Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Book Report '04

I've enjoyed people's reports on what they've been reading, whether they do them over a month or over a year, so...

Books read all the way through: 316.
Books started and discarded: 14. (This also counts anthologies in which only one story interested me.) I didn't used to put books down again once I'd started them, so this is progress for me.

Notable rereads: Steven Brust's Taltos, Teckla, and Phoenix. Lois McMaster Bujold's Mirror Dance and Memory. Pamela's The Dubious Hills, The Secret Country, and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, but especially The Dubious Hills because I liked it so much more than I remembered (the other two I remembered liking that well). I have more Vorkosigan and Taltos wallowing to do, and I hope I get to do it soon.

Good nonfiction: These are books I'd recommend regardless of whether you had a particular interest in the subject matter. There are other books that have served me well for research into various stories and articles, but I wouldn't recommend them in general terms.

Jesse Byock's Medieval Iceland (though I like Viking Age Iceland better). Byock is one of the historians of Iceland whose balance of source materials makes sense to me. His writing is clear and culturally respectful without idealizing the culture in question.

Esmé Raji Codell's Educating Esmé. The subtitle, which I didn't write down, is something like "the diary of a teacher's first year." But it's not one of those teacher books, because Esmé is not one of those teachers. No treacle here.

Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. Part of my new interest in WWI. Not an easy book, because it brings everything into very human terms. I think that's a pretty obviously good thing, but it's not always an easy thing. Similarly, Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. Obvious, I know, but good.

Mark Kurlansky's 1968: the Year that Rocked the World. Yeah, big surprise, a Kurlansky book. But he's very, very good at microhistory, so even if you don't care about that year (or, y'know, don't consider it historical...), it's definitely worth the trouble. In fact, if you have clear memories of 1968 and would like to compare your take to what Kurlansky says, I'd love to hear what you've got to say.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Book. Especially the bit with the Mormons.

New Addictions: Series or author I hadn't gotten hooked on before and now am gulping down as fast as I can.

Dorothy Dunnett, the Lymond Chronicles. I've read the first three. The last three are sitting on the back corner of my desk. So veryvery twisty and good.

John M. Ford, in general. Okay, so I had already liked Mr. Ford's books. But I hadn't been able to find as many of them as I would have liked. Now I have a dealer or two and can get my fix more easily.

Mary Gentle, the Ash books and others. I was not very keen on Grunts, but oh my land, the Ash books ate my head. And I love Casaubon so much, so that series did some head eating, too. Want more. Sigh. This may be my big new addiction of the year that was not at least partially supplied by a friend's collection. It's okay: I can be the Mary Gentle supplier. Muwahaha. Ahem.

Rosemary Kirstein. Must know what happens next.

Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise books. Have read two so far. Am in need of more. Not just because I covet the clothes, either.

K. J. Parker. Brutal, beautiful stuff. Sometimes very confused characters, but generally not a confused author, so that's fine, then.

Ellis Peters, the Cadfael books. A nice surprise, since I hadn't thought much of the Edith Pargeter books I'd read, and this is the same person. Maybe it was poor timing or comparing them to the wrong things, or maybe Peters/Pargeter does better with the structure of a mystery. Hard to say.

Anthony Price. I keep saying it: what I wanted LeCarre to be. I mean it, though, so that's why I keep saying it.

Best Anthologies: Julie Czerneda's Summoned to Destiny. I didn't like every story in it, but there were several I really, really liked, which has been lacking in most of my short story reading lately.

Sharyn November's Firebirds. As above: didn't love every story, did love some, good enough for me. Although I should have waited until after Crown Duel to read it, I think.

Otherwise standing out in good ways:

Diane Duane, Wizard's Holiday. Moremoremore. This is not an ending! Where is? Where are? What is? Wait! Aaagh! It's a good thing the next one is coming out soon, or I might just implode.

Doris Egan's Ivory books. I had the first one, porphyrin lent me the second two. They were just plain fun. Sometimes just plain fun is a very good thing.

Diana Wynne Jones's The Merlin Conspiracy. I don't have quite so many Diana Wynne Jones books left unread this year. I was really glad to see this one, though, and it lived up to my expectations. Go read Deep Secret first if you haven't already, especially you con-goers.

Megan Lindholm's Wizard of the Pigeons. It kind of went together the way it should, is the thing. Hard to poke with a stick and say why, though. Synopses made me roll my eyes, but the book wasn't like that.

Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist. Classic of the genre, I know, I know, but I didn't get around to reading it until this year. I'm glad I did, though. Definitely worth the hype.

Tim Powers's On Stranger Tides. Yarrrrr, matey.

Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky and Monstrous Regiment. Going Postal was good, too, but those two were just The Thing for me. I'm still occasionally elbowing people and going gnr, gnr, gnr because of Monstrous Regiment. It hit me right in a fairly unusual way. A helpless giggling way. Haven't had that in awhile.

Joel Rosenberg's The Fire Duke, although Paladins was also good. I stopped reading Joel's stuff in the middle of college when I stopped reading most fantasy in favor of a lot of old SF. I'm glad to have started again. This is better than I remember the earlier stuff being, but that may be a fault in my memory. Anyway, The Fire Duke had Norse stuffs in it and did not annoy me, which is always good. (I think it was that he was clearly aware of taking things in a different direction than some parts of myth, rather than doing it accidentally or by ignorance. I know, sometimes my compliments are so extravagant people can hardly bear them: "Hey, here are some ways in which you didn't suck!" But there are lots and lots of ways for writers to suck, and I've encountered many of them in published works, so I notice them when they're well-avoided.)

