Books I read but didn't blog this week

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

I can see why this became a cult classic in the sixties. It was like drinking a glass of cool water.

The Anti-Death League, by Kingsley Amis

This goes into the Catch-22 category of desperately funny and sad at the same time.

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

New verse, same as the first.

Reading Journal Entry: Diary of Lady Murasaki

Lady Murasaki is the author of one of the Great Books on my list, the Tale of Genji, which is one of the earliest works of Japanese literature, as well as one of the earliest novels in all of global literature.

I haven't gotten to the Tale of Genji yet, but I hear that Genji is a handsome and naughty boy who gets up to lots of amorous escapades.

Murakasi Shikibo lived around the turn of the first millenium, one of the court ladies attendant on the Empress in Kyoto. This 'diary' seems to be a combination of personal recollections and letters edited together at a later date. It records several significant events in court life, beginning with the birth of the Empress's first son and including several elaborate and involved religious ceremonies.

Personal reflections and observations of extreme delicacy make this a surprising record. There is subtlety here. It's a fascinating window onto a world that seems very alien. I was very glad to have the introductory historical materials. It's amazing that people were living like this in Japan while Europeans hadn't even started building cathedrals yet.

Deep thoughts

That's what I've been having.

I misjudged my reading schedule this week because I expected Magic for Beginners to be a quick read, because it's short stories.

I was wrong, it's very complex. I'm still collecting my thoughts.

Thoughts collected. Thanks Richard. I agree with some of the comments in your review. 'The Faery Handbag' was the most traditional inclusion and possibly the most enjoyable (although not necessarily the best). Other entries were more or less, well, difficult. I liked 'Some Zombie Contingency Plans' very much. But man, this stuff is hard. Post-modern isn't the word.

One of the characters requests a story in 'Lull' that should be 'about good and evil and true love, and it should also be funny. No talking animals. Not too much fooling around with the narrative structure. The ending should be happy but still realistic, believable, you know, and there shouldn't be a moral although we should be able to think back later and have some sort of revelation."

I couldn't tell if it was excess trust in the readership or a desire for obscurity that pushes her away from this goal.

Reading Journal Entry: Finding Home by Jill Culiner

The title is Finding Home: Following in the footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, by Jill Culiner. The Fusgeyers are brave Romanian Jews who walked across Europe atthe turnd of the nineteenth century in order to emigrate to the US and other locations. Their story is interesting.

Jill Culiner is a stuck-up Canadian pseudo-historian who walks across Romania sneering at the tourists, the buildings, and the locals. Her story is not interesting.

Skip this and find a real history book instead.

Reading Journal Entry: A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer

Wen Spencer's Tinker and Wolf Who Rules were pretty good as self-indulgent mind candy goes. I decided to check out the rest of her oevre.

A Brother's Price is alternate history that plays with gender roles. We've got late 17th century levels and men are far and few between. It's never made quite clear.

Men are scarce and family structure has changed to reflect the fact that one man can sire children on multiple women. Sisters live together and share a husband; sons are traded for a husband for the next generation or sold to other families.

Men are so valuable they are often stolen and must be protected, rarely appearing in public and always guarded. Women fulfill all of the public roles in society, and raising babies and cooking is considered 'men's work'.

Jerin is the oldest son in a large family of landed gentry about to come of age and afraid of being traded to the hickseed girls next door. He's a sweet guy, loves kids, cooks well, and was taught expert sexual techniques handed down by his grandfather the kidnapped prince (even though he's still a virgin). He's breathtakingly beautiful. Luckily for Jerin, his family is pulled into involvement with the Royal Family (and my, it is a whole family of women sharing power) and the Eldest Princess just happens to develop a huge crush on him after he lets her touch his naughty bits in the farmhouse kitchen.

Spencer is able to even build in a 'virginity' clause for men by including a rabid fear of disease.

