osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-19 08:18 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Pierrepont Noyes’ My Father’s House: An Oneida Childhood, which I liked very much; although of course I would, being fond of a) childhood memoirs (I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis that “I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting”), b) memoirs about cults (really anything about cults), and c) the nineteenth century.

But even if you are interested in only one of those things, this is an engaging book; much recommended. The one thing it will not give you is a clear description of the Oneida Community’s collapse: Noyes was ten at the time and found the whole thing ominous but fuzzy.

I also finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad I reread it because I no longer feel that vague gnawing sense that I just didn’t get it - but at the same time, it’s a bit sad to reread it and realize that I’m just never going to love that book the way that some people do.

What I’m Reading Now

Kidnapped! I only intended to begin it, but somehow I ended up halfway through the book already. It’s such a cracking good adventure yarn, it’s very hard to put down!

I have begun Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope! It’s early days yet, but I have high hopes that it will live up to the other books in the series - or at least the early books in the series; I hold a real grudge against Time Bike for being so dreadful that it stopped my exploration of the Hall Family Chronicles, even though I adored both The Diamond in the Window and The Fledgling. But fortunately the good books in the series are the kind that are just as good if you read them first as an adult.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Railway Children, which I also intended to read next last week, but I bought Noyes’ memoir at the museum and it simply had to take precedence, so… But this week I am quite determined! Railway Children or bust! Unless I find something simply irresistible in Amherst.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-12 11:52 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I galloped through Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night, and enjoyed them so thoroughly that I lent them straightaway to Emma and therefore cannot quote from either of them, more’s the pity. Although in the case of Have His Carcase this is not such a problem, because it’s easy to discuss its virtues without reference to direct quotes: it has one of the most perfect twist endings to a mystery that I have ever read. Everything’s a horrible muddle up to the end, and then one little detail comes into focus – absolutely unexpected and yet perfectly foreshadowed – and all is illuminated.

Gaudy Night, though, could bear quoting, and extensive quoting, and I want to read it again and bookmark the relevant quotes about the contemplative life – the life of the mind vs. the life of the heart (insofar as they are set against each other) – the way that this thematic argument intertwines and somewhat obscures the mystery (at least to Harriet’s mind) and yet is integral to it.

…also, I want a story where Harriet Vane and Agatha Troy meet. They have so much in common! They’re both prickly artists, both pursued by detectives who are tragically awkward about love (although Alleyn at least has the dignity not to propose to Troy every five minutes), and both at one point in their lives murder suspects, although Troy only sipped of the cup that poor Harriet drank nearly to the dregs.

Perhaps Peter commissions Troy to paint Harriet’s portrait. (Harriet doubtless hates the idea, but acquiesces on the ground that if she must be painted by anyone, it might as well be Troy.) Murder, inevitably, ensues.

What I’m Reading Now

I spent most of yesterday reading C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life sitting either on a lakeside bench shaded by a weeping willow or in a white wicker rocker by the open window, and it has proven itself more than equal to both settings. I ought to write more about it; perhaps later.

And I’m about halfway through a reread of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and alas it is still no more than moderately pleasant. I had thought that perhaps I read it before I was ready for it, but maybe it simply was never going to be the L’Engle book for me. It just spells everything out, emotionally speaking – Meg meets Calvin and almost instantly there’s absolute trust and he’s pouring his heart out to her – and I guess I want more emotional tension between characters, never mind they’ve got cosmic evil to fight.

What I Plan to Read Next

Busman’s Honeymoon is next in queue!

And then, I think, I shall have a crack at E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. I am a little concerned that one Nesbit will lead to another – and with Nesbit there seem to be absolute piles of others for it to lead to – but after all there are worse things.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-06 08:42 am
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Strong Poison

I have begun Strong Poison, and it is fabulous! Peter Wimsey has just proposed to Harriet Vane at their very first meeting (while she is behind bars on a murder charge) and is adorably taken aback when she tells him he's #47. Everyone wants to marry a possible murderess!

