Author Topic: What have you read lately?  (Read 26777 times)

ergative

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #480 on: April 06, 2021, 01:42:34 AM »
Following up on Ab-grp's comments, I read that Wool was great, and tried to get through it, and absolutely could not. It read like some random person without much writing expertise was trying to hack their way through a plot. I was having to force myself to keep going in the hope that it would take off after a while. It never did and eventually I gave up. Then some research revealed that it was self-published, and so it was some random person without much writing expertise was trying to hack their way through a plot. I am at a loss to explain why so many people liked it.

I've recently been viewing with avid fascination the three-part discussion of the book and movie adapation of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, which the presenter absolutely describes as a random person without much writing expertise trying to hack their way through a plot. I find this sort of discussion so interesting--not enough to encourage me to read the books (which the presenter evidently did extremely carefully), but enough that I follow these publishing trends and associated discussions. What is it about certain texts that catches the interest of (millions of) readers, or publishers, when their objective merit is so evidently lousy?

This component to publication and reading trends is the part of literary Discourse that interests me the most, I think. I don't really care too much whether a reviewer considers something Good or not, because I disagree with them often enough and read enough Good books to recognize that merit and preference can be related, but also wildly divergent. It's the preference side of things that attracts me to the Discourse: external to merit, what causes something to catch on in a big way? It's works like Fifty Shades of Grey that highlight how disconnected merit and preference can be, and there's just enough randomness in the patterns of explosive popularity to be confusing, and just enough connection to changes in societal values/tastes/mores to make it really juicy to discuss.

ab_grp

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #481 on: April 06, 2021, 08:37:42 AM »
Following up on Ab-grp's comments, I read that Wool was great, and tried to get through it, and absolutely could not. It read like some random person without much writing expertise was trying to hack their way through a plot. I was having to force myself to keep going in the hope that it would take off after a while. It never did and eventually I gave up. Then some research revealed that it was self-published, and so it was some random person without much writing expertise was trying to hack their way through a plot. I am at a loss to explain why so many people liked it.

We are only about a third (?) of the way in, but I've started to get into the story, and I hope it takes off! I really like of the relationships between some of the characters, and there is some intrigue as far as what is actually going on (I have some suspicions).  But I could also see it not pulling it off, so I will report back when we have finished it (or have decided not to). 

As far as the self-publishing goes, I generally avoid those books (and didn't know Wool was one of them), but there are a couple I've picked up that I was glad for.  One series in particular is the Miss Fortune Mystery series by Jana DeLeon.  I think I got all the books for free on Kindle.  They're sort of in the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum vein and we have really enjoyed them, but they are also more fun and not serious books.  It's also how a friend of mine got into the market with his horror stories.  He's gotten a lot of good reviews for them, and apparently one is possibly going to be a film at some point.   But I am still skeptical most times, and finding out that a book that I didn't think was well written was also self-published would not surprise me. 

The self-publishing angle and also the publishing trends that ergative described are really interesting in general.

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #482 on: April 07, 2021, 06:47:38 AM »
Now reading a truly fascinating document.  Our town was founded around 1900 as a company mill town.  In the early 1950s the company commissioned a team of city planners to develop a master plan for controlled development of the town's population from a few thousand to well over 20,000.  A couple of years ago the library snagged a copy of the plan for its archives when the company's successor got rid of a bunch of historical material that they had inherited.  The planners were quite thorough.  They included lots of maps and tables, clear explanations of their methodology (It was aimed at a general audience), and statistics of all sorts regarding the city's projected needs.  They even have detailed breakdowns of anticipated costs of all the projected development, and what proportions would be paid by the taxpayer and by developers.  They envisioned a gradual three-stage process.

The plan envisioned developing six or seven residential neighborhoods, each with its own elementary school and mini-park.  The land around the old sawmill pond would be cleaned up and turned into a big city park.  There would be an expanded downtown business district, a traffic bypass all the way around the town like a miniature urban boundary ring, and much else.  The planners tried to calculate projected needs down to how many classrooms would be needed in the schools.  They included detailed maps of sewers and other utilities.  There were also plans to preserve much of the land's natural tree cover during development, and to plant new trees to give the whole city a park-like appearance.

Much of the plan was never implemented, in large part because most of the projected population increase never showed up.  But the plan definitely left its mark on the town.  Some of the neighborhood schools were built.  There's one a couple of blocks from my house that remains in use, though it's now a city-wide elementary school, not just for the neighborhood.  Its playground areas double as a neighborhood park.  They were upgraded with some grant funds a few years ago.

The big park was built and remains a great place to walk, fish, and picnic.  The nine-hole golf course there was never built, but a few years ago somebody installed a disc golf course.  The town still has a lot of tree cover.  The oddly wide street right-of-way on the edge of town, a few blocks from my house, turns out to be the remains of part of the projected bypass system.

