sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Eh. It's well-written, but as a work of Christian apologetics I have some issues with it. I do not agree with all of Lewis's theology or ruminations on human nature. It's not all bad, but I have enough points of departure to be annoyed with him. Plus the deliberately negative perspective of the book (it being written from the pov of demons after all) just feels to me like it puts the reader into a really unhelpful headspace.

And since the point of reading this book is, I gather, supposed to be that the reader finds it useful in becoming a better Christian according to Lewis's understanding of how to be Christian, these issues mean that the book fails for me.

Oh well. I was kind of expecting to have this response to it, given that I've come across people's discussions of their issues with CS Lewis's approach to Christianity in the past. It's just that I own a copy of the book and since it's so widely known and well-regarded, I felt obligated to give it a try before getting rid of it. And now I can! And I think I can at this point also get rid of the other non-Narnia book I have of his as well, without bothering to read it.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
So one of the reccing communities I follow recently had two novel-length fics recced for the Rivers of London fandom and they looked kind of interesting so I gave one a try and loved it, read the other and loved it too, and proceeded to spend the next week or so reading nothing but Rivers of London fanfic. And eventually I was like....okay so maybe I should actually read the actual books these are based on, I've heard good things about those.

So I am! This is the first one in the series, and is known as Rivers of London in most of the world and Midnight Riot in North America because apparently we can't handle books with titles that indicate the book is foreign.

I was a little nervous going in that maybe I wouldn't like the books because fandom....does not always do a good job of representing what a canon is actually about or actually like. And I mean it's not quite what I expected, but still good. More focus on cases and less on people, but also much more of a sense of humour than I was expecting! I was 100% charmed by just a few pages into the book. And then I accidentally stayed up past my bedtime to finish the book. So, you know: I liked it.

For those who are unfamiliar, the basic premise is: policemen in London who do magic and deal with magic-related crimes. The main character, Peter, discovers the existence of magic early in the book and ends up apprenticed to Nightingale, more or less the last practitioner of Newtonian magic in Britain.

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

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A self-published memoir about a man's experience as a sent-down youth during the Cultural Revolution in China, translated by his children and posted to tumblr one chapter at a time over the last two and a half years. I think I've been reading it since nearly the beginning of that time! It's weird to think it's actually over and I won't be getting any more semi-regular updates on out-of-date rural Chinese farming techniques and the like.

This was a fascinating book and I loved following along over the last couple years. The author talks a lot about the facts of his life and not much about the emotions or the personal side of things, but given how little I knew about village life in China, or about the experiences of the sent-down youth, I didn't mind, as it was all very interesting.

I gather that Xia Jianfeng's experiences as a sent-down youth were more positive than many - the village he was sent to was relatively prosperous as these things go, and he seems to have adapted well to his new life. It would be interesting to also read the perspective of a sent-down youth who had a more difficult experience.

At any rate I'm very glad that this guy and his kids decided to share his story with the internet. And you too can read the book if you want to at the tumblr tenyearsapeasant.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
Let me start by saying that this is very obviously the first book in the series and it ends without concluding anything major, and in fact the very end of the epilogue has a character realize an important thing and the narrative doesn't tell us what it is. And it's a new book so any sequels are not yet available to be read. So like, there's that.

But on the other hand I really thoroughly enjoyed this book! John Scalzi, whatever else one might to say about his writing, knows how to write a book that is fun to read. His dialogue, as usual, falls more on the side of "clever" than "realistic", and the narrative tone is lightweight, and the book clips along at a quick and immensely readable pace.

The characters aren't super deep, but I enjoyed reading about them. And there's fun politics, and interesting worldbuilding, and I really truly want to find out what happens next! But I'm left having to wait for the next book to get any kind of resolution. Or possibly several books down the road, depending on what happens next. Sigh.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
This book was incredible. It's a memoir of a biologist, interspersed with small sections of thematically relevant plant facts. But as well as it being the story of her scientific life, it's also just as much the story of her relationship with Bill, her best friend/chosen brother/platonic soulmate/lab manager/whatever you want to call him, and how central the two of them are to each other, how important.

