I love how goofy everyone is in this. Harrison Ford is all, “OK, whatever, just hand me the check.”
I love how goofy everyone is in this. Harrison Ford is all, “OK, whatever, just hand me the check.”
It’s been a pretty amazing year for me in terms of non-fiction. Most of my non-fiction reading has involved history and biography. Next year I guess I’ll have to throw more science into the mix or I’ll be completely lost in my nerdy little family.
Be as that may be, while my husband knows all about quarks, I happen to know how Confederate women smuggled weapons during the Civil War (in their hoop skirts, and they hid messages in their hair). Here are my top five non-fiction books for 2015. Note – these are books that I read in 2015, not necessarily books that were published in 2015. Wherever possible, I’m linking to full-length reviews that I wrote for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.
Part cookbook, part memoir, part literary criticism, this book was personally moving to me but also gave me another way to look at fiction by highlighting the role food plays in establishing character and theme.
At time infuriating, at times inspiring, and always interesting and exiting, this book explores the roles women played in the American Civil War by looking at a Union soldier who disguised herself as a man, and women who did various kinds of undercover and messenger work for both the North and the South. By far my favorite moment was when the soldier feared she would be outed during a medical examination – but the doctor limited himself to phrenology and declared that her head was distinctly masculine. OK then.
I can’t begin to tell you how sick my family got of this book. In alternating chapters, it tells the story of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley. This meant that I spent several weeks ranting about birth control, Regency Era medicine, Lord Bryon (ASSHOLE) Percy Shelley (ASSHOLE) and lots of other men (ALL ASSHOLES). The Mary’s do seem to have faced a distinct shortage of decent men during their lives – but their writing was great and we love them.
This is a simply fantastic, indispensible work of literary criticism. It’s conversational and accessible in tone while digging deep into the subject matter. If you read one book about Jane Austen, read this one.
I did not directly review this book, but I referenced it in writing a Kickass Women column for Smart bitches, Trashy Books. Originally, I intended to leaf through it to get the information I needed for the column, but then I couldn’t put it down. African American suffragette Mary Church Tyrell’s story makes for fascinating reading, and remains searing and relevant today.
What was your favorite non-fiction this year?
No matter how desperate for a gift you are, do not buy these things. Except the Wolverine Claws. Those are cool.
One of the more thought-proving things I’ve been asked recently was to list the best books I read for the first time in 2015. They didn’t have to be published in 2015, just read by me during this calendar year. This year was so great that I’m going to split my list into two entries – one for various fiction genres and one for non-fiction. The nonfiction list will be up next week.
Here are my personal top ten favorite discoveries in fiction for 2015. Each one has a link to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, where you can find a full-length review including more details about the plots.
I’m convinced that this book was written specifically to reward me for having watched all those adaptations of Wuthering Heights when I wrote Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. This parody of country melodrama misery books had me on the floor with laughter. “THERE’LL BE NO BUTTER IN HELL!”
Having read all Jane Austen’s major works multiple times, I’m ready to venture into the works that she didn’t finish or that she didn’t submit for publication. Lady Susan is far more wicked than any of her other books, with a main character that closely resembles a Disney villainess. At any minute I expected her to burst into song, like Ursula from the Little Mermaid, or turn into a dragon, like Maleficent. I will never think of Jane Austen in the same way again.
This is Victorian Lesbian Vampire Porn. I rest my case.
Another book that likes to flip our expectations. This is the kind of crazysauce historical that you don’t see much of anymore, but the sweet ingénue is quite wise to the ways of the world and fully in charge of her own sexuality, while the Highwayman, who tries to be a Byronic Brooding Alpha Dominant Hero, is not in touch with his sexuality at all. The results are very funny and very sweet. The review I’m linking to is by Redheadedgirl, who also loved the book.
Historical romance author Courtney Milan takes a crack at contemporaries with a billionaire hero and a broke college student – and I loved it. Milan is the queen of making her characters complex and bringing tons of emotional weight (and diversity) to a story.
Another author who is switching things up. Eva Leigh writes steampunk and science fiction as Zoe Archer. Much as I long for more of her Chain of Command series, I adored her first historical, in which a Regency scandal sheet writer dresses as a man and explores the seedy side of the ton under the tutelage of an infamous rake who is not only aware of her identity, but who set the whole ploy up in the first place. Lots of witty banter, and I love witty banter.This is another review by Redheadedgirl.
