November 16th, 2009


books read, early November

Christopher Benfey, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan. This was supposed to be about the intersection of cultures between New England and Japan in the late 19th century. The balance tipped a great deal more towards New England than I would have preferred, but it was still interesting, a fresh look at cultural figures I knew and a few I'd never heard of.

A.S. Byatt, The Children's Book. There were a few things that got under my skin about this book but mostly I did not care, because it was so immersive for me. And it hit so many of my personal buttons: Arts and Crafts movement! 19th century anarchists! World War I! I think I liked it, even. I'm pretty sure I liked it. But mostly it was the sort of book I appreciated so much that it didn't even matter whether it summed to liking. Wanted more of nearly everybody.

Rumer Godden, Breakfast with the Nikolides. I find it very difficult to talk about this book without major spoilers at the moment. Suffice it to say that it was very well done, and that there was a piece of the subject matter (not the piece you will be able to predict from the first page) that was particularly difficult at this moment in my life.

Reginald Hill, Arms and the Women. wshaffer said these could be read out of order, so I grabbed one from the library. I suspect this is not the absolute best place to start, but I come out of it really eager for more. I liked Dalziel, and I liked Wieldy, and I liked the other members of the Pascoe family well enough that I suspect I will like Pascoe himself when I have more of him by himself or at work. After the first short bit, the voice and the characters had me absolutely hooked, committed to several more books in this series sight unseen. And delighted, so delighted.

Stephen Hunt, The Court of the Air. There is a character in this book who is a steamman (robot) who is an abomination, a composite of other previous steammen's souls. The text does not share the social view of the steamman society that this creature should not exist. Which is a good thing, because if you look at it too hard, that's exactly what this book is doing, and if it considered itself an abomination, well, that would be unfortunate. Entertaining enough steampunk, although a bit too long for itself and sometimes plotted a bit on autopilot.

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics. I am tone-deaf to comics. I recognize that there are all sorts of cool things happening in this art form, but they do not appear to be my cool things. I read this in hopes of fixing some of that and instead came away with the perception that there is a darn good reason why. I remain very much not a visual person, and some of the mode switching stuff McCloud was talking about just does not happen for me. (I am also very skeptical that it happens as he describes for very many people. I think he overstated his case a lot. But I wasn't coming into it with the idea that comics could not possibly be an art form--in fact, I've been pretty sure it is one--so in that sense I was not the target for many of his arguments.)

Bill Streever, Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places. Not as immersive as I was hoping for in this unseasonably warm November, but still had interesting bits, particularly when he moved away from talking about humans doing stupid things and got more into flora and fauna and humans doing non-stupid things.