Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Nevermore: They/Them, Ghost Brigades, Klansman, Song of Solomon, Lace Reader, Door to Door, Knitting Spies, Book of Two Ways


 Reported by Garry

Our reader was not prepared for the amount that she learned from the book How to They/Them:  A Visual  Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity by Stuart Getty and illustrator Brooke Thyng.  She learned a LOT.  For example, the term “they” was used up until about 1850 when it changed to “he.”  The tide has shifted back to using “they” to describe everyone, and even on contracts “they” is being used, not he/she.  When our reader checked out How to They/Them and two young people standing behind her saw the book and remarked “Oh, I want to check that book out,” and proceeded to have a brief conversation about their friend who is more comfortable with “they,” not he or she.   Our reader highly recommends this informative book as it has a lot of humor and many pictures, finding it to be a very good book on a serious and timely topic.


Our next reader thoroughly enjoyed The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi, the second in the Old Man’s War seires.  This was the first time she had read science fiction with humor in it, and found the change both unexpected and welcome.  This book is set in a futuristic society that enables people who are 75 years old to have their brains moved into young bodies, but the price is that they then go out and fight in an intergalactic war.  All of the main characters are famous scientists like Sagan, Roentgen, Currie, etc.  Our reader pointed out the well written and funny dialogue in this book as being one of the highlights.   


The Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy by Edward Ball is a biographical history book. It starts in 1755 with the matriarch and patriarch of the Lecorgne family and it traces the roots and depth of racism (organized and disorganized) in the South since that time.  The patriarch of the family is the author’s great-great-grandfather.  Our reader was struck by the importance of family connections, in particular the people who you are related to, and how very important those ties are here in the south.  She has had to work her way slowly through this dense, well researched and complicated book, but is enjoying it because of the amount of information that she is getting from it.  This book examines in detail the intertwining of whites, creoles, blacks, and freed black peoples in New Orleans in the 1800’s, where white people from Europe were considered outsiders, and radical militant white supremacists started a revolution following the end of slavery. 


Our next reader revisited an old favorite: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  This absolutely fascinating, sprawling story examines and explains the feelings of those raised in American black culture.  The story focuses on Macon “Milkman” Dead from the day he was born through adulthood. A story about a sack filled with gold starts Milkman on his search for his family’s history and its roots. The book deals with complex family relationships as well as relationships with others in the black community.  Racial discrimination, the legacy of slavery, the concept of home, and kin are all woven through the story as characters move across the United States.  Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.


The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is a historical mystery novel which uses the Salem Witches as its base theme. The women in this novel make lace and can read the future in the patterns.  The book moves back and forth in time, and one of the narrators in not exactly reliable.  Our reader is not sure that she recommends this book as it is not an upbeat book.  She did find it interesting that the novel is both about modern day and historic Salem and witches, but overall had a hard time with this book.

Next up is the non-fiction book Door to Door by Edward Humes.  Our reader, who is very passionate about transportation, really liked this book which explores how everything boils down to items moving from place to place—or door to door.  The book starts with a discussion of shipping transportation, how many container ships there are and how many more there are in the past few years and moves to exploring the delivery service UPS and how many trucks they have. It includes how people get from place to place, and examines the role this all has in our day to day existence.


Our next reader read was introduced to the fascinating world of knitting as a tool of espionage by an article in Atlas Obscura.  These books wove (see what I did there) together the theme of knitting as a spy tool and the almost exclusive role women played in utilizing this ancient art in the war effort: Writing Secret Codes and Sending Hidden Messages by Gyles Brandreth and Peter Stevenson, Stitches in Time by Lucy Adlington, A Guide to Codes and Signals by Peterson and McClintock (1942), and Women Heroes of World War 1:  16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood.  The stitches of knitting can be used similar to Morse code, which can then be deciphered.  One example our reader shared was a story of Madame Levengle who sat in her window knitting and tapped Morse code to her children downstairs.  A German general was in the house and never knew that the lady over his head was spying on him.   Another British spy, Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted in behind enemy lines, and used her knitting skills to hide code-knotted silk threads containing over 2000 codes in her knitting.  She would later transmit her codes which detailed the movement of the German troops back to Britain via hidden radios.  During the Revolutionary War one famous spy, “Old Mom Rinker” used the “old woman always knitting” stereotype to spy for George Washington.  She would sit on a hill over-watching the British forces, and knit and report back to Washington’s people.  


Our last reader reviewed The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, which she was surprised to find teaches a lot about Egyptology.  The novel tells the story of a woman who was getting her doctorate in Egyptology but had to return to the States.  She leaves Egyptology and becomes a death doula, marries, and has a child.  A near-death experience causes her to re-evaluate some of her choices in life. Picoult is known for taking on difficult topics, and this time is no exception.  Our reader enjoyed the book very much but was disappointed in the ambiguity of the ending.

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