Eazy Reads

Technologist working in higher education in Athens, GA. I mainly read sci-fi/fantasy, science, and history. Usually I have some sort of reading resolution.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty - Dan Jones

This is a review of an advance reader's copy (ARC) provided by Viking Books through the Goodreads Giveaway program.

News stories about the 800th anniversary a couple months ago attracted me to this book. I mean I was already vaguely aware it was forced on the hated King John. Plus the Bill of Rights was influenced by it. The hope was to learn something more from this history.

Jones does a good job establishing the political climate in England which led to barons entering into an open revolt and John needing to sign this document. Apparently like the United States Constitution, the Magna Carta was a living document for decades establishing the rights granted to the people in exchange for the king to be able to tax them. The influence centuries later and it has on us even 8 later is remarkable.

Sadly, my main impression of King John is from Disney's Robin Hood movie. And while I know the story of him came later, the real John whining and sucking his thumb feels pretty correct.

Some places were kind of confusing. (The copy has notes not to quote it before the publication date, so I'll refrain from posting too much here.) Guess I can say sometimes a title is mentioned and half a page later a couple given names without context that they are linked to the title.

The text of the Magna Carta at the end was a nice touch.

The Red Record Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States - Ida B. Wells-Barnett

The shooter in the recent Charleston massacre reportedly said:

"You rape our women, and you're taking over our country."

In the aftermath, the mayor claimed to not know much about the treatment of blacks in South Carolina because it was not taught in schools. That prompted people to create a reading list. This was one of the books I noticed from the list.

It documents lynchings in the early 1890s. Further, it describes in detail the newspaper reporting about some of the events such as the original accusation, actions taken prior to, the killing, and actions taken afterwards. (There were too many to document them all.) The simple plea here is for justice. Not retribution or actions taken against those who unjustifiably lynched. But for this country to stop allowing the murder of people either before they are tried or after a court found them innocent. One of the most powerful was a gentleman who was about to be lynched when a foreman told the mob that the person they were about to hang could not have done it because he was with the foreman, they let him go. The flimsiest of evidence would have seen him hung, but an eyewitness of the right skin color was enough to prove guilt or innocence.

In some respects I could see Ida B. Wells-Barnett might find the current legal climate where our people are arrested and found guilty at exorbitant rates over our peers who commit the crimes at the same rates disconcerting. But compared to her own time, we do have it better.

The first section explains that under slavery, killing one resulted in a many hundred dollar loss. So, one would beat a slave enough to break him, but try to avoid killing him. The first motivation for killing blacks was to prevent race riots, and for some reason the victims of these often surprisingly had no weapons with which to defend themselves. The second motivation was to prevent voting and established control over the Southern states. The third motivation was protecting the virtue of white women. THIS. The Charleston shooter killed three men and six women to protect the virtue of white women. In 120 years we have made little progress.

While a teenager I found a death threat letter signed "KKK" saying they would kill my father for dating mother from about 40 years ago. People stare at me when out in public with a pretty fair skinned girl, especially when she hugs or kisses me. But a hundred years ago, my father or myself would have been hung from a tree, shot, and burned for anything like this. A project noted below has a listing for the reason for lynching as "Writing Letters to White Girl."

The burning thing was curious to me. So I looked up attitudes on cremation in Christianity. The dot I needed connecting was that when Christ returns, the dead would be re-animated and join him. Burning these people was a deliberate attempt to prevent any possibility of these people joining Christ. So, not only were they killed but they were prevented salvation? So very low.

Was it depressing to read this? Yes.

Was it worth reading? Yes. The Mary Turner Project has a description of a lynching 20 years after the Red Record. Plus it looks like they are building upon the work of Ida and others.

Born with Teeth: A Memoir - Kate Mulgrew

OK. I am a total Star Trek nerd. Next Generation definitely is my favorite, but I really enjoyed her as Captain Janeway on ST: Voyager. So I was intrigued to read about Kate's life off screen. My usual problem causing me to avoid memoirs in favor of biographies is the glossing over the rawness of real life. Every negative encounter turns out to have a silver lining. Some of that is in here, but I did appreciate being allowed into the messiness that is real life.

Orange Is the New Black fans should note she abruptly stops the memoir around 1999. Though, really, this backstory to the actress explains for me how she approached her character "Red" on the show.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself - Harriet Jacobs

This book accounts for Harriet Jacobs' life as a slave, hiding for several years in the South, escaping to the North, and finally obtaining her freedom. She presents some letters documenting the tale. Given the current events of recent weeks where a self-taught white supremacist in his manifesto setup before committing terrorism to start a race war that according to the slave narratives he had read people like me were happy under slavery and there was no need to free my ancestors. Other books I have read likeTwelve Years A Slave and Up From Slavery seemed not to portray this, but I did read them a while ago.

