Sunday, February 4, 2018

My month of reading dangerously

I did it--I kept my resolution for the month of January and avoided the television as well as internet- and radio news. I also wrote an average of at least 500 words a day, and the total was something like 17,000. Honestly, given all the reading I did, this was the easy part.

Here's what my completed reading list for the month:

Orientalism by Edward Said This book was, in so many ways, everything. About 350 pages long, but the longest 350 pages I have read in years. I will call Said's writing style "erudite", but I'm glad I made it through. What you need to know: "the Orient" is a stand in for "the Other", and the history of what we believe and tell ourselves about others is not pretty. The fact that some of what he wrote about 40 years ago is still pertinent today is just disturbing.

The Road Not Taken by Max Boot At 600+ pages, I had thought this was my going to be the most challenging tome on my list, but no. Boot is an excellent author of military histories. This wasn't simply a biography of the controversial Edward Lansdale or an exploration of the events leading up to American escalation in Vietnam; this work helps readers not only understand counterinsurgency ("COIN") but also why it's more important than how many troops or materiel we throw at any one place.

Japan in Asia by Akihiko Tanaka I consider myself well-versed in modern Northeast Asia, but I still learned a lot from this history of Japanese foreign policy in Post-Cold War Asia. My reaction to breathless news about North Korean nuclear threats and Chinese trade policy is a yawn, but I admit to being easily scandalized by the hardliners in Japan and Abe's provocative and at times unhelpful statements. Reading this gives a more accurate picture of internal Japanese politics, and not least because the full statements are reported, not the cherry-picked soundbites. Ah, books!

No Logo by Naomi Klein This is almost twenty years old, but if anything the interconnected problems with branding, production, labor, and culture have gotten more pernicious, not less. And while everything she writes about Nike, McDonald's, Shell, and their superbrand cohort is horrifying, the worst part is when she explains how these trends played out in the Bush and Obama presidencies (and yes, it's only gotten worse under our current administration). In other news, this book might have something to do with my borrowing a lot of books on sewing and knitting.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden I couldn't put this down and finished it a day. While this isn't quite as perfect as Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Arden described a world I didn't want to leave. I am anxiously waiting to get my hands on the next books in her trilogy.

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Carpenter Hmm...this started out well. In fact, the first half was fantastic. But after that point it took a turn I didn't think worked, and from there on it got weirder. That could be forgiven if the ending wasn't completely out of left field. I have, sadly, no desire to read the sequel.

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson The story about a con woman in DC and New York had potential, but the writing style was a little more jocular than I thought it should be. And why this was in the Mystery section, I have no idea.

Uniform Justice, Death and Justice, Dressed for Death, and Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon I am unapologetic about the fact that I have developed an obsession with this mystery series set in Venice and featuring the earnest-in-spite-of-himself Commissario Brunetti. The usual satisfaction readers usually feel when they get to the end of a mystery is a luxury you aren't granted when you're visiting a world where justice, answers, and the law almost never work together. And in spite of the darkness, I can't put this down, but I'll admit the comic relief provided by Brunetti's boss Vice Questore Patta and the resourceful secretary Signorina Elettra Zorzi helped.

The first week or so of January was hard, and it didn't get easier until I loaded up on fiction. Read into that (no pun intended) what you will. After that, though, I didn't miss television or the sounds of talk radio (a discovery I made: I really like classical ballet scores, but I can't get into opera). I'm actually dreading watching some of the shows my husband has been stockpiling (although I can't wait for the new Jessica Jones season).

In other news, after discovering that Amazon removed 200 or so of my reviews without saying anything, I am in the process of removing all of my reviews from Amazon as well. Most are at my local library website, but a about twenty indie titles which aren't available through my library will be moved to Goodreads. This isn't just a fit of pique; I've been contemplating this for about six or seven years. If I thought that doing so was hurting anyone, I wouldn't do it. However, 1) the value of reviews (on Amazon, at least) has noticeably diminished in the last year, and 2) since I have no idea what their criteria was for removing my other reviews in the first place, I can't say that they would have been "safe" there anyway. Bittersweet going through sixteen or seventeen years of my own reviews and deciding what to keep, but as I've gotten older, I'm less in love with my own words and happy to let some of them go.

How was your January? And what have you been reading?