Sunday, December 31, 2017

What I Read in 2017

Updated for the last time last night, here's 2017 in books!  As usual, titles in bold were favorites.

-- January --
1. Stiff Upper LipJeeves; P.G. Wodehouse (Comedy)
2. Ask a Science Teacher Larry Scheckel (Science)
3. The Twilight War: the Secret History of America's Thirty Year War with Iran, David Crist (History)
4. Laughing without an Accent, Firoozeh Dumas (Comedy)
5. In the City of Bikes: the Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, Pete Jordan (History/Cities)
6. Mean Streets: Confessions of a Nighttime Cab Driver, Peter McSherry (Memoir)
7. Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, Valmik Thapar (Nature - Discovery of Asia)
8. The Big Necessity: the Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters, Rose George
9. The Twilight of the Presidency, George E. Reedy (Politics)
10. Laughter is Better than Communism, Andrew Heaton (Humor)
11. On Bikes: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life, ed. Amy Walker (Civic)
12. The Digital Divide, ed. Mark Bauerstein (Tech and Society)
13. The CanonA Whirligig Tour of Science's Beautiful Basics, Natalie Angier (Science)
14. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (Science Fiction)
15. India in the World Community (History - Discovery of Asia), P. Pradakumya Caran
16. Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, Lisa Gansky (Tech &; Society, Business)
17. The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, Frances Woods (History - Discovery of Asia)

-- February --
18. The Future of the Mind,  Michio Kaku (Science)
19. The City on the Edge of Forever: the Original Teleplay, Harlan Ellison (Science Fiction/Rant)
20. From the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, Anthony Esolen
21. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,  Jack Weatherford (History - Discovery of Asia)
22. Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 From Outer Space, various authors (Science Fiction/Humor)
23. This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States, Anja Manuel (Geopolitics - Discovery of Asia)
24. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic; John de Graaf, David Wann,  and Thomas H. Naylor
25. Garbology: Our Dirty Love  Affair with Trash, Edward Humes
26. Fear no Evil, Natan Sharansky (Memoir)
27. The Gargoyle Code, Dwight Longenecker (Religion)
28. Drone, Mike Maden (Thriller)
29. Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington (American Literature/Classic)
30. Verbal Judo, George Thompson (Communication)
31. The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll, H.G. Wells
32. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (Southern Literature/Classic)
33. Selma: A Bicentennial History, Alston Fitts III
Bonus review: Selma 1965: The Photographs of Spider Martin

-- March --
34. A History of Saint Augustine, Florida; William Dewhurst (History)
35. In Spite of the Gods: the Rise of Modern India, Edward Luce (History)
36. Real Music,  Anthony Esolen (Music-Culture)
37.  Future Perfect: the Case for Progress in a Networked Age, Steven Johnson (Business/Econ)
38. Florida under Five Flags,  Rembert Patrick (History)
39. China Road: A Journey into the Heart of a Rising Power, Rob Gifford (History/Travel - Discovery of Asia)
40. Robert E Lee,  Roy Blount Jr (Biography)
41. China: An Introduction, Lucien Pye (History  - Discovery of Asia)
42. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (Mystery/Thriller)
43. The Benedict Option, Rob Dreher (Religion-Culture)
Reread: Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
44. The Unvanquished, William Faulkner (Southern Literature)
45. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of East Florida, John Cusick
46. La Florida: Five Hundred Years of Hispanic Presence, ed. Viviana Diaz Balsera and Rachel May
47. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
48. A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle (Mystery)

-- April, and to Read of England --
Bonus review: Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, Brad Birzer. (Re-read from last year.)
49. Perelandra, C.S. Lewis (Science/Fantasy Fiction)
50. The Eagle and the Wolves, Simon Scarrow (Historical Fiction)
51. London at War, Phillip Ziegler (History)
52. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle (English Lit)
53. Hood, Stephen Lawhead
54. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Catherine of Aragon and Juana of Castille, Juliet Fox
55. In the Beginning: the Story of the KJV, Alister McGrath (History)
56. On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, Louis Markos (Philosophy)
57. The Armada, Garrett Mattingly (History)
58. Sense and Sensibility,  Jane Austen (Classic)
59. 1066: A New History, Peter Rex (History)
60. Spain in the Southwest, John Kessell (History)
61. From Narnia to a Space Odyssey, ed. Ryder Miller (English Lit)
62. The Canterbury Tales, Gregory Chaucer / translated Petter Tuttle (Classic)