A part of me wants to just stay in and read it all day, buuuut I am in Ann Arbor, Land of Bookstores, so I think I must sally forth to contemplate their offerings. After I've had my tea. During which I can surely read a couple more chapters.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-05 12:04 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Sun in the Sky, about which I felt pretty meh all the way through the end. I won the book as a prize, so a part of me doesn’t really want to part with it; but I also can’t really see myself reading it again, so there’s no reason to keep it.

I also read Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife, which appeals to many parts of my id all at once and therefore filled me with great fondness. Rather than focusing on Maid Marian as the sole woman among the Merry Men, here Marian lives in a forest glade with an ever-growing band of outlaw women - although I think outlaw might give the wrong impression; they’re not robbing the rich to feed the poor, but feeding the poor with the fruits of the forest and healing them with their herb lore. Eventually they are joined by a band of renegade nuns.

As if this weren’t enough - loads of women working together! Herb lore! Renegade nuns! - there’s also a scene where Marian has to save Robert’s life by climbing into his bed to warm his fevered flesh with her own body heat. Yessss.

Spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve been reading Albertus T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which I inherited from my great-great-uncle. In fact I have a whole set of A. T. Dudley’s books, given to different great-great-uncles over the years, as one aged out of the Dudley bracket and another grew into it.

This one is from 1910, and moderately amusing, although let me be real I was hoping for excessive wholesomeness a la William Heyliger, whose characters think things like “The patrol leader, [Don] thought, should be a fellow who was heart and soul in scouting - a fellow who could encourage, and urge, and lend a willing hand; not a fellow who wanted to drive and show authority."

THE SHEER BEAUTIFUL EARNESTNESS OF IT ALL. I have the feeling that Mr. Heyliger must have a deeply slashy novel somewhere in his immense oeuvre, if only I can find it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m heading out on my road trip today, so it’s TIME FOR DOROTHY SAYERS’ STRONG POISON!!! I hope I haven’t overhyped myself about it at this point.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-03 06:54 pm
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Bruno & Boots Movie

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. I have just discovered that there are not one - not two - but THREE movies based on Gordon Korman's Bruno & Boots books! Which are about Bruno and Boots, two good-hearted, prank-pulling, (eminently slashable) boys at the Canadian boarding school MacDonald Hall, who are forever getting up to SHENANIGANS and occasionally endangering the school and also sometimes saving the school and dashing across the street to hang out with their female counterparts Cathy and Diana at Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies.

There is a scene where Miss Scrimmage accidentally shoots her sign (were Bruno, Boots, Cathy, and Diana responsible? Of course they were responsible) and it afterward reads "Miss Scrimmage's Fishing School for Young Ladies."

As far as I know this scene has not been adopted for stage and screen, buuuut I only watched one of the three movies so far, SO THERE IS STILL HOPE. Although possibly not that much, as Miss Scrimmage in the movies is a crunchie granola type who probably doesn't shoot signs.

Now, personally I would have preferred it if the movies had more or less transmuted the books directly from page to screen because I am a purist like that and also because it might have restrained the filmmakers from being quite so anvilicious about how Change Is an Inevitable Part of Growing Up and Also a Good Thing Except When It Isn't.

But anviliciousness aside it's a quite enjoyable adaptation. In particular, they have a good handle on characters, particularly Bruno & Boots relationship (Bruno making madcap plans and Boots, dismayed, totally failing to restrain him in any way), Cathy and Bruno's Who Is the Best Prankmaster competitiveness, and headmaster Mr. Sturgeon's fundamental decency as a human being.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-02 04:35 pm
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Happy birthday to me

It's my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

The main birthday festivities are occurring tomorrow (I'm making a yellow cake with vanilla buttercream & raspberry jam in the middle), but today I celebrated by treating myself to Carol Ryrie Brinks' Two Are Better Than One, which is absolutely as delightful as I hoped and I'm glad that I managed to hold off on it until today. (I've had it since June 30th and it has been DIFFICULT TO RESIST.) It's about FRIENDSHIP and IMAGINATION (the two friends in question write the kind of ludicrously epic novel about their dolls that you can only write when you're twelve or thirteen) and also GROWING UP, but not in that way where books about growing up sometimes seem like they're about renouncing everything you actually like in favor of things that grown-up persons are supposed to be interested in.

