1 September 2016

august bookblogging.

Being back in Wheaton, I have access to a public library again (not to mention the college library), so my pool of available books has grown dramatically. Being back in Wheaton, I'm in class again, so my available reading time has shrunk dramatically. A man's reach must exceed her grasp, as the poet saith, or what's a heaven for?

Naomi Novik, Uprooted. This year's Nebula winner, a fantasy novel set in pseudo-medieval pseudo-Poland. The magic descriptions are the best part and I wanted more of them. Specifically I wanted more of the magic lessons. My problem with this book mostly boils down to a mismatch of expectations: I read it thinking it would be a quiet novel with romance and a heroine learning how to do magic (I'd heard it compared to Howl's Moving Castle, so you can't really blame me), and at the beginning that's what it looks like. I enjoyed those first parts immensely, mostly because I'm a massive sucker for a Beauty and the Beast motif. But then the high-stakes plot showed up, the court scenes and politics bogged me down a great deal, and the romance turned out to be underwritten. The ending's wonderful though, and overall I'm glad I read it. Novik's as competent as ever, and if you like this sort of thing it's just the sort of thing you'd like; it just wasn't as much my type of thing as I thought it might be.

P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves. They're Wodehouse. What else do you want to know? If you've read any Wodehouse you know exactly what he's like, and if you haven't why are you wasting your time on this blog?

George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion. What an aggressively peculiar play.

Donna Tartt, The Secret History. In summary: Never study Classics. Never do that. This is a book about a lot of pretentious Classics students at an elite Vermont liberal arts school who get together and murder one of their classmates. There is not a single spoiler in that sentence. You know from the beginning that they've murdered their classmate: when, why, and how they did so are gradually revealed. It's a beautifully written book. Tartt's characters and settings are well-drawn, and the story is incredibly gripping despite the fact that all those well-drawn characters are straight-up terrible people. It is also, in places, very funny. One of the best books I've read in absolute yonks, and despite its length a quick read. I love college novels and this is a good one. (I'm pretty sure it's also the book that Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys was trying to be. Don't read that. Read this. Chip Kidd can do a decent atmosphere, but he can't do plot.)

Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison. This is not the first Lord Peter novel (that's Whose Body?), but it is the first to feature his eventual wife Harriet Vane; like many people I only read Poison because I first read and loved the later book Gaudy Night, which stars Harriet. I don’t like mysteries much as a genre; I can never keep suspects straight in my head, and I found a lot of the business about the will a bit tedious, but surprisingly the story picked up when the narrative shifted over to Miss Climpson. She’s a great character, and the séance scenes are delightful. Also—possibly because I don’t read mysteries—the solution took me completely by surprise and struck me as very clever indeed. The emotional plot is a little thinner here than we would get later on, and Harriet and Peter will both mature a great deal before this is all over, but even here I love them.

Curtis Sittenfield, Eligible. Why did I read this? I don't know, I didn't know while I was reading it why I was reading it. It is not a good book. It's a modernized Pride and Prejudiced, and it's competently written, if a little overwritten, but it's just not that good. I dislike Sittenfield's take on Mrs. Bennet, and Jane and Bingley are both fairly underwritten. There were some clever bits, but as usual: if you want to read Jane Austen fanfiction, do it on the internet. It's actually a lot better there.

Adam Rex, The True Meaning of Smekday. A re-read. This is a comic novel for kids about the alien invasion of the United States, and it's an old favorite of mine. The friendship that develops between Tip and J.Lo is one of my favorite friendships in all of children's literature.

Rumer Godden, The Peacock Spring. This was a recommendation from my mother—one of her old favorites. It's a quiet and sad story about an English girl, the daughter of a diplomat, who moves to India and falls in love with her father's gardener. Everything goes wrong, as things are wont to do. This is a beautiful book, written in a strange and evocative style, full of long and elliptical sentences. It's also smart. It would be so easy for a book with a plotline like this to come across as a condemnation of interracial relationships, but—largely because of Godden's deft and realistic character work—it's painfully obvious that the failings of Ravi's and Una's relationship aren't because he's Indian and she's English but because she's immature and he's awful. It's a relationship between two real and particular individuals, both of whom ring true to me. I'm hoping soon to read Godden's book In This House of Brede, which is about a convent.

Annie Dillard, Mornings Like This. A lovely little collection of found poetry. The pieces are rather hit-or-miss, but the hits hit hard. Curiously the technique works best in her imperative pieces, the ones where the text is drawn from how-to manuals; I haven't quite figured out yet why that should be. It's a good collection, and it gave me some excellent ideas for my own poetry.

