Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dancing Fish and Ammonites-Penelope Lively

Dancing Fish and Ammonites-Penelope Lively

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 240
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2015
memoir

A memoir in four parts in which Lively explores aging, memory, writing, and what objects can tell us about ourselves.


I've admittedly not read any of Lively's books but if they're anything like her memoir I have many happy times ahead. Lively is clearly a well-read and thoughtful person who blends her own anecdotes with things she's read, things she's learned, and the people she's known to create fascinating, occasionally meandering, explorations of what memory gives us and what age provides for us. She writes beautifully, elegantly, and her arguments are compelling and convincing in a way that I'd never be able to portray in a review. Even though I am not even remotely near Lively's age, her musings on old age were fascinating even as I recognized nothing of myself. I didn't need to. As an archaeologist, I found a lot to contemplate and especially delighted in her last section which details the provenance of six objects in her life and why they have been collected and what they say about her. I ended up feeling like here is a lady I'd like to invite over for a coffee and then I'd bring her to work with me and she'd have such interesting ways to approach the archaeological ceramics I spend my life trying to connect to people. This is a sign of a good book, I want to interact some more with Lively and know more.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution- Edited by Matthew Cassel & Layla Al-Zubaidi

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution- Edited by Matthew Cassel & Layla Al-Zubaidi

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 224
gender: M & F
nationality: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria
year: 2014
essay collection



READ THIS. If you are at all interested in the Near East and the events of 'Arab Spring', this really should be on your reading list. It is not yet dated, I assure you. No matter your own feelings about the results of the various revolutions (i.e. whether you blame them for the destabilization of the region or whether you forgot about them), this is integral for any sympathetic understanding of the region. This a collection of their own stories written from the moment. The young and the progressives of societies too often depicted as uniformly either conservative or suffering are translated into English in this book. It is heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring to read of the various tribulations and their strong insistence that things can get better. You do need to know some of the context of the individual countries but most of the writers, conscious that they are writing for non-Arab audiences, give you a brief history though some of the writers do seem to be slightly more self-centered than others. What this book most succeeds at is presenting history and events as complex events while also giving you ways to emotionally connect. This is not an academic text where all of the catalysts are set out and defined and analyzed but rather the type of information you'd get from your friends and the short conversation you had with the baker while waiting for your coffee. As such, while there is fact here, it is fact thrown through the lens of people themselves. Compelling doesn't begin to describe it.

Good bye 2015! Hello 2016!

In 2015, I read 127 (as opposed to 146 and 110) books but many were very long giving me an average of 327 pages per book. I am still quite reliant on galleys so 2010 was still heavy but I did discover elending so I have a better chronological spread. The gender balance is quite equal which actually makes me a little sad-perhaps I shall hand in my feminist membership card. However, 23% of the authors from USA and UK were people of color which is definitely a happier situation for me. I visited 29 countries and read 16% in translation so I'm also getting more varied in that way-slowly but surely? Though there is a terrifying lack of anything in Latin America-something that will definitely need to be rectified in 2016! Anyhow, most excitingly I did so stupendously better at finishing non fiction! 19% and no archaeological books are counted in that! Wow.



Not At All in Order-Best Books of 2015:
The Devil's Detective-Simon Kurt Unsworth
Raven's Head-Karen Maitland
Who Fears Death- Nnedi Okorafor
Young Babylon-Lu Nei
I Am Radar-Reif Larsen
Annihilation-Jeff Vandermeer
Uprooted-Naomi Novik
Ties that Bind-Sarah Schulman
Complications-Atul Gawande
Etta and Otto and Russell and James-Emma Hooper

hardest to read: This Life-Karel Schoeman and Cancer Ward-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were endurance trials

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In Turkey I Am Beautiful-Brendan Shanahan

In Turkey I Am Beautiful-Brendan Shanahan

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 356
gender: M
nationality: Australia
year: 2014
travel memoir

Shanahan describes himself as a queer giant in a paranoid land.



