Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

Review: River Queens

River Queens by Alexander Watson

Title:  River Queens
AuthorAlexander Watson
Published:  2018
ISBN 13:  978-1939710-857
Publisher:  Orangefrazer Press
Twitter:  @riverqueenbook

Publisher’s Blurb:  River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around—and a glad picture for our turbulent times.

I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review.  Thank you Alexander Watson!

Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant and the story of River Queens is so compelling I’m having a hard time finding my objectivity.  I want to write a fair review without seeming to shill for him.  But damn this book was good.  It’s one of the better ones I’ve read over the summer.

The book releases mid-October, they haven’t even gotten this one out yet and I’m already asking what he’s working on next.  That’s how much I want him to succeed and keep writing great books so I can keep reading them.

Ahem ….

When I was in 6th grade, my family lived in Hannibal, MO.  The three things which stand out in my mind all these decades later are the mannequin of Becky Thatcher with ankle long blonde braids, the address at which we lived, and the Mississip’.

We were a nomadic family and so were only in Hannibal for one school year.  But the impression that big brown river made on me stays, and makes me homesick for a place I’ve overly romanticized in my childhood memories.

Which is to say, I can relate in some small way to the call of the river.  And that is what Alexander and Dale,  their spotted dog Doris Faye, and a left for dead 1955  forty-five foot Chris-Craft Corsair answer.

It starts in Texas where Alexander finds the wooden yacht, and ends with a refurbished beauty which they sail to Betty Jane’s home berth in Cleveland.

I was smitten pretty early on.  A gay couple is gonna fix up their boat and sail it into unknown territory.  In the South.  They are going to sail right into the belly of unallayed bigotry, and count on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.

I knew it was going to be good when Watson relates the story of finding The King & I (later renamed Betty Jane).  The man who handles the transaction for the boat tells them, “They think wood boats just sink or break apart … for no reason.  That’s bull.  They fail ’cause somebody quit lovin’ ’em.”

This is a hard life they’re putting themselves into, and it becomes apparent they have enough love for all concerned.  Alexander and Dale go into this knowing it’s going to be one of the hardest things they’ve ever done, and they do it anyway.  And they keep doing it, even when it gets harder than anyone could have expected.

Watson does not sugar coat anything.  Nor does he dwell on the difficulties.  He writes about it all.  And there are some heartbreaking moments in this book.

Awkward’s in there too.  One that had I been within earshot, I’m not sure I could have looked either of them in the eye afterwards.  Watson doesn’t flinch in the telling.  Their loud argument has a good reason to be in the story, it’s not there as some sort of nod to, “See?  We’re just like straight couples, we argue too.”  Nothing in this book is done to make anyone feel Alexander and Dale are other than what they are.

And they are two men who love each other fiercely and work together to rebuild this boat and fulfill their dream.  The people they meet along the way, for the most part, are polite and helpful.  River folk in the South are friendly and say, “See ya down the river.”

Even when they question what two ho-mo-sex-u-als are doing in their river.  And there are several encounters that make me wince for the state of grace which cannot allow people to just be people.

Gods and goddesses what adventures these two have.  It makes me want to pay for adult beverages while they regale me with tales and tell me how they got through heartbreaking death, horrifying weather, and the sweltering humidity of life on a boat on a river.

There’s not a whole lot wrong with the way this book is written.  It’s elegant in a way that so few books these days are.  It’s evident Watson worked hard, and lovingly, on River Queens, but it doesn’t read like hard work at all.  It reads smoothly, like a lazy day on the river when all is right with the world.

I am grateful Alexander Watson reached out to me and asked I read his book.  And I look forward to reading more of his writing as it becomes available.  The country could use a few more gentlemanly intrepid travelers.

New to the Stacks: Hugo Winner

The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin – Read (No review)
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – DNF
  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley – Read
  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
    1. The Fifth Season – Read
    2. The Obelisk Gate ~ read
    3. The Stone Sky

Review: Spook

Spook by Mary Roach

Title:  Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife
Author:  Mary Roach
Published: 2005
ISBN-13: 9780739467298
Publisher:  Norton
Twitter: @Mary_Roach
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb: “What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.

