Recommended Reading #5: Armageddon, With Social Justice & Rock Wizards

Welcome back to Recommended Reading! I hope your Sunday is going well. I woke up to a short story rejection, so I lopped off 350 words and sent it in to another place. Excelsior!

To some, today’s trilogy needs little introduction. Each book won the Hugo Award, three years running, the first time an author had accomplished this feat. And the author, N.K. Jemisin, has been central in the fight to get the vocal alt-right trolls in the speculative fiction* community to shut the fuck up**.

In an acceptance speech that’s being hailed as one of the best ever made at the Hugos, Jemisin defiantly raised a “rocket-shaped finger” (a reference to the rocket-ship design of the massive Hugo statue) to the racist rhetoric that positions the recognition of her work as being about identity politics rather than her own talent.

“It’s been a hard year, hasn’t it,” she began. “A hard few years, a hard century. For some of us, things have always been hard. I wrote the Broken Earth trilogy to speak to that struggle, and what it takes to live, let alone thrive, in a world that seems determined to break you — a world of people who constantly question your competence, your relevance, your very existence.”

The Broken Earth trilogy takes place in a world called the Stillness, where geological cataclysms periodically decimate the population, through both the initial events and the ensuing nuclear winters. Some people, called orogenes, are born with the power to harness and redirect the earth’s energy. They are hated and feared, and the dominant imperial power collects them as children, to break them and train them to serve the empire.

One day, after deciding such a civilization is unfit to continue, an orogene of immense power rips the continent in half. Read more








Repubs In Disarray!… Open Thread

No way Junior actually wrote this tweet — even he understands that “running for office as a business model” is why his old man is currently squatting in the Oval Office. But Young Don’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle is now a paid “senior political advisor” on Daddy’s reelection campaign, so I guess we can assume this is the real, if not the official, Trump administration stance on Roy Moore. Rooting for injuries!

Speaking of injuries…



Steve ‘Muck & Mucker’ Bannon is looking for a little earned media (free publicity) from Michael Wolff’s new book Siege: Trump Under Fire & Fury II:

“Siege” is ostensibly about Trump — portrayed here as a very unstable non-genius cracking under the pressure of being thrust into the highest office — but its guiding worldview looks remarkably like Bannon’s. It’s a mordant, readable tell-all designed to show how Trump, simply by being Trump, has made himself the perfect wrecking ball, blasting holes through an array of institutions…
Read more








Dulce Et Decorum Est

I spent Memorial Day on holiday with the extended family, touristing around Chania, the old Venetian stronghold on the western side of Crete* — which meant that the holiday mostly passed me by until reading Adam’s post.

As it happens, though, my book for the day was Pat Barker’s Regeneration, the first of a trilogy.  The work uses the historical encounter between anthropologist and psychologist William Rivers and the poet-officer Siegfried Sassoon to explore (among much else) the impact of realizing that a war limned in the language and cant of glory or duty or courage is, instead, a meaningless meat grinder.

It’s very good…I’d heard of it for years but it took a stop at the Tank Museum in Dorset, with a discount paperback in the gift shop and a sun-and-sand vacation in prospect to get me to read it. I’m sorry to have waited so long, though given how much the Battle of Crete still comes up in local historical memory, maybe I got to it in just the right time and place.

But all this meandering ambles to this point (I do have one!): I’ve never served. I do not presume to speak for or at those who have.  I try to think and feel like a citizen who must give consent to the government that orders others to fight for the polity as a whole.  My minimum responsibility is to try to understand what war costs before giving even tacit assent to conflicts entered into notionally on my behalf.

So, over the last six decades, my sense of war began as one of XY kid fascination — with my dad’s and my uncles’ service, and with all the minutiae of World War II naval warfare in an obsession that lasted to a couple of years past puberty — and opposition to the Vietnam War picked up as local and family culture growing up in Berkeley.

But then came the books. In my teens I began to read books on war that weren’t straightforward military history or kids’ versions of Jane’s Fighting Ships and its ilk. There were two that had a decisive impact on my thinking about war: Robert Graves’s Goodbye to all That and Sassoon’s George Sherston trilogy, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting ManMemoirs of an Infantry Officer; and Sherston’s Progress.  Graves’s book was memoir; Sassoon fig-leafed with a pseudonym, but his is similarly an account of a pre-war life spent as an unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible, transformed by what came after August 1914.  Both, appear in Barker’s novel, where she made  good use of the way Sassoon in particular tried to express the daily intolerable, and, more awfully, the mundane inhumanity of the war in ways even the most complete home-front hero could grasp.

