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review 2019-11-06 21:53
The People of Paris by Daniel Roche
The People of Paris: An Essay In Popular Culture In The 18th Century - Daniel Roche

Certainly an informative book, but claiming a “highly readable style” is taking it too far. This is an academic text about the material and social conditions of Parisians in the 18th century. Parts of it (the first chapter or two in particular) consist of wordy academic language that doesn’t say very much, but other parts are extremely specific – what items of clothing were owned by what percentage of the population upon their death; what percentage of people picked up for crimes were capable of signing their names, etc. The author is very explicit about what sources he’s using and seems careful not to overstate his data. He’s also very interested in distinctions among “the people” rather than treating them as a monolith – servants lived differently from wage earners, for instance, even at the same income level, and were generally the means of transmission of culture between the rich and the poor. Also just some really interesting stuff in here: apparently everything was for sale on the streets of Paris, from songs (apparently people would actually buy the sheet music after hearing them sung, which is rather sweet) to secondhand food (leftovers from their employers’ tables being sold off by servants).

I should also add that despite the title, this is more than an essay – at 277 pages of text (there are no endnotes or reference pages though there are occasional footnotes – the sources are discussed in the text itself and most of the content appears to come from the author's original research), it’s a pretty standard-sized book.

My criticisms of the book are perhaps beside the point since I’m not sure it was ever intended for a general audience anyway, but here they are: first, it assumes knowledge of French history and society on the reader’s part. Even without having much I generally understood it, but there were some weird bits, like where the author refuted the notion that the Parisian poor didn’t have children because they either abandoned them or the kids ran away…. by giving statistics on the class from which abandoned children came, to prove that a large percentage came from higher up the social hierarchy. I was so confused by this – why were all of these people abandoning their kids? How do we know who was responsible? What did abandonment mean in this context (apparently some parents later returned)? At what age were children actually running away, and what happened to all these solo kids? Relatedly, the translator – despite translating the book from French to English presumably for those who, you know, don’t read French – left a number of words in French, including occasional key concepts and the titles of all of the books mentioned that were owned by Parisians.

Overall, I think this book will be quite useful for those doing research on eighteenth century Parisian society, less so for anybody else. Interesting stuff though and the author certainly seems to have reached his conclusions as a result of careful study.

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review 2017-11-05 21:25
For lovers of clever and witty dialogue, geeks, sci-fi, popular culture and Oscar Wilde. A great YA story.
Not Now, Not Ever - Lily Anderson

I read and reviewed Lily Anderson’s first book The Only Thing Worse than Me Is You (you can check my review here) last year. I loved it and I mentioned that I would be watching out for more of the author’s books. When a publicist from St. Martin’s Press got in touch with me offering me to take part in the blog tour for the author’s next book, I had to check it out. When I read that this time the author’s inspiration was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest I knew I’d fight tooth-and-nail to take part if necessary. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, but it would have been worth it.

Elliot/Ever (if you know Wilde’s play, you’ll know that there are several people using false identities for a variety of reasons, mostly to live a different kind of life away from prying eyes) is a seventeen year old African-American girl, who lives in California, with a somewhat complicated family background (the Lawrence, on her mother’s side, have a long tradition of joining the Air Force, and her mother, in fact, teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, while she lives with her father, a lawyer of French descent. Her step-Mom, Beth, is an estate agent, white, and an amateur actress, and she has a half-brother, Ethan). Her mother and all of her mother’s family expect her to join the Air Force, while her father wants her to do anything but that (mostly go to College somewhere nearby). And Elliot… Well, she wants to study Science-Fiction Literature. She is a geek. Her step-mother is about to play Gwendoline for the sixth time in an amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest (that Elliot knows by heart from so many performances and rehearsals) and she decides to take control of her life and avoid another farcical summer. She lies to everybody around her, creates a fake identity (inspired by Wilde’s play), and after passing a genius exam to enter a summer programme (to win a fantastic scholarship to the college of her dreams, mostly because they have an amazing sci-fi collection in the library and they offer a degree in Science-Fiction Literature) she sets off to Oregon, determined to win no matter what.