Shanahan is not a first time traveler to Turkey nor is he 'finding himself' or any of the other narratives you often find in travelogues to obscure Eastern areas (in fact, I'd say Shanahan stays exactly himself), instead he is a travel-savvy man who tries his hardest to meet locals and makes friends with them. He doesn't present a sunny Turkey here and focuses on the often melancholy or paranoid but ultimately very warm aspects of Turkish culture which is so close to my own experiences (especially the conspiracy theories!!) that I immediately liked reading this book ten times more. He spends his time either in Istanbul working in a carpet shop or visiting the dangerous, untouristed Eastern reaches of the country where I'd never venture but find interesting nevertheless. He describes his travels with great humor, a crude buffoon with a good heart type of humor and thus will entertain you as he trods on many people's toes. He clearly delights in idiosyncrasies, finds something interesting/to enjoy everywhere he goes, and this makes this book sound like he's sitting there, telling you his stories over a drink. Maybe you won't choose to travel along with him and maybe you shouldn't meet some of his friends but for your drink together, this was fun while informative.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Slavery's Exiles-Sylviane Diouf

Slavery's Exiles: The Story of American Maroons- Sylviane A. Diouf

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 403
gender: F
nationality: USA, of color
year: 2014
non fiction, history

An academic text about American Maroons-runaway slaves who made communities near the plantations from which they ran away.


I have to confess, I had no idea what maroonage was before I read this book. Since I went to school in the North, according to my textbooks when slaves ran away they either did the underground railroad (and thus our triumph as Northerners), were killed (often by dogs specially trained to hunt them), went to Canada (against all odds), or were punished and taken back to their plantations (most common, those owners were ruthless). No one really told us about maroonage or the survival of former slaves in anarchic self-made communities in the wilderness, the forests and swamps. Diouf fills in any hole left by my education (and I presume yours too)-she goes into great detail defining maroonage, the types of maroonage and how the communities were formed and sustained. Obviously records are difficult to obtain but Diouf draws together seemingly any kind of record to pay justice to the variety of the ways that human beings can survive. Diouf suffers a bit in places with too much detail making the narrative hard to hold in your mind amidst the dense writing which can make this hard going in places but with a dearth of other books on maroonage, Diouf has done something really good here.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Price of Paradise-David Dante Troutt

Price of Paradise: The Costs of Inequality and a Vision for a More Equitable America-David Dante Troutt


the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 275
gender: M
nationality: USA, of color
year: 2014
non fiction, urban studies

An exploration of suburbia and the middle class and how they underpin the poverty and inequality of American society.


Troutt focuses upon Detroit and the NJ suburban sprawl and as such I continually thought back to NJ and confirmed his statistics with my own anecdotal experience so I found this to be an utterly fascinating book (and retained mostly information about NJ-sorry Detroiters, I'm biased towards the Oranges). Troutt takes the debate of poverty back down to the middle scale view, he's focusing upon county distribution of resources and how those patterns transfer to the broader regions/urban centers (spoiler alert: it all follows similar patterns). He dedicates each chapter to a common argument that props up the middle class who live in mostly white suburbs and dismantles them-one chapter for instance is on the myth that the middle class got to be middle class without any help from the government, the usual argument against the welfare state, while another examines how politicians can manipulate federal money at the county level to make the poorer towns poorer while making the richer ones richer, i.e. the argument that people in Africa are doing worse than those at home argument. The picture is bleak and Troutt makes it clear that this model is completely unsustainable, not just in terms of human suffering but also as a resource to keep the rich so rich. And yet if you are interested in community models of planning and governance, Troutt has some excellent suggestions to round off the book. A well argued book that treats inequality intersectionally discussing class, race and history as well as the future on manageable scales of analysis. I really enjoyed his point about the interdependency of our lives.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hanns and Rudolf-Thomas Harding

Hanns and Rudolf- Thomas Harding

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 368
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
non fiction, biography

The true story of the German Jew turned English Nazi Hunter, Hanns Alexander, and his hunt for Rudolph Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz.


Packed with constant references to primary sources, this is an exhaustively researched telling of Hoss's rise to Kommandant and Alexander's somewhat surprising role as a Nazi hunter. Both men change dramatically throughout the book. Hoss starts out as a farmer and his dedication to efficiency and reputation morphs him into the ruthless planner of Auschwitz and its extermination programme and then finally into a man escaping. Hanns changes from a fearful refugee who strives for assimilation into a hunter using all his resources into the aftermath of facing the face of Nazi atrocities in the face. Both men are steadfastly true to themselves and the primary sources make this a very engrossing read-almost like a spy thriller but true. I can't say that the prose was the best but Harding balances fact and storytelling with a good pace as well as presenting both the good and bad sides of both men (which made Hoss's actions all the more worse).