cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Default)
[personal profile] cloudsinvenice
I'm as shocked as you are. Admittedly, you're getting all of January's books so far in one go...

Books finished (or, more or less finished...)

When Christmas Comes: An Anthology of Childhood Christmases - Anne Harvey (editor) - This might be superfluous in a house with a lot of Christmas anthologies, but it's a nice organising principle that I surprisingly hadn't seen before. That being said, it's a bit odd that she deviates from it in the middle by including adults' memories of wartime Christmases - I understand including it as a theme, particularly since she was a child during WWII, but it's hard to believe there weren't children's memories that could've gone in instead, for consistency's sake. A nice, quick read overall, but it might go out during my next cull of my Christmas book collection.

War of the Encyclopaedists - Christopher Robinson & Gavin Kovite - Set in 2004, this is about two best friends whose plans to go to grad school together are interrupted when one, a reservist in the National Guard, gets called up to Iraq. Plus, there's a love triangle. Before all this, they ran a sort of hipster art installation/recurring party/whatever under the name "The Encyclopaedists", and now they keep in touch by editing the Wikipedia page that documents their art's brief flowering. This premise makes it sound like it's going to be one of those geek culture books, but in practice the Wikipedia page isn't that big a deal and they seem more concerned with being clever than really communicating with each other. Also, even if they haven't had a very emotionally direct relationship thus far, if they're best friends it seems like they could just email each other - even considering the awkward girlfriend situation that sprang up at the time of the demise of their art project.

I love satirical films but I have a bad relationship with literary novels that satirise The Times We're Living In; I generally have to be told that they're satirical in the first place, and then I have trouble understanding why they're meant to be funny. (I gave up on Vernon God Little when his psychiatrist started sexually abusing him; I just didn't get what reaction the author wanted me to have to all that.) I hate admitting all this because it makes me sound obtuse and ignorant, but here we are: I didn't know that this book was satirical until I read the Goodreads reviews. Supposedly the protagonists' names (Mickey Montauk and Halifax Corderoy) are a clue, but frankly, American names often ping me as odd because there is so much surname-used-as-first-name stuff going on, so the latter just seemed like a very determinedly American name. Mickey Montauk, well, the first name is kind of old-fashioned for our generation, and it makes you think of Mickey Mouse, but hey, what do I know?

The book switches between Corderoy's process of starting and dropping out of grad school (his career option at this point is to be a literature professor) and Montauk's experience as an officer in Iraq. Montauk makes some bad mistakes but seems less of an arse than Corderoy, until he inexplicably gets obsessed with taking home a human skull he's been presented with by a local kid he's been using as an informer (and it's a weird aspect of this book that the man using a 12-year-old child as an informer in a war zone seems less of an arse than a common-or-garden douche pissing away his education back home - am I influenced by their respective treatment of Mani, Corderoy's former girlfriend who he dumped when he knew she was homeless, and now Montauk's wife-he-offered-to-marry-so-she-could-get-Army-money?), whereupon his concerns about being respectful to the locals suddenly evaporate, because human remains are way cool souvenirs, or something.

Also, Corderoy's flatmate who Montauk once slept with comes over as an independent journalist, and at this point the book is just a spiral of people making increasingly stupid decisions, so it's impressive that it's been so readable thus far. Back home, Mani is pregnant by Corderoy because they got back together after she exorcised her feelings about him by painting him, and there's a description of her abortion that comes with a series of images that start off as diagrams (uterus and birth canal, side elevation) but become progressively more abstract. It all kind of drowns in literary devices by the end, and I'm not sure what I think of it other than that if I'd been tipped off as to how high-falutin' literary it was meant to be, I might have skipped it in the first place. This is such a terrible thing to admit as a writer, so I will stop talking about the damn book before I end up in some sort of self-hate spiral. I'm kind of hoping some of you have read it because I'd like to know what someone whose tastes cross over at least somewhat with mine makes of it...

M is for Magic - Neil Gaiman. Bought this without realising I'd read most of the stories already - it's a new selection chosen for young readers, in the manner of Ray Bradbury's R is for Rocket etc. Reminded me how much I love "Troll Bridge" and "Sunbird" (which introduced me to the concept of eating the ortolan, which is used to such disturbing effect in Hannibal), though I skipped a couple of things, including "The Price", which I last sat through in the form of a recording by Gaiman. It is a very sad cat story indeed; the man knows how to take a fellow cat-lover's heart and squeeze it until it bursts.

