First Monday Book Day: Shape Up, America

So, I didn't get much reading done this month either. And I'm currently back in the Motherland ("Hi, guys! Sure hope I can slip out for a Surly with y'all!"), ensconced with brotherS and sisterinlawS, preparing to deposit The Boy at the Alma Mater. Which means that this post was actually written some time ago.

Just in time to see this cool, new link to the Library of Congress's new exibition, Books That Shaped America.

So rather than talk about a book o' the month, I'm going to play the list game.

The list ranges from 1750 to the present (no shining city upon a hill stuff here people!)

Only 9 publications from that first 50 years. I can honestly say I've read thoroughly only one -- the Federalist Papers -- and read parts of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. The Federalist Papers is perhaps the most important piece of political science ever written, even though the individual essays were written as propaganda (to convince the voters of New York to ratify the new Constitution). Fed 10 and Fed 51 are thoroughly modern, thoroughly powerful analytical pieces.

The six from the 1800-1850 period include Washington Irving's spooky, lyrical The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, plus Meriwether Lewis's narrative of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Things get really cooking in the second half of the 19th century. The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin and so many other iconic volumes.

The list is eclectic, thought provoking, and, in places, just plain weird. I love that The Cat in the Hat, The Snowy Day, and Where the Wild Things Are made the list, but Carl Sagan's Cosmos?? Or even odder, the 1998 publication of Emily Dickinson poems as an art book, Slant of Light=Sesgo de Luz by a "Cuban publishing collective"?? How the hell did THAT "shape America" in the late 19th century (or any other time)??

Whatever. Lists are phun. Happy Labor Day and what are you reading?

32 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: Shape Up, America”

  1. Hugo Awards were announced this weekend. I have to get on a plane this morning, but when I get back, I'll try to write up the short fiction sections - Most of my reading this month was based around the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award lists.

    1. Last year, you linked to the five short-story nominees (or a site that linked to all five). I enjoyed reading those.

  2. I've read 10 of the LoC list.

    Autobiography of Ben Franklin
    Huck Finn
    Red Badge of Courage
    Call of the Wild
    Great Gatsby
    Charlotte's Web
    Cat in the Hat
    Where The Wild Things Are
    In Cold Blood
    * (In Progress)

  3. From the LoC list, I've read:
    The Federalist Papers
    The Scarlet Letter
    Huck Finn
    The Red Badge of Courage
    The Great Gatsby
    The Sound and the Fury
    Their Eyes Were Watching God
    Our Town
    Grapes of Wrath
    Goodnight Moon
    Catcher in the Rye
    Charlotte's Web
    Fahrenheit 451
    The Cat in the Hat
    On the Road
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Where the Wild Things Are
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    In Cold Blood

    *Walden would be my top choice for my I Don't Support Book Burning, But If I Did I Would Use This Book To Create A Raging Inferno list.

    I missed last month's while out of town, so here's what I've recently read...

    Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. An excellent counterpart to the Autobiography as he pretty much tracked Malcolm's daily speeches and activity to try to pin down his thoughts during the final years of his life after the split from the NOI. Malcolm was quite the slippery person. Plus, Marable outs the real people behind the assassination (they're still living!) rather than the patsies who somehow got railroaded into convictions.

    River of Doubt by Candice Millard helped prepare me for my trip to the Amazon. She balanced the story of Teddy Roosevelt's Amazonian expedition to map out a newly discovered river with a biography of the region itself. I found the sections about the Amazon (chapters focused on the birds, plants, fish, trees, fungi, etc.) much more fascinating than the sections about the journey.

    Railroaded by Richard White was bizarre and completely unorganized. It basically just hopped around portraying all the various railroad barons (especially Huntington and Stanford of the Central Pacific) as complete buffoons who lucked into just barely surviving in business enough to defraud the US and taxpayers out of millions upon millions of dollars. The book was impossible to track as White didn't use chronology, geography, or any other discernible thread to organize the book but instead piled story upon story however he felt. The microhistorical vignettes he inserted between chapters looking at an individual life were fascinating, but overall the book was mostly a dud.

    The Passage of Power by Robert Caro. WOW. I flew through this book that had both the highs (his first few weeks as President) and lows (subverting himself to RFK and the Administration while VP) of LBJ's life. I really, really, really hope Caro lives long enough to complete Volume 5.

    The Republic by Plato. Pretty amazing that Plato could imagine and explain the pros (and mostly cons) of society and governance at a time when Athens was the only place were citizens had even a sliver of control over their leaders. Still, it gets incredibly redundant after the first sixty pages.

    1. I'm in the middle of Passage to Power. One thing I thought was really cool was the way the Kennedy assassination was handled. Totally from the viewpoint of LBJ and the people who were with him. We all know what happened but different to see it through a different perspective.

      1. Absolutely. The whole book was spectacular, but Caro definitely took a story known by all and still made it completely fresh. It was also enjoyable the few places where he pointed out the way in which the Kennedy Presidency has been portrayed by people such as Arthur Schlesinger and how it completely distorts reality. I'm almost itching to go back and read The Power Broker again because it has been a few years and I had forgotten just how great Caro is at biography.

  4. You take issue with Cosmos being on the list? Wiki says it well:

    Cosmos spent 50 weeks on the Publishers Weekly best-sellers list and 70 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list... In 1981, it received the Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book. The book's unprecedented success ushered in a dramatic increase in visibility for science-themed literature...Cosmos became the best-selling science book ever published in the English language.

    It helped shape my corner of America, at least.

    1. Yea, but the movie suh-hucked, despite Jodi Foster's best efforts 😉

      I guess I'd forgotten what a big deal it was. I was into Stephen J. Gould starting about the same time, and a senior in h.s. in 1980-81, so I was sufficiently self-absorbed to have cared much about the billions and billions of dollars Sagan was generating.

