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

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Books read, late October [Nov. 2nd, 2014|11:03 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, editors, Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands. I read some of the Borderlands books when I was a teenager, when I could find them in used bookstores mostly. This collection is much newer–a few years old–and features stories by a much newer set of authors as well as authors whose Borderlands stories I loved as a teenager. There is a tendency for Borderlands stories to feel quasi-autobiographical, and this works beautifully for some authors and less well for others. Catherynne M. Valente, for example, wrote a story that fits so perfectly in the Borderlands universe that one is tempted to explain it with the year she spent in Bordertown in college. Other newcomers who fit in so seamlessly that one is sure they have always been there include Amal El-Mohtar, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Janni Lee Simner; stories by Emma Bull and co-written by Ellen Kushner and Terri Windling reminded me of what I’ve always liked about this series.


Chaz Brenchley, Bitter Waters. Discussed elsewhere.


A. S. Byatt, The Biographer’s Tale. This felt a bit like an out-take, like a run-up to better work, particularly The Children’s Book. There were some goodish bits, but mostly it was a bit abstracted and none of the major characters ever really connected for me.


Jean-Pierre Courtiau, Paris: Cent Ans De Fantasmes Architecturaux Et De Projets Fous. Projets Fous: crazy projects. Yep. This is a French book of pictures and discussions of the crazy stuff people have proposed to do to Paris. Like enclosing Notre Dame in plexiglass. My standards for crazy are probably a bit high, but it was still entertaining.


Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. The middle of the three books of the Craft in terms of publication order, the first chronologically. I don’t know anybody who’s started here, and I wouldn’t, but I was still glad to read it and am still looking forward to more.


Ross King, Leonardo and the Last Supper. A bit disappointing as Ross King books go: not a lot of nitty gritty about pigments or materials. Still reasonable if you’re looking for a discussion of what it says on the tin. Just not as all-out nerdy about How He/They Did That as King’s usual stuff.


Margaret Maron, Death of a Butterfly and Death in Blue Folders. Two in a mystery series that impinge a bit on the New York art world of their time (a few decades back). I’m generally on the lookout for a readable new mystery series right now, but this isn’t actually helpful, because the library only has one more. I found them quite readable, though, and will be glad to get to that one. Artists, organizational details, people sorting themselves out despite inauspicious beginnings sometimes.


Juhani Paasivirta, Finland and Europe: The Period of Autonomy and the International Crises, 1808-1914. Weirdly focused on newspapers and their subscribers, but okay, that’s useful to know. Also touches on pieces like how Russia wanted their new Grand Duchy not to have access to Sweden and how they attempted to cut that tie and where they succeeded and failed.


Jim Rasenberger, High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline, 1881 to the Present. A bit breathless, both about New York and about its steelworkers; my consistent mistyping of this title as “darling men” was perhaps Freudian. Also the timing of “the present” was very close on the heels of 9/11/01, so there was quite a lot of that and not a lot of the building thereafter. This is understandable–it’s an event that’s hard to overstate in the history of that skyline. But inevitably you will get a different perspective on what the work is like a few months after than a few years. Anyway, there were some startling and some head-shaking anecdotes in this. It was not ultimately very deep, but it didn’t have to be. The interviews with/profiles of steelworkers from different ethnic groups were worth the price of admission alone.


Sarah Rees Brennan, Unmade. The end of its trilogy, and for the love of Pete do not start here. I felt that it was a satisfying ending, albeit rather tied up in a bow in a couple of ways that were predictably more for its main audience than for me. If you’re worried that she won’t carry through on some of the darker aspects of the premise, though–no, there’s dark here, there’s follow-through. It’s not a downer of an ending, but it also doesn’t flinch from consequences.


Michael Roberts, Essays in Swedish History. Mostly the early modern period here. Pre-industrial, mostly politics, mostly powerful groups and political things rather than peasants and artisans, but I’m told one can’t have everything, and certainly one can’t fit it all in one volume.


Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show. Sylvia Townsend Warner never met an Aristotelian unity she gave a damn about, and this book is not going anywhere it looks like it might from the first few pages. It is a ’48er book. There are places where its attitudes about race and religion are remarkably progressive for its time, and places where that still falls short, just for a warning if you’re not up for that. But gosh. What a thing. What an odd, perfectly itself sort of thing to have, wandering around the barricades with its jewelry and its prejudices and the prejudices of other people it can see clearly. Gosh.


Peter Watts, Beyond the Rift. Short story collection that overlaps only somewhat with the one I read a few weeks back, plenty of other things to ?enjoy? ?appreciate? whatever the verb is for what one does with Peter Watts stories. Other than read. Read is a good verb.


