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swynn reads and runs in 2020: Thread 1

75 Books Challenge for 2020

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Edited: Dec 26, 2019, 1:57pm Top

I'm Steve, 51, a technical services librarian at a medium-sized public university. I live in Missouri with my wife and son and Buddy (name and occupation), a Terrier-mix chaser of squirrels, rabbits, opossums, deer, and (alas) skunks. This is my 11th year with the 75ers.

My reading follows my whims, but is heaviest with science fiction and fantasy. I also read good amounts of mysteries, thrillers, and horror. I think I'd like to read more non-fiction in 2020, but we'll see what happens.

I'm usually reading at least three books: something on the Kindle app, read whenever I'm standing in line or when the lights are off; a paperback, usually from my own shelves, read while walking Buddy; and something borrowed from the library. I usually have a stack of things borrowed from the library, which I call "The Tower of Due." Here's what it looks like now, not counting the ones I expect to finish before 2019 ends:

Edited: Jan 12, 11:44pm Top

(A) The DAWs

For several years now, I've been reading through the catalog of DAW, the first American imprint exclusively devoted to science fiction & fantasy publishing. It launched in 1972 under the editorship of Donald A. Wollheim (hence the name), and continues today, publishing new books at a rate faster than I'm catching up. Last year I read 31 of them, and hope to read at least that many this year.

DAWs so far: 0
Next up: The Land Leviathan by Michael Moorcock

(B) Bestsellers

For the last few years, Liz (lyzard) and I have been reading through American bestsellers at a rate of one per month. I'm running behind (by 3 books, I think), and my goal this year is to catch up.

Bestsellers so far: 1
Next Up: From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones

More Not Straight Not White Not Dudes

My reading list skews white and male. Go figure. For the last couple of years I've tracked proportion of non-straight, non-white, and non-male authors in an effort to be more conscious of this. I met 2/3 of my targets last year: 10% LGBTQ, 15% authors of color, and 48% women, trans women and nonbinary authors. Targets this year are 10%, 20%, and 50%. Recommendations welcome.

(C) Not Straight: 1/5 (20%)
(D) Not White: 0/5 (0%)
(E) Not Dudes: 3/5 (60%)

Every spring, my employer sponsors a Children's Literature Festival, at which invited authors and illustrators talk about their craft to students from the region's elementary schools. Every year I try to read at least one book by each guest author, and every year I fail. But I keep trying.
(F) CLF authors

Other Good Intentions

(G) Read more books off my own shelves.
So far: 0

Continue more series than I start. I recently reviewed old threads to count the number of series I've started and not finished, and came up with 293. Granted, I'm not actually *interested* in continuing all 293, and I think I can hear Liz calling, "Amateur," but still I find that number daunting. So this year: continue more series than I start. And try to finish one every month or so. And I mean it this year.

  • (H) Series started: 1

  • Book of the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence

  • (I) Series continued: 2

  • Angel Dare series by Christa Faust
    Karen Memory series by Elizabeth Bear

  • (J) Series finished (or up-to-date): 2

  • Angel Dare series by Christa Faust
    Karen Memory series by Elizabeth Bear

Edited: Jan 15, 3:52pm Top

1) Stone Mad / Elizabeth Bear (EIJ)
2) The Immoral Majority / Ben Howe
3) Gnome-A-Geddon / K.A. Holt (CE)
4) Choke Hold / Christa Faust (EIJ)
5) Red Sister / Mark Lawrence (H)
6) The Cardinal / Henry Morton Robinson (B)
7) Factfulness / Hans Rosling
8) The Story of the Treasure Seekers / E. Nesbit (EH)
9) Your House Will Pay / Steph Cha (DE)
10) One Dark Throne / Kendare Blake (DEI)

Edited: Dec 27, 2019, 2:14am Top

Here's the introduction to the "... and runs" part of "swynn reads and runs"

I run. I used to run a lot, and at crazy distances. Then life intervened, joints hurt, and I got a dog who tends to lose interest in running once he figures out that the squirrel is a lie.

