Monday, April 12, 2021

What I've been reading...

 Version Control by Dexter Palmer. A couple (5?) years ago I was able to meet a blogging friend IRL while she was working at a bookstore in a town that I was visiting. For a book about time travel (which I love) the time travel came into this book really late into the book. I liked it, I just was surprised how long it took to get to (what it felt to me) the point.

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatalov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar.  This book should be the least surprising book to show up on this blog ever. Oh, a book about an unexplained incident in post-WWII Russia with mysterious deaths? Yeah duh. I really liked this book, it felt well researched and full of these hikers humanities. What was great was that literally as I was reading this book there was breaking news about what might have caused the hikers deaths'. Interestingly enough, the theory that is breaking is a different theory than this book offers up. No "for sure" answers!

War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East by Gershom Gorenberg. I really wanted to adore this book because it seemed to hit a lot of my interests. I was disappointed in the fact that it didn't really hit for me. I think that the problem was that it tried to cover a lot of topics in a shortish book. Maybe it needed to be two separate books and then we would have been in business.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Book review: "The Street Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power" by Deirdre Masks

I love love love love this book. Some of my favorite book things are 1) maps and 2) super super specific nonfiction. And this book gave me both of those things. (Look how the cover art has a crease on it like it's a folded map - be still my heart). Each chapter is it's own topic but the theme throughout it all his street addresses!

I have so many postit notes in this book - sorry in advance for how long and disjointed that this will be, haha.

Also, quick side note, I think if we think about people who don't have a street address we think that either those people are a)homeless or b) living in a squatter or slum kind of situation. Not true! A lot of folks in the good old USA are living in rural roads that don't even have names let alone house numbers. Okay. Now we will start.

- "In recent years more than 40% of all local laws passed by the New York City Common Council have been related to changes in street names". That's...SO MANY.  

-This is a fact not related to street addresses - the British Empire trafficked over 3.1 million Africans in the slave trade.

-Do you know what the "zip" in zip code stands for? Zone Improvement Planning. For as much as I play trivia I can't believe that's never come up. 

-A bunch of roads in Belgium are named after their food specialties - Passage of Speculoos. (I want to live on a street named after a cookie) 

-Only 2.6% of streets are named after women. These folks are on it. 

- Most europeans didn't have permanent last names before the 14th century. You know why those were established? So people could get drafted and taxed. SURPRISE SURPRISE. 

- A bunch of teenagers in Iran were anti-British so they decided to rename the street that the British Embassy on from Winston Churchill Street to Bobby Sands Street. It caught on so quickly that the British embassy made another entrance to their building so people coming to the embassy didn't enter on that street. If you didn't spend your childhood elbows deep in books about irish politics - Bobby Sands was.uh..incredibly anti-British and was held as a political prisoner by them when he died of a hunger strike as a very young man in 1981. 

- I've been to DC several times and I thought I was pretty confident in the city's layout and spoke and wheel thing that it was designed around. Somehow missed: "numbered streets run east to west, lettered streets run north and south...diagonal streets were named for the states of the Union (15 at the time) with longest avenues given the names of the three largest states at the time (PA, MA, VA) and now every state in the union has a street named after it.

-There's a great chapter about renaming or un-naming street names because of wars, revolutionaries, scandals and more. Russia has more than 4000 streets named after Lenin, equaling 5363 miles which is a longer distance than Moscow to Minneapolis. In a few different european countries that have streets that translate in English to "Jew Path". The streets don't cut through the middle of the cities, Jews were forced to use these paths that were far out of the way, to isolate them from others.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Book review: "This is Chance: The Shaking of an All American City, A Voice that Held it All Together" by Jon Mooallem

On Good Friday in 1964 a 9.2 magnitude earthquake centered 75 miles east of Anchorage. It lasted 4 minutes, which is an incredibly long time for an earthquake. Oil tanks exploded in Seward and set the harbor on fire. A large tsunami came in and wiped out small villages up and down the cost. It was so violent that an island southeast of Anchorage was knocked nearly 70 feet out of it's original position. Water levels jumped as far away as Libya, Israel and Belgium. In downtown Anchorage two whole city blocks dropped 10 feet. So, all of this is to say - this was a very bad earthquake. Please see evidence below.


Enter, Genie Chance. 

Genie was a reporter/on air personality for local radio station KNEI - the only woman. When the earthquake hit she was in downtown Anchorage with one of her children, stopped at a stoplight. She thought they had blown a tire because as they were slowing down to stop at the stoplight her car started rocking violently but then she looked around and saw that every other car was also rocking. As soon as the earthquake stopped she sped home, checked on her family, and then almost immediately began broadcasting. A lot of the information at the beginning was just safety tips. Then people started coming in and handing her messages like "My name is John Baker, can you please let my parents know I'm okay?" or "There's a need for electricians at the hospital, anyone who can please gather there". Even though there was a city manager, and several other department heads where Genie was set up at the Public Safety broadcasting she became the de facto organizer. Volunteers poured in looking for ways to help, and since Genie was the only person who knew where people were going and what other people needed. She did this for days. This book focuses on Genie, how she got to KNEI, her time during the earth quake and her life afterward. Her story was not always a happy one, but she did a lot of good for the people of Alaska.

And while the damage was horrific less than 15 people died (though the people who did die were killed in awful sort of ways - being swept out to sea, being crushed by falling debris, being literally swallowed by the earth). And though the damage was horrific the people who studied how disaster affects people were shocked at how the residents clung to each other and helped one another. (The one documented case of looting was by a police officer 🙄🙄🙄🙄)

There was a really interesting quote about trauma and how it affects people in situations like this earthquake. Genie noticed that she was repeating tasks subconsciously in the months after the earthquake " was as though she'd come back to remember, to test that the orderliness of the world had truly been restored. Maybe this is how trauma worked. Maybe it didn't knock you back, like an earthquake, but infiltrated and destabilized you slowly, like rot".

There were two things that I didn't like about this book:

1. The author writes himself into the story at the end and refers to himself in third person and it's weird and I didn't like it. 

2. The author had this weird habit when he introduced new people in the story. Where he would introduce you to someone and then almost immediately tell you how they died. Like "Wesley Hoffmann was an Anchorage resident who stood at 5 feet 3 inches, worked in an office and refused to wear clothes with patterns for some unknown reason. She was killed in 2028 when she got drunk and tried to fit a walrus". It was a strange choice and it took me out of the story each time he did it.

Overall I really liked this book - if we learned anything this year we know that not all heroes, like Genie, wear capes.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Book review: "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

 I'm just so fortunate, another great book! I'm ending the year very strong with my reads, which is awesome because for a good chunk of quarantine spring (like....April-June) I just couldn't read anything. Hat tip to my friend Chas who recommended this book to me, I remember hearing about it and that it was popular but never investigated it further.

While I was reading this book I was think about this occurrence at UVM. The author is educated in Classics and languages from some of the best schools that this country has to offer. If you're reading a book blog, I can assume that books (or maybe just me) are important to you so I won't preach to the choir about the importance of arts of the humanities in education. I understand that educational institutions are in a tough position but we have to find better ways. 

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled bookish programming.

Patroculus is a young prince in a little to no consequence kingdom in ancient Greece. He accidentally kills someone (a-hole kid+ shove + rocks= oops) and he is sent in exile to be raised by a king in a different part of Greece. He's scared out of his mind, but his homelife wasn't great so maybe this isn't the worst thing that could happen? This king has taken in a few misfit exiles but Patroculus befriends Achilles, the young prince in this new kingdom. Achilles dad is the king but his mom is a straight up terrifying sea goddess (but she's mad because she was raped and kidnapped so, it's not like it's unwarranted. There's a lot of abuse of women in this book, but a couple of shining moments for them too. Not nearly enough but...) His mom goddess has told him that a prophecy about him is that he will be the greatest greek whoever lived. No pressure. P and A grow up together and become very close and eventually fall in love. But then their pretty ideal existence is imploded by what becomes the Trojan War.

If you wanted this movie to be less bloated and ridiculous and more gay, have I got a book for you!

Like all wars everyone thinks that it will be done in like, a year (it's not) and as usual old men talk and young men die. I really enjoyed how the book talks about the tension between all of the kings (many cooks in the kitchen), what day to day life looks like in a ten year siege, and the relationships built around a conflict. A lot of the names will probably sound familiar to you, but you might now know the details of them (Ajax, Pyrrh, etc) or more familiar ones like Odysseus.

It was a fast, interesting, relationships focused read with a setting of the futility and banality of war. And a love story! I give it 4 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Book review: "Fathoms: The World in the Whale" by Rebecca Giggs

 To put it most simply, this book is about whales - but it's so much more than that. The writing is so lyrical and almost poetic that it feels like reading poetry sometime. Poetry with great whale information!

-There was a chapter at the end all about how in the last few years that scientists have opened up the stomachs of dead whales and the amount of plastic that they have found in them is STAGGERING. I immediately wanted wanted to get up and recycle everything that was nearby.  There was one whale that had 88 plastic rice sacks (empty) in it's stomach. And so much fishing nets and fishing line. There are some seagulls in Australia that 8% of their bodyweight is made up of plastic. If that was a 137 pound human that would be 11 pounds of plastic in their stomach. It was heartbreaking.

- One of my favorite parts of the book was when they talked about the sounds that whales made. This was one of my favorite facts from the book: " Songs sung by humpbacks off Puerto Rico, for instance, would be heard by whales in waters near Newfoundland some 1615 miles away; the equivalent to a shout on the streets of Moscow  being made-out, whisper quiet, by people in London". How is that even real life? I love it. 

