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review 2020-01-01 21:33
Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed - Jessica Weisberg
Asking for a Friend: Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money, and Other Burning Questions from a Nation Obsessed - Jessica Weisberg

Well, that was fun and enlightening. I love etiquette books, and am neutral on advice columnists in general except for Daniel Ortberg's Dear Prudence. But then there's that whole other aspect: the how-to-do-anything-better field is one I appreciate. Paradoxically, I have never been a fan of the Self-Help book genre. Yes, I think there is a great deal we can all learn from the billions of other people in the world, many of whom have struggled with the same issues and also, at the same time, skeptical of the idea that reading a book is ever going to really turn anyone's life around. Mari Kondo has much to teach me about how to best put things away, for example, but neither her book nor show is going to convince me to spend a month finding every book in the house and putting it into one big pile in order to hold each one and wait for the spirit to move me in a joy spark or not way.


Much of the historical stuff was completely unknown to me. I had heard of Poor Richard's Almanack, but knew next to nothing about Franklin or his publishing. I knew of Graham, but Alcott was a surprise. Etcetera.
Clever and also entertaining.

Library copy

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review 2019-12-29 14:58
You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice - Tom Vanderbilt
You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice - Tom Vanderbilt

Here's a conundrum: how to review a book that's all about how people judge (and review) things? It's well-researched, really interesting, and has the potential to be widely popular. It's fascinating stuff about literal and figurative taste, what we like, and how we like. It is a dense book, full of information, but entertaining nonetheless. I also really like his book Traffic.

What follows is a very specific example of how my attitude towards this book is colored by an unrelated aside, and is not intended to be part of the actual review of the book, but just the bit that sticks out at me as an illustration of some of the concepts he writes about, and that I feel compelled to write about because while I'm aware that other people might read my reviews, they are primarily a journal of reading for me to look back at. So feel free to skip the following.

 <spoiler>I generally like it when nonfiction writers let a little of their personal lives bleed into their work: the pretense of detachment and disinterest and "fair and balanced" is bogus and everyone knows it. And mostly it works well here. But early on he casually observes how his neighborhood in Brooklyn happens to be mostly thin people. Okay, this is a guy who should know that thinness correlates with wealth and that fat people are penalized to hell and gone in the US in healthcare, education, advancement at work as well as the ubiquitous fat-shaming. It's not some kind of statistical fluke that his neighborhood is thin: it's thin privilege letting him be oblivious. Like I said, this is pretty early on, like the introduction or first chapter. So he kind of accidentally mentioned a topic that I know a fair bit about, and that brief flash of annoyance became attached to the signifier Brooklyn. And then (it seemed like constantly but couldn't possibly have been), he kept mentioning Brooklyn. So now even though I really appreciate his writing I'm left feeling really hostile towards smug Brooklynites, which by exposure to only possibly one is unfair both to the innocent smugless residents of one of New York's five boroughs, and probably to the author in particular as well. But there it is: my opinion of the book might well be forever colored by a casual aside and I'm quite likely to always be put on edge when I come across Brooklyn as well. And now I've written about three times as much about my emotional reaction to this aside as I have about the book in general, because that's how people's taste and discussion of same tend to roll. And if anyone else bothers to read this little spoiler, they will probably have an emotional reaction towards what I've written which could easily go "The hell?" or "Oh, me too, I hate that" and life is really complicated isn't it?</spoiler>

 

Library copy

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review 2019-10-08 22:22
Without A Summer (Glamourist Histories Series Book 3) - Mary Robinette Kowal
Without A Summer (Glamourist Histories Series Book 3) - Mary Robinette Kowal

Read out of order, therefor reviewed out of order, sorry.

 

This time Kowal sends the Prince Regent's glamourists to London in order to give Jane's sister a proper season. Unfortuantely, it's the Year of No Summer, 1816. There is labor unrest and dirty tricks and this whole business of finding Melody a suitable husband.

 

The interweaving of the real food shortage and labor unrest with the fictional and fantastic Worshipful Company of Coldmongers is very well done. Certainly there were a great number of children working in many dangerous industries at the time to provide a suitable model. Part of the great charm here is how closely Kowal can follow the Austen model of trying to find a suitable husband for a single woman of 20, and also bring to it further depth of plotting and character development and world-building.

 

And there is thrilling courtroom drama.

 

 

Library copy.

 

 

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review 2018-10-17 21:42
Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" - Philip Plait
Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" - Philip Plait

A good book for people like me who haven't studied astronomy in a very long time and could use a refresher. Nice job covering some very common questions and misconceptions. And a fair amount of time debunking non-science of the Young Earth or aliens-among-us or astrology fans.

 

The only reason it took me so long to finish was Halloween Bingo interceded. I spent a month just getting other books out of the way to be ready for my bingo choices. Only to discover that the real horror is willful ignorance.

 

Fair warning, this is sixteen years old, so not exactly cutting edge. There are no gorgeous Hubble depictions of astonishing beauty. (I really like those kinds of books, too)

 

Library copy

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review 2018-10-06 14:51
Locked Doors - Mary Roberts RinehartĀ for Terrifying Women
Locked Doors - Mary Roberts Rinehart

Woo hoo. I love getting lost in a doorstopper, but it takes a skilled writer to squeeze the right emotions out in a shorter work. Roberts Rinehart got mad skills. And a truly modern feel. Hard to believe this was first published more than 100 years ago.

 

We get a quick and dirty set up: Miss Adams is a trained nurse who investgates for the cops from the inside. She packs her gun and a suitcase and is on the scene in a big family home trying to find out what the family is hiding, what happened to the nanny, and what freaked out the last nurse so badly. 

 

I am delighted to say I never predicted that solution. Happily there are plenty of stories available in the public domain. Collect them all.

 

Personal copy from Gutenberg

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