You Crosstalk too much

I s-o-o-o wanted to enjoy Connie Willis’ latest book, Crosstalk, and I settled down in great anticipation to read her latest screwball comedy.  The characters and situations are familiar to Willis fans who liked To Say Nothing of the Dog, “Blue Moon”, or the underappreciated Bellwether.  There’s even one of Willis’ hilarious lists, this time D. B. Schwartz’ Rules for Lying, peppered throughout the book:

  • Stick to one story (p. 78)
  • Never say any more than you absolutely have to (p. 77)
  • Have a cover story ready in case people start asking questions (p. 108)
  • Keep your stories straight (p. 129)
  • Don’t look guilty (p. 130)

As well as some insights on the practice, such as”Any sentence beginning with ‘of course’ was automatically a lie…”, and a great quote from one of her faves

It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar.  — Jerome K. Jerome, The Idler’s Club

crosstalk

Having said all that, the book is not fabulous.  The heroine lets everyone from her nine-year-old niece to her mendacious fiance jerk her around, and her acceptance as a center of obsessive phoning, texting, and Facebooking exposes her as a lightweight.  Everyone with the exception of the (obvious) hero, the aforementioned D. B. Schwarz, is a child of (mainly female) white privilege*, screeching at each other about Princess Problems.  The story is overlong, too long to be concluded with the sort of feminist Deus ex Machina resolution that leaves everyone (except the fiance) living sappily ever after.

Coming after the conclusion of her four-novel plus love letter to the rapidly-being-overrun people of Great Britain (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear), Crosstalk is a big letdown.  If you haven’t read any Willis, start with Bellwether or Doomsday Book, not this clinker.

*Willis is a softcore SJW, whose post-election stance is “I’m OK, you Trumpers are messed up.”  Oh, and I don’t live in a bubble.  Con safos, chica.

Glamour from the 20th Century

Recently finished Virginia Postrel’s The Power of Glamour, and finally understood what all the fuss has been about.

thepowerofglamour

Although people often equate them, glamour is not the same as beauty, sylishness, luxury, celebrity, or sex appeal….Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images, concepts, and totems….By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning.  It leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. (p. 6)

After reading the whole thing, I’ve concluded that America has entered the Century of Anti-Glamour.

Which doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate it, or are not susceptible to it. Just look at this catalog of old posters going up for auction.  Here’s an example

panamflytoamerica

Tip from SF GateDon’t ask me how I found this, even I don’t believe the tortured route I took.

Update:  Did I say anti-glamour?  It didn’t take long to get a great example with this Yoga Pants Parade.

yogapantsparade
Once seen, this cannon be un-seen.

Update (23 Jan 17):  Glamour is back!  On steroids!  What woman wouldn’t want to look like Melania?

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The Invention of Nature

I’m neck deep in Andrea Wulf‘s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, and it’s absolutely riveting.  Von Humboldt was some kind of scientific maniac, who caught the interest of everyone from Goethe to Thomas Jefferson to Simon Bolivar.  Von Humboldt was arguably the first naturalist to think ecologically, as well as one of the earliest abolitionists.  He didn’t get to go everywhere, and he didn’t get to meet everyone, but damn close.

humboldtatchimborazo

ion1 ion2

Two-fourths of a good idea

Uncle Sam wants kids to read more, so he blankets the web with ads like this:

Which I think is pretty cool because

(1)  I’ve been an Edgar Rice Burroughs junkie since junior high school; John Carter and Tarzan turned me into the voracious reader am I today, and

(2) I can’t wait to see the movie, and I’m sure a whole generation of boys are going to read the books to get “the rest of the story.”

But it’s also not so hot an idea because

(3) It wouldn’t hurt to get GIRLS to do a bit more reading, as well, and

(4) There’s more to reading–even for young folks–than pulp fiction.  Long before the pulps, one of my heroes was the “real” Indiana Jones, Dr Roy Chapman Andrews, who popularized paleontology with, among others, his “All About” books.