It’s the last Friday of the month which means it’s another What Are We Reading. And while the autographed and (concerningly) waterproof print copies of H&H Vol 1: It’s Probably Just a Fart… No, No, It Was Definitely A Trump Election count, keeping up on the latest H&H blog post does not–but it is VERY slimming.
Of all the Founding Fathers, the least known was the most interesting. Gouverneur Morris had a withered arm from a childhood burn and a wooden leg from a carriage accident, yet still managed to penetrate every vagina that came within reach. He was a brilliant intellectual, a witty conversationalist in several languages, a deep thinker, and wildly undisciplined. Though James Madison generally gets the credit for the Constitution, the actual writing of it was mostly in Morris’s hands. “We The People of the United States…” is pure Morris. Gentleman Revolutionary is Richard Brookheiser’s somewhat brief but eminently readable biography. Morris’s death is somewhat truncated at the end, but I’ll do the spoiler and tell you about it anyway- he dies of an infection caused by his own attempts to remove a urinary blockage by means of reaming his peehole with a whalebone. With no anesthesia, of course. I hope you’re wincing as much as I am.
Robert Park is a physicist who taught at University of Maryland for many years before becoming Director of Public Information for the American Physical Society. His weekly What’s New columns were “don’t miss” reading for me, and were entertaining, educational, and often infuriating to their targets. Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud was the first (and better) of his two books summarizing case studies in pseudoscience and junk science for fun and profit. One useful distinction Park wrote about was the difference between pseudoscience and junk science, and of course, Langmuir’s genius essays on pathological science make frequent appearances. Park covers various “free energy” scammers, the idiocy and uselessness of manned spaceflight, TV and news media’s roles in the propagation of ignorance, the use of junk epidemiology by lawyers and NGOs, “quantum healing” health frauds, and even the UFO crazes. Delightful reading.
I read Patricia Highsmith‘s delightfully acidic Little Tales of Misogyny, a book of very short short stories about all the different ways women are awful. A lesbian misogynist is not as odd as it may seem. I’ve met a couple here and there. To hate something you desire… one will probably shoot up a Shapes in a few years.
And I’ve been drawn back into The Devil’s Dictionary for probably dozenth time since reading it in high school. If you are ever sick of feeling good about your fellow humans, Ambrose Bierce will set you straight.
HANDKERCHIEF, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears. The handkerchief is of recent invention; our ancestors knew nothing of it and entrusted its duties to the sleeve. Shakspeare’s introducing it into the play of “Othello” is an anachronism: Desdemona dried her nose with her skirt, as Dr. Mary Walker and other reformers have done with their coat-tails in our own day — an evidence that revolutions sometimes go backward.
THEOSOPHY, n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with the Buddhists, that we live an incalculable number of times on this earth, in as many several bodies, because one life is not long enough for our complete spiritual development; that is, a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as wise and good as we choose to wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good — that is perfection; and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed that everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection. Less competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem neither wiser nor better than they were last year. The greatest and fattest of recent Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had no cat.
DEMAGOGUE, n. A political opponent.
I read more than children’s books this month. Today’s entry is An Economist Walks Into A Brothel, by Allison Schrager, Ph.D. This is one of those books people read at the airport in front of their boss while traveling because it has a vague relation to work. The title aside, it is pretty interesting. The first chapter focuses on The Moonlight Bunny Ranch outside of Carson City, NV. She business model of the brothel is not necessarily selling services but in selling and delivering them in a manner with the least amount of risk. For example, as ENB pointed out numerous times, sex workers often experience violence due to their existence in a black market. As a result, the workers pay an insane fee to the brothel, but why?
The legal brothel removes nearly all of the risk. The risk to the worker, in the form of violence, being stiffed by their customer (or a dirty cop), and financially. The workers are tested weekly, reducing the likelihood of disease, which manages the risk for the customer. Schrager goes on to explain how risk is managed in other industries as well.
I’ve had slightly more recreational reading time this month than I have since the relocation. So, I’ve been diving into two mystery series that are set in and around my new hometown.
