DRAWING DOWN THE MOON: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler does a very good job capturing the beliefs, perspectives and origins of various modern ancient (so o speak) religions, primarily Wicca (with a lot of discussion about what, if any ties, they have to medieval witch blief) but also Druidism (at least one branch of which was started as a joke that caught on), Asatru (which Adler ignored in an earlier edition, finding it too fringe and too neo-Nazi) and some more fringe groups. This being the third edition it looks at changes since the first two such as the influence of Burning Man and similar festivals (which some wiccans argue is weakening the importance of local covens) and traditions pushing for a more organized priesthood. Informative though I know some wiccans argue she downplays magic too much (Adler argues most witches accept “magic” is just tapping the powers of the mind).
MILITARY JUSTICE IN VIETNAM: The Rule of Law in an American War by William Thomas Allison looks at how Vietnam posed a variety of challenges for military law, including the logistics of dispensing justice in a war zone, commanders’ differing agendas (was the purpose of courts martial to set a warning example for others?), technical legal issues (was Vietnam legally an American war?) and crimes including My Lai, corruption and the black market, fragging superiors and of course drugs. Allison argues that troops in Vietnam really were more messed up and took more drugs than past wars, though he argues that was true of the military elsewhere in the same period and mostly reflected conditions back home (a wider population of drug users and the military opening its doors to bottom-of-the-barrel enlistees). Dry enough I skipped some details.
Like The Mommy Wars, CONFLICT: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women by Elisabeth Badinter argues that since the 1970s women’s liberation has been hamstrung by a backlash exalting motherhood as The One True Path and Natural Motherhood (no caregivers, no bottle feeding) as the Even Truer Path. Badinter argues that most of the arguments why there can be no other way are based on dubious arguments about universal maternal instincts and the health benefits of breastfeeding. In a discussion of family leave and pro-working women policies she finds that even Scandinavia’s generous rules for working women and involved fathers haven’t raised the birth rate much, but that France boasts the highest rate of both childless women and mothers; she concludes this is partly because the policies are more flexible (catering to both stay-at-homes and the working parent) but because France has a long tradition of rejecting motherhood as a woman’s first duty (“A sophisticated woman was first a wife, then herself — and motherhood got in the way of that.”). Interesting.
THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley boasts a winning heroine (an eleven-year-old chemistry nerd in a 1950s British village) but the story of her uncovering a murder and insisting on investigating didn’t quite click with me, more because of my general lack of interest in cozies than any flaw in the book. So if unusual girl heroes are your thing (it’s a book for adults I should note), you might like it better.
SIDEWALK ORACLES: Playing With Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss is about finding the guidance Moss believes the universe is sending us in the world around you. As self-help books goes, this one didn’t click with me.
CHEW: International Flavor by John Layman and Rob Guillory has “cibiopath” (he gets readings off anything he tastes) Tony Chu coping with a cyborg partner, a pretty food reviewer and his brother’s mysterious assignment as a chef on an isolated island. As with the first volume, this is delightfully weird and well worth reading. Cover by Guillory; all rights remain with current holder.