Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, early February

Hanne Blank, Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. I have been privy to some of the writing of this book, so I am very glad to see it in finished form, and it's got a lot more of the, "oh yes! this bit!" nature than novels I have been privy to the writing of. And I kept wailing, "Control groups, you people, control groups!" But I was wailing with Hanne, not against her, so.

Mike Carey, The Unwritten: On To Genesis. Or possibly Ontogenesis. The kerning is deliberately vague. Obscure Scribblies and their writing implements: yay. But oh, graphic novels of this sort are so short. Waiting impatiently for the more that is coming.

A. M. Dellamonica, Blue Magic. Discussed elsewhere.

Janet Gyatso and Hanna Havnevik, Women in Tibet. I don't recommend this unless you have substantial background about the region, which I don't, although with time I expect I will acquire it. It is a work for people with a specialist interest. The essay on women in modern Tibetan medicine, for example, lists by name the women in each of the first several graduating classes in medicine, which is all very well but rather dry, one might say. Also it does the thing that drives me just bazoo in the historical section, where it fails to distinguish between a society that is deeply sexist but better than its neighbors and one that is worse. Also this is not a book for people who want to maintain a belief that Tibetan Buddhism is a superior form of religion that has never had any of the difficulties between theory and practice that plague other forms of religion, or that Tibetans are in general deeply nice people who never upset each other or do anything bad unless the Chinese are directly to blame. Not that this is a book that will teach you that the Chinese are deeply nice people who just came into Tibet to take some vacation photos and have a few momos! Sigh. History. Not for the nice.

Barbara Hambly, Days of the Dead. This one moves from Louisiana to Mexico City. The departure ended up working all right but not fabulously for me, and the plot twists did not strike me as particularly twisty. Still interested in the series, though.

Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. I learned from 1491, you see. For ages, I kept having the same conversation at cons, where people would ask if I'd read 1491 and then tell me that I simply must. So this time I read 1493 early so I could have different conversations. The difference, though, is that while this book was interesting and had things that made my eyes do the O_O thing (malaria and the Mason-Dixon Line, wow wow wow), I feel like he could write a near-infinite number of books of the same title, whereas the same was not really true of 1491. The first one had an inevitability about it and its structure. This one was more...some stuff that was good and interesting. And it was good and interesting. But.

Sarah Monette (truepenny), Somewhere Beneath Those Waves. I keep trying to feel my way around the difference between dark fantasy and horror, because "horror is the stuff I don't like" feels like it's unfair, and then saying cheerfully, "Oh, this collection of Sarah's is mostly dark fantasy," is useful for people who have a sense of my personal boundaries and not really for anybody else. (Or, conversely, useful for people who have a sense of Sarah's short fiction and want to know about my personal boundaries.) I like the longer stuff better than the shorter stuff, and I am fascinated by how few of our periods of personal fascination overlap even slightly. And I think that is what I have to say about that for the moment, but there might be more later.

Daniel O'Malley, The Rook. Do not look in this book for subtlety. The sorts of small details that might add up to cool plot points in another, better fantasy spy novel: they are just things that O'Malley forgot or didn't mean anything by. If you want to tear through a fantasy spy novel and not pay too much attention, though, this will do fine.

Tim Powers, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories. This is not the end of Tim Powers stuff I like best, but it's Tim Powers, so of course it's all quite readable.

Jon Ronson The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. What a weird book. Ronson wants to talk about what makes a psychopath in the sense of how we can tell, and then he wants to talk about what makes a psychopath in terms of who contributes to social concepts, and...there are neurologists and Scientologists and prisoners and whatever else he likes, and he seems to think of himself as a well-known writer and I don't, so that got strange too. It was short and fast and entertaining, but not really like much else.

Greg Rucka, Queen and Country Vol. 2 and 3. I know, I know, but I only got the borrowed copies of Sandbaggers yesterday. And this was fun, and I am amazed that I can actually see when it's a different comics artist I know from elsewhere, because I think of myself as Totally Ignorant. And also I will be interested to see where Volume 4 is going, but I don't quite want to be All Done that soon.

Thomas Siddell, Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 3: Reason. LASER COWS OMG I WOULD TOTALLY HAVE LIKED CAMPING IF IT HAD COME WITH LASER COWS. Also, y'know. Forward plot momentum. Yay.

Laurel Snyder, Bigger Than a Bread Box. This was a great disappointment to me. It felt like it was emotionally hugely important to the author, but it read like her therapy over her parents' divorce. It was a kids' fantasy, and there was nothing fun about it, absolutely nothing. It was one dreary thing after another, and there were tedious Lessons to be Learned from the magic, and--Laurel Snyder, seriously? This is the woman who wrote that lovely wall book? I suppose I just don't understand how kids who are in the middle of a divorce process things, but on the other hand I find it entirely possible that kids who are in the middle of a divorce do not need gloom and lectures from an author who has previously written interesting fun books. I will try her next thing, but with far less sense of glee and excitement than I had.

Chris Van Allsburg, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales. And to continue my incredibly judgy streak, I am going to just pretend this book does not exist, and let us never speak of it again. Actually I probably will speak of it again, because it's a very useful example of what it's doing, and what it's doing is ruining negative capability. The Harris Burdick prints were fun and awesome and interesting, and I have one hanging in my office and some more hanging above my piano. But part of what makes them interesting is the way they let you fill in all sorts of different stories. And it turns out that taking very famous writers and having them toss off mediocre stories does not actually improve on the what-ifs that tease the corners of one's mind when looking at the original Harris Burdick prints--at least, not the ones that teased the corners of my mind. This is like showing the Balrog on screen rather than having it lurk in the darkness; it's like giving the Sith rulebook instead of just referring to Darth Vader as Lord of the Sith and letting us fill in our imaginings of what that must mean the Sith are like. If you've spent years and years leaving things to people's imaginations, you should be awfully sure that what you're substituting is even half as good. With one or two exceptions, these just aren't.

Norman Vorano, Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration: Early Printmaking in the Canadian Arctic. markgritter and I saw this exhibit in Vancouver when we were there, and the book had some but not all of my favorite prints. It was really lovely stuff, highly recommended and somewhat weird, though the book did not capture some of my favorite weirdness.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America's Great Migration. I would say I read this in honor of Black History Month, but honestly I requested it in January and only got the library copy in February because everybody else wanted it in January also. And if you have any interest in contemporary US history, you should read it, too, in February or any other month. The "Great Migration" here refers to the way that African-Americans spread out from the US South to the North and West in the years from WWI to 1970ish. I was expecting this to be more trends and statistics, and there was some of that, but there was also a lot of individual example and personal story, and I found that really interesting and effective.

Walter Jon Williams, Aristoi. I did not find his use of multiple personality strands as multiple simultaneous narrative threads either convincing within the narrative or effective as a narrative device, which limited how much I enjoyed the book, but I did enjoy it somewhat, and would recommend it for people who are in the mood for a far-future of a particular kind. It feels like it was towards the beginning of something, but I'm having a hard time articulating what.
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