Bagge – Woman Rebel

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, First hardcover ed. by Peter Bagge

Date read:01-02 March 2015

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Image of cover of Bagge's Woman Rebel

Hardback, 72+ pages

Published 2013 by Drawn + Quarterly

Source: Deschutes Public Library (BAGGE PETER)

Margaret Sanger was an American sex educator and nurse. She opened the first birth control clinic and, in effect, began Planned Parenthood. She is a fascinating person, to say the very least.

This title was interesting enough. There is a 2-page intro called, “On Peter Bagge and Margaret Sanger” by Tom Spurgeon (editor of The Comics Reporter), the graphic novel proper in 72 pages, followed by two pages on “Why Sanger?” by Peter Bagge, and 18 pages on “Who’s Who and What’s What,” which is actually the endnotes. Yep. No indication in the text that there was more context, and perhaps photos or other images, in the back. Grr.

Also, the text in the introductory and back matter is tiny. Grrr.

The author does do a good job of telling us where he took artistic license in the back matter. Clearly, other stories—as he points out—can and have been told.

Fast read. Positive but honest portrait of a complex woman. Mostly marked down for not alerting me to extra context and small type.

This is the 39th book in my GN2015

This is the 14th book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

Stavans and Alcaraz – A Most Imperfect Union

A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States by Ilan Stavans and Lalo Alcaraz

Date read: 18-20 February 2015

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Image of cover of Stavans and Alcaraz - A Most Imperfect Union

Hardback, xv, 269 pages

Published 2014 by Basic Books

Source: Deschutes Public Library (STAVANS ILAN)

I wanted so much more from this.

There is so much sarcasm here, at different levels, that it becomes an obstacle to knowing how to take much of it. The author, Stavans, jumps right in in the five-page Foreword. He doesn’t need to sell me on the “immigrant perspective”—I value such critiques—but he does on some of his stereotypes of Americans throughout the book. I agree in most cases, but I sometimes want a little support. Also, I despise broad-brush generalizations as a simplification device; or, for most any reason.

Sadly, though, I think they are mostly preaching to the choir. Anyone who truly needs this book will probably never read very far in it; that is, if they ever even pick it up.

Give it a try and see how you relate to it. I guess I wanted sharper, more pointed critique that was not simply stereotypes being thrown around.

This is the 37th book in my GN2015

This is the 11th book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

Tobin and Dewey – I Was The Cat

I Was The Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey and others

Date read: 16 February 2015

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover of I Was The Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey and others

Hardback, 186 pages

Published 2014 by Oni Press

Source: Deschutes Public Library (TOBIN PAUL)

Grabbed this the same time I got Ratfinger at the public library. They were next to each other and their spine titles juxtaposed so damnably well.

… | Ratfinger | I Was The Cat | …

Ratfinger pulled stronger and I took it off the shelf to look at first. I decided to take it and although I had pretty much dismissed the cat book I took it off the shelf to take a gander at. Looked decent enough and, again, the juxtaposition of titles was there. Fate, I guess. Truth be told, I enjoyed this more in the end.

Seems our cat was at least eight other cats. Cats you may well know of and have seen in photos or movies. Others most certainly you have not heard of. Our cat, Burma, has been around. He has orchestrated many schemes. He may be scheming now.

Recommended for any librarians [only because we all so love them, right?] / cat-loving / slightly twisted history fans out there.

This is the 36th book in my GN2015

Quadbeck-Seeger – World of the Elements: Elements of the World

World of the Elements: Elements of the World, 1st ed., by Hans-Jürgen Quadbeck-Seeger, with kind support from BASF; translation by ??

Date read: 16 January – 08 February 2015

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Cover of Quadbeck-Seeger's World of the Elements

Hardback, 111 pages

Published 2007 by WILEY-VCH

Source: COCC Barber Library (QD 466 .Q3313 2007)

Let me just start with saying this book is crap. There. Out of the way.

No idea who the translator is as I cannot find any translation note; I must assume the author did the translation. There is a German-language edition, with a blue cover, which I found at the Deutschen Nationalbibliothek. The translation is fine, although at times it seems to vary between British and American usage and there is at least one “und” that the proofreader missed.

My main gripe is just who is the intended audience for this book? It is an odd mix of fairly serious science which attempts to give us some of the chemistry and physics of the periodic table and of the individual elements, while also educating us on other schemes for laying out the elements in a meaningful order; these efforts still go on, by the way. Not only do I not know who the intended audience is, I do not think there is one. The easy material can be found most anywhere and the more difficult material is only of use to a completely different set of readers. It is a really mixed bag of content.

Nowhere does the author ever define just what is an element. I have no real understanding as to why I am supposed to accept that some man-made by-product of a nuclear bombardment that has a half-life of 2.6 seconds is an actual element. I believe that the author attempted to educate us about such things with talk of periodicity and other issues but, in my opinion anyway, the important dots are never connected. I do know that there are perfectly good theoretical reasons why these man-made elements qualify but this author does not make it clear.

