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tech, teaching, and books

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

This is not your typical history book, and that was very refreshing. This is the 2nd book by Mary Beard I've read. I have read Women & Power, but that's a wholly different (but excellent!) book. This book is not written as most history books are that plod from historical event to event, with many dates, and Great People of history doing this and that. She analyzes different events in Rome, in a chronological order. She gives clear insight, and commentary on the different events in Rome's history, and their significance. She explains history, in plain English, and doesn't just recount what happened.


Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

What a beautiful book about a mother dying of cancer. Michelle Zauner is a Korean-American girl who is a typical teenager. She rebels against her mother. She struggles with her identity. She especially struggles with what it means to be Korean? to her classmates she's Korean but to Koreans she's look on as a foreigner. She doesn't speak much Korean. The strongest connection to being Korean she has is her mom's food. She loves food.

I felt a deep connection to these feelings. I'm a Greek-Canadian. My father died of a heart attack when I was 12. He was my major connection with being Greek. I'm lucky I was forced to go to Greek school and speak a decent amount of Greek. My mom, being adopted by a Greek family, was basically Greek in all but blood. I have fond memories of all the Greek dishes my mom would cook: avgolemeno – lemon chicken soup, spanakopita – spinach pie, tzatziki – spicy yogurt dip, fakies – lentil soup, and many, many more things. Food was about all our family had in common too. We lived to eat. We also owned a restaurant. Now I'm way off let's get back to this book.

She had an interesting journey from childhood to adulthood that many children of immigrants will relate to. As I sit her writing this review, I'm listening to the authors album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet. She went on to become an artist/musician. Her band is Japanese Breakfast.

I don't think my description of this memoir really does it justice, but it did give me the 'feels'.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #41 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #MichelleZauner #JapaneseBreakfast #korean #immigrant #memoir

Geisha by Liza Dalby

This book may not be strictly science as there is not a strict division between observer and participant in this ethnographic study of geisha. That being said, her experience of going through geisha training makes this book so much richer. This is not only a story about geisha but of Japanese culture in general. As she explains in the preface, you cannot explain geisha without knowledge of Japanese culture.

This book is written by Westerner, but comes without the prejudice of judging another culture from one's own perspective. Dalby studied shamisen in high school while on an exchange program in Japan. She came to become fluent in Japanese, too. These two things helped her get into the culture as more of an insider, than 'outsider'. Throughout the book she never makes her own value judgment if geisha are 'good' or 'bad'. She interviewed many people, even did surveys to illustrate the feelings, and attitudes of current and retired geisha. She primarily focused on the Tokyo and Kyoto area.


They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

A blistering, vivid account of how white women were just as involved in the slave trade as men. I have not read many books on slavery in America, but this one was a good one to give you a feel of how it operated. There are quotes from former slaves, or their descendants. There is lots of research from newspapers, and personal diaries of the men and women of the antebellum period.

Now, this is not a book for everyone. It may be a bit dry for some people's tastes, but the scholarly effort, and work that has been put into this novel is incredible.

Hopefully this books changes the longstanding attitude that only the more visible men were involved in the slave trade, while the poor missus was at home tending the fire and having babies.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #39 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #AmericanHistory #StefanieEJones-Rogers #slavery #USA #history

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it for a little while.

A story of settlers who come from Europe to settle Hanover, Nebraska. Of course this novel is concerned with buying property, and farming, but it closely looks at the relationships between people. It is told in batches of chapters in a certain time, then skips many years to focus on a new cluster of key events. The effect is that you are quickly moved through the lives of the main characters and get to know them from birth until death.

The book dives into the heads of the people who are 'pioneers' and 'settling' this land, especially why they have come to America? What are their motivations for being a successful farmer? Even what does success mean to each settler? It has a heartbreaking ending that brought tears to my eyes.

Cather writes so vividly about the land and farming, it is easy to tell she has lived in Nebraska. She writes very strong female characters, and actually they are the focus of the book other than a few of the men whose lives are intertwined with the lead females. This is the first book of 3 in the Great Plains trilogy. I have already added #2 and #3 to my To Read pile.


Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom by Howard S. Levy

Now, this was quite a strange book. I bought this from the used bookstore for $100 NT because it was about Asian culture, and history – two of my favourite things! The reviews on GoodReads for this book are also quite solid as this seems to be the 'bible' of footbinding.

There are many aspects to this book. There are sections on: the history of footbinding and the the movement to abolish it, how to footbind, essays on sexual positions that 'lotus lovers' loved, essays on a dissection of a bound foot, and interviews from women who grew up with bound feet.

