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Books read, late April. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, late April. [May. 2nd, 2013|10:06 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Holy crud did I stop reading a lot of books in the last fortnight. Library books mostly, a few Kindle...it looks like I read a lot, and I did. (This is one of those times where you can judge that it was a fortnight with several not-feeling-good days of various kinds, based on the amount I was reading.) But I declined to read even more. Oof.

Orson Scott Card and Edmund R. Schubert, eds., The Intergalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology Vol. 1. Kindle. There were several very solid stories in this as well as some I skipped completely. I am a very very tough sell on zombies at this point (SO TIRED OF ZOMBIES PLEASE STOP), but there weren't that many zombies in this, and I ended up enjoying stories by Peter Beagle, Marie Brennan, Aliette de Bodard, Eugie Foster, and Alethea Kontis particularly. You see that this is a longer list than my usual shout-outs, so...good then.

C.J. Chivers, The Gun. A history of the AK-47 and related weaponry. Interesting and appalling, particularly if you have or had any friends or relations who fought in Vietnam with a gun that did not work aaaaaagh sorry I just aaaaaaagh. There is the kind of appalling that is about child soldiers, and this book has that. Then there is the kind of appalling when people do not field test a weapon they are giving to thousands of drafted citizens of a democracy aaaaaaaagh. Anyway, interesting stuff, worth knowing, completely appalling.

Colin Cotterill, The Woman Who Wouldn't Die. The latest Dr. Siri mystery, and better than several of the others, I feel. It also opens up possibilities for how later volumes will go, and I find it interesting when I can watch series writers doing that, or closing them off. (I prefer the opening-up ones.) While I would not recommend reading this one first, I don't think you actually have to read all the previous volumes for it to work and make sense, so if you've fallen behind, you can just grab it no problem.

T.H. Huxley, Yeast. Kindle. I keep reading bits of Huxley speeches for the purposes of having a Huxleyesque character later. This was pretty short, and a good thing, too, because it taught me zero things about yeasts and a great deal about Huxley's approach to public speaking.

E.L. Konigsburg, The View from Saturday. I love From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Love it. I had rhapsodies of the Children's Book Tour of New York when we were there, swooning through the Metropolitan Museum of Art muttering about Claudia. markgritter and timprov were very patient with me. But somehow despite that and despite having been a quiz bowl champion myself as an adolescent, I had never read The View from Saturday. It's the story of how a nominal team became an actual team, and of how their lives contributed to their body of knowledge more interestingly than drilling on factoids would. It's a much more down-to-earth book than From the Mixed-Up Files, and I don't think it would have been my favorite of hers even if I'd read it sooner. But it was still a fun children's book of its type, and I'm glad I read it.

John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English. A brief layman-friendly account of why and how English grammar got to be different from the grammars of other Germanic languages. You know how sometimes when you're reading a thing and the author of the thing starts refuting his opponents? and you look at it and think, "I hope he is being unfair to those opponents, because seriously, who would ever believe their position as stated?" There's a lot of that here, only I don't think he is being unfair, alas. Sometimes the other guy really is Just That Wrong.

John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice. He could have called this The Doges and Who They Were Fighting, and it would have been pretty accurate. Talking to timprov, I listed off five or six topics I would want covered in a history of Venice, and Norwich hits one of them. One. And it's pretty far down the list, too, beneath the development of Venetian glass and like that. (Dalmatian wars. In case you were wondering.) It just makes me sad for people who learned to be historians under the kings-and-battles theory of history, because it's very useful to know who was doge and who they were fighting, but mostly as background for things that are way more interesting. On the other hand, Norwich is very much the gossip columnist of the Mediterranean Middle Ages for me, and he was reliably that. If the Pope was reputed to have said something snotty to the Holy Roman Emperor, you can bet that Norwich will tell you what it was.

Ellis Peters, City of Gold and Shadows. This is the last one the library has of the Inspector Felse series, and it's too bad; I am running short of mystery series for when I'm in the mood for that. It's not particularly outstanding, though; this series varies extremely as to how strong a role ongoing supporting characters will be, which means that some installments will be short on the ones I particularly like. Well, no matter; it was brief and entertaining enough.