But I missed it, and other life developments have me hitting the pavement and signing up for races again. I hope to run at least one race monthly, beginning with 5Ks but hopefully moving on to longer distances as training and joint health allow. I think I'll be ready for a half marathon before the year's out, but I do want to be careful to avoid being sidelined by injury again.

I'll talk about training here, and report on races. Last year I aimed for weekly progress reports, a target I didn't always hit but which did help me with accountability.

Among stats like weekly mileage and long runs, I'll also name a soundtrack of the week, something that came up on my playlist that week that kept my feet moving. My playlist is heavy with rock -- especially bluesy guitar-driven rock, industrial metal, and German pop. Recommendations are welcome.

This isn't everybody's thing, so I'll mark the running stuff prominently with asterisks and caps: **RUNNING POST**. Skip or seek, as your inclination demands.

Dec 26, 2019, 1:44pm Top

Welcome back!

Dec 26, 2019, 1:45pm Top

Thanks Jim!

Dec 26, 2019, 2:07pm Top

The third decade of the century...that's just weird.

Edited: Jan 16, 2:43pm Top

** The Perry Rhodan Post **

Perry Rhodans so far: 1
Next Up: Die Wunderblume von Utik (= The Wonder-Flower of Utik) by Clark Darlton

In 2018 I read 75, then last year only read 2. I miss them, and this year I hope to read more, though I'm not setting a specific goal. Back in 2018 I set up a separate thread for these, but I fell behind and have lost interest in catching up over there. So I'll report the PRs here, probably less verbosely than I've done in the past.

For those who have never encountered it: Perry Rhodan is the hero of a weekly German science-fiction serial that is marketed as the world's largest science fiction series. I don't know whether that claim is true -- no doubt it depends on how one measures "large." Measured by words in print, PR has few if any competitors, among which the relatively puny Star Wars and Star Trek franchises do not rank. The main series has been continuously published since September 1961 in weekly novella-length adventures. Its 3,046th episode was published just this week. Stop and think about that: the English translations of these episodes ran to about 100 pages per, so we're talking about a story 304,600 pages long. And growing. And that's just the main series. Besides the main series there have been over 400 standalone paperback novels, not to mention spinoffs, reboots, miniseries, video games, comic books, and one comically awful movie.

* Why am I reading this?

I first encountered the series as an exchange student to West Germany in 1986. I fell in love with everything about the series: the complicated backstory, the cheesy plots, the lurid covers, even the cheap newsprint. At that time I had access only to the latest issues and random back issues as I discovered them at flea markets so plots were frequently opaque, which actually added to the series's appeal. A couple of years ago I discovered that digitized back issues could be bought in packages online: I started from issue number 1, and all of that love came back.

So my resons for reading are multiple and personal. It's about nostalgia, maintaining language skills, and feeding my inner middle-schooler. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the series except in small doses for curiosity's sake. But neither will I apologize: I love this crap even (maybe especially) when Perry Rhodan is an asshole. Which, actually, is most of the time.

* The Story So Far

The series opens in the year 1971. Perry Rhodan is an American astronaut commanding the first crewed mission to the moon. On the moon Rhodan's team discovers a foundered spacecraft of the Arkonide Empire, a galaxy-spanning civilization in decadent decline. Perry rescues the ship's commander and its science officer in exchange for Arkonide technology. Rhodan uses the technology to establish a government capable of rising above petty human squabbles and confronting the threats that begin to appear from around the galaxy.

There's more -- lots more -- but as we join the story in episode 112, the immediate threat is Perry Rhodan's estranged son, Thomas Cardif, who resents that Rhodan had Cardif raised as an orphan. (This charge is true.) He also holds Rhodan responsible for his mother's death. (This charge is more complicated, but somewhat true. Look, Perry Rhodan is an asshole.) Cardif's latest attempt at revenge involves becoming a drug dealer on massive scale, in order to weaken the Terran empire and discredit Rhodan's leadership. Rhodan has largely defeated Cardif's operation, but an ultimatum in episode 111 led to a trap in which Cardif's allies kidnapped Perry, allowing Cardif to assume Rhodan's identity and the leadership of the Terran Empire.

Dec 26, 2019, 2:22pm Top

>7 richardderus: Weird is increasingly my status quo. Welcome, Richard!