Dangerous Women Part 1 - George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois (editors). I can't speak for the other two volumes of this anthology (or the US edition, which seems to have slightly different contents and running order), but this is a dreadfully greedy and lazy cash-in on the popularity of GoT/ASOIAF. They know lots of people will buy it because it is, so far, the only place to read "The Princess and the Queen", a story set 90 years before the events of ASOIAF and concerning the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of Dragons. My advice: wait. The Dunk & Egg stories got anthologised together eventually. Hopefully this, and any other ASOIAF short stories, will be likewise collected. Because as interesting as "The Princess and the Queen" is to ASOIAF completists, it's not £7.99's worth of interesting, and if you were enticed by the theme of dangerous women you'll be vaguely disappointed by that story (written by a Maester of the Citadel, it offers a historical document rather than the usual intense POV-switch driven storytelling, and neither Princess nor Queen can be said to be a protagonist; nor do they feel as developed as, say, Cersei or Brienne or Olenna or Melisandre) and very disappointed by the overall selection.

This is one of those anthologies where authors were informed of the theme and then seemingly dug out something from the back of the drawer which vaguely fitted it - one Goodreaders reviewer says that the criteria for some appears to have been "has a woman in it", and damn it, he's not wrong. It's disquieting how few of the stories even have a female protagonist. I began to get seriously irked during Laurence Block's story, told by a male barfly who picks up a rich woman who (he infers) is secretly hoping to find a guy who'll kill her husband for her. When they have sex we learn in unnecessary detail that the man whose first sexual experience took the form of abuse by his mother, and since then it seems he can only climax while murdering a woman, which is what happens to the rich woman at the end of the story, and has apparently happened to others like her. I'm all for a broad definition of "dangerous women", but I think it's fair to say that most people who pick up an anthology with that title are probably not hoping for a story like this.

I really wanted to enjoy the collection (the multi-genre approach seemed a good idea), and found myself clinging to the Carrie Vaughn (Russian WWII woman pilot; great dogfights but the story loses steam at the end) and Megan Abbott (male protag's wife turns out to be lying about their daughter's disappearance; very emotionally engaging) contributions, but I lost patience during Joe R. Lansdale's story. It's about a bullied teenage boy who gets taught to fight back by an old man. After about 17 pages there was still no sign of the dangerous woman the intro had talked up, though there was a marked tendency to throw around homophobically-tinged threats of violence which I didn't appreciate. What threw me out of it, though, was the fact that the school summer holidays ended twice and the kid bought a DVD over the internet despite it being 1992. Old story, lazily updated and not caught by the two illustrious editors. Oh, come on!

I skipped the last story. Sorry, Brandon Sanderson, your story might've been the greatest thing I'd ever read, but by this time I was just plain irritated.

Currently reading:

The Burning Land - Bernard Cornwell. This is the fifth book in the Saxon Chronicles, and so far it's as entertaining, packed with interesting historical detail and wryly insightful about human nature as the rest of the series. It's a huge relief after the above.

This is Where it Ends - Marieke Nijkamp. (Full disclosure: Marieke's interviewed me for DiversifYA re: my writing.) I'm 28% of the way into this book (and obviously taking tentative steps to read more on the Kindle app - seems like it could be really good for YA since I want to read way more books than I can feasibly store in physical form) and actually stopped when I did because it was too intense. This is a good fault in a book about a school shooting, I think: if it begins to feel mundane, then something's very wrong.

I got a little mixed up about several characters (which pairs were siblings and who was dating whom) but it hasn't been a major problem, and the conceit of describing only a few minutes' events at a time before switching character POVs works well without feeling gimmicky. The book also shows that it's possible to cram your book with characters with various ethnic backgrounds, sexual identities and disabilities without it feeling tokenistic: it just feels real, because that's how the real world is. Fresh arguments please, critics. Anyway, I anticipate the rest of the book with both hope and dread.

Also, over on [community profile] vc_media we've just begun reading Anne Rice's The Tale of the Body Thief as a group. We try to pace our group reads so it's fairly easy to catch up, and dipping in and out of the discussions at any time is welcomed - here's our schedule:

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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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