Approaching the end of the month, as we are, time to post a few also-reads:
Alice and the Assassin, R.J. Koreto. Entertaining historical fiction following the infamous pistol-packing Alice Roosevelt and her cowboy Secret Service bodyguard. Following the assassination of President McKinely, Alice’s father is made president and Alice herself turns detective. Declaring that it doesn’t make sense for a feeble-minded Polish anarchist to randomly go after the president, Alice and Agent St. Clair begin following leads on their own — to the faint horror of Alice’s official guardians, Teddy excepting. The chase takes them into private society clubs and public brothels, alike, consorting with the likes of Emma Goldman, Sicilian crimelords, and members of the New York yacht club. Most interesting is the relationship between St. Clair and Alice; St. Clair is a former cavalrymen, former frontier sheriff turned federal agent, while Alice — for all her wildness — is a teenage girl who has been far more sheltered than she realizes. The two have an interesting fondness for one another by the end.
From Here to Eternity, by Caitlin Doughty, visits several cultures around the world to examine particularly interesting death customs, in a bid to convince western readers that pickling the dead and shoving them into an airtight vault at ludicrous costs to ourselves, is neither normal nor attractive. Although it doesn’t have nearly the strength of her first book (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, her account if becoming a mortician and developing a funerary style more in keeping with older customs. She promotes, for instance, the practice of families washing and dressing their deceased loved ones themselves, and taking part in the burial or pushing the button on the crematory. Traditions like those are those she explores here, though she’s naturally drawn to more…unusual death traditions, like people collecting and decorating human skulls to use as magical tokens, or occasionally exhuming their dead kinfolk to dress them and give them tea. As with her previous book, this one is laden with humor, both in the writing and in happenstance; at one point Doughty was left alone in a cave of skulls and was stumbled upon by tourists, who immediately asked if they could take her picture in terms taken from Emily Post, circa 1915. Although the book’s contents were not as deep as the last one, I was cheered by the promotion of natural-burial movements within the US, which is also covered here.
Open Life: The Philosophy of Open Source. Penned in 2004. Open Life offers a history of the open source software movement, an appraisal of its financial prospects, and a look at how the open source philosophy might be applied to matters other than software. Admittedly, this is esoteric, and…dated. Most people use open source tech, even if they don’t realize it: Android devices, for instance, and even chromeOS, use Linux at their base, as do many internet servers, and IOT devices will only bring more of it into people’s homes. A lot of the projects that Ingo mentions here (in examining different ways open-source software companies can be profitable while maintaining their roots) have since been discontinued, though others (Red Hat) are still around. One of the bigger success stories is Mozilla, the first great challenger to Internet Explorer which has matured into Firefox.
Finally, I also read my two classic club entries for this month, both by Walker Percy. It turns out I’m not much for existentialist novels, even if they are by a southern author.