Dec 26, 2019, 6:34pm Top

I’ve seen you around and about, Steve, and I’m looking forward to your take on The Cardinal. I read it more or less simultaneously with Liz. I found that sometimes it’s not wise to revisit a book you really liked when you were about 18.

Dec 27, 2019, 1:29am Top

Party on, Swynn! I hope you have a great reading year!

Dec 27, 2019, 2:11am Top

>10 bohemima: Welcome Gail! I'm curious myself. I averted my eyes from the discussion on Liz's thread, so I have only a vague idea that it's a long religious novel, which is not my favorite genre, but my mind is open ...

>11 brodiew2: Welcome Brodie!

Dec 27, 2019, 5:52pm Top

Dropping off a star here. :)

Dec 29, 2019, 3:17am Top

Edited: Dec 29, 2019, 10:37pm Top

>12 swynn:

It's very...


I know! - what a shock, right?? :D

Best wishes for the new reading year, Steve! Thank you again for joining me on our challenge projects.


Speaking of which---is there anything to be gained from me stopping and waiting for you? I wouldn't mind taking a month or two off, if you felt it would be of benefit to you for us being back to joint reads. But if you don't (or if the joint read is pressure you don't need!), no problem. :)

Edited: Dec 30, 2019, 2:31pm Top

>15 lyzard: Welcome Liz!

Right. This is my shocked face. :|

You can distinguish it from my watching-grass-grow face by the fact that it's December in the American Midwest and therefore no grass is growing. (Although it *has* been unseasonably warm so maybe .... )

I'll leave that up to you, Liz. I know 2020 is shaping up to be the year of when are you going to read them all and if you skip a month or two, well, it's not like I'm in a position to wag a finger. On the other hand, I'd hate for you to slow down and let me catch up, only to have me fall behind again another month or two down the road because, wait, squirrel!

In the meantime I'll plug away. I hope to crack The Cardinal's Catholic-ness this weekend.

Dec 30, 2019, 2:30pm Top

>14 Berly: Welcome Micky!

Dec 30, 2019, 2:34pm Top

>16 swynn:


because, wait, squirrel!


Okay, I guess I'll push on too then. But if any change I can make would be helpful for you, just ask.

Dec 31, 2019, 5:33am Top

Best wishes for 2020!

Edited: Jan 8, 8:38pm Top

Another resolution is to keep up in 2020 with all my friends on LT. Happy New Year!

Dec 31, 2019, 9:12am Top

>19 DianaNL:
>20 PaulCranswick:

Welcome Diana & Paul!

Excellent resolutions all.

Dec 31, 2019, 5:21pm Top

Happy reading and running in 2020, Steve!

Jan 1, 2:04am Top

>17 swynn: That would be Kim. ; ) Happy new year!!

Edited: Jan 1, 10:36am Top

>23 Berly: Oops -- I think my eyes conflated post 14 with 13. Welcome Kim! Happy New year!

Jan 1, 11:26am Top

Happy New Year, Steve. I hope 2020 is a great year for you. And who know, maybe another meet up?

Jan 1, 11:05pm Top

>25 BLBera: Thanks Beth! And yes, I'd be up for a meet-up.

Edited: Jan 2, 9:58am Top

1) Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear
Date: 2018

Follow-up to Bear's steampunk adventure Karen Memory. In this one, Karen and Priya have just bought a home, and plan to celebrate with dinner at a swank restaurant and a magic show later. But their plans are diverted by (a) a couple of con-artist spiritualists whose act may be at least partly genuine, (b) a destructive mine-monster, and (c) discussions about The Relationship. Well, at least (a) and (b) are fun.

Jan 3, 12:54pm Top

>27 swynn: Heh. I bet even Karen and Priya agree that (c) was a downer.

I got my package, thanks again.

Jan 3, 4:09pm Top

Happy New Year, Steve!

>27 swynn: This read more like a novella to me that a full-fledged adventure, a bit of a disappointment.

Jan 3, 5:37pm Top

>29 ronincats: Agreed. I'd have liked a longer story too.