Pamela Dean, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. This was a re-read. Dean is one of my favorite authors; I re-read her novels regularly and always seem to pick up something new in them. I think the best place to start with this one is that it's a feminist novel, not in the sense that it’s about cool and interesting women and girls (although it is) but in the most literal sense of being a work about feminism, and femininity, and what it is to be just-barely a teenage girl. It's also an adaptation of a traditional ballad, "Riddles Wisely Expounded." Dean has the advantage here that most readers nowadays, if they are familiar with the ballad at all, are only familiar with the modern rationalized version. She follows the oldest and weirdest branches of the tradition, and although I knew both versions of the story the darkness of this telling astonished me the first time round. It does have one of my favorite hopeful-but-not-altogether-happy endings of all time. The young characters read older, which is a perennial problem with Dean's writing, but I love them too; it's one of those books you re-read just so you can hang out with the people in it. Dean's dense and allusive prose is as intoxicating as ever.

who even knows, probably Tara Gillesbie, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. No, I'm not explaining who Tara Gillesbie is. If you didn't already get that joke you don't want to know, and also you're not even a little bit cool enough to be reading this blog. So, this play. I mean—it's not good, to start with. I suppose you might call it a curate's egg, but you'd be best off just calling it fanfiction. I'm not sorry I read it, largely because there are some bits that are genuinely good or at least rather sweet (Draco gets a redemption arc! Ron and Hermione are in love in every universe!) and there are some spectacularly goofy bits that I enjoy knowing about ("dog diggity, Cedric Diggory, you are a doggy dynamo"). I recommend it, even!—if you can keep you expectations low. It tries to do too much, and it's sloppily plotted. I'm not sorry I read it, but I can't help being a little sorry that it exists. Feelings are complicated!

Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak. I know, I know, the rest of you all read this in middle school. I meant to, but then I didn't. So I read it now, and it's much better than I was expecting it to be. It is of course the archetypal YA "problem novel," a genre distinction I've always hated. It's about a girl starting high school who was raped at a party during the summer. It's about trauma and depression, and it's also in large measure about recovery and growth. You can see Melinda come to life. It's also funny and well-observed, and Melinda comes across as a real fourteen-year-old. It's well worth your time, and it made me cry.

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark. The sequel to his wonderful Wishful Thinking. These are his theological ABCs, whimsical and insightful and heartening.

Buechner, Peculiar Treasures. And the third in the trilogy; this one is on Biblical characters, from Aaron to Zaccheus. I think it's the best of the three. My favorite entries included Aaron (Buechner's take on the golden calf: "a God in the hand is worth two in the bush"), Onesimus, and Paul, but it's a wonderful book all through. If I have one objection it's the way he writes about Bathsheba, generally blaming her for the whole debacle in ways that bother me. He's only averagely terrible at writing Bathsheba, I've definitely seen worse, but "average" is jarring when I've come to expect him to be so far above average.

Tommi Musturi, The Book of Hope. A Finnish comic book. The illustrations are beautiful, occasionally—as in some of the nature scenes—breathtakingly so. I don't know who decided that graphic-novels-as-art had to mean graphic-novels-as-incomprehensible, but I suppose we just have to make the best of it. This one's not bad. It's a bit like Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth if that book were less of an interminable slog and had brighter colors in it. The art style is similar as well, in fact—someday I really will write that paper on la ligne claire in non-Francophone comics. (I will not do this.) (I might.)

Anderson, Wintergirls. This one's about a girl with anorexia whose (also anorexic) best friend has just died. Like Speak, it avoids being a by-the-numbers issue-book by virtue of its sharp characterizations. It's a lot more painful than Speak though, and a lot less funny. It's got mythic undertones, and depending on how you read one plot element it may or may not actually be a fantasy novel. Though I'm usually all "YES EVERYTHING IS FANTASY" all the time (The Secret History is a fantasy) I'm not quite sure in this case what I want to believe. It's a very liminal book. Not as good as Speak I don't think, but a good book all the same.


That's seventeen books, almost all fiction and just over half of them by women, out of a hundred and fifty two books from the whole year. Currently besides several books for various classes I'm reading Jill Lepore's absolutely magical book Joe Gould's Teeth. I'll tell you about it this time next month!

1 comment:

  1. Keep reading and writing! I love reading about what you are reading!