 -- May --
63. Reclaiming the Catholic Social Doctrine, Anthony Esolen
64. Captain to Captain, Greg Cox (Star Trek(
65. I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong (Science)
66. The Elephant and the Dragon,  Robyn Meredith (Business - Discovery of Asia)
67. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson (Science)
68. El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency,  Ioan Grillo
69. Confront and Conceal:  Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, David Sanger
70. The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg
71. Hank Williams: The Biography, Colin Escott
72. Neither East Nor West: One Woman's Travels in Iran, Christiane Bird
73. Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon, Kim Zetter
74. The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld, Jamie Barlett
75. Over and Over the Road: A Truck Driver's Stories, V. Shephard

-- June --
76. Mind's Eye, Douglas E. Richards (Technothriller)
77. Mars, Ben Bova (Science Fiction)
78. Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Cybercrime Underground, Kevin Poulsen
79. Zero Day, Mark Russonovich (Technothriller)
80. CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, Katie Hafner
81I Know Who You Are and I Know What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, Lori Andrews (Technology and Society)
82. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury (Science Fiction)
83. Baghdad without a Map, Tony Horowitz (Travel)
84. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (Science Fiction)
85. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Stephen Levy (History)
86. Revolutionary Summer, Joseph Ellis (History)
87. Masters of Doom, David Kushner (History)
88. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
89. ST Myriad Universes:  Infinity's Prism. Christopher L. Bennett, William Leisner, and James Swallow (Star Trek)
90. The Patient Will See You Now, Eric Topol (Health and Medicine)
91. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, Bill Bryson (Travel)
92. The Great Explosion, Eric Frank Russell
93. Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin, Bill Kauffman
94. A Place in Time, Wendell Berry
95. Black Sun, Edward Abbey
96. Who Controls the Internet?  Jack Goldsmith

-- July --
97. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
98. Passionate Sage: The Character and Life of John Adams, Joseph Ellis
99. Japan: A Cultural History, Henri Stierlin
100. A New History of India, Stanley Wolbert (History - Discovery of Asia)
101. Unsettling America: Culture and Agriculture, Wendell Berry
102. Cell, Robin Cook (Technothriller)
103. The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop, Steve Osborn
104. Consent of the Networked, Rebecca MacKinnon
105. How To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen
106. Midnight's Furies: Te Deadly Legacy of India's Partition, Nisid Hajari (History - Discovery of Asia)
107. Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas, John Scalzi
108. No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald
109. The Art of Intrusion, Kevin Mitnick
110. The Mexican Frontier. 1821 - 1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico, David Weber
111. Boomsday, Christopher Buckley
112. Rousseau and Revolution, Will Durant

113. Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest in Pursuit of Coronado, Douglas Preston
114. Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy Humanity Of Your Child, Anthony Esolen
115. The Irish Soldiers of Mexico, Michael Hogan
116. The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, Frank Dikotter (History - Discovery of Asia)
117. The Gulag Achipelago, Vol. I. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
118. The Age of Napoleon, Will Durant
119. The Art of Deception, Kevin Mitnick
120. State of Fear, Michael Crichton (Science Fiction)
121. Romans Without Laurels, Indro Montanelli
122. Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton (Historical Fiction)
123. Tyrannosaur Canyon, Douglas Preston
124. The Wonder That Was India, Arthur Llewellyn Basham

-- September --
125. The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor
126. A Devil's Chaplain, Richard Dawkins
127. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, Azar Nafisi
128. The Circle, Dave Eggers
129. Eye of the Storm: Inside City Hall During Katrina, Sally Forman
130. Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, Erik Larson
131. The Black Ice, Michael Connelly
132. Infrastructure:  A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, Brian Hayes
133. My Life with the Saints, James Martin SJ
134. China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising PowerNicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
135. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, Philip and Carol Zaleski
136. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Chang Jung
137.  Dracula, Bram Stoker (Classics Club)

-- October --
138. A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, Graham Coster
139. Ancestral Shadows, Russell Kirk
140. The Gulag Archipelago Vol 2, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
141. A Mighty Fortress: A History of the Germans, Steven Ozment
142. German Resistance to Hitler, Peter Hoffman
143. Energy Myths and Realities, Vaclav Smil
144. Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation, Korea's Ministry of Patriots
145. R.U.R., Karel Capek
146. The Transhumanist Wager, Zoltan Istvan
147. Lockout, John Nance
148. The Dragon Seekers, Christopher McGowan
149. The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean
150. Grunt: The Curious Science of Men at War, Mary Roach