Edited: Jan 3, 6:16pm Top

2) The Immoral Majority by Ben Howe
Date: 2019

Ben Howe is an evangelical Christian who claims that evangelicals' support of Donald Trump amounts to abandoning heavenly principles for short-term earthly gains. I happen to agree. In a certain sense it's none of my business, but I used to be an evangelical, and find the evangelicals' messianic rhetoric about Trump deeply weird (Lovecraftian, even). So I read Howe's book for insight into How We Got There. Unfortunately, while Howe's book is occasionally enlightening it is also rambly, scolding, and repetitive. It's intended as an extended preachment to evangelicals, but I've gotta say if I were a pro-Trump evangelical I'd find it underpersuasive. But I'm not, so I found it just odd, a sermon on a dogma I don't accept and honestly no longer quite grasp. So I remain bewildered about just when the evangelicals I grew up with jumped the shark.

Jan 3, 6:50pm Top

>31 swynn:

(Lovecraftian, even)

That's too true to be funny.

As a complete outsider on both fronts, this seems to me a bewildering phenomenon that warrants more thoughtful examination.

Jan 4, 12:31pm Top

>31 swynn: The underpersuasive bit saddens me; but the existence of such a tome makes me very, very happy indeed. I hate the thought that people who purport to be following a path of personal betterment could see 45 as any sort of positive role model.

Jan 5, 3:13pm Top

>31 swynn: I agree with Richard wholeheartedly. Thanks for the review.

Jan 5, 8:54pm Top

Hope your 2020 reading is great!

Edited: Jan 7, 12:46am Top

>32 lyzard: I was hoping that an insider's perspective could help reduce my bewilderment, and maybe it did a little bit; but I think I'd find a sociologist's perspective more enlightening. Because I'm wunna them dam academics, I guess.

>33 richardderus: It's less encouraging than you might think. Howe is more concerned about Trump's multiple divorces and his potty mouth than his policies. He pines for the day when Jerry Falwell, Sr. made personal integrity the primary voting issue (yes, really). My concerns (surprise!) are weighted more toward cruel-when-they're-not-just-bananapants policies. But I do find the evangelical indifference to personal integrity a baffling about-face. And as for the golden days of Jerry Falwell, well.

Evangelicals do exist whose politics align more closely with mine, but they're not very well-represented or at least not as vocal. Jim Wallis comes to mind, the founder of Sojourners Magazine. He's even come out in support of marriage equality, though it took him long enough.

>34 Berly: Thanks, Kim!

Jan 7, 12:37am Top


The new year starts strong on the running front. I completed 721 miles in 2019 and, barring injury, I feel confident I can exceed 1,000 miles in 2020.

Mileage last week: 27 miles.
Mileage this year: 21 miles
Longest run: 6 miles
Target mileage this week: 28 miles
Monday weigh-in: 225

Soundtrack: Watch It Die by Samantha Fish
BPM: 120

First soundtrack of the year must come from Samantha Fish, whom I finally caught live on Dec. 30 at a small venue in Columbia, Missouri.

She puts on great show. Catch one if you can.

Jan 7, 12:42am Top

3) Gnome-A-Geddon by K.A. Holt
Date: 2017

A couple of middle-school kids are magically transported to the world of their favority fantasy book series. It turns out that the series's author has not been a reliable reporter. It's fun, but very ... mm ... middle school.

K.A. Holt will be one of the guests at my employer's children's literature festival this spring.

CLF challenge: 3/11

Jan 8, 12:32am Top

4) Choke Hold by Christa Faust
Date: 2011

This is a follow-up to Faust's crime thriller Money Shot, in which former porn star Angel Dare busted up a human trafficking ring. In this one, Angel is lying low. She's been in witness protection but somebody blew her cover so now she has a new fake identity and works as a waitress in a cafe in nowhere, Arizona. Then into the cafe walks an old friend from her porn days "Thick Vic" Ventura, come to meet the adult son he's only just learned about and what a coincidence hello Angel. Then in nothing flat Angel is dodging bullets and badguys and trying to keep Thick Vic's son from getting killed. The boy is a little dim but he's also an up-and-coming mixed martial arts fighter, so ...