Elliot/Ever soon discovers that you cannot outrun Wilde and that there’s nothing more farcical than a camp for geniuses. She has a few surprises (she’s not the only one to use a fake identity or lie), meets wonderful people (and some not quite so wonderful), finds love, and discovers what’s really important.

Like in Anderson’s previous novel, we have a first-person narration, this time by Elliot, who is a clever, witty, and determined girl. In this case she was not aware she was a genius (another member of the family was always considered the clever one), but the summer camp is not that dissimilar to the high school in the previous novel, although in this case everybody, apart from the college students who facilitate the camp, are new to the place, they don’t know each other and are thrown together in pretty stressful circumstances. We have, again, many pop culture and bigger Culture references (some, I must admit went over my head, but I didn’t mind that), a diverse group of students, but all clever, studious, dedicated, nerdy, and quirky. I loved Leigh, Elliot’s roommate, Brandon (a guy who carries a typewriter around. Come on, I’m a writer too. Who would not love him), and most of the characters. The dialogue sparkles and the quotes from Wilde’s play, that keep popping up into Elliot’s head, are sometimes humorous (I particularly like the ‘A tree!’ ‘A handbag!’ comparison) but sometimes the author chooses quotes that reflect the serious matters at hand. Although at first, it seems the furthest possible setting for such a play, the summer camp works well, as we have many restrictions, a lockdown, rules that can be broken and people hiding secrets, overhearing things they shouldn’t, and getting into all kinds of problems.

There is cheating, friendships, betrayals, bizarre but vividly portrayed contests (Star Wars based fights to the death, The Breakfast Club themed memory tests…) and young romance.

I don’t know if it was because of the build-up and the identity changes but it took me a bit longer to get into the story than it did the previous novel, but once at the camp and when I got used to Elliot/Ever’s voice and her accurate descriptions of people and things, I felt as if I was there and could not put the book down.

The ending… Well, you’ll have to read it. It’s probably not what you expect but it’s good.

Once again I’ve highlighted many bits. A few random ones:

And he was wearing loafers. I couldn’t get my swoon on for a guy who didn’t wear socks.

Two narrow pressboard wardrobes that were less Narnia, more IKEA.

She sounded as though she really meant it, but that could have been because everything she said sounded vaguely like it was licensed by Disney.

He was cute and presumably very smart and, unlike so many other white dudes, he’d never told me how much hip-hop meant to him like my melanin made me a rap ambassador.

Another great YA novel that I’d recommend to people who enjoy sci-fi and pop culture references, people who love books and libraries, and who appreciate young female characters that have interests beyond school balls and boyfriends. And of course, if you love witty dialogue, farcical plots, and are a fan of Oscar Wilde, you are in for a treat. I’ll for sure be waiting for Anderson’s next novel.

Thanks to Wednesday Books (St. Martin’s Press) and to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of the novel that I freely chose to review.

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review 2016-12-08 20:40
Kill the Boy Band, Goldy Moldavsky
Kill the Boy Band - Goldy Moldavsky

What an absolute riot this book was--when it wasn't breaking my heart.


If you've ever been a fan of anything (especially a teen girl fan) and participated in fandom, you will recognize these characters and some of their behavior. The lingo, the friendships borne of obsessing over the same band/show/books/whatever, the fanfic, the love-hate relationship between you and the object of your fannish devotion--Moldavsky captures it all in prose that made me laugh hard at least once a page.


The book is comic but blackly so. The protagonist (who goes unnamed, though she tells those who ask a variety of names from 80s movies) and her three fellow fans, including her pretty and popular best friend, "accidentally" kidnap the least popular member of fictional British boy band The Ruperts (all named, you guessed it, Rupert). Things quickly spiral out of control, and the protagonist, who's "the sensible one," struggles to get a grip on the situation and defy her friends, about whom she realizes some unsettling things. That's where the heartbreak comes in. She has recently lost her father, and her Ruperts obsession has clearly become her lifeline. By the end of the book she's doubting her own sanity.