Cordy and Chrystal keep playing with their dolls as long as they want, never mind they're just a bit too old; and when they do lose interest (realizing with a start of guilt that they've forgotten the dolls for ages) they don't shamefacedly hide the dolls away, but give them a proper send-off with a great big doll wedding. I fully expect they will write ludicrous novels together all through high school, just for the fun of it.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-28 03:57 pm

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

David Blaize, an early-nineteenth-century English boarding school story that is EXACTLY as slashy as everyone always promised me it was, God bless you all, absolutely everyone is in love with David and at least one boy swears that he has been saved from vice (read sodomy) by that love, which is probably the most Edwardian thing ever to Edwardian except perhaps the interminable cricket matches. You would think that at some point, in between all these school stories and Lagaan and Dil Bole Hadippa! I would begin to get a hang of what's happening, but no, I still have no idea.

But at this point I actually find the incomprehensibility part of the charm, along with the hero worship and the boys gazing starry-eyed at the members of the cricket eleven. And David Blaize has the added charm that it is also a voyage of intellectual discovery - David discovers Keats, and learns to find beauty in the text of what he previously considered endlessly tedious Greek translations.

There is also a really splendid chapter where David and his friend-who-is-totally-in-love-with-him-even-though-David-is-tragically-straight, Maddox, go swimming in the sea and read poetry in the beach grass after. Just really lovely atmosphere.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m plugging along in Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I am very glad I did not read when I got it, because I would have been Very Displeased by the soppy romance of it all. Now that I am older I can appreciate a bit more what Bat-Ami is trying to do by focusing on the romance - they're bridging cultural divides and stuff! through love! - but it cannot be denied that I would be way more interested if the book either focused entirely on the refugee experience or was about young American Christina Cook's intense friendship (possibly romance? I'm not sure this wouldn't be over-egging the issue pudding in a book set in the 1940s) with a refugee girl.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am trying to resist the siren call of Dorothy Sayers until I've actually begun my road trip (July 5th! Just a week now!), so it's all a bit up in the air until then.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-26 04:21 pm

Caldecott Monday: Owl Moon

We owned a copy of Owl Moon when I was a child, and while I don't remember reading it much, I always loved the cover: a little girl and her father walking up a snowy hillside, silhouetted by the moon. It's a scene of absolute peace and joy and just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment.

The story is very sweet, too: the little girl and her father are going out in the woods at night to go "owling," that is, looking for owls. Not to hunt them or anything, just to see them in the peaceful quiet darkness of the woods.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warmth
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-25 06:25 pm
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Book Review: Death of a Busybody

I criticized Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder when I first read it, but I must say it has been a productive book for me in leading me to new and interesting authors: first to E. M. Delafield, who isn't even a murder mystery author but nonetheless got caught up with those who were (now that sounds like the plot of a detective story in itself), and now with George Bellairs' Death of a Busybody.

I must say I feel that E. M. Delafield was the more successful find. Bellairs, eh; Death of a Busybody is a perfectly adequate English country village mystery, but I don't feel the urge to search out any more books by him.

And his detective, Inspector Littlejohn, has given me a new appreciation for the depth Ngaio Marsh gave to her Inspector Alleyn. Now you may object that Inspector Alleyn is not exactly over-endowed with personality himself, which may be accurate when compared to the eccentricities of for instance a Poirot -

Speaking of Poirot, I saw Wonder Woman recently and the new Orient Express was one of the previews and maybe I just imprinted too hard on David Suchet, IDK, but I'm not sure I approve of this new Poirot. Do we need a new Poirot? Why all the remakes all the time???

