April 30, 2022

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, April 2022

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualifications to opine on U.S. politics, or the lives and works of 20th century Marxist intellectuals.

Charles Willeford, Miami Blues and New Hope for the Dead
Mind candy mystery: First two "Hoke Moseley" mystery novels, written and set in Miaimi c. 1980. They're still funny and satisfying crime fiction, but very much artifacts of a vanished age. (The cover of the in-print edition of Miami Blues is more than usually misleading.) The community-college bits in Miami Blues, and particularly the pontificating English professor, are made more amusing by learning that Willeford's day job was, precisely, being an English professor at a Miami community college. §
Elizabeth Hand, Available Dark
Sequel to Generation Loss, which I re-read. This time around, Cass gets mixed up with the confluence of Nordic death metal, neo-paganism, bizarre art photography, and Iceland's role in the financial crisis of 2008. Stirring this together with drugs, booze, toxic nostalgia and her convincingly awful combination of bad decisions and sudden insight produces truly absorbing Plot.
Something which registered on the re-read of Generation Loss, but which eluded me the first time around: Cass isn't from just any podunk town in upstate New York, but from the literally haunted town in Hand's Black Light, whose inhabitants have made a deal with, if not the Devil, then at least a nasty avatar of Dionysus. I now believe that it is legitimate to take Cass's visions not as [just] drug-induced hallucinations, but factual descriptions of supernatural experiences. In particular, I think Cass is, if not exactly a valkyrie or banshee, then something in that line, a walking, talking, bourbon-and-meth-swilling, shutter-happy harbinger of doom, and the birds know it. All of which said, these books are eminently enjoyable on a "straight", non-fantastic level, which is a neat trick.
I eagerly look forward to her further mis-adventures. §
Graydon Saunders, A Succession of Bad Days
Mind candy fantasy, the sorcerors' apprenticeship division: 900-or-so pages of the education of wizards, in the same world as Saunder's The March North, with detailed thermodynamics. (It's not called thermodynamics but I dare say anyone who will enjoy this will recognize what is going on.) I did not enjoy this as much as I did The March North, at least in part because all of the characters tend to sound too much the same, i.e., like Saunders. But I enjoyed it enough to keep reading all the way to the end. §
Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Understanding the U.S. Government
The fact that I listened to a course of Poli. Sci. 1 lectures, and learned from them, shows I am not qualified to actually review them. But I enjoyed this. §
Disclaimer: Prof. Victor and I actually collaborated once, in supervising a student project which tried to use social network analysis to get at the question of whether campaign donations affect Congressional outcomes. It was never published because we got null results (and the student moved on to other things). In retrospect, my guess is that resources (including funds) do matter, but that it's rare for disputed issues to have lots of resources on only one side of the dispute (if they did, the dispute wouldn't stay on the agenda for long), and the study wasn't well-positioned to get at the counter-factuals. But, like I said, I learned stuff about how my government works from these lectures, so you probably shouldn't listen to me!
Stanley Pierson, Leaving Marxism: Studies in the Dissolution of an Ideology
Mostly, this is three biographies of three very different intellectuals who all ended up ex-Marxists: Henri de Man, the Belgian advocate of planning and WWWII-collaborator; Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School; and Leszek Kolakowski. Pierson emphasizes that, like many Marxist intellectuals, they came from bourgeois backgrounds, were drawn to socialism and to Marxism by its resonance with their bourgeois values, and ultimately left Marxism because of those same values. (He does not inquire into how they differed from intellectuals of bourgeois origins who remained Marxists, or the rare 20th-century Marxist intellectuals from humbler backgrounds like Gramsci.) There are no great revelations here, but they're well-written and well-researched biographical studies. Recommended if you care about intellectuals in politics, or the Marxist tradition. §

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; The Progressive Forces; Writing for Antiquity; Commit a Social Science; The Beloved Republic

Posted at April 30, 2022 23:59 | permanent link

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