This could also be titled Mary Roach Travels the World in Search of an Answer Which Doesn’t Exist.  The book starts in India with Roach trailing a doctor collecting anecdotes about reincarnation in search of proof that reincarnation actually exists.  It ends in a hospital at University of Virginia with a tablet computer mounted to the ceiling facing away from the operating table beneath it.  The researchers hope to prove out of body experiences by having a subject astral project and tell what’s on the computer screen.

Inbetween she travels to England to take classes to learn to be a psychic, gets a cold reading from someone, and discusses spiritualism along the lines of The Witch of Lime Street.  Roach’s snobbish tone arrives at the same place we all do, there is no scientific proof for what happens after we die.

Believers gonna believe, skeptics gonna question; ain’t none of us got a lock an answer which makes universal sense.  And while I didn’t mind the process Roach used to satisfy (or not) her curiosity, I did mind that while asking her questions, she was not so openly mocking those who believed in something with no proof.  That’s why it’s called faith, Mary, it can’t be proven.

My own reading, and conversations, have led me to the same conclusion many have, there may be something bigger than all of us at work (something I choose to believe in), but there’s no definitive answer to what happens next.  In the end, it isn’t what one believes or doesn’t, it’s how one behaves in the present that matters.  Chances are we won’t know what happens next even as it’s happening.

So good for Mary Roach for getting to go interesting places to ask questions about an interesting topic.  If only she’d been willing to set aside her preconceptions for the duration.

Review: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair

When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair by Geneen Roth
When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
by Geneen Roth

Title: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
Author: Geneen Roth
Published: 1998
ISBN-13: 9780786885084
Publisher: Hyperion

The connection between eating and emotions is deep and tight.  It’s a way we learn to soothe ourselves, to fill the holes in our hearts, and may be one area in which we feel we’re in control.

Geneen Roth’s book is about the ways we trick ourselves into sabotaging ourselves with food, and how to become more aware and stop the damage.

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I have issues.  Lots and lots of issues which I use food to deal with.  Emotional eating is a learned trait, and did I ever learn it well.

I’m not sure why I initially picked up When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair, something clearly resonated.  Becoming the person you love most in your own life is hard, challenging work.  One needs a lot of help to get there.

Roth goes beyond the “just stop eating so much,” or “trade gluten free for x,” form of food talk.  In 50 short (2-3 pages) chapters, she writes about the issues emotional eating covers and offers ways to break some of the chains we’ve formed over the years.

Most of them are things I already do, like wearing bright colors.  If you haven’t seen my wardrobe, it’s filled with bright pinks and deep purples.  But that’s a recent change for me.

When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair isn’t about body image or acceptance, it’s about learning to love ourselves as the gems we are, regardless of our looks.  It’s about learning to stop tearing ourselves down.

Review: How We Got to Now

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
How We Got to Now
by Steven Johnson

Title:  How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
Author: Steven Johnson
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9781594633935
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Twitter:  @StevenBJohnson

Steven Johnson picked six topics we take for granted in our modern-day lives and explores how these topics became so important.  For instance, he tells the story of standardized time by first telling the story of sea trade and railroads and multitudinous time zones until someone had the idea of synchronizing our clocks.  Which then led to even greater discoveries and implementations.

I’m a big James Burke fan.  My favorite episode of Connections was the one in which he explained how Jacquard weaving patterns led to Hollerith computer cards which led to modern computer programming.  I’m also a history nerd and love multi-disciplinary works like Johnson’s.

The topics are relevant and interesting.  Johnson’s writing style makes some the complexities easy to understand, and offers up intriguing anecdotes about how things like Clean came to be such a big deal.

