Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

books read, October

I'm fairly sure that I'm not going to finish either of the things I'm reading now before the end of the day (since I am tired from the concert, probably more on which anon), and anyway one of them is a manuscript, and I don't talk about manuscripts in my book posts. And it's the whole month this time, because I left for Michigan midmonth and then was sick when I got back, so it got put off. So.

Robert Barnard, Death on the High C's. A murder mystery set in an opera company. Not notably punny except for the title. Not that the title is not enough. I was fairly lukewarm on this. Do any of you know whether there's a better place to start with Barnard, or whether this is pretty much what he's like? Because it was a fine little mystery, but I didn't find any traits in it that made me want to grab another from the library.

Elizabeth Bear (matociquala), By the Mountain Bound. Discussed elsewhere.

C.J. Cherryh, Conspirator. I can very much see why markgritter finished reading this and went back and reread the whole rest of the series: what was there was really good, but it was by no means the end of this story, just the end of this volume. It left me wanting more rather promptly. I can't imagine that this would be a good place to start with the atevi series, but I already love the rest of the series. Big black mathy aliens yay.

Amanda Downum (stillsostrange), The Drowning City. I had only read partial manuscripts of Amanda's before, so I knew she could prose but did not know if she could stick a landing. She can. Whew. Despite some people's misgivings about friends reviewing friends' books becoming a circle of squee, I don't find it to be a bouncy circle of squee experience at all. I find it very fraught, particularly when it's a first published novel. (Of course, there are authors who have switched styles or subgenres and lost skills they seemed to have before, so maybe I shouldn't relax after the first one, either.) Still. Right. Back to Amanda's actual book rather than the small-scale social context surrounding it. It comes with background noises and smells: the wooden bits of docks and boats creaking, the slap of water. The whole thing smells of water. Even when there's something lovely like the cardamom cream cakes taking center olfactory stage, the smell of the water and the things that live in it stays in your nose for the whole book. They are not nice things living in the water, but they aren't as much things as we think at first. And this is a book with lesser-of-two-evil choices on practically every page. Good stuff.

Victoria Finlay, Color: A Natural History of the Palette. This is one of the books I put on my list after Fourth Street, and I think it was worth the time. It's what it says in the subtitle: it's talking about pigment, mostly pigment in its context before the synthetics really got going. (If anybody knows of a companion volume that would be a history of synthetic dyes and pigments, I would enjoy that very much. Let me know.) It's a book that goes all over the world: ochres in Australia, cochineals in South America, ultramarine in Afghanistan, all sorts of things. I expect to lend this one around a fair bit when timprov has finished his turn with it.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman: From the Flashman Papers, 1839-1842. I was on the fence about reading more Flashman after this one until I talked to someone who had. My objection was that there was such a dearth of characters I could enjoy--not even characters I could respect, which is not a strict requirement and which Mr. Fraser was not, to my understanding, trying to do, but characters I was willing to spend another hour or so reading about. But I'm told this gets better, so I'll try another and see.

Rumer Godden, An Episode of Sparrows. I was reading this book as sort of balance for some of my grandpa's more military fiction last month--that is loud and American, this is quiet and British. And it very much worked for that purpose, but suddenly I realized who Rumer Godden's separated-at-time-traveling-birth twin is, and it's Ken Dryden. To recap for those of you unfamiliar with one or both: Rumer Godden was a British novelist born in 1907, and Ken Dryden was the Habs' goalie for their big run of Stanley Cups in the 1970s. But if you read Dryden's The Game, one of the things that really jumps out is how important he thinks it is to play just to play, just for yourself, to mess about, to see what works and to do things because they seem like fun, interesting, or beautiful things to do. And that's what Godden is worried about, too, that we're losing a lot of that in our culture, that we're only focusing on the things that can be public and well-measured and not the ones that can be private and considerate and pleasant. I have liked about half of the Godden books I've read, except that now I seem to have hit upon the expedient of taking papersky's advice on which ones to read, and that's improving the statistics considerably.

Bernd Heinrich, A Year in the Maine Woods. I find Heinrich so much more tolerable than the average of this genre, because he spends the vast majority of the time telling you the cool thing the latest half-tame raven around his cabin did and how a kind of bug uses tree leaves to make itself a home and like that, and very, very little time telling you what a morally superior being he is for not doing whatever it is he might have done aside from living in the woods. He is, for example, so infinitely much less in need of kicking than Bill Bryson. This book is not very long or a great deal much more organized than the forest in which Heinrich lives. I don't have a problem with that, really.

Joseph Kanon, Stardust. A mystery set in Hollywood at the very tail end of WWII, with the beginning of the Red Scare. I found the ending rather predictable, and certain elements of it were very consciously "if only someone had done this" on the author's part. But I loved the differing adjustment of the various German/Polish Jewish characters there in Hollywood.

Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form. So right there in the title you can see part of the problem here: it is not enough for Lockhart that math is an art form, not enough that it is a fascinating and imaginative one. No, it has to be the most fascinating and imaginative. Because of this, he is very fond of the rhetorical tactic of saying, "We would never teach [other subject] by [doing a thing that's common and even fairly useful in other subject]!" Which made me roll my eyes a lot. Example: we would never teach poetry by having students memorize poems! Well, in fact, almost all of the poets I know have poems memorized, so...try again, fella. It's too bad, too, because amidst the overstatements and the complete crashing ignorance about fields not his own, there were a few decent points about teaching math. Possibly part of the problem is that I am not so good at being the troops when someone wants to Rally The Troops.

Luo Guanzhong, Three Kingdoms: Volume III. There was so much more dying that many more characters had to be introduced so that there would be anybody left to die in volume IV. Uff da.

Elise Maclay, The Art of Bev Doolittle. Grandpa's. A book of prints and bits about the author who made them. She does Western art in the sense of Westerns the genre, not in the sense of Western being European and some bits of North American.

Vilhelm Moberg, The Emigrants. Grandpa's. I was going to borrow this from Grandpa, with its sequels. I always meant to borrow it. Now it's mine, and that's not the same. But the only way past these things is through them. I love and highly recommend Moberg's two-volume History of the Swedish People for those of you who already know a few things about Swedish history: it's well-written and has a very light touch, and he has a similar idea of which bits are the cool bits to mine in some regards. Anyway, The Emigrants is fiction about an extended family leaving Sweden--about what their lives were like there and why they wanted to leave and what leaving meant in very, very practical terms. And it was not the most cheerful book ever--scurvy, yaaaayy!--but it didn't feel so relentlessly gloomy as some of the other Scandolit I've read. I mean, gloomy. But not relentlessly.

Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution. Like it says on the label. I kept waffling between telling people it was very interesting for being so poorly-written or that it was written very badly for being so interesting. Part of this may be a translation problem. Still and all: I can only recommend it if you have a specific interest in French Revolutionary festivals.

Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals. I would place this in the middle ranks of Pratchett. If you like Pratchett, there will be stuff to like in this book. If you don't like Pratchett, don't bother. If you only like the ones that are really not very much like the others, this is not they. And if you don't know yet, this is not where to start.

Ruth Rendell, The Monster in the Box. Most recent Inspector Wexford book, #22 in the series. It's very curious to be reading a series that started when my mother was not really quite old enough to be reading grown-up mystery novels and have the same characters still going. Wexford and Burden and their department have been keeping up with the times, more or less, but Reg Wexford has been in his later middle-age for Quite Some Time Now--he was a firmly middle-aged gent by the late 1960s at the very latest, and he still is able to do active police work now. But what Rendell decided to do with this book was interesting to me: for what I believe is the first time in the series, she set a book in a time that was explicitly not the year when it came out. There is a reference to how in the future the pub in which Wexford and Burden are drinking will go non-smoking, but that "now," in the mid-90s, it is not. And there is a reference to the first case we know of being very early in Wexford's career, when he was a much younger man, and I think the math almost works. (I think it doesn't, quite. But almost.) With this one step, she moves the books before The Monster in the Box back by several years from their presumed setting. She has crossed the e-mail and mobile phone barrier: the internet and the cell are with Burden and Wexford for good now. But that far, no farther. I hope it's not the last book in the series for various reasons, mostly that I enjoy them. But if it is, it's structured to be a good one. Wexford is still solving crimes in the present, but we learn bits of things about his overall career and his life with Dora. For that reason, I think it's both better as a starting point to the series than most and more rewarding to long-time readers.

Red Stangland, More Ole and Lena Jokes and Ole & Lena Book Six. Grandpa's. These are what they are, and are they ever.

Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession With Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. Remember what I said above regarding the math education book, that I am terrible at being the troops when someone wants to Rally The Troops? That happened here, too. I agree with much of what Valenti is talking about here: there's some really appalling, nauseating stuff in our culture related to this topic, and she draws it out in more detail than most of us encounter casually. But as these things tend to be, it was written with lots of generalizations, and with anecdotes making it more "personable" where I'm pretty sure she had statistics that would have pleased me more.

Greg van Eekhout, Norse Code. This is Norse myth as written by somebody who doesn't seem to like any of the characters in Norse myth at all, only the elements. I don't mean to say that van Eekhout got things wrong, because he had clearly done his research like crazy. It was just that where there were places for him to fill in the blank, he often filled in the blank with, "Yeah, that one's a stupid asshole, too." This puzzles me a bit, but it seemed to work for him. This is also a book that is very, very Southern Californian in worldview. Not the plasticky bad kind. I feel like I am full of disclaimers about the things that are my first impulse to say about this book. Hmm.

Ursula Vernon, Dragonbreath. Combination chapter book and comic book, aimed at the middle grades. Fun and quick and recommended.

Stuart Woods, Dark Harbor, Fresh Disasters, Hot Mahogany, Iron Orchid, Shoot Him If He Runs, and Short Straw. Grandpa's. These were some of Grandpa's popcorn reading, mystery/thrillers. They are Gary Stu Fights Crime (And Has Lots Of Sex). One of them is Mary Sue Fights Crime instead. There is a place for that sort of thing, but I don't think I'll be seeking out any more by this author now that I've gone through this lot that Grandpa had.
Tags: bookses precious

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  • The end of an era

    I just made my blog cross-post to dreamwidth rather than to livejournal. That's how it's going to go from here on out, so if you want to read my…

  • So here is what

    It looks like people who cut their teeth on lj are pretty attached to this style of aggregator for their reading. So I'm going to look into getting…

  • Sooooo the livejournal thing

    Like many of you, I do not intend to follow Russian law regarding what minors can and cannot read about, nor do I feel that having an "adult content"…