Books I Read A While Ago

Three from much ear­li­er this year. 

In non-fiction, Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from Data. Professor does stats for dum­mies. Lots of base­ball. I kind of like base­ball and there are some amaz­ing things being done with num­bers in base­ball. But most­ly it’s the old stand­bys, drug research and the large scale health sur­veys with a lit­tle ter­ror­ist track­ing, some SATs and grades, and a soup­con of beer. Yeah, the beer and brew­ing stuff is inter­est­ing. All in all, dull. So I’m still look­ing for some­thing that’s inter­est­ing enough to make the basics stick in my head for more than 20 minutes.

I had much bet­ter luck with The Best Science Writing Online 2012. edit­ed by Jennifer Ouellette. A curat­ed col­lec­tion of the best of a year’s worth of blogs, columns, and essays pub­lished on-line. We’re incred­i­bly lucky to have so much good writ­ing on sci­ence avail­able to us. There isn’t a field of pur­suit in which there aren’t at least two or three well writ­ten sources for the enthu­si­as­tic ama­teur to fol­low along. Open sources sci­ence is at it’s best in the new sci­ence journalism.

No mat­ter what your favorite field there’s bound to be some­thing in here for you. Maryn McKenna talks about pub­lic health, Rob Dunn about insects, and Ann Finkbeiner about sci­ence itself. Better yet you’re prob­a­bly going to find some­thing here that you’ve nev­er seen before — like the church forests of Ethiopia described by T. Delene Beeland. Tens of thou­sands of islands of Afromontane forests pro­tect­ing and pro­tect­ed by church­es. Some may be as many as 16 cen­turies old. They are a thing I’d nev­er heard of, and that I’m grate­ful to know about now. 

In fic­tion, Six-Gun Snow White. Catheryn Valente revis­its an old tale in a novel­la set in the wild west (and mid-west) Rewriting fairy tales is dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry. It goes wrong more often than not. I can’t say that this goes wrong. It just does­n’t quite go right. Nearly, almost, so very close that you can for­give the off notes and leaps and jud­ders but… not quite right. Not because she does­n’t have a very firm grasp on the tale in ques­tion. There’s not a fairy tale that Ms. V can’t dis­sect and rebuild, This time it’s a mat­ter of car­ing too much that the mes­sage be right. And then there’s the mat­ter of not hav­ing a grasp on the set­ting. She does­n’t want to live there, not like she has in all her oth­er retold tales. She did her research, there are sil­ver mines and enslaved min­ers; misog­y­nis­tic, slight­ly stu­pid cow­boys; des­o­late, para­noid (right­ful­ly) Indians; and a per­fect­ly, moral­ly ambigu­ous rob­ber baron with a (cliche alert) down trod­den wife/step-mother to the child Snow White. Whose real name is nei­ther Snow nor White. But it fails… it falls on its white is not bet­ter, step-mothers may be vic­tims them­selves, let’s turn all the tropes on their heads sword. Sadly, because it has the best fairy tale mir­ror ever. One with no mag­ic, only reflec­tions. Note that this is a novel­la — but the kin­dle cov­er price was $5. The hard­cov­er, if you can find it, is fetch­ing $40. I should have such a fan base.