28 February 2022

Books Completed Since February 1

book icon  Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Mark Forsyth
Ever watch James Burke? Burke was a British science reporter—he covered the Apollo missions in the U.K.—who created three nonfiction television series called Connections where he'd start with something like the invention of zero by the Arabs and string it through various historical "connections" to link with a modern invention or concept. Every show was a wild ride where one thing you'd never believe was connected to something else would not only be connected, but lead on to something else. Well, this is what Forsyth does in this book, in one- to three-page sections: he starts with "This is a book..." and then keeps going until the volume ends 259 pages later with exactly the same paragraph beginning with "This is a book..."

In the meantime we find out how a gambling game with a pot and a chicken turn into "the typing pool," how "black" led to "white" and then eventually to "blank," how double-word plurals led to "psychoanalysis," how robot sharecroppers led to "terminators" (who in movies are robots), how "tired" morphed into something that was explosive, and more than 200 more words that started as one thing evolved into yet another thing.

It's books like these that make linguistics enthusiasts happy. This one made me very happy.

book icon  Nancy Drew: The Bungalow Mystery, Carolyn Keene
I didn't read Nancy Drew growing up. When I was younger, mom bought me a few of The Bobbsey Twins books, but at a $1.25 each, they cost too much for me to collect the set. Anyway, the Bobbsey books, Nancy Drew, and even the Hardy Boys that were available when I was a kid were rewritten to modernize them, since the Hardys and Drew were from the late 20s on through the 30s and 40s (also to remove some really egregious racial and ethnic stereotypes).

They were also rewritten with simplified vocabularies, so you really didn't get the great dialog and adult-style narrative as in the original books. This is the third of Applewood Books' reprints of those original books. Nancy and her "good chum" Helen Corning (her cousins Bess and George came in later books) are boating when a storm comes up. They are rescued by a girl named Laura Pendleton, who is now an orphan facing the arrival of her new guardian. Nancy takes an interest in the nervous girl, and it seems her interest was justified; when she and Helen visit Laura again her guardian is a rude, cruel man. Laura is afraid of him and Nancy is determined to help the girl who saved her life.

The first half of the book setting up the mystery is a little slow, but the second half is full of action, with Nancy discovering that Laura's guardian is indeed up to no good and hiding something in an old shack in the woods. There's fast driving, a terrible accident, and all sorts of exciting events. Typical of a 1930s series adventure, with Nancy as the new sort of independent girl who drives and thinks for herself.

book icon  Mutha: Stuff + Things, Vincent D'Onofrio
I don't know how to describe this book because you don't as much read it as feel it. Some of it is goofy, a few things quite profound (the last two pieces in the volume), some just downright funny (the Girl Scout cookie piece was my favorite in this category). Don't come into this book thinking it's a biography or even a memoir. As the cover states, "this book was not written, it was spewed." However, wandering about the entries, you do get personal insights, as in his memory of a totally awful-sounding attraction in Florida in the 1960s called the Monkey Jungle, his insights on the word "daunted," an introspective piece called "Holy Sh*t, I'm F*cking Useless," another interesting bit of verse called "I Am the Wind," and several entertaining journal entries like "My Left Hand." (Question: doesn't everyone like to eat peanut butter straight off the spoon?)

Not quite of what to make of his intense interest in pigs and poop, but...everyone has their quirky little interests. ­čśĆ

Illustrated with black-and-white photographs presented with some unique visual effects. (I particularly like the photo on page 41).

book icon  The Love Hypothesis, Ali Hazelwood
I have a love-hate relationship with chick-lit. Most of it I hate.

