Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Early August books

Elizabeth Bear (matociquala), New Amsterdam. My biggest complaint about this book is that I would have liked a table of contents in the front. Why? Because I use a hyphen in anal-retentive, thanks for asking. I'm interested in how people do the middle ground between novel and short story, but my incredibly insightful response here is that they should do it with a table of contents. If I hadn't known it was a collection of linked short stories, I would have been disappointed with the way some structural elements fell out -- where some characters were introduced relative to their departure, for example. I think what this means is that I give my heart more quickly if I'm aware that something is a short story. Make of that what you will.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Sharing Knife: Legacy. There were all sorts of things I was glad Bujold avoided doing here, bits of triteness, bits of false sweetness. That's all very good. I was less than usually pleased with what she did do, though -- even my less-favorite Bujold books are well-done and well worth reading, but this was, in fact, in the less-favorite category. The central relationship was less interesting to me as a new relationship than I suspect it would be as an established one. Or maybe it's that I'm less interested in new relationships than in established ones, and this book was largely new relationships.

Emma Bull (coffeeem), Territory. For some people, having a story set in the Tombstone of the Earps is a gateway to enjoying it. For me, a hurdle. But coffeeem clears the hurdle with room to spare here. I'm not all that familiar with the Tombstone story -- I've seen the Val Kilmer movie and relished the Val Kilmer bits, is basically it -- but that wasn't required to see what was going on in the book. The parts of the book I did know about -- the 19th century Chinese immigrant stuff -- was dead on. The ending reminded me that the Matter of Tombstone was being treated like the Matter of Britain here: you wouldn't read an Arthurian novel and expect the ending to be independent of Arthur and his court. I hear tell there's more. I'll buy it right away when there is.

Colin Cotterill, Anarchy and Old Dogs. And speaking of buying it right away when there's more, wheee! This is the fourth book in the series, the ones I've been describing as historical Laotian magical realist murder mysteries. So very fond. This one was somewhat political for its characters. I think it might read all right if you hadn't read the three before it, but there is arc going on -- there is evolution of character relationships -- so I'd recommend starting at the beginning. I have the unpleasant sense that I'm going to spend the next N years recommending this series to people and expressing decreasing surprise and eventually resignation upon hearing they haven't read them. I hope I'm wrong about that. They deserve an audience.

Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. Oh, this one was good stuff, too. Gawande is approaching the question of how to make concrete and lasting improvements in the world. He's doing it through the prism of his own profession, but I think it's an interesting approach for others, and some of the tidbits that came up were fascinating. Highly recommended.

Rumer Godden, Kingfishers Catch Fire. This was a mostly quiet book, with a sense of what was to come hanging over it. I liked that. I liked how it didn't have to run around shouting in order to be vivid and compelling. I also loved the fact that the characters were allowed to find their own version of better choices in the end, to make small steps towards their own happy ending rather than being pulled into someone else's whole cloth.

Ellen Klages, Portable Childhoods. Short stories. Here is what I discovered about my reaction to Ellen Klages's work with this volume: it is predictably unpredictable. That is, the stories whose one-line description I would be most likely to pass on are the ones I really liked, and the ones that sound more intriguing in capsule form are the ones I bounced off of. How odd.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So here's the thing: this book was written for people who had read the rest of the series and cared. And I was not those people; I read the last three Harry Potter books because I write YAs and didn't want to accidentally write something that would look "copied from Harry Potter" out of ignorance. I have often thought that one of the differences between fanfic and original fiction is that fanfic writers are starting with a presumption that the readers both know and care about their characters, and this frees them from some constraints (and creates others). But like all other lines between fanfic and original fiction, it's a big blur rather than a sharp, clear line, and this book was a counterexample. There's no reason it couldn't rely heavily on people already caring, of course, as millions of people worldwide clearly did. But within this book, I didn't think either detail or structure would pull in a reader who wasn't already committed -- and again, that's fine, because so many people clearly were that the pages upon pages of cranky camping were not a problem for them.

The strongest emotional reaction it got from me was, "Go, Neville's gran!"

I've had discussions with several people in the last few months about whether the Harry Potter books still "really" were children's books. And "really," yes, I think they are. The epilogue to the last book is exactly what I mean: rather than talking about what the surviving characters of interest were doing later in their lives, it told us who had married, how many children they had, what their ages were. This is how most 13-year-olds approach the world: kids are the center of it, kids are the interesting part. Rather than finding out who tamed what dragon and who invented what potion, we are shown who had which kids to have more Hogwarts adventures in the future. This is exactly how everyone in my group in Ms. Kolbaum's eighth grade English approached the task of writing a sequel to a favorite book: the important part, the central part, was not the characters we had known and loved, if they were no longer kids at the end of the last book. It was the kids who would follow them. This is the epilogue of a book for children. (Anyone who thinks that it's derogatory for me to call something a children's book doesn't know me very well, and can leave now.)

Also, the wizarding world is built so that the people you meet when you're 11 are the important people for the rest of your life. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part it's not a world where the people you met in adolescence -- the best friends or the worst enemies -- fade out of your life. Everything feels eternally important when you're in junior high, and in the wizarding world, it is -- the people at your lunch table on your first day of seventh grade are with you for the rest of your life. Our world? Not really like that. In the wizarding world, your best friend's parents don't get jobs in a different city or have to move to a different school district because a death or a divorce makes them unable to afford their current place. Your best friend doesn't decide to go to a college/university across the country from you. You can choose different paths, but they'll be adjacent paths. For my money, one of the biggest pieces of magic in the Harry Potter universe is that, as long as they're alive, you don't have to let people go. The down side of this, of course, is that the kid who picked on you in Chem Potions lab is still there when you're in your late 30s -- not "in some form" and not "someone like them" and not "by some freak coincidence," but as a matter of course. You know they will be, unless they have some horrible mishap featuring a basilisk. Of course, the hope of horrible basilisk-related mishaps to one's enemies is much higher in the wizarding world than it is here, so that's probably a comfort.

Nina Stritzler-Levine, editor. Finnish Modern Design. Large book, lotsa pictures. As usual, once you have a nutbar theory -- in my case an explicitly fictional one -- the pieces continue to fall into place wherever you look. The section on the Finnish postwar jewelry-making industry was particularly useful that way.

David J. Sturdy, Richelieu and Mazarin. About...Richelieu...and also Mazarin. As statesmen, not as people, as one might expect. It was not at all the traditional puppetmaster view of Richelieu. I will be interested to see how it compares to the other Richelieu-related book on my to-be-read pile.</lj></lj></lj>
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