Roger Zelazny, Unicorn Variations. There is only so much first-person asshole narrator one can have at once, and this was right up at the edge of that for me. Several bits of this are the places where Zelazny was most influenced by Hemingway, which…made me want to sit him down with several volumes of Elizabeth Gaskell until he felt better. This sort of impulse rarely ends well.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-11-03 12:48 pm (UTC)
Borderlands: I found Valente's story much less obnoxious than I find her other work. But overall I was kinda disappointed with this antho. The strongest feel was that the poets all should have written stories instead, definitely, no really.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-03 01:11 pm (UTC)
I am not the person to ask about poetry. I'm very picky, so the fact that the poems in this volume left me cold didn't seem like a data point. Maybe in addition to yours it is, though.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-11-03 01:41 pm (UTC)
Not some of the writers' strong suit, and others, maybe their less successful pieces.
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2014-11-03 03:43 pm (UTC)
I love the story "Unicorn Variations," and have reread it many times. I remember reading the rest of the collection a time or two, but without getting out the book (which I believe I own as a last hurrah from an SFBC membership), nothing comes to mind.

I have a high tolerance for first person smartass as long as it's not first person mean smartass. In books, that is.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2014-11-04 07:57 am (UTC)
I didn't know Alaya Dawn Johnson was in that Bordertown anthology! I've been meaning to read The Summer Prince. (I'm mildly curious about the Bordertown anthology, too, but I haven't read any of the original books.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-04 11:41 am (UTC)
Oh well, the Bordertown anthology is fun, but if you're going to put things in priority order, run don't walk towards The Summer Prince.
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From: sheff_dogs
2014-11-04 06:01 pm (UTC)
I recently discovered Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series in my libraries e-books collection. They are start before WWI, but are mostly set in the twenties and thirties mostly taking place in England. Maisie starts out as a servant and the fisrt book explains some of how she comes to be setting up as a "psychologist and investigator". They are not cosy mysteries, they are are far more informative than that. I loved them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-04 06:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you; I'd seen those around and for some reason had formed the opinion that I'd tried one and hadn't liked it, but when I consult my booklog, it turns out that's not true, so I'll put one on the library list.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-05 10:36 am (UTC)
I've read the first one and found it a light and pleasant read but not quite enough to tempt me to read the rest. YMMV, of course - definitely worth trying.

Pat McIntosh's series set in 15th century Glasgow has lots of interesting historical and language (Scots) detail, although occasionally I feel like side-eyeing some gender stuff. (Sorry, that wasn't terribly articulate. I can be more specific but not easily without spoilers.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-05 11:57 am (UTC)
Thank you, the library has several of those (though not all), so I can put the first in that series on the list also.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-05 02:30 pm (UTC)
And on the subject of detective series, have you read any Peter Lovesey (two historical series, one modern)? I remember coming across him in the library when I was a lot younger, and liking one series enough to be frustrated that the library didn't have more but I can't remember at this point which series it was I liked or whether I'm still likely to like them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-05 03:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the one I tried was not for me, but I do appreciate the suggestion.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-05 04:48 pm (UTC)
Which did you try? I was vaguely thinking about seeing whether I still liked them, but maybe not, unless the library where I live now has them (I haven't searched, but I think I'd have noticed one on the shelves).

Edited at 2014-11-05 04:49 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-05 05:58 pm (UTC)
The Vault, although I don't usually talk about books I don't finish.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-06 09:16 am (UTC)
Hmm, having looked that up, it sounds vaguely familiar, but then so does Wobble to Death (it is a silly title - it's about 19th century walking races). I wonder whether I read Wobble and liked it (despite the title) then read The Vault and bounced off. Anyway, I think these are probably staying on my 'periodically try to find library copies' list.
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[User Picture]From: wychwood
2014-11-04 08:39 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I started with Two Serpents Rise due to a minor misunderstanding on my part (having wrongly deduced that it was a numerical sequence and would therefore come before Three Parts Dead) and it worked pretty well for me - I liked it enormously, too.
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From: diatryma
2014-11-04 11:43 pm (UTC)
I liked Valente's story in Bordertown quite a lot-- mostly because it acknowledged that this was an anthology for people who had never heard of Bordertown, or who had heard of it but never read it, and possibly, like me, found themselves with the impression that other people thought they were terrible and uncultured for not reading it. Bordertown passed me by and I resent anyone who talks about it, or other fiction, in a way that makes it clear that if I don't read or like or know of it I am a flawed human being.

Some of the stories felt like that, but others really awesomely didn't.
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