Energetic and engaging. Yong writes so well; some of his metaphors, imagery, and explanations will stick with me for a long time. Not knowing much aboEnergetic and engaging. Yong writes so well; some of his metaphors, imagery, and explanations will stick with me for a long time. Not knowing much about microbes to begin with, I appreciated the book's broad scope, and while I could have done without learning that DIY fecal transplants are a thing, I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. ...more
This is an accessible and engaging look at DNA in the particular social context of African-American genealogy. Nelson examines how DNA and genetic linThis is an accessible and engaging look at DNA in the particular social context of African-American genealogy. Nelson examines how DNA and genetic lineage knowledge--and the act of interpreting said knowledge--assist people in shaping their own identities, senses of self and orientation to the past, and community ties. The book is weakest on the reparations angle of its subtitle, but that's because DNA's usefulness in seeking legal reparations is weak; in general, the American legal system is not equipped to deal with reparations. I wished Nelson did a deeper dive into the commercial aspect (but I'm someone who snarks at those Ancestry DNA TV commercials OMFG "HISPANIC" IS NOT A NATIONALITY), but she did an excellent job with--and brought sufficient skepticism and empathy--to explaining why people are interested in DNA technology as a tool to understand themselves and to explore their identities in the context of the past and in the context of evolving communities.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher....more
Less about the abductions themselves (which is good, given how much is and would have to be speculative) and more about the abductions in the contextLess about the abductions themselves (which is good, given how much is and would have to be speculative) and more about the abductions in the context of Japanese-Korean (Japanese-North Korean, specifically) modern-day history; not knowing much about that context, I found the book easy to read, informative, and engaging. ...more
A warm and thoughtful analysis of cultural influences on Celine Dion, as well as the cultural influences that shape how we view her. I hate the subtitA warm and thoughtful analysis of cultural influences on Celine Dion, as well as the cultural influences that shape how we view her. I hate the subtitle to this edition, but everything else is pretty great.
The original edition of Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, was recommended in Nick Hornby's More Baths, Less Talking. I wanted to read it, but lbr, not for the answers it promised. Like, I fully expected the answer to "Why do people hate Celine Dion?" to be "Because humans are classist and sexist, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, haven't you met a human being before??" And that's all here, definitely. And of course Wilson explores the flipside, "Why do people love Celine Dion?", but he admittedly can't completely pierce through or communicate that joy when it's not his, when he comes to the appreciation he does only after study and argument and some letting down of his guard. My favorite parts of this book were Wilson putting Celine Dion in her cultural context and in our cultural consumption context, and his exploration of the history of schmaltz. That was A+ stuff there, and I was hanging on every word as I was learning more about things I hadn't known I hadn't known. And being a political theory nerd, Wilson's use of democracy as a lens for understanding our relationships with cultural consumption were also pretty exciting and thought-provoking.
And Wilson, spoiler alert, advocates a generosity that I find heartening and that I connect with. My favorite passage of the book:
You can't go on suspending judgment forever--that would be to forgo genuinely enjoying music, since you can't enjoy what you can't like. But a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all its messiness and private soul tremors--to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare. This kind of exchange takes place sometimes between critics on the Internet, and it would be fascinating to have more dialogic criticism: here is my story, what is yours? You might have to be ready, like Celine, to be laughed at. (Judge not, as the Bible sort of says, unless you're eager to be judged.) In these ways the embarrassment of having a taste, the reflexive disgust of distinction, the strangeness of our strangeness to one another, might get the airing they need. As Marx once wrote, "Shame is a revolutionary sentiment." Obviously, reforming the way we talk about music is on its own no way to fix social injustice or the degradation of public life--but if we're going to be talking anyway, we could at least stop making matters worse.
All that said, failed art and (one hopes) great art do exist, and it is worth continuing to talk about which is which, however compromised the conversation might be. It is probably totally subjective whether you prefer Celine Dion or the White Stripes, and a case of social prejudice that Celine is less cool than that band's Jack White. But it seems fair to guess neither of them can rival the Beatles or Louis Armstrong--based, for example, on how broadly (one might say democratically) those artists appeal to people across taste divides. When we do make judgments, though, the trick would be to remember that they are contingent, hailing from one small point in time and in society. It's only a rough draft of art history: it always could be otherwise, and usually will be. The thrill is that as a rough draft, it is always up for revision, so we are constantly at risk of our minds being changed--the promise that lured us all to art in the first place.
And because I'm as terrible of a human being as any, I admit that part of my motivation in reading this book was smugly seeking validation. I fully expected to have my own omnivorous ways of media consumption validated, to get pat on the back for not being a snob and for having outgrown being an insecure teenager fretting over their public self-identification. My attitude? I like Harlequin romances and country music and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals! Unironically! And I like other things! If you dismiss me for that, it's your loss and your problem, I ain't fussed! I place value and experience joy in being able to enjoy a wide range of media!