It's exactly as fun as "Porn star and MMA fighter versus the mob" ought to be, and Faust's noir prose is perfect for the ride. I wish there were more in the series.

Jan 8, 7:19pm Top

>39 swynn: Wow, those sound like fun!

Jan 8, 7:59pm Top

>39 swynn: Good lawsy me! These are some pervy little marvies, aren't they, with porn so well represented. (Lots of gay-for-pay porn guys are low-level MMA guys. Urijah what's-it did a few, f/ex.)

Jan 9, 3:15pm Top

Have a great day, swynn!

I'm reading Foundation for a third go and have spaced it out well as a favorite over the years. The entire original trilogy is good stuff. I did not care for his follow up trilogy in the 80s. C'est la vie!

Jan 9, 6:09pm Top

>40 drneutron: They are! Fair warning, though: the second one feels a lot like a second act, and you're going to want the resolution of a third. Which doesn't exist and, considering it's been 8 years since the last entry, may well never exist.

Jan 9, 6:10pm Top

>41 richardderus: I had no idea about the relationship between the porn and MMA industries. But I am also unsurprised.

Jan 9, 6:12pm Top

>42 brodiew2: Hi Brodie! It's been ages since I read Foundation. A few years ago, I started to read some of Asimov's early novels. I'd say I ought to get back to that project, but I have enough other projects going now ...

Jan 9, 6:24pm Top

>44 swynn: How completely unsurprising it is that you're not "up" (!) on the gay porn world and its currents. Open-mindedness must run into limits or it's involuntary boundaryless mind-rape.

Edited: Jan 12, 10:49pm Top

5) Red Sister / Mark Lawrence
Date: 2017

First in a science fiction/fantasy hybrid series, apparently set on a colony world where magic is powered by buried spaceships. The hero Nona is a magically- and combatively-talented girl from a poor hinterland who has offended powerful people. To keep Nona safe and develop her talents, she is taken in by the director of an abbey where killer nuns are trained. Things are complicated by politics, impending apocalypse, and a messiah who might or might not be Nona or who might not even exist.

The science fiction and fantasy bits don't really cohere for me, and explanations were handwavey so the world doesn't make much sense. I suppose details will be fleshed out in future books. Details weren't especially important for the bits covered in this volume (political intrigue and the training of nuns), but will probably be more important as Nona and her team turn their attention to saving the planet. Ambiguous worldbuilding aside, I'm interested enough to continue the series.

Jan 12, 11:01pm Top

>47 swynn: That one looks interesting - I just requested it. Thanks!

Edited: Jan 12, 11:42pm Top


Perry Rhodan 112: Der Mann mit den zwei Gesichtern by Kurt Brand
Date: 1963

In episode 111, Perry Rhodan's criminal son Thomas Cardif and his allies the Antis lured Rhodan to the planet Okúl. Okúl was of course a trap: the Antis captured Rhodan and sent Cardif back in his place. Cardif has now assumed Rhodan's role as administrator of the Terran Empire and finds the role much to his liking and his ambitions. Perry Rhodans friends are concerned about some uncharacteristic behavior, but Rhodan's doctors insist that everything is fine.

Cardif's ultimate goal is to take over the Arkonide Empire as well as the Terran one, but first he has assignments from his coconspirators among the Antis. Chief among the assignments is to acquire twenty cellular activators -- personal immortality devices -- for Anti leaders. But these can only be acquired from the superintelligence IT, whose location is among Terra's most closely guarded secrets and who might be less easy to fool than Rhodan's doctors ...

Published in English as The Man With Two Faces

Jan 12, 11:06pm Top

>48 Dejah_Thoris: Hope you like it, Dejah!

Edited: Jan 12, 11:38pm Top

6) The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson
Date: 1950

The bestselling book in the US for 1950 was this story of the rise of American priest Stephen Fermoyle, from newly-minted cleric to cardinal. Dramatic tension is thin: Stephen's ascent is mostly unimpeded and his mistakes are mostly minor. (Well, "minor" from the perspective of church teaching, anyway; this reader has a rather different perspective and on several occasions would have urged Father Fermoyle to mind his own damn business.) Even church politics are matters more of perspective and misunderstanding than actual malice: don't look here for scandal or intrigue, because the purpose seems to be a leisurely tour up the hierarchy of church administration and through the church's official positions on issues of the early twentieth century, all from the perspective of a true believer.We're treated to episodes that give Robinson an opportunity to expound on church teaching about everything from birth control to fascism. Some of these episodes feel forced and some downright bizarre -- such as one in which a train breaks down just long enough for Fermoyle to wander off and be persecuted by the KKK before wandering back to the train just as it resumes the journey, all in the space of a few pages.

It's not all bad: Robinson's descriptive language is appealing when it isn't overdone, and there are engaging bits especially early in the novel when Fermoyle spends more time among his parishioiners than with his fellow priests. But things do tend to slow down the closer one gets to the end. And gosh, it's a long way to the end.

Jan 12, 11:48pm Top

>37 swynn: Wow. Those are a lot of miles. I am a sprinter only. My longest ever run was 3 miles. I do much better chasing after soccer balls when I am NOT thinking about the running. LOL

Jan 13, 9:59am Top

>52 Berly: Hi Berly! It's a matter of perspective, really -- I'd like to have my running volume up around 40-50 miles per week to train for longer runs. But for the last couple of years aches and injuries have made that kind of volume difficult. It's very possible that I'll soon have to admit that I Am Getting Old and my feet Ain't What They Useta Be and move some of the cardio to lower-impact activities I enjoy less. Not just yet, though.

And yeah ... running ridiculous distances isn't for everybody. I can't quite explain why I do it except that it feels right.

Jan 13, 10:50am Top

>51 swynn: Oh dear...the does sound dire. Bestselling book in my sister the atheist's birth year. I wonder if her trivia-loving self knows that.

Have an excellent week ahead.

Jan 13, 1:23pm Top

>54 richardderus: It was not fun, but it wasn't Anthony Adverse either. Liz warns me there are more religious doorstops on the way.

Speaking of doorstops: 1951's bestseller was From Here to Eternity, which I've never read but of which I saw the film adaptation. I don't remember much except that Montgomery Clift doesn't want to box and Burt Lancaster just wants to kiss Deborah Kerr on the beach.

And geez ... it's 955 pages. That's a lot of pages to fill with not boxing and kissing. Even kissing Deborah Kerr.

Jan 13, 1:29pm Top

>55 swynn: I can definitely imagine 955pp filled with kissing Burt and Monty....

I remember one (1) passage from the book (snagged from Mama's shelves) because I wrote it into my commonplace book: That was one of the virtues of being a pessimist: nothing was ever as bad as you thought it would be.

Actually, I haven't found that to be very true, but it was heartening to me as a much younger person.

Jan 13, 2:28pm Top

Hello swynn! I hope all is well with you.

>1 swynn: When will you be getting to The Storm Drake. It looks interesting. Arthurian retelling. Did you read The Spark Drake as well?

Jan 13, 2:35pm Top

>55 swynn: Don't do it! Skip From Here To Eternity! It was dreadful, lol. I can't imagine what made me think I wanted to read it with Liz....

Edited: Jan 13, 3:09pm Top

>56 richardderus: Despite my snide comments, and despite being underwhelmed by the film, I was actually looking forward to it. Until I saw the size. I was expecting a big book of about half that number of pages.

>57 brodiew2: Hi Brodie! This month probably, maybe early February. I did read The Spark last November. I had mixed feelings about it: the world is intriguing, but the hero is a bit ... mm ....unconvincingly innocent. That said, I was interested enough to pick up the sequel. You can see my comments here:


If you enjoy Arthur retellings it's worth a look.

>58 Dejah_Thoris: Thanks for the warning, Dejah, but I read Anthony Adverse to complete this challenge and I sure ain't stopping now.

Edited: Jan 13, 5:25pm Top

>51 swynn:

Very nice again, you're on a roll! :)

Personally I found the Vatican sections most engaging since there the book was telling me things I didn't already know, about the hierarchy and procedure.

On the other hand I'm sure you can guess which parts stuck in my craw.

