Friday, February 24, 2017

Morning Coffee (2/24/17)

(I'm traveling, so I put this list together in advance. Back to real time on Thursday!)

Time for some happy Friday links!

My favorite headline of all time: Tom Hiddleston laughs off playing Eddie Redmayne’s elephant in school play

This is a very important investigation into the Finnish first dog: Finland Has a Very Good Boy

More important dogs of the world: Setting tails wagging: the costumed pups of the Rio dog carnival

!!! Here's Emma Watson Singing 'Belle,' Opening Song From Beauty And the Beast

Also: Emma Watson cried happy tears seeing Hermione's future in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (ME TOO, Emma Watson, me too.)

These are probably going to be gross but I will absolutely try them: It's Official: Peeps-Flavored Oreos Are Here

So cool: The Queen’s wedding cake saved by 3D printing

Let's go to this literary fashion exhibit: A Vanderbilt Library Comes to Life

Whoa: This Lego Booth Scans Your Face and Makes a Custom Kit So You Can Build Yourself Out of Legos

Next time I'm in Worcester I'll have to remember to go to Lois Lane.

These Miniature Dollhouses Are So Cute We Can Hardly Stand It

We Received a Press Release for Kid-Friendly Ecstasy for Children and I Need to Talk About It

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February Book Review: Cleopatra: A Life

I'd meant to read Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra since it came out and finally picked it up last week, when I thought some ancient history might give me a nice mental break from current events. Except it did not do that at all! Because in Cleopatra's world, the men who were actually dealing with her and those who were writing the histories both had a huge problem with smart, capable women being in power. Sound familiar? So they explained away her accomplishments and coded them very differently - if Caesar was strategic, Cleopatra was manipulative. And a lot of that reputation for seduction and perhaps sorcery? That came from her getting men to do what she wanted by outthinking them, but that couldn't possibly be the official story.

So, yeah, this only intensified my feminist rage. But it was worth it, because it's a fascinating read. I knew the basics of Cleopatra's story, of course, but I didn't know a lot of the details, and in most cases Schiff effectively provided enough historical context to make sense of Cleopatra's story while still keeping the book her story, rather than that of Caesar and Antony and the rest of the men around her. It did make me wish at times that I knew more about the Roman and Judean history of the time, to better understand the politics and battles, but that's my problem rather than the book's: I wouldn't have wanted Schiff to devote much more space to that. I did love the focus Schiff placed on illustrating how different writers - both Roman and later, including Shakespeare - portrayed Cleopatra in different ways because of their own biases and motivations.

A common problem with popular history books - and with books about historical women in particular - is that the actual historical record can be way too thin to put together a narrative. Some writers hypothesize too much without making clear what is conjecture, and on the other end of the spectrum some resort to transcribing extant shopping lists and other trivia without useful synthesizing them into the narrative. (And nothing makes me yell at a book more quickly than a claim of how an historical figure felt at a given moment. If there's no diary or letter to back that up, how do you know?) I thought Schiff did a really good job of threading the needle here: she produces a compelling narrative while making it incredibly clear when her sources conflict or may not be trustworthy, and when she's theorizing based on similar situations and norms of the time and culture.

This isn't a perfect book - the narrative format made things a bit unnecessarily confusing at times, throwing us into the middle of things and then backing up to provide the necessary information to make sense of them. And it really could have used a genealogical chart or twelve. But it was definitely worth reading, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to branch out a bit and get mad about historical political situations along with the current one.

(This review brought to you by my Patreon patrons! Come join in!)

Morning Coffee (2/21/17)

Huh: Marine Le Pen's Front National headquarters raided by police

Here's the start of a very important series on the survivors of Boko Haram: Education Is Forbidden

33 questions about Donald Trump and Russia

I can't believe we're reading about refugees fleeing America. Heartbreaking.

What President Trump gets wrong about immigrants and crime in Sweden

AWW: Chelsea Clinton Brings Her 2-Year-Old Daughter to Her First Protest

Hee: Some suggested answers to Donald Trump’s Mainstream Media Accountability Survey

If you want to know what's going on with the PewDiePie thing, this is a decent explainer.

Oh right, the Olympics are happening next year: South Korea's Olympian Winter Moment

The New York Times Claws Its Way Into the Future

'He said he could do what he wanted': the scandal that rocked Bikram yoga

The True History of the Gambia's Bizarre Origin Story

Friday, February 17, 2017

Morning Coffee (2/17/17)

I... I think we all need some Happy Friday links, right?

How the Cats of Istanbul Became Movie Stars

I totally would/will buy an Ashley Biden hoodie to benefit underserved communities.

I will probably also buy this Duchess Kate coloring book.

I kinda want this ALA Read poster from the Beauty and the Beast movie.

Speaking of libraries, I'm mad they didn't make us learn library hand in library school.

Ooh, the Isle of Man has neat new stamps for the Queen's Sapphire Jubilee.

The World's Tallest Sandcastle Has Been Completed in India

Hee: Jane Bennet's email inbox.

A Love Letter to London's Best Cheese-Soaked Potatoes (Why don't I have cheese-soaked potatoes RIGHT NOW???)

Gaze Upon the Presidents in Their Bathing Suits

Let's run off to Scotland and stay at the Queen Mother's castle.