Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, late January

The last of January was taken up with this big book on Enlightenment radicals, mostly Spinoza. It is the least ergonomic book I have read in years, possibly ever, so I started reading it just ages ago, and it dragged along for the first 100 pages. I'm now 550 pages in, and it's zipping right along...for some values of zipping, I suppose. Anyway, I will have more to say on book design and on this book after I'm done reading it. For now:

John Barnes, Earth Made of Glass. I didn't like this one as well as the first in the series. The character of Margaret, in particular, left me making skeptical faces throughout. But I liked the cross-cultural stuff again, and I'm interested in seeing where he goes from here, so I'm pretty certain to pick up the third one.

Judith Flanders, Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin. Victorian sisters, the daughters of a mediocre and obscure clergymen, who all married or mothered major figures of their time. This was really interesting and made me interested in pursuing threads of thought from it, but I also felt pretty stifled on these women's behalves.

M. John Harrison, The Course of the Heart. You'll like this, if this is the sort of thing you like. Hmm. What I mean is that it's like the other ones that are like this. No, wait. It's -- well, look. There are certain heavily symbolist fantasies, and this is one, and it is -- ah. I know. It's one of the fantasies where the main characters are a good deal more concerned with making sense of what happened before than with anything that might happen now or in the future. The interesting things have gone already. And sometimes that's all right, but it's a very specific kind of thing. (This was a freebie in my WFC bag.)

Marvin Kaye, The Fair Folk. Another WFC freebie. Highly mixed bag, this anthology, and I'm pretty sure I would have quit reading a couple of the stories if it hadn't been the only book in my purse when I was in a hospital waiting room. On the other hand, another couple of them were good fun and worth the time.

L. M. Montgomery, Emily's Quest. This is the last in a YA trilogy -- for those of you who don't know Montgomery, her most famous work is Anne of Green Gables, though that's way down my own list. I reread the first two books in this trilogy several years ago, and I just couldn't see my way clear to rereading the third at the time because of what I remembered of its cruel and annoying bits. When I reread it this time, the cruel bits were just as cruel (particularly from a writer's vantage) and the annoying bits were just as annoying. But -- oh joy! -- there were also additional annoying bits I either didn't notice at the time or had blocked out because I liked the first two books so much.

In essence, everyone interesting is banned from this book. It is All Emily, All The Time. The other characters that make the first two books sparkle are deliberately absent, or their roles are muted. Perry is an omission that particularly annoys me because it feels clear to me that he is not in the book so that we wouldn't see how much more appealing he is as a love interest than the odious Teddy Kent. But then, a clam left in the sun three weeks ago would be a more appealing love interest than Teddy Kent. You know what other Canadian love interest Teddy Kent can go hang out with? Anthony from For Better or For Worse, that's who. Blech. I found myself cheered by the notion that WWI was looming over these characters' heads -- perhaps Teddy could impregnate Emily and go off to war and die horribly with something poetic on his lips. Or he could leave her for some Belgian floozy. I don't care. As long as he was gone and her friends and relations were allowed to be interesting again.

E. Nesbit, The Magic City and The Magic World. Despite the similar titles, these were very different books. The former was a children's novel, the latter a collection of short stories (some of which were directly connected). Much fun, some wince-worthy moments as Nesbit tried to figure out what, exactly, she thought of social class.

Steven Ozment, A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. I bought this book on two theories: one, that Ozment is my favorite German historian (historian-of-Germany; I don't know his ethnic background), and two, that I don't know the first thing about German history. It turns out that I know at least the zeroth thing and possibly the first and second as well, and it turns out that perhaps I should have noticed that someone who has a favorite historian-of-Germany already might predict that she knew at least the zeroth thing, if she was paying attention. Oops. Anyway, this was a well-done but exceedingly brief quick-march through German history, all of it. My main problem with it was that the question of previous cultural links to Nazism (and whether it was inevitable from previous German culture, natural from previous German culture, or a weird aberration) dominated all other questions. So you didn't get the kind of fun tidbit I expected, because it was mostly taken up with that central question. Ozment did a decent job with that question. It's just only interesting to me if you're going to get really detailed and chewy with it, and he didn't have time to do that and explain about Charlemagne as well. So.

Paula Poundstone, There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. Poundstone is a stand-up comedian. We saw one of her shows once when scottjames was out in the Bay Area on a visit, and we didn't laugh until we cried at any point, but we laughed the whole time. Three hours. Laughing the whole time. And she flatly refused to repeat previous material -- she was by God doing something different. I respect that. Well, here the "something different" is partly memoir, partly deadpan send-up of the type of memoir that muses over historical events with the autobiographer feeling oh-so-relevant to them. I've read a few of those memoirs in my time, and I found this to be a pretty funny satire of them. It was one of timprov's books for Christmas -- I'm not sure I would have picked it up on my own, and I wonder if people unfamiliar with her spoken cadence would miss some of the funny bits. But I'm not so unfamiliar, so.

Scott Westerfeld, So Yesterday. I seem to be enjoying Westerfeld more with each book I pick up. I was decidedly lukewarm on the first Midnighters book, Uglies won me over to that series, and So Yesterday charmed me very much. So I will definitely be reading more of his stuff (and is there a natural next step that will be even better than So Yesterday? because that would be pretty cool). The ending sort of fell apart on me, but the tone and pacing of the beginning was so good that it was one of those times where I could look at the ending and think, huh. Not so much, but it didn't matter, because I was busy enjoying the book.
Tags: bookses precious
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