While this is well-constructed to foreshadow plot points and explore some of the male-female issues, there are times when it seems a little mechanical. I got the feeling Spencer had a checklist about sexual stereotypes and was checking off items as she went along. 'Men have long hair - check. Jerin is described as beautiful instead of handsome - check. Female whores with dildos - check.' Etc.

Reading Journal Entry: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss

Neil Strauss goes from AFC(Average Frustrated Chump) to PUA (Pickup Artist) able to pick up the hottest girls in any location, and joins a weird community of manipulative sex-crazed males. This is his story.

I assummed this was one big piece of fiction. Not that I disbelieved the pickup techniques Strauss describes. I just didn't believe in the characters and drama he creates around the set piece that becomes known as 'Project Hollywood'. I didn't believe Mystery, Papa, Herbal, or even in Style (his own moniker). I didn't particularly believe in any of the women he describes or that he actually interviewed Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Tom Cruise.

I was wrong. I can't think that The Times of London would publish an interview backing up multiple aspects of the story unless it were true.

It's true.

It's awful.

Strauss is a geek who can't get laid. He apprentices himself to the master PUA (encountered online, of course) and learns how to pick up women. They refine their techniques and get better and better. They recruit more disciples, charging for workshops and running seminars in the wild at clubs and bars. They create 'Project Hollywood' a house in LA that they share with other PUAs with the goal of reversing the equation and getting attractive women to come to them.

Drama and chaos ensues, as it so often does in internet-related groups. Strauss allegedly realizes the emptiness of this life and hooks up with an alpha female (who dumped him about six months after the book ends according to wikipedia) and moves out of the house. End of story.

Morality: Strauss defends his chosen path quite vigorously several times. It's about bringing people together. Women want sex just as much as men, they just don't like to admit it as much. Turning other men into PUAs helps their self-esteem and gives them the opportunity to have relationships they otherwise might never have.

I'm a pretty judgmental gal. I have some guidelines I use when I need to decide if something is moral or not. Here's the first one: does it require lying? Answer: yes. Almost all the techniques and lines are flat out lies.

Strauss lies to women in order to manipulate them into having sex with them. And then he teaches other people how to do this. It's not just one lie. Everything is a lie. The PUAS construct entire personas and entire conversations ahead of time until Strauss admits they become 'social robots' reciting preprogrammed dialogue.

That's not a genuine connection. That's not a relationship. It's Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

It's scary and unhealthy and frankly a bit disgusting.

I can only hope that guys who pick this up looking for a how-to manual instead of memoir read through to the end and the spectacular crash and burn.

Great Book: Has Man a Future? by Bertrand Russell

An examination of the consequences of the development of nuclear weapons, by Bertrand Russell.

I don't have memories of the Cold War. I was alive, sure, but I was just a kid, and by the time I started paying attention to politics the fear was moderated. I don't remember experiencing anything like the peril and fear that Russell conveys about the international situation in the decades immediately following World War II.

One thing struck me the most about this treatise, and that's were Russell's criteria for success. The ways that humanity might manage to destroy itself in a nuclear holocause are not so interesting or varied. Russell's condition for permanently aavoiding such destruction were novel. He posits a world government, federal in nature, which would take control of all military power monolithically. Freedom of speech would be curtailed to reduce nationalistic sentiment and avoid uprisings. Can't have people praising military leaders or talking about how great their country is.

Other than that little weirdness, it all seemed quite reasonable (if hair-raisingly scary). It's amazing that we survived, really.

Reading Journal Entry:A Woman's Liberation, edited by Connie Willis and Sheila Williams

An anthology of female-themed science fiction stories. This collection includes several wonderful classics. Connie Willis' 'Even the Queen' won the Hugo and Nebula Awards. "Rachel in Love' by Pat Murphy won the Nebula. McIntyre's 'Of Mist, and Gress, and Sand' won the Nebula. 'Speech Sounds' won Octavia Butler her first Hugo Award and reads surprisingly modern for something first published in 1983.

Most entries will be familiar to the well-read genre fan, but this would make a great gift for the new reader or even for your generic hippie female.

Great Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Summer is now truly over. I'm back to reading Great Books.

