The memoir of a WWII fighter pilot who was shot down, badly burned, had his face and hands reconstructed, and then somehow managed to finagle his way back into being a pilot, where he was promptly killed in a training accident (I really hope not because he was, in fact, no longer fit to fly); this book came out three months before his death, so at least he got to see it published.

The excerpt I copied in my last post exemplifies the best parts of the book, which are the chapters on flying, pilot training, and recovery. (There's less on the culture surrounding his recovery (The Guinea Pig Club) than I'd hoped, possibly because he wasn't in the hospital anywhere near as long as many people were.) A lot of the memoir is devoted to philosophical conversations and musings which I found less interesting, chronicling how Hillary went from seeing war and life as something purely a matter of individual striving and enjoyment to also having a moral dimension, and from seeing himself as something of a detached observer to being connected with all humankind. The last chapter, in which he has an encounter with a woman he digs out of a collapsed house, brings together the perfectly observed details of the chapters on flying and fighting with larger issues.

Hillary was a sharp observer with a great prose style and an understated/dark sense of humor. He wasn't a pilot who wrote one book because he had an extraordinary experience he wanted to record, he was a writer who was also a pilot. I wonder if he'd have gone on to be a noted writer if he'd survived, or a minor writer whose books a handful of people really like. If the latter, I would very probably have been in that handful.

An unhappy Amazon reviewer remarks, "Too English," and it is indeed incredibly English in a very specific way, but I grew up reading books like that and for all the flaws inherent in that very specific (colonialist, among other things) outlook, I love the style.

A number of writers (J. R. R. Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, just off the top of my head) have imagined that artists continue their work in the afterlife, creating great libraries of books unwritten in life. It's the heaven I'd most like to have actually exist.

99 cent ebook on Amazon: The Last Enemy
From the first chapter of the memoir of a WWII fighter pilot; he has just gone down in flames, and is floating in the ocean, badly burned and alone:

There can be few more futile pastimes than yelling for help alone in the North Sea, with a solitary seagull for company, yet it gave me a certain melancholy satisfaction, for I had once written a short story in which the hero (falling from a liner) had done just this. It was rejected.

99 cent ebook on Amazon: The Last Enemy
Nonfiction about a brief but fateful encounter between a German ace fighter pilot and an American bomber crew, in mid-air; forty years later, the two pilots met up again. The book started out as a magazine article, and I bet it was a terrific one. It’s a great story and unlike many WWII stories, this one is about people’s best behavior rather than their worst.

As you may guess from the summary, the actual incident, though amazing, lasted about twenty minutes and is recounted in about ten pages. So most of the book is the story of the German fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, plus a much smaller amount about the American crew. (Stigler was not a Nazi and in fact came from an anti-Nazi family. I know that it would have been convenient for him to claim to have been secretly anti-Nazi after the fact, but given what he was witnessed to have done, I believe it.)

The book is is interesting if you have an interest in the subject matter, but doesn't really rise above that. The best parts, apart from the encounter itself, were the early sections on the culture and training of the German pilots. One detail that struck me (not just that it happened, but that Stigler actually told someone about it), which was that dogfighting was so terrifying that pilots regularly landed with wet pants. I'd heard that about the first time, but not that it wasn't just the first time. Just imagine doing that for months on end. And knowing that you're not likely to do it for years on end because the lifespan of a fighter pilot is probably not that long.

If you just want to know what happened in mid-air over Germany, in December, 1943, click on the cut. Read more... )

Does anyone have any recommendations for other books on pilots, fighters or otherwise, historical or otherwise? I've read Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and really enjoyed the combination of desperate survival narrative with odes to the joy of flight. I think I'd be more interested in memoirs by pilots than biographies about them.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
A memoir by the mother of a teenage girl with anorexia, written with her daughter's consent. (Her daughter is given the pseudonym "Kitty.")

There are a number of memoirs by people with anorexia (by far the best-written is Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, which is worth reading for the prose quality alone), but fewer by their loved ones. But a child with an eating disorder affects and is affected by the whole family.

