Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

books read, late August

Peter S. Beagle, The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances. Somehow I managed to completely miss Peter Beagle when he was being formative for every other fabulist of my age. Luckily for me he is not one of those authors who dwindles to nothing if you read him for the first time after age 16. This is a collection of short stories and essays--fun but not the very best of Beagle. If you already like his stuff, this is a good thing to read, but I don't think it's the best starting point.

Mike Carey, Dead Men's Boots. Third in the Felix Castor series. These are such fast, fun reads. I'll bet Mr. Carey gets very sick of, "If you like the Dresden Files, read this," and, "If you wanted to like the Dresden Files but couldn't quite get there, read this," but they both really do apply. Castor is a penny-whistle playing exorcist. Not always bright and shiny stuff, but good continuing arcs, lots of stuff to look forward to in later volumes, I think.

Sterling F. Delano, Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia. If by "dark" we mean "moderately incompetent." Seriously, this book was only a revelation if you had the impression that a failed Transcendentalist/Fourierist community in antebellum New England was a fabulous thing that was in every way functional and sensibly planned. Any takers for that perspective? I thought not. There was a bunch of good detail if you're interested in Brook Farm or in utopian communities of the time, which I am, but the idea that this would be filled with dark revelations was...not really quite on.

Milly Lou Donnelly, Me Spik English. Grandpa's. This very strange little volume from the 1930s is jokes about Hawaiian pidgin English. Grandpa bought it when he was a very young Marine stationed in Hawaii (at Ewa, I think). There were jokes in it that were pretty overtly racist, and there were several that promoted the idea that you should get good at communicating and figuring out local standards or you would look like an idiot. Very weird to look at it with modern eyes.

Freeman Dyson, A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe. This is another "don't start here" recommendation--they're very Freeman sorts of essays but not at his most creative or idea-rich.

Louisa Gilder, The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn. I'm not sure who the audience for this book is supposed to be. Terms like "electron" get explained in footnotes, but the success and failure of various arguments seems to me to be dependent on an understanding of various physical and mathematical interpretations and discussions I would not expect someone to have if they started reading this book not knowing what an electron was. I really don't like books that are attempting to get people to take sides on a scientific question without a science background. Also, I understand why Gilder chose to manufacture dialog as a way of conveying what happened--conversation really is a major means of advancing science to this day, and certainly was in the early days of quantum mechanics. But I didn't think she was very good at writing dialog in distinct voices, or at choosing what was extraneous and could be pruned (which would be a more forgivable error if she was not the source of the dialog herself!), or at managing to keep her own skew on several of the most famous scientists out of the words she put in their mouths. Full disclosure on my part: if given the choice between Einstein and Bohr, I will choose Bohr every time, and Gilder might as well have put, "Einstein RULEZ Bohr DROOLZ," on the cover of her book. But I think she was really, really bad at pointing out where the things Einstein didn't want to be true were, in fact, experimentally verified, and even worse at stepping back and saying, "You know, great scientist, but...this was an emotional reaction he had, not Great Science Not Yet Appreciated."

Greer Gilman, Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter's Tales. If you have trouble following archaic language or dialect, this is not the book for you. Greer is utterly comfortable in the languages and patterns of ballads, and she sees the heart of them through, what the folk song pregnancies mean to people and not just pregnant women as means of getting heroes for later. The structure of the three tales spirals outwards in a way I liked very much.

Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians. Grandpa's. Where by "North America" we mean "Josephy wanted to include the Aztecs because he thinks they're kind of awesome," because most of the north is completely inadequately covered. For example, when First Nations tribes fled across the border into Canada from the US, what happened to them? You'd never know from this book. (Which was particularly weird because he was making points about how we think of the border with Mexico as far more fixed than it was historically, so we can't divide up tribes and nations in the southwest US as though they had a precognitive sense of that border. Fine--but the Canadian border is somehow magically eternal? Not so much.) It was very good at introducing very broad outlines of pre-Colombian cultures and the effects of European conquest on them--up until about the Iowa border, and up until about 1880. I kept wanting to say, "But--they're still here! Look, there's a First Nations person right there, you can ask him, are you still here? and he will say yes." If a book claimed to be about All Of Europe or any other continent, I'd expect similar geographical gaps because putting an entire continent worth of people in one book is just that hard, but the temporal gaps were a little strange.

Sarah Rees Brennan, The Demon's Lexicon. I found the plot twist of the ending completely predictable, but on the other hand, I enjoyed the ride there, so I didn't mind the predictability. I also liked how Rees Brennan played fair with that plot twist, and with her main character's personality. Lots of authors would have given into temptation to either choose a different protag or soften her protag's reactions and emotions, and she didn't, and I was glad.

Geoff Ryman, The King's Last Song. Cambodia in the 12th and late 20th/early 21st centuries. This is something I dearly wanted for Christmas and then could not face until now, because it seemed like such an emotionally difficult subject matter. And indeed it was not a book of pure light and good cheer, but on the other hand it was not as dark as I'd feared. Very good bits about how your means shape your ideals. I'd be interested in seeing how it struck my friends who've lived in Cambodia.

Sherwood Smith (sartorias), Treason's Shore. This is the other four-book fantasy series I love that ended this summer (the first was Daniel Abraham's). If you haven't tried Inda, do: I highly recommend it. It's sweeping and immersive but not any of the eye-rolling things people mean when they use those adjectives. Anyway, I found this a most satisfying conclusion, and I particularly thought that the very ending played fair in ways that many books do not--in the face of a cultural structure that might have justified falling back on consolation rather than honesty in the ending. Which doesn't mean it was an unhappy ending, just that it had an adult assessment of what a happy ending means.

Red Stangland, Ole & Lena Jokes Book IV. Grandpa's. These are not in any way good jokes, but I'm glad we have the books because they're such a vivid reminder of how much Grandpa loved Ole and Lena jokes.
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