Two thumbs up for Free Time: The History of an Elusive Ideal by Gary S. Cross. Nonfiction.
A history of the Western world’s relationship with non-work time, up until the present. Shockingly interesting—the kind of book you keep thinking about. I don’t think I would have read it had it been from an economist’s, a philosopher’s, or a psychologist’s perspective; but the thing that historians have which so often those in other disciplines do not is a much-needed sense of perspective.… >> Read more
A hesitant thumbs up for Trying Not to Try: The Science and Art of Spontaneity by Edward Slingerland. History/philosophy.
Well…huh. I didn’t read this book that long ago, but I must have read it too late at night, because I remember nothing about it except the fact that it is about the concept of wu-wei, “non-doing,” and that it contains a pretty good overview of the differences and similarities between ancient Chinese philosophers.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter. History/Memoir.
A worthwhile but flawed book. Each chapter explores the history of needlework via one lens– “Power” talks about Mary Queen of Scots; “Captivity” discusses the quilts made in POW camps in WWII Singapore; “Journey” investigates Miao/Hmong story cloths; and so on.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley. History.
Thumbs (a little hesitantly) up for The Artisans: A Vanishing Chinese Village by Shen Fuyu. History.
I read these two books simultaneously and comparison is inevitable, so I will review them together. Stranger is a history of mid-19th century Edo through the life of one woman, the headstrong priest’s daughter Tsuneno, who was not historically important in any way except that she wrote a lot of letters which survived.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern by Jing Tsu. History.
An absolutely fascinating history of the technical and political problems faced by the men who brought the written Chinese language into the modern age. By which I mean, how to make a typewriter that can handle thousands of unique characters, while still being portable and easy to use?… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Ancient China by Arthur Cotterell. History.
It’s a DK book, and is therefore a delight to look upon.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Anglican Women Novelists: From Charlotte Brontë to P.D. James edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell. Literary criticism.
At the risk of sounding facetious: it is a book of short biographies and literary analyses of Anglican Women Novelists; and it is excellent. Does the topic interest you? Then read it. You will discover interesting things, your literary conversations will expand, and you will discover even more authors you want to read.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan. Literary criticism.
I will laugh gently over the world “crucial” in the title. Crucial, no. Some of the topics touched upon in these essays are rather silly. But most are illuminating in some way, and when they are good they are very interesting indeed. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of “What Games do Characters Play?”… >> Read more