>55 swynn:, >58 Dejah_Thoris:, >59 swynn:

Yyyyyeah... I've had to give up my theory that all the religious novels were overlong because publishing houses thought it would be disrespectful to cut their subject matter, and shift to an alternative conclusion: that there just weren't any decent editors in post-WWII America.

Pardon the perfectly inappropriate expression, but holy crap.

Anthony Adverse: the literary version of Scarlett O'Hara telling herself, "I've done murder, so I can do this!" :D

Edited: Jan 14, 12:46pm Top

>60 lyzard: I've acquired From Here to Eternity, and may dip into it a little, but will probably put it off for a week or two while I try to reduce the height of the Tower of Due.

I've now read your comments on the Cardinal, and I have to agree the whole plot thread with Mona, from his bungled meddling with her affections to her unnecessary and contrived demise, left me with little good will toward Father Fermoyle. In fact, *all* of the material about women and their bodies was ... well, pretty much what's to be expected I guess. Given Robinson's project I suppose he had to defend the church's positions on birth control and abortion. Still, his belittling parody of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood was overdone and mean. And yes, it is dishonest that every incident works neatly to the favor of the church's position.

On the other hand, I was amused that Robinson approvingly quotes the American Pledge of Allegiance with the original phrase, "one nation indivisible," with no hint that "under God" ought to divide "nation indivisible." (You may be insulated from this controversy, but here it's a Big Deal in "the culture war.") I wonder how Robinson had have handled that bit had he written the book just a few years later.

Edited: Jan 14, 4:43pm Top

>61 swynn:

Which is the inescapable shortcoming of this sort of fiction and why it fails at its purpose: everything will work out Father Fermoyle (if not for those around him) just because of course it will; where's the necessity for faith in adversity? The adversity is always someone's else's.

And yes, if you need to stoop to that sort of thing your position isn't as strong as you pretend.

Insulated from that part of it, yes, but not surprised to hear it. Sigh.

Edited: Jan 15, 1:36pm Top

7) Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Date: 2018

This book came recommended to me from several people, including Stephen (sirfurboy), and also a professor who said that if he could make one book required reading for all students on campus it would be this one. I understand Bill Gates said something similar.

The book has two goals: first, to convince the reader that global health and economic development are in a much better state than the reader probably thinks. Second, that the reader's misunderstandings are based on some basic fallacies in critical thinking that this volume aims to resolve.

And hurrah for the first goal: I am now convinced that global health and economic development are much better than I thought and improving (though there remains much room for growth). And hurrah for that. With respect to the second goal, it's at least as good as many another book on critical thinking.

I do have some criticisms.

A recurring theme is how poorly people in wealthier nations tend to score on a quiz covering global health and economic conditions. You can see (and take) the quiz here. If you haven't seen the quiz before then follow the link and take it before you read my spoiler: the correct answer is always the most optimistic one. This is poor survey design, for at least a couple of reasons: it encourages wrong answers, because a respondent with only the vaguest notion of an answer will often pick the choice between two extremes. Second, it sends the message that on all questions related to global health and economic development the safest assumption is that conditions are already ideal. In fairness, Rosling says repeatedly that there remains much room for improvement and work to be done; but he has designed his instrument to send the opposite message.

There's a similar problem with some of his graphs: he often manipulates axes to exaggerate a point, either to imply a rate of growth or to imply achievement of a maximum that a more honest scale would not imply. That's a critical-thinking error straight out of How To Lie With Statistics.

Also, I'm skeptical about optimism he implies about environmental issues. For example, his question: "In 1996, tigers, giant pandas, and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. How many of these three species are more critically endangered today?" has the optimistic answer "None of them." But dang, that question sounds like cherry-picking (also How To Lie With Statistics). Why not a question like, "What percentage of species listed as endangered in 1996 are more critically endangered today?" I don't know the answer to that question but I'm certain it's not 0% and I suspect it doesn't support his theme that everything is rosy and getting better. (I remain open to correction.) At a couple of points he also seems to imply that an increase in acreage of protected nature reserves is reason for hope. Well .... (a) I suspect that nature reserves are rarely protected until they're threatened, and (b) acreage that is protected can often be easily unprotected, a trend we're now seeing in the U.S. In fairness, Rosling also says that he is convinced of the dangers of climate change.

