2021: January Review

Last year I began posting monthly ‘face the verdict’-type posts to keep track of my TBR. I’m going to try making that a more general month-in-review post that also takes care of un-reviewed works, and keeps track of my challenge goals at the same time. In general, January went a…weird way. I usually start the year off with a shotgun burst of topics, as if a year’s worth of variety had to be compressed into one month, but this year January was dominated by southern history and lit.

Challenge Progress:

Science Survey: Two books read, two categories (Flora & Fauna, Biology) filled. Looking good so far. The Survey consists of twelve books read in twelve different categories (biology, anthropology, physics, geology, etc).

Classics Club Strikes Back: Three books down is a promising start!

Climbing Mount Doom: I read one title from the TBR, Alabama: Making of an American State. Two’s the goal, so slightly behind here.

“More Southern Lit”. With eight titles of southern lit or southern history, I’d say I’m doing well on this particular goal.

The Unreviewed:

Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal was either my last read of 2020 or my first read of 2021; I remain deeply conflicted as to how to count it because I only read the last chapter on January 1st! The book itself varied from fascinating to tedious; fascinating when de Waal used animal emotions to reflect on our understanding of emotions in general, tedious when he tried to use animal experiments to argue for political points. There were some choice quotes, too:

“Politicians sell themselves as public servants, participating in modern democracy only to fix the economy or improve education. Servant is obvious double-speak. Does anyone truly believe that they join in that mudslinging for our sake? This is why it is so refreshing to work with chimpanzees: they are the honest politicians we all long for.”  

We may not be in full control of our emotions, but we aren’t their slaves, either. This is why you should never say ‘my emotions took over’ as an  excuse for something stupid you did, because you let your emotions take over. Getting emotional has a voluntary side. You let yourself fall in love with the wrong person, you let yourself hate certain others, you allowed greed to cloud your judgment or imagination to feed your jealousy.  Emotions are never ‘just’ emotions, and they are never fully automated. Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding of emotions is that they are the opposition of cognition.” 

Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin is a biology work I’ve been reading slowly off and on. As with his Your Inner Fish, it primarily looks for insights into the past development of life based on genes. The most memorable chapter for me came early on, when Shubin pointed out that structures with an obvious, perceived purpose were co-opted from earlier uses: lungs beginning as air bladders for fish, for instance. Shubin also drives home the lesson that the way genes are expressed and regulated is more important than the genes themselves: genes are less static lego bricks composing us and more members of an orchestra, following the music but able to improvise.

Beyond Tenebrae: Christian Humanism in the Twilight of the West, Brad Birzer. Review to be posted as soon as I think up an introduction that is not an essay-long history of the word humanism.

Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812, Mike Bunn and Clay Williams. I’ve been visiting sites relating to the Creek war in Alabama and read this for context. Although it serves ably for an introductory survey, being slim and readable, it was light on documentation. Andy Jackson cuts a loud figure towards the end, and I wonder if Jim Kirk’s (“The word is no. I am therefore going anyway”) was inspired by him. At one point, after being expressly told not to attack Pensacola, for fear of arousing Spain’s ire, Jackson attacked seized it anyway to prevent the British from using it to invade from the south. More to come on Jackson, I think. I have a more substantial book, John K. Mahone’s War of 1812, on order: it was recommended to me as the first book to examine the ties between the titular war and the Creek conflict.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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8 Responses to 2021: January Review

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I have an 1812 book – by Walter R. Borneman – on my Wish List. It’s an interesting conflict in many ways. I look forward to your upcoming review.

    • I’m afraid it’ll be a while — I checked the shipping info to see if it had arrived yet, and they’re projecting that it will be here by the end of the current month. I ordered it on Jan 26! Apparently they’re sending it by horseback rider.

      • Cyberkitten says:

        Our Postal Service is straining too. People are sending parcels rather than visiting plus shopping online. There’s even an apparent shortage of cardboard for packaging! My book orders take around 4-5 days once I get notification that they’ve been released into the wild.

      • I haven’t seen a delay this big all year — of course, Amazon prime’s “two day shipping” has stopped being a thing in my area. At least it’s still ‘free’ with prime, though.

  2. Mudpuddle says:

    the Shubin seems interesting… was he a geneticist of some sort?

    • Strictly speaking, he’s a paleontologist who had to immerse himself in genetics to make way in his own research, given the swift advance of genomics and poor fossil records. He’s an enjoyable writer, but I had too much going on this month to focus on the book..I read it in little bits and pieces.

  3. I am always impressed with the breadth of your reading and find your reviews enticing even when I know I will never get around to reading the books. In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting your review of Beyond Tenebrae as I find the subject ‘tres’ interesting.

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