Cats, menstruation and the Jersey Devil: books read

THE LION IN THE LIVING ROOM: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker argues that among all our domestic animals, cats were the least likely choice: They’re solitary rather than social, not inclined to accept human dominance, picky in diet (hypercarnivores, meaning they need all meat meals) and not well adapted to indoor life. Tucker’s conclusion, based on archeological evidence is that cats made the choice to move in with us because of the easy availability of food; we accepted because their flattened, big-eyed faces fit the kind of baby faces that makes us go Awwww (Tucker also thinks their lack of facial expression makes it easy to use them in memes). The book looks at the eco-damange cats both stray and pet do, and the brief history of cat breeding (unlike dogs, almost all modern breeds began in the 19th century — cats haven’t changed much from their ancestors). This was an interesting read, though Tucker often comes close to the classic cat-hater arguments that cats don’t like us, they just exploit us.

FLOW: The Cultural History of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim is a somewhat awkward mix of medical information about menstruation, cultural history (focused too heavily on the 20th century, perhaps because the ads make for such great illustrations) and arguments about why women shouldn’t be ashamed of their periods (no argument here, but I’d have preferred more information, less advocacy). There’s lots of interesting stuff even so, such as various euphemisms used around the world, including “The tomato soup is overcooked.” (the Netherlands) and Denmark’s “The communists are in the funhouse.” At times, the tone is a little too fluffy, though — seriously, using the flat-earthers who supposedly mocked Columbus as a metaphor for cluelessness is really dumb in this day and age (for anyone who doesn’t know, almost nobody thought the world was flat back then).

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE JERSEY DEVIL: How Quakers, Hucksters and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regal and Frank Esposito was an impulse purchase I wish I hadn’t indulged in: even for an academic press, $25 for slightly over 100 pages is overpriced. The information about the Jersey Devil — a supposed colonial-era legendary monster actually cooked up by various hucksters and newspapers in the early 20th century — is certainly good, but only a fraction of the book. Most of the space is devoted to New Jersey Quaker Daniel Leeds and his feuds with other Quakers, which the authors very unconvincingly strain to show became the basis of the “Leeds devil” that became the Jersey devil. They offer no evidence the Leeds clan provided anything but the name (and who knows, it could be some other Leeds) s0 while the information about the minor religious feud was interesting in itself, it also felt like padding to keep the book from being just 50 pages.

THE WOLF TREE: The Clockwork Dark 2 by John Claude Bemis is the sequel to Nine-Pound Hammer in which Ray and his sister Sally learn the monstrous machine of the first book is still operating, and spreading darkness and loss of free will over the western frontier. This starts off appallingly slowly, but picks up as it goes along.

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