cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Default)
[personal profile] cloudsinvenice
I can't believe it's been a month since I did this, but then it was a very busy one...

Books finished:

The Lover's Dictionary, by David Levithan - I thought this would be gimmicky and/or twee, but it was surprisingly affecting. That said, it's funny how (the second Mrs. de Winter notwithstanding) a barrier can exist between reader and characters when you don't even know their first names.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, by Eimear McBride - I really wanted to like this, and the premise of how sibling relationships are affected by serious childhood illness intrigued me a lot. But it suffered from being another unrelentingly miserable book about the Irish experience of sex, religion, guilt and death (and it felt more about these things than about the sibling relationship; at least, it didn't render the relationship between the two any more explicable to me); doubly so because it's about the Irish female experience of yadda yadda yadda, and I wanted to strangle every one of the protagonist's family for shaming her. None of this is to say that it's hard to believe - it's just an unrelentingly bleak and tragically plausible story that will leave you feeling that people are awful.

The stream of consciousness style is worth mentioning - there are times when it's poetic, when it grabs you and you go, yes, because it's crystalised a perception, an experience. But often it's a struggle, and at times the literary community's response feels downright emperor's-new-clothes, for reasons someone else explains well here.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch - I turned up a cheap copy of this on holiday, right after a friend had urged me to try the series. It was a lot of fun to read it while travelling to/on the way home from London itself, and now I'm eager to read the rest. I'm not normally one for mystery novels, but I've noticed that I can latch onto them if they incorporate a supernatural element (e.g. the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly, or the Merrily Watkins books by Phil Rickman).

That said, the cop stuff here is really satisfying because Aaronovitch determinedly undermines any mystique policing might have: it's a massive bureaucracy (or a set of several massive interlinked bureaucracies), apparently fuelled by coffee, paracetomol, and the dashed dreams of idealistic young constables who were hoping not to spend their lives doing paperwork. And being drafted into the tiny, shoestring department of the Met that deals with magical crimes isn't an instant cure for boredom and disappointment with life; it involves spending painstaking months mastering a simple spell, and discovering that you blow your mobile phone up if you use magic near it without first removing the battery. And it's funny in a way that would be tiresome if I tried to evoke it here, but trust me on this. I've given up on so many books because they tried too hard to be funny. This one, I couldn't put down.

If you're British you'll nod a lot at a thousand little observations, but you don't have to be British to appreciate one of the most refreshing things about the book: that it riffs on English folklore in a way that embraces modern England: an England that, like the protagonist PC Peter Grant, is multiracial; an England whose genius loci includes black Britons - because really, who said anthropomorphic personifications of rivers have to be white? That's not to say everything works: I thought Molly fell into some unfortunate stereotypes of Asian women, and I'm hoping she gets to say more in future books. Aaronovitch is clearly an author who has the insight to give her character the depth she deserves. The preview chapter of the next book also shows that another character I liked will be in it for the long haul, and the way the author is dealing with the painful repercussions of Rivers of London really interests me. It's nice to have another series to obsess over.

Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger. I had to have this - it's a YA novel set among zine kids, and that's what made me go for it despite all the wrong places the plot could've gone: disillusioned boy pretending to have no emotions meets and falls for quirky lesbian zine queen, and his whole life turns around. In practice, thought it was a realistic depiction of how messed-up kids can fall into each other's orbit and complicate each other's lives for good and ill, understanding and misunderstanding each other. Marisol reminds me of that killer line Clementine gets in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."

Pig Ignorant, by Nicholas Fisk. I grew up on Nicholas Fisk's SF books and particularly loved Grinny and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair, but while I saw Pig Ignorant listed among his works, I never realised that it was a work of autobiography. But it turns out that in the 90s, Mick Gowar oversaw the "Teenage Memoirs" line, in which various Walker Books authors (others include Adele Geras and John Gordon) told the stories of their formative years. For Fisk, that meant being a jazz-obsessed school leaver who lucked into session guitar work in the bohemian London music scene, and muddled through various other jobs against the backdrop of the Blitz.

The young Nick is interrupted on his way to work one night by a bomb; on helping an ARP warden to dig a victim out of the rubble, he makes a grisly discovery. But he never can feel for himself the fear that his mother has over him and his sister: he's young and believes it won't happen to him. The book as a whole is a very effective evocation of learning how to be an adult, and ends just when you really want to hear about his stint in the RAF - I suspect because that's when he felt he'd finally grown up.

Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food and Frolics from Halloweens Past, by Diane C. Arkins - I've amassed the usual Hallowe'en buff's collection of books (Jack Santino, David J. Skal, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne), with a lot of commentary on how the festival evolved in different places, so I thought there might be a lot of duplication. But this book is focused on the trappings of Hallowe'en during its American "Golden Age", which ran roughly from the 1870s to 1930s and happily coincided with the Golden Age of Illustration. So the many magazine extracts, illustrations and photos of ephemera (party invitations, paper plates, Dennison's Bogie Books, paper decorations, etc.) are the external, merchandised, pop cultural counterpart to the more folkloric angle that other books cover in more detail.

What's interesting is that when you look at Hallowe'en obsessives, we often hearken back to the traditions and illustrations of our childhoods, and feel that Hallowe'en today has become too mass-produced or too American or too violent or whathaveyou (it's similar to how a lot of people feel about Christmas), yet this book makes it apparent that America during those sixty or so years was absolutely coming down with Hallowe'en tat. And I feel certain that people then tutted about the amount of merch and about the style of the illustrations, because every generation compares today's bland/tacky/name-your-criticism illustrations and products to whatever they grew up with, and we all think our childhoods were more authentic than the childhoods younger people are having now. Undoubtedly, someone once looked at those Art Deco bridge tallies with disgust, but collectors now would kill for them.

Me, I squealed repeatedly and kept pointing things out to my partner. And I squinted at the tiny, tiny pictures, because someone made a terrible choice re: the size and formatting of this book. It's still worth getting, but know that you'll feel driven to find bigger versions on Google image search to get a fix that doesn't hurt your eyes. And, if you want to have your very own reproduction classic Hallowe'en stuff, Beistle have started selling some of their early-to-mid 20th century designs again. Sadly, you must be in the US or Canada to buy them, but it's much better than buying the genuine vintage article on Ebay (or indeed via Amazon UK - seriously, don't buy these products there; they're gouging the fuck out of you and you can probably get it cheaper by forming an arrangement with a a friend in north America and using surface mail):

(And while I'm on the subject, do not buy physical reprints of Dennison's Bogie Book online; some arsehole has got hold of the reprint rights and is charging cheeky prices that nevertheless tempt people who would otherwise be tempted by the originals, which go for hundreds of dollars due to their scarcity. The reprints might be worth buying if they were of decent quality, but buyers are complaining of missing pages, bad scans, etc. It's a crying shame.)

Just started, so no review yet:

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Echo, by Terry Moore

Still reading:

The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770 - 1866: A Belfast Panorama, by Mary McNeill
My Swordhand is Singing, by Marcus Sedgwick

Recent acquisitions:

First my birthday happened, and then a couple of book sales happened, one of which the Linen Hall Library helpfully announced on Facebook (they said they'd got a lot of history and cinema books in, so naturally we had to look):

Literary reference of the year:

I saw this on a house in Faversham and it made me ridiculously happy:

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cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Default)
"What can the cat-posters hope to gain?"

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