He and Graves failed in that, of course; the war drumming about Iran from men and a political party that won’t for a moment put themselves or their own kids at risk is only the latest case in point. For me, though those books had a profound impact on my 16 or 17 year old brain.  I can’t claim to be a complete pacifist; wars always represent failures to achieve ends by other means, but when such failures occur…

But the message I drew from the “Great War” remembrances, and then later from works like Herr’s Dispatches; and still later, O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, read pretty recently to keep company with my son’s high school reading list; and novels like Catch 22, which even at 17 I realized wasn’t actually a comedy, hilarious as it was, and so on…is that asking folks to fight for any reason but the most utterly compelling is the ur-war crime.  That’s how I see it still.

All of which is prelude to the question for all of y’all.  “Favorite” isn’t quite the right word, but perhaps this will do:  what is the book that makes war most real to you?  What work or works of literature or remembrance or history has moved you or altered views or simply made a difference to you? What would you have me read to understand how you think and feel and reason morally around violence and conflict?

And with that: over to the Jackalteriat!

*Dirty job and all that, but someone’s got to do it.°

°Well, in fact, no one has to do it.  But I’m happy enough to volunteer.

Image: John Singer Sergent, Gassed, 1919.








Monday Morning Open Thread: Expect the Unexpected

Because it’s a holiday for most of us, here’s something genuinely nice and uplifting to start the day. From the Washington Post‘s book section, “He quit the NFL for a career in math”:

John Urschel has heard it a lot: “You’re that football player who’s really smart.” It’s an accurate description — Urschel, a former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is a doctoral candidate in mathematics at MIT — but that description makes him wince.

Instead, he offers this: “I’m looking forward to being considered that mathematician who used play football.”

In July of 2017, Urschel retired from the NFL after three seasons. He hasn’t played football since. Not even a casual game in the park? Nope. “This isn’t something my friends and I do for fun,” he says.

Besides, Urschel has been busy with something else — his memoir, “Mind and Matter.” Written with his wife, journalist Louisa Thomas, the book chronicles his life in both sports and academics and explains how and why, in the end, he chose math over football. Yes, it had something to do with concussions, but that’s not all of it…

When asked what he likes to do for fun, his immediate answer is, “math!” He carries a notepad with him just in case he’s struck by an idea. He wanted his first book to be a pure math book, and at signings he’s been known to inscribe the memoir he ended up writing with “fun integrals” and “important constants” that he’s excited to explain to anyone who wants to geek out with him.

Urschel grew up in Buffalo. His parents, who separated when Urschel was 3, encouraged his two-track learning from an early age. His mother, a nurse-turned-lawyer, urged him to pursue his interests in math with games and puzzles, and later advanced course work. “If I am a true outlier,” he writes in his book, “it is because of her — an African-American single mother who loved math but was discouraged from it, who wanted me never to feel that any door was closed to me.” His father, a thoracic surgeon and former linebacker at the University of Alberta, pushed him academically, too. But he was also concerned about his son’s conditioning, and his time with young Urschel involved visits to the gym as well as to the library…








Book Recommendation: D-Day Girls

In between gardening and other things, starting to read D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose. I have a backlog of things I need to read, including this, The Theft of a Decade: How the Baby Boomers Stole the Millennials’ Economic Future, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, and about 85 others, but I really wanted to read this one first. It caught my eye when I saw someone retweet the author (her twitter is @thesarahrose), and I was immediately interested because my mom is fascinated with female codebreakers (among one of her many niche fascinations). So I started talking to her, mentioned my mom had read other books in this area, learned that Sarah had written a book called For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History, bought it, liked it, and got a copy of D-Day Girls.

Mom inhaled it in a few days and loved it and wrote a glowing blurb:

So that is on my schedule this weekend, mainly because I am interested, but also because I will have something to talk about with my mom other than stupid Pirates baseball which she loves but makes my eyes glaze over.