October Reading Journal – Time for some stereotypical horror

In the last couple of months, most of the books I’ve read have merited full reviews. This month my luck has been poorer. The books I’ve already reviewed at length are:

(96) A Wine of Wizardy by George Sterling

(101) Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Craynor

Books that didn’t get a full review:

(92) Joy Inc.: How we built a workplace people love by Richard Sheridan.

Joy Inc is an interesting book about developing a workplace culture that focuses on staff happiness. I can’t review this book, because as an Australian government employee it’s illegal for me to reflect, positively or negatively, on the workplace culture of any of my employers, current or historical, within the government sector. This means I can’t discuss my personal observations of work life, in contrast to the Menlo system. I would recommend this book for people wanting to observe an experiment in the radical redesign of the power structures and workflows through a corporation. I listened to the audio edition through Overdrive.

(93) David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is a series of case studies exploring the idea that perceived weaknesses are sources of strength. For much of the the work, it focuses on a single, mathematical, idea: sometimes, the more you do something, the less effective that thing becomes.  In technical speak: returns diminish, and may become negative, after a certain point. Individual case studies may interest readers, but its central thesis is so obvious that the author seems to find it difficult to maintain the text’s appeal to the end.

The case studies on the success of autistic individuals, for example, suffer from a selection bias. When one of Gladwell’s interviewees discovers a way to treat childhood leukemia by torturing children, this is presented as a victory, made possible by the autistic ability to not care about social pressure or restraint. The point Gladwell does not address, though, is that at the point that his interviewee was doing things to children of which his peers did not approve, he “knew” he was right only in the sense of having a passionate, personal certainty. In this case, yes, he was right…but how many other autistic people, following Gladwell’s template, would merely do horrible things for no eventual benefit? Gladwell picks successful people, and then charts their successes back to the hurdles in their lives, excusing the things they do on the basis of their post-facto results. This is pure cherry-picking for data.

Gladwell’s book is recommended for those who find individual case studies inspiring, but the core principle is so indisputable as to not be interesting.

(94) The Door of the Unreal by George Biss

A horror novel written in 1919, that is an early example of a particular twist and trope. You’ll only read it if I tell you what the trope is, and that wrecks the trope. So…why not wreck it? It’s an early werewolf story, similar in technique to Stoker’s Dracula. Recommended for readers interested in the early development of the horror genre. The Librivox recording is excellent, and the LV page gives links to e-texts.

(95) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

I bought my own copy of this, and I prefer not to give full reviews to books that the Library Service does not have. The heart of Kondo’s system is to hold each object you own in your hands, then ask yourself if it gives you joy: discarding those which do not. She has an almost animist attachment to her possessions, thanking them for their time with her as she discards them, and believing that they return to her in other forms, and future times. I found parts of her book intriguing, and it certainly helped me clean out my closet. She and I parted ways when she described a life with about fifty books, though.  An interesting approach to life, but I don’t have her discipline for minimalism. Could most people really unpack their handbag every night and repack it every morning? Recommended for people who would like to simplify their environments.

(97) The Fungi From Yuggoth and Other Verses by HP Lovecraft

This is a cycle of 32 sonnets, originally published piecemeal. It lacks a central narrative, and has no enduring theme beyond a suggestive melancholy. If you already enjoy other Lovecraftian materials, it is interesting in that it was the first time he mentioned many things which were expanded in his later works. Interesting as an exercise, and worth a listen, but not as enduring as some of his other verses.  Available from Internet Archive.

(98) Herbert West: Reanimator by HP Lovecraft

A brief story, from the 1920s, about a medical student driven to raise the dead.  Rather like Frankenstein, but without the Godwinian lectures on the fundamental goodness of man, and the evilness of social exclusion.

In October I decided to finally catch up on all of the HP Lovecraft stories which I knew the plots of, but had not actually read. Early in this process I struck this novella, and was going to skip it, because I recalled all of its high points. I had my hands full cooking at the time, though, and so it caught me, and I stayed with it until the conclusion, enjoying it despite my knowledge of the plot. It moves along far more quickly than many of Lovecraft’s stories and, even with his odd style, retains interest for its brief duration. The Librivox recording is slightly over 80 minutes.

(99) Salt by Mark Kurlansky

I enjoy industrial history, and found Salt intriguing, but felt it lagged a bit in the middle. The author’s main point is that we think nothing of salt, but that its availability and use was vital for the all human civilizations. His anecdotes are, in places, fascinating, but I thought the book went on a little too long. I listened to the Overdrive recording, which was well produced.

(100) Working for Bigfoot by John Butcher

I’m an ardent Harry Dresden fan, and love the audiobooks as performed by James Marsters so much I avoid reading the text until the recorded version is available. In this collection of three novellas, Harry is hired at various points to solve problems in the life of a young man whose father is a sasquatch. The series has its usual mixture of humour and action. I didn’t give this book a full review, because new readers should not begin the new series here, and because City Libraries has no copies. Try Storm Front instead: it’s not a great novel, but the author rapidly improves in later books.