ANYWAY. The point I intended to get to is that Inspector Littlejohn has no discernible personality at all. While I prefer this detective's personal lives to remain second fiddle to their mysteries, lest they throttle their books like strangler figs, it turns out that there is indeed such a thing as too little personality in a detective, too. Littlejohn is little more than a conduit for exposition, and mostly indistinguishable from the other characters who act as conduits of exposition in this book, which makes the thing sadly forgettable even though I enjoyed it in a mild way as I read it.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-22 08:01 am
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Road Trip Books

The most important part of packing for a road trip, of course, is deciding which books you’re going to take along. As my road trip is too long to allow for taking books out of the library, I shall have to take a selection from the Unread Book Club already lined up on my shelves, which as you can imagine makes me feel most productive & efficient.

I’ve already made a few definite choices. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane/Peter Whimsy quartet is coming: it will fulfill (indeed overfulfill) my next reading challenge, “three books by the same author,” and also I have meant to read these books for forever and expect them to be a treat which all in all makes them perfect for a vacation.

I’m also taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, because, aptly, I kidnapped it from the shelf of a friend and ought to get it back in a reasonably timely manner.

But I’m still happily contemplating my other choices. Should I, for instance, take along Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers? I feel like The Three Musketeers AND all those Sayers books might be a little too much.

On the other hand, one should never underestimate how much reading time one will have on holiday! And The Three Musketeers is just one big book to haul around, rather than a lot of little books, which is a point in its favor.

Other contenders:

Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope. I hesitate because perhaps I ought to let more time elapse after reading The Fragile Flag before reading another Langton book? Otherwise it might lead to unfair comparison.

Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road. I found this in a Little Free Library and took it because I was enchanted at having a book from a Little Free Library. No idea if it’s any good. Has anyone read it?

Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp. Children’s magical time travel fantasy! A genre that has fallen sadly out of fashion in late years, as has portal fantasy. Yes, I probably ought to give this one a go.

Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife. A Robin Hood retelling. Possibly a nitty-gritty retelling with plague and starving to death? Hmm.

Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. Massachusetts is on my itinerary. Of course I ought to take this book along.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-21 08:14 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

”But you mustn’t say what you wished,” said Mr. Grant. “You don’t get it if you do.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Brandon. “What did
you wish?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Mr. Grant; and truly; for his incoherent and jumbled wish had been entirely a prayer to be allowed to die some violent and heroic death while saving Mrs. Brandon from something or somebody, to have her holding his chill hand, and perhaps letting her cheek rest for a moment against his as his gallant spirit fled, all with a kind of unspoken understanding that he should not be really hurt and should somehow go on living very comfortably in spite of being heroically dead.


Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons is a joy and a delight if you like 1930s British novels in the vein of D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book or Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood. It is perhaps less accessible than either of those two novels - I found myself stumbling repeatedly on who was who in the ever-growing cast of characters - but the passages about the exigencies of calf love, or the gruesome interest that people take in an impending death, are well-observed and very funny.

Two more books down in the Unread Book Club! I finished Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, which changes from a tale of historical fiction into a “surviving in the semi-wilderness” story like a darker “my whole family is dead” version of My Side of the Mountain. This is one of my favorite kinds of stories, so this caused a certain amount of seal-clapping. Yes, Sarah Bishop! You move into that cave and smoke fish for the winter and built your very own dugout canoe!

And also Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s The Night the Bells Rang, which is, eh. Pretty mediocre. I kept thinking of other books that did the same thing better: Nekomah Creek for growing up & dealing with bullies, Miracles of Maple Hill for sugaring-off in Vermont (and if we take Vermont out of it, Little House in the Big Woods has an excellent sugaring-off too), Rascal for the end of World War I in small-town America.