Daniel Pinkwater, Fish Whistle: Little Short Essays. Kindle. The main effect of this was that I wanted to make Daniel Pinkwater's father soup. He's dead now, so it wouldn't do much good, and anyway soup for the writer's father is less common than, say, fan letters. Would be regarded with suspicion. Still and all, the elder Mr. Pinkwater: he seems from these essays like the sort of guy you could make soup. Okay, okay, I will try to be more useful than that: these are, as the title says very little and short indeed. They're the written form of Pinkwater's NPR commentary. Often entertaining, and if you run into one you don't really like, there'll be another in a page or two. And they have the essential Pinkwaterian quality.

Arthur Ransome, Old Peter's Russian Tales. Kindle. I was passionately dedicated to Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books for a very intense period of my childhood, and I'm still pretty fond of them now. The other things Ransome wrote--and the twelfth volume, which I now have--were perpetually out of reach, listed in the front of the books I had but not things I could find anywhere. Until now. I read Ransome's account of being an Englishman in Russia just after the Russian Revolution, and that was a fascinating thing to connect up with the children's author I'd loved. This book is the middle piece between those two. They're a fairly standard folk/fairy tale style of telling for their era, reasonably engaging and probably a great deal more unusual to their intended audience than to me.

Alistair Reynolds, Deep Navigation. Short stories, on average not my favorite of his collections. Not the place to start with Reynolds, and if you've already started with Reynolds, you'll know whether he's your sort of thing more generally or not.

Greg Rucka, Critical Space. Fairly graphic thriller wherein the hero, Atticus Kodiak (yes really) learns the skills of a professional assassin on top of his previous bodyguard skills. Rucka is pretty much my favorite thriller writer out there unless someone can think of who I'm missing, but...the pacing and balance of this one are really deeply bizarre.

John Ruskin, The King of the Golden River. Kindle. If you said to yourself, "I wonder what a very deliberately written Victorian fairy tale would be like," what you would come up with would probably be much like this.

David J. Schwartz (snurri), Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib (episode 4). Kindle. That thing I said about waiting for it to pile up: I am apparently bad at that. (Well, see, I had to get a new Kindle! And then I had to make sure things were working properly about syncing with the general account and putting me in the right place in the serial! I got lured!) And we were back to more community collegey stuff in this episode, and I am happy about that.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. Mystery novel set in the late '60s in Sweden and Hungary. Oh, the Dacron. It is mentioned by name, the Dacron. This is so very much a product of its time. Occasionally I really want a mid-century non-American murder mystery, and here it was. Lo.

Trenton Lee Stewart, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. Prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society books. Less SF-tinged, more just kids' adventure story. However, there are once again several main characters with interesting health issues. I would say "disabilities," but this is a book that is very much about people's abilities regardless of what other people think. I continue to like this series but not to love it unreservedly. There's something about the tone that's very deliberate and a bit arm's length, I think. Still very good fun.

Ian Tregillis, Necessary Evil. Discussed elsewhere.

Mark Twain, On the Decay of the Art of Lying. Kindle. Twain Being Twain. Pretty hard to be any Twainer than this; you could watch him deliberately Being A Clever Cynic. Which has its appeal from time to time, just...not quite as much as I think he hoped, nor as much as when I was 15.

P. G. Wodehouse, A Damsel in Distress. Kindle. This is a perfectly reasonable place to start reading Wodehouse if you haven't. It doesn't have Bertie Wooster or Psmith or anybody in particular in it. It's nicely self-contained, and while it isn't as good as the best of the Wooster & Jeeves stories, it made me giggle in several spots. Like much (possibly all) Wodehouse it will want to be read with the "pre-contemporary attitudes about several important things" filter firmly in place, but still, if you're looking for this sort of thing it's a cromulent but not brilliant example of its type. And honestly sometimes I am looking for this sort of thing: it's fluffy and whiles away an afternoon when I am not feeling particularly good, and then if I need to put it down for awhile, nothing prevents me from doing so and picking it back up again. It's not like there is a particularly complex argument or plot twist I will have difficulty following.

