Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, late September

Chaz Brenchley (desperance), River of the World. Some of this book's virtues were also its flaws: that is to say, there were things I expected (and wanted) in this book, the sequel to Bridge of Dreams, that I did not get. Specifically dealing with the title object of the previous book and the people involved therewith. On the other hand, I was really glad that it was not the Very Very Obvious Plot, that the ending went somewhere different, somewhere a little more complicated and interesting. I wish it had stopped by the bridge dreamers a bit more along the way, but it probably would have had to run to three volumes in order to do so.

Austin Grossman, Soon I Will Be Invincible. This book suffered from proximity to Minister Faust's latest, which I think is funnier and generally better and is on a similar subject (superheroes, sort of deconstructed and novelized). There are some amusing bits, but it's one of those two-POV books where I'm always waiting for one of the POVs to come around when it's not onstage. Unless you're really into superhero novels, I'd go with From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain instead.

Brian P. Katz, Deities and Demons of the Far East. Here begins my survey of the pathetic collection of Asian mythology in stock in the Dakota County Library system. This book contains lots and lots of very glossy pictures. The internet can find me as many glossy pictures of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese statues as I like, so this is not actually much of a plus. I was hoping there would be some story that would spark my interest, but it was really the level of mythology you can get from watching The Simpsons. Bah.

Rudyard Kipling, Kim. Reread after N years, where N is...a really large number. I had a rather dim mental outline of this book, based half on memory and half on references in other things. I thought of gaaldine and of Price's David Audley and of my own characters while reading this. Scarcely any brain left to read it on my own, but that's all right.

David Kirby, A Concise History of Finland. One of the problems of being a Finnophile who reads very little Finnish is that I end up grasping at straws for new material. The up side is that this actually works: mostly people are not writing Finn-related books on the level of the disappointing Asian mythology stuff, for whatever reason. Mostly they have interesting tidbits in each concise history/general history/general overview/etc. that weren't in the previous ones. This was the case here. Much appreciated.

Norma J. Livo and Dia Cha, Folk Stories of the Hmong. This was probably the best of the Asian mythology books I got from the library, in that it read like the real deal, and it was filled with actual stories, and the pictures in it were of things you couldn't readily find on a million and one webpages. It was not overly westernized, I don't think: there were too many people feeding their wives to tigers for no particular reason for me to think that they tried to make the story arcs and themes more palatable to an American audience. On the other hand, I couldn't really connect very well to all of the feeding wives to tigers things. Or husbands, even. Feeding any significant others, friends, or members of one's near family to tigers ought to be done with extreme caution only, I feel.

Naomi Novik (naominovik), Empire of Ivory. I thought this was better than the third one in the series, and I am now much more excited about reading the fifth than I was before I picked it up. It would still fall apart if you looked at it cross-eyed, but that's been true since His Majesty's Dragon, and it doesn't take the fun out as long as the story is humming along pretty well. In this volume, I thought it was.

Julie Piggott, Japanese Mythology. This book, in addition to glossy pictures, actually contained bits of Japanese mythology. So that was a plus. By which I mean that if this book was on Norse mythology, I would consider it boring and pointless and hiding the best bits. So I suspect that's true here, too, and I'm going to either have to invest or use interlibrary loan if I want to know anything interesting about any East (or even Southeast) Asian mythologies at all. Because that's approximately all this library has that's not shelved in juvenile. Sigh. (For those of you who may feel inclined to malign the libraries in Minneapolis because of this, don't: Dakota County is a south suburbs area, not Minneapolis, which is its own library system for the next five minutes at least, and which will likely be merged with the Hennepin County system, which is far nicer than the Dakota County system in nearly all respects. But there is interlibrary loan across the entire state, bless 'em, so that might work.)

Terry Pratchett, Making Money. The thing about Terry Pratchett is, even when you feel like the structure of a book is suboptimal -- say, in taking too long to set itself up -- it's still entertaining along the way. Making Money is not going to become my favorite recent Pratchett, but it doesn't have to be -- it's still a good read.

Matt Ruff, Bad Monkeys. Okay, look: this unreliable narrator thing. It only takes us so far. It's like the twist ending that way: if you're sitting there expecting Crazy Twist Ending, the impact is diminished. So while this was a fast, fun read, the end made me feel like there was very little there there. It got sort of paint-by-numbers: yes, here's the Stunning Climactic Cinematic Fight Scene; yes, here's why that wasn't actually the climax; yes, here's the final reliability twist. Okay then. Is that all you've got? Well, I guess so. It's not all he's always had, so I will still read the next book Matt Ruff writes. But this was...just not as interesting as I'd hoped.

Samuel Yellen, American Labor Struggles, 1877-1934. "Oh, this is interesting," says me. "I wonder what monumental labor thinger happened in 1934 that made that the more logical cutoff date than the Second World War. I will be keen to find out!" La la la. I read along through a few pages. Wait! Here is a line in the introduction: "Certain problems recurred again and again, and some of them still trouble American labor organizations. One is the question of the Negro." Ahem. The question...of the...my goodness. Says myself to me, "When was this book published?" Flipflipflip. 1936. Ah. The monumental labor-related event of 1934 was this book being turned in to its editor.

The other thing that was unexpected about this particular library book is its specificity. It's not about the American labor struggle, in general, in that period. It is about ten very specific struggles, each individually. It's interesting for that, but also a bit disappointing as there's far less context and cohesiveness than one might hope. (I think that might be due to the age of the book as well: both its proximity to its subject matter and the nonfiction conventions of the time.)

The problem I have with reading about history of the labor movement is that it seems to be (gasp, shock) highly politicized. I don't really want to read about the noble, heroic union organizers who did everything right, and I don't want to read about the noble, heroic industrialists who did everything right. (This book skewed towards the former, though not too extremely.) And I absolutely do not subscribe to the all-too-common cultural fallacy that "the truth lies somewhere in the middle." Where in the middle seems to be an important question, and in a particular matter, it very well might not! One extreme might not be extreme enough to reach the truth, or else the truth might lie off somewhere orthogonal to the line defined between the two. I am so frustrated with this fallacy. It's so shallow, and it encourages people to be as extreme as they can get away with rather than as honest as they could manage -- it doesn't reward integrity. Bah.

But anyway, I will be keeping a sharp eye out for bias and contradiction, and I'll be reading what I can find because there are things I'm going to need to know. And sometimes knowing a range of perspectives on a particular side of a topic is useful in its own way, so I'm hoping this is one of those times.
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