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Books read, early January - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early January [Jan. 17th, 2011|10:16 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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David Baldwin, The Kingmaker's Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses. I love microhistories, and I'm pretty fond of the Wars of the Roses, so I thought this would be a good idea. I thought wrong. This is a classic case of an historian overreaching himself. He had enough material to write an essay about Warwick the Kingmaker's sisters, possibly, and essays don't do as much for you as books in a number of ways, so he padded it out with general history of the Wars of the Roses, wildass speculation about the women in question, and a little bit of personal agenda about Modern Times. Wheee. See, microhistory is good stuff if you have documentation about the people in question and theories about how they illuminate something interesting and underexamined. This? No. Just no. (Seriously, who would read this book if they didn't already know about the broad outlines of the Wars of the Roses? Nobody jumps up and says, "Oh, fascinating, Warwick's sisters!" if they don't already know from Warwick. Honestly.)

Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland: Volume 1: the Origins to 1795. This is a very smoothly written and interesting history of Poland, with lots of entertaining little historical tidbits as well as the broad general sweep you're going to need if you're going to fit the history of an entire country into two volumes. I'm looking forward to the second volume, but not quite right away; I had had sort of enough of Poland for the moment when I finished Volume 1. But not, I hasten to specify, too much of Poland. Just enough.

Phyllis Ann Karr, At Amberleaf Fair. Short and rather practical about magic and very much itself. I liked the toymaker, and I liked how food allergies were a fantasy novel plot point in a magic-related way. This was a very low-key book in some regards, very intimate scale, and I don't mean that as a complaint.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I read this because I'd read the two before it, and Larsson is now dead and won't be adding endlessly to the series. Sometimes a sense of completeness bites us in the butt. If I hadn't known it would really-for-truly be the last one, I'd have quit several times in the first 200 pages. This is about Bad Guys Getting Their Comeuppance. Repeatedly. Tediously. Largely through the wheels of the Swedish criminal justice system. The stuff that actually happens in this volume, rather than being referred to from previous volumes, seems mostly tacked on so there will be something happening at all. I feel that this is not actually a productive use of my time: if you've enjoyed the first two, I probably won't successfully talk you out of finishing the series. But I do recommend against it.

Oliver Sacks, The Mind's Eye. This is Sacks Being Sacks. The chapters on various neurological conditions, many of them vision-related, are longer than the chapters in Musicology, and more satisfying. It's not quite to the level of his early best things, but it's still pretty darn good, and sometimes one just needs more new Oliver Sacks, and this is that. But if you haven't read any Sacks, start with something else.

Patricia C. Wrede, The Seven Towers. This is an early work of Pat's, and I wanted to like it more than I did. The princess is named Crystalorn. Which is...kind of indicative, honestly. It is That Kind Of Fantasy; if you aren't in the mood for That Kind Of Fantasy, you won't be in the mood for this. This is another thing that's fine enough if you really want one of its kind, but I wouldn't start reading Pat's stuff here.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2011-01-18 05:11 am (UTC)
I may have neglected to mention when I posted the link that "Two Pretenders" is more or less a Wars of the Roses story. (Slightly post-wars, but with reference to the stuff during.) Since one of the great difficulties of the story is that the aforementioned wars are complicated and therefore I'm not sure what I wrote makes sense to people who don't know the history, I feel I should pimp it to the few people that do. :-)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 11:44 am (UTC)
No worries: I read and enjoyed it even without hearing it was a Wars of the Roses story in advance.
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From: diatryma
2011-01-18 10:56 pm (UTC)
I couldn't have told you anything about the history except that I have heard of the two boys in the Tower and that it was probably the reviled Richard who had something to do with them, but I followed the story most of the time.
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2011-01-18 05:15 am (UTC)
Seven Towers -- It was Very Nice, Really. Kind of limp.

Larsson -- I kept skimming and wanted to not skim, but I couldn't stop myself, until I ran into the legal bit in which the lawyer flays Mr. Evil Psychiatrist with the Power Of Words, and I cheered some, and then... I skimmed some more. Was this edited post-death? Because there should have been more revision.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 11:45 am (UTC)
I believe it was, in fact, edited post-death. Because Larsson didn't live to see the first one rocket to international bestseller status, and this came far enough after that I would be greatly surprised if he'd had a chance to go over it with a professional editor from one of his real publishing houses in light of the previous books.
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2011-01-19 02:05 am (UTC)
OK, that explains a lot. A friend of mine said, heartily, "No, he finished them all before he died!" which is why I read the last two at all, so, um. Yes.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-19 02:09 am (UTC)
"Finished." Yes. I have several finished novels sitting around here, too. Should a publisher pick them up, I expect the editor and I will make them come out rather differently in their published version.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2011-01-18 10:59 am (UTC)
If I hadn't known it would really-for-truly be the last one, I'd have quit several times in the first 200 pages.

Um. Is this the moment to observe that he has allegedly left a significant chunk of vol 4 behind him, which his partner is proposing to complete...?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 11:46 am (UTC)
Oh, I was clear on that. But even in ordinary circumstances, I don't feel obliged to read things that are completed post mortem, and in this case...book 3 was all denouement. I particularly do not feel obliged to read book 4 after I've gone through that much denouement already.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2011-01-18 11:18 am (UTC)
What desperance said about the Stieg Larsson; he had apparently plotted out ten volumes of this story, and I posted (here) my thoughts on what that means for our / my reading of the books.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 12:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, the story of Camilla Salander was a particularly notable loose end.

I think that Lisbeth Salander is appealing to readers in a particularly problematic way, especially with as much of an authorial insertion character as Kalle Blomkvist is. She is tiny, young-looking, alternative, in every way seemingly vulnerable. And she takes very, very thorough revenge on rapists and sexual predators, with the help of Blomkvist and others. Now. I have had friends who were smaller and/or less powerful than me and who had been raped and/or sexual assaulted. (I have also had friends who were larger and/or more powerful than me who have had the same things happen to them. But there is a little bit of emotional extra I should protect this person on a subconscious level in the other circumstance.) But to my way of thinking it feeds into the "you should have done x" response to violent sexual crimes. It's a fantasy where "my small, vulnerable friend brought down an extremely violent shitstorm on her rapist! and I helped!" comes true, and everyone ends up agreeing that the initial victim was the victim and was totally justified in what she did. And that...feels like it feeds into some dangerous larger cultural stuff to me. Even though I totally understand the impulse on Mikael Blomkvist Stieg Larsson's part.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 01:05 pm (UTC)
That is, in fact, why I read it.
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2011-01-18 04:08 pm (UTC)
I agree that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was the weakest of the three, but I nevertheless enjoyed it. Larsson's prose has that "I want to keep reading" quality that some authors have and some don't.

Agree also about Seven Towers, except that I really, really liked Amberglas.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-18 05:38 pm (UTC)
Ah. I am distinctly unfond of Seemingly Absent-Minded Magic-Users. It's a piece of genre furniture I could do without indefinitely.
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[User Picture]From: cissa
2011-01-20 05:56 am (UTC)
I recently read "At Amberleaf Fair", too, and liked it very much- a different approach to fantasy than is typical nowadays, and very interesting.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-01-20 02:02 pm (UTC)
I think it was different from what was typical when it came out, too.
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