Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: non-fiction

Dead Mountain

As mentioned in a previous post, I am (perhaps weirdly) fascinated by mountaineering books and the disasters that often accompany them. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar falls firmly into that category. It is an account of a mystery that leads to the death of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains.

In 1959, nine university students – all of them experienced hikers – set out on a trip that was supposed to earn them the next hiking grade. The group surrounding Igor Dyatlov died under circumstances that still lead to confusions decades later. The bodies of the hikers were found outside their tent, all of them without shoes and proper clothing. Their tent was cut open from the inside, giving the impression that all of them fled into the night in a panic. While most of them died from spending the pitch-black night in freezing temperatures, violent injuries were found on some of the bodies.

In his book Eichar tries to find a plausible explanation for the events on the titular Dead Mountain that does not involve conspiracy theories. In 1959, the investigation was wrapped up with the explanation that the hikers left their tent because of an “unknown compelling force”, after all. We are talking about Soviet cover-ups, rocket launches, strange lights in the sky and radiation readings. A big part of my fascination with this book was caused by the photographs reproduced from the hiker’s cameras, supported by translations of their journal entries. This made following their story almost a personal matter.

I was very satisfied with the (scientific) conclusion Eichar provides in the end, although probably only one of the hikers could have told us what really happened that night.

Wordslut

Wordslut. A feminist guide to taking back the English language by Amanda Montell, published 28 May 2019.

I was made aware of this sociolinguistic book by a friend, who knows that I like to learn about words, their origins, their (current) usage – in short, that I am a hedge-linguist and a wordslut. Said friend and I then did a buddy listen of the book; we both listened to the audiobook and had a Zoom meeting to talk about it. We both liked the narration by the author herself, she is snarky and has a lot of serious things to say about the English language.

Montell talks about how words lost their original meanings and how, instead of being all encompassing or empowering, they are now used against women and marginalised groups, to keep women from power; how gendered insults, like calling someone a ‘sissy’, work and should be overcome; why women should curse more, in which situations women curse and whether we need gender specific curse words – does ‘clitfuck’ work? Apart from concentrating on vocabulary alone, there is also information about grammar, for example how gender neutral pronouns work in other languages and how they might work in English. An entire chapter is dedicated to specific pronunciation and the voice women use when talking, how women can sound more authoritative and whether women should embrace phenomenons like vocal fry and up-talk.

Some of the topics stuck more with me, like the gendered insults, gossiping, women’s voice/pronunciation patterns. Some I hardly remember what Montell was talking about, gay language for example. I am not certain why, I know I listened to this chapter attentively, but my brain might have filed it under “that must be a US thing”.

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about how language is used against women, how women themselves struggle with coming to terms with language, and people fighting for the equality of all people – no matter what assigned gender at birth, skin colour, or cultural background.

4/5 Goodreads stars

More Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World by Elena Favilli. Pub Date: 13 Oct 2020

I was invited to review an early copy of the third instalment of the bestselling Good Night Stories series. This time the stories and illustrations concentrate on women who emigrated from their country of birth. Among those 100 women are very well known names such as Rihanna or Madeleine Albright.

Personally, I enjoyed the stories of less well-known-to-me women like Lupe Gonzalo (Migrant Farmer and Labour Organiser from Guatemala), or football referee Jawahir Jewels Roble (from Somalia) far more than the stories of Diane von Fürstenberg or Gloria Estefan.

The outstanding illustrations in this book were made by 70 artists identifying as women from all over the world. A list of all the names is included in the back of the book.

An empowering read that shouldn’t be missing on any shelf.

Another View at Victorian Asylums

I was recently able to read an ARC on Life in the Victorian Asylum by Mark Stevens. When I think about asylum in the Victorian age, I always see rather gruesome pictures in my head, and countless horrors come to mind. This book casts a rather different light on asylums and mental health care in the Victorian age. The author, Mark Stevens, is a professional archivist working with asylum records.

This book consists mostly of a “Welcome Guide”, written as if the reader themselves were admitted to an asylum. The details in this book are many, and they make, to be honest, for a rather dull read. As you would expect from a welcome guide. The last 20% or so of the book are about the development of asylums until today.

Personally, I feel the author should have changed his choice of words, referring only inside the “guide” to the asylum patients as “lunatics”. It feels a very insensitive in the second part of the book.

I actually was surprised by the description of life in an asylum. There is a huge difference to the depiction in today’s media. I am intrigued to research more about the topic, where do the horror stories originate? Surely the actual asylums were partly very good institutions, and in part very bad, and most somewhere in between. The author does not claim to be debunking myths. It was an interesting read though, if incredibly dull to get through. The insensitivity depicted by the author causes another star to be deleted.

2/5 Goodreads stars.

Proud to be a Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is one of those books that pops up on every ‘feminist books you need to read’ list. I’ve read and loved Hunger and An Untamed State, so I was familiar with some of her background story and her gut-punching writing style.

While circling through different topics, this essay collection opens and closes with pieces on what it means to be a ‘Bad Feminist’ and I whole-heartedly agree with them. Gay’s bottom line in her last essay is this: ‘I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all’, summarizing my thoughts on the matter exactly. There are so many inaccurate myths about feminism that do not offer enough room for all the contradictions day-to-day life presents. Just because I identify as a feminist does not mean I can’t listen to bad rap lyrics or that I have to stop shaving immediately.

