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« January, 2007 »
The Book of Lists: The 90s Edition

I’m sort of embarassed that I never knew this book had come out until it was quite out of date. I have all the origianl Books of Lists and People’s Almanacs and reread them every now and then. I stopped at the Book of Predictions which wasn’t very good and then I assumed the meme had just ...died. It hadn’t, hooray! This book is not quite as great as the previous ones and is a bit too referential -- many lists end with “for more on xyz topic, consult the book of lists 1” which gets cloying after a while -- but the lists are there, they’re great and interesting and quirky as ever. I only found this book because it was on the discard shelf of the local library. I wish I knew why it wasn’t more popular. Also, it is sort of weird to publish a “nineties edition” of anything in 1993? I thought so.

Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

This book took me weeks to finish! I read two other books while I was slogging through this one. The story of this book is fascinating, I just could not help wishing that either 1) someone else could have told it or 2) the book had gone though a more rigorous editing process. The general story is about Jewish immigrants and how through sheer pluck and determination they started the entire comics book genre, including Superman and a whole lot of other famous ones you have heard of. The book starts and ends with the creators of Superman, how they started out as two dopey kids with a dream and ended up nearly destitute and penniless... almost. The main narrative is great, however it’s constantly interrupted by the narratives of other players in the comics industry. So, you’re going along reading about Batman when all of the sudden it’s ten years earlier and you’re reading about someone else. It may just be me, but I had a very hard time keeping track of all the players since they all seemed to get introduced with equal weight and seriousness.

That said, I learned a lot from this book. I learned that the guy who invented Wonder Woman had two wives (at the same time!). I learned more than I ever thought I’d know about the Comics Code, where it came from and where it went, and I learned a lot about how and why Jews came to dominate the industry of what we now know as comic books. Fascinating stuff, but as I said, I wish the story had been told better because I think I would have loved it even more.

Blood Memory

My sister could not remember which Greg Iles book this was when I was talking to her about it until I said “You know, the one where the lead character is getting raped and she bit the guy’s throat out and killed him, that one?” and she said “Oh yeah!” Not for the faint of heart, this is another great whodunit by Iles which has a lot of disturbing sexual abuse in it. That is usually a total put-the-book-down dealbreaker for me, but for some reason Iles seems to have enough sympathy with his female characters that I don’t see his writing as rape porn and enjoy figuring out what happens at the end. That said, if this sort of thing turns your stomach, you will not like this book.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

What a fascinating book. This book was well off the beaten path of what I usually pick up and I don’t even remember how I got it. It’s a story told by the grandchildren (or other relations, I don’t think she had kids) of the woman portrayed about how she went north to Alaska to help with the education efforts there. Alaska in her day was a near total wilderness and the US Government was involved in trying to Christianize and Americanize the native people living there. Accordingly they send schoolteachers to this not-yet-state territory to set up establishments and generally keep an eye on things. Hannah Breece was a spirited woman, up to the challenge, whose story is told through letters and research done after the fact by Jane Jacobs who followed some of her paths through Alaska years later. It’s illustrated with several great old photographs including a few taken by Breece herself.