What I’m Reading Now

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is super dense. It’s so dense I’m not sure I’m going to read it, which is sad when I’ve had it on hold so long at the library, but it’s just exhausting.

I’ve also started Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I won as an honorable mention prize from Cricket Magazine in my youth and did not read because I was cranky about only being an honorable mention.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have begun the happy business of contemplating what I ought to take along to read on my road trip! My musings have grown so long that I am going to make them a separate post.

In the meantime, I am also musing about what book I ought to read for my next bedtime story, as I have just about exhausted my stock of Miss Read books. I meant to move on to James Herriot, but upon reflection that’s really too similar, both cozy English countryside quasi-memoirs, and perhaps I ought to read something quite different as a palate cleanser first. But what?

I’ve been contemplating a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Perhaps this is my chance.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-20 05:38 pm
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Book Review: The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball

I looooooooved Dori Jones Yang's The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang with such an all-consuming long that when, seven or eight years after I read it, I came to create a livejournal, I worked an allusion to the main character into the subtitle: Gina's name is pronounced Jinna in Chinese.

Never mind that unlike Jinna I was not an elective mute or Chinese or an immigrant schoolchild; we both made up long unending stories in our heads, and that was enough for me to identify till the cows come home.

So of course when Netgalley had Yang's new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, I snapped it up. I didn't expect it to appeal to me in quite the same soul-grabbing way, and it doesn't; our hero Leon - this is the Anglicized version of his name Woo Ka-Leong - is far more interested in trains and baseball than making up stories.

But it's still fun - a peek at an interesting period of history. Leon and his brother Ka-Sun (Anglicized to Carson) are part of the Chinese Educational Mission, an actual historical occurrence when the Chinese government sent 120 boys to the US to learn about American technology. Leon and his love of trains are a godsend for the program.

His older brother, on the other hand, is kind of a nightmare. All he ever wanted was to be a classical Chinese scholar, at which he is brilliant; but instead he's sent to America, where he discovers that he's way less brilliant at learning English, and the one-two punch to his identity is too much and he plunges into a depressive homesick spiral that he mostly takes out on poor Leon.

Eventuallyspoiler )

This part of the book is rather dark. However, it's balanced well by Leon's growing love of baseball and his friendships with his teammates (particularly another member of the Chinese Educational Mission, who arrived in the country a couple years before Leon and helps him understand the peculiarities of Americans). And all the boys in the mission get to go the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia! How cool is that? Okay, maybe it's only super cool if you share my obsession with World's Fairs, but I thought it was the bee's knees.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-19 01:43 pm

Caldecott Monday: Hey, Al

The 1987 Caldecott winner, Hey, Al, is a weird book. Al, a janitor, lives in a tiny gray apartment with his talking dog Eddie, who complains that the apartment is too small. (This is why it's actually a good thing that dogs don't talk. Would we love them half as much if they did? I doubt it. They'd be just as annoying as people all of a sudden.)

IN ANY CASE, one day a giant bird shows up in Al's bathroom window all, "Hey, Al! Come away with me!" And Al and Eddie take the bird up on it and let the bird carry them away to a magical bird island, where they can bask the days away in pools of water, until they wake up to discover that they have BEGUN TO TURN INTO BIRDS.

So they fly back home and decide that the tiny apartment isn't so bad after all because at least it is not TURNING THEM INTO BIRDS. And then Al begins to paint the gray walls yellow. Happy end!

I feel there is a not-very-sub-subtext here about how you should be happy with what you have, even if what you have is a minuscule apartment that is way too small for your poor dog, because Things Could Be Worse. Although actually, on the scale of one to Things Being Worse, turning into a bird actually has some perks to recommend it - being able to fly, for instance! - especially if you would be a talking bird who lives on a paradisiacal island surrounded by giant flowers and bird friends.

