sign of the half-closed eye (ecban) wrote,
sign of the half-closed eye
ecban

books

A few reviews, fiction first:

The Town That Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey - Ugh. I picked this up purely because of the interesting cover art, and put it down for good about thirty pages later. There's the seed of a good story here, and the descriptive passages occasionally shine, but the prose is often barely first-draft quality. I started to lose interest very quickly due to nonsensical imagery such as slow actions happening suddenly. I slowed down even more in a thick patch of stereotypical characters. Finally ground to a halt on a ridiculous blob of expository dialogue, in which it was made clear that a doctor knew his patient well, then began asking questions that doctors only ask patients they've never treated before. Back on the pile with ye.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett - Better luck here. Third and possibly last of the Tiffany Aching books, and a worthwhile successor to the first two. Longtime Pratchett readers will recognize themes from other Discworld books, but I don't fault that because the themes deserve extended treatment, because these books are directed at a younger audience than the main series, and most of all, because the story works. For character fans, lots of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Good stuff.


And non-fiction:

The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life by Paul Seabright - A very lucid and wide-ranging framing of modern economic structures in the context of evolutionary psychology and environmental pressure, i.e. fascinating yet boring unless this your thing. I recommend this for readers who liked Freakonomics or The Undercover Economist and want to dig a lot deeper, or, coming from the biological side, fans of Desmond Morris and Franz de Waal.

The Complete Essays of Mark Twain edited by Charles Neider - What's not to like? About 80 pieces over 700 pages, everything from editorials to travel pieces to blasts at racism and organized religion, sometimes whimsical but often burning with the man's hatred of injustice and hypocrisy. Coincidentally, the short pieces make great bathroom reading, and it'll make your toilet look smart to boot.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler - More big, big history. Ostler follows the ebb and flow of major languages across the globe from Sumerian to the present, concentrating on the economic, cultural, and social conditions that led to their rises and sometimes their disappearances. Notable for its solid prose and sharp sense of connectedness, and fascinating particularly in its examination of diverse occasions where political and cultural dominance have not gone hand in hand.

The Telephone Booth Indian by A. J. Liebling - Ahh, the boundless creativity of slightly shady folks on the edge of starvation. Liebling was a lifelong spectator of con men, and some of his sharpest and most sympathetic pieces from the late 1930s are collected here. Liebling's voice is perfect; his prose established much of what we now think of as the feel of the Depression Era. Even if you don't care for the subject matter, these essays are worth your time just for the quality of the writing.


More soon...
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