Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Books read, early October

This is the fortnight when I officially got back my nonfiction reading ability. Hurrah. I can't actually swear to whether I have regained my old nonfiction reading ability or whether I have learned how to do it under current circumstances. Still and all: useful and welcome.

Ross Bernstein, More...Frozen Memories: Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Hockey and The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL. So. Um. Bernstein did extensive interviews for these books, and I think they were the right interviews, at least for The Code. He also reprinted long passages from the interviews, which was a good choice. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to understand the difference between a colloquial voice and bad writing. (Search on "You see," Bernstein. Delete all of them. You don't need them. You certainly don't need them in every other paragraph. Also, "an interesting thing happened: [interesting thing]" is almost never necessary or useful. If it's not interesting before you write that, it's not interesting after, and if it is interesting, you've just weighed down the interesting thing unnecessarily.)

Also, wow, holy unexamined gender assumptions, Batman! It's one thing to quote a hockey player as saying, "You don't want your teammates to think you're a pussy," if that is in fact what he said. It is quite another thing to write the same sentence in authorial voice. Most of the male hockey players Bernstein interviewed were a great deal less sexist than he was, probably because they didn't think of women's hockey as a cute little afterthought to be treated as an appendix in the last chapter of a book on Minnesota hockey. He is the kind of jerk who never ever fails to refer to a women's team as "the Lady Gophers" or "the Lady Bulldogs" and never ever thinks to refer to "men's hockey," because for him men's hockey is real hockey and women's hockey might as well be ringette. (%&$^#@!!! ringette. I had a fierce antipathy towards ringette the minute I heard of it. It sounds like a church basement pasta salad with lots of mayonnaise and overcooked-but-now-cold peas and is in no way a substitute for hockey. You know why? Because women don't need a substitute for hockey. Because women can play hockey. Go figure.)

And this looked to me like a major failing in The Code: he didn't even bother to say, "Hey, there are stricter rules about fighting just across the road here, let's see how it's changed the game." Because it just didn't occur to him that that might count as real hockey. It also didn't occur to him that there might be more than one way to handle something "like a man." Self-awareness/self-examination: not a curse Bernstein lives with on a daily basis.

(You want to handle something like a man, dude? Look your little girl in the eyes and explain to her why you're willing, in the early 21st century and as the father of a young daughter for Pete's sake, to use "little girl" with some frequency as a synonym for "coward." Go ahead and give that a shot, big man. Or stop using it that way. You're proud enough of your kid to list her on your jacket copy; be proud enough of her to treat her and others like her with some basic decency.)

I don't want anybody thinking that I disliked these books because I'm anti-fighting in hockey, because I'm not. I just think Bernstein did a terrible job constructing his argument. He's one of those people who can't accurately state his opponents' position, and you keep thinking, "Oh, Lordy, will somebody get this guy off my side? Before people think this is the best we can do for logic and evidence?"

(This guy lives in Eagan. Now I'm probably going to run into him at El Loro. That's how the world works: you never see somebody until you call them incompetent on the internet, and then you can't go get an enchilada without running into them.)

Anne de Courcy, Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel and The Viceroy's Daughters: the Lives of the Curzon Sisters. These were, for the most part, extremely well-done and interesting. I ended up with a great deal of sympathy for Jessica Mitford, which might end up evaporating if I find out more about her, because I have a great many friends who had appalling upbringings and who ran into sibling hostility over their appalling upbringings. And when two of your sisters -- not one but two, one might be a fluke -- wound up bosom chums with Adolf Hitler, I'd say the odds are pretty good that you had an appalling upbringing. The thing about talking about the Mosley book while I was reading it is that I kept feeling the need to specify, actual Hitler, not rhetorical device Hitler, not bad internet argument Hitler, not like oh m'Gawd my parents are such fascists for giving me a midnight curfew it's like living with Hitler. No. Hitler. Aaaaaaagh.

I liked the Mosley book better than the Curzon one; it was better focused, and it addressed more of the questions that interested me about the subjects. But I'd recommend both, and I'll keep an eye out for other de Courcy volumes used, since that's all my library has and they don't seem to be in print.

Sarah Dessen, That Summer. Everything's More Complicated, is the short version of this, and the things you think you know about the people you love don't necessarily entitle you to run their lives. It was pretty good, but Dessen has definitely grown into herself and her voice since writing this book.

One of the things I find interesting about these books is that Dessen inclines so much towards younger sister narrators. I guess I find it interesting in part because it's so much the opposite of my own inclinations -- so many of my friends are oldests and onlies that the experience of being a teen looking at the former-peer sibling who now has an adult life is not one I've really even thought about much. It's such a different dynamic from mine/ours.

Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World. Set in Japan immediately after the war, with an old man trying to come to grips with his part in pre-war and wartime Japanese militarism. A lot between the lines. Good stuff, but not as good as The Remains of the Day.

Jay Lake, Mainspring. It is not Jay's fault that I picked this up when I had had it up to here with young male characters who were disconnected from everybody in the entire world. Sometimes that's an okay thing in a book, if it's done well; right now it's not a very okay thing for me. I also had some Noble Savage issues later on in the book, and that combination of things interfered with me enjoying the worldbuilding and adventure plot quite as much as I would have liked.

Robin McKinley, Chalice. Lots and lots of honey. I mean that literally: honey. From bees. Lots of it. Not every book she writes can be The Blue Sword, and this...wasn't. It was readable. It was fine. There was beekeeping. Not wowed, not disgusted.

Naomi Novik, Victory of Eagles. This one was okay, too. I liked having dragons doing some different things. I liked Temeraire starting to understand some more of human consequences, as well as humans maybe coming a bit closer to understanding what the dragons are on about. I had fun with this.

Rebecca Pawel, The Summer Snow. This is a sequel, and the previous one was set in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. I was sort of hoping that this would continue that in the context of WWII, but no, it's definitely a postwar book. I had to readjust to get interested in that. I also think that Pawel has been fairly scrupulously honest about portraying her Fascist main character as human without giving him too many modern/anti-Fascist virtues, without showing him as some kind of victim.

Ruth Rendell, Death Notes and Speaker of Mandarin. Two more in the Inspector Wexford series. I was a little concerned when SoM opened with a badly phoneticized Chinese accent, but that character did not stick around for the whole book, and also there was a Chinese character shown speaking completely standard English, so that improved after the first page. And I was pleased with the ending.

Kate Ross, Whom the Gods Love. The third Julian Kestrel book, no less fun than the first two, if a bit problematic for me in part of its ending. I'm looking forward to the fourth.

Oliver Sacks, Oaxaca Journal. This was an incredibly quick read. Its lack of focus might have gotten tedious at more length, but that didn't happen here: it was just a quick journal of a fern-finding expedition to Mexico, in Sacks's easy prose.

Vendela Vida, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. Um. If not for the setting (Saamemaa/Lappland), I would have given up on this book right away. But I kept thinking, "Maybe this is the 'lame person discovers that lack of lameness has to come from herself and not from sponging interestingness off the people around her' plot." It wasn't. The book ended, and the heroine was still a total boring loser with no meaningful interior life to speak of. You know the people who think that being an interesting person comes from having checked enough items off a list? "Gone to Finland...discovered secrets of long-lost parentage...stayed in exotic hotel...brief flirtation with mysterious stranger...okay, good deal, now I'm interesting!" No. No you're not. Bleh.
Tags: bookses precious, icy death potential

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