Books I’ve been reading

Due to the wedding I see I need to catch up on these——and I’m too frazzed for anything deeper just now.
AMERICAN GOTH by JD Glass is clichéd fantasy novel in which the grieving lesbian protagonist discovers she’s latest in a long line of Slayers—er, Wielders in an ancient battle of Dark vs. Light (bet you can’t guess which side is the good guys, huh?). There’s very little good to say about a book which spends the first 50 pages in exposition on Magic and the Spirit World and How They Work (and not very interestingly).
CHURCHILL’S EMPIRE: The World That Made Him and the World He Made by Richard Toye argues that Churchill’s image as a die-hard imperialist, while deserved, is also simplistic, Churchill having early in his career earned a reputation as a “little England” anti-imperialist (though that, Toye concludes, is just as inaccurate). Generally, Toye sees Churchill as a believer in the white man’s burden, accepting white dominance but opposing mistreatment of the empire’s subjects (who would eventually be uplifted by the guidance of their white superiors); at the same time, he contradicted almost all of these positions at some point, either in deed or word (one unused speech asserted “I warned the world years in advance about Hitler and Gandhi.”). This gets deep into wonkish details of Churchill’s career and governing philosophy and the Imperial debates swirling around him, so it’s probably not for everyone.
THE BODY HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better by Sandra Blakeselee and Matthew Blakeslee looks at how our brain’s sense of our body can sometimes go very right (champion athletes, it appears, have exceptional awareness of the area around their body) and sometimes very wrong (phantom limbs and golfer’s “yips” or twitches being examples) and how our body map can extend to include frilly dresses, the baseball bat in our hands or a tall hat. Very interesting, though too reductionist in its mechanistic view of the brain (admittedly I’m biased the other way)——and I’ve seen too many pop science books to entirely embrace the author’s insistence on the scope of this topic.
THE LAST UNICORN is Peter S. Beagle’s wonderful tale of a unicorn who discovers she may be the last of her kind and sets off in a desperate search for more; that search leads her to encounters with a hack wizard, a creepy carnival, a Robin Hood wannabe and the dour King Haggard and his servant, the Red Bull. Easily Beagle’s best work, and beautifully written in many spots (“She had healed a king’s wound with her horn, and slain a dragon, and knocked down ripe nuts for bear cubs.”) though Beagle’s interjections of modernism sometimes fall flat.
THE HOTTENTOT VENUS: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman, Born 1789—Buried 2002 by Rachel Holmes tells how a native South African woman went from maidservant to a London exhibit, nominally scientific but in reality playing up the sexual aspect of her supposedly peerless fanny (the kind of butt Sir Mixalot would be glorifying two centuries later). Holmes traces the outline of Saartje’s life and the many controversies swirling around her (including even whether Saartje or her later Christianized name of Sarah is the right one to use) and the impact she had on 19th century London and Paris—though she never really explains why smoking a pipe became part of her stage act (were Hottentots assumed to be heavy smokers? Or was it to emphasize Baartman’s primitiveness the same way that hillbilly women are shown with one?).

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