There are a lot of what-might-have-beens.  There was supposed to be a big new municipal cemetery near our neighborhood elementary school.  A little up from that would have been a proposed college of forestry (The state eventually built a vo-tech school some way out of town).  The plan's maps shows a projected "outdoor theater" roughly where the Asian restaurant now stands.  Our library sits on the edge of town in a patch of land that was never developed--which is a big part of why we have virtually no foot traffic.

If I can get some good, clear scans of these maps to work up a slide show, this would make a great historical presentation to trot out at civic meetings.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #483 on: April 07, 2021, 07:06:03 AM »
When you look at the civic master plan, it's clear that they envisioned a solidly working-class community.  Some neighborhoods would be designed to have a little nicer housing than others, but there were to be no country-club districts.  There would be a modest amount of duplex and apartment housing.  By all accounts I've heard from people who recall the town's heyday in the 1960s and 1970s (I didn't grow up here myself), that's pretty much what the town became.  Then mechanization, automation, and regional industrial decline wrecked the region's fortunes, as it did in most of small-town and rural America.

A striking feature of the plan is the way it assumed, just a few years before the Civil Rights movement started gathering force, that racial segregation would continue.  The existing black neighborhood would receive the same amenities as the rest of the town, and would expand in area, but it would remain the place where all the black residents lived and went to school.  Some of the park areas were designed to serve as a buffer to keep the black neighborhood properly quarantined. 

A decade or so later, the schools were desegregated.  Truly desegregated, since the town is small enough that everybody goes to the same schools regardless of what neighborhoods they live in (The neighborhood elementary schools were consolidated long ago).  Unlike happened in much of Mississippi, the white residents didn't just abandon the public school system to set up "segregation academies."  White and black students just shrugged their shoulders and got used to going to school together.  The same thing happened in my own home town elsewhere in the state.  It works just fine.  It beats me why some people in other communities can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea.

And, although black residents remain concentrated in certain areas, they now live in every part of town.  Just neighbors like anybody else.  Again, it's hard to see why so many people just don't seem to get the idea.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

hmaria1609

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #484 on: April 07, 2021, 07:00:24 PM »
apl68, you had a trip back in time with your community maps! Is there someone on library staff who handles local history materials?
« Last Edit: April 07, 2021, 07:03:29 PM by hmaria1609 »

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #485 on: April 08, 2021, 07:21:05 AM »
apl68, you had a trip back in time with your community maps! Is there someone on library staff who handles local history materials?

No, we don't have a designated person for that.  I do sometimes detail our person in charge of outreach to do certain things with that material.  Yesterday our mayor asked us to supply a selection of historic images of the town from which they could choose some nice items to duplicate to go on the wall of City Hall (They've been doing a bit of remodeling there, and wanted something to supplement all the photos of past mayors).  Today I plan to give that staff member a list of things to look for and turn her loose in our extensive collection of historic photos.

The Mayor also asked if I could cover for a Rotary Club presentation for today.  The speaker fell through, and they needed a last-minute substitute.  I started making plans to do a show-and-tell with some of our more portable memorabilia, including our copy of the master plan.  Then I got a call saying that there had been a misunderstanding.  They have a speaker after all.  That means I can have some time to prepare a better presentation in a couple of months.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

spork

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #486 on: April 10, 2021, 04:48:46 AM »
Quakeland:  On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake, by Kathryn Miles.  It's a fascinating piece of journalism.  The author investigates the geology of earthquakes and earthquake prediction, has a good bit to say about recent and historical quakes, and talks about the risks of a catastrophic quake in various parts of the country and how to prepare for it.  California isn't the only place that's at risk.  Several other parts of the country have real risks of a catastrophic quake within not too many decades. 

[. . .]

If you are interested in earthquakes:

Kathryn Schulz's New Yorker piece on the risk to the coastal northwestern USA: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one (requires creation of a free website account if you are not already a paid subscriber).

Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, 2013.

I teach a course on disasters, so I'm always looking for readings on events like earthquakes. I'll probably check out Quakeland this summer, so thanks.
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #487 on: April 10, 2021, 06:54:49 AM »
Quakeland:  On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake, by Kathryn Miles.  It's a fascinating piece of journalism.  The author investigates the geology of earthquakes and earthquake prediction, has a good bit to say about recent and historical quakes, and talks about the risks of a catastrophic quake in various parts of the country and how to prepare for it.  California isn't the only place that's at risk.  Several other parts of the country have real risks of a catastrophic quake within not too many decades. 

[. . .]

If you are interested in earthquakes:

Kathryn Schulz's New Yorker piece on the risk to the coastal northwestern USA: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one (requires creation of a free website account if you are not already a paid subscriber).

Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, 2013.

I teach a course on disasters, so I'm always looking for readings on events like earthquakes. I'll probably check out Quakeland this summer, so thanks.

A course on disasters.  Now that sounds interesting!

I think your students would like Quakeland.  It's very accessible and has lots of anecdotes among the science stuff.  And some good thoughts about the public policy implications of the world's disaster-proneness.  You could pick a lot of good modest-length readings out of there.

