Archive for September, 2022

Review: I Fight for a Living

Sunday, September 25th, 2022

If you have an interest in the intersection of sports and civil rights, Louis Moore is a great follow on twitter. He has deeply researched the topic, continues to do so, and communicates what he finds very well. I Fight for a Living is his research about black boxers in America in the late 1880s. If you want to know about the roots of segregation, bombast, and personal branding in American sport, this is a good place to start.

Moore has a pro-equality point of view, and he does not shy from racial interpretations of this history. But the historical record doesn’t make that hard. Sports talk wasn’t shy about throwing racial cards on the table, and neither were the fighters and promoters themselves. If you think sports has been free of racial controversy and protest, this is a fine demonstration that we’ve been arguing about it since around the time the phone was invented (no correlation implied).


Review: Cat’s Eye

Saturday, September 24th, 2022

I love Margaret Atwood, partially because I read this book twenty years ago for the most Internet of reasons. My roommate had a bunch of quotes from it rotating in his .sig file and they were all great. I asked about it and he said it was good. So I read it. I re-read it recently.

I’ve never read a bad Atwood book, but in may ways this is still my favorite. I get the impression that most people think of her as the writer of A Handmaid’s Tale and think of her as exclusively writing books with a feminist message. I think she’s certainly written works that suit that to a tee and that she’s always writing from a woman’s perspective. Where I think A Handmaid’s Tale is focused on sounding an alarm, I think Cat’s Eye captures some of a life and the bruises one accumulates living it with compassion. No call to action, except perhaps a little understanding.

My roommate told me that after reading Cat’s Eye he thought anyone could tell her the story of their childhood and she’d understand. That’s probably the best review I’ve ever heard of it.

She’s writing about are from growing up female in rural Canada in the 50’s, but I always related with it. I understood this childhood, though I lived a different one. There are details that people of that time probably find familiar, but that I never found off-putting. One determined to find a feminist message in here won’t have any trouble, but I think a reasonable reading sees much more. No one here is exclusively a symbol.

And she’s Margaret Atwood. Practically every third sentence would make you stop short and admire its perfection if it weren’t so much a part of a stream of language telling an immersive story. A joy.

A must.

Review: Born A Crime

Saturday, September 24th, 2022

I have read a few celebrity-penned books that I would read again, and Born A Crime is one of them. It’s a memoir of Trevor Noah growing up in Post-Aparthied South Africa. I don’t watch much late night TV, so I didn’t have a particular attachment to him coming in. He’s a talented writer and I liked this not-very -veiled tribute to his mother.

He does a great job making events in a country that US readers would find a bit otherworldly very familiar by drawing out the universal human points of growing up. I completely believe these stories are true, not because I fact checked them or know South Africa, but because I believe the perspective. (Yes, a talented writer can do the same thing in fiction, go with me.)

There are lots of parts of these stories that can be eye opening about prejudice, poverty, or abuse, but I never feel preached to. I think he’s making a bunch of points by bringing the reader into these stories so completely, but it’s never “a very special episode.”

Finally, I like how he draws his relationship with his mother. He understands that they’re very different in many ways, but that they’re in life together and committed to one another. It’s nice to see such a real rendering.

Strongly recommended.

Review: The War on the Border

Monday, September 5th, 2022

I quite liked Jeff Guinn’s The War on the Border, which is a lively, readable, well researched history of a series of US incursions into Mexico in the 1910’s and the general mayhem that precipitated them. It’s stuff like this that I missed in history class and that explains so much.

There’s a lot of nasty feeling in the Southwest on both sides of the border that was hard for me to internalize until I read this and learned that people on both sides of the US/Mexico border have been committing mayhem on a scale I hadn’t realized. Some of it at the behest of governments and some freelance. Pancho Villa did his best to wipe out a New Mexico town in 1916 and there was a document called la Plan de San Diego that claimed to lay out a terrorist strategy predicated on destroying US towns. On the other side Texas Rangers acted as judge and jury and retaliated with little regard for guilt.

It’s easy to forget that US history is full of border wars with these sort of violent confrontations between families wronged by folks on the other side of the border, who in turn commit mayhem, gangs form that turn into armies and generations of hate bore into the land. Guinn doesn’t go into all of that, but it’s hard not to see it all from these events.

Beyond the lawless land grabbery and revenge battles, there is international intrigue in the forms of Mexican revolutions, counter revolutions, and local warlords that are exacerbated by actual German interference to keep the pot bubbling to keep the US distracted and out of World War I.

Guinn does a great job bringing all those levels into focus as well as highlighting some genuinely dramatic figures – Pancho Villa, “Black Jack” Pershing, Patton. Quite a good read.

Strongly Recommended.