SuperMom: I'm Not Starfire, by Mariko Tamaki and Yoshi Yoshitani
"And this...is Claire. What can you say about Claire that doesn't make you sound like the voice-over for a teen movie?"
I reflexively put a hold request on this one because some asshole recorded himself on Youtube burning a copy because something something garbanzo. I had no idea what it was.
Turns out it's a YA graphic novel. not what I normally read, but if some asshole wants to burn it, it can't be all bad. fortunately my kid watches Teen Titans Go, and so I know something about who Starfire and her team are.
The protagonist is Mandy, Starfire's ordinary mortal daughter, who doesn't have superpowers, though her peers at school insist that she secretly does. Mandy is alienated from everyone, wears a lot of black, and goes around in a mood. I can relate. She's also decided not to go to college and has already walked out on her SAT test, which her superhero Mom doesn't yet know. And then Claire comes into her life...
It's a standard YA plot, which I found emotionally potent and sweet. I can't even tell what the fuss was about that made someone feel like burning it, but if you burn books, fuck you.
Artists and Murder in Scotland: The five Red Herrings, by Dorothy Sayers
"(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page)"
I intend to finish the Peter Wimsey series because they are classic whodunnit puzzles that follow "fair play" rules, such as the big hint above that something is missing from the crime scene and you have enough information to deduce what it is. And I did figure out what it was.
But then it became obvious that the solution was going to hinge on studying railway timetables, and i just didn't want it that much. I figured out which of the six suspects was the murderer anyway.
I find Peter Wimsey insufferable, with his "Murder--what fun!" attitude, his privileged lifestyle, and the use of witty comments and quirks instead of actual character. Still...classic detection.
Artists and Murder in France: Tarr, by Wyndham Lewis
"He impressed you as having inherited himself last week, and as under a great press of business to grasp the details and resources of the concern. Not very much satisfaction at his inheritance and no swank. Great capacity was printed all over him. He did not appear to have been modified as yet by any sedentary, sentimental or other discipline or habit. He was at his first push in an ardent and exotic world, with a good fund of passion from a frigid climate of his own."
I was this year years old when I learned that Wyndham Lewis existed. I'm annoyed that he's part of "the canon'--three novels, of which this is considered the most important. Dude was an English fascist who used to say Hitler wasn't such a bad man. Tarr is supposed to be a book about Neitzchean "great spirits" and also funny. I found it neither. Tarr and his friend Kreissler are dilettante artists supported by generational wealth, who don't do much except treat women badly and have inflated senses of their own importance. Tarr steeps in ironic detachment and figures most other people are phonies and fools. Kreissler, who is really the central character, escalates from "socially awkward creeper" to "murderer" over the course of the story. we are supposed to sympathize with his tortured descent into madness and find his bumbling to be humorous; in fact, given the number of white dudes committing mass shootings today because people got sick of enabling their alpha male fantasies, he is alternately pathetic and scary. Not recommended.
Middle-Age Suicide (Don't Do It): Amok, by Stefan Zweig
"She tapped the table lightly with her knuckles. So she was nervous too. Then she said, quickly and suddenly, 'Do you know what I want you to do for me, doctor, or don't you?'"
"I believe I do. But let's be quite plain about it. You want an end put to your condition...you want me to cure you of your fainting fits and nausea by...by removing the cause. Is that it?'"
'The word fell like a guillotine."
Such hushed tones, such circumspection, and they're only talking about an appendectomy!
Oh all right, no they're not. It's a different routine medical procedure, but the way the story is told, with the other a-word never appearing in the story, not once, the plot is consistent with the removal of an appendix. In fact, I read the rest of the story from that frame of mind, and it was almost farce. the doctor refuses to perform the operation. he tries to blackmail her for sex, in exchange for performing the operation. she refuses, and instead has it done in a filthy back alley, and dies, and the doctor goes to great lengths to cover up the cause of death, and then kills himself in remorse. There, I've spoiled the plot for you so you don't have to torture yourself reading this senseless tale of unnecessary death by fucked-up society.
And then there are three other stories in this book, all of which end with the protagonists committing suicide over thwarted obsession (the "Amok" of the title refers to going mad with obsession, and losing control of oneself)
I too, have suffered from obsession and come close to suicide from it, but I turned back from the brink and have kept existing. Even though I've never recovered from the pain, it was the right choice. There will be time for eternal nothing later on, eventually. The plights in Amok made me reflect how foolish and pathetic this kind of despair can be.
