Books: Toast, How to Fake A Moon Landing, Going Clear, The Poison Eaters, Ancient Ancient
So I own and love Plenty, which is Nigel Slater’s recipe book for vegetables, so Toast, which is his memoir about food, seemed like an obvious next step. I was pretty taken aback by the content - it reminded me pretty strongly of Boy, Roald Dahl’s book about his fucked up childhood, more in the branding than anything else. At this point every memoir I’ve read about growing up as a young boy in Britain (and I’m at something like 4 now) has included some child abuse and lots of weird stuff that was not telegraphed by the book marketing. So yeah, Toast was fine - depressing as all get out, does not make you want to eat, etc, but fine. I guess, if you don’t mind that the book include a trigger warned for child abuse.
How to Fake A Moon Landing is a series of comics packaged in book form handling topics commonly covered by scientific skepticism. It’s by Darryl Cunningham - who had a wonderful strip on homeopathy which made the Internet rounds a couple of years ago. Given that I was familiar with his work, I picked up the book expecting to enjoy it, and was shocked by how much I didn’t. There’s other better handling of the same material elsewhere, and Cunningham’s style comes off as boring and condescending. It’s also just a collection of his comic strips, with nothing in between and no cohesive themes or build up - which means that it’s actually inferior to reading the same strips on the Internet, where you can at least read the comments. This was one of the bigger let downs of the books I’ve read recently.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief is by Lawrence Wright, and is a Hollywood and personality-centric look at the religion of Scientology. The book is great - interesting, well told, and clear, with footnotes that explain where the narrative was disputed by key players. (AKA - all of the upper level members of Scientology disputing any claims of abuse.) The only thing I didn’t love about it was the focus on Hollywood actors. Tom Cruise’s role in Scientology is notable, but by far the least interesting part of a long and complicated story. Some of the details of his influence and interactions with the religion could have been eliminated, and the book would have been stronger for it.
The Poison Eaters - short story collection, all Holly Black, variety of settings and themes, mostly fantastical and horror. I think I have finally come to the conclusion that I should stop reading short story collections. I keep trying, and I always find that they have ups and downs - and it bothers me. Black’s work reminds me a bit of Paolo Bacigalupi - the settings are evocative, but often I would get turned off by the content and sometimes the plots were hard to follow.
Ancient Ancient - also a short story collection, also hit or miss, also dark. Some of the stories in this were really great, including one about a species that comes to Earth and seduces humans for nectar - others differed stylistically, and weren’t to my tastes.