Honestly, there really is no shortage of bad material out there. I’ve gotten better at spotting the authors who are just shopping around some kooky pet theory (thanks for that literary life lesson, Debt), but sometimes it’s tough to tell how bad something is going to be until you crack it open and start reading. Here are the epic fails of the last six months.
Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond by Geoff Childs
- Made it 15% through the text. Still know less than nothing about Tibet, alas.
This book is Childs’ love letter to the science of anthropology, with Tibet as a backdrop to his ego massage. Seriously, he did tell us one or two things about Tibet in the process, but mostly this work invites the reader to worship at the altar of anthropology, Dr. Childs’ chosen discipline, for which he holds himself as a paragon of its virtues. I suspect there is some content in there about Tibet, in which case he was probably just getting rolling when I bailed out. The “Prologue” in which the author outlines for our consideration as we read further (optimistic, in my case) the sort of thing any college freshman who turns up at his lectures can put together: culture v. autonomy and individualism, influences of gender and age, et cetera. Maybe I should look for a travelogue instead. Childs’ book was the most significant disappointment of the past six months.
I’d still like to learn something about this region, so reading suggestions are welcome in the Comments.
Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America by Rocky Barter
- Made it through 38%. Should have bagged it sooner.
As a teenager, I vacationed with my family in Yellowstone just before the North Fork fire got serious in 1988. The park made a deep impression on me, a privileged adolescent girl who had equated vacations with a condo at the beach, and changed the way I thought about some things. Recently, my family and I returned to Yellowstone to find a much different park than I remembered – beautiful, but still scarred in some places by the fires. Consequently, this summer seemed like the time to read some good history about what happened there in 1988.
My main problem with Barter’s book is that it is positioned to the reader as a history of the 1988 fires, but the author would have you slog through what reads like a big research dump before you get to anything in the mid- to late-twentieth century. I skimmed through numerous pages of content about, for example, General Sheridan’s military career in the Civil War as background – details about battles and so forth – before we got back to his relationship to the park in the later part of the nineteenth century. Barter still hadn’t arrived at 1988 when I gave up at 38%.
As a caveat, I should add that this book gets glowing reviews on Amazon by people who have an interest in firefighting generally. Because my own interest is narrower, perhaps I have not been as patient with the book as I might otherwise have been. However, life is still too short to read a book that isn’t giving you what you want, so I dumped it.
Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832 by Antonia Fraser
- Slogged through 9%.
Basically, I gave up on this one when I realized that I am not Fraser’s intended audience. She has done her research and knows her topic, but as an American, I need the remedial explanation of how Parliament works. I get the House of Lords/House of Commons thing, but that’s where the wheels fall off. I also can’t claim a solid grasp on the political landscape of the nineteenth-century British Empire, and why Manchester of the time was different from Birmingham (she does eventually get to that, to be fair, but she had lost my attention by that point). Consequently, a lot of her material just shot right over my head. Embarrassing for a self-described Anglophile, but there you are.
Furthermore, at the 9% mark, Fraser was still introducing principal players in the 1832 drama of her focus, and that meant jumping around a bit in the timeline, which is also confusing. Her writing style is very entertaining, however, if you can keep up with the assumptions she makes about what you already know about British history.
Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice by Marjorie Shaffer
- Squeaked up to the 29% mark in my ereader.
This is a book I really wanted to like, so my apologies to Shaffer. She has plainly done her homework and knows her topic. Unfortunately, the dense prose proved (forgive me) too bland. Much of what I read covered which Europeans were sailing to which islands in the Pacific to trade whatever. I wish I could claim that it didn’t start to all run together for me, but Shaffer’s style had too much of a textbook tone to hold my attention.