Posted 02 January 2017 - 05:52 AM
What have you been reading recently?
Things I have read recently:
Khrushchev: The Man and His Era by William Taubman: a very good biography, which won the Pulitzer... there's not a lot to be said about it. It's an excellent biography.
Chronicles of the First Crusade (ed. Christopher Tyerman) and Chronicles of the Crusades (Villehardouin + Joinville): reread these, actually. Primary sources on Crusades Nos 1, 4, and 7/8.
The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer: a biography of Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, the insane protofascist who somehow ended up running Mongolia briefly in the early 20s. A good book, despite some embarrassing errors (I think he refers to the Estonians as Slavs? which is not right.)
Life's Lottery by Kim Newman: a "literary" (or at least, non-child-oriented) gamebook/choose your own adventure novel. It is a hell of a thing, and also I'm sure I've missed a bunch of it.
The Arabian Nights: a cheapo "Barnes and Noble Classics" reprint of a public domain translation of the core stories + Aladdin and Ali Baba from the Victorian era. Inevitably bowdlerized, but there are some very nice engraved illustrations.
My Ears are Bent by Joseph Mitchell: a compilation of the newspaper reporting Mitchell did in the 1930s before he moved to the New Yorker and became the greatest American nonfiction writer of the 20th century, and probably ever. Good, but only really of interest if you want to see where he came from pre-New Yorker.
The Northern Crusades by Eric Christiansen: an underwhelming, short, over-broad survey of the Northern Crusades. Much too light on detail about the personalities involved, on details of major battles involved, on details of the diplomatic wrangling with Poland et al... unfortunately this is, as far as I can tell, the only book-length English work on the subject. From the late 70s, revised in 2000 I think? I looked at the bibliography and one of the first sources cited (on Baltic paganism) is by Gimbutas, which makes me profoundly leery.
Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic by John French: the autobiography of Captain Beefheart's most-usual drummer/guitarist/arranger. Very interesting in places (insights on band dynamics and personalities, interviews with rarely-interviewed band members, the track-by-track commentary on every album in the back of the book), but inevitably patchy (not a lot going on when he's not actually in the band). The story of one man's relationship with Captain Beefheart, rather than the story of the Captain's career. Over 850 pages of fairly small print: a doorstopper. (Also has some very groan-inducing stuff... I skimmed towards the end a bit and there's a profoundly embarrassing bit where the author and his wife (now Evangelical/Charismatic Christians) undergo a horrible exorcism/faith healing thing where he's LIBERATED FROM THE SPIRIT OF WITCHCRAFT or something.) (Also the author met his wife when he was like 18 and she was like 12/13? and he describes her as beautiful and "jailbait" then... I mean, nothing against them? I'm glad they're happy together after so long. But also: that's super-creepy, dude. Don't lust for kids like that, even if it's for your wife, in retrospect.)
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson: the vampire/zombie novel all modern works of vampire/zombie fiction rip off either directly (Night of the Living Dead took a lot from the first film adaption of the novel) or indirectly (the million NOTLD clones). (eg: any work that has zombie-ism or vampirism caused by a contagion as opposed to magic is lifting from this novel.) Terse and snappy like the best 50s pulp sci-fi, it is amazing how badly the Will Smith film botches everything about it.
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio: the Penguin Classics edition, which features over 150 pages of introduction where the translator explains his methods and decisions and the themes of the novel and stuff, I guess. Very exciting.
Some book about the history of gold... it's one of those books on a semi-topical subject (the popularity of gold following the 08 economic crash) by a journalist: one of those books that has suspiciously wide margins, and 1.5x spacing, and is still only about 200 pages long, and which really probably should have been a series of magazine articles in Smithsonian or NatGeo or something, and where you KNOW half the book is gonna be interviews with people interspersed with bits of cursory research into the history on the subject. But hey, it was on clearance for $2 at Half Price Books, and I had a gift card from Christmas.
Probably gonna reread Dracula, because it's so good, and because I got a new copy, because my old copy was evidently based on a horrible OCR or the text, replete with horrible typos. Typos, in a public domain book that came out over 100 years ago. At least nick the Project Gutenberg text, guys, it's not that hard.
The "new" copy of Dracula I got is a BANTAM CLASSICS edition, probably from the 80s (the introduction is copyright 1981), but I suspect this is one of those lines of public domain books that the publisher never lets go out of print, so realistically it could've been printed any time between 81 and about 2000 or so.
There is an ad on the back endpaper of the book from the Ad Council. It warns that unless we do something, the literacy rate of the USA could be down to 30% by the year 2000. God forbid.