Stay on the island and become a bird, Al! That's way cooler than adding a lick of yellow paint to your walls.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-17 05:11 am

Book Review: City Folk and Country Folk

Although I enjoyed Nora Seligman Favorov’s translation of Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s City Folk and Country Folk, my strongest reaction to it was the desire to read something by Sofia’s sister Nadezhda, the more famous of the two literary sisters (yes, Favorov does draw the inevitable Bronte comparison). City Folk and Country Folk has some excellent moments, but it doesn’t really come together as a story; it ends abruptly with all the ends left flapping. I can see why it’s been largely forgotten.

But for all that, I enjoyed reading it. The plotting might leave something to be desired but the characterization is quite good. I particularly enjoyed Ovcharov, the pseudo-liberal semi-intellectual who practically invented mansplaining; he’s such a well-observed example of the type.

He grows infatuated with young Olenka, but he is so convinced of his own intellectual and monetary superiority that he can’t even imagine that’s what he’s feeling, and assumes that of course it must be Olenka who is in love with him. How could she help it, a country girl like that, meeting a truly sophisticated man of the world for the first time! He is filled with sentimental pity for her predicament and decides it is positively his duty to flirt with her, and thereby open new vistas of worldly experience to her.

In fact, Olenka finds him terrifically boring and sets him bodily on the other side of the carriage when he attempts to make advances. This is always enjoyable.

And in fact I quite enjoyed Olenka as a whole. Unlike many nineteenth century heroines, she has no pretensions to being a paragon of anything. She’s pretty enough for all ordinary purposes, not particularly patient when she feels that people are being silly (and she often feels people are being silly), not particularly fond of reading, capable of brewing an excellent kvass - young, exuberant, occasionally thoughtless, sometimes judgmental, truly fond of her mother beneath her impatience with her mother’s dithering. She felt very real and seventeen.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-16 05:19 pm

Book Review: This Fight Is Our Fight

Elizabeth Warren’s The Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class was just as difficult as I feared, emotionally speaking. It is infuriating to read about bankers swindling people left and right and then having the audacity to whine that the slap-on-the-wrist consequences they got were too much regulation - and just as infuriating to read about the Obama administration’s failure to stick any actual consequences to the banks. If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big to fucking exist! Bust some goddamn trusts, dude!

Which actually went some way to explaining to me one facet of Donald Trump’s appeal: the Democrats flubbed their chance to fix things back in 2008. Of course some people are going to turn hopefully to the Republicans, desperate to believe Trump as he blithely lies about his plans to “drain the swamp,” simply because the Republicans are the only other choice in American politics.

Emotional difficulties aside, it’s a good overview of everything that has gone wrong with the US, economically speaking, since the 1980s. And it’s not all grimness: Warren is deliciously sarcastic. Like this bit, describing politicians ignoring the signs of impending economic crash: “I guess it’s hard to hear when your ears are stuffed with money.”

Or this: “When we fail to invest in infrastructure, it’s as if everyone in America is joining hands and saying, ‘Let’s get poor together!’”

Or this - I think this might be my favorite - “Donald Trump is the President Most People Didn’t Want,” which I think is what we ought to call him from now on, not least because saves us from repeating his name ad nauseum and I think he gets a tiny flare of happiness every time it is uttered, no matter what the context.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-14 02:53 pm

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, which continued just as delightful as it began. It falters slightly near the end, simply because this is the part where it begins to overlap with Austen’s novel which means that we-the-readers already know what happens, and how it happens - but nonetheless it’s a quite satisfying read overall.

What I’m Reading Now

Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, a historical fiction novel about a Loyalist girl in the Revolutionary War. This is the first Scott O’Dell novel I’ve actually enjoyed - perhaps I’ve finally grown into him? (He is supposedly an author for children. I did not like Island of the Blue Dolphins at all as a child. Here’s this title promising dolphins and instead there are hardly any dolphins at all.)

And at last I’ve begun Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons! Which is most charming. I foresee a long and only intermittently fruitful search for her work in the future.