This book attracted some really angry negative reviews, many of which took very vehement exception to Brown's refusal to take the blame for her daughter's illness, and for her saying that her family became temporarily dysfunctional due to the stress of it, but was doing basically okay before and after. I have no idea whether that's true or not, since all I can go by is the book itself. But I was struck by how pissed off a subsection of readers were at a mother saying, "This wasn't my fault" and "I think my family has good relationships," and how sure they were that this couldn't possibly be the case--that if a child has a mental illness, the mother and her family must be to blame.

Brown thinks the culprit is a combination of genetic predisposition and social pressure. She leans more heavily on the former as a factor in anorexia in general than I personally would, and if her account is correct, it does sound like that played more of a part in her daughter's case than it usually does. From her perspective, anorexia descended on her daughter like the demon in The Exorcist; while Brown herself had some mild issues with eating and weight that could have also affected her daughter, they're the sort of issues that probably 90% of white American moms have, and 90% of all daughters aren't anorexic. She might be in total denial about terrible problems within the family... but she might not be. Being a "good enough" family isn't a magic shield against mental illness.

As a memoir, it's gripping and well-written, and makes a convincing case for the family-based (Maudsley) approach to treating anorexia. (That approach also has very convincing evidence behind it.) But it's the response to it that fascinates me. Like I said, maybe the reviewers are right that she's lying or in denial. Brown does sound a little defensive. But who wouldn't sound defensive if she's constantly getting blamed for the illness that nearly killed her daughter? Could any mother have told her story without being blamed?

Americans are very apt to blame the victim. In every respect. And that goes one million if they're female. Were you raped? It's your fault for going on a date/wearing that dress/trusting your uncle/not buying a state of the art home security system. Do you have anorexia? You're vain/weak-willed/selfish/not really sick. Does your child have anorexia? You're a bad mother.

Brown's unknowable truthfulness or accuracy aside, there is nothing more infuriating to a big section of America than a woman who says, "It wasn't my fault."

Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia
Illness memoirs, like child abuse memoirs, have a number of pitfalls. They’re about depressing topics and so are hard not to depress the reader, they’re often by people who don’t write professionally and so are not well-written, and as the subject is inherently self-focused, they can very easily come across as self-absorbed. Even if they manage to avoid those problems, many are valuable works of self-help, self-revelation, community-building, comfort, and calls to action… but are not interesting to someone who mostly wants to read a good book.

This one is a good book.

Julie Rehmeyer, a mathematician and science writer, chronicles how chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME) crept up on her until her entire life had vanished and she was frequently completely paralyzed. While she desperately tried to find a treatment, she instead encountered an array of quacks, snake oil salesmen, nice but useless therapists, nice but useless doctors, a patients’ community full of apparent crackpots, and medical literature claiming that it was a mental illness caused by, essentially, being lazy and whiny.

In desperation, Rehmeyer finally starts listening to some of the apparent crackpots… and when she applies her scientific training to their ideas, she finds that stripped of the bizarre terminology and excessive exclamation points, they sound surprisingly plausible. With her entire life at a dead end and nothing left to lose, she reluctantly decides to try a treatment which is both radical and distinctly woo-woo sounding.

And it works.

But unlike every other “How I cured/treated my illness by some weird method” memoir, the story doesn’t end there. Instead, she not only researches and theorizes about how and why it might have worked, she interviews scientists and doctors, and even arranges to do a double-blind experiment on herself to see if it’s a real cause of her symptoms or the placebo effect. I cannot applaud this too much. (I was unsurprised to find that every article I read on her book had a comment section claiming that her results were due to the placebo effect.)

Lots of people have suggested that I write about my own horrendous illness, crowd-sourced treatment, and jaw-dropping parade of asshole doctors who told me I was lying, a hypochondriac, or crazy. While you’re waiting… read this book instead. Though it’s not the same disease and she was treated WAY better by doctors, a lot of her experience with being beaten over the head with bad science and diagnoses based purely on sexism was very similar. As is much of her righteous rage. I am way more ragey and less accepting than she is. But still. It’s similar.

Overall, this is a well-written and honest memoir that shines a welcome light on a poorly-understood illness. Rehmeyer's perspective as a science writer provides for clarity, justifiable anger, and humor as she takes apart the morass of bad science, victim-blaming, and snake oil that surrounds chronic fatigue syndrome. It's informative without being dry, easy to read and hard to put down.

Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer's Odyssey into an Illness Science Doesn't Understand
rachelmanija: (It was a monkey!)
( Jul. 20th, 2017 03:09 pm)

Curious Alex.

Erin, waiting for it.

I have obtained this from a free library (one of those little birdhouse things in my neighborhood.) It's a collection of short stories.

I love Stephen King but not his propensity for grossouts or body horror. In fact, I shied off his short stories after reading two Ultimate Body Horror Grossout stories, "The Cat From Hell" and that goddamn story about the surgeon stranded on a desert island UGH UGH UGH.

Given that, which of these should I read, and which should I avoid? I'm OK with scary and with violence that isn't revoltingly graphic.

Dolan's cadillac
The end of the whole mess
Suffer the little children
The night flier
It grows on you
Chattery teeth
The moving finger
You know they got a hell of a band
Home delivery
Rainy season
My pretty pony
Sorry, right number
The ten o'clock people
Crouch end
The house on Maple Street
The fifth quarter
The doctor's case
Umney's last chance
Head down
Brooklyn August.
A readable, gripping, informative, and convincing report on the War On Drugs. Hari covers its despicable history starting in the 1930s (created by a sort of coalition of racist politicians and gangsters eager to profit), its horrific results (millions of murders, overdoses, and lives needlessly destroyed), the actual science and psychology of addiction (not what we're told, at least in the US), and a portrait of the few places that have been able to try decriminalization and legalization, despite massive pressure not to do so (their drug problems universally get better, not worse.)

I knew the broad outlines of this story, but not the details, so this book was very educational for me. The part I knew best was about how addiction really works; I can't vouch for the rest of the material, but everything he said about research on addiction matches what I know. I have some arguments or different perspectives on some of his conclusions, but not with his facts. So even if you know a fair amount about the subject already, it's still very much worth reading.

I highly recommend this if you can deal with absolutely horrific stuff in the first half, which is about the War On Drugs and is wall-to-wall hideous injustices, tragic deaths, and gruesome violence. If not, you could just read the second half, which is about addiction and how a few places are dealing with drugs in a compassionate and sane manner.

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
If you don't know Karen, she's a friend of mine and a wonderful person who helped me a lot when I was sick, including letting me crash at her house and taking me to doctors. She's getting a treatment for MS that isn't available in the US, and so isn't covered by insurance - a situation very familiar to me. (Though in my case it was available in the US, I just couldn't get a doctor to agree to try it because they all thought my real problem was that I was a hysterical female who wasn't sick except in the sense of being sick in the head.)

Karen is holding two different types of fundraisers: one for direct donations, and one a Patreon for her equally wonderful husband, Chaz Brenchley, who also let me crash at his house and additionally cooked for me. His Patreon features girls' boarding school stories... on MARS! Details here: [personal profile] desperance.
rachelmanija: (I wrote my own deliverance)
( Jul. 3rd, 2017 01:48 pm)

They are Alex Hamilton (the gray one, who talks a lot, is hyper, and gets into everything) and Erin Burr (who alternates sitting back and waiting for it with beating up Alex and stealing his food). They are two months old, tiny and adorable, small enough to be picked up in one hand and to sleep together in my lap, which they do often.

They are my former cat-sitter's neighbor's cat's kittens (neighbor pictured). [I forget if I mentioned it, but my other cats died of old age last year. No condolences necessary.] I told my cat-sitter it wasn't really a good time for me to get more pets - I'm too busy, I'm not home much, I'm trying to save money, etc. She texted me that photo with the caption, "Get two, they will keep each other company. Otherwise they go to the pound."

Erin Burr is currently living up to "feline disaster" expectations; when I took them to the vet, I was informed that the bald patch on one ear was ringworm and given a pamphlet recommending quarantining them for a month, washing hands after touching them, and scrubbing the entire house with bleach. Luckily I already had confined them to the bathroom and the hallway to make sure they'd use the litter box.