Harriet really disliked her time as a slave. Her "official" owner was a minor whose father assumed the role. This man who already fathered several children with his slaves seemed to desire the same for this fifteen year old girl. When she had children with another (white) man, he as the owner of them sought to use babies as leverage to compel her to obey his salacious wishes. Oddly enough this guy's wife forced the sale to distant places the products of her husband's infidelity. To me, the idea that one's own children are chattel boggles my mind. But, also Solomon Northrup and Booker T. faced less cruelty under slavery than Harriet as the contempt facing her was that of both an African and a woman. Her master underestimated her intelligence which allowed her to escape.

Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland - Lady Augusta Gregory

This set of Irish tales reminded me of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Barely organized; mostly miscellaneous. Several seemed to cover the same ground over and over to feel repetitive.

Some things seemed out of place like mentions of God or the Greeks. Pretty sure these are stories about events prior to Christianity came to Ireland. And the Greek presence seems even less likely.

Apparently the favorite animal to change someone into or hunt are pigs. They show up in several stories. Others like deer or hounds show up, but the pigs were notably everywhere.

I enjoyed Táin Bó Cúalnge much more.

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton, Maureen Howard

A story detailing upper class "society" New York of the 1870s as the backdrop. Wharton details parties and mores. As the story goes along it feels more and more critical of them. A couple oddities: 1) Newland Archer, the protagonist, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its infancy but describing how it will be great one day. 2) Archer also picking up Ellen at a train station ruminating about disliking the theory the Pennsylvania line would go eventually tunnel into proper New York (Penn Station?).

After having watched several seasons of the TV show Archer, I think that title character is an obvious reference to Newland Archer in this novel. TV-Archer drinks heavily, sleeps with a lot of women, and somehow completely improbably buffoons his way through complex problems.

The love triangle did not really excite me. His options are May who represents the right thing (duty, stability, comfort) versus Ellen who represents his rebellion (passion, ostracized, escape). However, the guilt and conflict were vividly described

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Part biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family. Part explanation of the contribution the cells taken from her have had on medicine. Part memoir of Rebecca on the challenges brought in even getting to write this story. It jumps around quite a bit as it bounds around each of the three parts.

What the Lackses went through depressed me. The callousness of Johns Hopkins does not really surprise me. The enormity of what science was able to accomplish was amazing. But the scientific misunderstandings the family suffered through, to me, is the worst part. For example, Rebecca helped Henrietta's daughter understand cloned cells is not the same thing as cloning Dolly the sheep, so she would not see her mother wandering all over London.

The Cattle-Raid of Cualnge (Tain Bo Cuailnge) - L. Winifred Faraday

I put out a call on Facebook for suggestions on Gaelic mythology to read. This was the top suggestion.

This strongly reminded me of Norse and Saxon epics. All account for the names of places by describing the battles undertaken there. Each is more fantastic than the next.

This one follows Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster. He battles against the armies of queen Medb. He can stun dozens of swans with a single throw of a stone. Or use thrown spears as stepping stones. You know... The kind of stuff one would see in an ancient China martial arts movie such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Which reminds me, there MUST be a movie about this epic, right?


The Man in the High Castle

PKD writes about my favorite topic which is how we perceive reality. What is real? Can we actually tell? I may need to read more of his books.

Sensation and Perception was my favorite class doing my Psychology major. Well, some days I say it was Tests and Measurements. (Probably the ones where I do something involving tests.) Let's call it a tie. S&P covers the mechanics and functionality of the senses, how the brain works with them, and best of all: how to exploit the failings of them.

The concept of an alternate reality where perhaps the Axis Powers won World War II found me intrigued. While what if realities are done quite a bit in science fiction, I enjoyed PKD's take. I especially liked the hinting at our reality in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy and slow unveiling of what it says.

Joss Whedon: The Biography - Amy Pascale, Nathan Fillion

This biography is essentially a greatly expanded Joss Whedon IMDB.com filmography. Pascale carefully tells the behind the scenes stories about his career.

I arrived late to the Whedonverse. Yes, the fandom has a name. Essentially, I saw Serenity in the movie theater, borrowed Firefly from my roommate, and was hooked from there. Well, maybe not enough to see Cabin In The Woods. I am not that rabid.

Pascale puts into words why I enjoy Joss' work. Strong female characters. Depth. Ensemble casts. Early movies I had no idea he was involved now make sense why I liked them.

I may have to start checking out the current work of writers who used to work with him to see if I enjoy that as well.

"So, why do you write these strong female characters? Because you’re still asking me that question."
Joss Whedon: The Biography - Amy Pascale, Nathan Fillion

Joss Whedon, Equality Now speech, May 15, 2006