-- November --
151. Tex, S.E. Hinton
152. Conquest of the Skies: A History of Commercial Aviation in America, Carl Solberg
153. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity, David Gilmore
154. Of Other Worlds, C.S. Lewis (Essays)
155. The Naked Future, Patrick Tucker (Digital World)
156. The Hemingway Patrols,  Terry Mort (Biography)
157. I, the Constable, Paula M. Block (Star Trek)
158. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WW2, John Dower (History)
159. The Never-Ending Sacrifice, Una McCormack (Star Trek)
160. Welcome to the Orthodox Church, Frederica Mathews-Green (Religion)
161. New Mexico: A History, Joseph Sanchez et. al
162. These Rugged Days: Alabama in the Civil War, John Sledge
163. The Heart of the Dragon, Alasdair Clayre (Discovery of Asia)
164. Dragon Rising: An Inside Look at China Today,  Jasper Becker (Discovery of Asia)

--December --
165. Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Jill Jonnes
166. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China, David Eimer
167. Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory, Peter Hessler
168. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell (Classics Club)
169. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie Chang
170. Star Trek: Revelation and Dust, David R. George
171. Star Trek: Crimson Shadow, Una McCormack
172. Camino Island, John Grisham
173. Fixing Your Computer: An Absolute Beginner's Guide, Paul McFedries
174. The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru
175. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans, Brian Fagan

Unfinished Business, 2017 Edition

Every year a few books will slip through the cracks, and become read but un-reviewed. Sometimes books are so good I keep pondering them until the thought of writing about them has slipped my mind; other times, the books are too short or simply don't inspire comment.  As a way of finishing the year with no loose ends, and as a reminder to return to a few of these, here are the books that I've read, but didn't review, for 2017.

First, the books I'm likely to revisit:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, Philip and Carol Zaleski
This is a joint biography of Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams. I was mostly reading it for the Tolkien and Lewis, so I need to go through it again and pay more attention to the sections on Barfield and Williams.

Reclaiming the Catholic Social Doctrine, Anthony Esolen
Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy Humanity Of Your Child, Anthony Esolen

While I have an interest in the Catholic social doctrine borne of E.F. Schumacher's small is beautiful,  I'm also a fan of Anthony Esolen as a literary and cultural critic, admiring his deep immersion in the western heritage, as well as Anglo-American folk culture.

Of Other Worlds, C.S. Lewis
This was a slight collection of essays and stories about science fiction and fantasy which overlapped  with the recently-read From Narnia to a Space Odyssey, so it wasn't a priority for reviewing.  I could see revisiting this one during a Read of England series.

And  now,  the also-reads:

Verbal Judo, George Thompson.  George Thompson was an English teacher & martial artists enthusiast  turned cop turned...tactical communications specialist. He made a career for himself by training police officers and other contact professionals  in the art of 'verbal judo' to do their work more professionally, peaceably, and effectively.  The lectures I watched repeatedly earlier in the year were fantastic illustrations of nonviolent communication that struck me as very useful for any job that involves working with the public,  This book was only based on Thompson's work, however, and compared to his lecturing style I was not impressed. The earlier editions, published when Thompson was still living, may be closer to his own approach.  If you are curious, I found the notes for a lecture based on verbal judo online. I also link to the first in the four-part lecture above; I've listened to them several times this year.  He makes points like listening to what people are trying to say, rather than the words they're using -- instead of getting irritated about someone's aggressive language, focus on resolving what is causing their frustration. Another lesson is that role and voice have to match: delivery of information is often more important than the information itself, so if helpful advice is rendered in a condescending or brusque manner, it probably won't be received.   There are other lectures from Thompson on youtube, including those aimed specifically towards police officers, like detailing the way he approaches a car he's pulled over.

The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton.
This spiritual autobiography often has the effect of making people realize a call to the priesthood, or to some religious order. It did...very little for me.  That surprised me, because I like western monasticism and intentional communities. The source of my dis-interest, I think, is that Merton was drawn to a more withdrawn and contemplative order, while the monks who interest me most are those who are engaged in some sort of service -- teaching, nursing, running inns, resisting tax officials with the help of outlaws in green tights, that sort of thing.

A Study in Scarlet,  Arthur Conan Doyle
It's a short Sherlock piece. I enjoyed it, and..well, that's it.

Over and Over the Road: A Truck Driver's Stories, V. Shephard
A memoir of trucking stories, which I liked well enough.  I'd read several around the same time, though.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American and English Literature, Elizabeth Cantor
In the mood for a literary survey,  I picked this up and found it amusing, if acerbic. The series as a whole is intentionally confrontational, of course, but the authors can also be thoughtful. I did begin a review for this one:

Cantor suggests that instead of using literature as a mirror that reflects our own vanity, we simply allow the text to say what it says. Read Beowulf and hail the conquering hero,  understanding that humanity needs courage and strength to fight against its enemies -- and itself.  Read the Canterbury Tales and witness that the medieval mind was not gray and miserable, but colorful, mischievous, and passionate even  in its piety.  Visit with Jane Austen and consider that the problems of her novels are caused not by men behaving patriarchal, but by men shirking their duties.