Now, I did learn a lot here, but this book is a bit all over the place. In parts it feels very scholarly, and in other parts it feels like Levy is recounting stories he's heard from people. The whole problem with research on footbinding seems to be that: (a) nobody knows exactly when it started (b) nobody knows exactly why it was done. This leaves a huge vacuum for academics to interpret the scant evidence to answer these questions.

Some parts of this book felt to me like they had an Orientalist vibe. I'm not sure that was the intention, but this book certainly could use an update, as this was published in 1967. There is great research in here, but there certainly isn't a very clear narrative in the book once you get past the first chapter. This fragmentation does work in its favour because there are big sections you can easily just skip if you aren't too interested in them, say the 18 'lotus lovers' kama sutra descriptions for example.

I see there are some more current books about this topic that look worth checking out. I am interested in reading this more current book, Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding, so see how she treats this delicate topic.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #37 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #HowardSLevy #history #china #footbinding #women

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Nathan Hale

(Rapunzel's Revenge #1)

I've been a fan of Hale's for sometime now. My readers will know I am rather fond of Mr. Hale's graphic novel series, Hazardous Tales series. So when I heard he and his wife had a fresh take on Rapunzel, well I was immediately sold. I was actually very lucky to find this at the used bookstore for only $84 NT.

This retelling of Rapunzel puts the long-haired maiden in control of her destiny. She has a lot of spunk. She also has a side-kick, Jack, who she bumps into after her escape from her 'tower' but speaking of that, she didn't need any prince or hero to rescue her. She figured out how to get out all by herself. Then she bumps into someone else and that becomes the main plot of the book.

I liked the world building they did in this series. I know there is another book in the series, Calamity Jack, but I'm not sure it is in the same world. It would be a shame to lose that.

I can't wait to read this to my daughter. I love exposing her to things I like, that I think (and hope) she likes too. I think I hear Calamity Jack calling me now...gotta go!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #36 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #NathanHale #ShannonHale #Rapunzel #FairyTale #GraphicNovel

Economics in the Age of Covid-19, Updated Edition by Joshua Gans

2019 and 2020 has been quite a mess politically, economically, and for the health and safety of almost everyone on this Earth. This book aims to look at the economic factors that come into play during a pandemic. Also, to explain how different actions taken during this pandemic can have long term consequences.

Though this book is clearly aimed at the misinformation, and craziness happening in America, it does talk about examples of pandemic responses that were done well like in Denmark, and Taiwan.

This book is very short, and the postmortem of the COVID-19 pandemic is still on-going, sadly, because the pandemic hasn't stopped in many parts of the world.

These are the two problems that plague (!)* this book. The topic he is writing about is not even finished, so it's hard to write an accurate, and comprehensive book about the economics of COVID-19. The other problem is that this book is too US-centric in my opinion.

I appreciate the scholarship of the book, and look forward to more detailed accounts balancing the response to pandemic, with the economy yet to be written. The human race certainly has a lot to learn from this if we are going to survive the next pandemic, and the climate disaster that is looming.

  • Mr. Gans put a few puns in the book and marked them with an exclamation mark. I enjoyed the puns. Thank you!

Rating: ★★★ Book #35 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #JoshuaGans #covid19 #virus #economics #pandemic

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The pirate genre is flooded with movies, books, and TV shows. According to Wikipedia, “There have been over 50 film and TV adaptations of Treasure Island.” I wanted to go back to the source of these pirate stories and see where many of these pirate conventions came from: the treasure map with an X on it, the black spot, and one-legged pirates with parrots on their shoulders.

This was much more kid friendly than I thought it would be. There is lots of action, but not the blood and guts type. There is intrigue, and plotting but not too much shooting. Despite watching many pirate shows, I was not that familiar with the plot of the Treasure Island, though I was familiar with many elements of the story.

I read this as an ePub I got from Project Gutenberg. It has beautiful images from the book in it too. I love books with illustrations!

I encourage you to visit Project Gutenberg and discover a classic novel you've heard about, but never read. It's free so you have nothing to lose.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #34 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #RobertLouisStevenson #pirate #treasure #classic

Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation by Roderick Beaton

I picked up this book because this year, 2021, is the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution. I was going to dive into a book solely based on the revolution, but I realized I need to first learn about the whole history of the Greek state. I know of ancient Greece and their myths, and ruins, but I don't know much of the modern Greek nation. As the title tells us, this book is not about the civilization of Ancient Greece (because who could fit that in one tiny book?) but rather a look at the history of Greece, the nation, from 1821 to present.