Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nevermore: Mystery, History, Detroit, and Women in Science

Reported by Ambrea

Our Nevermore readers started the meeting with an international mystery:  Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill.  Cotterill, who now lives in Chumphon, Thailand, begins his story in Laos in 1979.  Dr. Siri Paiboun is a retired coroner who receives an unexpected gift in the mail—a handwoven pha sin, a colorful skirt traditionally worn in northern Laos, with a severed finger stitched into the lining.  Paiboun is suddenly roped into a deadly scavenger hunt, a mystery leading to a tragic series of murders and a dangerous border skirmish in the north.  Our reader said he enjoyed Six and a Half Deadly Sins immensely.  Gifted with a grim sense of humor, Cotterill’s novel offers an intimate look at Laos in a time of turmoil and a man able to seek justice through the secrets he knows and the people he knows how to manipulate.

Our readers continued in the vein of mystery with The Lost Detective:  Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward.  Hammett, an ex-soldier and former agent for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, became a mystery writer in the late 1920s.  He wrote a number of short stories and novels, including The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.  But after 1934, he suddenly stopped writing, becoming an elusive figure in modern mystery writing.  Full with insightful information into one of America’s earliest detective writers and packed to the gills with original research accumulated from across the country, The Lost Detective was an interesting glimpse into Dashiell Hammett’s life and career.  Our Nevermore reader was fascinated and, moreover, glad to see author Nathan Ward pull Hammett out of obscurity.

Next, our readers followed with The Only Woman in the Room:  Why Science is Still a Boy’s Club by Eileen Pollack.  Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor of science in physics, became a successful fiction writer rather than pursuing a career related to her degree.  Like many women in STEM fields, Pollack was isolated in her studies and rarely encouraged to show an interest in science.  Her book, The Only Woman in the Room, explores the suggestion that men and women have a differing aptitude concerning mathematics and science—and, more importantly, explores the frequent social and institutional difficulties that women confront when studying the hard sciences.  Our Nevermore reader said Pollack, given her experiences as a fiction author, writes beautifully and shares her findings (as well as her experiences) in a way that informs and enchants.  Our reader also said The Only Woman in the Room would be an excellent resource for mothers of daughters who are scientifically inclined, because it would give incredible insight.

Our readers also looked at Orson Welles’s Last Movie:  The Making of the Other Side of the Wind by Josh Karp.  Orson Welles, who is famously remembered for his 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Hollywood films, such as Citizen Kane, began a special endeavor in 1970 with a new movie (which Welles swore was not autobiographical):  The Other Side of the Wind, which featured a legendary but self-destructive director who returns to Hollywood after a self-imposed exile in Europe.  Although the movie was funded by the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran and slated for only eight weeks of filming, it took twelve years to complete—and remains unreleased to the public.  In Orson Welles’s Last Movie, Karp offers readers an opportunity to see behind-the-scenes of one of Welles’s most bizarre and remarkable films.  While our reader hasn’t had the opportunity to finish Karp’s work, she said Orson Welles’s Last Movie was interesting nonetheless and she hopes to find out whether or not Welles was really the genius so many have believed him to be.

Last, our Nevermore readers looked at Detroit:  An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff.  LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, returns to Detroit to uncover why his beloved hometown has become one of the poorest cities in the nation.  Interviewing everyone he can find—union bosses, homeless squatters, ordinary people on the street, businessmen, and homeowners struggling to keep their homes—to find out what happened to his city, and what can be done to save it.  Our reader said Detroit was an exceptional book to read, giving it four-and-a-half stars out of five.  “It was so distressing to look at Detroit [now]…because it was a beautiful place at one time,” she said.  But, she continued, it was an enlightening look at Detroit and how its citizens are working to hold their beloved city together.

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