Continuing with my "death & corpses" nonfiction kick - I picked this up from the local library thanks to [B]Dung Beetle's [/B]recco.
As you can teContinuing with my "death & corpses" nonfiction kick - I picked this up from the local library thanks to [B]Dung Beetle's [/B]recco.
As you can tell from the subtitle - the book is all about the human head, primarily as separated from the body. Larson covers the material from a sociological perspective, and the scope of the book spans the globe -- discussing South Seas headhunters (and how European fascination with these sacred objects spawned an cottage industry and dissipated their true meaning) as well as the modern day equivalent - how troops in WWII and the Korean/Vietnam conflicts often took heads of their enemies as trophies. I was less aware of this practice and found it rather disconcerting to think of men my father's and grandfather's age sending bits and pieces of their enemies back home. FYI - this section gets a bit gruesome; but Larson presents solid research and sociological/ psychological reasoning - she's not just being sensational.
On the medical side, head transplants and cryopreservation are covered , and on a historical note, the book also discusses the phrenology craze of the first half 1800's and how that (along with medical colleges and the need for dissection) drove a grave-robbing epidemic. Of course a book titled "Severed" has to cover decapitation as execution, and the guillotine (as well as alternate beheading techniques) are covered, with Madame Tussaud getting a nod (so to speak).
The memoir of a forensic pathologist, Dr. Melinek shares her experiences over her two-years training period, as well as her first year as a New York City medical examiner. While there are moments of humor - Melinek's story is more somber overall; nevertheless, there are moments of satisfaction when her work proves cause of death for an individual and therefore helps bring about justice.
Be warned - the later part of the book delves into her experiences at Ground Zero. Yes, she was one of the many, many medical examiners at the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attack. She describes how they literally used a "rule of thumb" when dealing with the human remains - anything larger than your thumb was to be given an individual tracking number - in hopes that they could be matched and identified. Smaller items with potential identifiable traits - fingerprints or teeth - were also to be given tracking numbers. She also references the refrigerated trailers (donated by UPS and FedEx) used to store the remains while they were being processed. We recognize the firefighters, police officers and other public safety officials for their heroism that day - but Dr. Melinek and her cohorts deserve our respect and thanks as well. Now I may have to find Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing...more
How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends by Mark Derr. The focus was more on the pre-historic development of the "dogwolf" and "wolHow the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends by Mark Derr. The focus was more on the pre-historic development of the "dogwolf" and "wolfdog" (Derr made a distinction that I'm still not sure I get) than the "best friend" aspect. I also wasn't fond of the "furless biped" phrase he used to encompass the various hominids that may or may not have partnered up with the wolfdogs/dogwolves.
There's a good bit of repetition, where Derr says the same thing in different ways, which made the book feel rather padded; I think it would have done better as an extended magazine essay in Nature or National Geographic. The book also flows poorly - there's a lot of jumping back & forth in the timeline, which made it a bit of a slog at times.
That said, the material seemed fairly well-researched, from what I could tell, and was international in scope, looking at the human/dog partnership worldwide. Worth a borrow/library read if you're into the (pre)history of dogs....more
I think I spotted this on the New Books shelf at the library; regardless of how I found out about it - I'm glad I did.
Doughty - "a twenty-something wI think I spotted this on the New Books shelf at the library; regardless of how I found out about it - I'm glad I did.
Doughty - "a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre" got hired at a crematory, and this book is a combination memoir/coming of age story as well as a meditation and reflection on how Americans approach and cope with death.
Doughty reminds me quite a bit of Mary Roach -- in fact, I re-read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers after finishing this book -- they both take a quirky, light-hearted look at death, while still respecting the humanity of both the dead and the living.
Doughty gets a little more "in the trenches" (so to speak) than Roach, as she actually worked at a crematory, with her usual assignment being that of placing bodies into the actual furnace, then collecting the cremains afterwards. However, she would also go on runs to retrieve bodies, and interact with the families.
Among the anecdotes (and considerable gallows humor) Doughty comes to the realization that modern-day Americans (and perhaps Westerners in general) don't really cope that well with death and dying, and we need to explore better options. She plans out various alternate funeral practices - and attends mortuary school with the intent of opening her own business. The book ends before she starts that next phase of her life, but she is well on her way. Jessica Mitford would be proud, I think.
Recommended to anyone interested in personal approaches to death and dying, allowing for some gallows-style humor along the way. I can see revisiting this book in the future, and will have to look around her website: www.orderofthegooddeath.com/...more
I picked up this travel guide/insight to Victorian culture from the local library, thanks to Inner Stickler's recommendation over at the SDMB.
Mrs. FaI picked up this travel guide/insight to Victorian culture from the local library, thanks to Inner Stickler's recommendation over at the SDMB.
Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer (1802 - 1878), despite only having twice left her native England (and those trips were brief), penned multiple travel guides aimed toward children, using various (and perhaps questionable) sources. She drew on her expertise as an Evangelical/Moralist children's book author, as well as her own (and her society's) prejudices of the day to write some of the most judgmental, preachy, intolerant, and downright nasty sketches of nations and peoples that I've had the pleasure to read.
Pleasure, you ask? I suppose it's her condescending, didactic tone "What country do you love best? Your own country. I know you do. Every child loves his own country best." and unshakable confidence in her opinions (as well as the separation of 150 years) that makes her material a comedic exaggeration as opposed to a sad and frightening commentary on bigotry and xenophobia.
Maybe it's because she writes disparagingly of everyone; not even her fellow Britons get away clean: "They are not very pleasant in company, because they do not like strangers, nor taking much trouble ... They are too fond of money, as well as of good eating and drinking." While she abhors slavery (as every good Evangelical did, back in her day) she attacks both rich and poor across the globe - considering both "lazy". She harbors animosity not only toward "Mahomedans" and "Hindoos", but Roman Catholics and Jews as well.
Todd Pruzan's opening chapter provides both biographical and historical context for Mrs Mortimer and her writings. She suffered adversity and overall did not seem to be a happy woman. Prior to each nation's sketch, Pruzan gives a brief history of the area for context. He obviously chose each piece of writing for comedic impact, but it's fascinating (and depressing) to see how many prejudices carry over into modern day, something he also touches on in his opening chapter. While primarily a humorous book, to be read very much tongue in cheek, it also speaks to our modern day experiences with racism, intolerance and "othering"....more
Having recently read read and enjoyed Coe's Expo 58I picked up this novels from my local library, after seeing that Florita gave it 5 stars & BetHaving recently read read and enjoyed Coe's Expo 58I picked up this novels from my local library, after seeing that Florita gave it 5 stars & Bet gave it 4 stars here at GoodReads.
It's a bit Gothic, but mostly black humour/satire, set (mostly) in 1980's Britain, with occasional flashbacks to the 1940's and 1960's. I'm sure a lot of the political jabs and other context went right over my head, but I still got the main gist of Coe's theme.
The storyline jumps around quite a bit between different members of the Winshaw family (old money & mostly dreadful people) and Michael Owen, a struggling lower-middle class author who is tapped to write a history of the family - with occasional side visits to other minor characters. And not only does the storyline shift - but so does the viewpoint - it sometimes took me a page or two to figure out who "he" or "I" was in any given chapter. It all feels a bit much at first (I was tempted to start taking notes/ drawing diagrams), but things come together quite nicely at the end.
Michael Owen is quite the quirky character (as are most of the Winshaws) but Coe still manages to make him likable. The various and sundry Winshaws are also well-drawn caricatures, but come off as rather beastly (yes, even Tabitha!)
The subtitle is a reference to the 1961 film also known as No Place Like Homicide!, which itself plays a fairly important role in Michael Owen's development. In fact, the climax of the novel draws heavily from the film, and others like it, while still providing a few surprises here and there.
I enjoyed Coe's style of storytelling, although I felt this novel was a lot slower than Expo 58. For me, I think a little Coe will go a long way. He's still on my list of authors to explore further (the library has The Rotter's Club and The House of Sleep) but I don't think I'm in any hurry.
Checked out the audiobook version of this introduction to a new Gail Carriger series from the local library.
Set in the same world as her Parasol ProtChecked out the audiobook version of this introduction to a new Gail Carriger series from the local library.
Set in the same world as her Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School Victorian steampunk fantasy series, this novel follows Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends), a young British female metanatural -- she can temporarily steal the powers of a supernatural being - vampire, werewolf etc.
Rue's adopted father gifts her with a touring dirigible, and also assigns her to a mission to India to investigate a new sort of tea. Accompanied by her BFF Primrose ("Prim") Tunstell and her twin brother, the stuffy Professor Percy Tunstell along with the dashing inventor (and terrible flirt) Quesnel* Lefoux. And we can't forget Spoo**!
Rue becomes embroiled in international espionage (not only among the British and Indians, but the local equivalent of vampires and werewolves as well); and must rely on her own pluck and sense of propriety to win the day. (Mind you, her sense of propriety doesn't exactly coincide with that of a proper British young woman of that day and age - but that's half the fun of this novel!) Yes, the plot falls apart if you take it too seriously, but that's not the point of these series.
I'll admit to being rather smitten with this universe Ms. Carriger has come up with; and IMHO her affected writing style is wonderfully appropriate for it. It's hardly Literature and not for everyone but I find it frivolously and preposterously fun. Moira Quirk is an excellent choice for narrator as well.