Will Shetterly's Dogland. Subtle, nice.

Charlie Stross's Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise. Most of what I've been excited about lately has been fantasy. Stross has been a counterexample so far.

Jo Walton. Gets better with every book (including the one that's wholly unrelated to the other three). Was not too shabby with the first book anyway. Everybody loves Tooth and Claw for a reason, and everybody includes me. And people who don't like it ought to be eaten, so there.

Longest Sought: Arthur Ransome's Great Northern. I have wanted this book since I was 11. I found it a few weeks before my 26th birthday. That is a hell of a long time to want a single book. It was not the best Swallows and Amazons book (my vote still goes to Winter Holiday for that, although The Picts and the Martyrs is also good, and I haven't reread Peter Duck or Missee Lee yet). But it was a Swallows and Amazons book, a new-to-me Swallows and Amazons book after fourteen years, and that was quite good enough.

Big disappointments: These are not the worst books I read this year. I am more disappointed in a book that comes close and falls short than in a book that just isn't worth my time.

Leah Cutter's The Caves of Buda. This book should have been absolutely wrenching for me to read when I read it. I read it on our way to see Grandma Lyzenga, who was dying, and we were not sure if she would be alive or herself when we got there. A book that dealt with a grandfather's decline should have been very difficult. It was not. It was just kind of there.

Charles de Lint's Spirits in the Wires. Blah blah BLAH, it's all so magical and artsy and exactly the same. I'm starting to think I should avoid reading new Newford books so I don't spoil the old ones for myself. But I know I don't have the willpower to avoid them indefinitely. I just read them and get sad at the incredibly deep rut de Lint has worn for himself.

Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. Everybody rushes around being cool. The central conceit is underexploited. Don't like the characters. Bored by the setting. Am very glad I'm enjoying A Place So Foreign And Eight More, because I am reassured that Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom was not a fluke.

Larry Millett's Lost Twin Cities and Twin Cities Then and Now. The photographs are interesting, but Larry Millett seems to hate my city. He's so in love with the Twin Cities of 1910 or even 1945 that he's forgotten that cities are living things. The first title is telling: old buildings, even scrubby old warehouses, don't get replaced, they get lost, and nothing that replaces them could ever, ever, ever be any kind of improvement. He also bought into some of the urban planning theories that annoy me most. "People on sidewalks = good/people in skyways = bad." Screw that: this is Minneapolis, and it gets cold. And at dusk when the snow is falling and the buildings are just coming lit, looking out at my city from one of the skyways is just about the best thing. This was like reading several hundred pages of how degenerate my mother is compared to the virtue of my grandmother: they're pretty similar, and I can love both.

Pat Murphy's Adventures in Time and Space With Max Merriwell. Zed recommended this book to me, and Zed generally has pretty good taste. Meh, though. Pat Murphy seemed a lot more taken with her cleverness than I was. When the main portion of a book is a clever conceit, one ought to be very, very sure that the conceit is clever enough.

Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built. Good concept, but the execution just trailed off in the middle, and I stopped caring to a nearly-fatal degree.

Sigrid Undset's The Bridal Wreath. Nordic depression repeated for an entire novel. It takes a special gift to make "and then she married the love of her life and they had a kid" an unhappy ending to an unhappy book. The other two in this series are still on my pile -- I think, as a good literate Scandophile, I should read them -- but oof, I am not looking forward to it. Also, the translator really, really, really annoyed me.

Liz Williams, Nine Layers of Sky and The Poison Master and The Ghost Sister. Possibly the most maddening of the disappointing books on my list, because I remain convinced with each book that the next book will be the one that connects with me somehow, and they keep just...not getting there. They sound so good. There are such good things about them. But somewhere they just aren't touching me, and I'm not sure why.

Should Have Stopped Reading But Didn't: Zoran Zivkovic's The Fourth Circle. Do you want to read about the rape of Stephen Hawking? Neither did I. And the rest of the book was not notably better.

People on my friends list whose books I've read this year (published and unpublished): leahbobet, pameladean, porphyrin, merriehaskell, kijjohnson, pegkerr, nihilistic_kid, tnh, sdn (if you count anthologies edited, which I do), joelrosenberg, sartorias, 1crowdedhour and papersky. I have volumes from msagara and matociquala on my list/pile, too. (I still want to read the book on elizabethbear, but I hate serials, even/especially of books I love so I figured I'd just wait and read it when it was all up, and I haven't found the time yet.)

I would like to poke a few of you about why it is that I haven't read a book by you this year, hmmmmmm? Except that many members of that poked group would then poke back and ask where their copy of Thermionic Night was, and I would have to look sheepish and mumble things about how very large this book is, and then everybody would quite rightly roll their eyes and look stern.

So I'm typing in some of the revisions right now, then.

Edited to add: I try to avoid saying anything about someone's unpublished book except sometimes that I'm reading it. Public book reviews are not for works in mid-critique, is my feeling on the matter.
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