Here are my best reads in English during May through August.
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Robin Sloan 2012.
- The Corner That Held Them. Sylvia Townsend Warner 1948.
- Piranesi. Susanna Clarke 2020.
- The Songlines. Bruce Chatwin 1987.
- We Can English. Paddy Kelly 2022.
- A Judgement in Stone. Ruth Rendell 1977.
- 88 Names. Matt Ruff 2020.
- Rest in Pieces: the Curious Fates of Famous Corpses. Bess Lovejoy 2013.
- Amazing Stories of the Space Age. Rod Pyle 2016.
- Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. Melissa Mohr 2013.
- Limonov. Emmanuel Carrère 2011.
- Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames. Lara Maiklem 2019.
- Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. David Aaronovitch 2009.
- The Go-Between. L.P. Hartley 1953.
- A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. T. Kingfisher 2020.
- Passionate Travellers. Trish Nicholson 2019.
- The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity. Jon Peterson 2020.
- The Warrior’s Apprentice. Lois McMaster Bujold 1986.
- High Life, Low Morals: the duel that shook Stuart society. Victor Stater 1999.
Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what have been your best reads of the past few months?
7 thoughts on “Best Reads of 2022, #2”
Kevin Barry (2020): “That old country music” (short stories); Bruno Latour (2021): “After lockdown: a metamorphosis” (stealing the metaphor from Kafka’s Die Verwandlung Latour starts to make sense); and Raymond Antrobus’ poetry: “All the names given”(2021) & “The Perseverance” (2018). Incidentally, I did read female/queer authors (in my native language).
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You have been busy! A pruned list of English-only and best-of’s putting an indolent housewife’s paltry offerings to shame: I shall lay the Adrian Bell “Corduroy” trilogy at your door and run off, not before saying it seems you found “Songlines” worthy of your list. I recommend this Chatwin all the time, it’s right up on my perpetual faves list.
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You get a lot of reading done if you never watch any TV! Chatwin is great!
I haven’t been reading all that much, but what I have been reading has been pretty meaty.
Visual Differential Geometry – I managed to get through the first four out of five “acts”. That got me from surface curvature, extrinsic then intrinsic, then up to three and four dimensions where I collapsed with mental exhaustion upon reaching general relativity. It’s all freshman calculus and high school geometry with lots of pictures. The uses Newton’s method for handwaving limits, arguing that two ratios are eventually equal to each other, where “eventually” carries the load. This was good for calculus because no one could really prove squat about limits for another two hundred years. One chapter had so many pictures of fruits and vegetables with curved surfaces that I couldn’t read it when I was hungry. There was a curvature conservation theorem illustrated by a banana dripping honey. That book took a while to get through, but it was worth it. There’s a lot of stuff I sort of understood about curvature, and this book filled in so many holes in my knowledge. I suppose I should get back to it and find out about “forms”, but my brain needs to rest.
Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate Warfare and The Rise of Rome – I always wondered what Rome had that let it rule the Mediterranean and points beyond. This book was written by a political scientist with an axe to grind, but I skimmed those parts. There’s a popular theory that Rome ruled because the Romans were seriously ruthless badasses, the most badass in the Mediterranean basin. This book debunks this. The Romans ruled because they were good at managing alliances and turning former enemies into good Romans. Well before the empire, they had turned nearby Etruscan and Latin states into allies. Unlike the Greeks, they stayed out of internal affairs and didn’t impose a garrison. They even had something like the EU where a citizen of any state in the group could engage in business in any state in the group, marry someone from any state in the group and could live in any state in the group. High ranking citizens from other states could become Roman senators. Rome fought lots of wars, but just about every other state in the region fought lots of wars. Rome lost a good share of them, but when it won, it’s goal was a peaceful frontier, not just loot. Naturally, as the Roman sphere expanded, it ran into new enemies: Celts in Italy, Greek colonies in the boot of Italy, Carthaginians in North Africa and Spain. At the end of the Punic War, Rome was exhausted, but it had destroyed Carthage. Just then, the Ptolemaic regime in Egypt collapsed and the Antigonians in Macedonia and Seleucids in Syria were ready to reunite Alexander’s empire. The Romans were called in to help prop up Egypt. They did, and the rest is history. I guess all of this is history, and well told history at that.
Geniuses at War – This was light reading, an account of England’s code breaking effort at Bletchley Park during World War II. It was all classified until maybe 20 years ago, and it’s a great yarn. England liked to rely on upper class, relatively gifted amateurs, so they recruited from Oxford and Cambridge and got geniuses like Alan Turing. There were a lot of bright guys at Bletchley Park, but they were recruited from a small pool. The real genius of the piece was Tommy Flowers, a working class guy who worked for the phone company, learned his skills at a trade school, invented the idea of using binary logic for computing and built the first digital computer. Oh, and it was classified, so no one knew about it for decades. The group did a good job of code breaking, but, wow, class bias was pervasive. God put you in your place, and that was that. Women were clerks, and it didn’t matter how smart they were. I read The Code Girls a while back. The US code breaking effort recruited lots of women, and most of them did clerical work, but a lot of them wound up doing serious code breaking, heading groups and divisions, and having their talents properly used. Geniuses at War made me appreciate, even in a technical field, how much having a class system can hold a nation back. I get the impression England is still choking on it.
Journey to the Mushroom Planet – I started this. It was charming. In it, a boy and his friend build a spaceship to help an alien save his planet, a minor world invisibly circling the earth within the moon’s orbit. They were building the space ship when I got distracted and stopped reading. I really have to pick this up again and finish it.
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Last year I visited the Enigma Cipher Centre in Poznań, a big museum devoted to the memory of the Polish code-breaking group whose work was continued at Bletchley Park. Also completely hushed up for half a century during Poland’s Soviet era. And now a source of national (-istic) pride.
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They did some impressive work there. The folks at Bletchley Park were properly impressed by the Polish work and built their own on it, but one can’t help feeling that some of their amazement was that the work was done by working class Poles, not some members of the aristocracy.
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Cf. when the persecuted ethnic minority that you hound out of your country happens to include most of your country’s competent nuclear physicists.