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

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Books read, early September [Sep. 17th, 2014|08:30 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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H. W. Brandis, The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace. This is a corrective biography, and I think it goes too far in the corrective/excusing direction. It’s all very well to talk through why Ulysses Grant is excoriated unfairly, and that’s useful. But it gets undercut when you start going on and on about how terrible it must have been for poor Ulysses to be forced to manage slaves. It’s one of the places where the bare facts do speak reasonably well for themselves given the context of the time, without embellishment, and the embellishment made me later call into question how reliable Brandis’s assessment of other questions was. (Notably things like Grant’s drinking and whether it was a problem.) Still mostly worth reading, but it made me roll my eyes in spots.


A. S. Byatt, A Whistling Woman. I made a try at this before I’d read the stuff that came before it and couldn’t care about the characters at all. Now that I’ve read the books before it in its series, it worked quite well and was very immersive, so I think it’s safe to say that it’s not a good starting place. Also I didn’t really care about most of the supporting cast, except the ones we didn’t get to see much of–I felt that Frederica and Leo’s story would have come together perfectly well without the details of the people they were interacting with. Ah well; I didn’t regret reading it.


Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London. This is a very physically heavy volume, since it’s written in normal amounts of prose with normal numbers of pages (five or six hundred, she said, too lazy to get up and look) but is printed on art paper due to the sheer number of reproductions of images involved. There are all sorts of salacious and politically scandalous images, drawings and woodcuts and all sorts of things. There is an entire chapter on farting and butt humor in the politics of the eighteenth century. It’s very erudite, well-handled, and also somewhat tiresome. A useful window into that time and how things shifted to become the Victorians, but…really, there is only so much to be said about, “I fart in your general direction, [insert political opponent here],” and Gatrell said it fairly thoroughly.


Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead. Notionally the first in the series but I read it second. Not quite as tight and pacey as Full Fathom Five but still exciting, well-characterized, and well worth the time. Dead gods, magical legal/financial firms, very entertaining.


Adam Hochschild, The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey. This is a South African history written in 1990 by a white foreigner. Hochschild is very good and very careful about what that perspective as a white foreigner means for limitations, but those limitations are still there. Also: 1990. That’s before…well, quite a lot really. He was very hopeful about the future of South Africa, but it turns out not quite hopeful enough. Which is in some ways really cool and in some ways really jarring.


Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata, Hikaru no Go Volumes 1-3. The first three volumes of a manga about a young Japanese kid possessed by an old Go-playing ghost. Lots of manga-type silliness, lots of hyperdramatics around Go that…don’t really stand up if you’ve played much Go. But still entertaining enough to keep on with a bit longer, so I will.


Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life. Kendall studied the 1980s versions of female ritual practice in a small Korean town, and this is very clearly written about that town. What I’m not so clear on is how much this is regional, and I’d like that context. I’d also like to know how much those practices have shifted and varied over time. As a snapshot of that place and time–and even with some context of what we can’t say that some historians assume we can–it’s extremely valuable. But like a lot of narrowly focused books in fields where it’s hard to find material, it brings up a lot more questions than answers.


Alistair Reynolds, On the Steel Breeze. I am easily purchased, and one of my prices is elephants who are characters as elephants, not as humans in elephant suits. Elephants, people. I mean, this book has other things. This book has interstellar whosits and clones and intergenerational scheming and whatever. BUT ELEPHANTS. I will wait patiently or at least feign patience until there are MORE ELEPHANTS. This book was my answer to everything wrong for several days: “WHATEVER I HAVE ELEPHANTS LEAVE ME ALONE.”


John Sayles, The Anarchists’ Convention. In some ways it seems like it should be heartening that John Sayles was not born able to do an amazing thing like A Moment in the Sun immediately without practice. But if he had been, I would have rolled with it. This was…not that. This was a collection of mediocre 1970s mainstream stories. This was a vast disappointment. There were some moments of keen observation to prove that, yes, it’s that John Sayles, but if I’d read this first, I would never have picked up A Moment in the Sun (WHY AM I NOT REREADING THAT NOW I LOVE THAT BOOK) and that would have been a shame (SO MUCH LOVE). I would have thought, well, stick to movies, John. So…unless you really, really like 1970s mainstream short stories, such that you want most of them, you can probably skip this. Which is good, because it will give you more time for A Moment in the Sun, which is good, because you’ll need it for the reading (and also the wrist strengthening exercises, unless you read it on an e-reader) and also the long emails to me about which parts you like best. It’s okay. I am patient. For this as well as for the elephants.


Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-Hsi. This is mostly a translation of the small bits of autobiography we have of K’ang-Hsi, also spelled Kangxi, the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history, late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries western reckoning. What’s really lovely here from an SF writers’ standpoint is the places where he thinks something is obvious to the reader–when he’s talking about sentencing of criminals, for example, or rearing of royal children. The things he feels he has to explain or contradict and the things that go without saying are just beautiful outlines of what his culture is doing. It’s a short book. It’s worth your time.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2014-09-18 02:57 am (UTC)
I thought Shelby Foote dealt remarkably well with Grant in his Civil War history, and makes some interesting observations about his character and disposition and why he apparently drank too much when he did. I don't think Grant's actual drinking was a problem during the war, but anxiety about his potential drinking was.

I would read all the Jonathan Spence on China ever.

Also, one of the neater things about Tennessee is that there is a retirement home for elephants near a town called Hohenwald. You are not invited to come visit the elephants. They are retired, you see, and are not required to be at home to human visitors.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 03:17 am (UTC)
This makes me happy about the elephants allowed to be introverts.
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[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2014-09-18 11:56 pm (UTC)
They make a point of it on the website: "When can I come and see the elephants?" "You can't."
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[User Picture]From: mamculuna
2014-09-18 03:35 am (UTC)
Yes, Spence and Sayles!

Now this is the problem with a Kindle (or its ilk). I have Moment in the Sun on my Kindle and was reading it when I had to stop to finish a book for a group, and then I set out on a long journey. Meanwhile other books came on my Kindle and Moment slipped to a second page, unfinished and forgotten. So glad you made me look again!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 11:57 am (UTC)
I don't tend to have this problem mid-book, but I do have this problem with things that are on the Kindle and unstarted: they're not hanging around physically reminding me, "Hey, someone else would like to read this!" or, "Shelve me, shelve meeeee!"
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-09-18 03:59 am (UTC)
Two separate people gave me City of Laughter a while back, and I thought, hmmm, what does that say about me?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 11:58 am (UTC)
Whatever it says about you, I was willing to say it about myself, because I bought this at Half Price for my own edification!
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-09-18 12:24 pm (UTC)
Half price, a-hah! I think that explains it!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 12:32 pm (UTC)
Eh, it wasn't one of the ones they had a ton of, but maybe.
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[User Picture]From: nojay
2014-09-18 09:02 am (UTC)
Hikaru no Go is a fun manga. Sure it's a level-upper storyline at its core but Hikaru grows up visibly through the books from an adolescent into a young man, not something very common in manga generally. What makes the story though are the secondary characters he gets involved with within the world of Go, adults as well as people his own age. It was a remarkably popular manga and anime series in Japan and led to a revival in interest in Go there.

If you think the manga's "hyperdramatic" you ought to watch the anime...

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 11:58 am (UTC)
I can practically hear the anime in my head as I read.
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[User Picture]From: nojay
2014-09-18 12:39 pm (UTC)
Any anime that has a "battle music" theme played during a board game is going to be, well, a little over the top. The massed cornet fanfares, kettle-drums and whooshes just add to the ambience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZebUTJtOMwg&list=PLjmpt8LLi4ZoFtskcbVkjoJTH-4bNOXIe

Saying that the games played in the manga and shown in the anime (which is pretty much a shot-for-shot copy of the manga) are real games, some historical and some more up-to-date. Fans have tracked down the games and listed them on various websites.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2014-09-18 04:42 pm (UTC)
Our friend seki_raku showed us a bit of Hikaru no Go back when we were watching anime regularly with her. It wasn't my favorite,, but it was entertaining enough.

My current favorite manga (not that I read a lot) is A Bride's Story (though perhaps it should have been translated as "Brides' Stories"), whose last volume is due out in a month or two. I like it partly for the sheer interest of seeing a story about nineteenth-century Central Asia as envisioned by a modern Japanese woman and then translated for American readers, and partly also because I really like the quality of the illustration.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 05:03 pm (UTC)
That sounds so charming.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2014-09-18 05:42 pm (UTC)
I reviewed the first three volumes over at Troynovant, if you're curious.

The online reactions I've seen have been curious. More than one person has commented on the story not having any conflict . . . when I saw it as having constant conflict, both internal and external. seki_raku suggested that many readers assumed that of course a story about an arranged marriage would have to be about the conflict between the wife's rebellion against her position and her society's demand that she submit, and that when they didn't see that conflict they took the story as not having any conflict; I suppose that makes sense as an explanation, but I didn't have that particular preconception.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-18 05:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting.

alecaustin and I have been talking about doing a story with a conflict over an arranged marriage that is not "I don't want an arranged marriage," because the standard "but Faaaather, I don't loooove him," is just so culturally tone-deaf in the context of heads of state that it makes us gnash our collective teeth--and yet, as you note in the context of this manga, it's not as though that negates all possible conflict, far from it!
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2014-09-24 11:19 pm (UTC)
Ooh ... I would read so much of that. Because all of those things, and because women negotiating the social constraints they're stuck in is a thing I deeply appreciate. And also because 'two (or more) adults must figure out how to live with each other' is a pretty serious narrative kink of mine.

-Nameseeker
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