This one squeaks in under the wire. I was laid low with a migraine last week – so much so that I had to take to my bed like a victorian Lady with a case of the vapors. It wasn’t pretty. Based on a recommendation from Elyse (who wrote the review I’m linking to) I polished this off in a day in a fog of blissed out tears (also considerable migraine medication). This is a simply lovely historical and the hero’s manner of acquiring pets and attitude towards them perfectly mirrors my own.
Leave a comment and tell us – what were your reading highlights in 2015?
Our faithful guest reviewer Heather Thayer got so annoyed about this book that she called me and ranted about it for a solid thirty very entertaining minutes. Here’s her review!
Book Rant: Seveneves – Learning About What Interests Neal Stephenson These Days and Then The STOOPID Takes Over
By Heather Thayer
Last week I asked a good friend if he’d read Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. “Is that the book where he spends a hundred pages talking about orbital mechanics?” my friend responded. Why yes, that’s the one. Listen, I like a book that teaches me something on its way to telling a good story. I loved The Martian, which was practically a science textbook from time to time. But in The Martian the science served the story – we needed the science we were being given to be able to follow along with what the main character was doing. We got exactly the amount of science that we needed, and the science made sense within the story. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works with Seveneves. In Seveneves, we are subjected treated to a number of things that Neal Stephenson is apparently really, really interested in, and an unbelievably stupid story is tacked on almost as an afterthought.
I have enjoyed a lot of Neal Stephenson’s books, The Diamond Age and Reamde come to mind, and despite the terrible execution, the premise of Seveneves is interesting. The moon breaks up. Humans have about two years to figure out how to survive what will end up being the end of life on Earth for five thousand years. Our story follows a group of people who go into space to establish an orbital colony anchored by the International Space Station to maintain life until the earth is habitable again. I love apocalypse stories, so the premise is right up my alley — until the book turns into a treatise on orbital mechanics, the theory of how chains might move in space and how we might use that to “crack the whip” and use chains for acceleration, how to pilot a glider, and a story that relies on inexplicable idiocy to create tension. Repeat.
Here’s what you need to know about orbital mechanics to understand the story – if you want to move to a higher orbit, that will take energy and some kind of propellant. Water or ice could be a propellant. Got it? Good – that’s all you need to follow the story. But Mr. Stephenson goes on for pages and pages and pages of detail (including equations), apparently in an attempt to share with the reader every single thing he discovered in doing his research for the novel. And he does this about a variety of topics, all of which detail is extraneous to the plot. He is especially taken with the behavior of chains and cracking the whip for acceleration– he must have discussed it at least fifty times in this book. I might mention it a few times in this review because it came up so often in the book. Dude – we get it, you found out stuff. But there is such a thing as overshare.
All of this might be somewhat forgivable if the plot and characters held together, but alas, no. The plot is driven by incomprehensible actions, out of character behavior and uneven pacing.
The plot starts going sideways just as life on Earth is ending. The last shuttle sent up to the space station holds (surprise) the President of the United States. This is a problem because all nations on Earth had agreed that no politicians/world leaders would be eligible to go. But here she is, and she immediately starts making trouble. FOR NO REASON AT ALL. We’ve met the President before, and she’s competent and careful. She is described as a moderate who essentially “fell into” the presidency. She shows up on the space station and suddenly she is a manipulative tyrant who is out to cause trouble. This ends in a schism that is ultimately responsible for the deaths of most of the colonists. Why? It makes NO sense and is inconsistent with the character, but that is just the beginning of the ridiculousness.
SPOILERS – SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS BE HERE.
As mentioned, the machinations of the President result in a schism where many of the colonists go off in a collection of pods (the Swarm), while the people on the space station decide to move the station into a higher orbit with the ultimate goal of landing and settling on one of the larger chunks remaining of the moon. This is a process that will take years. About halfway through the book the two groups go their separate ways and the reader is in complete befuddlement. Why wouldn’t everyone think that sticking together, pooling resources and expertise and finding a permanent home is the only viable way forward? Because that isn’t what happens in the plot, you silly billy. I’m not even going to talk about the tiny group that the President encourages to steal many of the resources and head off to Mars, never to be heard from again. Sound absurd? Yep, it sure does.
We rejoin the story years later as the space station is approaching its destination. There are few survivors on the station (less than thirty), and they have lost the entire human genetic archive that they brought with them, but one of the survivors is a geneticist and they are hopeful that with some genetic manipulation they will be able to perpetuate the human race. On their last pass before the final jump into the higher orbit they are contacted by the remnants of the Swarm. Things haven’t gone well for that group and the few survivors of the Swarm are now ready to rejoin with the station. The two groups hook up, but the survivors from the Swarm attack the space station survivors. Seriously, there are less than forty humans left in the universe and they’re going to spend their resources fighting each other – with guns—in space?