  5. Haven't read much more than excerpts of some of those historical texts. I have read:
    Huck Finn
    The Call of the Wild

    Large Pieces of New Hampshire
    Our Town
    Goodnight Moon
    Charlotte's Web
    (Read Aloud to me)
    Fahrenheit 451
    The Cat in the Hat
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    The Snowy Day
    Where the Wild Things Are
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X

    Plus, I've seen movie versions of
    Little Women
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
    Gone with the Wind

    More than I would have thought. I have a copy of the Spock book, but it's not like I'm gonna read it.

  6. I am about halfway through The Handmaid's Tale. It took awhile to get moving with all the backstory but I am starting to see some potential drama/action. I am enjoying it.

    This is the type of science fiction I enjoy. I'm not into the space stuff as much.

    1. Algonad, have you read much Ursula K. Le Guin? She's most known for the Earthsea series, which is fantasy for young adults (or thereabouts), but her really great stuff includes The Left Hand of Darkness,, The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven.

  7. Hugo Awards (full list of nominees and winners):

    For the short story section, all 5 are available online. I've ordered them in order from my favorite to least favorite.

    The Paper Menagerie (K. Liu) -- link goes to a .pdf

    This one won the Hugo and the Nebula award this year, and after reading the nominees for both, I agree with that decision. About growing up with a Chinese mother in America, it's very good.

    Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue (J. Scalzi)

    Hilarious. This was put on on April Fool's Day, and it's obviously different in tone than any other Hugo nominee that I've read, but it is great fun.

    Movement (N. Fulda)

    It seems like there's a lot of fiction done from the perspective of autistic or near-autistic narrators, but this was an interesting take on that, with a really interesting and well-executed theme.

    The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees (E. L. Yu)

    I didn't get it. I like the idea of the wasps as creating intricate maps of their territory, but the story just kind of fizzled for me.

    The Homecoming (M. Resnick) -- link goes to a .pdf

    Meh. Resnick has gotten a lot of nominations, this one seems pretty undeserved, a straightforward story about tolerance. Yawn.


    I thought the Hugos missed out on a few really strong stories that got nominated elsewhere.

    (Nebula nominees and winners)
    (World Fantasy Award nominees)

    The Axiom of Choice (D. Goldman) -- link to .pdf

    Choose Your Own Adventure as a narrative device. I liked the conceit, and the story was very well done. I had this second to "The Paper Menagerie" in the Nebula list.

    X for Demetrious (S. Duffy)

    Creepiest of all the stories I read. Not much shocking in this one, event-wise or plot-wise, but there was still a great sense of dread.

    A Journey of Only Two Paces (T. Powers) -- from "The Bible Repairman"

    Not available online, but my favorite story of the year. It's urban fantasy that has literary references, a vaguely unsettling plot with a high concept that is executed in a way that makes it perhaps a little bit hard to understand the first time through. My kind of story.

    1. I like a lot of Tim Power's stuff. My favorite is On Stranger Tides, but he's got a definite style that I usually enjoy.

    2. Thanks, I'm gonna print these out tomorrow at work.
      The one you linked to last year that really stuck with me was the ponies. Cliquish girls can be mean, man.
      Yeah, I might not be the target market for this stuff, I'm guessing that was probably the least favorite among most scifi readers.

      1. "Ponies" won the Hugo last year.

        Kij Johnson, (author of "Ponies") was nominated (and won) this year in the novella category for "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" (link to .doc format). I'm not quite finished with it, but I liked what I've read so far.

        1. "Ponies" is like the best spookystory ever. So much in so little space.
          I read it again tonight. (I still have the piece of paper I printed it out on.)
          Glad to see that my expectations of the genre's awards were wrong.

    3. .

      Novelletes (shorter than a novella, but longer than a short story)

      ** The Hugos got it right. If you read only one of the many many links here, read Charlie Jane Anders "6 months, 3 days". It's a time travel story without any time travel. Two people that can see their future start dating. It's so good. Can't recommend it enough.

      ** "What We Found" (G. Ryman) not available online, email me at daneekasghost-at-gmail and I can send you a .pdf of it. This won the Nebula Award, and it's also very very good. A scientist uncovers a personally devastating discovery, but then can't repeat the experiment. Told simultaneously with scenes from his childhood, it comes together very well.

      ** "The Copenhagen Interpretation" (P. Cornell) -- link to a .pdf. This is pretty good straightforward sci-fi, I liked the universe created, and the espionage story that unfolded within it.

      ** "Fields of Gold" (R. Swirsky). Interesting view of the afterlife, although the story told wasn't really up my alley. I can see this one being liked more by other people.

    4. .

      Novellas (shorter than a novel, but longer than a novellete)

      ** As mentioned above Kij Johnson (Hugo winner for "Ponies" last year) won this Hugo for "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" (link to .doc format) It's very different from 'Ponies', although still with a fantasy leaning. An architect is assigned a project of building an enormous bridge over a river of toxic mist with monsters that live within it.

      ** "Silently and Very Fast" (C. M. Valente) - Artificial intelligence, I think this might be the best title on the whole list, although you don't know why it works so well until the very end.

      ** "Kiss Me Twice" (M. R. Kowal) - Detective story with A.I. well done, the procedures for a police department run by an A.I. was a very interesting world to inhabit during this story.

      ** "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" (K. Liu) - link to .pdf - Time travel that changes history in a different way from usual. Got a little preachy, I felt like Liu was trying to raise awareness more than write a great story, but the idea is very interesting, and I'm glad I read this one.

      ** "The Ice Owl" (C. I. Gilman) - not available online - Pretty good, but the ending was easy to see coming, and not a good enough conclusion to overcome that.

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