Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quick Takes: Julia Peterkin, Kage Baker, Charles Wheelan

Scarlet Sister Mary, by Julia Peterkin: It has been a while, but Scarlet Sister Mary is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that I was able to finish. I felt the need to check on the author because the novel is set on a South Carolina plantation after the end of slavery and is told entirely from the perspective from the children of former slaves and I was surprised to learn that the author was white, but writing in the dialect of the former slaves and plantation workers. But, the author’s husband owned a post-Civil War plantation so I imagine Peterkin knew what she was writing about. The novel follows Mary, an initially young woman who marries perhaps the wrong brother, she gets pregnant, he leaves her, and over the course of decades we see her life in town, being accepted and shunned by the church, having a variety of children from a variety of men and just overall Mary’s experience. Scarlet Sister Mary is very readable and has a solid flow to the storytelling. I’m not sure it is better than anything else being published at the time and I can’t see it winning now, but I have struggled through the other Pulitzer winners from the 1920’s so I can’t complain too much. Interesting tidbit about the book is that the head of the Pulitzer board wanted another novel to win the Pulitzer for the Novel and resigned in protest when the rest of the board awarded Scarlet Sister Mary the Prize. Drama!

The Graveyard Game
, by Kage Baker: The first three Company novels were complete stories set in one location and time and told a story outside of the tidbits left about Company future history and the theories of the cyborgs. But at the end of the previous novel, Mendoza in Hollywood, the botanist Mendoza was exile more than a hundred thousand years into the past for the crime of murdering humans and perhaps also for being a Crome Generator (this will make sense if you read the novels). The Graveyard Game is the fourth Company novel and it features Joseph and Lewis over several centuries as they search for clues as to the whereabouts of Mendoza and of the other Company agents who have disappeared over the years and together (and apart) they discover startling information regarding the Company and about the Silence of 2355. The Graveyard Game is less a straight narrative as it is bits and pieces over the years and putting things together and just revealing more information about The Company as the previous three novels did combined. In a sense The Graveyard Game is like one of the mythology episodes from The X-Files. There is a lot of Company information packed into The Graveyard Game and while I think this hurts the novel as a “novel”, I was enthralled and wanted to learn more about The Company and The Silence and the conspiracies surrounding The Company. Kage Baker’s Company novels are fantastic and I can’t wait to read the first collection of Company stories Black Projects, White Knights.

Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan: So, we have a Pulitzer winner, some science fiction from Kage Baker, and...a book on economics. Charles Wheelan breaks economics down to its simplest concepts, does not use any charts or graphs, explains things in terms that anyone can understand, uses real world examples, and essentially makes economics interesting to me. Looking back there are still quite a few concepts I may have a difficult time remembering or grasping, but Naked Economics puts difficult concepts into plain language and should be used as a primer for anyone interested in the subject but does not want to get into the nuts and bolts. Someone who wants as simple an explanation that can be given will find it here.

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