I then googled ringworm, which I should know not to do for any medical condition, and found an amazing level of hysteria, full of phrases like "treat it like ebola" and "be strong, some day this hideous nightmare will be over," and recommendations to strip naked before entering the quarantine room, put on a set of clothes and shoes that never leave it, never touching the cats without rubber gloves, boxing all my possessions for two years to make sure the spores are dead, throwing out all my furniture, and repainting the walls.

I am not leaving my new kittens alone without human touch for a month and destroying all my possessions for fear of catching... athlete's foot. I have had that sort of skin infection before. It is not a big deal. I'm treating the ringworm, keeping them where they are, washing my hands, and cleaning, but I am not acting like my new kittens are lepers. They need love and cuddles. (I tried the "shoes and outfit stays in the room," but it's really difficult as they kick the shoes around. Also there's a half-inch gap at the bottom of the doors, and they regularly shove toy mice, blankets, etc through it. DEFCON ONE precautions are not a realistic possibility.)

That being said, once Erin Burr is released from custody, I expect she will find new ways to wreak havoc. Luckily I don't have firearms.
Please feel free to comment! I have not read anything by any of these writers but Johnson.

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 60

The Sword of Winter, by Marta Randall. In the cold and dangerous land of Cherek, emerging from an era of magic and confronted by technological advancements, Lord Gambin of Jentesi lies dying and chaos reigns.

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20 (55.6%)

6 (16.7%)

10 (27.8%)

A Rumor of Gems, by Ellen Steiber. Enter the port city of Arcato: an old and magical town set somewhere in our modern world, a town where gemstones have begun to mysteriously appear . . . gemstones whose mystical powers aren't mere myth or legend but frighteningly real, casting their spells for good and ill.

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15 (40.5%)

7 (18.9%)

15 (40.5%)

Travel Light, by Naomi Mitchison. The story of Halla, a girl born to a king but cast out onto the hills to die. She lives among bears; she lives among dragons. But the time of dragons is passing, and Odin All-Father offers Halla a choice: Will she stay dragonish and hoard wealth and possessions, or will she travel light?

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21 (40.4%)

24 (46.2%)

7 (13.5%)

Nemesis, by Louise Cooper. Princess Anghara had no place in the Forbidden Tower, and no business tampering with its secrets. But she did, and now the seven demons are loose and her world is cursed, prey to the wrath of the Earth Goddess.

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16 (40.0%)

6 (15.0%)

18 (45.0%)

Racing the Dark, by Alaya Dawn Johnson. Lana, a teenaged girl on a nameless backwater island, finds an ominous blood-red jewel that marks her as someone with power, setting in motion events that drive her away from her family and into an apprenticeship with a mysterious one-armed witch.

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34 (73.9%)

11 (23.9%)

1 (2.2%)

My Soul to Keep, by Tananarive Due. When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession: More than 400 years ago, he and other members of an Ethiopian sect traded their humanity so they would never die, a secret he must protect at any cost. Now, his immortal brethren have decided David must return and leave his family in Miami.

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23 (53.5%)

10 (23.3%)

10 (23.3%)

I’m afraid I did not like this at all. In fact, it was the first FMK book that I didn’t finish—I ditched it at about the halfway mark. And it’s a very short book, too: 133 pages.

Gabriel is a mason’s apprentice in medieval England. The mason is cruel, so when a troupe of traveling Mystery players comes to town, Gabriel is delighted to briefly escape his wretched life by watching the play. Then, when the mason sadistically tries to chop off his giant mop of beautiful blonde curls that Gabriel’s lost mother told him to never cut, Gabriel flees and is taken in by the players, who whisk him away and cast him as an angel.

Gabriel assumes the man playing God is wonderful and the man playing Lucifer is terrible. But no! Garvey, who plays God, uses Gabriel to create fake, exploitative “healing” miracles which he convinces Gabriel are real. Lucie (Lucifer) is unhappy about this, but that only makes Gabriel think he must be bad.

I have no idea how old Gabriel was supposed to be. At the beginning I assumed he was around twelve, but later I decided he must be closer to ten because he was so stupid and naïve. Then he got even stupider and I wondered if he could possibly be seven or eight, or if that was way too young to be an apprentice mason. Not that young children are stupid, but the less you know about the world, the more likely you are to take everything at 100% face value, as Gabriel does.