So at its heart this book is just a lovely look at two weirdos who love science and each other, and that is just like EVERYTHING GOOD?? I had a lot of feelings. Plus the quality of the prose in this book is great which is always nice too, and not to be relied upon in memoirs!

(it's super weird though to read professional reviews of this book. One review I read mentioned Bill in all of one paragraph out of about fifteen, clearly seeing his and Hope's friendship as a minor facet of the book. Hope's pretty clear in the last chapter of the book that in large part writing this book was writing about Bill, and the important connection between Bill and Hope permeates the entirety of the book! But because the rest of the world doesn't know how to understand important platonic relationships, this gets sidelined in reviews. Ugh.)
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Okay so I watched [personal profile] skygiants's recent Howl's Moving Castle vid which uses the movie source material to make a vid about the book, and I was immediately like I NEED TO REREAD THAT BOOK and so I did and it was obviously great as always. I'm just endlessly charmed by this ridiculous delightful book. And uh I don't know what else to say about it because I am having trouble convincing my brain that there's anyone out there who HASN'T read this book (and been subsequently charmed by it) even though I know there are probably plenty such people.
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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown

I decided to read this book because a friend of mine thinks very highly of it. This is a self-help sort of book written by a shame-and-vulnerability researcher. And those are important topics! But the book didn't click with me, something about the tone or the style or the perspective just didn't really work for me. Plus I felt more or less like I already knew the gist of what the book was talking about so I wasn't learning much really new. So all in all I'm glad this book exists out there for the people who need it, but I didn't personally gain anything from having read it.

Also: I was really frustrated with the very binarised way she talked about gender. She would often say "women and men" instead of "people", for one thing. And she talked about how all women experience shame and vulnerability in a specific way, and men experience it in a specific other way. No space in her understanding for people whose experience (either of shame/vulnerability or of gender identity) didn't fit her binarised categorisation.
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(Consisting of: Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess,
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Lioness Rampant)

Hmmm not quite sure what to say about these books! It's been quite a while since I've reread them since this was never the Tamora Pierce series that I was most captivated by.

They're obviously her first books, and have a variety of flaws (some plot points/character choices that don't quite make sense, the well-meaning racism that's racism nonetheless, the uncomfortable dynamics in how some of Alanna's romantic relationships are portrayed, and so forth) but the books are nonetheless a charming quick read, if you can look past those factors.

Also its brand of feminism is...of its era (Alanna is Not Like Other Girls! And so forth.) but it's well-meaning and was hugely important for its time.

And I still have huge quantities of childhood nostalgia for these books. I care about these characters so much!
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
The thing about Paul is that his writing is pretty confusingly written and complicated to understand sometimes and also in places is very easy to interpret as pretty harsh towards, like, women and gay people and slaves and a variety of other marginalized populations. AND there's lots of letters in the bible that claim to be by Paul but aren't, and those letters contain the worst of the bigotry, which doesn't help with the general public perception of Paul.

Way back in university I took a course about Paul, which was very educational. Prior to that course I was totally ready to throw Paul out entirely. The course made me feel very differently.

The thing about Paul (like the thing about MOST of the bible tbh) is that a lot of people forget to look at the social context in which the writing was happening, and/or don't have the detailed knowledge needed to appropriately contextualize. The world Paul lived in is very different than the world we live in! So you can't understand what he means by various injunctions unless you understand the particular social pressures he was reacting to.

That's what this book is doing, in a somewhat different way than my university course did. This book talks about Paul in the context of popular works of ancient Greek & Roman literature and what those things can tell us about the society Paul and his original audience lived in. And in that context, the things he says read very differently. He was actually working really hard to be loving and welcoming and anti-oppression and anti-injustice, and that kind of thing. Not always succeeding perfectly, but the direction he's pointing is clear.

So this book was full of interpretations that were not exactly news to me, but with greater attention to the specifics of the context than I've gotten before. So it was an enjoyable read but I didn't really learn anything new.