I've also had two girlfriends who, deep into the relationship, tremblingly confessed to me that they'd had abortions long before they ever hooked up with me, and who just about sobbed with gratitude that the news changed nothing about my feelings for them. Why on earth should it? And yet, a century ago, people like Zweig were writing like this was the sin that dare not speak its name. See also, Tess of the D'urbervilles, where a man presented as "good" betrays and abandons the wife he had fully loved yesterday, just because he learns she had been raped and impregnated long before he met her.
Old times are weird. Old times are supposed to have changed by now.
Original Dystopia: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
"All eyes were directed upward; in the pure morning blue, still moist with the tears of night, a small dark spot appeared. Now it was dark, now bathed in the rays of the sun. It was He, descending to us from the sky, He—the new Jehovah—in an aero, He, as wise and as lovingly cruel as the Jehovah of the ancients. Nearer and nearer, and higher toward him were drawn millions of hearts. Already he saw us. And in my mind with Him I looked over everything from the heights: concentric circles of stands marked with dotted blue lines of unifs,—like circles of a spider-web strewn with microscopic suns (the shining of the badges). And in the centre there soon the wise white spider would occupy his place—the Well-Doer clad in white, the Well-Doer who wisely tangled our hands and feet in the salutary net of happiness."
Mary Shelley was probably the first SF writer; Wells and Verne preceded Zamyatin; and James DeMille and Poe wrote culture shock tales about encounters with strange societies...but We may well be the first dystopian fiction.
I'm surprised it isn't more popular today, especially as a straw man for Libertarians. Published soon after the Russian revolution by a dissident who eventually became an exile, it was an innovative work that clearly influenced Huxley, Orwell and Vonnegut.
In this one world order, society is a hive. Pronouns are we/us, and proper names are numbers. Most buildings are made of glass, so that everyone can be watched. Employment and reproductive partners are assigned by the hive, and symptoms of having a soul are considered a disease that must be treated via chemical lobotomy.
Much of the plot has become standard dystopian trope fodder. The protagonist agonizes over his duty to report himself for improper thoughts. He is inspired to question society because he falls in love with a brave, cute woman in the secret resistance. The hive city fears nature and keeps the people imprisoned within a wall separating them from the forests outside. The dictator in charge has the title of "Beloved One", and failure to worship him is unfathomable.
So it goes.
A World Without Socialism: The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell
"It was one of the ordinary poverty crimes. The man had been without employment for many weeks and they had been living by pawning or selling their furniture and other possessions. But even this resource must have failed at last, and when one day the neighbours noticed that the blinds remained down and that there was a strange silence about the house, no one coming out or going in, suspicions that something was wrong were quickly aroused. When the police entered the house, they found, in one of the upper rooms, the dead bodies of the woman and the two children, with their throats severed, laid out side by side upon the bed, which was saturated with their blood.
"There was no bedstead and no furniture in the room except the straw mattress and the ragged clothes and blankets which formed the bed upon the floor.
"The man's body was found in the kitchen, lying with outstretched arms face downwards on the floor, surrounded by the blood that had poured from the wound in his throat which had evidently been inflicted by the razor that was grasped in his right hand.
"No particle of food was found in the house, and on a nail in the wall in the kitchen was hung a piece of blood-smeared paper on which was written in pencil:
'This is not my crime, but society's.'
"The report went on to explain that the deed must have been perpetrated during a fit of temporary insanity brought on by the sufferings the man had endured."
Interestingly, I read both this book and We at the same time. One a dystopia about ultimate collectivism, and the other a dystopia about unfettered capitalism. I guess between them, you can get both sides about what's wrong with the world. the difference is that We depicts a fantastic world unlike any society that has actually been tried. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was the actual England of its time, in a terrible world before minimum wages, workplace safety standards, access to health care; building codes; pollution controls, unionization, and other aspects of socialism that we in America take for granted today. Oh, wait...
Seems to me, people really, really need to read this book and reflect that life doesn't have to be like this. Workers fought for decades to make a better life than what is shown here, and i have lived to se American sociaty collectively throw it all away because it benefits certain marginalized castes as well as themselves.
The main characters include several builders and painters, and the contracting company they work for. Because England is capitalist, the contractor gets jobs only by presenting the low bid, and attempts to make up for it by using low quality materials and abusing the employees. Way more people are scrambling for employment than there is available work, and so periodic announcements are made that the wages will be reduced again. Take it or leave it; if you walk out, someone else will do it. Those too old and infirm to work any more end up going to the poorhouse to die. Starving children go to Sunday school where they are given instructions to collect alms from the parents who can't afford to feed them.
The protagonist is one of the builders, talented but underpaid and downright cheated, with a hungry family and no way out. He periodically brings up the need for socialism among his co-workers, who laugh at him, take him out of context, or fail to understand him.