In a totally unsurprising turn of events, Gabriel is eventually shocked to learn that people are different from the roles they play. This is exactly as anvillicious as it sounds. And while I often love books in which the reader knows more than the characters, I like it when the reason is that the characters are not privy to information or context that the reader knows, not because the characters are too stupid to pick up on incredibly obvious stuff. I don’t mean to call characters with cognitive disabilities stupid, as “intellectually disabled character fails to understand what’s going on” is a well-populated subgenre. (Which I also dislike.) I’m referring to non-disabled characters who are oblivious because they just are.

It's not that I think a child has to be stupid to be tricked by adults. Even a very bright child (or adult) could be fooled into thinking they're a miracle-worker by a clever con man. It's that the way it's written, from Gabriel's POV, makes him seem like a total idiot.

However, that’s not why I gave up on the book. The reason was the incredibly unpleasant emotional atmosphere: Gabriel smugly stupid, Garvey and the mason smugly awful, Lucie and his daughter sadly suffering (with a side of smugness, because they know the real deal.) I disliked the lot of them and did not want to be around any of them. Which is too bad, because I liked the backdrop of medieval Mystery players a lot.

The prose was good, but not good enough to make me keep reading. However, it won the Whitbread award, so my opinion may be very much in the minority.

A Little Lower Than the Angels
Poll #18480 FMK: Mostly Award-Winning British children's books
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 38

Kit's Wilderness, by David Almond. Kit's family moves to an old mining town, where he and another boy search the mines for the ghosts of their ancestors. Might be fantasy? Won the Printz Award.

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15 (44.1%)

10 (29.4%)

9 (26.5%)

Bottle Boy, by Stephen Elboz. An amnesiac boy and his brother are trapped in a life of crime. Author won the Smarties Prize but not for this book.

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10 (32.3%)

5 (16.1%)

16 (51.6%)

River Boy, by Tim Bowler. Jess's probably-dying grandfather is trying to finish one last painting; Jess meets a boy who might be the one from the painting. Possibly fantasy? Won the Carnegie Award.

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11 (36.7%)

7 (23.3%)

12 (40.0%)

Ghost in the Water, by Edward Chitham. Teresa and David find a gravestone from 1860 labeled "Innocent of all Harm" and find that the dead girl's life is mysteriously linked with theirs. Filmed by BBC.

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18 (54.5%)

7 (21.2%)

8 (24.2%)

A Little Lower Than The Angels, by Geraldine McCaughrean. A medieval boy joins a theatre troupe. Whitbread Best Book of the Year.

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18 (52.9%)

13 (38.2%)

3 (8.8%)

Stone Cold, by Robert Swindells. A homeless boy in London gets caught up in a mystery of disappearing street kids. Carnegie Medal

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15 (46.9%)

8 (25.0%)

9 (28.1%)

I have never read anything by any of these authors, and in most cases have only heard of them in the sense that I own one of their books. Anyone familiar with any of them?
The memoir of a neurosurgeon, focusing on how dangerous it is for patients, how it's often a complete gamble whether surgery will cure them or kill them (or paralyze them, or leave them in a permanent coma, etc), and how much that gets to the author.

If a book which is largely about the doctor's feelings as opposed to those of his patients, when the catastrophe happened to them rather than to him, annoys you on principle, don't read this. Personally, I liked knowing that there is at least one more doctor in the world who cares what happens to his patients, even if the caring is composed in equal parts of compassion, professional pride, and fear of being publicly shamed.

As that suggests, it's a memoir dedicated to saying how he really feels, whether that's elevated or petty. He spends quite a bit of time on justifiable raging over his hospital's incredibly terrible computer system, which keeps locking up the password so no one can see the scans they need to operate (hilariously, at one point some equally angry person sets the password to fuckyou47 (and then no one can remember if it's 47, 46, 45...), the lack of beds that mean that patients are deprived of food and water all day pending surgery and then the surgery gets canceled, and all the other myriad ways in which health care in England now sucks. (It still sounds about a million times better than health care in America.)