The Naked Future, Patrick Tucker.
"Everything we do is turned into data, which can be used to drastically improve services like healthcare. Of course, it's also a little unnerving and if we're really concerned we should write Congress."

That's the book in a nutshell. Good title, but the delivery was...tepid.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Science Report Card

Earlier in the year, in an effort to better organize my science reading, I drew up a list of categories to guide me along.   I kept a Word file on my computer and fill it out as the months progressed, almost like a scavenger hunt.  The system worked in prompting me to look for books outside my usual areas, and I will use it again in 2018.

Cosmology and Astrophysics
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Local Astronomy
Space Probes: From Sputnik to New Horizons, Phillipe Seguela. A largely-graphic history of various probe missions.

The Dragon Seekers: How an Extraordinary Circle of Fossillists Discovered the Dinosaurs,  Christopher McGowan

Weather and Climate
Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History  Erik Larsen.

Chemistry and Physics
The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean

Flora and Fauna
Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, Valmik Thapar

I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong

Cro Magnons: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans, Brian Fagan (well, almost. Halfway through it. )

Neurology and Psychology
The Future of the Mind,  Michio Kaku

Science and Society
Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate, Vaclav Smil

Thinking Scientifically 
Ask a Science Teacher,  Larry Scheckel
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of Science's Beautiful Basics, Natalie Angier

A journey's end

A few minutes ago, I finished Jawaharlal Nehru's The Discovery of India,  and completed my Discovery of Asia series, or challenge, for 2017.   My goal was to read two books per month on Asian history or culture, primarily Indian and Chinese,  and despite being three months behind in the late fall, I made it!   I'll post comments for Nehru's work in the coming week, and still owe myself a proper summary for This Brave New World.   I'm not finished learning about Asia, however; this was just a breaking of the ground, an establishment of a foundation I can build on later.  I already have some future reads in mind.  For now, however,  it's time to relax with coffee and a piece by Ravi Shankar, "The Discovery of India".

Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent,  Valmik Thapar

General History
India in the Global Community, P. Paramundi Karan
The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, Frances Wood
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford
Japan: A Cultural History, Henri Stierlin
India: A New History, StanleyWolbert
Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition,  Nisid Hajari
The Tragedy of Liberation: The Chinese Revolution, Frank Dikotter
The Wonder That Was India,  Arthur Llewellyn Basham
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WW2, John Dower
Heart of the Dragon, PBS
The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China,  David Eimer
A History of China, Wolfram Eberhard
The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru

Asia in the age of Globalism
This Brave New World:  India, China, and the United States, Anja Manuel (Review Pending)
In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of India, Edward Luce
China Road, Rob Gifford
China: An Introduction, Lucien Pye
The Elephant and the Dragon: What India and China's Rise Means, Robyn Meredith
China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising PowerNicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Korea Reborn Ministry of Patriots
Dragon Rising: An Inside Look at China Today,  Jasper Becker
Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory, Peter Hessler
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie Chang

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fixing Your Computer

Fixing Your Computer: Absolute Beginner's Guide
© 2013 Paul McFedries
336 pages

This title is exactly as it describes itself, a beginner's guide to computer maintenance. McFedries begins with the computer as a whole, and takes readers through physical and digital cleanup -- going from compressed air canisters for keyboard gunk, to creating backup discs for your system. Then he takes readers inside the computer case itself, explaining the use of each component and offering information as to the specs for different parts one might see in the store.  He offers lists of reputable parts suppliers, and then delivers step by step instructions for taking out and replacing parts -- including the processor itself.  The sections are written to be read independent of one another, so someone just taking a look at one page won't miss any background advice, like how to avoid static  electricity buildup.

This is a very useful book for reference,  and despite the release of Windows 10, remains current. I checked it out because I'm contemplating cannibalizing one of my first computers, using its DVD drive to replace a sputtering one in another of my machines. I read the whole thing, though, as I've only lately even learned to identify all of the stuff inside the computer.

If you are interested in computer hardware, one my favorite YouTube channels' is LazyGameReviews, which despite its name is not just about gaming, nor is it remotely lazy. The host does a lot of work, and primarily features older and odder technology.  I found him via his series on 'oddware', while looking for some computer design from the 1980s.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Top Ten Books I'm Looking Forward To in 2018

This week le Broke and le Bookish are doing books they're looking forward to in 2018, either as new releases or just-getting-around-to-reading-it titles.

1. Frank Sinatra: The Chairman,  James Kaplan

This has been on my to-read list since, September 2016. I love ol' blue eyes, having been a collector of his music and movies since 2004.  It's time to read the sequel to The Voice!

