Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Recommended Reads, May 2016

This month felt like a bit of a reading drought for me, largely because too much of it got eaten up the audiobook version of Ron Chernow's Washington. Which is an interesting biography, don't get me wrong--it's just that it takes me at least four times as long to LISTEN to a book as to READ one, so what was meant to be a commute diversion to keep me from being annoyed by traffic took over my life for 10 days or so just so I could finish it before it was due back at the library. Suffice it to say I'm going back to baseball and podcasts to get me through my commutes.

That said, I did finish 10 books this month (including that interminable audiobook), and I have a few recommendations. All nonfiction this time:

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is one of my favorite panelists on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, so I grabbed this book despite my not being that big of a fan of Batman per se. And it's an interesting look at geek pop culture over the past 80 years or so, and how the same basic story can be extremely mutable based on how the surrounding culture changes and what fans bring to it, both as individuals and as part of generations and/or subcultures within fandom. It happened to be a particularly timely read for me, as for the past two months I've been going through what amounts to a protracted breakup with my former favorite TV show and current fandom home, Sleepy Hollow. (The short version: They killed the female lead in the finale because the actress apparently wanted to leave the show, though it's at least arguable she wanted out because of frustration with her character's role being diminished from the original concept. Her death wouldn't have been so infuriating, except that how it was framed and her last words transformed her from an equal partner to the male protagonist into one of a series of helpers whose job had been to carry him forward. And just when I'd pretty much come to terms with the situation, they renewed the show, despite the storm of fan and critical outrage over the finale.) Basically, Weldon's approach to Batman feels like a validation of what I'm trying to do with Sleepy Hollow--take the version of the story that speaks to me and keep that while throwing out what it turned into.

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A sort of faith memoir by the author of Accidental Saints, and an encouraging read for someone like me who shares the author's background of having been raised evangelical, with all the political and theological conservatism that usually entails, who worked their way over to liturgical mainline Protestantism (although her story is considerably more dramatic than mine). A definite recommendation for people who have something of a troubled relationship with their Christianity but don't want to walk away from it. (And I should go back to church soon, since I haven't been since Easter--I mean to every weekend, but I keep having severe introvert fatigue lately and wanting to stay home as much as possible Saturdays and Sundays.)

Eruption by Steve Olson

From the other side of the country, as a child of 9 I was fascinated by the eruption of Mount St Helens. As an adult, I see it every time we drive down to Portland unless it happens to be cloudy (which, this being the Pacific Northwest, it admittedly often is), and we spent an afternoon there on vacation a few years ago. This book helped me picture what it would've been like to live in the region then as it gave a history of land use around the mountain (lots of Weyerhauser logging) and events in the two months or so between the first rumblings and the big Plinian eruption on 5-18-80. Excellent read (though the bits about the history of Weyerhauser dragged a bit), highly recommended for readers who enjoy the intersection of science and history.

As a side note, one thing I've noted since moving to Washington is our governors tend to be a boring lot, at least compared to the ones we had in my time in Alabama and Pennsylvania. They're boring in a good way--competent technocrats with no major scandals--just not very colorful or with the kind of charisma and ambition that would land them on a presidential ticket. About halfway through my reading, I commented to my husband that I think I knew WHY we pick such boring leaders now. He said, "Ah, I see you've met Dixy Lee Ray." She was...colorful, to say the least.