April 30, 2011

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, April 2011

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Agha Shahid Ali, A Nostalgist's Map of America
Via Jon Wilkins.
Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes
An accurate, eloquent and humane work of popular history. It would be unfair to call it Marshall Hodgson's The Venture of Islam for Dummies, because it doesn't totally rely on Hodgson and it doesn't patronize the reader, but it has something of that flavor. Both writers emphasize the very deep historical currents which fed into the Islamic tradition, especially in what Hodgson called the "Nile-to-Oxus region" and Ansary dubs "the Middle World", and the larger world-historical context, the interaction of the Muslim story with others; both devote great attention to the various flavors of ethical conviction and spiritual and intellectual aspiration in Islamic civilization, more or less explicitly underscoring the variety of the ways in which people have been Muslim; both have nuanced understandings of how tradition works, and the way any major tradition has tremendous internal diversity, which is necessarily drawn on selectively. (Both also give Isalm in southeast Asia, or even south Asia, less attention than its demographic weight warrants.) Ansary, however, is much more readable than Hodgson, even downright colloquial — and writing in the shadow of 9/11 and the global war on terror. His book is forthrightly aimed at promoting understanding of the Islamic world on the part of westerners, without attempting to paper over real differences, or turn history into a succession of mere Lessons For Our Time. I think it succeeds very well, and could well outlast our current troubles. I recommend it strongly to anyone looking for a popular introduction to Islamic history.
Disclaimer: Ansary's father and my grand-father were both sent as students from Afghanistan to the United States in the '30s, and were friends; he is a friend of the family.
Carrie Vaughn, After the Golden Age
Mind-candy, but very nearly perfect mind-candy. I read it one sitting, and wished there were more.
Jason Shiga, Bookhunter
The adventures of the Oakland Public Library Police, confronting a triple locked-room book-theft mystery with the high-tech wizardry of 1973. What makes this so delightful is that it manages to be both a hilarious parody of a procedural and a perfectly-formed specimen of the genre.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Becoming the Villainess
Poetry, re-telling classical myths, fairy-tales, comic books, etc., etc., with good imagery and a very distinct personality. (The samples on her webpage are pretty representative.) She should write more; fortunately she has another book coming out later this year. — And here it is.
Warren Ellis and Amanda Conner, Two-Step
Fun, but trifling; a light-hearted revisiting of some themes from Transmetropolitan as a pure comedy (with lots of amusing violence). For completist fans of Ellis and/or Connor's work.
Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, iZombie
Comic-book mind-candy.
Herbert A. Simon, An Empirically-based Microeconomics
A 2009 reprint of a 1997 book based on lectures delivered in 1993. Still current; economists are, thankfully, paying more attention to experiments, but still refusing to adjust their models of decision-making to accommodate experimental findings. (Fuller comments later.)
Patricia A. McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head
At one level, this is fine McKillip, if not perhaps her most compelling story. At another, I wonder if there isn't some sort of meta-fictional auto-critique going on. Further comments are ROT-13'd for possible spoilers. Guvf vf gur svefg fgbel V'ir ernq ol ZpXvyyvc jurer bar bs gur punenpgref jnf, va snpg, n jevgre, naq n jevgre bs snagnfgvp fgbevrf ng gung. Gur rpubrf orgjrra Tjraqbyla'f fgbevrf naq gur bar ZpXvyyvc vf jevgvat srry yvxr gurl bhtug gb zrna fbzrguvat, ohg V pna'g dhvgr fnl jung. Naq V jbaqre vs rira gur evghnyf qrsvavat Lfnob'f irefvba bs Nvfyvaa Ubhfr ("rvgure nofheq be unhagvatyl ribpngvir", nf bar punenpgre fnlf) ner fhccbfrq gb, va fbzr jnl, rpub ZpXvyyvc'f bja pnerre-ybat hfr bs gur unhagvatyl ribpngvir?
Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century
Book reviews (mostly with a heavy biographical element) and political essays, covering a huge range of topics related to the left in the 20th century; and what the hell we should do with ourselves now. Many of them are from the New York Review of Each Other's Books, with post-scripts about squabbles in the letters column. The title's air of "I know more than you, and will now sit in judgment" is in fact fully representative of the tone of the essays, but Judt did know more than most of us about the history of political ideas, and that certainly didn't make him less entitled to his opinions than anyone with a seat at a bar (or a blog).

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Writing for Antiquity; The Commonwealth of Letters; The Progressive Forces; Islam; The Dismal Science; Minds, Brains and Neurons; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime

Posted at April 30, 2011 23:59 | permanent link

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