4 February 2017

january bookblogging.

1 & 2. Gerald Morris, The Squire's Quest & The Legend of the King. These are MG/YA, from a Gawain-focused Arthuriana series I used to be a fan of when I was younger. These two, which I never got around to (well—I might have read The Squire's Quest; I didn't remember most of it, but there was a gag about the filioque that I thought I recognized) cover the end of the story. The tonal shift from what had been a fairly lighthearted series is a bit awkward in places, but ultimately very well-handled. I especially loved the very end of The Legend of the King.

3. Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Note from log: "I repudiate it." A strange little book, twee and authoritarian and fundamentally deeply materialistic. Even her sensible tips are delivered in an absolutist tone that makes them hilarious. As everyone says, she's especially bad on the subject of books—the right time to read a book, see, is when you first encounter it, so any book you own that you've not read yet can be got rid of straightaway. She also doesn't believe in re-reading, though she does believe in feeling sorry for your socks.

4–10. C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. Re-reads, obviously. At this point I'm not reading for plot even a little bit, but just to discover all the delightful little details I've forgotten over time. Can you believe that I didn't remember Bism? or Reepicheep losing at chess because he makes all his pieces do the stupid self-sacrificing things he would do in a real battle? et cetera, et cetera. As usual, Dawn Treader is my favorite, Silver Chair is the most effective/successful as a novel, and The Horse and His Boy is much easier to love than to like.

11. David Lodge, Changing Places. I have a documented weakness for campus novels; this one is very funny, very self-aware, and very good.

12. The Lais of Marie de France. This was for a medieval lit class; I am pleased to report that it's really wonderful, and totally mental in that way all the best medieval stuff is. One of them is about a werewolf!

13. Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing. This was for my Literature of the Digital Age class. Goldsmith is a poet who thinks, among other things, that we have so much text now that what we really ought to do now is focus not on rearranging and recontextualizing what we've already got—"context is the new content." Most of my classmates had mixed-to-negative feelings about all this; my final feeling, as expressed to a friend of mine in the class, is that I kind of want to beat Goldsmith up in a parking lot, but just the once, and after that I'll be more or less okay with him. I don't want to pass judgment now beyond the thing about beating him up, but he's always interesting and there's a lot here worth talking about.

14. Lev Grossman, The Magicians. What if Harry Potter, but anhedonic, and also consuming heroic quantities of alcohol? It's all a bit Donna-Tartt-does-J.-K.-Rowling, and while I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone else it worked for me on that score. I really like campus novels. Unfortunately the protagonist is intensely boring (some of the supporting characters are quite good, and I'm powerless to understand why they spend any time with him) and once everyone graduates, which happens a little more than halfway through, things get a lot less interesting. It turns from My Harry Potter Fanfiction, By Me, Lev to My Narnia Fanfiction, By Me, Lev—and Lev Grossman is not great at writing Narnia fanfiction. (There exists a version of this review that consists solely of the sentence "I could write better Narnia fanfiction than that," and in a lot of ways that kind of sums it up.)

15. Emma Donoghue, The Wonder. You know when you've read too many books by men, or one book that's extremely By A Man, and then you open a book by a woman and it's like you can breathe properly again? Coming straight off the back of The Magicians I was pre-disposed to like anything that didn't keep describing its female characters' breasts at me. I was also positively inclined because I'd read Donoghue's last-but-one book before this, Room, a novel about a kidnapping narrated by the victim's five-year-old son. It was very well-regarded, deservedly so; this one's been less talked about, but for my money it's better. I knew straightaway that it wouldn't be as praised generally—it's a historical novel, and it's very unusual. The protagonists here are Anna, an eleven-year-old Irish girl who's inexplicably stopped eating, and Lib, a Nightingale-trained English nurse who has been hired to watch Anna and get to the bottom of what's happening. Donoghue is one of the best in the game at writing child characters, and as such she manages to make Anna both believable and lovable and her story intensely gripping. This book is hard to recommend, because it's very upsetting in ways that are hard to warn for without spoiling the plot, but I loved it.

16. Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic. A gorgeous, timely little book about Japanese picture brides. It's written all in the second-person plural—I don't believe I've read anything else that uses that technique, but here it's surprisingly immersive and affecting.