So I decided to read Alice Walker's The Color Purple because I read her daughter's book Black ,White, and Jewish.

All this time I thought The Color Purple would be a bad book because it was made into a movie with Oprah Winfrey in it. How stupid! It's wonderful.

It's an epistolary novel, beginning with letters from Celie, a young black woman in pre WWII Georgia, to God, asking Him to explain what is happening to her and help her.

And what letters. Celie is raped by her father, who takes the two children that she bears away from her. Her mother dies and she is left to protect her younger sister alone. That's the first three pages.

Her father gives her in marriage to a man who needs a wife to care for his children, who despises her and abuses her. She loses her younger sister Nettie. Celie almost succeeds in rubbing herself out completely. But then her husband brings his sick lover into their home. Shug Avery is a singer with a long black body. She knows who she is and what she wants. She changes Celie's life.

Walker conveys the drudgery and poverty of farm life that James Agee described in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but adds the emotion and drama of an entire beautiful life, Celie's life from the beginning to the end of adulthood.

The dialect could have seemed trite, but it doesn't. Celie is real as pain can be on a page. I wanted to cry when she finally got her first little bit of happiness.

Darfur Diaries

You should all buy this book. It is a project very close to my heart. It's an important story, and it deserves to become an international bestseller.

I only wish it hadn't had to be written.

Back to Business

Work had me swamped and exhausted this week. Plus I've been dealing with some mildly inconvenient health problems. I've been reading, not haven't found time to review.

Here's what I read this week:

Irresistible Forces, edited by Catherine Asaro
A short story collection of spec fic/romance with some big name contributors. This will mainly be of interest to Bujold fans interested in 'Winterfair Gifts', a short set of Barrayar during preparations for a wedding featuring a romance between minor characters from her Vorkosigan saga. The concluding story, Jennifer Roberson's 'Shadows in the Wood' was also decent, but the three middle entries left me cold.

Foundation's Friends, edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Stories in honor of Isaac Asimov, written by stars in the field: Bradbury, Bova, Silverberg, Turtledove, Willis, Resnick, etc ., etc. There were a lot of gems in this collection, and a wide variety among the stories - appropriate given Asimov's prolific output. There was a nod to all of my favorite Asimov works, even some rather obscure ones. Very much worth reading.

Inside Job, by Connie Willis
This is a novella rather than a novel, but I'll take it. I don't know how Willis did it, but she managed to write a paranormal fantasy that is sure to become a beloved classic among skeptics and rationalists everywhere. What happens when the editor of a skeptical magazine encounters the returning spirit of H. L. Mencken? Willis treats her characters with love and respect that just shines through the page.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Husband has started to read A Game of Thrones for the second or third time - he keeps giving up 150 pages in. Meanwhile I picked this earlier work up at the library. It's about vampires and steamboats, not a combination I would have thought of myself. Martin does a wonderful job of evoking the richness and complexity of life on the Mississippi, which makes this worth reading even though it does fall apart a bit at the end. Warty Captain Abner is a wonderful creation. Good for fans suffering withdrawal from Ice and Fire and fans of Twain's river tales.

Reading Journal Entry: Dark Mondays by Kage Baker

Today's Yom Kippur, so I was going to only do four reviews this week. But I forgot to post one on Friday so, it all evens outs anyhow.

The last read of the week is a short story collection, Dark Mondays: Stories by Kage Baker. Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. The time travel Company series is her best-known work, but she's also a wonderful short story writer. Mother Aegypt collected some of her earlier work, including some Company stories. Dark Mondays collects nine stories and doesn't contain any sops for the Company fanatics who are so eagerly awaiting the next installment (in my case, eagerly awaiting the right place in the hold queue at the local library). That doesn't make it less fun, though. Baker has a wonderful trick of making the fantastic seem believable and historical fiction come alive. The standout is the last story in the volume, The Maid on the Shore, which is a rolicking adventure story set in Jamacia featuring pirate and privateer Captain Henry Morgan.