And all this was written 100 years ago. We're supposed to have had a century of progress since then.
Rural Farmers Are A Natural Democratic Constituency: Grounded, by Senator Jon Tester
"You know what's at stake," she reminded me. Of course I did. The future of America's very democracy was on the line. So was the health care of millions of Americans. Our clean air and water. Opportunities for our grandkids. Those were outcomes that made the exhaustion all worth it. And That's how Sharla kept me going each morning after an emotional evening. By the final few weeks of that almost two-year campaign cycle, I had hit a wall, but thanks to Sharla, I still kept my stride.
The media wants you to think men like Jon Tester ought to be Republicans. He's a big, white, family man and farmer with a flat-top haircut who lives in rural Montana (as opposed to, you know, urban Montana). His State voted for the asshole by huge margins both times. Reading Grounded, though, it's hard to imagine such a man being anything but a Democrat.
Being a family farmer (the only one in the Senate), he cares about family farms and about the effects of climate change. He cares about pollution. He chooses to grow organic crops because he gets higher prices for value. He cares about veterans and tirelessly works to get the VA to be more efficient. Montana has a higher than average Native American population and more public land than average, and so he cares about those issues too. And, he tells us, in small rural communities, people know each other and rely on honesty and trustworthiness.
You tell me: which political party does that sound like? And yet, every six years, Tester, who looks like he just got off a horse, gets a tough race from slick Republican dudes in suits whose accents remind everyone that they weren't born in Montana.
Grounded goes back and forth between personal autobiography about his farm in Big Sandy and political autobiography about his campaigns and world events. He comes across as friendly, full of common sense, and the kind of candidate you'd want to have a drink with. If I have a complaint, it is that the subtitle, "Lessons on winning back rural America" is misleading. Only in the epilogue does he offer any kind of advice to Democrats about making inroads in rural areas. And here they are:
1. Go outside your comfort zone. (meaning, go to rural neighborhoods and meet people). VALID. My congressman, Pete DeFazio, is a master of this, and regularly wins in rural Douglas County as well as in Eugene.
2. Listen to rural America. MOSTLY VALID. I listen to them, and it's mostly a lesson in having thick enough skin to take unearned abuse. But you have to do that as a politician. In Bill Clinton's first campaign, he went to a NASCAR race in South Carolina where he just stood there getting roundly booed with the cameras rolling...and I respected that.
3. Don't overthink the message: VERY VALID. Stop saying "stimulus bill", "recovery", and "reinvestment". Say "jobs" and "money" and "your health".
4. Reclaim fiscal responsibility. INVALID. Democrats have always been the party of fiscal responsibility. We spend what should be spent, raise the necessary revenue and take the heat for it, and have lowered deficits in every Presidency while Republicans have slashed taxes, spent what they couldn't afford, and acted like a kid with his first credit card. We've been DOING this one, and the media has been chanting the opposite.
5. Give 'em a reason (to vote Democrat): VALID. The endless fundraising appeals focused on the evil that Republicans are doing aren't working. They even piss me off, and I'm motivated. Tell us what you intend to do, and if you get elected, be seen working to do it. Let us know you're in our corner.
Jon Tester is in our corner. If your Senators are too, that's cool.
The Road to Damascus: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by TE Lawrence
"When at last it came, Jemal's great attack on wadi Musa made no noise. Maulud presided beautifully. He opened his centre, and with the greatest humour let in the Turks until they broke their faces against the vertical cliffs of the Arab refuge. Then, while they were still puzzled and hurt, he came down simultaneously on both flanks. They never again attacked a prepared Arab position."
This is the first hand account of "Lawrence of Arabia" about his role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks during WWI. The dominant images from WWI usually involve endless mud trenches and barbed wire, and when the Turks are mentioned at all, it's usually in the context of Gallipoli and the European front.
Lawrence was instrumental for the British in the Turks' Southern front, capturing the Turks' single Red Sea port at Aqaba, waylaying and destroying railroad supply lines, and ultimately capturing Damascus. Instead of muddy trenches, this war involves long desert journeys, heat strokes, venomous insects and snakes, endless diplomacy and culture shock, and treachery.
The book is rough going, and kept me busy for several weeks. 660 pages and 122 chapters, more chronology than history. Lawrence describes himself turning back in a deadly desert trek to rescue a lost member, the excruciating pain and swelling of a scorpion sting and shooting his own troops for mutiny, with the same monotonous dispassion and detachment as someone recounting genealogical tables. Military history buffs and anthropologists will like it; most others will do better with the Peter O'Toole movie.