Monday, January 17, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of 1/17/02

As usual: on Monday, if I have new books, I write about them here. If I don't, I pick a random year in my reading notebook and try to remember the books I read this time that year. (How much do any of us remember about things we did ten or twenty years ago? It is an odd exercise, I admit.)

This time, our number is 2002:

Julianne Balmain, Office Kama Sutra (1/10)

Before I look it up, I'm going to assume that I read it because of that title, and also that I found out about it through work. I have a sneaky suspicion that QPB offered it: it's got their kind of title. is exactly what you'd expect from the title: a tongue-in-cheek guide, written in faux-Orientalia, about pursuing nooky in the office. I suspect 2002 is awfully late for a book like that; it would not fly now, even written by a woman (and illustrated by another: Thorina Rose). It looks amusing, but, these days, it would be a race between being condemned for cultural appropriation and being condemned for making light of workplace sexual harassment.

Michael I. Meyerson, Political Numeracy (bound galleys, 1/11)

I was still a Good Republican in 2002, though I was wavering. So this may well be a "why lefty economics never adds up" book, though I hope not. Let me check.

Nope: looks like this was more of a follower in the school of Freakonomics: applying scientific rigor, at least in theory, to some thorny policy questions to find Provable Right Answers. A lot of people thought that was possible, in that technocratic time, but that thread in American discourse seems to have mostly disappeared: right-wingers aren't interested in objective facts or science to begin with, and left-wingers are coming from a different direction.

It looks like Meyerson was either using political issues to explain mathematical concepts, or using mathematical concepts to show how political issues could be solved in a roughly utilitarian way, and I don't think anyone took the hint.

Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf & Cub, Vol. 16: Gateway Into Winter (1/13)

This was just past the half-way point of the samurai epic, which was collected in twenty-eight volumes. Even if I read dug out the descriptive copy for this book, I don't think I could say anything coherent about this specific piece of the larger story. I did think the whole series was excellent, and I'd read it again if I hadn't lost all of those books in my 2011 flood. (Buying twenty-eight books for a re-read is more than I feel up to at the moment. Maybe someday.)

Doron Swade, The Difference Engine (1/15)

I had to look it up, because my mind kept going to the Gibson/Sterling book of ten years earlier. This is a non-fiction work about Charles Babbage and his machines, and, knowing that, I can vaguely remember reading a book about that at some point. (This one, presumably: unless I've read multiple books on Babbage without keeping track, which is unlikely but not impossible.)

Swade was assistant director of the Science Museum in London, and led the team that built the first working Difference Engine in 1991. (So I'm pretty sure this is the book I'm remembering.) As I vaguely remember now, it's Babbage's story, not Swade's -- there might be an intro or something about his team's work, but the book itself is a conventional this-one-interesting-thing-in-history kind of book.

Calvin Trillin, Tepper Isn't Going Out (1/16)

This book I actually do remember! Trillin has only written a few novels - Barnett Fummer Is an Unbloomed Flower, a very hippie-inspired book from the late '60s, Floater, a very newspaper-inspired novel from 1980, and this one, a very New York-inspired book that was new at the time.

Trillin is a great writer, funny in a wry way no matter what he's writing, and I remember this as one of his best books. It is deeply frivolous - as I recall, he referred to it as a the only novel ever written about parking. Tepper is a guy who likes to read the newspaper in his car, and inevitably, people ask him if he's leaving that spot. He isn't. I believe he becomes local-famous for this, and the plot escalates from there: silly, parochial, and specific, all things Trillin is good at.

Richard Stark, The Score (1/17)

This is the fifth of the Parker novels; I may have been trying to read through them at the time. A decade later, in 2013, I read and reviewed the entire series in the puckishly titled blog series "Starktober." (No points for guessing what month it took place in.) So let me just link to my more detailed post on The Score.

Immediately before that, I finished Jorge Luis Borges's Selected Poems (no memory at all). And right afterward I had some reading for work: a two-book Star Trek: Stargazer series by Michael Jan Friedman (I don't remember what Stargazer was; my guess is a book-only series with some new characters) and then R.A. Salvatore's novel Transcendence (I'm sure it was part of some series; but I'd have to look it up.).

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