There are a lot of books in the world that I know I should read because they will, theoretically, make me a better person. Not, like, self help books (although I’m sure some of those would be beneficial too…how do people ever save money?). Books that will teach me about parts of the world I’ll likely never see, in the first person, in the past or the present. Books that will broaden my empathy and understanding.
But I don’t want to read them because THEY’RE UPSETTING. And not in the way Gillian Flynn is upsetting. Upsetting in a way that stays with me for a long time after I finish reading them because they are about the real cruelties that humans regularly inflict on one another. And usually they show how both the perpetrators of violence and their victims are, in fact, victims of the same circumstances. And the whole world is to blame.
We’ll call that the introduction to my book club’s newest choice, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I haven’t finished it yet. I’m actually nowhere near finishing it… I’m on page 19 and I’m stalled. The book is about a woman of Haitian descent who goes with her husband and their baby to visit her parents in their upper-class home in Haiti and gets violently kidnapped while they’re on their way to the beach. And…that’s all I know because all that happens in the first 19 pages. Other than that all I know is that one of my friends from book club texted me “So the word “gun” was just used as a euphemism multiple times in this book and I’m now hoping it can’t possibly get much worse… Upon further reading, I’m not even sure it was a euphemism and that makes it so much more disturbing.” And although I have reasonably deduced what happened already, really, I just don’t want to read that.
I also felt this way about Half of a Yellow Sun (a wonderfully written book about the 1960s civil war in Nigeria that made me empathize with a rapist and then gradually grow to hate everyone on the entire planet and want to never go outside again). Every time they left their house I was like “Nooooo! Stay home! Stay safe!” And they never listened. And that was a long ass book to worry through.
This one too.
So I’ll let you know more when I finish it… So, in like a year probably.
Okay, so technically this book is called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage but…the adventures really aren’t that thrilling? So, we’re going with just Lovelace and Babbage because the book is still educational and interesting it’s just not, y’know, exciting.
In case you don’t know, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage theoretically invented computing – theoretically because they never actually made the Analytical Engine they wrote about. As such, that title still belongs to Alan Turing because he actually made the thing. But they did come up with the first ideas of a bunch of stuff that we still use today and that’s still pretty impressive for people who were alive in the 1800s. It’s worth noting that pretty much everything in the book after the first section that describes the (actual, depressing) historical events is historical fiction and therefore not real. I thought it was going to be like they were Batman and Robin solving crimes but it was actually just cartoonish accounts of interactions that mostly actually occurred with the addition of the Analytical Engine as though it had actually been built and used and Lovelace not dying super young.
So… THIS HAS THE MOST FOOTNOTES OF ANY COMIC I’VE EVER READ. (I’d really like to say it has the most footnotes of anything I’ve ever read at all, but alas I have read a David Foster Wallace.) Kind of an offputting number of footnotes, honestly. But about halfway through I decided to just read the comic like it was a comic and come back for the footnotes (and also the extensive endnotes) after I was done and that worked way better for me. Especially since the added notes mostly don’t pertain to any particular sentence or frame, they’re just letting you know that although there’s no way to verify that this scene occurred, they are definitely pretty close to actual historical events and people.
The art in this is so cool! I really kind of want to buy a second copy and use it like a coloring book (something I also still badly want to do with the Scott Pilgrim series…maybe I just love coloring books and black and white graphic novels really resemble coloring books but with cooler themes…).
An amalgam of all of Babbage’s famous party guests in one place
Also there are excellent historical figures! Ada Lovelace is pretty kickass – her dad was Byron and her mom was so worried that she’d be a philandering mess like him that she refused to let her daughter read any poetry or even abstract math concepts ’cause that’s like the poetry of math, I guess. And Charles Babbage sounds like a cantankerous weirdo and it’s delightful that the author of this book is clearly in love with both of them. And there’s a cast of secondary characters who are historical figures I knew almost nothing about before reading this book.
Lovelace and Babbage
In conclusion, this book is cool but only read it if you were looking for a history, math, or engineering lesson NOT if you were looking for people in capes fighting crime. ‘Cause then you might be a little disappointed at the lack of explosions.