These two months have been crazy, but I've still managed a bit of reading...
Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History by Florence Williams
There's quite a variety of discussion here, from a cleverly presented skewering of the male-centric state of breast research, both medical and anthropological, to a terrifying investigation into the rise of body-polluting complex chemicals from manufactured goods - mostly plastics. I was fascinated to learn that there is a correlation between certain kinds of pollutant exposure in women during puberty, and the incidence of cancer IN THEIR GRANDCHILDREN. A compound that can linger across three generations is a force to be reckoned with.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that the whole section on porn actresses and the implant craze was wasted on me, since I'd recently read the interviews in "The Big Book Of Breasts". Yes! I was totally reading it for the interviews. I was amazed to learn that an actress I'd seen as a kid, named - wait, let me google it - Francesca "Kitten" Natividad, that's her - was originally relatively small-breasted, but had undergone a series of direct silicone injections in Tijuana, ballooning her chest. By the time I saw her she was totally unreal. Then over the next twenty years, she began to suffer from an increasing variety of ailments, until some surgeons went in to remove the material and discovered that it had been industrial-grade silicone.
Very sobering stuff. This book isn't a downer, though. It's far more often interesting than terrifying, and when digested in parts - one half-chapter or so at a time - is a worthwhile read.
7 out of 10 slowly disintegrating flame-retardant carpet squares up.
The Victoria Vanishes, by Christopher Fowler
It took me a while to pick Bryant and May back up after the last tale - White Corridor - was so underwhelming. But it was inevitable. One of the ways to make a good mystery great is to wrap it in a compelling atmosphere, and entirely apart from the hit-and-miss appeal of his plot mechanics, Fowler’s atmosphere is first class. He uses his stories as a platform for some amazing digressions into the lore and atmosphere of London, and he communicates his deep affection for the city so thoroughly that I find myself nostalgic for a place I’ve never visited.
The Victoria Vanishes builds up to a massive confrontation with a huge shadowy organization, and the potential for a sublime payoff when Bryant and May decide to "go guerrilla" on their adversary, but to my disappointment, that confrontation never arrives. The mystery is solved, more or less, but there isn’t any justice in the solution. That ultimately tainted my enjoyment of this otherwise lovely book.
Six-and-a-half out of ten burial urns up.
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
I listened to this for a bit of light entertainment while cleaning house, even though I remembered being unimpressed the first time through, more than a decade ago. My opinion hasn't changed. It's packed with clever hollywood references and it's kind of fun puzzling them all out, but there are so many that the plot and the setting and the characters and far too much of the discworld itself is distorted in favor of fitting them in. Why is there a big golden guardian carrying a sword? Well, because, the Oscars. Why does a character have a dream about skirts billowing up over a gust of wind from a sewer grate? Because Marilyn Monroe. And so on. Pratchett's characters are as fun to spend time with as ever, but they go through so many contortions that they lose their sense of identity, and it becomes hard to relate to them, and then to care about them. The book turns into a film.
A mere 6 banged grains up out of 10. Pratchett has done way better than this.
A Blink Of The Screen by Terry Pratchett
This is an anthology of Pratchett’s short fiction, spanning many years. It’s proof that even as a little kid his writing chops were substantial, and you can tell that his dialogue-driven style was already taking shape. The Discworld-themed stories from later years are amusing as well.
What really makes the collection shine, in my opinion, is the story about the writer who is confronted with one of his own characters inexplicably arriving on his doorstep. As I read it I could think of five or six ways the story could resolve itself, according to common tropes of many movies and books I’ve absorbed, but Pratchett managed to impress me by constructing a very character-driven resolution to the tale that was quite satisfying. He is a natural spinner of yarns, and even these unrefined oddities are a pleasure to listen to.