What I Plan to Read Next

Two Are Better Than One by Carol Ryrie Brink (of Caddie Woodlawn fame), which is evidently about FRIENDSHIP. I have been eyeing it thoughtfully for a while and then someone mentioned they intended to nominate it for fic_corner so it seemed that now is the time.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-12 08:35 am

Book Review: Bad (Forensic) Psychology

If you want to despair about something, then Robert A. Forde’s Bad (Forensic) Psychology: How Psychology Left Science Behind is definitely worth a look. This book is an indictment not just of psychology as practiced in the British prison system, but of every comforting lie you ever believed about the predictive abilities of experts (all experts, though Forde is talking specifically about psychologists for most of the book): “it turns out that professionals of all levels of training and experience predict about as well as lay people,” Forde informs us. “There is abundant and increasing evidence that psychologists’ judgments are subject to exactly the same weaknesses as everyone else’s.” His book is a methodical examination of just how weak human judgment often is.

Just look at the clusterfuck that passes for treatment in prisons. One-size-fits-all treatment plans got rolled out on a nationwide scale with little or no prior testing for efficacy, only for it to turn out - when these programs are tested with adequate sample sizes - that these treatments either have no effect on recidivism, or actually make it worse.

And this is what passes for mental health care in prisons. There’s very little attempt to get actual mental healthcare to prisoners with real mental health problems (substance abuse is the big one; Forde also notes that “violence rates amongst those suffering from depression are appreciably higher than in the general population,” although “the vast majority of people with mental disorders do not commit crimes of violence, or any other kind.”). The one-size-fits-all programs are genuinely seen as universally applicable and therefore are supposed to fix the problems underlying substance abuse, which is impulse control, apparently.

(I’m not sure if the proponents of this theory also believe that better impulse control will cure depression, or if depression just doesn’t fit into their understanding of How Crime Works and so they ignore it.)

And then there’s the tragicomedy of the parole board hearing. Did you know that parole boards are more likely to grant parole after lunch than right before? There are studies to this effect. The considered opinion of the parole board is affected just as much by whether the members splurged on a sandwich platter from the deli down the street as by anything in the case files.

In fact, human judgment in general just seems to mess up parole decisions. Statistics have a 70% success rate at predicting recidivism among released criminals. In an attempt to make this prediction more accurate, parole boards often ask prison psychologists for their clinical judgment, which seems reasonable enough - except that “Clinical judgment has long been known to predict reconviction at approximately the chance level, like tossing a coin.”

The question of course arises - if treatment programs (in their current form) and parole hearings are useless, why do they continue? It’s partly inertia - these things have all been set into motion and it’s hard to stop them. In the case of treatment programs, there’s also a profit motive: the people who created the popular treatment programs are making bank, and the people who run them have a vested interest in seeing that they continue to prosper. (This is, I should add, not evidence of a sinister conspiracy, but evidence of the fact that humans are consistently blind to how much our material interests influence our judgment.)

And there’s just the plain fact that we want to do something about crime. Having a parole board seems more proactive than making parole decisions by consulting an actuarial chart of recidivism risks. Treatment programs seem more humane than simply “waiting for prisoners to get older and less impulsive,” as a judge put it to Forde when discussing Forde’s views on parole hearings - even though that’s pretty much what prisons are: holding pens in which people get older and less impulsive until they have probably aged out of their desire to batten on the general public.

Although only probably. We will never be able to predict recidivism rates with 100% accuracy. In fact, 70% seems about as high as it will go, barring some great new statistical discovery. We will have to let go of our hope for a controllable world and accept our own comparative powerlessness.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-11 08:20 pm
Entry tags:

Book Review: Side Hustle

I read Chris Guillebeau's book Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days in the hopes that reading about other people making money on the side from their regular job would inspire me to get to work on my novellas again, and indeed it seems to have worked - at any rate I'm working again on a book that I set aside... a while ago... probably best not to compute exactly how long.