Jane Yolen, Snow in Summer. The cover of this book baffles me. It's a pretty straightforward Snow White retelling--to the point where the climax and denouement can be rushed, because everyone knows what happens from that point on. The main thing that makes this version different is its setting: 1950ish West Virginia. So what does the cover look like? Fairy Tale Stereotype 101. If you squint reeeeeally hard, you can see a mine shaft, but with the dwarves that doesn't really signal West Virginia per se. Very confusing that that cover was chosen at all.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2013-05-03 03:13 am (UTC)
I've been poking away at the Venice book. What you said.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2013-05-03 03:52 am (UTC)
Soooo many digressions about Doge's Tombs.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2013-05-03 04:16 am (UTC)
SO TIRED OF ZOMBIES PLEASE STOP

I hear Paula Guran's forthcoming apocalypse anthology is zombie-free.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-05-03 01:36 pm (UTC)
GO PAULA.
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[User Picture]From: between4walls
2013-05-03 06:52 am (UTC)
Thanks for the Ransome tip- I knew the rough outline of his experiences in Russia but not, until your post, that he'd written about it and have just now read Six Weeks in Russia and The Crisis in Russia. Did he write anything about his experiences in 1917/18 per se that's available? The books are mostly about later on.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-05-03 01:36 pm (UTC)
I haven't found anything, but All Things Ransome seems like it would have that information if it's available anywhere.
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[User Picture]From: between4walls
2013-05-06 09:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2013-05-03 08:23 am (UTC)
perpetually out of reach, listed in the front of the books I had but not things I could find anywhere

Not just Ransome's but many many authors. But now it's, "Is it out in ebook yet?"

A twelveth S&A? What is its title?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-05-03 01:33 pm (UTC)
Great Northern? (Note: I am not uncertain of this title. The question mark is integral to the title.)
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2013-05-03 12:46 pm (UTC)
So if you are into Deliberate Victorian Fairytales you might try George MacDonald. More specifically: The Light Princess (about someone who has a lack of gravity aka seriousness/melancholy.) Or, his beloved Princess & the Goblin duad, which features a boy from the mines as its hero. They are dated, but unique. (Ugh, I forgot about At the Back of the North Wind which is inexplicable... kind of like Waterbabies.)

C.S. Lewis was a fan of MacDonald, which is probably why I read him. His romances were abridged and reprinted by a Christian press in my childhood and therefore allowed in the house (despite the fact that my parents would not have approved of his theology had they known about it.) Imagine 'Jane Eyre' kind of books with male protagonists set in rural Scotland. I remember liking Robert Falconer aka The Musicians Quest, though I suspect these books would read very differently to my adult self.

(I just realized that early exposure to MacDonald is probably why I feel at home with the 19C novel.)
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From: sheff_dogs
2013-05-03 01:16 pm (UTC)
Curdie!


Have you read any Margery Allingham? She started with straight forward classic crime, but her last has science fiction overtones. One of the reasons I love her is that while she starts in the classic Golden Age her regulars age and do things like going through WWII.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-05-03 01:36 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, George MacDonald! I was completely baffled by At the Back of the North Wind when I was small, but I persevered into the princess books.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2013-05-03 06:08 pm (UTC)
Waterbabies and the North Wind aren't inexplicable, they're just extremely Victorian-Christian--and then much becomes clear when you remember they're the kind of thing that were floating around when Tolkien and Lewis were young. Also they're not terribly good, IMO.

(That is an ugly sentence. I blame school-musical-fatigue.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-05-03 05:25 pm (UTC)
A Damsel in Distress would be fine for that purpose, but I would probably try Right Ho, Jeeves! unless you know for a fact that you cannot stand Jeeves & Wooster. They're free on Gutenberg, the school stories and Psmith and lots of random things, so you don't even have to go so far as the library if it starts snowing and you're looking for something silly to read.

One of the great things about doing book posts is that occasionally people get into oh-have-you-read mode, and then I get a bunch more books to read, or else I get to talk a bit more about the ones I have. In fact I have not read Medici Money.

I am trying to cultivate your faith in books showing up again. It is a perpetual anxiety of mine, that I will lose track of a book. I reassure myself by telling myself that for nonfiction, there's always the little bookshop in Stillwater, which is no good if you're looking for something and quite excellent if you're just looking.
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