Books I’ve read

In The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerane in Medieval Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal describes how the Muslim conquerors of “al-Andalus” took seriously Islam’s teaching that Christians and Jews should be welcomed as people of the book; for several centuries this led to Christians and Jews playing important roles in Muslim states. Menocal argues Arabic was a key part of the bonding, since although the language of holiness like Hebrew and Latin, it could also be used for poetry and secular works, which opened new vistas to the non-Arabs of Spain (a flowering of Hebrew poetry, for example). A book that lives up to its critical praise—and has inspired me to write a story set in this era, eventually.
REEL V. REAL: How Hollywood Turns Fact Into Fiction by Frank Sanello only goes to show that writing a serious book about historical films is tough (there’s only a couple of the many I’ve read that I liked)—though in fairness, I’ve read enough on the subject that my disinterest is because much of what Sanello says is familiar to me. That being said, some of his criticism is silly (objecting to the musical 1776 as unhistorical reminds me of the people who said The Pajama Game didn’t represent the real state of labor negotiations in the garment industry) and some is just baffling (the fact that Antitrust has a Bill Gates-knockoff as its villain hardly justifies treating it as a “based on truth” film).
Scotland Yard is hot on THE TRAIL OF FU MANCHU in the wake of Sax Rohmer’s previous book, as the Devil Doctor is cut off from his resources and forced to go to ground in England, though playing defense doesn’t stop him playing such trump cards as re-enslaving Petrie’s daughter and manufacturing gold out of human flesh (not to mentioning poisoning Fah Lo Suee, though I won’t bet on it lasting). A good one, though the constant hints about Fu’s Egyptian ancestry are sometimes a strain—are there really that many people who could recognize that he looks like Pharaoh Seti I?
SHARPE’S BATTLE: Spain, 1811 was the first of Cornwall’s retcons (though given how much detail he goes into on Sharpe’s India years, I suspect he was laying plans for the others already), in which Sharpe’s decision to execute two French soldiers caught mid-rape leads to a clash with the ruthless French general Le Loup, a politically-inspired court-martial and a desperate attempt to redeem himself at the battle of Fuentes des Oñoro. A good one, and I’m fairly sure the spymaster Ducos (here trying to sow dissent among the Irish troops) returns in later books.
AT THE WATER’S EDGE: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life by Carl Zimmer is an excellent science/evolutionary history of how our ancestors left the water, how some of them wound up going back and how researchers put the picture together. Of great interest to me for showing how many theories have been revamped since the days I was a bio major—lungs, it turns out, actually preceded swim bladders instead of evolving from them (“The fact that the fish line with swim bladders came to vastly outnumber the lungfish confused the issue.”) and the development of hard-shelled eggs is no longer what made it possible for tetrapods to move from the amphibian phase (“Amphibians have a variety of means for laying eggs on land.”).
SPIDER-GIRL: Who Killed Gwen Reilly? is a TPB from the Marvel’s Spider-Girl series, in which the daughter of Peter Parker (in a parallel world where the Marvel Universe has aged roughly 20 years) must cope with a clone moving in and becoming her sister, the return of the Green Goblin’s disciple Fury and a gang war erupting in New York. As always, an entertaining read.
E.C. SEGAR’S COMPLETE POPEYE: Well blow me down is the second volume in Fantagraphics’ reprint of Segar’s Thimble Theater strip, wherein Popeye copes with third-world revolution, his romance with Olive Oyl and the meanest town on the Wild West. Definitely taking the shape I’m familiar with as Olive’s brother Castor fades away while a new character called Wimpy steps on-stage (“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”) Still fun, 80 years later—it’s remarkable how much entertainment Segar could get just out of Popeye’s ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.
WITCHFINDER: In the Service of Angels by Mike Mignola is a spin-off from the Hellboy series in which Victorian occult investigator Edward Grey discovers an archeological expedition has unleashed the ghost of a subterranean monster which has returned to London to kill, and kill, and kill again! Not as much fun as Mignola’s pulp crimefighter, Lobster Johnson, but still well worth reading.

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One response to “Books I’ve read

  1. Pingback: Grant Morrison sends a heavy-handed message (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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