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Books read, late June

Pat Barker, Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. Rereads. I read these more or less in one go, as a trilogy, and that’s how I recommend doing it. There is an interesting phenomenon with some books that break a lot of ground in their time, because they sometimes do not look as astonishing in retrospect because people have gone on so much further after. Which is not to say that these are not still quite readable books–in fact I tore through them–but Barker was doing so much less with both sexuality and the war poets than I remembered. The first volume had such an incredibly light hand with sexuality, in fact, that I think a new reader to it would say, “I thought she said a theme of this trilogy was….” And the war poets rather the opposite: Siegfried Sassoon is a protagonist of the first, certainly, but I remembered him and Owen looming much larger throughout than they did. In short what she was doing here was not what I remembered her doing. Was it interesting, yes; but the things that were striking to me when I first read it nearly twenty years ago were less so now, and there were different directions. I’m still not sure what I think of the use of Rivers’s ethnographic work in the last volume. Huh. I’m not sorry I reread it, and I probably will want to reread it again in another twenty years for another look.

Nancy Marie Brown, The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women. Discussed elsewhere.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Assassins of Thasalon. Kindle. I like watching Lois think through all the different implications of the theology of this world and what it would do to actual people, and the compassion she approaches it with. This is very much the latest in a long series and I wouldn’t start here, but I enjoyed it as such.

Stephanie Burgis, The Disastrous Debut of Agatha Tremain. Kindle This was light and fun and just what I needed at its moment, the kind of 19th century-inspired fantasy that Steph does so well.

Elias Lönnrot (Eino Friberg trans.), The Kalevala. I was told that there was a new translation of the Kalevala, but alas, there is a new edition of a 1989 translation, and it does not even have new introductory material that could discuss use of words like “sq–w” that have no place in a translation of a Finnish poem, honestly what on earth was Penguin thinking. What are new editions even for. Why do they put introductions on things that tell me the entire plot of novels I haven’t read yet if they can’t put them on other things to apologize for (and/or amend…) racist language from past translators. Among my many gripes with the Friberg translation: it is mostly metrical but only mostly, so the places where it breaks meter are extremely glaring and do not appear to be for poetic emphasis or characterization, and mostly I could see how I would fix them myself in the moment I was reading it, which threw me out of the poem narrative. Also Friberg uses very cutesy translation words to try to keep meter in some places, like “snackbite” and “bigly,” which: stop that, Eino, what are you doing. Bigly. Now really. And when you have an epithet that breaks meter, returning to that epithet again and again when you could choose an epithet that does not break meter–oh, it’s dreadful. This is not what I meant when I said I wanted to compare translations. I hope the next version is better, or I’m just going to huddle in the corner with Francis Peabody Magoun and glare. (Magoun also uses “sq–w.” Why the fascination. Stop it.) Where is our Finnophone version of Maria Dahvana Headley? Where Emily Wilson? Whither Shadi Bartsch? I would give that person several of my very own cash dollars. I would rally my friends. I know several people. Is there a reverse Kickstarter where you put cash on the barrel and sort of a rope snare and translators wander through the forest that is the internet and when there is enough tasty cash they try to take it and translate poetry. I also want a Kalevipoeg more recent than W. F. Kirby in 1895. I don’t ask much. I’m a reasonable person.

Tehlor Kay Mejia, Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares. Discussed elsewhere.

Zin E. Rocklynn, Flowers for the Sea. Discussed elsewhere.

Dorothy Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon and Lord Peter. Rereads. Here is where my sense of Bunter comes from. There is more Bunter here than in the rest of the series. I had been thinking my reader’s 50% was really more like 80% when it came to Bunter–which would be understandable for class reasons–but there’s a lot more of him here, hello Bunter, I’d missed you. There were some really interesting things here, and also some appalling ones. The last story in Lord Peter, in particular, is that thing that happens with people of that era: it is an entire story that is more or less completely written in defense of capital punishment. If you ever get to making the mistake that people of past generations who are sensible in one regard are sensible in all, read “Tallboys” and you will be soundly disabused, because it is start to finish a whole-hearted defense of beating quite small children with sticks and how great it is and how much they love it and how much people who say one oughtn’t to beat children are hypocrites who would do it at first opportunity. You often see this sort of thing among science fiction writers of the same age as well. It’s horrifying particularly in the context of a series that has been seriously considering the problem of equality in heterosexual relationships. It’s a very weird note to end on and makes me very strongly anti-recommend reading the short stories last.

Fran Wilde, The Ship of Stolen Words. I read an earlier version of this in manuscript, and I’m delighted that it is now published and available to the rest of you! Goblins steal Sam’s ability to apologize, and he has to chase them and their word-hunting pigs through Little Free Libraries to get his words back. Sam’s frustrations and struggles and joys are utterly charming and delightful. Highly recommended.

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