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Books read, early July - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early July [Jul. 16th, 2013|04:32 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Saladin Ahmed, Engraved on the Eye. Kindle. Short story collection, some in the same world as Throne of the Crescent Moon and others not. The former are the collection’s better stories, I feel; too many of the latter are an idea without an arc.


Joan Aiken, Go Saddle the Sea. Kids’/YA Napoleonic adventure tale ranging from Spain to England. A quite competently executed example of its type, and sometimes swashing and buckling are exactly what’s called for.


Scott Carney, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers. This book was extremely short for something that was attempting to deal with all forms of commerce in human tissues (except, apparently, prostitution). It was, as expected, quite unsettling, but in some ways having the topics jumbled up together made some seem less horrific just by contrast. I expect that each of the chapters would probably have been more effective as an essay, given its own mental space.


Tina Connolly, Copperhead. Discussed elsewhere.


Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her. More Junot stories. I think the general improvement here over Drown is even clearer because they’re similar kinds of story, but Diaz is a more mature writer now.


Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom. I am pretty uncomfortable with this book. There’s the whole “strangest man” conceit, which looked more and more dubious the further I read. Either Graham Farmelo is not a very good writer, or P.A.M. Dirac was…not that strange really. If I got together the strangest twenty people I know personally, from this account it looks like Dirac would be less strange than all of them. As I read on, it was looking more and more like Dirac was someone who had some high functioning atypicality in his neurological makeup and possibly some mental illness issues from his family. (Nature, nurture, the Diracs had it all.) I am really uncomfortable with armchair diagnoses in retrospect, but I’m even more uncomfortable with a default What A Weirdo narrative when, really, not so much. And then I got to the end of the book, and one of the last chapters was a badly researched chapter on autism that perpetuated several stereotypes about autism and autistic people. SIGH. Add to that the general dryness of the style and approach, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one.


Rudyard Kipling, Maugham’s Choice of Kipling’s Best. Grandpa’s. An odd assortment for an odd reason: Somerset Maugham wrote the introduction to talk about what he picked and why and what he felt Kipling’s flaws were. And, the times and Maugham being what they were, it did not occur to him that Kipling literally calling the entire continent of Asia a whore for no particularly well-laid-out reason but pithiness might be considered a flaw. No, literally. He called…yeah. It was…a thing. Kipling has that authoritative voice that’s so easy to read, and some of these stories were great fun, but some of them also highlighted why the authoritative voice is not an unmixed blessing.


Louis L’Amour, Hondo. Grandpa’s. I run into a lot of discussion of romance novels and what non-romance-labeled things are “actually” romances or “near” romances or inspired by or deal with similar issues. And for some reason–possibly the decline of the Western as a genre?–hardly anybody is talking about Westerns as essentially romances that were acceptable for men of their time. It’s striking, though, how much the basic plot of a Western is similar–and the sensory focus, albeit through a different stylistic lens. Not my thing, not going to be my thing, but interesting to look at.


Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Saltation. The thing that really makes me role my eyes about the Liaden books is how much they tend towards a model of the One True Excellent Person and everyone else being either bland background or not structurally on the same level (teachers/mentors/etc.). The OTEP story can be fun to read about, but in this case it felt very much like filler, because the OTEP didn’t run into things that were genuinely challenging and definitely didn’t grow in her interpersonal behavior. I like a popcorn space opera from time to time, but this is not my favorite example of the sub-genre.


Val McDermid, Trick of the Dark. This was in some ways a lovely and twisty mystery novel. I enjoyed it greatly. It bafflingly lacked one word, however, and that word was “bisexual.” When you’re dealing with women who have been romantically involved with men…and now are involved with other women and are dealing with coming-out issues with friends/family…wouldn’t you think this would at least be an option to be discussed? Maybe? Even if it was only to say, “No, it turns out I’m not bisexual, but I see why you might have thought so under the circumstances”? But no one in this book appears to have heard of bisexuality. Very strange. (And before anyone asks, it was published in 2010, which is well after a random reader would have heard of the concept, much less an out lesbian like McDermid.)


E. C. Myers, Fair Coin. I found this compulsively readable. It was not always enjoyable, but it dragged me headlong through when I intended to only read a chapter or two, and I really respect the things it was doing with “wishes” and personal autonomy–that we make the decisions we make in part because of who we are, and some of those decisions cannot be fundamentally altered without fundamentally altering the person not only after but before the decision is made. That was very, very well done. I’m eager to see what Myers does next.


Roger Parker, The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera. By which we mean Western opera, apparently; from reading this you’d never know that the Chinese had opera. It managed to educate me more generally about the evolution of opera in Europe (and a bit in North America, but mostly Europe) without telling me even a single one of the things I wanted to know going in. There were some interesting tidbits that made up at least some of the lack, but in general–meh. Meh, I say!


