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Books read, late January

Robyn Arianrhod, Seduced by Logic: Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville, and the Newtonian Revolution. Not really evenly distributed, with more weight given to our own dear Marquise, which…no shade on Mary Somerville there, but who could blame her. This is a work biography, this is focused on the work and the ideas in their lives, and I like it that way, but if you’re not interested in how they thought about physics and helped others to think about physics in context, it won’t be the book for you.

Gwenda Bond, The Frame-Up. Discussed elsewhere.

A.S. Byatt, The Matisse Stories. Reread. I carefully marked “NO” on a little PostIt note on the last story last time around, and I trusted my past self, I don’t do things like that without very solid reasons, so it was a short and stormy volume, full of contained and vivid stories that did not take me long.

George Eliot, Middlemarch. Reread. The opposite, of course, of short and stormy. I was going to reread this just a bit at a time for an approaching book club discussion of it. Ha. The minute I started rereading Middlemarch, the wit of the voice, the engagement with the characters, drew me in, and I didn’t want to be reading anything else–or in fact doing much of anything else until I was all the way through to that amazing last line. So keenly observed, so great, knowing where it was going only enhanced the “OH FRED NO” moments.

Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves. A rather strange book, focusing on the extremely strong signal radio stations that sprung up along the Mexican border, taking advantage of the difference in regulations to reach American listeners with a variety of ideas and products. Fowler and Crawford have some quirks of their own and were particularly thrilled, from the looks of it, to have a chance to interview Wolfman Jack personally. I learned a lot here about an area of history I otherwise didn’t know much about. But gosh how weird.

Kate Heartfield, The Valkyrie. The Ring of the Nibelung retold in an engaging fantasy novel, very much the southern (German) part of Valkyrie stories but they’re theirs too. Engaging and fun, recommended.

Coco Irvine, Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age. This extremely short volume is a bit of “how the other half lived” For me: Summit Ave. is a quite wealthy street in St. Paul, and Coco Irvine was living a fairly privileged life pretty much parallel to my own great-grandmother’s across the river in Minneapolis in a very tiny apartment with her immigrant family. Interesting to watch the social history unfold but also to see similarities as well as differences across the class lines. So very very short.

Kelly Link, The Book of Love. Discussed elsewhere.

Jo Miles, Warped State. The first in a space opera series featuring labor activism, which I hoped from that summary would be my jam and it absolutely was, whew and hurray, glad there’s more already out there and still coming. I don’t think I’ve read anybody thinking about the difficulties of union organization with multiple sentient species in quite the way Jo has, and there’s so much more room here, more like this please.

Naomi Mitchison, Small Talk…Memories of an Edwardian Childhood. Another short memoir focused on an early 20th century young woman, but Mitchison’s prose voice is much smoother and more assured, and she knew a great many interesting people even as a small child due to being one of those Haldanes. Niels Bohr gave her a jug for her dollhouse, for heaven’s sake. It’s still not the first or even fourth thing I’d recommend someone read by Naomi Mitchison, but its appeal is somewhat more general to people interested in the early 20th than the Irvine memoir.

Malka Older, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles. Discussed elsewhere.

Anna Marie Roos, Martin Lister and His Remarkable Daughters. Early scientific illustration as a family affair, interesting and detailed for such a short work.

Noel Streatfeild, Judith, Shepherdess of Sheep, and The Whicharts. Kindle. Wow, so: three very different books here. All three of these are her adult work, but Judith is Streatfeild in a very familiar mode to those who have read all of her children’s books: this is the “you damn kids need to learn to stand on your own two feet, and it’s the fault of those who raised you that you aren’t doing it already.” As an adult book there’s room for a different set of problems–adults presuming sexual precocity from teenagers and treating them badly because of it, for example–but generally it’s preachy as heck. Shepherdess of Sheep is an attempt to explore the care of young children in a family where one child is developmentally disabled in a way that was not well-understood at the time (and is not actually all that wonderfully understood now, to be fair), but while the protagonist spends most of the book fighting the ableism of those around her (including the man she loves), she ends up succumbing to it in the worst possible way. Of the three books, The Whicharts is the only one I’ll probably even consider rereading or recommending to anyone else, and it is a weird, weird book. This is the grown-up book that was rewritten to be Ballet Shoes, basically, and there are places where it is word for word the same book and places where it is absolutely not. When one major character died, it was the strangest feeling, because it was like losing someone I’d known since childhood…and also not, because she is very much not the same person. (The pronoun is not a spoiler; as with Ballet Shoes, the overwhelming majority of the major characters are female.) If you’re someone who loved Petrova best, this book is proof that so did Noel Streatfeild. If you loved the glamour of stage life…perhaps stick with the children’s books, she is not interested in giving you glamour here. Pauline is the most different–so incredibly different–Posy is just the same but not really a person, but yes, Posy is not really a person in Ballet Shoes either–wow, what a weird book, wow, to have Ballet Shoes but with directors groping teenage actresses who are the illegitimate daughters of WWI officers, wow, okay, wow. So weird.

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