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review 2018-01-13 09:14
A Short History of Drunkenness
A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

I love Mark Forsyth's writing.  I think I've read (and own) everything he's written and I've yet to be let down.  He's got the dry, British humor in spades and his writing is always excellent.  His original bibliography focused on etymology, but he's lately broken out into short, but focused, histories.  


Forsyth makes it clear from the start that this is not a comprehensive history of drunkenness; that would be a comprehensive history of humanity.  But he does break it down into a very easy to follow, somewhat linear timeline, with each chapter focused on a specific culture, or age.  I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it turns out ancient Greeks got a bad rap; when it comes to partying they had nothing on ancient Egyptians.  Or late 19th/early 20th century Russians.  Holy crap.


The book ends in more or less modern times, but Forsyth does revisit America in the last chapter; specifically Prohibition and Did it work?.  Half my family was in Chicago during Prohibition and the other half was in Florida, with a constant stream of 'revenuers' and bootleggers coming through the tiny fishing village called home, so I'm not sure I entirely buy his premise that Prohibition was a success.  On the other hand, my family's history would give me exactly the skewed perspective that would make me dubious.  No matter what my opinion is, his take on Prohibition was fascinating and (to me) an entirely new way of viewing the 18th amendment experiment.  


But the best part, the very best part of the book, for me, is something only a few here will immediately appreciate, and it's this, from a quote in the chapter on the American Wild West:


"The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [saloon]..."

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review 2018-01-11 06:58
Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country
Oh, Florida!: How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country - Craig Pittman

I'm not sure this is the kind of book that has broad appeal, but as one of the rare true natives of the Sunshine State (as are three previous generations of my dad's side), I had a very vested interest in reading it.  I grew up in a blissful bubble of ignorance regarding Florida's off-the-charts location on the crazy scale, and it wasn't until after I moved away that I started hearing all the jokes.  I own that I was more than a little bit indignant.


Now that I've read this book, I get it.  What felt totally normal to me for decades, while living in the midst of it all, when looked at objectively from a distance, is decidedly ... eccentric, to say the least.  I'd like to blame all the carpet-baggers, but if I'm being truthful, Florida was invaded by the nutty centuries ago.


However, as Pittman points out, we may be crazy, but we're also history makers and trendsetters.  For better or worse, a lot of what's good and bad in American can be traced to Florida.  NASCAR (admittedly, a matter of perspective as to whether this is a good or bad thing), the space program, USA Today, and authors like Carl Hiaasen, Meg Cabot, Ransom Riggs and Donald J. Sobol.  We also have to own the highest rate of concealed carry permits in the nation and the lowest level of funding for mental health programs, a combination most rational people would say is unwise.  Also, The National Enquirer.  And threaded throughout all the good, bad and ugly are the most hilarious kinds of crazy.


"Does it seem strange to you that the beloved figure of Walt Disney would wind up working with a guy tied to the CIA, drugs, Cuban revolutionaries and the Mafia?  Does that odd juxtaposition make you feel uncomfortable?  In Florida, we call that feeling 'Tuesday'. " 


Pittman does a great job making just about all Floridians look like the cracked fruitcakes we probably are to some extent, and he does almost as good a job tying all the crazy in to the rest of the country.  Occasionally, his tone veers into derisive and it's clear that while he may be a native too, he's not a kool-aid drinker.  Floridians should be proud of their eccentricities, but they should be appalled by the truly horrific way we allow our state to be run.  I'm not sure we've ever elected a sane politician on a state level; hell, I'm not sure we've ever elected one that was law abiding.


Still, I miss my home state.  Florida is a part of my soul; a big reason why I can be both conservative and tolerant, why for me anything less than 50mph winds is a breezy day, and why a 10 foot long reptile won't make me blink an eye, but a 2 inch cockroach will send me running, screaming bloody murder all the way.


If you've even wondered why Florida is the way it is, this book won't be able to explain why, but it is going to make you laugh.

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review 2018-01-07 04:48
The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History
The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History - Dave Anthony,Gareth Reynolds

I'd say this is a perfect book for teens, as a hook to get them interested in history, but the casual use of colourful language disqualifies this book for any educational purposes, never mind the section on the Newport Sex Scandal.  


So it's definitely aimed at adults, but the adults reading it would best enjoy it fi they picked it up for the humor, because while the anecdotes are factual, the subjects and tone are best enjoyed by someone looking for quirky good fun.


With this in mind, I enjoyed the book; it was a humorous, quick read and I learned a few things (I had no idea we had  a straw hat riot).  But I'd like to declare the whole 'how lobotomies became a thing' story as definitely NOT untold.  I've read about Freeman several times in the last few years, so I think it's safe to say that cat is out of the bag.  


I did skip the last section completely (the last 14 pages), except for the last story concerning the Kentucky meat shower; it covers, best I can tell from that sections introduction, stories of absurd things we've done to/with animals.  I'm not even going there.  (Although the Kentucky meat thing had a pretty funny, and totally natural, if unbelievable, explanation.)

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video 2017-12-31 21:44

I know I've posted this before, but it simply isn't New Year's Eve without it hereabouts ...

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review 2017-12-30 15:54
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: The Light Joker - Christmas at the Old Bailey (and Elsewhere)
Rumpole at Christmas - Bill Wallis,John Mortimer

Rumpole at Christmas is a collection of previously uncollected Rumpole short stories written late in John Mortimer's life: there are some minor inconsistencies vis-à-vis the main body of the series, but what really matters here is that Mortimer's craftsmanship and sense of humor was going strong until the very end.  All the old familiar faces are present in one story or another -- She Who Must Be Obeyed of course, but also Claude and Phyllida Erskine-Brown (Phyllida née Trant, aka "the Portia of Our Chambers"), soapy Sam Ballard and  other QCs (Queen's Counsel or rather, "Queer Customers"), the Timsons and assorted other not-so-law-abiding members of the general populace, the spectre of the Penge Bungalow murders ("the case I tried alone, without a leader"), Rumpole's expertise in blood spatter patterns and his exchanges on the subject with Dr. Ackerman, the expert witness, Judges "Mad Bull" Bullingham and "the Gravestone" Graves -- and plenty of good old Christmas spirit; including a thieving Santa in the Equity Court Chambers (who repents upon being caught red-handed by Rumpole).


Since Rumpole is enjoying an evening by the fireside on the cover of this audio edition, I've decided to use this read for my application of the Light Book Joker -- a book that has the words “light”, “candle”, “lamp”, “sun” or “fire” in its title or features any of these five things on its cover --, which I'm going to use to replace the book ordinarily called for on Quaid-e-Azam (Square 14, "a book set in Pakistan or in any other country that attained sovereign statehood between August 14, 1947 and today").


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