This one, I had to admit, was fun, if dotted with the usual clich├ęs. The draw is that the protagonist is not some gorgeous model or store owner, but is a graduate student who is promoting a new test protocol for cancer. Olive Smith has a personal stake in the research since her mother died from cancer, and she is very eager to get her research approved by Stanford or some other university. As a scientist she's talented, but her personal life is a mess: her best friend has a crush on her former boyfriend, but won't ask him for a date because she thinks Olive is still "into" him. So Olive, accidentally at first, inveigles Adam Carlsen, a no-nonsense professor at Stanford, into being her "pretend boyfriend" so her BFF Anh will relax and be happy with Jeremy. Trouble is, Adam's not well-liked at Stanford for being a tough nut. But as the charade goes on, Olive starts to see Adam more as a good friend than a pretend boyfriend, even as she wonders why he goes along with the charade in the first place. Could it be Adam isn't the hardass he seems? And could Olive be changing how she feels about him?

(Well, of course, since this is a rom-com...)

Hazelwood freely admits at the end of the story that her pairing is based on Kylo Ren/Rey in the final Star Wars trilogy, but if you've never watched the films the story still works if you're ready to buy the premise of a romance set in college laboratories among science nerds. I freely confess I bought this mainly because of the hot sex scenes that start at page 256 and ends at 284. YMMV. :-)

book icon  Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi
I got lucky and picked this up on the remainder shelf at Books-a-Million, as I'd been interested in it for awhile. It was a great historical read, and, while I knew many of the things Kendi spoke about (favoritism in the Black community for lighter skin, the racist ideas carried by even the most virulent of abolitionists, etc.), I learned many more.

The volume is divided into five parts about the society surrounding five American historical figures: Cotton Mather, the fiery conservative Christian of the colonial era; Thomas Jefferson, the Revolutionary-era's "enlightened" essayist (and third US president) who nevertheless kept slaves; William Lloyd Garrison, the thundering abolitionist who spoke through his newspaper the "Liberator"; W.E.B. DuBois, whose pacifistic ways finally changed to more antiracist ideas; and Angela Davis, the young woman who became a face for Black Power (read: Black violence) in the 1960s/1970s without her ever having committed a violent crime. He traces the idea of "inferior races" back to the Greeks, who considered even the white Slavs (where we get the word "slave" from) inferior, and how growing belief in "purity" (a.k.a. "whiteness") gave myth to the inferior status of those with dark skins (it helped that this "truth" was backed up by scientific discoveries—which, of course, were misinterpreted). Stories of Africans who were "descended" from apes, rumors of Black "looseness" of morals raising the specter of interracial sex and "mongrelization," the belief that people of color were not as intellectually developed (and could not become more intellectually developed), and other racist ideas firmly cementing ideas of racism even in the minds of Black people themselves.

A big book with a lot to swallow, but very readable and often infuriating (as it should be!).

book icon  Love, Lies & Hocus Pocus: Beginnings, Lydia Sherrer
Twenty-something Lillian Singer is one of the few people who know about the secret library of magic at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, GA; she's the archives manager there. She's also a wizard. Alas, she's just escaped from another unsatisfying computer date when she's asked for help by Sebastian Blackwell, a young heedless friend who's also a witch. He's asked her to help him free an old mansion from a ghost combined with a curse so the property can be sold; in return she'll get a collection of old magic books. But Sebastian has led her astray before—will Lily go along? And if she does, what trouble will trouble-magnet Sebastian get her into?

James bought me the first two books in this series as a birthday gift when I expressed interest at Conjuration. I like to support local writers and this looked like a fun series. It actually is quite inventive: I like Sherrer's delineation between wizards (they're basically "born" with the talent and learn to use it rather like "the Force") and witches (who manipulate the fey world to get the things they want), and Lily herself is a very appealing character. The second half of the book, which involves a time loop, is very inventive. These books are also written at a young-adult level, so there's nothing in the story which might make parents wary.

My big problem is Sebastian irritates me. He's not a bad guy and I guess he's supposed to be cute, and he comes off as a nice guy especially in the interlude with the girl who works at the bar. But he gives me the fidgets. Your mileage may vary. Oh, and Lily had a pet cat, if that helps. :-)