Sunday, April 26, 2020

What I'm Reading Now

Don Kulick, Death in the Rain Forest  

A DEATH IN THE RAINFORESTThis is a book that I got our local library to buy because I wanted to read it -- my first use of the Request a Purchase page. I'm pleased to report that it's excellent. I read it all in one night, staying up until two a.m. to do so.

Don Kulick is an anthropologist, American-born and raised, but teaching and working at Uppsala U. in Sweden. (He's also taught at NYU and the University of Chicago.) Among his other research subjects, he's studied the language use among the people of Gapun for over 30 years, documenting and analyzing the death of their language, Tayap. Tayap is only spoken in that village and is not connected to any other language in the world, or any other language in Papua New Giunea. This is a decidedly non-scholarly book about his time with the people of Gapun.

There's some linguistic detail, but it's not overwhelming (and it's the sort of thing I love). There's a lot of cultural anthropology. And there is his analysis of what killed this language in particular (and by extrapolation, maybe, other languages). Spoilers: it's not a simple answer.

Very much worth reading.

Also, have a video (you need to get past the annoying narrator -- trust me, we end up in Gapun with Don Kuklick):

Nino Cipri, Finna

This is a slender novel -- I read it in about an hour and a half -- and well-done.

Finna | Nino Cipri | MacmillanAva and Jules, who have just broken up, both work in a big-box store, LitenVald, clearly based on Ikea. But in this version of Ikea, portals open up randomly into other dimensions. Occasionally customers wander into these other dimensions, and someone has to go fetch them back.

It doesn't have to be Ava, her boss tells her. But refusing to volunteer is grounds for dismissal. (The ruthless culture of big-box management is well done here.)

Jules, on the other hand, can't wait to go.

Part of the novel is about their relationship, why it's on the rocks, whether they want to try again. Part of it is about how environment shapes people. And part is about taking the leap away from the safe into what might be a better world.

Nice writing, and a satisfying read.

Stephen King, The Outsider; If It Bleeds

I tend to avoid King, because so many of his books make me feel bad. I don't really like horror, and I don't like books that are premised on the idea that supernatural monsters are real.

On the other hand, I like 2/3rds of The Stand, a book about a pandemic, and his first book, Carrie, was a lot of fun.

And I need something to read.

So since our library had his new-ish book, The Outsider, which I hadn't read, I checked it out, and also his new book, If It Bleeds, which is really four novellas.

Two-thirds of The Outsider is pretty good. 1/2 of the stories in If It Bleeds are pretty good. If you're looking for something readable and not too awful, and you don't mind supernatural bullshit, these are not bad.

Frank Herbert, The White Plague

I read this because it's about a pandemic. Not recommended unless you like wooden characters and extensive time spent having men comment on women's breasts.

The pandemic part is also disappointing. I don't know, maybe he was trying to do political analysis instead? A Tom-Clancy type book where we get a photo-realistic glimpse of how world governments react to terrible events? (Badly, in case you're wondering.) Or maybe he was going for psychological realism?

The plague is engineered by a man whose wife and children are killed by a bomb set off by the IRA. In revenge, he engineers a plague to kill their wives. Because an eye for an eye, obviously, and women are just possessions. (To be fair, he has two women scientists as main characters, but see above re breasts.) The scientist wanted to limit the deaths to the Irish, but (as a scientist of his caliber would have expected) the plague escapes at once and begins killing women worldwide.

Meg Elison did it better, frankly. (No pun intended.)

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