I do wish I'd re-read at least Timeless, the last of the Parasol Protectorate series, as it provides some background for Rue and Prim, as well as their parents, despite being set almost 2 decades later.
Recommended to alternate history fans looking for something too-too Victorian - as Carriger herself puts it "Imagine Jane Austen dabbling in science and steam technology. Then imagine P.G. Wodehouse suddenly dropped vampires into the Drones Club."
* One drawback to audiobooks - I had no idea "Conel"'s name was spelt like this! ** See above - except I couldn't find a text reference for the plucky deckhand's name....more
I went into Daniel Handler's latest novel pretty much blind; I spotted it on the New Books shelf at the local library. I've enjoyed other books by HanI went into Daniel Handler's latest novel pretty much blind; I spotted it on the New Books shelf at the local library. I've enjoyed other books by Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) and the cover intrigued me, despite the lack of summary available.
The novel focuses on a father (Phil Needle) and his daughter (Gwen Needle) as protagonists. Phil is on his way to becoming the Willy Loman of radio producers, living beyond his means in a condo in the Embarcadero district of San Francisco. Gwen is a slightly-spoiled, willful 14 year old who has discovered the thrill of shoplifting. Marina Needle, wife and mother, seems to function as neither, as her main interactions with Gwen result in shouting on both sides and she's withdrawn from Phil to her private studio, where she paints.
Both Phil and Gwen yearn for something more from their lives - adventure and rebellion. And they manage to find it - Phil by teaming up with his newly-hired assistant to meet with his mentor and hopefully seal a deal - and Gwen by making a new friend and discovering fellow adventure seekers in (of all places) a retirement home. Mayhem results in both cases; more overtly so on Gwen's part than Phil's.
As with Handler's other works, it's as much how the story is told as the story itself that I find enjoyable. He doles out the narrative in not-quite sequential chunks; while you expect the POV to alternate between Gwen and Phil, it doesn't always do so in the way you expect. Handler also injects himself into the story as narrator - it's his shtick (and may rub some readers a bit raw), but it's kept to a minimum here. I did like the occasional didactic regressions, as if the story were being told at a remove:
“At the time this story takes place, the bridge was called the Bay Bridge.” “The people who had the idea would end up very wealthy, which was how winning was gauged during this era of American history.” “It was hard not to watch any television that was turned on, as it always was during this era.”
Gwen and Phil are well-drawn characters, if not particularly likable, and the supporting characters have just enough personality to contribute to their share of the plot. There's a revelation near the end of the novel that I perhaps should have caught earlier; but it was just as fun not to know along the way.
While not as whimsical as his Lemony Snicket novels, Handler manages to put his own twist on what starts off as a contemporary fiction/semi-satirical novel and ends more like something from Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey (except set in San Francisco). I enjoyed the read and will continue to check out Handler's work, even if I don't come back to this particular novel....more
I learned about this book from an NPR Fresh Air author interview - 3 Feb 2015 and picked it up at the local library. It's a little more technical/mediI learned about this book from an NPR Fresh Air author interview - 3 Feb 2015 and picked it up at the local library. It's a little more technical/medically-oriented than I expected; the "science" part of the subtitle is the key word here. I found myself doing a lot of skimming when it came to which particular nerve endings connected to which parts of the brain - tho the diagrams were very helpful.
I thought the book was well-organized, with chapters on touch illusions, pain (both temporary and chronic), sexual touches and itching and scratching (difficult to read without getting the urge to scratch!) and enjoyed Linden's treatment of the sociological elements of touch, presenting anecdotes along the way. (although the story (and photo!) of the woman who scratched thru her skull was a bit creepy!).
Linden is no Oliver Sacks (but then, who is?), but I might check out his other books at some point, and consider this book worth a library read if the topic interests you....more
Just finished the full-cast audio version of this novel, recommended by Marianne. C.S. and Hopeful Crow over at the SDMB. I checked it out from my locJust finished the full-cast audio version of this novel, recommended by Marianne. C.S. and Hopeful Crow over at the SDMB. I checked it out from my local library.
It's a YA alternate history/steampunkish adventure, set early in the 20th century, where grand airships make transoceanic voyages. Matt Cruse is a teenage cabin boy on the Aurora, the same ship his father served on before his untimely accident. Matt assists in the rescue of a stranded balloonist, an older man whose dying words speak of "beautiful creatures" soaring above a strange island. One year later, on another voyage along the same route, Matt encounters a remarkable young woman whose connection to that balloonist sparks the events of this action filled novel.