(I've actually got a number - again, probably best not to compute exactly how many - of novellas that I abandoned around 10,000 words. Which is a lot of words! I'm a third of the way to complete novella-dom already! Just think how much I could accomplish if I set myself to finishing them.)

Although honestly all these abandoned projects show mostly that I'm not quite the target audience for this book, which seems to be aimed at go-getters with boundless energy who can not only think of money-making ideas but follow them through the fruition. I have a couple of friends who fit this description (one of them is already running a side business, in fact) and would definitely consider giving them a copy of this book for any useful hints & tips they might glean out of it, but for the less go-getting among us, it's a slightly exhausting read. How do these people find the energy?
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-10 07:42 am

Book Review: An English Governess in the Great War

I have reluctantly concluded that actual diaries, unlike fictionalized diaries, tend to be boring and I ought to stop reading them unless I have some absolutely urgent need to read a primary source about that thing. Case in point: I finally finished slogging through An English Governess in the Great War: The Secret Brussels Diary of Mary Thorp, which is about an English governess’s experience working in Brussels during the German occupation in World War I, and as such sounds like it ought to be fascinatin.

And there are certainly interesting nuggets of information and if one wants to learn about life in occupied Belgium, this is probably a good source. (I bookmarked a few bits for a story I’ve been tinkering at in my head, set just after the end of World War I.) But just reading through it with no particular aim - gosh, it’s so repetitive. And I don’t think this is particularly Thorp’s fault, either, I think diary keepers just tend to be repetitive, and certainly they rarely seem to have vibrant character sketches or ongoing story arcs like novels-in-the-form-of-a-diary too.

Although Anne Frank’s diary does rather, so perhaps after all some of the blame ought to be laid at Thorp’s feet. Maybe she is just a boring diarist. But then the boring ones do seem to outnumber the ones who write intense thoughtful character sketches, so my resolve to mostly steer clear of diaries still ought to hold me in good stead.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-07 10:48 pm

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Unread Book Club update: Last Wednesday I finished Gildaen, as I didn’t want to leave it hanging when I went away to Miami. If you looking for a fun magical cod-medieval adventure starring a rabbit, I quite recommend it.

While I was in Miami I read A LOT because there were a couple of days when we were more or less trapped inside by thunderstorms, but most of it was NetGalley books which I like to give their own separate post (I finished… five…) and also When Marnie Was There which I also want to give its own separate post because I liked it so much, AND ALSO I still need to review Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves which I read before the trip and - say it with me now - wanted to give its own post because I enjoyed it so much…

Oh, but I did read E. W. Hornung’s Mr. Justice Raffles on the trip! Which is the fourth and final Raffles book, a novel rather than a set of short stories like the others, which I thought might be why it often gets shunted to the side in Raffles discussions - perhaps Hornung just wasn’t good at novels?

But actually he does perfectly fine at novels; Bunny and Raffles are in as fine a fettle as ever, and there’s also a totally badass girl who engages in plucky pre-dawn canoeing. But the villain is a Jewish moneylender, and while he does not reach Svengali levels of anti-Semitic caricature, there’s definitely enough of that about his characterization to justify the fact that the book is generally shunted aside.

What I’m Reading Now

Sherwood Smith’s Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, which is the story of a side character from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and quite charming. I really like all of Smith’s Regency romances: her pastiche is good, and you can tell that she knows the period really well because she wears her research so lightly - especially impressive in a book like this, which is stuffed chock full of characters in the navy and could easily bog down in infodumps about naval terminology.

I’ve also started reading Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class (for my reading challenge: “a book of any genre that addresses current events”), which is good so far but also sort of a bummer to read because I know that as long as Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress we’re not going to make progress toward any of these goals; we will at best be fighting a holding action, if we can manage that.

What I Plan to Read Next

Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons. If only I’d taken it to Miami with me! Oh well.