The upshot is bang, bang, bang – they land on a big chunk of the former moon, but now there are only eight survivors, all women, only seven of whom are of childbearing age. Seven Eves. Get it? And now the inanity begins. You thought that the above was dumb? Not even. The stupid is about to explode, and is so aggravating that the only thing that stopped me from throwing the book across the room was that it was on my nice new eReader.
The first daft thing that happens is a pivotal meeting among the survivors: the former President, a sociopath from the Swarm, Malala Yousafsai (with a different name, but it’s her), a Russian soldier and four scientists/specialists from the Station. The geneticist explains that through genetic manipulation she will be able to create viable ovum using the eggs of the women of childbearing age. They start a conversation about whether they should modify the ovum to select for certain traits (I am fine with the premise that all of this is possible – one must suspend disbelief at some point, and it is the future, so fine). As might be expected, the women have different ideas of what the human race should emphasize going forward, but instead of having a calm discussion about this, one of the protagonists – a smart, practical woman who we like – gets a bomb and threatens to set it off in ten minutes unless an agreement is reached. WHAT THE WHAT? Why? Isn’t this a decision that is worthy of some consideration – maybe sleep on it for a night? Does Neal Stephenson think that women are all crazy? This was senseless – even more so because the resolution that is reached under duress is probably the same one that would have been reached after thoughtful debate, so the bomb wasn’t needed as a narrative device to get to a specific result. The group agrees that each mother may choose whatever traits she wishes to emphasize in her own children. Each child will have certain traits chosen by the mother (intelligence, strength, compassion, political acumen etc) and over the years, as the later generations interbreed, it will be a stronger, smarter, more compassionate, politically savvy human race. Makes sense, right?
Whereupon the book inflicts the final indignity of idiocy. We skip forward five thousand years. The descendants of the survivors have thrived using the remnants of the moon to build habitats that orbit the earth, populated by billions of people. However, in five thousand years, the various genetic lines have never interbred – there are seven separate races based on the original seven mothers. Huh? We are supposed to believe that in the early generations, when there was almost no genetic diversity, instead of taking advantage of what little diversity there was, each line only inbred with itself? Most of the mothers (with the exception of the sociopath and the President) were friends and colleagues, so why would their descendants stay separate? No interbreeding, for no discernable reason, and then it stays that way for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS.
I can’t even.
In addition to the stoopid, the uneven pacing makes the second part of the book almost unreadable. There are hundreds of pages of description of the habitats, the rings, and even more descriptions of chain theory and “cracking the whip” to achieve acceleration. Yes, we get it Neal – this interests you. Descriptions follow descriptions and world building piles upon world building. Although it is virtually suffocating under the weight of exposition, the story slowly reveals that people did survive on Earth by going underground or under the sea and painfully crawls toward a meeting between the space survivors and the Earth survivors. This was interesting, this was worth exploring, and then I realized that there were only about twenty pages left in the book. We meet the survivors. The end.
I can’t even.
Actually I made a very small part of a thing. The anthology, After the Avengers: From Joss Whedon’s Hottest, Newest Franchises to the Future of the Whedonverse has just been published on Kindle! This anthology collects essays about Joss Whedon’s post-Buffy projects, including his independent films, comics, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The collection includes my essay “Watching the Whore: The Treatment of Jules in Cabin in the Woods.”
Other essays include:
“Sigh No More, Ladies: Much Ado Tackles Gender and Modern Judgment” by Navya Dasari
“Big in Japan: a Cross Cultural Look at the Whedonverse” by J. Malcom Stewart
“No Future for You? Faith and the Future of the Dark Slayer” by Siobahn Lyons
“I’m Every Bit the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent That You Are: Exploring Opposing Masculinities” by Scott Itterante
and many more!
You can find the book on amazon at this link:
It will also be available soon on Barnes and Nobel, Ibooks, and Kobo as well as other eBook retailers. I’ll share links as the book becomes available al these stores. Enjoy!
Between the Lines Book Club is taking what we hope will be a short break as Arden Dimick Library undergoes some renovations. I can’t wait to see the building when the project is complete! Also, I can’t wait to get back to book club. In the meantime, I have a stack of books taller than I am to get through, so I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to fill my days. Right now I’m reading Miracle and other Christmas Stories by Connie willis. What’s on your To Be Read pile?
Photography by Linden Tarr
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