Criticisms aside, I do appreciate being introduced to numbers that show cause for optimism. I just wish his most memorable bits better illustrated the point that they don't show cause for complacency. The critical-thinking stuff is good and badly needed and ought to be applied to Rosling's presentation as well.

Jan 15, 1:14pm Top


Target race: Freezer 5K (Amana, Iowa) -- January 25

Mileage last week: 28 miles.
Mileage this year: 49 miles
Longest run: 7 miles
Target mileage this week: 29 miles
Monday weigh-in: 222

Soundtrack: Feuer Frei by Rammstein
BPM: 95

Jan 15, 1:36pm Top

>63 swynn: Hans Rosling, the 2019 Dr. Pangloss Award for Critical Thinking winner, gets endorsed by elite rich guys with a huge stake in the status quo? Color me shocked.

Edited: Jan 16, 5:28pm Top

>65 richardderus: In his exposition Rosling is very much, "We've made progress -- more than you may expect -- but there's still much work to do and we have to think clearly and examine the data in order to focus our efforts where they'll help most."

But yeah, his charts and quizzes are all, "Stop worrying, everything's fine as can be!"

I wonder how much of his audience gets past the charts and quizzes. And how much some promoters hope they won't.

Jan 16, 6:11pm Top

>64 swynn: Good start into the new year, Steve.
Such a spectacle Feuer Frei!

Jan 16, 6:36pm Top

>31 swynn: I remain bewildered about just when the evangelicals I grew up with jumped the shark. So do I. I was raised in an evangelical Baptist church, consider myself a Christian, but would not have voted for Trump if he were the only candidate running!

>39 swynn: Adding those books to the BlackHole. They look fun!

>49 swynn: I really need to read some of the Perry Rhodan books, especially as I own the board game, Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League.

>63 swynn: That one is already in the BlackHole, so I get to miss that BB!

Jan 17, 12:13am Top

>67 FAMeulstee: Thanks Anita! "Feuer Frei" maybe an obvious pick, but there's a reason it's one of their most popular tracks: it rocks. And, it makes me run harder every time it comes up in rotation.

> 68 Stasia! Goodness bless you Stasia you give me hope!

I confess to jealousy over the PR boardgame.

Edited: Jan 17, 5:09pm Top

8) Your House Will Pay / Steph Cha
Date: 2019

Back in the early 1990s, in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, a Korean store owner shot and killed a teenage Black girl. The owner had suspected the girl of planning to steal a bottle of milk, but the girl died with money in her hand. The shop owner was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to probation and community service.

Almost thirty years later, the families have moved on. The victim's brother had some trouble with the law after the killing, but has moved past that and has built a stable life for himself. The store owner's family have changed names and moved across the city. But then a new crime resurrects all of the old anger over injustice, and a new generation struggles to deal with it, balancing allegiances to family and to abstractions like justice and retribution.

This is a good one. It sets up a hard and painfully realistic situation (based, apparently, on a true crime), doesn't pretend easy answers exist, and seems fair to all its flawed characters. I understand the author also has a mystery series, which I'll have to look into. Someday.

Jan 17, 2:47pm Top

>70 swynn: I recall a case like that here in NYC but it was almost 40 years ago. Why I recall it is that the perp's slap on the wrist was portrayed as progress in the war on anti-Chinese (in this case) prejudice.

I do so heavily sigh.

Edited: Jan 17, 5:18pm Top

>71 richardderus: I also sigh. It is maddening, and exhausting.

The particular case that informed Steph Cha's book is the death of Latasha Harlins, no part of which is not infuriating.

Yesterday, 8:49pm Top

>69 swynn: The PR board game is a 2-player only game. If you have a significant other who enjoys board games, it is worth picking up. As near as I can tell though, the game has little in common with the books other than the space theme.

>70 swynn: Adding that one to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation!

Yesterday, 11:12pm Top

>73 alcottacre: Alas, Mrs. swynn is not a board-gamer. If I happen to see it somewhere I'll pick it up all the same.

Hope you like Your house will pay if you get to it!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2020

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