This essay collection covers more topics than I would have expected and I especially appreciated the section about race & entertainment. I remember enjoying Kathryn Stockett’s The Help a lot, but Gay’s essay about it really made me wonder if my brain was even turned on back when I read the book. Everyone of us needs more eye-opening moments like that.

Also, if you ever wanted to know something about the hidden depths of competitive scrabble, this collection has something for you.

This was only a 4/5 star read because I missed out on some of the political or pop culture references, but that might be different for readers from the US.

Tea? Scones? Victoria Sponge?

The Official Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook with a foreword by Gareth Neame, publishing date July 07th, 2020.

Battenberg Cake p.56

It was a delight to browse through this review copy. It’s full of wonderful pictures and quotes from the TV series Downton Abbey, mouthwatering pictures of delicacies and recipes, and lots of information about the British Afternoon Tea. Like, what to wear, which blend of tea to drink, which culinary delights to offer for which sort of afternoon tea event, and which tea service to use.

5/5 Goodreads stars

Sketching Super-Cute Doodle Scenes with Pic Candle

Kawaii Doodle World. Sketching Super-Cute Doodle Scenes with Cuddly Characters, Fun Decorations, Whimsical Patterns, and More by Pic Candle, Zainab Khan, publisher Quarto Publishing Group – Rock Point, publishing date: August 18th, 2020.

Pic Candle is a household name in my family, we’ve been following the YouTube videos of tiny cute drawings for felt ages. When I was approved for this ARC, I read it at once. Though, can you really read a book that shows you how to draw little mushrooms and stars and cactus and flowerpots?

You will learn how to draw the Pic Candle iconic doodles with pictured step-by-step instructions on how to draw a single cute doodle, as well as fill a whole page with cute clouds or donuts or office supplies.

Of course, I got itchy fingers and had to try to sketch a few cute doodles. Here’s what I came up with on a piece of scrap paper.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Colourful Fun Embroidery

By Clare Albans, publisher Pen&Sword, publishing date: August 20th, 2020.

Clare Albans promises 24 fun projects, suitable for beginners and experienced crafters; some that can be finished in one afternoon, others might take a little longer. That is exactly what you get with this book.

Each design includes detailed step-by-step instructions, not to mention that the book offers a section on the basic steps, embroidery stitches and material needed to finish these projects.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Plunging headfirst into a snow drift

When I saw Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer at my library’s book flea market, I didn’t know anything about climbing, mountaineering or the sheer madness that is a Mount Everest attempt. My decision to pick it up was based only on the fact that I was headed for a skiing trip, the book cost only 1€ and had a mountain on the cover. Nonfiction was not something I gravitated toward. Once we got settled I picked it up, and spent the next couple of evenings alternating between reading it and weirding everyone out with details about Everest expeditions. From the comfort and warmth of my hotel bed, I was hooked. I knew I would never do something as extreme in my whole life, but I thoroughly enjoyed the danger seeping from every page. Give me all the carabiners, crampons and frostbitten details, thank you very much.

Although I may not get to them in the foreseeable future, I fell down the rabbit hole looking for books that may scratch the same itch. An obvious choice was Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams, a collection of essay about his own (ice) climbing trips and the mountaineering community at large.

These are some of the books I found:

  • The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev (Everest)
  • Left for Dead by Beck Weathers (Everest)
  • Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar (Ural Mountains)
  • Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (Peruvian Andes)
  • Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman (K2)
  • Annapurna by Maurice Herzog

I’m especially interested in the first two books, as they recount the same ascent as Krakauer did with Into Thin Air, but from different or even opposing perspectives. Krakauer presents Boukreev as overly ambitous and egoistic, putting himself first instead of saving other people. This struck me as a highly subjective opinion, so I’m curious to read Boukreev’s perspective as well in The Climb.

In Into Thin Air Krakauer describes how Beck Weathers was left behind in a storm that killed five climbers that day. He was believed to be dying from hypothermia and therefore to be beyond rescue. Leaving him behind was a tough but rational decision. I vividly remember the description of Weathers stumbling back into camp against all odds, a man seemingly made of ice. Left for Dead will no doubt be a fascinating read, recounting Weather’s fight back to life in his own words.

New World Sourdough

New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford, published by Quarry Books on 16 June 2020.

There are books that make my knees weak, New World Sourdough is one of them. Why? Well, it’s about baking. To be precise, it’s about baking bread. If you thought that the Romance or Sci-Fi aisle in the bookshop would turn me into a roaring book dragon, you should see this Harpy Eagle in the baking section. I love cookbooks, mais j’adore les livres pâtisserie.

Bryan Ford’s goal is to make baking bread more natural, to enjoy the process of creating your own loafs as well as the flavours of the finished product. He takes you through the steps of preparing your sourdough starter, proofing and baking your bread. Each recipe that follows the basic instructions part is explained in detailed steps, including how to prepare the starter for this specific bread.

There are recipes for rustic breads like Olive and Parmesan Bread and Ciabatta and Pretzel Buns and Pizza Dough; and recipes for enriched breads like Pan de Coco and Brioche and Bananas Foster and Pineapple Beignets, and so many more recipes in between those mentioned here.

Before I am salivating into the keyboard, I’m going to close this now. Let me just tell you, I ordered a copy of the book when I was about halfway through the proofing your bread section, which means I hadn’t even read the actual recipes yet. The book is in high demand at the moment, but that means I’ll get a freshly printed copy in a few weeks, which I intend to break in by making the flambé version of the Bananas Foster.

5/5 Goodreads stars

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