Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This week's reading

I just finished, the other day, a totally fun book!  I like all sorts of history, have been a history buff since I was a kid.  One period I'm totally bonkers about is the 1920s and 1930s.  I also love stories, when they are well done, wherein historical figures are plunked down into fictional situations.

I just read Cosa Nosferatu:  Capone.  Ness.  Cthulhu.

You read that right.  Al Capone the gangster, Eliot Ness the prohibition agent -- and Cthulhu.

Well, the Ancient One himself only has a cameo appearance.  Mainly what we see are a couple of vampires, a bunch of Yig'goltha, and a few shoggoths.  But the mix of the world of prohibition and organized crime with the world of the Old Gods works.  It works because the author, E. J. Priz, did his homework.  All throughout the book, little historical facts about Eliot Ness and Al Capone are woven into the narrative, seamlessly.  And Priz also did his homework on the Cthulhu mythos; he knows his Lovecraft.

I told my daughter about this one, and she ordered a copy for herself.  She then turned me on to another book, Peter David's Artful.  This one does not involve historical characters, but literary ones.  Peter David says we should not bother with whiny little Oliver Twist, who spends a great deal of his time in the Dickens classic being weepy.  Look instead at the Artful Dodger, the young lieutenant to that weasly coach of juvenile delinquents, Fagin.

Fagin's a vampire.

The book shows the Artful Dodger's life after the events of Dickens's Oliver Twist.  I have only read the first chapter so far, and it had me laughing myself silly.  I know I'm going to enjoy this one.

And for my work, I'm reading The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork, by Ben Kafka.  He discusses what he sees as the birth of the modern bureaucratic state, and the nature and demands of paperwork.  This is a more general book than I read last week, Kathryn Burns's Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru.  Not sure where this one is going to lead me, as regards the work I'm doing on translating colonial Spanish notarial documents, but we shall see.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What I'm Reading this Week

I have a few books going this week, some for my work and some for leisure reading.

For my work, I'm reading Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru, by Kathryn Burns.  I am doing translations of petitions for permission to get married, filed in colonial Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, between the years 1784 and 1821.  The documents are notarial documents, written by the government notary as part of his duties to keep records of government transactions.  The Spanish, thank the deity, were anal retentive about keeping records of all sorts of events and transactions.

The problem is:  just how reliable are these documents?  How reliable were the notaries?  Spanish notaries in general apparently had pretty bad reputations, being skewered in the picaresque novels of the 16th century, right up until the beginning of the 19th.  So, Burns's work will give me a lens through which to view these St. Augustine notarial documents.

For leisure reading, I'm into a book I bought at the Clay County Library, on the sale books shelf.  It is Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine.  Even my leisure reading is often non-fiction, usually having to do with history.  This one is a corking good sea story.

The book is in two parts.  Part One tells the story of the creation and brief life of the submarine that probably inspired Jules Verne's fictional submarine the Nautilus, and which made naval history.  Unfortunately, it was a death trap.  It sank with all hands twice, and was raised and repaired each time.  In its final excursion, during which it embedded a torpedo in a Union ship's side and blew it up, ended with the little vessel being lost with all hands for over 100 years.

Part Two tells the story of the finding and recovery of the sub.  I have just finished Part One, so I haven't really got into Part Two yet.

Of course, I'm finding the leisure selection easier reading, but Into the Archive is well-written in clear prose, and the subject to me is fascinating.