The author represents fandom lovingly and fairly, including its downsides: using fandom as a crutch, feeding on fame as a fan rather than the object of your devotion, fandom's temporality--some day you won't care or will be embarrassed. As a fan myself, I can't say I was ever offended; I enjoyed the accurate portrayal and the nuances of fan interactions and feelings that the author captures so well. I love that she doesn't define every bit of fannish jargon (e.g. "stans/stanning"), though it's always clear from context. I love that each girl has her favorite Rupert and role as a fan in a group of fannish friends (the leader, the one with connections, the one with money and access), and that The Ruperts feel like a fully realized band and fandom, complete with a secretly gay member who's dating a girl as a beard. Social media plays a central role, but it's not overdone.


This book is fun and demented and worth a read even if you don't think of yourself as particularly fannish. Best of all, it doesn't put the girls down for being fans.


If nothing else, you will laugh hysterically at what's in Apple's suitcase...

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text 2014-11-17 08:23
Reading progress update: I've read 111 out of 289 pages.
Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema - Anne Helen Petersen

A pack of library books I'd requested all came in this Saturday and I'm sort of swamped right now. That's after reading and/or returning 20+ books last week. So that's partially why I've not been on much, I've been reading like crazy in between stuff that has to get done.


This one is going quickly though. It's largely what I'd hoped it would be versus what I'd feared. The author looks at why this scandals mattered at the time, what was done about them, were the actors able to recover, and what changes they spelled not only for Hollywood but for the country at the time. There's a lot of social history being talked about and that's far better then I'd hoped.


The author also does a good job of trying to cover the events as truthfully as possible, mostly by giving you multiple sources and various things they said. Most of it is stuff we're never likely to know for sure.

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review 2014-06-06 02:01
The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects
The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects - Richard Kurin

I have been in love with all things Smithsonian since I was an adolescent and visited the museums in D.C. for the first time.  My loyalty and love were permanently sealed when one of the curators at the Museum of Natural History, who would often come to Florida to consult with my Dad about orchids, took me through the behind-the-scenes part of the Museum of Natural History, where I promptly wished I could be forgotten and left to get lost in all the wonderful things that didn't make it to the displays.  It was the ultimate playground for a tomboy such as myself.


But I have to admit I was a *tiny* bit cynical about this book.  I've read Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects and thought it a genius, creative way of making esoteric parts of world history immediately accessible to the armchair enthusiast.  So, when Degrees of Affection first brought this book to my attention (Thank you Degrees!), I was excited, but at the same time a little voice in the back of my head thought:  "Hmph... cashing in on someone else's genius idea and of course we (Americans) just had to add that one extra object..".


Still, I bought the book and couldn't wait to crack it open and start.  And right on the first page of the Preface, in the second sentence, Mr. Kurin gives credit and praise to Neil MacGregor and the British Museum for History of the World in 100 Objects as the inspiration for this book.  The acknowledgement showed respect and class and I instantly liked Mr. Kurin for it.


I intended this book to be a long-term read, dipped into occasionally and enjoyed right before sleep and certainly, at over 735 pages, I had no illusions that it was going to be a quick read no matter how interesting.  But I burned myself out on fiction (see: Murder of Crows) and started picking up this book more often and reading it for longer stretches of time.  I joked with DH that I had to 'detox', but truly, this book just makes for interesting reading.  The writing is friendly, accessible and not at all dry.  Mr. Kurin talks not only about each object, but who owned it, used it, and what events or other objects tied into that object's existence.  If its creation has an interesting backstory, or provenance he includes that as well.


Truly, only twice did Mr. Kurin lose me and both times while discussing art:  Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe and Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway.  I'll admit I glazed over a bit while he was discussing the interpretation of both pieces and I remember thinking "that's an awful lot to put on the shoulders of a piece of art".  The book's end includes a small essay by the author detailing the struggles of choosing just 101 objects; what got left out, what everyone involved battled for, but lost out on.  Also, there are a series of maps at the end, each showing North America and how it's boundaries changed during the birth of the United States, and a summary time-line of American History.


If you like American History – you know, the American History that was happening between the battles and the wars; the history of the people and the culture – then I can't recommend this book highly enough.  It barely scrapes the surface, but it does so intelligently, respectfully and with accessible and well-written prose.  I'm going to cherish my copy and I know it's a book that will be re-read from time to time with pleasure.

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