Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Good day my beautiful peoples!

I’ve been writing a lot over the last little bit, but I feel like I haven’t checked in enough with you lately. How are you? How’s your life? What’s new?

*Insert what’s new and/or what’s happening in your life here*

REALLY?!

(Select appropriate response from the following)

1) How dare they!

2) Go on and get it girl!

3) That’s fucking disgusting

4) Congratulations!

5) I know I’m not your mom or whatever, but I really think you should stop reading this and go see a doctor.

Whew! What a rollercoaster. Now on to the book!

I have some mixed feelings about this one.

First off, the setting and world building really worked for me. I’ve always been a fan of books that are set in really specific and underutilized (at least in the fiction that I’ve been reading) times/places and Shawl really hooked me with this one. It probably didn’t hurt that the history/social studies curriculum at my highschool was fucking gaaaaarrrrrrrbage (we basically did four consecutive years of in depth study about Canada’s contribution to the second world war) so I went into this book pig-ignorant about the Congo and all the terrible things the Belgians did there. I had a very slight idea about the horrors of the rubber industry at this point in history (thanks to David Grann’s amazing The Lost City of Z), but I wasn’t aware that the Congo was a part of that, and I had no idea the depth of the damage done to the region. Learning about the Congo (sort of, I know this isn’t a historically accurate depiction) really fascinated me and it hooked me enough that I’m currently in the market for a nonfiction history of the area (holler at me if you have any recommendations).

Unfortunately, everything else just didn’t really hit it for me. I respect the ambition of the story, it’s sprawling and huge and complicated, but I never felt overly invested in it. Part of that probably has to do with the writing, which I found a little stiff (to be fair there were moments of lyricism and beauty, though few and far between), and obviously the structure didn’t help (the chapters were told in short bursts that hopped perspectives and significant portions of time, never really allowing you to sink into or get familiar with any individual characters POV) but I think most of it had to do with the characters themselves. I never really found one I could invest in, never really connected with or cared about any of the people in this, and because of that I just felt removed and uninvolved in the story in a way that left me feeling pretty unsatisfied with it as a whole.

Listen, the concept of this was great (building a steam-punky utopian society based on moral ideals in the middle of colonial Africa is just…such a good idea. Seriously, Nisi, A++), but I think I just ended up wanting to like this a lot more than I actually liked it. I respected it, but, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. SO! If you’re planning on giving this one a go, keep that in mind.

Anywhooooodle, happy reading!

VBR

 

 

 

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Because the last one was so short, and only kind of a review, I decided I’d write another one for ya today. And because the sun is shining and summer is in full bloom out here, I decided to write about a book that tackles one of the bleakest parts of European history. Hurrah!
This is my favourite book by one of my all-time favourite nonfiction authors.
Larson has written a lot of great stuff (The Devil in the White City is a contender for my favourite one of his as well. I have a morbid fascination with serial killers, and an almost as morbid fascination with obsession. I love stories about people whose whole lives have been sucked up by something, how that can, for just a little bit, make them great, before everything else around them collapses from lack of attention. I don’t know why it interests me so much, but the things that obsessives can achieve before their almost inevitable downfall has always captivated me. Plus H.H. Holmes is one doozy of a serial killer. Crazy, gross, horrific stuff), but this is the one that feels the most important to me right now.
I’m not going to go too much into the current political climate (you’re on the internet, you’ve spent just as much time being bombarded, day after endless day, by that stuff as I have), but I figure once I’m done talking about this book, you’ll probably know what I mean.
It’s the story of an American ambassador and his family in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Now there’s been tons of books about Nazi Germany, I’ve read a few of them myself, but I’ve never read one that had this perspective on it. This is a prime view of a progressive, wealthy, relatively liberal country slowly turning down the road of fascism, heading down the path that led to one of the most horrific events in modern history. Fully understanding why it happened is…a task. It’s so complicated, and people who are smarter than I am have butted their heads up against before and failed. But I think this book has a good handle on one of the facets of it.
The family in the novel have regular contact with the German elite, both the Nazis and the intellectuals who despise them. At the beginning of the novel everybody has heard the stories about violence against the Jewish population, but nobody really believes them (that and an undercurrent of broad, universal antisemitism, not just in Germans but in everybody, tend to undermine any of the reports of violence that have been spreading about). Their country is a relatively progressive, safe place, and they can’t believe that anything too bad could really happen there. They all seem pretty secure in the idea that somebody would stop it if it did. Besides, it’s not happening to them, not affecting their families and loved ones. Not yet. But bit by bit you watch as the family, and everybody around them, comes into more and more contact with the rising tide of fascism, the violence and the racism and irrationality of the Nazis. By the time people realize that it’s not a passing phase, that this party and their petty, ridiculous leader are not actually a joke, it’s too late. They and their loved ones are no longer safe. The Nazis have too much power and they’re too quick to use it.
I don’t need to spell out to you why I think this is an important idea to have out there right now, better writers than me have already made the comparison, and more eloquently than I could. But even if you disagree with my interpretation of recent events, this is an interesting and important read. Watching a modern society slide into that kind of brutality is infuriating and depressing, but it’s also fascinating.
For lovers of nonfiction, history, WWII, and a unique perspective on events that have already been talked to death. (And I know I say this a bit, but) Also just anybody. This is a really good book you guys, and I think ya’ll would like it :).