One of the best things in this book is Johnson’s reminders that innovations don’t happen on their own.  Creativity builds on the work of others, often over many years of trial and error

The Six Topics are:
1. Glass
2. Cold
3. Sound
4. Clean
5. Time
6. Light

Review: Baby You’re a Rich Man

Baby You're a Rich Man by Stan Soocher
Baby You’re a Rich Man
by Stan Soocher

Title: Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit
Author: Stan Soocher
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61168-380-5
Publisher: ForeEdge

This was a LibraryThing Advance Reading Copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

I was looking forward to learning more about behind the scenes Beatles.  Reading about the lawsuits against them, and the people who got rich from these suits seemed a fascinating way to go.  Not so much.

Stan Soocher’s deeply researched book does tell every single detail (or so it seems) of the convoluted legal world of The Beatles from their first manager, Brian Epstein, to their last, Allen Klein.  But after a while, it reads like a laundry list of industry moguls suing each other and The Beatles in a frenzy of mean-spirited greediness.  Some of the lawsuits seem to be filed out of spite.  Those are just the outsiders.  The suits between the members of the group are a reflection of their evolution from  young Liverpool lads to mature artists realizing that many of the events happening to them are neither what they expected, nor what they wanted as artists.

The most interesting part was the intertwined lawsuits against John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Not only was J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to have Lennon expelled from the US for his vocal political views against the Viet Nam war, but Yoko’s ex-husband was playing games with custody of her daughter with him.  Lennon and Ono were caught in a Catch-22 of suits which hampered their ability to resolve anything.

The odious Allen Klein looms large for much of the book, finding new and distasteful ways to put more of The Beatles’ money into his own pocket.  It was almost a never-ending litany of fleecing his clients by law suit.

Soocher’s detailed writing tends to be dry.  Not quite completely boring, but not quite enthralling either.

 

New to the Stacks: Magritte, Surrealists, Feminism, Nnedi Okorafor

SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul

The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Red Women’s Workshop
Feminist Posters 1974-1990
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law
by
Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones

Title: Moore’s Law
Author: Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780465055647
Publisher: Basic Books
Publisher’s Blurb[The silicon transistors’] incredible proliferation has altered the course of human history as dramatically as any political or social revolution. At the heart of it all has been one quiet Californian: Gordon Moore.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Gordon was the opposite of a gregarious, people-pleasing middle-child:  instead, he was a boy with exceptional concentration and focus, oriented not toward words and emotional engagement, but toward practical results – with or without companions.”  (p. 44)

Full disclosure:  I usually make it a policy not to review books of people I know.  David Brock is a co-worker, and friend, which should instantly be grounds from even considering writing a review.  However, Gordon Moore has had such a tremendous impact on the computer industry, it seems unfair not to. His contributions need to be known, and Moore’s Law does a very good job of making them known, and understandable.

Further, I have been dilly-dallying over this review because Moore’s Law covers so much interesting history I’m not sure I can do right by it.

Not only is it the history of Moore, whose family arrived in California in 1847.  It’s also the history of computing, computers, and Silicon Valley.

Every decision in Gordon Moore’s life was based on the words “measure, analyze, decide.”  He kept notebooks detailing nearly everything; finances, business models, chemical analysis, semiconductor design, everything.   In this measurement and analysis, he figured out what came to be known as “Moore’s Law,” making computers faster and more powerful.  It’s led to things like the computer in our pockets we call smart phones.

That’s just part of a fascinating life inextricably connected to what’s become Silicon Valley.  There’s so much more in Moore’s Law about the lives of those pioneers and revolutionaries whose passion for chemistry, engineering, and physics brought about the devices which connect the universe in creative ways Galileo could only dream of.  Gordon Moore led the charge, quietly.  Not because he wanted to change the world, but because he was fascinated and saw ways to make money off the now ubiquitous micro-chip.

Thackray, Brock and Jones make the story of this complex man highly readable.  For those curious about the roots of modern computing, its effect on our lives, and the biography of the quiet revolutionary who led computers to this point, readers should read Moore’s Law and add it to their library.