He talks frankly about his mistakes as a surgeon, some of which killed people. This is really a taboo topic, and my hat is off to him for going there.

There's also a lot of fascinating anecdotes about individual patients, and some beautiful writing about surgery, the physical structure of the brain, and the constant paradox of how that one squishy organ is the source of everything that makes us human and able to do things like write books, all of which is a source of wonder to him and one which he conveys very well.

It's definitely worth reading if the subject interests you, but it doesn't quite rise to the level of medical writing that I'd recommend whether the subject interests you or not. (My nominees for the latter are Atul Gawande, Oliver Sacks, and James Herriot.)

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery
rachelmanija: (Nick)
( Jun. 8th, 2017 01:17 pm)
I wrote a treat story for an unusual fic and art exchange, Jukebox. The stories are based on or inspired by songs, so they're closer to original fiction than to fanfic in the usual sense.

The whole collection is worth checking out; in most cases knowledge of the songs adds to the enjoyment of the stories but you can enjoy them without it. But songs are easy to pick up. Here's a playlist. I found some great new songs on it, from hiphop (This Is The Opposite Of A Suicide Note) to French traditional songs (J'ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard Danser.)

Some of the highlights of the collection include a Tarot card for Leonard Cohen's The Stranger Song and a beautiful moonlit scene for Loreena McKennitt's Courtyard Lullabye.. Of the stories, I especially enjoyed the post-apocalyptic fantasy Midnight, like a lost Stephen King story written between The Gunslinger and The Stand, and the excellent sf story Trajectory with cool aliens and immense sense of wonder. But there were really a lot of excellent stories in the collection. If you have time, it definitely rewards browsing. If you do, comment with your favorites!

My story, i swear by all flowers, was inspired by Simon & Garfunkel's wistful April Come She Will. Spoilery story notes below cut. Read more... )
Last post provided some interesting, and I use that word advisedly, information in comments, which in turn provided more fodder for internet diet rabbit hole exploration. It was dark and humid down there. There was also some actually-cool info that was not about horrifying diets; I definitely recommend reading the comments if you missed them. Includes a discussion of cooking with cricket flour. I would try it. Seriously.

Here are a few highlights, by which I mean lowlights:

I was introduced to the monomeal. I propose it as the villain for the next Godzilla movie. Monomeal Stomps Tokyo!

Some diet freaks think fruit is bad. Others claim that fruit is the One True Way and each One True Fruit should not be contaminated by eating it with anything else, including other fruits.

Meet Freelee the Banana Girl, a vlogger who is scarily thin despite devouring 50 bananas every day and who once dated another vlog personality by the you-can't-make-this-shit-up name of DurianRider. You will be unsurprised to hear that she thinks chemotherapy rather than, you know, cancer kills people with cancer. And also that periods are a sign that you have toxins in your body, so if your period stops when you go on an all-banana diet, that proves that it's good for you.

My conclusion is that any time anyone says cavemen did anything and follows that with diet advice, their knowledge of cavemen consists of The Flintstones.

And also that anyone can get rich or at least Instagram-famous quick by coming up with an idiotic diet with a catchy name and a scientifically illiterate caveman justification.

I propose Monkey Meals (TM). You can eat anything you like as long as you eat five bananas first. Guaranteed weight loss! (Because bananas don't have many calories, but if you eat five of them before you eat anything else, you'll be too full and/or nauseated to eat much else. Seriously, I think this would work. For as long as you can stand it.) Like the monkeys they evolved from, cavemen ate lots of bananas. So as long as you eat enough bananas, you will be as healthy and skinny as a caveman!
For reasons that really don't bear rehashing, I spent the last two years getting told to go on diets. Every kind of diet. No "nightshades." No acid. No gluten. No dairy. Low-FODMAP (bans dairy, gluten, soy, legumes, and half of all fruits and vegetables.) Low-fat. "Eat nothing but bone broth that you made yourself, and if you don't simmer it for six hours, it's no good." "Microwaving food destroys its nutrients." At one point I had successive doctors tell me to go on a low-fiber diet and a high-fiber diet.

Every single diet-pusher, whether doctor or rando, said or implied (usually explicitly said), "If you don't do this, you'll never get better. Don't you want to get better?"