The entries for each element show: where it is located in a color-coded periodic table, its abbreviation, atomic number, atomic weight, images of things made from the element, an info box on discoverers, derivation of the name, and a list of properties. But most of these properties, although ostensibly written in English, contain so many other terms from physics and chemistry that are never defined that you really are just caught in a web of words and learn little about the actual properties of the elements. And if you already knew enough to fully understand most entries then this would not ever be a book you would need.

Some other editing problems: Under Curium (96) Pierre Curie’s dates are listed as (1958-1906) (p. 80). OK, I know Pierre died gruesomely but it wasn’t 52 years before he was born gruesome. Element 77, Proactinium, has Properties text that just runs out mid-sentence.

Throughout some of the discussions of topics, and even within some Properties for various elements, issues of philosophy of science arise and are generally brushed off as “spooky,” which they kind of are. Also, this book is not the place to try and address those as the author (correctly) acknowledges. But then we get near the back of the book…

In the section, “The Elements and Life” we get a list of the three criteria that most “definitions” of life require. These criteria will not tell us whether something is alive but can help us rule out that which is not. But then the author adds a fourth criteria: “All life wants to live!

Um. No. No fucking way! Until we get a much better grip on what “life” is or isn’t this kind of talk is utter nonsense and a category-mistake of the highest order. Life wants nothing. Life is not the kind of thing that can want. Now if he was to say that “All individual life forms want to live” he would get some credit. Of course, we are well aware that this is also not the case as many humans and other animals simply do give up their will to live. Perhaps we could claim “The exception … blah blah.” But life wants not a goddamned thing!

Two pages later same section, there is a breakout box talking about how the number 4 (and 5, and 6) occur over and over in nature. The author ends with

“We can only take note of these facts, and even partly explain them. But we must be careful not to draw any deeper conclusions. Or did someone have an idea to combine arithmetic and life?”

WTF?! So much for no “spookiness.” Seriously though, these two entities are simply things that cannot be combined. Mathematics is a descriptive language and can be used, in many ways, to describe living entities. But it does not describe life and they cannot be combined either. And just who was supposed to do this combining? Spooky.

In the boxes for the discoverers there are often two entries with different dates. Seemingly willy-nilly sometimes the oldest is on top and sometimes the most recent date is on top. Often the descriptions in these boxes leave one wondering at the actual “discovery” of the element.

I think the author did a reasonable but mostly ineffectual job as I do not think either the author or publisher (or between them) ever had a good idea who the audience was. The proofreaders did OK but missed a few glaring things. The book designer/layout folks completely and utterly blew the design of this book.

There are so many books for the general public about chemistry and particularly the periodic table and the elements that this book should be skipped. In fact, I have another book on the elements geared to a popular audience that I checked out the same day; I am hoping I can give it a better review.

Leave this book alone except in a dire emergency. And then, good luck!

This is the 9th book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

Morton – Tortillas: A Cultural History

Morton, Paula E. 2014. Tortillas: a Cultural History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Date read: 16-31 December 2014

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover of Paula Morton's Tortillas: a Cultural History

Cover of Paula Morton’s Tortillas: a Cultural History

Paperback, xxiii, 157 p

Published 2014 by University of New Mexico Press.

Overall I enjoyed this book. Throughout it kept me exceedingly hungry for “proper” nixtamilized corn tortillas made completely from hand. Of course, the horrifically gendered work that went into them is a non-starter. The work that went into them—no matter who’s doing it—is a non-starter.

Despite being on an academic press this is definitely a general audience book. There is a notes section in the back with a couple of paragraphs per chapter but not proper notes. There were one or two claims made that I wanted to look into but could find no references to them.

I chose a lot of categories for this post as the author does cover issues of gender, language and word issues, pop culture, technology, and so on.

The book is an easy read but I really wanted more out of it. A bit more scholarly, perhaps, but not enough to throw most people off. The author is a journalist so it has some of that feel. My biggest gripe is the easy nonchalance in which the author reported on wholesale cultural genocide. “Aw, shucks. It happens eventually to everyone [paraphrase].” The sheer bloodiness of European expansion into Central America and Mexico is enough to make us sit up and reconsider our own cultural heritage. At the least. And as European expansion was pretty much bloody everywhere, it simply cannot be “Aw, gee shucks” awayed.

Near the end as she’s wrapping up loose ends (somewhat) and bringing us fully up-to-date, the author provides some statistics. I believe they are completely and utterly incorrect and highlight an utter fail of editing (on everyone’s part):

“In 2002 in Mexico the average daily consumption of corn tortillas per person was 548 pounds. In 2010 the daily consumption was 346 pounds, according to the Mexican National Household Income Expenditure Survey (ENIGH in Spanish)” (124).

Um, No one, I say no single person, is (or was) eating either 346 or 548 pounds of tortillas per day! Not even once on one day. That figure could be the annual total per person perhaps or it could be the weight eaten by all Mexicans in a day but for that it seems way low. Either way, that last cock-up sealed the feeling I’d had about the book all along. I wanted—I expected—more. So I only gave it 3 stars.

Still I learned a fair bit and will be on the lookout for much better tortillas on occasion.