Scottsdale is home to The Poisoned Pen bookstore, from which I used to order. It’s fun that it’s just a short hop away (depending on traffic). The store hosts many, many author events, and I’m hoping to get up there to see Brad Thor in late June.
First up, the Lena Jones mysteries by local author Betty Webb. I am really enjoying this well-written series. The protagonist is not a cookie cutter PI and the cases are interesting. Jones is based in Scottsdale, a place I have only rarely ventured (see above), but the cases take her beyond the borders of her city. I’m on book 6.
I’ve also started Jon Talton’s David Mapstone series. I’m on book 3, Dry Heat, written in 2004. My favorite passage so far: “All these SWAT cops in their paramilitary attire, what did this mean for the health of American civil society? Like surveillance cameras everywhere, pre-employment drug tests, and other subtle assaults on the Constitution.”
The Mapstone books are set in Phoenix proper, with the native Phoenician protagonist having just moved back to his family’s home in the Willo Historic District at the start of the first volume. Mapstone is a PhD historian, formerly a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputy, who is now working as a cold case investigator for MCSO. A nice glimpse of this fast-changing city from a different perspective.
The library system in Maricopa County is great, with some really terrific resources. I’ve been able to do my casual reading via ebooks from OverDrive. Sorry AMZ.
Soooooo, I accidentally bought the second book in a series that I wasn’t reading because it was on sale because the plot summary was very similar to the other series by the same author. A.G. Riddle likes his grand genetic conspiracies about human origins. I put away the first two books in the Atlantis Trilogy this month because of some serious sunk-cost fallacy. The books aren’t as bad as some of Brett’s book-club choices, but they aren’t something I’d generally recommend unless you were going to spend time sitting on a very expensive beach and pretend to read while you really watch beautiful people who are having more fun than you walk around in next to nothing, or on an airplane. Currently audio-booking Hiddensee by Gregory Macguire (of Wicked fame), and reading The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, which has been more charming than I anticipated. I’ll let you know next time (or not).
Since last I posted here, which I can’t remember how long it has been, I read all of the novels (but not short fiction) in the Expanse series by James SA Corey. The first four or five were great. The sudden appearance of
Admiral Thrawn with a super-fleet of alien Star Destroyers I mean, the Martian guy, same plot. Anyhow, good plot. Cool that it took about three books just to set up the main plot. I kind of wish they hadn’t unleashed partial/potential immortality on their universe (Corey is the pen name of a duo), but there is some great space opera along the way. I also read the first two installments of Mark Lawrence’s Impossible Times series. I really loved the Jorg/Red Queen universe. I’ve been so-so on his Nona Grey books. Impossible Times is set in 1986 England where a teenager who’s just finishing leukemia chemotherapy meets his future self, who tells him they invent time travel to save a girl young he just met from brain damage. This young man (Nick) happens to be the son of a math prodigy who strolled in front of a bus. His only resources are his D&D group that happens to include the popular scion of a Motorola VP and a different young athlete. The plot of the first book is entertaining, but the way time travel is set up, it is a foregone conclusion that everything had to happen that way. Also, there’s a random young psychopath who exists only to add constraint and difficulty to the mission. The second book is more of a mess. Both are eminently readable, but feel lots of shortcuts are taken.
All I been readin’ is the Bible. But not that fake Bible all the rest of you have been fooled by. I only read my Grandpappy’s Bible. He went thru and cut out all the parts about forgiveness. Grandpappy’s God is a vengeful God and you will all pay in blood for your wickedness.
One of these days, I’m going to finish Crucial Conversations. As I said last month, it’s been pretty helpful for me, professionally. It’s a short book and it should not be taking me so long, but I guess I just haven’t had time. I do, at least, have my next book lined up: Great Minds Speak to You. This was a gift from my sister for my birthday last month. It’s not something I would have picked out for myself, but it takes all kinds, doesn’t it? The version she got me comes with an audio CD, as well… just in case you really want them to speak to you, I suppose. I’m not really sure what to think of it, but I’ll give it a shot when I have some time. I notice that “A Course in Miracles” is a purchase suggestion, based on my interest in Great Minds Speak to You. Maybe you’re not familiar with that book, but it was a favorite of my father’s in the last decade or so. Hm. Seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all, does it?