But Wilson ably discusses where our culture is re: omnivourism, too, and how that kind of taste and the belief of how it's reflective of me~~~ is just as sideeye-worthy. Jonathan Sterne's essay ("Giving Up on Giving Up on Good Taste") also made me consider my practices of exclusion and inclusion. That my own snowflake-y feelings of "My taste is uncontained! It's uncontainable!!" is just as socially constructed and maintained, and there's nothing to do for that except to continue following and finding my own connections and joys, to remember to be thoughtful and open to connection. The conclusions that Wilson and Sterne and the others draw might not be mind-blowing, but they still helped frame my own thoughts and were a kick in the pants to remember to be thoughtful and open and weirdly human. Humanly weird.
Aside from Wilson's excellent half of the book, my favorites of the supplemental essays (Sterne's, Daphne A. Brook's "Let's Talk About Diana Ross" [which omg I hope she expands into its own book I want it I want it], and James Franco's "Acting In And Out of Context") look lucidly at the concepts of performance and self-consciousness and other-consciousness and internal connection as well as external connection. Which is Celine Dion as hell, frankly, and while I wish I had read the Wilson book earlier, I'm glad I did read this edition, with its additional voices--even if some were boring and added little value to the conversation....more
So in the musical Hamilton (aka the only and every thing that I love), this exchange occurs as the cast narrates the conclusion (warning: profanity) oSo in the musical Hamilton (aka the only and every thing that I love), this exchange occurs as the cast narrates the conclusion (warning: profanity) of the Battle of Yorktown:
JOHN LAURENS Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom
GEORGE WASHINGTON Not. Yet
As of this writing, the Genius annotations for these two lines discuss the rich interpretations of this exchange, and I thought it's a good illustration for the complexity of what the American Revolutionary War meant for black Americans at the time, both free and enslaved, soldier and civilian--and what it might mean for present day Americans and the historical traditions we revere, retell, reject. (I've been thinking a lot about this because of Hamilton. I decided to read this book because of Hamilton, actually.)
Gilbert's book traces black participation in the two concurrent (and sometimes contradictory) revolutions: American's freedom from Britain, and black Americans' freedom from slavery. Probably unsurprisingly, the short summary is this: the Patriot and the Loyalist sides both challenged and reinforced slavery in their pursuit of victory, for reasons both pragmatic and principled, and both sides incorporated blacks in their military, but to different extents and with lackluster documentation. Despite the latter, Gilbert writes a thoroughly researched account--and account it is; Gilbert discusses documentation and then analyzes and defends his interpretations well. It's very readable but also a very dry read at times because of So Many Lists, So Many Stories. It got reeeaally dry at times. Since Gilbert's a political theorist and not a historian by training, I had actually expected more political theory (that's my academic background), but this is definitely a history.
The footnotes are extensive and also sometimes wonderful, as that's where Gilbert manages to contain his polite and professional comments that challenge other researchers for their racism and for their other blinders. (He footnotes a passage of his that basically calls b.s. on white slaveowners claiming their slaves loved them sincerely, and in this footnote, dutifully references a historian who has previously argued otherwise, and calmly adds, "but I am skeptical.") There was one time in his own text that I was kind of taken aback (Gilbert compared Colonel Tye to a mountain lion, in a positive fashion, which I thought was weird and an unnecessary dehumanization when no one else was getting their skills compared to an animal's), but for the most part, Gilbert wrote from a solidly and unapologetic anti-racist position.
And, yeah, I learned a lot from this book and I can recommend it for a learning experience but not necessarily a reading experience (although, read the footnotes if you do read this, they're lovely). It's a good non-fiction read-along with or follow-up to The Book of Negroes. Given the difficulty many Americans have as conceptualizing the Civil War as about slavery, it's probably not an easy sell to demonstrate the extent of how the Revolutionary War was about (for whites) protecting the practice of slavery (I mean, I came to the book pretty cynical and I was still surprised by the extent), and how the Patriots come off even worse than the British in this corner of Great Hypocrisies in History, but I hope this book does get read, and that the stories in here are part of what we think about when we think about American liberty....more
Good biographical overview of fifty-two successful and influential women (predominantly white and Western) in the sciences. Lots and lots of interestiGood biographical overview of fifty-two successful and influential women (predominantly white and Western) in the sciences. Lots and lots of interesting anecdotes. The writing itself was often clunky and superficial, but the subject matter was engagingly portrayed....more
The structure was sometimes frustrating, switching between the story of Jang's escape and intricate explanations of North Korean politics at inopportuThe structure was sometimes frustrating, switching between the story of Jang's escape and intricate explanations of North Korean politics at inopportune times, but overall, it was a very interesting look at someone who, despite being wildly privileged within the Kim Jong-il regime, defected in search of freedom.
I thought the insight into propagandizing (as part of his work, Jang took on the identity of a South Korean poet to write favorably of North Korea) and the development of an artist under a tyrannical regime was engaging. The inside information on the Kim Jong-il regime was fascinating, and some of the framework (namely, the true nature of the transition of power between the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il) was new to me.
I still think Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is the go-to overview book for those interested in reading about North Korea, but this book, if less well-written, is a strong resource about specifics. Just ignore that he ends the book with a wearily misogynistic "In North Korea, I lived under a tyrannical despot I called dear leader, now I live in South Korea under a tyrannical despot I call my wife lol" joke. Seriously....more
"...one of the responsibilities of American writers is to broaden the confines, sensibilities, and generative capacity of American literature by broad
"...one of the responsibilities of American writers is to broaden the confines, sensibilities, and generative capacity of American literature by broadening the audience to whom we write, and hoping that broadened audience writes back with brutal imagination, magic, and brilliance.
Brilliant stuff about being fucked up in a fucked up country, but it circles again and again on love, self-love, radical love, urgent love, necessary love, and what forms that might take....more
Lively and well-written, with generous use of equally engaging primary sources. It's not a deep or particularly analytical biography, but I enjoyed itLively and well-written, with generous use of equally engaging primary sources. It's not a deep or particularly analytical biography, but I enjoyed its positivity and its intense commitment to understanding these two interesting sisters on their own terms.
I came into this book already a fan of Hortense (because "the mistresses of Charles II" is one of my areas of interest in British history, alongside the following: Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Plantagenets, definitely not the Tudors ugh, sometimes the Jacobite risings, the Regency if a bit begrudgingly, Anthony Trollope's invention of the mailbox, anything related to P.G. Wodehouse, the SOE, and the first war against Voldemort), but it was Marie I ended up loving a lot. She kept a kind heart if a bit of a dreamy head throughout her life.
I did wish for more geographic grounding and more signposting of how much time was passing, but the narrative was well-constructed otherwise....more
I watched the movie (starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, produced by Mel Brooks; what wasn't to like?), and I immediately had to read the bookI watched the movie (starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, produced by Mel Brooks; what wasn't to like?), and I immediately had to read the book. Yes, it's charming and funny and appealing to book nerds, but I primarily loved how kind it all was. It's about how you can hold other people, people you've never met, in your heart and in your mind, you can act with generosity and thoughtfulness and not crash into an imperturbable wall of cynicism, and the world is a better place for that. ...more
Grim and gripping; I stayed up late to finish it. What would cause a group of experienced mountaineers, in the midst of qualifying for the highest hikGrim and gripping; I stayed up late to finish it. What would cause a group of experienced mountaineers, in the midst of qualifying for the highest hiking certification, to flee from their tent--with inexplicably sudden urgency, without even shoes for protection--into the frozen, hypothermia-inducing night?
There is still no answer, but Eichar's theory is based in science and well-presented, and I was also compelled by his explanation as to why this phenomenon wasn't well-known until recently. No aliens, no in-group murders. Eichar's reconstruction of their hikers' final hours was terrifying and sad enough without the addition of anything salacious: just destructible humans pitted against the natural world.
The human aspect of this tragedy was also developed with care. I've read about the Dyatlov Incident before (before this book, I assumed the hikers had crossed paths with some Cold War weaponry experiment gone wrong), but this account incorporated a lot of in-depth personal accounting, and the grief for the unexplained loss of these nine friends pervaded the pages.
I did think that Eichar's narrative of his own 2012 journey and investigation didn't always add to the story as a whole, and that I would have wanted more cultural context at times. Overall, however, the book was strong and well-documented....more
Well, I, for one, am happy I was "the Nellie." No, not just happy, proud. And eternally grateful. All I can say is, thank you. It's like I tell people
Well, I, for one, am happy I was "the Nellie." No, not just happy, proud. And eternally grateful. All I can say is, thank you. It's like I tell people at my stand-up shows: by making me a bitch, you have given me my freedom, the freedom to say and do things I couldn't do if I was a "nice girl" with some sort of stupid, goody-two-shoes image to keep up. Things that require courage. Things that require balls. Things that need to be done. By making me a bitch, you have freed me from the trite, sexist, bourgeois prison of "likeability." Any idiot can be liked. It takes talent to scare the crap out of people.
A really awesome memoir: very funny, sometimes sad and angry-making, but always quite thoughtful. ...more
From personal experience, I can advise that this book isn't optimal bedtime reading, given how terrifying, sad, and gruesome some parts of this book cFrom personal experience, I can advise that this book isn't optimal bedtime reading, given how terrifying, sad, and gruesome some parts of this book could be, not to mention how long my thoughts lingered on some of the existential terror. But aside from that (or perhaps because of that), I found it very gripping, even if the narrative style--intensely personal and sometimes overdramatized--sometimes grated.