Monday, May 31, 2010

Middle Sister's May Reads

Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz   Easy to read nonfiction book explores how dogs view the world, based on their physiology (what and how they smell, how they see, etc.). Interesting additional information for the well-informed owner, with not too much science for the average reader but enough detail for a dog lover with a greater interest than the average dog owner.

Mrs. Malory and Any Man's Death by Hazel Holt  Another cosy mystery set in rural England, where traditional ways of life are clashing with an influx of retired city-dwellers buying old farms and cottages. No gore, these are character studies that paint a detailed view of a small group of people in a small village, with a basic cast that reappears supplemented with additional people around whom the murder swirls.

Uneasy Relations by Aaron Elkins  My favorite archaeotrash series; well, anthrotrash, really, as the hero is a forensic anthropologist whose expertise is needed to solve present-day murders. This entry in the series is particularly relevant given this month's latest genetic information re: admixture between Neanderthals and modern humans. Easy reads, genial cast, little gore.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins  Classic mystery that is a delight from beginning to end. Very well-written, the narration by different characters may have been an unusual technique at the time. Mr. Betteredge and his Robinson Crusoe allusions, the Shivering Sand, and the Moonstone itself, a luminous gem that has inspired bloodshed for hundreds of years and thousands of miles--a great read for a holiday weekend.

The Blue Tattoo by Margot Mifflin  The latest biography of Olive Oatman, a young Mormon girl kidnapped by Yavapais who massacred her family in the 1850s in Arizona, and who became a celebrity after she was ransomed and returned to a white culture she no longer understood or, it appears, really wanted to return to. Mifflin paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman traditionally viewed as a victim who may have controlled her fate more than history recorded. Still, it's a sad story from beginning to end, and one can't help but hope Olive (or Ali as she was known to her adoptive Mohave family) was reunited with them in the afterlife, as her tattoo was designed to do. I saw Ms. Mifflin lecture about the book in January, already intrigued by the Oatman story, which is still well known here in the West.  The book was well written, with sufficient detail that doesn't bore the reader but supplies the context for the Oatman journey. Mifflin explicitly states how far the known facts can take us, and where the facts fall short in modern attempts to understand what really happened out in the desert. I was especially intrigued by Mifflin's argument that Oatman's captivity experience was a masculine one compared to those of other female captives of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. I would disagree only slightly, in that Olive's role during captivity probably did have a maternal element to it as she cared for her younger sister MaryAnn, who died only months before Olive's ransom. That more masculine experience, together with her ability to acculturate twice, did indeed make her captivity experience singular among other captives. 

Last month, I was hiking out along the Gila and climbed Oatman Mountain, located near the massacre site, and while the area is no longer the desolate desert wilderness it was 150 years ago, it retains enough of its remoteness to impress anyone who knows anything about the Oatman massacre and Olive's story.

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