VBR

PS. This is a dark book about a dark topic, so maybe in retaliation to that (and other things) go out there and spread a little love around. Tell somebody you think they look great (but don’t be creepy), or offer to help somebody you see struggling, or maybe just buy the coffee of the person standing behind you in line at your local cafe. It doesn’t have to be big, but every nice thing you do adds to our side of the scale. Let’s tip that shit in our favour. ❤

1491 By Charles C. Mann

Hey! So I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything for a few days because of that bummer of a book that I was reading (and just finished, hurray!), but I remembered that I’d been meaning to give a quick blurb about this lil’ bundle of joy and totally forgot about it.

I picked it up after hearing a bunch of (mildly misrepresentative) shout outs to it on the various outlets of Cracked.com’s comedy conglomerate. It’s not normally where I get my book picks from, but those guys seem like a relatively smart bunch of dumbies, and I’d heard some good things from a few other people. Also, despite being a huge history nerd, pre-colonial Americas has never really been my area of expertise, and I was hoping to fill in a few of those (embarrassingly large) gaps.

If you’re looking to do the same, this book won’t let you down. I found it incredibly informative and entertaining. It busted up and did away with all the incorrect and condescendingly racist ideas about the pre-European Americas I’d left my public school education with. The biggest being that it was a pristine wilderness sparsely populated by bands of hunter gatherers. Turns out, there’s a lot of evidence that not only were the Americas heavily populated, in some parts of South America it was a contender for most populous place on Earth. On top of that, the reason the wilderness seemed so wild, was not because it hadn’t been cultivated (it had, very extensively and with a high degree of sophistication), but because the diseases that we brought with us, that traveled ahead of our attempts at colonization, wiped out everybody that was maintaining the land before we got there.

Now, it wasn’t all interesting information and preconception busting fun times though. There’s a portion of the book, a probably forty or fifty page chunk in the middle, that is mostly centred completely around academic warfare (who was pushing different agendas and points of view, and why) that I found reaaaaaaaaaaaally hard to get through. I understand why it was there, I do (the author is attempting to explain the fact that this information is still not being taught in highschools, though it’s been a pretty prevalent point of view among academics for like fifty years), but if there’s anything I find less interesting than old stuffy intellectuals getting into a dick measuring contest over academic prestige, I haven’t come across it yet. Still, there was some genuinely neat information still peppered throughout that section, and it wasn’t enough of a slog to really effect my recommendation.

Well, I think that about sums it up. Get this book! It’s great! Learning is the best! Wahoo!

VBR

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