truepenny: (Default)
The Black Museum: New Scotland YardThe Black Museum: New Scotland Yard by Bill Waddell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I regret to report that this book is just not very good.

Waddell is a poor writer, showing little regard for his words: e.g., "euphoria" when (my guess is) he meant "hysteria" in discussing Rose Mylett, "another name added to the endless list of murdered women who were believed to be Ripper victims, when in fact there was very little to connect them with the Ripper's modus operandi. Such was the euphoria created by the press of the time" (79). He's preachy and prone to platitudes; his prose is clumsy; and he has lamentably zero flair for true crime narrative. I admit he has an uphill battle in trying to write a book about the Black Museum, but still.

He perpetuates several myths about Jack the Ripper (there were no farthings, polished or otherwise, found near Annie Chapman's body) while taking other writers severely to task for perpetuating myths, and I'm afraid I lost a great deal of respect for him when he started defending Sir Robert Anderson's "Mad Jew" story.

I bought this book because the odds of my ever having the chance to visit the Black Museum are very close to zero. And it does provide at least some of what I wanted. But as a book, it was disappointing.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Default)
Capturing Jack the Ripper: In the Boots of a Bobby in Victorian LondonCapturing Jack the Ripper: In the Boots of a Bobby in Victorian London by Neil Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Bell is not a graceful writer, but he conveys his information clearly. He is a sane and responsible Ripperologist--meaning that he assesses evidence logically, refers generally to "the Whitechapel murders" to avoid questions about which women are "canonical" Jack-the-Ripper victims and which aren't, and regards all letters, chalked messages, pieces of kidney, and other communications alleged to be from Jack the Ripper with healthy skepticism--and has done a great deal of research into the lives of ordinary bobbies, specifically in H Division (Whitechapel), but more generally in the Metropolitan and City Police. Questions about uniforms, about training, about what a constable's "beat" actually consisted of, about the likely career path (you could rise up steadily through the ranks as long as you didn't trip yourself up by getting sacked for being drunk on duty--which happened a lot), the procedure for interviewing witnesses, communications between Scotland Yard and individual stations, what happened when someone was arrested for drunk and disorderly, where the chinks were for corruption to creep in. He goes into detail about Sir Charles Warren's rise and fall (including some incidents I had never read about before), and throughout he presents the Whitechapel murders as much as possible as they were experienced by the police of London.

Highly recommended for anyone researching--for whatever purpose--the police of late Victorian London.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Default)
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher CreativityThe Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron




I can't rate this book, since my opinion of it veers wildly between five stars and zero stars.

Read more... )



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Default)
Poison: An Illustrated HistoryPoison: An Illustrated History by Joel Levy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a beautifully designed book which talks about poisons from arsenic and snake venom to ricin and sarin. It's not terribly in-depth on any of them, but it does offer a panoramic overview from Cleopatra and Socrates to Alan Turing and Georgi Markov. Levy is an engaging writer, mostly light and deft--he missteps kind of horribly when talking about the assassination of Sarkov by a KGB agent wielding a pellet-shooting air-gun concealed in an umbrella (ammunition: jeweler's ball-bearings that contained ricin). Describing the umbrella as a "slaughterous sunshade" is, I'm sorry, over the top (134)--and very good at explaining how poisons work in a way that's simple enough for a layperson to follow but detailed enough for that same layperson to feel like s/he actually has a good understanding of what's happening, chemically speaking.

The beauty of the design does occasionally get in the way. Some of the font choices are hard to read, and, the sidebar pages offering profiles of the various poisons being printed on colored paper, some of the colors are too dark to easily read the text against.

So: good, but not great.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Default)
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal ExperienceFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I'm a little disheartened to learn that Csikszentmihalyi has gone on to become "the world's foremost producer of personal development and motivational audio programs," because that makes his work sound like exactly the kind of self-help bullshit that he says, in Flow, doesn't do any good. But I can see where, from what he wrote in 1990, he could have become a proselytizer for his theory, and, yeah, that is going to lead you into "personal development" and similar dreadful sounding things.

Csikszentmihalyi's theory may not be everybody's dish of tea, and the stronger he comes on the more nervous he makes me, but nevertheless I found this book extremely illuminating and helpful, as it explained to me something about myself that I've noticed for years without having the words to describe.

Csikszentmihalyi says that what makes people happy are activities which have (a) clear goals, (b) clear rules, (c) clear challenges that are neither too difficult (leading to frustration) nor too easy (leading to boredom). He points out that for all we have been socially conditioned to prize unstructured leisure time in which to do nothing (i.e., watch TV), it provides only passive pleasure and does not actually make anyone happy. Unless, of course, you turn your TV into an activity that involves what he calls "flow," which is a possibility that doesn't seem to have occurred to him. He says that people who are good at "flow" (what most athletes call being "in the zone") are able to create these activities for themselves out of jobs that other people find boring or in fact out of boredom itself. He cites the charming example of Herr Doktor Meier-Leibnitz (yes, a descendant of the Leibnitz who was Newton's rival), who invented a complicated finger-tapping pattern game to amuse himself during boring conference presentation. Not only does this game alleviate his boredom without taking away too much of his attention, it allows him, because he knows how long it takes him to go through an iteration, to time how long a problem-solving train of thought lasts. Csikszentmihalyi says that these criteria for flow activities remain the same across differences of class, race, nationality, sex, and age, and that people describe the feeling of "flow" in ways that are recognizably the same, whether they are blind Italian nuns or teenage Japanese gang members.