This was especially infuriating given that I was so underweight that I had symptoms of malnutrition. And also that in two years of dieting, there had never once been any indication whatsoever that my illness was caused by diet or that changing my diet was helpful. I eventually came to the conclusion that Americans are fucking insane about food and that a primary manifestation of sexism is controlling women by controlling what they eat.

Anyway, I am not dieting now. But now that I am slightly less likely to hit NEON RAGE APOCALYPSE at the word "diet," I clicked on a link and fell into an internet rabbit hole of diet advice. Like the evolved forager that I am, I bring you my findings for amusement, analysis, and mockery:

- A comparison of wild fruits and vegetables with cultivated ones, concluding that eating fruits and vegetables is unhealthy because they are unnatural and not what the cavemen ate.

By that reasoning there is literally nothing we can eat unless we get air-dropped into some untouched stretch of rainforest to forage for wild bananas.

- Eating fruit makes you fat.

- Humans did not evolve to eat fruit.

We're PRIMATES. Monkeys love bananas.

- Corn causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

- Corn causes ADHD.

- Corn causes autism.

- Corn causes cancer.

- Broccoli causes cancer.

- Hot water causes cancer.

The last one, from a study saying that drinking hot beverages can cause cancer, had the best response: David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Britain's University of Cambridge, said: "In the case of very hot drinks, the IARC concludes they are probably hazardous, but can't say how big the risk might be," according to the Australian Financial Review. "This may be interesting science, but makes it difficult to construct a sensible response."

- A Breatharian – as defined in the book A Year Without Food – is a person who chooses to live mostly, or completely, from Pranic nourishment. Israeli author Ray Maor claims that once Breatharians have trained their body to absorb this energy from the air and sunlight, they are no longer dependent on food. Many of them continue to taste food for enjoyment, but do not need it for survival, he says.


- Brian J. Ford has suggested that ketosis, possibly caused by alcoholism or low-carb dieting, produces acetone, which is highly flammable and could therefore lead to apparently spontaneous combustion.

The Atkins diet will make you burst into flame!

- Our ancestors NEVER ate a carb. They ate meat and fat and that was it. On that diet, they grew, improved their lot, invented the wheel, survived in caves and hinted in groups.

Bad history aside (even in the Arctic, people ate seaweed and lichen), anyone who's ever lived in a small town or attended school knows that a major human activity is indeed hinting in groups.
Explanation on FMK tag if you missed it. Please feel free to discuss your vote in comments.

Poll #18446 FMK # 3: Drugs, Deserts, and the Devil
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 60

The Black Arts, by Richard Cavendish. A history of black magic from 1968. Normally I would think this is total bullshit but it does have footnotes and a bibliography.

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21 (42.0%)

5 (10.0%)

24 (48.0%)

Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari. A history of the US War on Drugs, starting from the death of Billie Holiday. Sounds like it might have a lot of info I didn't already know. By an award-winning British journalist, so probably good; probably also incredibly depressing.

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16 (30.2%)

20 (37.7%)

17 (32.1%)

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. Classic book from 1968 on being a park ranger in Utah; nature writing + politics, I assume. I'll be curious if it's aged well.

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27 (52.9%)

14 (27.5%)

10 (19.6%)

Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh. Memoir of a brain surgeon. I really liked some articles I read by him. Unlike the stereotype of surgeons, he seemed humble and compassionate.

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34 (66.7%)

15 (29.4%)

2 (3.9%)

A Higher Call, by Adam Makos. Nonfiction about an encounter between two fighter pilots, an American and a German, during WWII. I'm assuming it went a lot farther than one encounter, and no, I don't mean THAT sort of encounter.

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18 (35.3%)

15 (29.4%)

18 (35.3%)

A Voyage Long and Strange, by Tony Horwitz. The history of America interspersed with Horowitz's road trip to try re-enactments, go down the Mississippi on a canoe, etc. I've enjoyed some of Horowitz's books and found others forgettable.

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25 (49.0%)

6 (11.8%)

20 (39.2%)

Soldiers of the Night, by David Schoenbrun. A history of the French Resistance. Back cover mentions "the bilingual, bisexual American who executed Nazis and collaborators with an ice pick or his bare hands" and "dear little old ladies who became master thieves."

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33 (61.1%)

18 (33.3%)

3 (5.6%)

The blurb writer was confused; this is not a Gothic, but a regency. However, it does briefly turn into a Gothic for about ten pages toward the end, so I see how that could happen. I too struggled to categorize it, as, unsurprisingly considering the author, it's hard to categorize. It has the plot but not the substance of a romance; the heroine only displays brief flickers of romantic feelings for the hero, and they don't interact much. It's mostly a comedy with a lunatic excess of plot, about half of which is crammed into the last twenty pages.

The time is 1815. The heroine is Philadelphia "Delphie" Carteret, music teacher and caretaker for her sick and periodically delusional mother. The plot begins when she goes to some long-lost relatives to hit them up for money to take care of her mom, accompanied by her madcap neighbor Jenny. The relatives own a castle with a moat, into which Jenny cunningly flings herself and pretends to be drowning so the hero, Gareth Penistone, will (reluctantly) rescue her and ensconce her and Delphie at the castle, over the objections of cousin Mordred. Once ensconced, Delphie is astounded to find that the family thinks she's an imposter, because someone named Elaine has been claiming to be the Carteret daughter for the last twenty years.

This lunatic farrago of wackiness plus semi-random Arthurian references (there is also a notorious and deceased ancestor named Lancelot, and ten peppy children who all have Arthurian names) is completely typical of Joan Aiken. So are the funny names. I do not for a second believe that she was unaware of the implications of a hero named Penistone (yes, I know it's a village in Yorkshire), especially given this line of dialogue: "I don't like these angry voices and all this talk of Bollington and Penistone!"

Though a series of ridiculous events, Delphie fake-marries Gareth Penistone; needless to say, the fake marriage turns out to be real, to everyone's dismay. The ten Arthurian kids tend to a languid poet in debtor's prison, the hero poisons a sick mouse he's supposed to be nursing back to health, Mordred lives up to his name (name a kid Mordred, and you deserve what you get), and the last chapter consists of long blocks of text in which characters madly explain who secretly married who and why the impersonation-- all of which was so convoluted that I did not even try to follow it.

Funny, fluffy, utterly absurd. If it sounds fun, you will enjoy it. Some animals are collateral damage of villainous plotting.

Only $3.99 for the ebook on Amazon: The Five-Minute Marriage

Amazon has a number of similarly priced Aiken books on Kindle. Grab 'em if you want 'em!

If any of the people who wanted this book from me would rather have it in hard copy, I'll send my copy to the first who comments for Paypaled postage.
This is the first book I’ve read by Walsh. I think she’s best known for a children’s time travel novel, A Chance Child, and official Lord Peter Wimsey fanfic.

Earth has been environmentally devastated and is about to be destroyed; it’s unclear if that’s because of war or something else. Many people have already fled in spaceships. The book is from the point of view of a very young girl, Pammy, whose family is with the very last group to flee, in a low-grade spaceship and with minimal preparation and supplies. The mad scramble to get out results in everyone being allowed to bring exactly one book, but no one consulting with each other to prevent duplication; this has major repercussions on the planet they end up on.

This is children’s sf, very short, written in clear, simple prose but with some remarkably beautiful imagery. It’s written from the point of view of a very young girl, Pammy, but she uses “we” and “Pammy” rather than “I,” reflecting that she’s part of a community of children.

The best aspect of the book is the evocative descriptions of the alien world and its landscapes and ecology. I absolutely love this sort of thing, and the world here is my favorite type: dangerous, strange, and beautiful. The book was worth reading just for that. It also has an excellent ending.

I had some problems with the plot, both because some crucial points required everyone to be idiots and that some things needed more explanation to be plausible or emotionally resonant.

The rule about bringing only one book is supposedly because of weight/space issues, but a tiny children’s paperback and the complete works of Shakespeare are both considered “one book.” This makes no sense. It should have been determined by weight or mass, as those were the reasons for the restriction.

Other issues are spoilery. Read more... )

The Green Book


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