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« December, 2014 »

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases   book icon  
by Deborah Halber (2014)

read: 31 December 2014
rating: [0]
category: non-fiction

This book should have been awesome. It’s got everything I like. Weird unsolved crimes, online communities, researching obscure topics. And yet it was a weird herky-jerky read where I had a hard time keeping track of what was being discussed or where in the narrative I was. And I’m not sure why it was that way. Halber is clearly a good writer and really into her topics, but this book was a weird mess that was all over the place. You’d get almost no information on one random case and suddenly you were learning about another one, then the first one would wrap up, then you were in Las Vegas. I suspect there may have been a few chapters that were magazine length essays that had to be mushed together info a longer book and it didn’t have a final edit for continuity. Anyhow: interesting topic, poor execution. Left me wanting to read a better book on an identical topic.

The Lace Reader   book icon  
by Brunonia Barry (2008)

read: 24 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: fiction

It’s been a while since I read some fiction that I thought was really worth the trip. This one takes place locally (Salem MA) but over several decades (mostly through flashbacks and rememberings) and is mainly a story about “quirky” women and a lot of “You can’t go home again” misplaced nostalgia. Hard to really talk about it without putting you in the narrative somewhere other than the beginning but if you like seaside narratives that aren’t too schmaltzy and are about strange women with confusing pasts, this is for you.

Cows in the Maze   book icon  
by Ian Stewart (2010)

read: 20 December 2014
rating: [+]
categories: non-fiction, unfinished

I think I got off of the “popular math” books with this one.Nothing wrong with it, in fact I sort of liked it, but I just read a chunk of it and then never picked it up again and eventually it had to go back to the library.

When She Woke   book icon  
by Hillary Jordan (2012)

read: 17 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: fiction

One of the better books of this year and sorry I had been putting it off for so long. This is a retelling of the Scarlet Letter, sort of, in a figure where the US is hyper-religious and there has been some sort of a population scare so people are more interested in ever in controlling women’s reproductive rights. Anyhow, this woman gets pregnant from her married pastor lover and has an abortion. Which is a crime. Punishable by being tracked and DYED RED for sixteen years (because she wouldn’t name her abortionist). It’s very Handmaid’s Tale-ish except this book seems to like and care about its female characters. The women are scared and threatened but not raped as punishment. They make autonomous choices. The book doesn’t end with the perfect romance. It’s a great and complex book and really worth a good read.

The Day the Earth Caved In   book icon  
by Joan Quigley (2009)

read: 14 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

I’d heard about the Centralia mine fire pretty much forever but never knew much more about it than its local oddity status. Quigley who is a descendent of local miners, spells out what was really happening, why this took so long to work out, and who the major players were as this slow motion disaster occurred/ Really well-research but a little confusing to follow in terms of timelines. The story she tells seems to be more about the people she had access to (and things she could research) and less about an overall mile-high view of the events. This makes things a lot more personal but sometimes you lose track of a character or two and it can be confusing. Great read, very eye-opening about the ways in which structural inequality can screw over people who don’t know their rights or who aren’t supported by the officials they elected.

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That: And Other Reflections on Being Human   book icon  
by Jesse Bering (2012)

read: 14 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

Bering is a little jokey jokey (which I remember from Perv) but he’s also a smart scientist type who likes to talk about evolutionary biology and reasons why things might be the way they are. In this book he tackles things like the shape of the penis, the details of female ejaculation, what evolutionary purpose gay people might have and a host of other things. It’s a good book, it’s well researched and it’s funny. Also I read it on my Kindle so I didn’t have to worry about weird looks from people on the bus or subway.

Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty Of The Grittiest Moments In The History Of Hardscrabble New England   book icon  
by Matthew Mayo (2010)

read: 11 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

Both really loved and did not love this book. The stories, most of which I had never heard before, are great. Lots of strange stuff going on in New England, many of which sound familiar even though they may have happened hundreds of years ago. The way of conveying them was sort of strange. Mayo obviously did his research but then he wrote fictionalized accounts of the event (including made up dialogue between the characters and a lot of “what were they thinking” sort of things) which sometimes read really strangely. The book has a great bibliography and a lot of places to go for further reading. The beginning and end ("Indian attacks" and "rum running") were the least interesting parts of the book, the parts in the middle are the best.

3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White   book icon  
by Ron Miles (2013)

read: 4 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

I know Ron from MetaFilter and had followed his stories about his autistic son Ben and how much he seemed to “come alive” when he was at Walt Disney World. This book chronicles Ben’s 3500 rides on the Snow White ride at WDW before the ride was eventually shut down in a redesign. Ron talks about his relationship with his son’s mom, their divorce, their determination to continue to co-parent and their eventual move to Florida (not together, but at the same time) so that their son Ben could spend more time at the theme part. It sounds weird and the way Ron writes it it’s the most normal thing in the world. I liked getting to know their family and especially Ben a barely-verbal boy as he grows from a baby to a legal adult. A very worthwhile read.

Severance Package   book icon  
by Duane Swierczynski (2008)

read: 2 December 2014
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Another book that came highly recommended by Ask MetaFilter. I enjoyed his book The Blonde and this has one funny crossover with that book (one same security guard, otherwise all new characters except it also takes place in Philly) and is the same sort of non-stop “what the hell is happening?” romp. Probably a bit too violent for me but I should have figured that out from the teasers about the book. The major plot: there is a Saturday meeting at the office for eight people. The boss announces that people can voluntarily kill themselves or he will kill them. No one is getting out alive. And then ... chaos! Well done, some interesting illustrations. Enjoyable book but a tough one to read late at night.

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