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

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Books read, early February [Feb. 17th, 2016|11:02 am]
Marissa Lingen
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John Bierhorst, The Mythology of South America. This is an anthropology-level overview, talking about common features of myths among different ethnic groups of South Americans. It starts out pretty dubiously, talking as though myth-formation is a thing done by Those Primitives, you see, and not by Us Civilized People, so you have to take it with a grain of salt–it’s mostly interesting as a source of avenues for further exploration–oh, this motif here, let’s explore what that really means in detail with people who know what they’re doing.


Lois McMaster Bujold, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. A gentle mid-life romance among the Vorkosigans and the alien fauna of Sergyar. At 76 Cordelia is not yet even a little bit old by Betan standards, and for me this is a shame; I am looking for more books that are about protagonists who actually feel old. But “more time with these characters you like” worked just fine for me in general, even if I want even more time with them later–and it was definitely a book full of grown-ups, and there are not enough of those either.


Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, The House of War and Witness. Intertemporal ghost stories weaving back to a crisis moment in the 18th century. I was disappointed in this–it was reasonably well done, but compared to their previous collaboration, The Steel Seraglio, it was not at all my thing. The different ghost stories through time were quite well done, as was the 18th century main protagonist whose life was pretty awful. It just was hitting various tropes that are not at all of interest to me fairly hard, and in a narrative featuring an abusive relationship that was sensitively handled but difficult to read.


Edwidge Danticat, Untwine. Heartfelt YA about a young woman learning to live without her twin–her entire family learning to live without, really. The Haitian political references Danticat is known for were around the edges–this is a Haitian-American family, its relatives multilingual and naming their cats after politicians, but the core of this book is where the personal does not much overlap with the political.


Albert Goldbarth, Across the Layers. Reread. Lots of prose poems and borderline-prose poems. Not much snagged me this time through, and I don’t know that I will give it a third go. The interesting things he was doing with his family immigrant voice were not immigrant things that really caught me much with individual moments or lines.


Rachel Hartman, Seraphina. Come for the early modern/premodern musical instruments, stay for the saint culture. What, shapeshifting dragons? Yes, all right, I suppose you can have some of those too. It adds up to familial relationships with alien psychologies in some ways, which I am much more interested in than “fire thing go swoop.” Although there is fire thing go swoop, if that’s what you’re here for.


David R. Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Wow, what a book. Soil science. Politics of erosion and soil depletion laid out in multiple places worldwide, throughout time, with explicit parallels drawn. Fascinating, lovely, much recommended. It made me want to scream and swear and punch things sometimes, but not without hopeful spots also. And dirt! Dirt is great!


Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, eds., Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2014. I have a policy of not reviewing books I’m in. So much potential to be tacky. So: this exists, I’m in it, I read it. You can read it too.


Bogi Takacs, Changing Body Templates. Kindle. This short was a bonus from a charitable donation I made, and was interesting in its cultural reference points.


Chris West, A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. Each year I buy myself a book for my grandpa’s birthday. I pick something I would have wanted to share with him, since I am not actually done sharing things with my grandpa yet despite the utter stupid inconvenience of death. As 300-page histories of the US go, this is not the worst you could do, particularly if you wanted something to hand to someone who is not from the US. It suffers from a few quite glaring flaws. Its sexism, racism, and classism are the benevolent sort, but still present. It has a strong and annoying present-day skew–three hundred pages of all of American history and culture and you can fit in Monica Lewinsky, really? Alice Paul is irrelevant, never mind Grace Hopper, but Monica Lewinsky must appear? And on the other hand I started to wonder whether its author was merely clueless or an extreme Tory in his own country and trying to shore up his own party’s allies, because while the aforementioned Affaire Lewinsky did appear, the election of President Geo. W. Bush came and went without the least hint that it was the tiniest bit controversial in its practicalities. So while he did a good job of explaining some of the American history things that Americans generally take for granted, there were also some tone-deaf notes.


G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Generation Why. I enjoy Kamala Khan. I enjoy her even more with a very large teleporting doggie.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: fadethecat
2016-02-17 06:27 pm (UTC)
Possibly I should try Seraphina again! I came for the shapeshifting dragons and fire thing go swoop, and gave up after a few chapters because too much music/politics/psychology, not enough dragon-as-dragon. If there is more swoop-dragon later, I should engage further.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2016-02-17 07:27 pm (UTC)
Hurrah for teleporting doggies.
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[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2016-02-18 07:47 pm (UTC)
I viewed John Bierhorst's discussions around mythmaking more as a reaction to Campbell's "monomyth" theory than a primitive vs modern divide. I thought he was calling out culture differences to put a barrier around people trying to link myth from the americas to the Greek myths and middle eastern religions that most people know.

That's why I like him, because he's not falling into the "we all have one common experience" trap and actually links stories to the regions and cultures from which they come.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-18 08:56 pm (UTC)
I think it can fairly be both. I think he really does successfully dodge the monomyth trap--you're absolutely right about that. But he is very explicit about myth formation not happening in "modern"/First World cultures in the intro to this book. Strengths and weaknesses of his approach.
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[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2016-02-18 09:02 pm (UTC)
That's a fair criticism. It makes me wonder what he sees as fundamentally different between ancient/traditional myths and the sort of modern myth-telling that some see in SF/F.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-18 09:30 pm (UTC)
I wonder that too. Or the kind of cultural hero building that forms around figures such as, say, Teddy Roosevelt.
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[User Picture]From: nipernaadiagain
2016-02-22 07:19 am (UTC)
" It makes me wonder what he sees as fundamentally different between ancient/traditional myths and the sort of modern myth-telling that some see in SF/F."

The ease of communication?

May-be he feels that when a villager in Nigeria can read tales by Brothers Grimm and use the knowledge, it cannot be called myth-making any more?

Or, when I take your animal photos and use them for making up stories of Japanese yokai, then it would make my stories unauthentic for Estonian myths.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-22 01:43 pm (UTC)
I can see the argument for why your stories would not be purely Estonian at that point, but I don't think the ease of communication argument has at all justified why that is not a myth. I think it would take something the length of a book or at least a long essay to say why or why not, rather than something the length of a livejournal comment. But certainly it's not self-evident to me that someone who has read the Brothers Grimm--in any part of the world--cannot make myths. If Bierhorst felt that way, I think he needed to explain why rather than just assert it.
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