2. 1906:A Novel, James Dalessandro

I've read several factual histories of the San Franscisco earthquake and fire of 1906, and this one has been on my to-read list for a while.

3. The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future Gretche Bakke

You know I love reading about power lines.

4. Door to DoorThe Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, Edward Humes

Roads are also cool.

5. Munich, Robert Harris

"Robert Harris". Sold!

6. Fools and Mortals, Bernard Cornwell.

"Bernard Cornwell"...SOLD! Wait, is this about Shakespeare?  Who do I see about er, getting it a little early? Know whatimean,  nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more? 

7. 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America, Brion McClanahan

Ahhahhahhah, finally! Someone who doesn't worship Teddy Roosevelt. Probably written in the same vein as Recarving Rushmore. Honestly, I like this most for the title..I don't know that I really want to read about politics at the moment.  We'll see.

8. Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

Amsterdam! It has bikes, and canals, and very pretty houses.  Apparently it also has a reputation for legalized weed and prostitutes. But who has time for that when you can bike by canals and look at the pretty houses? 

*wolf whistle*

9. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and A Great War, Joseph Loconte

This one has been on the list for a while, and I recently snagged a copy on sale. 

10. This is Your Brain on Parasites, Kathleen McAuliffe

This checks all the boxes, doesn't it? Science, brains, mind control...can't miss it! 

Camino Island

Camino Island
© 2017 John Grisham
290 pages

Mercer Mann thought she'd reached the bottom of her career. After publishing early, and young, she's floundered ever since, and keeps herself eating -- and keeps the creditors for her $60,000 in student loans at bay -- by teaching English lit to disinterested freshmen.  But now...she's lost even that. She's officially an unemployed and soon to be homeless writer. Happily, however, a discrete insurance firm who is trying to track down some priceless and recently stolen manuscripts from Princeton University has a job for her.   They want her to return to her childhood home of Camino Island, Florida,  and -- under cover of taking the summer off to write a book -- get to know one Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books, owner of many seersucker suits, don of the local literary set, and suspected architect of a twenty-five million dollar heist.  Her mission: get as close to him as possible, find out if he's their man, and obtain any information that would help recover the books.

Camino Island is a confused novel, despite having one of Grisham's more interesting setups. It opens with a heist and closes with the police and lawyers, but  the seventy percent in the middle reminds me a little of The Last Juror, in that the  meat of the story lays in the goings-on of a community of eccentrics, in this case all writers, publishers, or (in Bruce's case) those associated with the bookstore. Bay Books is the community center, housing not only the bookstore but a popular cafe, and despite its size it attracts all manner of authors, from Stephen King to Scott Turow.  Mercer's spy mission involve fewer tuxedos and gadgets and more trying to hold her daiquiries during long dinners in which writers  gather to encourage or mock one another as they struggle to get their stories out. As Mercer gains more acceptance with the locals, she begins learning about the rare book trade -- and that, combined with the fact that so many of the characters are book-lovers, makes Camino Island of immediate interest to those of us who genuinely love books and literature.  The appeal of the novel is mostly in the setting, however, as none of the characters have a full "story": they're merely characters with small stories that  intersect at times, but don 't really cohere into some grand narrative. Mercer, the closest thing we have to a main character, disappears in the last few chapters of the book, and I almost didn't mind. Frankly, the only character who is remotely interesting in Bruce, who turns a struggling bookstore into a community center and does most of the legwork that keeps it alive by working there six days a week -- despite being wealthy with shady friends.

Although Camino Island's organization leaves much to be desired, I enjoyed the literary theme enormously. I received it as a Christmas gift this morning and just finished it off, so it was a good story...just a weirdly organized one.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Crimson Shadow

Star Trek the Fall: Crimson Shadow
© 2013 Una McCormack
352 pages

After ten years of reconstruction, the Federation is preparing to leave Cardassia. Not all the locals gathering outside are there to wish its engineers and social workers a fare-thee-well, however. A new political movement representing the old Cardassia is growing in strength, and styles itself "Cardassia First". Infiltrating civil institutions and orchestrating riots,  it promises to field a candidate against the Federation-friendly administration and disrupt Cardassia's growing relationship with the Federation and its allies.  Worse yet, a high-profile political assassination puts both powers on the edge of falling away from one another.   Assassinations and unruly mobs, with the fate of Cardassia hanging in the balance -- this looks like a job for....Garak, Intergalactic Man of Mystery!

No longer the mere mysterious spy-turned-tailor of Deep Space Nine, Garak is Cardassia's ambassador to Earth, having previously served in other Reconstruction governments.The Garak of Crimson Shadow has grown much from the Garak of the television show, who was already complex.  Garak's past association with an organization so ominous that it chills Cardassian spines fifteen years after its demise has left him with blood on his hands that cannot be rubbed out. His conscience was once becalmed by the thought that he was acting for the good for Cardassia, in the service of the State, but witnessing nearly a trillion deaths and the obliteration of so much of what he loved has broken Garak's faith. Now,  ever wrestling with his conscience, he hopes to help Cardassia find a new way -- one that includes more engagement with the rest of the Quadrant --  and gropes for how to fight monsters without again becoming a monster himself.   Garak hasn't hung up his cloak and dagger for good, though, as he proves to have a few tricks up his sleeve that don't involve discretely killing someone. This quandry is also present in the stories of several police officers, who are trying to establish and protect their Constabulary's integrity after past versions of it were co-opted by the State to hurt the people.  One of the few non-Cardassian characters here is Jean Luc Picard, who with Garak has to somehow mitigate the damage that each man's civil superiors threatens to wreack in the wake of both books' events.

I enjoyed The Crimson Shadow enormously, as I'm partial to Cardassian stories and especially to Garak.  While there's still a little obviousness in how McCormack portrays her villains, she did introduce an interesting idea about the origin of the Obsidian Order. Her portrayal of Garak, as he and his castellan (president) try to navigate away  from the sirens that might destroy them, even as they attract so many citizens,  more than makes up for the mustache-twirling antagonists.  As a bonus, McCormack indirectly quoted CS Lewis, when she makes Garak observe that people are much more dangerous when their tyranny is effected with sincere intentions to help others.  A comparative Lewis quote is here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Factory Girls

Factory Girls : From Village to City in a Changing China
© Leslie Chang
420 pages

China as a whole may have a third more men than women because of the one-child rule and a preference for male children, but in Dongguan it's a different story. There, women outnumber the men, for it is they who fill the factories and help expand the Chinese economy.  When Leslie Chang learned how many Chinese women -- girls, really, for many are teenagers -- were leaving their villages to find work on the coast, she wanted to know and tell their story.  In her seven years living in China,  Chang also discovered a link to the lives of these women who opened up to her; her grandfather had once "gone out" of the village and sought his fortune, and both would do their part to build out China's future. Factory Girls is not an expose, but a long-term project of both journalistic  and personal interest, as Chang befriends a few women to learn about their lives as a whole: their work, their leisure, their aspirations,  and their attempts to find meaning in their associations and relationships.

Chang believes there are two key reasons women are so predominant in China's factories. First,  they're more likely to leave home for the factories, as sons are encouraged to stick close to the homes they'll one day inherit.  Men who go to the city are often relegated to dead end positions as cooks and security guards, because factory owners prefer hiring young women -- they being more patient and easier to manage. The Chinese cheerfully embrace sex discrimination in their want ads: tall men are solicited for one job, pretty women for another.  Chang muses that women have embraced the development zones more readily than their male counterparts because they don't have the security of the family  farm to take for granted.   After moving to the cities, few daughters want to go back home, anyway. They might yearn to see their family and visit once a year, but once there they miss the energy of the cities and resent their parents' authority. That authority is further compromised given that these families often depend on the money sent to them by their wandering children.

As with Country Driving, Factory Girls bears witness to the sheer amount of energy on China's southern coast, how companies and people are scrambling. "Jumping factories" to find better positions is the norm, but this does impose a cost on the employees:  no sooner do they make friends at a factory do those friends disappear, sometimes leaving the city altogether.  Although the first generation of migrant employees  were self-conscious of their in-between status, and read magazines and sang songs specifically about the migrant experience,  most women who move to the cities quickly embrace their status as residents of the New China. They constantly re-invent themselves,  trying new hairstyles and styles of clothing seemingly every week.  This is not merely curiosity or vanity;  many takes classes to instruct them in how to find white-collar work, and it's more about presentation than skills. Skills can be learned on the job; what has to be learned before that is how to sell one's self as a confident, personable professional who can shake hands and trot out a little English from time to time. There's also a growing class of courtesans, 'karaoke girls', and prostitutes who take 'selling themselves' somewhat more literally.  With the right madam, in the right area, ladies of the night can make in a week what their sisters in the factories make in a month.   Chang also notes a search for meaning among these new urbanites, who explore previously forbidden religions, including China's traditional occult practices with obscure origins.

Chang  occasionally includes chapters about her own search for her roots, and the discovery  that her grandfather had once "gone out" of China, only to return and be killed by the Communists.  Chang sees a big difference between her grandfather's story and those of her  new friends in China: while he viewed his travels and work as something done to better China and his family, the women were largely concerned with themselves and their own stories. Chang seems to approve of the change, even as she documents the loneliness and restlessness that has resulted from these young people not having any larger purpose in mind in their lives; supporting their parents is obligatory, and done more out of reflexive duty than purposeful choice.

