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Books read, late July

Max Gladstone, Last First Snow. Discussed elsewhere. I also interviewed Max, in case you missed that.

Reginald Hill, A Clubbable Woman, An Advancement of Learning, Ruling Passion, An April Shroud, A Pinch of Snuff, A Killing Kindness, Deadheads, Exit Lines, and Child’s Play. Noticing a pattern? Yeah. This is the first nine books of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. I read them out of order the first time–wildly out of order, in fact. I read #17 of this series first. So I was wondering how they would go when read in order. I still recommend that people take them out of order. Hill started writing them in the late ’60s (first one came out in 1970), and so if you start at the beginning you get a reasonable-enough straight-up British detective novel with two straight white male British detectives. If you start late in the series, you get structurally inventive British detective novels with a diversity of literary references and character demographics. Knowing where you’re going makes where you’ve been a lot more interesting and worthwhile. They’re still quite readable novels of their type early on, but as Hill starts to realize he can play–Exit Lines is structured around three sets of last words and starts each chapter with an historical figure’s last words, Deadheads does not strictly follow the structure of the genre–you can feel him loosening up and having more fun. It’s not until the fourth book that Dalziel really gets interiority–I think that for the first three, while Hill was clear that Dalziel was a lot sharper than the unwary gave him credit for, he wasn’t sure how to do that or perhaps whether he wanted to–and that alone would have killed the series for me if I’d tried to start at the beginning: I have nothing against Peter Pascoe, but I’m more interested in literally everybody else. A Pinch of Snuff is pretty distasteful by today’s standards (not just including the bits that were clearly distasteful then also). Child’s Play…wow. Child’s Play is to an ordinary mystery novel as Trollope is to vampires, in the way I’ve talked about before: I am not actually worried about anybody I care about being brutally murdered. It’s pretty unlikely to happen. But if I had come into Child’s Play not knowing whether a favorite character would have their life ruined by coming out? I’m not sure whether I could have read it at all. It was a kind of peril, a kind of jeopardy, that affected me quite strongly. And the kindness from unexpected quarters made it a better book but no easier to read on that front. So seriously: wait until I’ve finished my reread of the whole series, and I’ll give some ideas for where to start late in it and then go back and fill in. It’ll be better that way. This was really interesting and worth doing, though, and despite having new books I really want to read from my birthday, I’m looking forward to continuing this series reread.

Lynn Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution. An attempt at looking at the French people’s personal and public concept of politics and government along family models. Some places Hunt really stretched this too far, interpreting an explicitly paternal Revolutionary figure as fraternal because that fit her argument better, and the chapter on the Marquis de Sade looked very much like “I know this doesn’t actually fit anything here, but he’s period and I want to talk about him.” Interesting but not amazing.

E. K. Johnston, Prairie Fire. The sequel to The Story of Owen. I recommend that you read both, as Prairie Fire will make less sense and be far less emotionally effective. I do recommend reading both rather than neither, though! Because! The alternate history stuff is hilarious and great. Modern-day rural Canadian dragon-slaying! This volume leaves Ontario and goes to Alberta! (That’s like “this one goes to 11,” but in Canadian.) This one deals with disability in a natural, unforced way that I appreciate so very, very much, especially because it’s doing, like, nine million other dragon-slaying plotty worldbuildy things all at the same time. The series appears to be complete after two (although the world has room for more), and I can’t wait to see what Johnston does next.

Rudyard Kipling, A Kipling Pageant. Grandpa’s. Well–proximately Grandpa’s. Actually Great-Grandpa’s. This is nine hundred pages of short stories, poetry, novels, novel excerpts, essays, all Kipling, all the time. Some of it was very familiar, some of it charming discovery, some of it…let’s say that the Kipling novels you haven’t heard of, there’s probably a reason. But just having it is really lovely. I’m not sure how to preserve it–it’s nearly a hundred years old and definitely showing age. Still very glad I could read it, though.

Sydney Padua, Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer. You’ve probably seen at least pieces of the Lovelace/Babbage comic online, the one that stipulates that they built their computer and had crime-fighting adventures and occasionally, on short notice, received the Queen. This book is a compilation of those strips and the author’s gushing footnotes about what actually happened. “Gushing” here is a term of praise, not condemnation; this is like sitting around with our friends talking about their favorite bits of wacky history.

Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. It says “Low Countries,” but it means Belgium. This is a demographic overview, which is useful–it’s not like people know a lot about beguinages in general, including me–but not as useful as Daily Life In Three Beguinages: A Sampler would have been. Can somebody write me that book? That’d be keen. Thanks.

Chris Van Allsburg, Probuditi!. I had the realization that our library has a bunch of Chris Van Allsburg books, and I don’t know which ones are outstanding, so I’m getting them to find out. They vary in length. This one is short enough that I wouldn’t usually log it (I don’t usually log picture books), except that I’m going to want to keep track of which ones I’ve read, so here we are. It’s very predictable, very nearly content-free, so the main draw is Van Allsburg’s illustrations. Also if you’re looking for picture books with non-white characters, these characters are African-American. It’s sad that picture books are still white enough that that’s even worth mentioning, but they are, so it is.

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