The last five books - number 4

These are the last five books I read. Some I read in like two days, one I had been working on for over three months, and finally goddamn finished. Jeesh. Anyway. Onto ze books.

America (TheBook): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by the Writers of the Daily Show
I listened to this as an audiobook. It’s basically a humorous look at the American democracy, how it started, that’s an awful sentence. But how America was founded, and who the founders were, and all that jazz. It’s written by the Daily show writers, and it was read by them. And it was funny. It was really short, and it was good. I don’t feel like I have too much to say, if you like the Daily show you will probably enjoy it. Jon Stewart reads the majority, which for me is a big draw, because he’s magical, and his voice is very comfortable and he has a good reading voice. Just look at him.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty
This was just so delightful. It is about working in a crematorium, unsurprisingly. It’s also about death, and how we deal with death, and how we sort of cope with death. It was really fascinating. It chronicles Caitlin starting at a crematorium in San Francisco, and learning how to present bodies when they are dead, how to work the crematorium ovens, and how to talk to the people who lost someone. She also explores how we have, in the Western world, turned death into something to separate us from. Like we embalm people, even though there is pretty much no reason to embalm someone if they’re being cremated. We insist on making people who are dead look lifelike, because we have made death dirty, and other, and I don’t know, wrong, so we try to make it clean and we work hard to separate ourselves from death. And it means we have no like fruitful discussions around death, and we have all these anxieties around death. I know I have some as well, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one. I also had this idea when I was younger, of working in a funeral home. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I find ritual incredibly fascinating, and there is nothing as ritualized as death and burial. It was also interesting to read the different ways people deal with dead bodies around the world. It was written with a lot of bluntness, but it felt really honest. And she’s very funny and no-nonsense, so even though it is a dark subject it was a really enjoyable read.

Othello by William Shakespeare
Othello (or Iago being an evil badass) is about a Moorish general named Othello who serves in the Venetian army. He marries the daughter of a white Venetian senator, and annoys the man who wanted to marry her. He also annoys Iago, his ensign, by promoting a man named Michael Cassio, over him. And Iago is a petty bastard, so basically decides to ruin Othello’s life by breaking apart his marriage. It was fascinating. Iago is such an archetypical villain. He’s almost like a moustache-twirling villain, and he is cunning, and angry, and just so awful. And he’s so awesome. I have no idea why he’s so angry, but it was good fun. I want to watch the Kenneth Brannagh/Laurence Fishburne film, but yes. It was fun, and weird.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
This is George Orwell’s memoir from when he was a young and penniless writer. He lived in Paris and then London, and basically lived below the subsistence level. He starves a lot, and works odd jobs in Paris, and then finally gets a job as a plongeur (dishwasher) in a cafeteria. After a while in Paris he goes back to London on the promise of a job, but the job doesn’t pan out and he lives on the streets basically. He goes from poorhouse to poorhouse, where poor people can sleep for a night so they don’t have to sleep on the streets. It’s very dark and very harsh. It doesn’t show any of the nice parts of London and Paris, like none of the tourist-y stuff. It’s just this seedy underbelly. It reminded me of Hunger by Hamsun, where a penniless writer basically starves, and lives from random pay-check to pay-check. Orwell is so broken and he’s so starved and hungry. It’s a fascinating look at poor people, and how they aren’t given a place anywhere and are basically chased around.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I finally finished this fucker. Jesus H. Christ. Alright. This is the huge, epic, historical fantasy (?) about the Napoleon war. It’s set in a sort of AU where magic is out, and if not common, then at least known, in the UK. And basically Mr Norrell comes to London from his Yorkshire house, and offers his magical assistance to win the Napoleonic war. Eventually he gets an apprentice; Jonathan Strange, who is young and vital and wants to be a modern magician. It was good, it was just so long. It’s an incredibly impressive piece of work. Clarke has very much created her own world with a massive background of supposedly real magical history. It was just so massive. But it was also incredible.