I read New Yorker regularly and have probably seen the Schulz article.  I'm planning in the near future to go back and re-read some of New Yorker's environmental pieces.  I'll have to try to find the Katz book.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

mamselle

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #488 on: April 10, 2021, 07:19:54 PM »
Apl, I find your analysis of the town development materials fascinating. It's like having a geographic telescope with a rear-iew mirror, that helps you see how things came to be the way they are.

It's sooo important that you saved them, too.

If I recall aright, Larryc might have some ideas about how to do more with those materials as public history documents,  including the availability of grants to fund, say upper-level high school students' use of them, for coursework, or for creating town signage.

The history of peacefully conducted school integration also deserves some kind of mention, albeit with representative participation from all the affected populations in the town (but I'm guessing you'd be doing that anyway).

Understanding how we got to where we are--accurately--is so important.

M.
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Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #489 on: April 12, 2021, 07:56:54 AM »
I can no longer walk along that street on the edge of town without trying to imagine it as a bypass road.  That's hard to do, since it now has very little traffic most of the time.  It has houses along one side like any other residential street in the neighborhood.  On the other side is a long, grassy strip that is still kept mowed.  That's part of the original right-of-way.  Past that you have a combination pipeline/power line right of way that is open in places and has trees in others.  And past that it's mostly clear cuts and timber plantations.  The town/country divide is very abrupt in that section.

Comparisons of the plan maps with a current city map show that most of the land was developed.  Evidently they overestimated how many residents could be accommodated at the level of density the plan envisioned.  The ending of the baby boom caused average household size to be lower than they anticipated.  And by the time the last phase of development took place, some older neighborhoods were losing residents.  It also looks like more people than anticipated decided to live outside the city limits in the compass-point low-tax "suburbs."

Still, a lot of the plan did come to fruition in one form or another.  I'm still trying to get an idea of just how much.

Hoping by week's end to give the Mayor a thumb drive with a good selection of those historical images that we promised her.  We really need to include a scan of the master plan map.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #490 on: April 12, 2021, 08:02:52 AM »
Apl, I find your analysis of the town development materials fascinating. It's like having a geographic telescope with a rear-iew mirror, that helps you see how things came to be the way they are.

I've always been fascinated by micro-geographies of communities.  And city planning.  I still recall several illuminating studies of older communities in time.  Robin Osborne's Classical Landscape With Figures:  The Ancient Greek City and Its Countryside is also very interesting.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

spork

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #491 on: April 12, 2021, 10:08:08 AM »
Quakeland:  On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake, by Kathryn Miles. 

[. . .]

If you are interested in earthquakes:

Kathryn Schulz's New Yorker piece on the risk to the coastal northwestern USA: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one (requires creation of a free website account if you are not already a paid subscriber).

Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, 2013.

I teach a course on disasters, so I'm always looking for readings on events like earthquakes. I'll probably check out Quakeland this summer, so thanks.

A course on disasters.  Now that sounds interesting!

I think your students would like Quakeland.  It's very accessible and has lots of anecdotes among the science stuff.  And some good thoughts about the public policy implications of the world's disaster-proneness.  You could pick a lot of good modest-length readings out of there.

I read New Yorker regularly and have probably seen the Schulz article.  I'm planning in the near future to go back and re-read some of New Yorker's environmental pieces.  I'll have to try to find the Katz book.

While researching Quakeland, I found another book by Kathryn Miles: Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy. This also looks interesting and I'll be requesting a copy through my university's library network at the end of the semester.

I just finished Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies, and the Looting of Myanmar by Daniel Combs. I thought it was much better than The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and Democracy in the 21st Century by Thant Myint-U.
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.

FishProf

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #492 on: April 12, 2021, 01:15:30 PM »
A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present by Howard Zinn. 2005.

It was interesting to read about the stuff typically left out of history books (e.g. the Marias Massacre) that had been part of my middle school education in the West.   I thought everyone would have heard those stories. 

By the same token, there was a lot of the eastern labor movement struggles that I was woefully unaware of.  I was one of the 10,000, regularly during this read.
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apl68

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #493 on: April 12, 2021, 02:53:41 PM »
I've now prepared a working copy of the 1953 master plan map for my own use.  When I get out and around on my own I can compare what was projected with what we actually have.
Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on Earth, where they can decay or be stolen.  Lay up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no decay or theft.  Where your treasure is, you heart will be also.


You can't take it with you.  You can only send it on ahead.

hmaria1609

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Re: What have you read lately?
« Reply #494 on: April 12, 2021, 07:17:43 PM »
I haven't posted my reads since last month. All but one are from the library. Here goes!

A Wicked Conceit by Anna Lee Huber
New and #9 entry in the "Lady Darby Mysteries" series. I bought my own copy of the novel.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black (YA)
Novella collection with illustrations to the "Folk of the Air" trilogy.

Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen
Prequel novel to the "Queen of the Tearling" trilogy

My Calamity Jane by Cynthia Hand et al (YA)
Comedic, alternate history about Calamity Jane and her friends

Queens of the Crusades by Alison Weir (NF)
New and #2 entry in "England's Medieval Queen" series