faith on the other. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

I'm also working my way through Beating Back the Devil after reading Maryn McKenna's most recent book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA. McKenna is one of the best kind of popular science/health writers--the kind who doesn't get in her own way. (These books aren't for the squeamish, it should be noted. In case it's not evident, I actually enjoy reading about medical scares and historical plagues, although for some reason I draw the line at smallpox.)

Next up: Books I Plan to Love Soon, or What's in that Giant Stack of To-Be-Read.