Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late February

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. Kindle, reread. I hadn’t reread this in decades, and it made me laugh as it was supposed to do (though it did not particularly make me cheer in the places it was supposed to, goals having changed). I had forgotten, however, that this book contains one of my Jane Austen identification characters, by which I mean Sir John, because: Sir John is always and basically only concerned with other people’s dogs. “We met Willoughby,” the Dashwood sisters tell him, and he immediately perks up and asks, “did he have his dog with him?” and starts describing the dog. Well done that man, one of the few people in literature to understand the proper focus of a conversation. Later, when he is angry at Willoughby: “and to think I offered him a puppy just yesterday morning!” Indeed, sir! You have moved me to indignation alongside you! And so on through the book. He is sharply observed, but also oh dear, he is me. Unfortunately no one else in the book is him, so I don’t know enough about his dogs, who I expect are quite nice also, if anything nicer. I wonder if this is what fanfiction is for, but I have too much else to do. Various people marry each other, but in only one case are we explicitly assured that their dogs are nice after, and he doesn’t deserve it. Ah well.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Demon Daughter. Kindle. The latest Penric and Desdemona novella, featuring a young Roknari girl adjusting to an equally young demon under the theology of this world. This continues the standing tradition of the Roknari being basically objectively wrong about the nature of demons and the Bastard God, so if that’s something that bothers you in this worldbuilding, there’s a lot of focus on it. It also has the protagonist family being quite nice to a child in need, so–it really depends on your focus and needs of this novella.

Adrian Cooper, ed., Arboreal: A Collection of New Woodland Writing. All fairly brief essays, all tree- or forest-focused, nothing particularly deep unfortunately, and the authors I’d read before were not at their particular best here. Fine but not outstanding.

Christine Coulson, One Woman Show. A “novel” (probably not by length, no, probably novelette or novella) told as placards at an art exhibition–the entire life of an unhappy wealthy woman, birth to death. Coulson was clever here but not particularly compassionate to any of the characters–basically none of them had any redeeming traits. Which is a choice she can make, and you can judge for yourself whether the cleverness of the conceit will be worth the time for you.

Genoveva Dimova, Foul Days. Discussed elsewhere.

Rose Fox (now going by Asher Rose Fox) and Daniel José Older, eds., Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Reread. Picked up for a memorial reread on the passing of one of the authors (S. Lynn), who was the dear friend of a dear friend though I did not know her at all, and the entire rest of the volume was engaging enough that I just kept going with the whole thing. At a decade on it was interesting to see that some of the new and unfamiliar authors had become household names at least in this very nerdy household. As with any anthology not every story could be a favorite but there were enough that qualified in that category that I had a hard time putting it down even though it was my designated “short bits” book.

Antonia Fraser, Lady Caroline Lamb: A Free Spirit. Fraser seems to be particularly taken with defending Lady Caroline on the grounds that the people who were most upset with her did most of the same things she did, and if she was appalling, so were they. For this she makes a pretty good case. She also makes a somewhat reasonable case that Lady Caroline’s mental health needs were not well-served by the medical care available at her time, although this occasionally strays into specific diagnoses in ways that I don’t find entirely well-judged for the level of historical distance we have. This is a very short book and probably should not be your first introduction to Whig society of this period (early 19th century).

Barbara Hambly, The Nubian’s Curse. The latest Benjamin January mystery, and the title refers to a statue from an ancient kingdom rather than getting cutesy about a semi-modern person. Probably not the best place to start with the series but a reasonable enough place to continue.

Florian Illies, Love in a Time of Hate: Art and Passion in the Shadow of War. Episodic flashes of how notable figures in various of the arts got by in Europe in the 1930s. Interesting, sad, engaging.

Catherine E. Karkov, Art and the Formation of Early Modern England. Kindle. A brief Kindle monograph on influences on the art of this period and how it, in turn, influenced its world. Not of great depth but with interesting bits about, for example, stone-carving and enamel-working.

