This of you who know me well, know that I love to read...a lot. And I read a lot of non-fiction (which the English teachers at school always give me grief for).
Most recently I finished Jon Latimer's "1812: War with America", which I mostly enjoyed despite it being a relatively dense book. Essentially, it is an overview of the entire war, told from the British perspective. It provides a lot of context for understanding the United States' interest in Canada, how war in Europe affected Britain's approach the conflict, and how the war led to a great sense of anglophobia in the states that lasted until WWII. Overall, it was well researched and documented, but my biggest problem with it is that the writing feels inconsistent. I feel like the first half of the book was very thorough in discussing politics, economics, and battles themselves, but it shifts gears to be more rushed about half way through. And even though I have read about 1812 before, it was still difficult for me to keep up with some of the officers and units engaged in the conflict. Generally, I would say that it is a good read for anyone interested in the topic and wants to start with a general overview of the war, Even though it is written from a British perspective, it is not overtly biased in its discussion.
I also recently finished the Winter 2015 edition of "Artenol" magazine. It was just okay for me. The first issue of "Artenol" was thrilling for me because it was well written, revolved around a general theme, and posed some excellent questions about the current state of art. This issue I felt was a little disconnected even though I could see the thought process in the organization of this issue. I also thought that some of the writing came across as being a little pretentious. The first article 'HeArt Music' was, I thought, about the re-emergence of vinyl in the music industry, but after reading it, it was more about author Michael Simmons relationship with the music industry. It came across as whiny and derogatory towards the change in formats music had undergone since the 1960s (although Simmons does redemptively say that he may suffer from "First Love Phenomenon", or feeling fondly about experiences from his youth). That's all well and good, but the overall tone of the article turned me off to the issue almost immediately.
Perhaps my favorite article in this issue was 'Art to Die For', about how art essentially bought the freedom of Richard Matt and David Sweat: the two convicted murderers that escaped from a correctional facility in upstate New York for three weeks last June. What was the most interesting about the article was not its explanation of how both men used art to buy support from prison guards and other personnel, but the questions it posed about the power of representation. The author, Rowling Dord was quick to point out that outside of prison, the skills of both inmates would not be considered anything special, but the fact that the work was representational (portraits of celebrities, politicians, etc. in the case of Matt) and that a certain value is placed representational art based on the degree to which the depiction succeeds.
I also really enjoyed the story 'Panpoons' about a cat that learns to talk at the expense of his owner's ability to speak. It brings up good points about the ethics of language and evolutionary interests. Generally I would say pick it up if you have a vested interest in the magazine, but otherwise, I might just skip this issue.