Contented Reader

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Archive for August 2011

Other stuff I read this week

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  • Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan
  • The Science Fiction of Mark Twain, edited by David Ketterer
  • Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson
  • Halting State, by Charles Stross
  • How Not to Get Rich, by Robert Sullivan

Written by Contented Reader

August 31, 2011 at 6:44 am

Posted in What I'm reading

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

Jeff and Anne Vandermeer, editors




Reading this book, I have the general impression of a group of extremely talented, very intelligent people having fun.  A lot of fun.

The concept is the collection of oddities of the recently deceased Thackery Lambshead, eccentric/adventurer/scholar.  There are some very very odd things in his collection.  Magic, occult, forgotten-science sort of things.

A collection of very familiar names, some of the best writers of speculative fiction around, take the concept and run with it.  There are works of short fiction, drawings, photographs, and pseudononfictional articles related to the items that are part of the collection.

The Vandermeers love the ‘weird fiction’ subcategory of the genre, traditional home of H. P. Lovecraft and his assorted beasties, and that’s the tradition in which this collection is written.

I read it straight through, but this would work very well as the sort of book you read in bits and pieces, dipping in over a period of time.  I might recommend it as a good book to keep by the nightstand and read before bed, but… I think that would give you some very odd dreams.

Written by Contented Reader

August 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Reviews

Free e-books! New and updated on Project Gutenberg this week

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  • The Black Poodle, and Other Tales, by F. Anstey.  Humorous stories by a member of the Punch staff.
  • The War-Workers, by E. M. Delafield.  A novel about “the travails of working in a Supply Depot under the tyrannical control of Charmain Vivian, who meets her match in a newly-arrived clergyman’s daughter Grace Jones.”
  • The Beaux-Strategem, by George Farquhar.  More Restoration comedy.  Two young men try to execute their plan to make money by using, robbing, and discarding young heiresses.
  • In A Glass Darkly, volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3, by Sheridan Le Fanu.  This is a collection of Gothic horror and mystery stories.  You’ll find the well-known lesbian vampire story “Carmilla,” which influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in volume 3.
  • Jane Oglander, by Marie Belloc Lowndes.  The author was known for psychological thrillers; is this one of them?
  • Cecil Castlemaine’s Gage, Lady Marabout’s Troubles, and Other Stories, by Ouida.  Ouida is mostly forgotten now, but she was popular in her own time and her novels, of the realistic-but-sentimental school of writing, are good and still readable- I have one or two of her things on my Reader.
  • The Ranchman, by Charles Alden Seltzer.  You might not have guessed this from the title, but it’s a Western.
  • The Return of the Soldier, by Rebecca West.  Three women try to help the shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier when he returns home.  Was made into a movie.
As always, this is just a list of a few of this week’s new books that I found interesting- you’ll find the complete list of new releases at Project Gutenberg.

Written by Contented Reader

August 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Project Gutenberg

Currently on the read-me shelf

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I stopped after work at the last dregs of the Waldenbooks going-out-of-business sale.  You know, in my grief over Borders, I forgot about Waldenbooks.  That’s where I bought books with the paycheck from my first job, back before there were any large bookstores in my town.  The Waldenbooks in the mall.  It’s been such a long time since I bothered with them.  They were no longer adequate to my book-buying needs.  But… it was my first bookstore.  Rest in peace, Waldenbooks.

Written by Contented Reader

August 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Posted in What I'm reading

The Good Book

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The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

A. C. Grayling

Walker & Company

To think about The Good Book, I am really writing about two different things: Did Grayling do this well, and was this a useful thing to do?

What Grayling is trying to do is to create a book that is similar in structure to the Bible- a gathering together of the world’s wisdom, synthesized into a single book, a book that a person could use for guidance in a variety of situations.  Like the authors of the Bible, Grayling copies and paraphrases freely from many sources, without attribution.  The difference between The Good Book and the Bible is that this book focuses on human wisdom and experience, with no gods.

The sources are to a large extent Greek and Roman, with a generous amount of Chinese writing, and lots that I did not recognize but, in the spirit of what Grayling is doing, didn’t try to find.