Also, although the book is overall pretty good, I feel like the author didn't always manage to actually....come to a coherent conclusion in all her chapters, and wrap up the various stuff she was saying into an actual point. The chapter on Paul and the state was the worst for this. It felt like she was building towards something with her discussion of the public perception of the military and how that connected with a passage from Paul's letters, but then the end of the chapter turned into some sort of confusing personal reflection and never actually concluded that thought. I was able to make inferences forward to where she was probably going with things, but she didn't actually say it. So that was annoying.

But my overall conclusion from reading this book was to be reminded of how many feelings I have about Paul himself. Like, he's just so much more of a person than anyone else in the entire Bible. Biblical narratives tend towards the short and spare, so you don't get really well-rounded looks at lots of characters. Paul feels like that too when we get third-person discussion of him in Acts. But in his letters, he talks in "I" statements a lot, he says stuff about himself, and his personality just really shines through.

I mean, sometimes the personality that shines through is kinda asshole, but like....even in his vast flaws he's so clearly real and so clearly trying that I can't help but care about him. I don't know what to do with these feelings because like, what even, but the feelings are THERE and STRONG and Paul-the-person really matters to me and I don't even know why.

At any rate, because apparently this is where I'm dumping all my latent Paul feelings, I just want to at least briefly mention the fact of his massively outsized influence on the direction of Christianity and Christian theology in the time after Jesus' death (like....Christianity could have gone in a LOT of directions. There were massive conflicts about this! Paul won, to the degree that we have trouble even imagining what Christianity would have been like without at least some Pauline interpretation because it's so thoroughly ingrained.) And I'm not sure whether Paul's influence was all a good thing, and over the years he has definitely been used in very bad ways, so like, as a piece of Christian history I'm still really not thrilled about the dude.

But as a person I care about him A LOT.
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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly

As is the case for many people, I'm sure, I read this book because I'd seen the recent movie based on it, thought the movie was wonderful, and wanted to know more. And this book was definitely worth seeking out! I was gonna explain the premise of the story for people who aren't familiar, but the book does it for you in its expansive subtitle so there you go.

Read more... )
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Robin McKinley has written two books set in the fantasy land of Damar, and this is one of them. Apparently she always intended to write more, but has never quite gotten around to it.

Of the two extant Damar books, I always liked The Blue Sword better, I think because it feels more grounded in some sort of reality instead of being mythic. (...not that "grounded" is a thing that can really be used to describe the feel of any McKinley books. She's great at including details that seem like they OUGHT to be grounding, and yet her books always feel dreamy and distant. It's weird.)

So I've reread The Blue Sword a lot more often, and tbh I think this may only be the second or third time I've ever read The Hero and the Crown. ("Only", they say. There are some people who never reread books! Apparently. Baffling.)

I felt that this book has a bit of a slow start to it, possibly because it starts with the ridiculous cliche of clumsy outcast king's daughter with red hair who wants to be a warrior. Eventually we get beyond the cliches into actually interesting territory but it takes a bit. (Though - it's possible this was less of a cliche when this book was written? It is more than three decades old at this point!)

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Okay I've finally admitted that there's no point to continuing to try to read through this series in order, given that I've been freely reading fanfic from throughout the entire timeline of the saga. So I felt like giving this book a try and so I read it even though I am skipping over a number of books to do so. At some point I'll come back to at least some of the books I skipped. Probably. *

It was particularly interesting to approach this book after having read a novel-length fanfic that covers the events of the book from Byerly's side of things (A Bit Too Much Good Work by a_t_rain, very good, highly recommended). So I went in knowing basically what to expect from the plot, but Ivan and Tej make for very different pov characters that Byerly and Rish. It was great, but in a very different way than that fic is great.

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As a whole I really enjoyed this book! Good-hearted and interesting, with great worldbuilding and characters.

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Sixth in the Confederation series. Not bad! Less Craig content than the last book, which automatically gives it a step up in my opinion. Craig is a lot more palatable when he's just one of the team and sort of background emotional support for Torin, instead of being an integral part of the plot.

