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Song of a Traveller: the courtesan's salon - [Book Reviews] Local lore, criminal lore, ancient lore
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[Book Reviews] Local lore, criminal lore, ancient lore
Unlike my last set, here are three books I liked better. [grin]

When I was out doing the Chelan run and meeting The Oatmeal, I picked up the ultra-local "Lake Chelan: The Greatest Lake in the World". I usually flip through the local books when I'm traveling but don't always go home with one... this one had me laughing out loud in the store from the very first page and delightedly reading it to Mayhem. People with a gift for comedy talking about their near-death experiences -- that's a pretty easy sell. As someone with her own arsenal of "no shit, there I was" moments, it's a delight to see someone else taking those learning experiences from dubious judgment and making them *hilarious*. I feel a lot more comfortable laughing at someone else talking about how they nearly died on the most beautiful lake in the world when I know I'd be laughing just as hard and telling the tale were it me. Though I don't know of any close relationship to the author, his wicked Irish humor is, er, familially familiar to me. (Please, no one tell my mother how funny it is to startle people with a fake bat on a fishing pole. We will never be safe out on a patio again. Mom clearly needs not to meet this author.) I did learn rather a lot about local history when reading it, most notably that I should not try paragliding near Lake Chelan. (Things that might be described as "big air" are not for people who have never done this before.) But while his descriptions of the geology and natural history of the region dovetail well with my other reading, it was really his humorous misadventures, hilariously arbitrary declarations on what makes a lake great, and howlingly winceworthy personal experiences in exploration that made this a great read. Four and a half water-skiing deer out of five, and the best travel book I've read in some time. Totally recommended if you intend to go to Lake Chelan.

I've had Diego Gambetta's "Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate" on my professionally-related reading list for at least a year, but only recently found a copy. It was an easy read, clearly comprehensible to anyone used to thinking in game-theoretic or risk-management terms, and yet still managed to be interesting. Most of the content seems retroactively obvious in a structural framework way, but the author's experience studying the Mafia keeps it fresh and interesting while you're reading it. He does pull in relevant information from other sources, studying signaling among the Yakuza, underground exchanges of information and interest from gay men in places where male homosexuality is criminalized (I would never have thought of the look-back... which is why it works so well! Retroactively obvious, heh.), and how popular culture depiction of organized crime gives criminals a more universally comprehended framework with which to work. That last was particularly surprising to me -- my experience in subcultures made popular is that people love complaining about how the media got it all wrong as a way to establish status and bona fides, not to imitate the behaviour shown in the popular culture movie. I feel like I have to go see "The Godfather" now and watch for the things called out in the book. Highly recommended for hackers, other folks in security, or anyone else interested in covert communication -- five wiseguys out of five.

Sometimes I like a translation so much that I follow the translator around from work to work... thus it was with "The Song in the Dream of the Hermit: Selections from the Kanginshu". I'd loved their "Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World" so much that I ran right out and found other things they'd translated too. "The Song in the Dream of the Hermit" is a brilliant success as a translation -- I only read the appendix after I'd read the work, and all of the literary subtleties that are referenced in there come shining through. I had a clear sense of the original author as an older man, retired from the world to write. Though the book is split seasonally and I don't know if the included selections are representative of the split in the original, there are far more poems about loss, aging, and death than there are about being young. Despite that, the major theme of the work is love and longing, set differently as the book moves through time. There are affairs tender and unsuccessful, nights spent alone and piningly waiting, nights spent with one's partner that cannot be acknowledged in the light of day. Some of the unrequited poems are painful-to-creepy to read, but at the same time that emotional reality is what makes them succeed as art. It's discomfiting, but immerses the reader in that ungrounded shifting state, and how uncomfortable that feels gives you a reluctant sympathy for the poet even as you want to run screaming. Aaaaagh, well done. But the majority of the poems speak to experiences I found easier to relate to. The repetitive structuring was one I hadn't encountered before in my various forays through Japanese poetry, and changed my ideas of the art form.

Do not
wear white

it will shine
in the light
of the moon

then
everyone
will know


Spare, minimal, beautifully evocative. You get poems of indecision

He could not quite
make up his mind to leave

he said, "I want you,
want you"
but saw the moon
and stepped out
into the hall

now
here he comes
again


And then immediately, depth of feeling

You say
you were reminded of me,
then perhaps
you had forgotten me?

I do not forget you
so there is nothing
can remind me of you


One of the thing I liked best about this volume was how starkly it handled the differences in feeling, the longing, the uncertainty, the absolute commitment to feel, and sometimes several of those at once. It's very human-condition, and for that I will forgive it for making me feel empathy for the creepy. [grin] Four and a half frosts out of five.

Whether we
make love
or not,
why not
just be kind?

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Comments
hsifyppah From: hsifyppah Date: July 4th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my goodness, I need that Lake Chelan book. Chelan is TOTALLY the best lake.
moodyduck From: moodyduck Date: July 5th, 2014 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I might like to read that criminal communication book. On a slight similar note my obsession with the French Resistance had only grown from arriving in France...Today I geeked out big time at the Resistance museum in Lyon and might go to another in Grenoble tomorrow. Seeing actual equipment they used made me slightly dizzy...this is going to be over of those obsessions.
2 forks or fork, exec?
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