-Livestock (cows and pigs) make up 60% of the earth's mammals. (Not much room left for other things, like whales)

-You know how the Germans have a word for everything? (And sometimes it's 16 letters long?) I learned another one in this book "heiliger Schauer": the shiver of prey sensing a predator's gaze.

- You know that sometimes if you are threatening to beat the crap out of someone you can refer to it as "whaling on someone?" The reason that it's called that is because police batons used to be made of whalebone. Which is the part of the whales mouth that they use to strain krill.

Also, I love this font

Monday, January 11, 2021

Starting the year with a DNF...and some German vocabulary

 So, starting the year with a DNF isn't maybe the strongest start to 2021. Or...maybe it says "I value my reading energy in 2021, be gone things that don't make me super excited!"

The thing is, I was very pumped for this book : "A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany." Right up my alley, right? The bummer of the book is that it's really more about 2 faith healing hucksters operating in a super vulnerable time in post-WWII Germany. There's a lot of interesting information out there about how people deal mentally in countries after wars and uprisings but this book doesn't really touch on that and that was one of the ways that I was kinda let down.

But you know where this book didn't let me down?  Ridiculous German words. They are long and ridiculous and all of them look like untreatable venereal diseases. I found some fun ones in this book. 

-Schicksalsgemeinschaft - term to describe a community supposedly bound together by a shared experience of fate.

-Paragraphenschwierigkeiten - red tape! (Or, literally, paragraph problems)

- Teufelsaustreibungen - devil expulsions. (This book says that devil expulsions are what Protestants say and Catholics say exorcisms which...I don't know if that's true)

(This one wasn't in the book but Garrett and I have talked about this one. Also if that is spelled wrong please direct your corrections to him).

- Vergangenheitsbeweiltigung - This is when you have guilt about the Holocaust even if you were born after it happened and had nothing to do with it.

I hope that some of you had "learn some obscure German words" as a new year's resolution.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Book Review: "Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World" by Matt Alt

 Holy cow guys have a lot to unpack. You are a complicated country.

 My friend Garrett gave me this book for Christmas this year because we often discuss Japan and their place in history (generally WWII) and the unusual (to us) societal quirks that may have come from the shock of the nuclear bombs and the upsetting of their empire. If this is something that interests you I can't possibly recommend Dan Carlin's podcast and his series on the Supernova in the East enough. 

Also a beautiful independent theater in the Milwaukee area has started doing Anime April and Miyazaki March so I (reluctantly at first) went to a couple of movies the last few years during those times with Garrett and our friend Gage and while a couple of them weren't my favorite I have enjoyed far more than I have disliked. Totoro, you cute sonofabitch.

This is a lot of words to basically say that, before reading this book I would say "I mean, I dabble in a few Japanese things but that's really about it". Now that I have read this book I realize that I have: sang karaoke, know who Hello Kitty is, almost ran over people staring at their phones playing PokemonGo and played with a Tamagotchi I guess I know more about Japanese pop culture than I thought I did. And I bet you do too! 

As usual, as follows are things that I found interesting or questions that I have after reading this book.

-For a time, and maybe still now, women were expected to graduate from college, work for a couple years, and then get married and quit their job. That's what happened to the woman who designed Hello Kitty did. And then the company was kind of like "uhhhhh so should we just let hello kitty die out even though it's really popular because we don't know what girls/women want?". The assistant to the original designer bucked tradition, stayed unamarried and at her job and became Hello Kitty's human "manager" and helped keep the company out of bankruptcy and maintaining and worldwide phenom. Hello Kitty makes a half billion dollars in revenue at year. The company that makes her is the 8th biggest licensor in the world - ahead of Pokemon, the NFL and Playboy.

-The guy who created Pokemon loved playing outdoors as a child. However, one day his favorite fishing spot suddenly had a new building built there, an arcade. He went in, became obsessed with Space Invaders and it changed the direction of his life. The irony on this kills me because a lot of little kids probably were yelled at by their parents to put down their Pokemon stuff and GO PLAY OUTSIDE. Though I bet the PokemonGo everyone goes outside and wanders looking for invisible critters kind of balances the scales back. I've also decided that Lickitungs is the grossest sounding Pokemon name. 

- Prewar Japan was like, a huge producer and connoisseur of children's toys. This obviously screeched to a halt during the war. 6 months after the war a man who was a toy maker before the war started collecting the tins that occupying Americans trashed (we are preeeettty great at generating trash) and made little toy American Jeeps. They were a sensation. It was one of the first little luxuries that Japan had after the war. 

- There are a lot of pages devoted to Dragonball Z, early origins of anime (RocketBoy) and how it came to America, some super shady stuff on the internet, the invention of the Walkman and karaoke machines. 

Most of the information on this book was completely new to me, so it made reading a little slow going and a lot to digest but I learned so much! If you have an interest in pop culture this would be a great book for you!