Mark Monmonier, How to Lie With Maps. I was not the audience for this book. I’m frankly having a hard time imagining the audience for this book, which is an audience who is interested enough to read an entire book on map inaccuracy but not interested enough to have thought for even one moment about the topic before. It was so basic, and despite the catchy title it did not spend a great deal of time on things like gerrymandering. I kept waiting for the chapters where it leveled up. There were no such chapters.

Christopher Priest, The Prestige. Reread. I picked this up for a memorial reread after he passed away recently, and what a relief it was to find it still basically where I left it: the prose so readable, the characters as flawed as they ever were but handled so well by the author in their differing settings and voices, the stagecraft vivid and fun/horrifying to contemplate.

Ron Shelton, The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham. This is an example of how I will read whatever is lying about because another family member has it, but honestly it was fast and interesting, and I like Bull Durham a lot. What was particularly interesting were the places where Shelton was talking about scenes that were cut that…would not have added to the movie and he did not seem clear on why but I, with 25 years of experience as a short story writer, could totally have told him why. We don’t always understand our own work, this is why we get other eyes on it, I’m glad he got other eyes on his, I’m glad I have other eyes on mine. And I’m totally glad the studio person who wanted Anthony Michael Hall as Nuke LaLoosh lost out, because what tomfoolery is this.

Francis Spufford, Cahokia Jazz. On the one hand, I think it’s amazing that someone tried to write an alternate history this sweeping, of an America where smallpox did not actually kill off most of the Native American population, where there is a vast and thriving Native culture in the early 20th century, where St. Louis does not exist but the city of Cahokia, with strong Native traditions, does. On the other hand the farther back the divergence point with our history the more convergence becomes a statement of inevitability. And having a divergence back in the 16th or 17th century that…still leads to a powerful KKK and a non-identical but quite similar Birth of a Nation? is making a statement about how powerful and how inevitable those things are that I don’t like and don’t agree with. Also frankly it really rubbed me the wrong way to have a British man coming in and writing about the KKK racism of the German-Americans in his fictional Missouri when I know a great deal about the history of German-Americans in actual Missouri and how it was German 48ers who kept it Bloody Missouri instead of entirely rolling over and showing belly for the enslavers so excuse me if I don’t find it a compelling vision that oh it’s those Germans who are racist, certainly not the Americans of similar ethnic background to Mr. Spufford himself who were the actual founders of the KKK, sir, own your shit. (In case you think I’m being defensive, I am not myself of German ethnicity. I just find it awfully convenient when someone comes in and points so hard at Them when there’s a whole lot of his Us behaving badly to be had.) And the ending: I will give you three guesses as to what kind of ending someone who decided that his compelling vision of a future full of Native Americans featured a dominant KKK would give us for his Native hero. Heroic ending, certainly, but: happy or tragic, no spoiler here, you just guess though, you just give it one guess whether he wanted to imagine something good for a large, strong Native man in a strong Native culture…or not. I wanted so much better here. His prose is compelling. I have liked his other work. But the vision here is flawed in ways that I don’t think he was even trying to understand. I don’t think he knows what he doesn’t know here.

Noel Streatfeild, The Silent Speaker. Kindle. Very clear, very large content warning: this is a book about a suicide. There is a dinner party in chapter one, in chapter two one of the people at the dinner party kills themself, and the entire rest of the book is the other characters trying to figure out why that person did it. This book was published in 1961, the last of Streatfeild’s adult novels, and its mid-century status turns out to be very important to the plot as well as to its worldview. It’s actually not one of the preachier Streatfeilds–the people who are ready to blame themselves are generally wrong and given authorial compassion as well as compassion from some of the other characters–but because of the subject matter I would put this in the “only if you are quite interested in her work in general” list; it’s very much not for everyone for reasons that I would hope would be tolerably obvious.

Martha Wells, The Book of Ile-Rien (containing The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer). Discussed elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *