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

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Books read, early November. [Nov. 17th, 2011|07:41 am]
Marissa Lingen
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This was the fortnight of quitting books. I quit about half of the books I started reading: thirteen out of twenty-seven. That is a lot of Mrissish bookfail right there. The library makes this less expensive than it would otherwise be, because oof.

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost. Library Kindle. This was my first experience with getting a library book on my Kindle, so I just grabbed a thing that looked likely. I find Bellairs fascinating in how he is marketed and shelved. I see no particular reason this should be considered a children's book, except that it's short, and other Bellairs is for children. It's a very short and wizardy gadgety quest. It was fine. I was not deeply impressed, but it was fine.

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. And this is my least favorite Penderwicks book. If I had not read the third one first, I would have quit after this one. All the places where the third book fails to do the expected thing and does something interesting instead? This one does not. This one is utterly expected, top to toe, stem to stern. I am so glad she got better than this.

A. S. Byatt, Angels and Insects. And speaking of "I am so glad she got better than this," having an awesome metaphor for the totally standard and somewhat stereotyped social thing you're doing does not actually make it awesome. Gahhhh, this booooook.

Ying Chang Compestine, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. This is a novelized memoir for children, about being a young girl in the last days of Mao's rule. As a memoir it works all right. As a novel I thought it was a complete failure. Structurally it was a mess, and the series of events was...like series of events are, in life. Which is to say, kind of not really adding up to a novel per se. On the other hand, I'm glad that if Compestine wanted to do things like writing her brothers out of her memoir for whatever reason, she didn't say, "oh, this is a memoir." Labeling it fictionalized is the right thing to do there, or at least a right thing to do there.

Aliette de Bodard, Harbinger of the Storm. By this point in the post, you may be thinking, sheesh, doesn't she like anything? And yes. This. I like this. It is as good as the first one. And there is more to come! I'm so excited. (This is the second one in the Mexica mythology murder mystery series I started last month. Go, read, enjoy!)

M.A. Foster, The Gameplayers of Zan. Oh my Seventies. Wow, was this book a product of its time. It was allowed to start much more slowly, with much much more exposition, than most modern SF is. And don't worry! Having female main characters will only last for the length of the really expository sections! Once stuff starts to happen, there'll be a guy for the main character. (...sigh.) The head-on obsession with incredibly rigid alternate family structures, the sidelong obsession with overpopulation, the impression that cellular automata were going to become some awesome game thinger, the [spoiler] that was the resolution...So. Very. Seventies.

George Grinnell, Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic. Library Kindle. I am still off nonfiction. This is what it says on the label. It's about a canoeing trip gone wrong, and there are digressions into personal dislike of Franklin Roosevelt for not being liberal enough, among other things. Interesting guy, interesting book...but I'm still not doing well with nonfiction and sort of had to drag myself through the short and pithy volume.

Michael Innes, Appleby's Answer. If you want an English mystery novel from this era (early '70s, but Innes feels a bit older than that), this is one. Yep. It sure is.

Stina Leicht, Of Blood and Honey. I am not even a little bit sure of what I think of this book. I waffle a lot on various parts of it. I should mention up-front that there is sexual violence, and there is addictive hard drug use, so if those things are going to bother you on a particular day, that day is not the day to read this book. I guess the thing it's doing that makes me not entirely enthusiastic is that the hero is very, very pure and innocent to begin with, and that feels to me like the narrative snuffing out the last of the possible political ambiguity, and also seems implausible to me with the roughness of the circumstances surrounding him in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. (This may be due to a problem I have in perceptions: when other people are saying, "He's only sixteen!", I'm often looking at them like they're nuts and going, "Oh, come on, he's already sixteen!") On the other hand, those political circumstances are depicted in some detail, and while that can be harrowing, it's also fascinating. The thing I really like best, though, is that some of the people in this book have a theory about things related to magic, and that theory is wrong. Hurrah! I love it when people get to be wrong about magic. Human beings have been wrong about everything else, to the point where having every theory about magic turn out to be the right one is beyond magic and into "we are talking about some other sentient species, yes? because the squishy pink-and-or-brown monkeys are just not that good at this theorizing thing."

Terry Pratchett, Snuff. This is a one of those. Specifically: it's a Pratchett book where people discover that some other people actually count as people. He's done that a lot, he does it well, and here he's doing it again. We all know that this is going to be one of the later Pratchetts--one of the last ones we ever get--and I wish I could say it's a masterpiece. It's not. It's a very readable middling Pratchett novel. Which is fine, but if you're looking to start reading his work, don't start here.

Megan Whalen Turner, A Conspiracy of Kings. This is the most recent one in the series that started with The Thief, and as with all of them, her main mode of operation is the careful doling out to the reader fractions of the information possessed by the characters. Which is fine; at this point in the series, anyone who is likely to get frustrated by that shouldn't be reading any longer anyway. But some of my friends at 4th St. this summer seemed to be blown away by this one as somehow heaps and gobs better than the previous ones, and I didn't really think so; nor did I find it worse.

Jill Paton Walsh, Knowledge of Angels. This is an historical novel about...um...atheist theology, sort of? It's set on a Mediterranean island, and one of its heroes is from a city no one there has heard of, and he is an atheist, and the medieval powers that be do not know what to do with him, although unfortunately they eventually come up with some pretty standard ideas. Also there is a girl raised by wolves and transferred to the care of nuns. It's a more interesting book than it could easily have been, and I am inclined to forgive Paton Walsh a bit for not being Dorothy Sayers.

Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery. Kindle. Even being off nonfiction, this was a fast read for a particular project (not my own), and I think it's a good thing for people to have as an historical reference point. He writes briskly, his experiences are interesting, and he's a major American historical figure. Also it's available for free online. Hard to come up with reasons not to read it, after all that.

Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris, Girl in a Cage. Historical children's novel about Robert the Bruce's daughter Marjorie, mother of the Stuart line of kings. She and Edward Longshanks did not have a very pleasant time together. This book introduced me to Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, and that pleased me, because she was awesome. Go awesome historical figures I didn't know about before. (Marjorie was pretty cool too.) And of course Jane's prose is always a relief after stacks of discarded library books.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: txanne
2011-11-17 02:19 pm (UTC)
For once, our MV: I disliked Knowledge of Angels intensely. I found it utterly predictable, in that smug "oh the Middle Ages were So Awful, aren't we glad we're not them?" way.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-17 02:45 pm (UTC)
See, I found the plot predictable, but I found how it got to that point more interesting than I expected from the description.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2011-11-17 02:24 pm (UTC)
I did a double take on The Gameplayers of Zan, and had to go and look up John Brunner to discover that I was thinking of The Dramaturges of Yan. So that's all right.

I can't remember which one is Appleby's Answer, and I can't argue with it being an English mystery novel of whenever it was published, but umm. If you were looking for an English mystery novel and you found Michael Innes, I can see you being a bit taken aback. It's not that he doesn't do that, but he does it rather consciously, and maybe takes it to extremes. (Perhaps my inability to remember Appleby's Answer is more significant than I'm allowing for).
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-17 02:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's fairly self-conscious. But by the mid-'60s, my impression--and maybe I'm only reading a particular skew of them?--is that the self-consciousness was a great deal more embedded than it would have been in the 1940s, say.
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[User Picture]From: oursin
2011-11-17 03:25 pm (UTC)
There's a certain kind of donnish mystery that likes to think it's very self-knowing and meta of which Innes is one exemplar - I bounced off a reread of an Edmund Crispin, who was very similar to the point of name-checking Appleby, very hard indeed on a recent re-read (at least, I think it was a re-read, because I read most of Crispin's Gervase Fen mysteries at one time). There's a certain lumbering playfulness about their enterprise that has not worn well.

Though I do wonder if we had to have these in order to get Sarah Caudwell.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2011-11-17 04:22 pm (UTC)
Though I do wonder if we had to have these in order to get Sarah Caudwell.

Wonder no more. She was a fan of Innes, at least; and of that generation where you could almost take Crispin (or The Moving Toyshop at least) for granted.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2011-11-17 04:51 pm (UTC)
Don't tell desperance, but I have never got on with Edmund Crispin...
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2011-11-17 04:50 pm (UTC)
the self-consciousness was a great deal more embedded than it would have been in the 1940s, say.

Well, yes. But to this degree? There's something very mannered, very precious, about Innes - and I say this as a fan. Perhaps I'm not reading the same sample: off the top of my head I can only offer you Peter Dickinson, who doesn't flaunt his self-consciousness in the same way. Who are you thinking of?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-17 04:53 pm (UTC)
Well, your not-particularly-loved Crispin for one, and while Reginald Hill doesn't do the same mannered thing, he is extremely self-aware about mystery structure and playing with it.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2011-11-18 02:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, interesting! I think of Reginald Hill as later, since he's still writing, but of course you're right. And yes, there are passages in some of his books which read almost like pastiche of other wrtiters (only of course it's a long tome since I read them, and I can't name names: but there's a flood which made me think of Appleby, for example).
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-17 03:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Paton Walsh

My library appears to have none of her children's books. Very sad.
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2011-11-17 07:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Paton Walsh

I own (and am fond of) A Chance Child. You're welcome to borrow it.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2011-11-17 03:15 pm (UTC)
re: The Yolen/Harris: those are my relatives!

http://matociquala.livejournal.com/676816.html

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-17 03:22 pm (UTC)
Hey, cool! My relatives tend to set their jaws very stubbornly and explain that the surname (my dad's mom's surname) could either mean "relative of the king" or "relative of the wainwright," and in their case they feel VERY VERY SURE DAMMIT that it is the wainwright.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2011-11-17 03:33 pm (UTC)
Hee. Well, I like to claim it's a great reason NEVER EVER to give me a government job...
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2011-12-01 06:32 pm (UTC)
Well, that could get you to some good family reunions.

(Um. Sorry. Sometimes my brain makes strange connections. That one had to do with the McGarrigle Family including Kate's ex Loudon Wainwright and their kids Rufus and Martha.)
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2011-11-17 04:53 pm (UTC)
I couldn't get through Gameplayers of Zan, either. I hadn't recognized its flaws as being characteristic of the 1970s, but I suppose they are.

I haven't tried A Knowledge of Angels, but recently tried a couple of Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy novels. I like them, but more along the lines of Brother Cadfael than Hilary Tamar. Cozy academic communities with murder mysteries, without the sarcastic edge.

I wonder if "an historical novel about...um...atheist theology, sort of?" would make me think of The Magus if it weren't set on a Mediterranean island?
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From: diatryma
2011-11-18 01:13 pm (UTC)
One of the ways I get through older fiction is to view it as much as a historical artifact as a story. "Oh, this is what SF was like in the fifties!" holds my interest in a way that the styles of the time can't. I haven't tried it with anything recent, really-- there's kind of an uncanny valley where a book isn't interestingly old to me-- but sometimes it helps.
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2011-11-18 07:14 pm (UTC)
This approach helps me sometimes. Oddly, it's helping me with The Penderwicks. Although the book is clearly a product of this century, there are ways in which it's trying to imitate books of my grandparents' time. The disconnect is holding my attention, if not my admiration.
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[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2011-11-17 09:16 pm (UTC)
I heard great things about The Face in the Frost for many years, and when I eventually came to read it I was very disappointed. I thought the anachronisms were better done in The Last Unicorn (a high bar, to be sure) and the ending was a terrible deus ex machina. If I re-read it with lower expectations I might enjoy it more.
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2011-11-18 11:26 am (UTC)
I remember reading Up From Slavery in high school and quite liking it. I also dimly remember that this was the same month my sister was reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and that she and I were thus in very different mental spaces for the month.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-11-18 09:18 pm (UTC)
I know I own a copy of The Gameplayers of Zan, and it's reasonably likely that I've read it, but I'll be damned if I can remember even the slightest thing about it.
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