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Posts about books (old posts, page 81)

Dubliners

Dubliners

James Joyce

1914


Short tales of turn-of-the-century Dublin, but capturing the essence of Ireland and urban life. The stories are loosely linked, with a main character in one appearing in a walk-on part in another (and some later do the same in Ulysses): but they stand alone in terms of style and subject matter. Joyce's ability to look inside someone's head is on full display, especially vivd when expressing their disappointments or fears at their own failings.

The strongest story (and the best-known) is certainly The dead, an exploration of alienation and social concern through the medium of a musical soirée rolling into a remembrance of a past love tied up with a husband's jealousy and passion.

But Dublin itself is also a character, especially if one knows the streets and even the shops visited and alluded to – many of which remain intact a century later. It's amazing that a set of stories focusing strongly on their human characters' interactions can also evoke the city so strongly.

5/5. Finished 27 December 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America

Beth Macy

2018


A personal but very balanced history of how the opioid epidemic erupted in Appalachia, drawing heavily on the authors' experiences in her home town of Roanoke, VA.

It's a story that starts with drug company malfeasance, and I expected that to be the core of the story – but it's really only the start, as the impact of available prescription painkillers triggers an avalanche of users switching to heroin and then to fentanyl, with each change of drug generating fresh overdoses. There's a fascinating change in the dynamic between healthcare and law enforcement as the user population changes and the drugs invade more affluent areas, as well as being an indictment of America's very disjointed and vey much for-profit healthcare system. Many of the treatments that are available are snarled in a culture-wars debate about the "rightness" different approaches, entirely divorced from the evidence. It's also interesting (and somewhat terrifying) to understand exactly how many pathways there are to addiction, how many "gateway" drugs there can be, and how social pressures can prevent many people from seeking treatment even if it's readily available. Very sobering.

5/5. Finished 23 December 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Italian Life: A Modern Fable of Loyalty and Betrayal

Italian Life: A Modern Fable of Loyalty and Betrayal

Tim Parks

2020


A tale of Italian life, and especially Italian academic life. I've seen this as an outsider, and recognise some of the terms and issues described: it'd be fascinating to hear an Italian academic's view too.

The story goes well beyond academia, though, to the things that make Italy both a wonderful and damaging culture: the impact of tight families and high expectations, especially for people moving from the south (Puglia and Basilicata) to the north (Milan, Bologna). Many of the themes have equivalents in other places, especially Ireland, but the differences in perception are often hard to decode as an outsider, and this book was often like listening-in on episodes that I've seen but not understood.

4/5. Finished 02 December 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)

Kim Stanley Robinson

1992


A future history of colonising another planet. It was written in the 1990s but reads like it was written in the late 2010s: a penetrating exploration of how nationalism, capitalism, and a desire for independence might play out over interplanetary distances, all told with Robinson's usual hardest-of-the-hard-science approach.

4/5. Finished 22 November 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World

Aja Raden

2015


The desire for jewels exists everywhere, and this is an overview written by someone with a deep understanding of jewellery and its place in both fashion and politics. There are some great vignettes, especially about the rise of cultured pearls and the influence of De Beer's on the emergence of diamonds as fashion essentials.

Raden is less sure about history, though, and sometimes gets carried away with detail that doesn't in any way relate to the issues at hand. Many of the comments are alarmingly ahistorical: describing Mary Tudor as "mad" and "insane", for example, for actions that were perfectly sensible in the context of a religious war between Catholics and Protestants. And the notion that there being no market economy means that nothing can have value assigned to it, or that any attempt to better workers' conditions amounts simply to socialism, betrays her own background more than it illuminates either the history of the jewellery.

3/5. Finished 21 November 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)