Although this book is approaching its fifteenth anniversary and China's economy and society have presumably changed much in the past two decades, all of his is consistent with books like Country Driving which were published a few years later. Like Country Driving, the chief appeal here is human interest,  concentrating around the lives of  few young women whose stories illuminate the loves of millions of others. Definitely of interest to those curious about modern China, and particularly its women.

Fun fact: Leslie Chang is married to Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving. No wonder there was so much overlap!  They were working the same territory, so to speak..

Monday, December 18, 2017

Revelations and Dust

Star Trek the Fall:  Revelation and Dust
401 pages
© 2013 David R. George III

David R. George takes a bullet for the team in The Fall: Revelation and Dust. First in a five-part series with five participating authors, Revelation and Dust largely consists of recap, introduction, and assassination. Well, something had to happen, right? There's four books after this, so something extraordinary had to hook us for the rest. We've had the Borg invasion, we've blown up Deep Space Nine already, the Dominion are SO yesterday, and the hostile takeover of the Federation by the Ferengi Alliance is unlikely. So, gunshots it is.

At the end of George's DS9/Typhon Pact duology, Deep Space Nine was blown up with the lost of most of its hands.  Two years later, the station has been rebuilt, this time as a proper  deep space installation instead of an ore-processing plant turned command post. Its formal opening coincides with the two year anniversary of the old station's destruction, and now the gang is back together to pay respects to their fallen comrades, and their now-vaporized home.  Tensions from the previous Typhon Pact novels -- Sisko's estrangement from his wife Kasidy,  Bashir and Dax's falling out over Bashir's determination to destroy Section 31 from the inside -- are buried, making room for new and exciting arguments.The novel largely follows the characters as they make their way to the station and renew old acquaintances, musing over the good times until the speeches and gunfire start. Part of this catching-up is an unfortunate series of chapters that re-uses a plot device from one of the early Relaunch novels:  readers are subjected to completely new characters in some quasi-fantasy setting involving a tribe called the 'Bajora'.  As with last time this is an extended vision effected by the Prophets,  because the mystical goings-on here translate parable-like to something "real" that has happened . The upshot of this thread seems to be that Sisko can have his life back from Prophets.  He can  have his family and they won't kill him. Yay. In any case, I don't want to read about random fantasy Bajorans, I want to read about President Bacco. She's always fun.

George's previous DS9 novels have all been great reads, but this one is lacking...story. This is essentially a Star Wars scrolling text intro, expanded to 400 pages.  See for yourself!

(camera pans from starfield to new station)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Country Driving

Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory
© 2010 Peter Hessler
448 pages

First things first: that statue on the cover intrigued me enough that I bought both books that used photographs of it.  Emperor Far Away made nary a mention, but Hessler comes through in the first third, referencing the statue as part of a scarecrow police system in one of China's western rural areas, erected along freeways and at roundabouts to discourage reckless driving. Mounted automobile ruins and signs that keep a running count of how many people have perished on the highway are also part of the safety campaign.    Such measures are needed because China is a nation on the move: its villages are emptying out as people move en masse from villages throughout the country towards the southern and south-eastern coasts. There,  China is being remade month by month as factories and people move, chasing opportunities at a frantic pace. In Country Driving,  Hessler drives China's highways, lives in one of its villages, and explores its burgeoning factory districts.   Country Driving is a China memoir that first seems like a collection of miscellany:  Hessler opens the book like a travel memoir, but halfway through, he's relating village politics and writing about one of the neighbor boys  turning into a couch potato.  Not until the book's end in the factories does the subtitle make sense.

Country Driving's largely appeals on a human-interest basis. The people of China are experiencing the industrial revolution seemingly overnight:  most of the factory managers Hessler spoke with had been farmers as children, and all of them acquired their expertise on the job, often by shoving themselves through the door. Hustling and social connections are more important were more important than degrees.  Lying about one's age to get a job was nothing offensive:  bosses saw it as a sign that that people wanted to work.   The amount of energy in China's development zones is attractive read about: these cities are like New York and Chicago in the late 19th century,  growing voraciously and teeming with newcomers who are creating a new society on the fly.  Like those examples,  these boomtowns aren't necessarily pretty: factory workers often live in dormitories on-site,  and the state-controlled 'union' exists more to provide free movies to workers.  Those who want a better deal have to effect it themselves,  arguing with management or simply leaving without notice.