Tim Parks, Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth Century Florence. This is a light, fluffy, fast read. If you’re looking for something deep and chewy about the evolution of Italian banking, this was not it. On the other hand, it’s got fairly good personality sketches of several key early-mid Medicis.


Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. What a lovely book. You know that depth of texture and style that often goes with a wandering plotlessness? Samatar has managed to wed it to a spirally unfolding plot in ways that don’t cut down on the texture. There is foreign travel and being the titular stranger, but the travel does not become random travelogue structure. And the ways of the gods and the dead in this set of foreign-to-the-protagonist places are very interesting indeed. I can see why this made Jo’s list of exciting fantasy novels from the last decade; I will definitely want more of Samatar’s work when more is available.


Janni Lee Simner, Faerie After. A fitting conclusion to the series. I think it would stand all right alone, but a lot of the emotional weight of the series comes from already knowing the people and what they’re up to; I’d recommend starting at the beginning. I particularly liked the handling of the stone hand, in case that’s as intriguing to anyone else as it would be to me.


Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman. The title should not lure you into thinking that this is an upbeat and cheerful Swedish mystery novel, for lo, it is not. There’s a reason we have a serving size on these things.


P.G. Wodehouse, Tales of St. Austin’s. Kindle. I was looking for something short and light to read when I was feeling ill, and these are so much The Sort Of Thing He Does that I did not fully remember that I’d read it before until I was halfway through. Which is in some ways fine–still served its purpose–but in some ways underscores how much this is not a life-changing classic. Well. Not everything has to be.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: athenais
2013-07-16 11:27 pm (UTC)
Are there any upbeat and cheerful Swedish mystery novels? Because then they wouldn't really be Swedish, is what I'm thinking.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-17 12:01 am (UTC)
So far I have only encountered cheerful Swedish novels in the form of historical novels. And not even all of those.
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[User Picture]From: athenais
2013-07-17 02:29 am (UTC)
Yes, history cheers them up.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-17 02:31 am (UTC)
Mostly the part of history that includes bashing things with swords and axes and then dashing off in a boat.

I sympathize: that part of history also cheers me up no end.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-17 12:11 am (UTC)
That was what made me uneasy. It seemed like such a natural point that I was a little afraid that it might be political, and I really did not want that.
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[User Picture]From: areallifekethry
2013-07-17 06:51 am (UTC)
I've run into it too. It kind of weirds me out, because I never knew about the politics until four years after I came out. It's common enough though, and there has been some antagonism between lesbians and bisexual women. *sighs* One time I interviewed a professor (who happened to be a lesbian) about Stonewall and she made a comment about internal conflict in LGBT circles. I mentioned, oh yeah, I'm bi, and then she sort of paused, and said I guess there's a bit of that in the room too. It was kind of shocking to me that a professor (at Augsburg) would say that.
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[User Picture]From: sprrwhwk
2013-07-17 12:44 am (UTC)
Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, [...] I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one.

Sadness. Paul Dirac has long been one of my heroes, I think due to Heinlein's essay on him, but I know practically nothing about the man.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-07-17 05:16 am (UTC)
Is there a reasonably succinct list of just what you were looking for about opera?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-17 10:55 am (UTC)
We can do succinct but not complete. I was interested in the development of makeup/costuming/staging, the evolution of particular vocal styles in some musical detail, the musical effects of changing opera house architecture, and comparison/contrast between Western and Chinese opera (and ideally with any other parallel development of similar art form that we have the data about in any detail).
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-07-18 05:17 am (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2013-07-17 01:25 pm (UTC)
The Samatar sounds great.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2013-07-24 03:13 am (UTC)
Glad you're enjoying the Aiken. I've been eyeing those books for a re-read because I have a little context for them now!

I think Kipling is a great and seductive writer. And there are totally lots of problems with him. I also predict a resurgence of interest/popularity in him due to our own age of empires here in the US.

And Maugham... I've been meaning to tell you for weeks that Netflix has several films based on his short stories: Quartet and Encore. I liked them so much I'm trying to track down his television series now. I've always been indifferent to him as a writer (if not downright pissed off). But then I saw the 1946 Razor's Edge and it was fantastic. Unlike the book, which kind of sneers at anyone who would stay home and not search for enlightenment (especially the ladies), it presents each of the characters as being on a different kind of path with the pleasures and pitfalls of each and how the protagonist is finally able to see what is holy about those other people... even when they don't share the same path.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2013-07-24 03:14 am (UTC)
That being said, Captain's Courageous, while it has a ripping plot and would make a great film, has the some of the worst dialect writing I have ever encountered.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-24 01:15 pm (UTC)
I adore Captains Courageous, but yes.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-07-24 01:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, interesting! I will put that on the list. Thank you!
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