This is my first encounter with Oppel, and I believe I'll be back for more. His worldbuilding is right up my alley. (I have a thing for airships - see Leviathan and Curtsies & Conspiracies) The slight differences of Matt Cruse's world and our own are laid out in a way that flows organically from the story. Once the action gets going, it can be a bit breathless at times, and I found myself shaking my head a bit at the occasional convenient plot elements - even when they had been referenced appropriately earlier in the narrative. Nevertheless, it was a "ripping yarn" along the lines of Verne and Stephenson, updated to more modern sensibilities.
Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries are very well drawn - strong protagonists, but with flaws as well. The supporting characters are equally enjoyable - I hope Oppel brings back Chef Vlad in the subsequent novels! The "beautiful creatures" turn out to be fascinating in and of themselves - I admire the work Oppel put into making them believable and (based on reading the description of the next book in the series) I hope they'll be making further appearances.
The full cast recording was quite entertaining - David Kelly voiced Matt Cruse, as well as all the additional narration. One other reviewer found Kelly a bit much ( as if everything he said had umpteen exclamation marks), but I enjoyed the enthusiasm of young Cruse. Rachel Molten also did a fine job with Kate De Vries. Vikram Szpirglas, voiced by Ronald Sweet was also a lot of fun. My only minor complaint was with the voicing of Baz - the pseudo-Aussie accent grated on me (my luck, Alex Lieben is actually from Down Under )
If you're looking for a fun, fairly straightforward adventure with a touch of alt-history/fantasy, and not a lot of angst and soul searching (I'm looking at you, Naomi Novik), then I'd recommend giving this novel a look-see. I just put the second novel in the series -Skybreaker- on hold at the library....more
I spotted this on the New Books shelf at the local library and couldn't resist.
It's an intriguing travelogue of various places around the world that nI spotted this on the New Books shelf at the local library and couldn't resist.
It's an intriguing travelogue of various places around the world that no longer exist, have yet to exist or are otherwise hidden from the general populace either by chance or by decree. Bonnet delves into the historical as well as the geographical elements of each of these "unruly places" and provides some intriguing insights.
Among the areas discussed are the Sentinel Islands, home to one of the few (and probably most belligerent) uncontacted tribes; Pripyat, Ukraine (nearest town to Chernobyl) and Baarle, a town on the Netherlands/Belgium border made up of a multitude of enclaves, where your front and back doors may be in different countries.
Well-researched, but not at all dry; in fact there are some nice touches of humor -- from the chapter on trash vortices/islands: "Since Belgium appears to have become an international standard for judging the size of large floating objects..."
I've read two different books dealing with color over the past few months - this one and ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color by JudI've read two different books dealing with color over the past few months - this one and ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color by Jude Stewart back in October. I don't remember how I found that one, but this book was featured on NPR's Morning Edition back in early November. I checked both out of the local library - I'd recommend reading the dead tree version vs an ebook, unless you have a color tablet (would be a bit silly to read about about colors on a black & white device, no?)
Both books delve into the world of color from a sociological as well as scientific standpoint. They discussed the subtractive vs additive color methods, with subtractive being used with pigment and additive with light, as well as the historical discoveries that lead to these theories. The Eckstuts (and perhaps Stewart - to be honest, both books are kind of blending together in my mind at this point) also spent some time talking about dyes - how natural dyes like tyrian purple and cochineal have given way to artificial dyes (Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World is now on my ToRead list, thanks to this section). On the sociological side, sumptuary laws, colors as metaphors as well as the order in which color words are added to a language are all topics covered in these books.
I found them both informative and engaging, but noticed a bit of a UK slant to the Eckstuts' writing - while the US spelling of "color" and other "or/our" words was used, they mention sunflowers being most associated with southern France (while I would think of Kansas, or at least the Plains states) and there were one or two other phrases or terms that felt UK-centric. I also spotted some typos in this book - at one point a paragraph went missing from one page, only to be repeated twice on the next page. They both came out within a month of one another, Stewart's in Sep 2013 and this in October, so they may have been rushing to the presses.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed both books and would recommend them as at least a library read to anyone with a general interest in the history, culture and/or science of color. ...more
Spotted this on the New Books shelf at the local library & it looked to be right up my alley. As advertised, it's a look at the lives of pop cult Spotted this on the New Books shelf at the local library & it looked to be right up my alley. As advertised, it's a look at the lives of pop culture characters based on various types of correspondence - ranging from Yelp reviews of Cheers and the Bates Motel, a US Marshall memo on the "Wanted: Dead or Alive" status of Jon BonJovi and a list of Jay-Z's 99 problems.
I had several laugh-out loud moments (NASA's termination letter to Elton John), but they felt a bit front-loaded. There were a couple of items I didn't quite get, due to not being familiar with the source material, but that's going to happen with any collection like this. Overall - there's a lot of clever moments (and an occasional bit of pathos) - and I've added it to my Christmas wish list. ...more