08 January 2019

Reading List, October - December 2018

MT Anderson & Eugene Yelchin, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2018.

Spurge is an historian, sent by the Elf King to greet the enemy Goblin King with the gift of a fantastic jewel and instructions to learn all about the Well of Lightning. He does not know that his gift is really a bomb to kill the Goblin King and clear the way for an Elf invasion, and he bollocks up his spying and loses the gem after insulting powerful Goblins.

So he runs away.

His messages back to the Elves are sent as images, and these make up a large portion of the story. They show Spurge’s emotional perception of events; letters from his handler to the Elf King show the Elf agenda, and the remaining text recounts what actually happens. It all comes together in a rollicking adventure.

Alexander Jablokov, Carve the Sky. NY: Wm Morrow, 1991.

Star Trek tells us that, by the 24th Century, humanity will be exploring not only the Milky Way galaxy, but space beyond. Jablokov sees us making a bit less progress by then. While the Earth has been devastated by unexplained wars, resulting in a population reduced by nearly ninety percent, outward expansion is confined to our own solar system. The Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the asteroid belt are all inhabited, but technology has stalled and interstellar travel is still a dream. But a stolen statue may change all that.

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon. NY: Signet, 1977.

A rich, lyrical look at family, especially what it means to be uprooted and left to discover an identity on one’s own, following a young Michigan man from childhood through his growth into understanding where he comes from and who he really is.

William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, Don’t Hide the Madness. NY: Three Rooms, 2018.

This book is the transcript of conversations between Burroughs and Ginsberg occurring over a three day period, originally intended to develop content for the Japanese release of David Cronenberg’s film Naked Lunch. Featuring arguably the two most important writers of the Beat Generation, it should provide unique insight into their lives and work.

It’s a pair of old stoners talking about their dead friends and misquoting poetry. There are moments of coherent literary discussion, but the main focuses are an exorcism Burroughs underwent immediately before Ginsberg arrived, and Burroughs’ cats. This is doubtless an important addition to Beat scholarship, but doesn’t do much for the more general reader except act as a warning against the dangers of outliving one’s supply of synapses. Reading it was a struggle.

Edward Clown Family and William Matson, Crazy Horse. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2016.

An oral history of the Lakota (Sioux) warrior, as told by three of his grandsons, provides necessary correction for the myth of Manifest Destiny. This book shows native life before white settlers began crossing their hunting grounds and mining their sacred Black Hills, and details the personal relationships in the Crazy Horse clan before and after the chief holding that name during the battle of Little Big Horn. It also shows how the United States government repeatedly broke agreements, and the lengths to which the Clown family went to avoid persecution after the Crazy Horse was killed during surrender at Camp Robinson. It is not an exciting book; while battles are an important part of the story, they are not what matters to the family. It is a book about people, suffering in dignity, as their world is stolen and destroyed, and it should be part of a college-level American history curriculum.

William Curran, Mitts. NY: William Morrow, 1985.

This celebration of the art of fielding is part history and part reminiscence. Curran begins by discussing the early state of glovework, when it was done barehanded, and how the tools have developed. He then organizes by position on the baseball diamond, addressing who was reputed to be best at each through the years. Finally, he provides a word on errors and the official scorers, then lists out his own all-time defensive lineup.

Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), Three-Body Problem. NY: TOR, 2006.

Start with the premise that humanity is beyond redemption, add a unique opportunity to contact an alien civilization, and throw in a dose of virtual-reality gaming. This first volume of a Chinese sci-fi trilogy takes place in the now, but focuses on the implications of choices made by a single staffer exiled to a secret microwave monitoring facility during the Cultural Revolution. The result? A world at war with invading aliens. How does it turn out? That’s for future volumes.

Jaco Jacobs, A Good Night for Shooting Zombies.  London: Rock the Boat, 2018.

Martin’s dad died and his mom is depressed. When the new kid next door’s dog eats his favorite chicken, Martin punches him. Thus begins a friendship centered around the desire to make a horror film. This children’s novel, translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys, deals with love, death, math, and the movies in a way that will appeal to tweens and young teenagers while showing that life on the other side of the world really isn’t very different from here.

William Gibson, Spook Country. NY: Berkley, 2007.

Spook Country demonstrates a touchingly quaint post-9/11 paranoia, predicated on the ubiquity of invasive technology and the fear of it being used for nefarious purpose - instead of simply, and more scarily, for private profit, which we now know to be much more dangerous.

Sue-Ann Morrow and C.G. Williams, Everett the Incredibly Helpful Helper. NY: Abbevillie Kids, 2008.

Everett is an enthusiastic kid who wants to be useful, but makes a mess of everything. It’s okay, though, because that’s how kids learn. Williams’ illustrations convey how his parents feel, not always matching the words they say to him, making this sweet story about fetching ice cream for mother more realistic.

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Glasgow: Oxford UP, 2009.

This massive two-volume reference deconstructs the OED by dividing English into three main categories: the external world, the mental world, and the social world, each atop a hierarchy showing how a word fits among others in the language and has been used, going back to the 1100s and Old English. Volume One provides the meat; Volume Two contains an alphabetical list of every word, referencing where it is located in the prior compendium. No, I did not read every word. Just consuming the front matter and exploring a bit, to understand its purpose and how to use the books, took more than two hours. It requires the same shelf space as my Compact OED, but the typeface is a standard size, making it an excellent companion set, but much easier to read.

Earl Weaver, Weaver on Strategy. Washington, DC: Potomac, 2002.

Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles for more than seventeen years, with great success, before his 1996 election to the Hall of Fame. In this slim explanation of his methods, he makes such now-obvious points as ‘If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get’, among his other laws for success. Ultimately, Weaver preaches that outs are precious and it’s easiest to win with three-run homers, pitching, and defense. Understanding the modern game requires understanding Weaver on Strategy.