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An impromptu reread decision, and I'm reminded that although this is an enjoyable book it's not one my favourites of Pratchett's. I think I only ever read it the once as a kid, and didn't reread it a million times like I did some others in the series. cut for brief spoilers ) Death is great though. I do love Death.
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A middle-grade novel. I don't love it as much as the Ryan North Squirrel Girl comic series but it's still pretty charming.

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Fifth in the Confederation series. My main problem with this book is that I just don't care about Craig, Torin's love interest. I'm so bored by him! And his role in this book is the biggest it's been so far, since this book is about Torin having left behind her military career to join Craig as a civilian salvage operator. SIGH.

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A good book, since Terry Pratchett is a good writer*, but this was not one of the books that ever spoke to me most out of his oeuvre. Probably has something to do with the fact that I didn't actually grow up with Santa Claus as a thing, so this doesn't tap into my own childhood at all.

I do love Susan a lot though, and the wizardly academia jokes are so much more comprehensible to me as an adult, and I appreciate how Pratchett understands that children can be strange and alarming and bloodthirsty.

And of course there's the oft-quoted bit from near the end of the book where Death and Susan are talking about believing in things that aren't real, that believing in the Hogfather is practice for believing in justice and mercy and things like that. That's a really good bit.

*reading him as an adult is full of me going "HOW DOES HE DO THAT??". As a kid I just found him compulsively readable and funny.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
I think my main take-away is that spending 2.5 months slowly reading through a book about the history of money makes money start to feel really really fake. I mean I already knew it's a human construct that we all collectively agree to give meaning to, and which would otherwise have no objective worth, but the whole thing is just feeling a little more ridiculous now.

Anyway: this is a good book! And very interesting! Does a good job of challenging some assumptions that the field of economy is based on, which tend to ignore the complicatedness of human relationships in favour of equations based on rational self-interest. Also the myth of barter.

It was fascinating to read the anthropology/history about the ways various groups of humans throughout time and space have approached concepts of debt, trade, cash money or lack thereof, etc. A good reminder that our current understanding of these things is by no means obvious, universal, or the best way to do things.

I wasn't expecting this book to come out nearly so strongly in critique of modern capitalism at the end as it did. I remember this being a popular book when it came out, and North America as a whole is pretty pro-capitalism! So that was a bit of a surprise. Though maybe it shouldn't have been given that the 2008 financial crisis formed the impetus for the author to write this book.
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
An interesting book, though not quite what I was expecting it to be! I put a hold on the ebook at my library on a whim, based on nothing more than the cover and title which I saw when browsing Overdrive. I was expecting something more in the line of a memoir/autobiography. What this book actually is: a collection of writings from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the years, with bits of introductory material contextualizing the pieces.

So it was still very interesting, even if not what I was expecting. It's much more about US law than it is about Ginsburg herself. So I now know a lot more about how the Supreme Court works. Ginsburg comes across very well in this book though - intelligent, articulate, caring. (Also she's REALLY REALLY SHORT oh my gosh, those pictures at the end, she is always by far the smallest person in any given photograph.)

The last section of the book shares a number of her recent dissents, which is a rather depressing note to end on. She argues forcefully for what I would agree is the correct decision on issues like women's reproductive rights, and it's so sad to know that these pieces are the dissent and not the opinion of the court.

It was weird to read her praise of Scalia throughout the book. He's the Justice she refers to most often, and it seems she genuinely liked him as a person. It feels weird to hold that knowledge alongside the knowledge that he vociferously fought for the exact opposite side on a lot of issues she clearly thinks are of dire importance in the lives of many people. I don't know if I could be friends with someone who so actively worked for so much of what I would consider to be harm in the world as Scalia did.

It's also depressing to read this book in the context of knowing that Scalia's seat is gonna be filled by a Donald Trump nominee. Auuuggghhhhhhhhhh. I just hope he doesn't get the chance to replace any other Justices as well. Ginsburg seems to be in good health for an 83 year old and I HOPE SHE STAYS THAT WAY. FOR AS MANY YEARS AS NECESSARY.

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