What he does, he does well.  The result is a book which could be used in the same ways that religious people use the Bible: you could take small passages as proverbs; you could meditate on what is here; you could study it and apply it to your life; you could gather together with others to read and discuss it.  You could base your life on this book, if you wanted to, and probably do pretty well with it.  In fact, I think there’s a good chance that you’d do better basing your life on this book than on the Bible, since Grayling thoughtfully does not include as many stories encouraging you to slaughter, rape, and ostracize as the authors of the Bible do.

Was it a useful thing to do?  Here I’m less sure.  Not many humanists are looking for a single book to guide their life, as Christians do with the Bible.  The philosophy and history and poetry in this book is already widely available in its other sources, which are already widely read by the sorts of people who are likely to read this book.  And since Grayling leaves his sources unattributed, I’m not able to follow the wisdom in this book back and read the original works it comes from.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I benefitted from reading it.  It’s entirely likely that I’ll read it again.  I don’t regret spending $35 to buy it new in hardcover.  (The day I bought it, I was at a book reading by John Scalzi.  He did offer to sign it for me, but I opted to have him sign one of his own books instead.)  But I can’t picture myself really using it as a ‘bible,’ even though it’s so well suited for the purpose.  Rather, it just makes me want to put it on the shelf and go read Epictetus and Plutarch again.  I hate to say it, because I did like it, but I think the book is a novelty.

Written by Contented Reader

August 28, 2011 at 9:49 am

Posted in Reviews

I Shall Wear Midnight

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I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett




How is it possible that Terry Pratchett’s books keep getting better?  I thought he might be a genius when I first read Wyrd Sisters, well over a decade ago.  But still, he keeps getting better.  I was amazed by Nation, which used its amusing story to say some very serious things, and here I am amazed again.

I Shall Wear Midnight is about how Tiffany Aching, the teenaged witch, had to deal with the rise to power of a new Baron who is her old sweetheart, and his pink and fluffy new fiancee, and her fearsome bully of a mother, and also of the battle against the ghost of the Cunning Man, who is turning the minds of people against witches in ugly and terrifying ways.

I Shall Wear Midnight is really about religion, and how it can help or poison people’s lives.  It’s about wisdom, and the uses of it.  It’s about pride.  It’s beautiful, and it taught me things I needed to know about the woman I want to be.

This book is more than a year old, but I just read it today.  Because Terry Pratchett’s new book, Snuff, which I have no short-term plans to read, has come out.

Reviewers confine themselves to talking about the book at hand, and I’m glad they do, because that’s what I want to read about, when I read a book review, and Pratchett doesn’t want his Alzheimer’s to be the only thing people write about him.  But of course, I’m not a reviewer, and he isn’t going to read this blog entry.

Reading a new Terry Pratchett book has some layers of difficulty for me these days.  There are two Terry Pratchetts in the world, from my point of view.  There’s Pratchett the writer, and Pratchett the man.  I only know Pratchett the writer.  Once in a while, maybe once a year, Pratchett the writer delivers to me a book that is thought-provoking and delightful.  I can buy that book happy in the knowledge that, as much as I’ll enjoy reading it, I’ll enjoy re-reading it again and again, probably for the rest of my life.  There are many of those books, all lined up in my library.  More than any other author in the library, even Mark Twain, the only writer to whom Pratchett takes a second place in my heart.  Pratchett has been prolific, and yet keeps getting better.  Pratchett the writer can never die- those books will always be there, for as long as I can read them.

But Terry Pratchett, the man I don’t know and will never meet, is going to die.  Not immediately, but much too young, much too soon.  There will come a day when I will wake up, and turn on my computer, and I’ll read that far away, he has said goodbye to his family and drunk poison and died.  For his family, that will be a deeply personal loss.  For me, it will mean no more new books by Terry Pratchett.  It’s a lesser loss, but still, for me, and for the world, a significant one.

And I’m having a little trouble dealing with the idea of reading a new book by Terry Pratchett for the last time.  The way I’ve been coping with that is by waiting until it isn’t the last book.  I Shall Wear Midnight is not Pratchett’s last book.  That means I can read it and enjoy it for what it is, which is a wonderful book.  I’ll certainly read Snuff.  But I’ll wait to read it, until a next book is released, and I know that I’m not reading the Last Book..  Eventually, a time will come when I will have to read the Last Book.  But by delaying, I only have to have that experience once.

Written by Contented Reader

August 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Reviews

Howl’s Moving Castle

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Diana Wynne Jones

Greenwillow Books



Reasons I love Sophie:

  • She cheerfully accepts that, as the eldest of three daughters, she is fated for failure.
  • When she is transformed into an old lady, she is angry about losing years, not about losing her looks.
  • She is kind to strangers.
  • She stands up to bullies.
  • She solves problems patiently, and attacks them from all sides.
  • She isn’t impressed by handsomeness or charm.
  • She knows how to use weedkiller.
  • She uses the traditional tools of a fairy-tale woman- cleaning, kindness, sewing, observation.  But she subverts all of them, and isn’t a traditional fairy-tale woman at all.

Written by Contented Reader

August 27, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Reviews

Pleasure in reading

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I have so much less time to read, now that school has started.  And I feel it- tired and stiff from being on my feet all day on hard classroom floors, my mind full of papers to grade and standardized tests and the personalities of students.

And I am finding that, now that my reading time is so limited, it gives me more pleasure.  In the summer, it’s a way to pass the time on the long, lazy days.  But now it’s a lifeline, the great pleasure of my day, even when I have to snatch my time in minutes rather than hours.

I get up earlier than I need to, so I can spend a half-hour with a good book and a glass of iced tea, and that half hour is a little oasis of peace and contentment at the start of my day.  And I brush my teeth and put on my jammies at the end of the day and have a half-hour before bed, back in the book.  Those two half-hours in the library boookend my day with pleasure.

Unwatched television is backing up on my DVR.  I’ve only managed to watch the first disc of season five of “Dexter,” lent to me by a friend and eagerly awaited for many months.  When I have that spare time, I do sometimes spend it in front of the television, but I’m more likely to eagerly scuttle away to my library to read.

The noise and motion and activity of my days makes me treasure the pleasure of reading, much more than when I had all the time in world for reading.  The peace I get from reading holds me together.

Written by Contented Reader

August 27, 2011 at 8:52 am

Posted in Opinions

Grocery day

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Thank you, Green BEAN Delivery.

Written by Contented Reader

August 27, 2011 at 12:32 am

Posted in Grocery day

Native Tongue

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Native Tongue

Suzette Haldin Elgin

The Feminist Press

I was turned off when I started reading this book, by what seemed to me to be heavy-handed feminist rhetoric- “In a world where women’s rights have been REPEALED BY LAW….”

But then I remembered that 1984 was very different than 2011.  Now it seems obvious to me that the constitution will never be amended to return women’s legal and social status to the Victorian era.  But then, when sexism was still rampant, the peak of the Moral Majority’s quest for power?  Maybe not so much.  This was about the same time when Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, which has a similar premise, wasn’t it?

And once I accepted the central premise and allowed the book to carry me along, and once I got past the world-establishing of the initial chapters, I was surprised at how much I did enjoy it.  Yes, Elgin is writing this book to persuade as much as to entertain, and it comes through to the book’s detriment.  But there’s still a lot to like here.

When I borrowed this old science fiction book from the public library, I was already aware that Elgin had developed the real women’s language Laadan, which is a cornerstone of this novel, and I was aware of her proposition that English (and most languages) was developed mostly by men, for men’s reasons, and that is it essentially a foreign language that puts women at a disadvantage when they try to communicate in it.  And I thought that proposition was bullshit.

But as I read the book, I sort of began to see her point- that women are disparaged for talking a lot, at length, about ‘trivial’ things, in part because there aren’t simple ways to say many of the things that women are saying when they talk, so it takes a paragraph to express an emotion instead of a word.

I sort of see her point, but that doesn’t mean I am going to learn Laadan.  Probably.

If you, reader, are an earnest feminist, you should definitely definitely read this book.  I see that there are several sequels, as well.  If you’re a man… frankly, I doubt you’d see much merit in it, but if you’re curious, you’re welcome to give it a try.



Written by Contented Reader

August 25, 2011 at 6:40 am

Posted in Reviews