Hessler refers to the rural-urban move in China as the largest migration in human history, and in his early chapters driving beside the Great Wall, he finds deserted village after deserted village:  the young have left for city work, leaving only the old behind. Rural China, it seems, is literally dying. In his rural travels,  the only young people Hessler encounters are those who are hitching rides to visit their families, typically bearing gifts of food.  Country Driving illustrates the concept of liquid modernity fairly well:  things are changing so fast that no one really seems to know what they're doing. Driving, for instance, is a relatively new skills,  but millions of Chinese are taking to the road: the number of registered drivers doubled in the time that Hessler was living in-country. Driving instructors teach people to use standard-transmission cars in ways that would make a mechanic grimace, and for seemingly arbitrary reasons.  The standard practice is to begin all maneuvers from second gear because it's more difficult, and more difficult means it's worth doing -- even if no driver will ever need to get their tire onto a single plank of wood, it's still part of the exam on the merits of difficulty alone.   What is missing, apparently, is any notion of orderly driving beyond "the bigger the car, the more right of way it has".    Cars jostle against one another the way people rub shoulders in Times Square, and in some cities, no rental agency expects its cars to come back without new dents. Like bugs on the windshield, they are to be expected.

Those who are interested in what life in China is like will find much of interest here, but the organization almost makes it seem unfocused at times. This is the third in a trilogy of China memoirs, however, and might make more sense when combined with the other two -- just as the third section here made the first two more connected.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books from 2017 (so far)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from the Broke and the Bookish concerns favorite books for the year, and while there's still a chance that some amazing book could pop up in the last two weeks of the year,  I'll go ahead and offer my thoughts. 

1. In the  City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, Pete Jordan.  Rarely does a book give me such joy as this,  a history of Amsterdam's bike culture and the author's experiences getting used to it.  I'll quote my review:

It's simply a story of humans living well --  Jordan, and the people of Amsterdam as a whole.  It is connected but free, rebellious but highly functional for human needs. If you like the city at its best, or like cycling, or simply have a care for human flourishing, this is a wonderful little book. I loved it before I bought it, I was thoroughly enblissed while reading it, and I already know it's one I will keep remembering with the thought: this is how life should be.

2. The Twilight of the Presidency, George E. Reedy.  A former Johnson aide who was fascinated by his boss's isolation during his administration here analyzes how the presidency has become an elective monarchy -- and a bad one, surrounded by hundreds of people who shield their king from criticism, and make the imponderable ship of state even harder to move from its course. Crucially, the problem is now structural: it doesn't matter who is elected, because the same problems have afflicted nearly every man since Hoover. 

3. This Brave New World:  India, China, and the United States; Anja Manuel. This book both reviews the political. cultural, and economic evolution of 21st century India and China, as well as argues for  a prudent American relationship with both (rather than favoring one against the other). 

4. Fear no Evil, Natan Sharansky. A Jewish Russian is picked up for his political activism -- arguing for easier emigration of Jews  from Russia to Israel -- and fights back against the gulag's psychological warfare. An incredible story of a man who kept his integrity in unimaginably difficult circumstances. 

5. How To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen.  This is a tongue in cheek "appraisal" of modern mass culture, and how destructive it is to a humane life and humanistic education.  Esolen abandons the farcial praise in his sequel, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child

On its face, Redshirts is a fantastic parody of Star Trek,   more serious than Galaxy Quest but definitely fun. Those codas at the end, however, turned it into a moving story.  I listened to the Wil Wheaton  Audible presentation.

7. Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest in Pursuit of Coronado, Douglas Preston. I'd like to think that I would have been thrilled by this book on the basis of its writing alone, its excellent mix of history, travel, and reflections on the Southwest,  even if I didn't have a fascination with the Southwest that visiting it has only increased.

8. Conquest of the Skies: A History of Commercial Aviation, Carl Solberg.  It's everything I could ask for in a history of commercial aviation, covering business, society, and technical advance. 

9. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China, David Eimer. A tour of the outer rim of China, covering steppes, mountains, jungles, deserts, and tundra, and mixing stories of China's revolutions with those of smaller people carried along in China's wake...from Tibetans to Russians.  Great variety here in terms of the topics discussed -- religion,   narco states, Russian architecture...

10. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. This one is cheating a bit, since I'm not yet done with the third volume, but it would have merited inclusion here just based on the first volume. 

Honorable mentions:

The Circle, Dave Eggers.  Google eats facebook and Apple and goes evil.   Comedy, 1984. 

The Fellowship, Literary Lives of the Inklings, Philip and Carol Zaleski.  A four-part biography on C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. I still haven't finished a review for this, and frankly -- need to re-read it, because the first time around I largely focused on Lewis and Tolkien. 

Ancestral Shadows, Russell Kirk. This collection of short stories features ghostly characters who often don't know they're caught in the veil between the living and the dead -- and neither does the reader, very often.