Monday, August 25, 2014

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 14)

Just a heads-up: I'm going to do my best to keep posting stuff M-W-F like usual, but the next few weeks are some of the busiest in my year, what with school getting back in and everything.  So, if I fall short, I apologize in advance.  I'll at least post an apologetic excuse or some filler or something.

For now, though, let's take a look at what I dragged back home from vacation with me!  I always pick up a new pile of used books when I'm down there; here's what I'm reading today.

Something Magic This Way Comes, Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Sarah A. Hoyt

What it is:  A collection of short stories about magic in the modern world.

How I'm liking it so far:  Like any multi-author collection, it's hit and miss.  Harry Turtledove wrote a short for this collection, and I was a little disappointed to find myself completely underwhelmed by it.  However, I've found several strong entries in here as well, most notably Paul Crilley's Tears of Gold, which is at the same time touching and dark-under-the-surface.

Recommendation:  The balance of good to bad stories here seems to be pretty typical for a multi-author collection; my advice is that if the shared premise intrigues you, go for it!  If you aren't a fan of magic around us (so far, it's about an even three-way split between childlike wonder, curses/gypsies/ancient evils, and "other") as a point of origin, though, this probably won't change your mind.

The Singer, by Calvin Miller

What it is:  A retelling of Christian mythology with fantastical and musical trappings, centering around the titular Singer (Jesus), and told in free verse.

How I'm liking it so far:  It took me a while to get into this story; the phrasing is suitably grandiose, but the early chapters don't add much to the gospels.  Eventually, though, Miller does start to explore some original themes through this story.  That said, it's still more "retelling of the gospels" than "original interpretation" or even "allegory" in a lot of places, and the latter is what I was really hoping for.  I haven't decided, but I probably won't finish it.

Recommendation:  Although it was recommended to me as "for everyone" when I picked it up, I think this will probably have a lot more appeal to readers looking specifically for Christian fiction.  While it's not poorly written, I don't feel like there's enough here, so far, to recommend it outside of the religious demographic.

The Billionaire's Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace

What it is:  The story of a catche of still-full wine bottles supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson--and the modern history of the historical wine market.

How I'm liking it so far:  I'm not a wine person, and a lot of wine jargon and theory goes right over my head.  But I'm interested in the idea of wine, even though I don't really get it.  This book goes into a lot of depth about how wines age, where historical wines come from, and who makes up that market, which I found fascinating.  It wasn't all good--Wallace puts too much emphasis on the "mystery" of the Jefferson bottles, and I think most people who are in the market for this kind of book will already know their history.  But the information here was clear and well-presented, and a mix of good writing and an interesting subject is a winner for me.

Recommendation:  This is a great entry-level look at why some wines are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and who's willing to pay those kinds of prices--as well as a great look at the difficult questions of verification that confront oenophiles.

Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year, by David Ewing Duncan

What it is:  A history of date-keeping, especially focused on the modern "Gregorian" calendar.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is a little drier than I'd hoped, but the history is there, and the pace is fast enough that I'm not feeling too bogged down as I go.  I'm only a few chapters in, so I'm hoping that things get a little less academic in presentation once we get to the Romans (they kept rather better records than civilizations like the Maya, after all), but I'll probably finish this regardless.

Recommendation:  People who are interested in getting some serious depth in the subject and who don't mind some dry but not impenetrable prose should give this a shot.


  1. Speaking of real books, you should totally check out Jon Peterson's Playing at the World (apologies if I've already recommended it to you, but I don't think I have). I've been reading it — slowly — for the past month, and it's one of the most fascinating history books I've ever read. I'm only on page 270 (which excludes the twenty-page introduction), and I've already learned a great deal about wargaming's origins and development

    There is a downside: it's kinda got me wanting to make a pony wargame, and I really don't wanna make time for that. My Little Wars would be such a great title, though

  2. So far, Hoyt has never steered me wrong on a book. I think I even have that book somewhere in my massive heap of unsorted goodness.

    So many books, so little time.

  3. Word of the day: Oenophile.

    I feel fancieralready. *Sticks pinky out*