And it explains to me my fondness for translation, for algebra, for crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and all kinds of puzzle-solving games, for rock climbing (several of his interview subjects are rock climbers), and for dressage, because--as widely disparate as they are when considered as activities--they all meet Csikszentmihalyi's criteria for "flow." I can even recognize that I have invented a flow activity out of my day job, which explains a great deal why I like it.

And I can see that writing used to be a flow activity, but that I've somehow lost the unconscious ability to set goals, so that now I veer wildly between "I've done this before, the puzzle is solved" (boredom), or "omg this is impossible, I'll never be able to do it" (frustration and despair). And Csikszentmihalyi gives me objective guidelines that show what's gone wrong and that offer, if not a solution, at least an avenue of exploration more promising than I've had in a while.

And I appreciate the way that he points out that activities we undertake for their own sake, not because we "ought" to or because they will make us "successful," are the activities we find most enjoyable and most enriching, and thus the activities that are actually more likely to bring us a feeling of satisfaction and success--and more likely to produce poetry, art, music, scientific breakthroughs, etc. He gives a quote from one of his respondents, someone who is both a rock-climber and a poet, which I have added to my collection of quotes that I keep around my desk where they will provide a sanity check: "The act of writing justifies poetry."

I do, yes, find him a little smug, and his understanding of evolution is woefully unnuanced and kind of wrong--not surprising for someone who coined the term "autotelic" to describe people who create flow out of the materials to hand. He is decidedly a teleological thinker who sees evolution as a steady advance toward more complex and therefore better and therefore humans are the current pinnacle of evolution and must take their own evolution in their autotelic hands to make the species advance rather than stagnate or regress. So take his somewhat megalomaniacal concluding chapter with a liberal application of salt, but if you recognize yourself in anything I've said, you might want to give Flow a look.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Default)
So.

After two years of wandering disconsolately from specialist to specialist like the bird with no feet, I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

ON THE ONE HAND, this is a relief. It means I have a name for why I feel tired and achy and depressed all the time. (And, yes, it probably started cascading back in 2010, when I broke my ankle.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, I'm trapped in a good news/bad news joke. The good news is, I'm doing everything right. The bad news is . . . I'm doing everything right. Diet, exercise, sleep, biofeedback/mindfulness, etc. I already take the most commonly prescribed medications for fibromyalgia for the RLS. There wasn't very much the fibromyalgia specialist could recommend, and I appreciate that he was upfront about it.

(Additionally, because this is the internet, and I know how the internet works, please assume that I have already explored my options thoroughly. I am grateful for good wishes, but I do not need advice.)

So I find that I have to rethink a lot of things. This is not the person I wanted to be at 42, and I'm trying to figure out how to manage myself to get closer to that person, who writes stories and plays music and rides dressage and loves what she does. (And who answers email. Jesus Fucking Christ.) My principal focus is on my writing, because for most of my life if the writing goes well, everything else goes well, too, and hence this blog's new name (all the content from Notes from the Labyrinth is here; I deleted my LJ account, but I did not burn down my blog), because I am in fact experiencing more than a few technical difficulties. As I have the energy to spare, I'm going to try to blog about them, on the theory that other writers and creative persons may be experiencing some of those difficulties themselves, whether because of fibromyalgia or for some other reason.

(Book reviews will continue as they have been.)

We do the best we can with what we have, and this is what I have.
truepenny: (Sidneyia inexpectans)
Like many other people, I am moving my blog from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth. I'm truepenny there just like I am here. I am currently importing Notes from the Labyrinth to Dreamwidth, which may take some time (she said with polite understatement). Once that's done, I will be deleting and purging this blog.

I've been on LiveJournal for 14+ years, so please believe that I do not take this step lightly.
truepenny: (Sidneyia inexpectans)
Glengarry's Way, and Other StudiesGlengarry's Way, and Other Studies by William Roughead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am extremely fond of William Roughead, and my rating of this book--fair warning--reflects that. This is a collection of ten essays on Scottish crime and Scottish trials, courts, lawyers, and judges, focusing mainly on the eighteenth and nineteenth century. None of them are crimes or trials you will ever have heard of, unless you are a devotee of Sir Walter Scott, and I read purely for the pleasure of Roughead's voice and personality--and incidentally a great deal of information about Edinburgh and the history of the Scottish legal system, neither of which I know anything about.

If you like this sort of thing, as Abraham Lincoln said, this is the sort of thing you'll like.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Sidneyia inexpectans)
Murder & its motivesMurder & its motives by F. Tennyson Jesse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is extremely dated, with its talk of "moral imbeciles" and its somewhat naive belief that the motives for murder can be neatly separated in 6 categories (gain, revenge, elimination, jealousy, lust for killing, and conviction--she does admit there can be overlap). Jesse is a clear precursor of modern profilers, attempting to figure out what kind of person commits murder and what motivates them, even if her attempts seem clumsy now. And she provides excellent true crime writing. She writes clear and vivid narratives of the crimes of her subjects: William Palmer; Constance Kent; a dreadful pair of siblings, Aime and Aimee de Querangal; Mary Eleanor Pearcy; Thomas Neill Cream; and Felice Orsini, who tried and failed to assassinate Napoleon III. She conveys the horror of murder better than most of the true crime writers I've read, particularly in the chapter on Mrs. Pearcy.



View all my reviews
truepenny: (Sidneyia inexpectans)
In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland's Torso MurdersIn the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland's Torso Murders by James Jessen Badal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[There is apparently a revised and updated edition of this book, which I will be keeping an eye out for.]
click! )

Profile

truepenny: (Default)
Sarah/Katherine

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16 1718 192021 22
23 2425 26 272829
30      

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Apr. 28th, 2017 07:49 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios