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

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Books read, early January [Jan. 16th, 2014|09:25 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. This was a very hard book to read, just on an emotional level. But it was immensely well-done, and I recommend it highly if you can find the time and energy. The introduction is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of works of history, talking clearly about the linguistic efforts required but also–more importantly–spending more time on what other people in her field are doing well than on how Someone On the Internet Journal Of My Profession Is Wrong. So I now have a fairly extensive bibliography about this general cheerful subject. Heads up to those whose interests are a subset of the title: Applebaum’s main focus is in East Germany, Hungary, and Poland, although she does discuss the rest of the region, so if you’re really looking for something that will go into deep analysis on Albania or Yugoslavia, this is not the book. But it has all sorts of references for what would be the book.


Andrea Barrett, Archangel. Either a mosaic novel or a series of related short stories, about scientists/naturalists/inventors in late 19th/early 20th century America. Quite beautifully done, left me wanting more–a lot more. Sadly I think I have read everything she’s done that might be in this vein, so I will have to wait impatiently for whatever is next.


Peter Dickinson, Earth and Air. Dickinson and his wife Robin McKinley had put out two previous collections for Water and Fire, but apparently McKinley’s stories for this one kept growing into novels. I’m glad Dickinson just went ahead and published his–I liked the owl story particularly–but the introduction, when he was saying that he did not plan to stick around into his 90s, was a little alarming, and I’m afraid that’s the bit that stuck with me most. (“Plan” and “expect” are not the same verb.)


Zoe Ferraris, Finding Nouf. A mystery set in Saudi Arabia, in which a traditional religious young man ends up having to learn to work with a woman who is nowhere near as traditional, in order to solve a murder. It took me a bit to get into it, but I’m glad I did; I’ll want the others in the series.


James Gleick, Isaac Newton. A short bio that ranges into the bits of things we do know about Newton and the things we don’t, with side trips to explain the rest of his mental world as necessary. I think mostly of interest if you don’t have any idea about Isaac Newton and would like to–there were some tidbits that were new to me, but for the most part it was well-written review.


Tove Jansson, Moominsummer Madness. I do like Little My. And living in the theater during the flood! I’m almost sure this is a reread, but I don’t have any record of it. (I didn’t keep records of what I read when I was in the single digits.) I missed Thingummy and Bob in this one, but there are other Moomin books for other times.


Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, The Story of Spanish. Oh, these are so lovely. I could read them for as many languages as they were willing to write them. Not really speaking Spanish was no detriment to my enjoying the way they traced etymologies and grammatical developments. Nadeau and Barlow are Canadian, Quebecois, which gives them a very decentralized and democratic view of languages. While they cover “pure Castilian” as a cultural phenomenon, they are in no way likely to get sucked into thinking of it as “the one real true Spanish that should always be spoken,” and they go into interesting “here’s how they do it differently in this area and here’s why” tangents. Hurrah language.


Sarah Rees Brennan, Untold. Very much a sequel, so start with the first one in the series if you’re interested. Town of nasty (and some not so nasty) wizards, family dynamics, Veronica Mars inspiration, annnnnnngst. Just exactly the sort of thing you’d want when you want that sort of thing.


Dodie Smith, The New Moon with the Old and The Town in Bloom. Just lovely. The former is about a family that must learn to make do under straitened circumstances, and the things that they find to do with themselves are positive without necessarily being at all sex/gender traditional, which, given 1960s setting, is really refreshing. The latter is about some old friends who were involved with the theater, looking back at horrible and wonderful things that happened and how it’s all unfolded since, and it’s got some lovely same-sex living arrangements (not sexual arrangements, but dormitory style living for adults) pre-WWII that…you just don’t find that sort of thing in novels mostly. Dodie Smith is fun and interesting and–I don’t even want to say “subversive,” because she just comes out and says, “No, not that way, that way is dumb.” I am going to reread The One Hundred and One Dalmatians just to see what’s in it that I missed as a child.


Anne Ursu, The Real Boy. The word “autism” appears nowhere in this book, and yet it is a very strong portrait of a young autistic hero in his own cultural context. There is a swerve in the middle where I am afraid she is going to do something problematic, and then she doesn’t, and HURRAH. Anyway: herbs, magic, autistic boy figures stuff out and saves the day without doing an interpretive dance about autism and neurodiversity. There is teamwork between friends with different brain types. I liked this. Hurrah this.




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Comments:
[User Picture]From: wild_irises
2014-01-16 03:37 pm (UTC)
Why has it never occurred to me to read more Dodie Smith? I've even read a biography of Dodie Smith (which I enjoyed, but don't remember very well).
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-16 03:56 pm (UTC)
Ah, but have you read her autobiography? That's what I was clicking through to recommend. Though since it's in several volumes and various degrees of availability, it may be a hard sell.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-01-16 05:22 pm (UTC)
I have not read that, whether wild_irises has or not! The availability of more Dodie Smith has me bummed, but I will look for her stuff in bookstores like the one in Stillwater, the sort of bookstore that has zero John Grisham novels.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-16 08:42 pm (UTC)
Ah. My apologies, mrissa, I didn't mean to talk behind your back, and in your own LJ, too! In fact, I clicked through meaning to say very much the same thing to you, but realised that if I replied to you, wild_irises wouldn't see it, whereas if I replied to wild_irises, you would.

Nonetheless.

Anyway, yes, it's a long time since I read the autobiography, but my recollection is that the things you (and I) like about these novels are also present in the autobiography. And that there is a fair bit of autobiography in The Town in Bloom.

Also, Peter Dickinson...
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-01-16 08:48 pm (UTC)
No apologies needed!
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-01-17 09:57 am (UTC)
Oh, is there a bit of LJ etiquette I've been missing? I've always taken it as read that the journal owner will see/be included in all bits of conversation in comments to their posts.

Hello!, by the way - I've seen you around in comments but I don't think we've interacted before.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-01-17 02:18 pm (UTC)
For me there is the assumption that the journal owner will see the conversation, but if someone says, "have you read such-and-such?" in a comment, I will take it as mostly directed at the recipient of the comment, with other people able to chime in as in a live conversation.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-17 06:48 pm (UTC)
Hello, Sam. Whar a lovely icon!

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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-01-20 09:53 am (UTC)
Thank you! Nishimura's 'Cranes over Moon', made into an icon by minstrelofdeath. Is that a dandelion clock in yours? I thought it was, but looking closely I can't tell whether it's that or a flower with not enough detail to show the petals.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-20 11:20 am (UTC)
Right first time, it's a dandelion clock.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-01-16 05:21 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. Read more Dodie Smith, you personally, yes. I don't guarantee that you will love everything, but it seems like a good set of things for you to try.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-01-17 02:17 pm (UTC)
I noticed that very much particularly in contrast with having read ten million Noel Streatfeild books as a kid. Not only was the protag not staggeringly successful, but none of her friends was an amazing famous talent for the ages. They were women who did some theater things and then didn't. It was lovely.

Applebaum discusses the Czechs some but recommends an entire stack of other books on the Czechs rather than going into detail on them herself, largely because her language expertise and translators were in German, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian, rather than Czech or Slovak. (She made an immediately clear argument that that's why we're not seeing more truly comprehensive stuff across the region: because almost nobody speaks her four plus those two plus Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian, and the various then-Yugoslav languages, which I think include Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Turkish, Greek, Slovene, and some even smaller Slavic, Romany, and Romance dialects.) I now have bunches of things on my library list and my wish list from the Applebaum bibliography, so I will speak up when there are good Czech things.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-17 06:50 pm (UTC)
The loving the theatre as an enviroment but not being awfully good at it is the main thing that I think of as autobiographical...
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2014-01-23 01:17 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the books. I did, too! And, yes, the not-fantastically-successful aspect was one of the most refreshing aspect of the books.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2014-01-19 02:18 am (UTC)
The story of Spanish sounds like exactly the kind of thing I wanted when I was studying Dutch - as far as I know there aren't a lot of etymology books like that, that aren't in the language they're about. I may need to get this and the French one.
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From: diatryma
2014-01-20 04:36 am (UTC)
I rolled my eyes a lot at the Dickinson because McKinley's blog broke me for a while.

I'll have to look up the Spanish book the next time I need nonfiction. I looooved that part of learning Spanish, even if I was disappointed that my professor couldn't tell me where 'perro' came from on the first day of class. I can still theoretically go from vulgar Latin to Spanish.
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