[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Having made a start on the book I chose purely on the basis of its title--The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica--I'm not overly impressed so far. In fact, I'm bored. I don't care about how ice hockey players feel about US politics in the 1970s. Sorry. Get on with the story! If there is one. So far you've been born. And...?

What have I read lately?

Just finished Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I read this mostly because of a vague hovering guilt about never having read it. So now it's read, I can feel guilty about something else instead. Diary of Anne Frank, maybe.

For the most part, it wasn't a bad read. Some of the characters were a bit worthy, and Eva the angelic child is frankly unbelievable, but I did like St Clare. A lot. I was sad when he went out of the story. But oh, the religious stuff. Not only did it bore me to tears, I got frustrated by the author's apparent inability to see that it was just another way of keeping the slaves in their place. Don't worry about all the cruelty, cos you'll get pie in the sky when you die. And even in Stowe's benevolence, she's astonishingly racist. Sometimes I almost felt embarrassed to be reading the book.

But despite the insistence that 'intention is not magical', I would like to allow the author some leeway for her good intentions, and for the influence this book had on the issue of abolition of slavery. It was interesting that she had characters foresee an uprising by the slaves, but nobody seemed to have any inkling of what was actually coming for America, ie the horrors of the Civil War, even though it was a mere ten years ahead. It was also interesting to read about northern Americans disapproving of slavery, but finding black people themselves objectionable. Doublethink is always intriguing. Worth a read if you can stomach being preached at for pages. Oh, and the racism.

Before that, I read The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace, a study of identical twins June and Jennifer Gibbons and their unusual bond. The twins seemed absorbed in each other, spoke only to each other and their younger sister, yet wrote copiously in diaries, novels, short stories and poems. Variously diagnosed as psychopathic or schizophrenic, the twins spent ten years in Broadmoor Hospital after committing a series of petty crimes. The book is based on the twins' own writings as well as on interviews with family members, professionals and others who had dealings with them.

If I were to diagnose, which I shouldn't, but if I were, I'd say they were schizotypal rather than schizophrenic, but what do I know?

A fascinating and disturbing book. The only major flaw I spotted was some rather wild speculation on the significance of what struck me as simply sleep paralysis.

Going backwards yet again, Print and Prejudice by Sara Goodman Zimet. The chief signifance of this book is I think that the same debates we're having now about boys and reading (boys need special boy books!) were being had back in the 1970s when this book was written. It's an interesting book full of references to studies that would probably be interesting to follow up, although sometimes the conclusions drawn don't immediately seem to be justified by the evidence. If you change more than one thing between the experimental group and the control, how can you really know which change produced the observed effect? You can't.

The book looks at racism, sexism, political bias and the good old sin of omission of people from history. Dated, but possibly a useful starting point, especially when engaging in the 'boys need boy books' debate.

Both concurrent with and prior to Print and Prejudice, I was reading Is Heathcliff a Murderer? in which critic John Sutherland looks at several puzzles in nineteenth-century fiction, and attempts to resolve them or establish that the author in question was using apparent errors for effect. The studies of books I haven't read were almost as interesting as those of ones I have read, even ones I've read but don't remember much about. If you're interested in C19th novels, this book should provide points to ponder.

Pedals and Petticoats by Mary Elsy turned out to be very disappointing. Cycling through Europe in the 1950s with three female friends, Elsy seems to have noticed the men they met and little else. There are some interesting observations, but throughout there seems to be an edge of desperation to make the mundane more exciting.

Before that I was reading Cordelia Fine's The Gender Delusion, a yummy book full of debunks of the innate differences between men and women. Well worth reading even if you don't believe a word of it.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Have I not been reading or posting? Have I been reading but not posting? Certainly I haven't been posting but not reading....

Let's do a quick round-up of the books read recently (probably not in the right order):

Altar of Bones by Philip Carter.

This is a book my husband bought to feed to the 'gannets', as he describes those members of the family who read occasionally. It's a thriller. Or, rather, it's a formula book that isn't really very thrilling. Once the MMC's survived an attack by multiple antagonists bearing Uzi's for the second time, there's no thrill. Nothing will take this man down so why worry? The major interest for me was in waiting for the inevitable moment when the MMC would betray the FMC, and even that wasn't very exciting. The author couldn't wait to point out that the MMC didn't mean it. And of course the eponymous altar gets destroyed at the end. Dreck, albeit dreck that could supply some nice props for a film.

(Authors: stop destroying things!)

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Way too young for me, of course, but I was inspired to pick it up for 50p off the charity table in the supermarket because someone had intimated that the film (which I have seen) changed the ending a little to suit certain sensibilities. However, the comment seems off-track, because although the ending is different, there's nothing in the book to suggest that the servant girl is anything other than white.

Sarah is far too perfect and made me itch.

A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood

I bought this ages ago at a book-signing then lost it. It resurfaced finally when I was tidying the bedroom. That's one of the funny things about tidying: some things appear yet other things vanish for eternity. Swings and roundabouts....

Ultimately, I didn't enjoy this book much. There's an interesting mystery set up at the start, but I never connected with or cared about the characters. The author does an excellent job of keeping you guessing whether one character is Bad or Good, and that's the best part of the book, tbh. Somehow there was a lack of tension or emotional connection, although I'm not sure why. It seems decently written enough and the ending's spooky.

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith.

What seems initially to be the sweet yet inspiring story of a young woman, nicknamed Mouse, who charms and insouciants her way into the acting profession becomes instead a somewhat gruesome tale of a charming man surrounded by fawning females. Well written, yes, but no less revolting for all that. As for the prissy condemnation of a 'kept woman'--well, that's pretty rich coming from a woman who's just conned her friends so she could have sex with a married man.

I'm really not sure how I feel about this book. It could be entirely ironic.

Firewall by Henning Mankell.

Another solid Wallander book. Although there are some quirks that annoy me, generally I get along with these books and find them entertaining. Great for a wet afternoon.

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey.

Enjoyed this one very much. A good mystery, I engaged with the characters, and even when the story bogged down in pointless digressions (oh those Scots Nats! What silly people! And English aristocrats! So misunderstood! And ooh look pretty woman!) it was possible to grit my teeth and keep going because I wanted to know what and why. I was a little disappointed at the abrupt resolution and the way it was brought about; I'm pretty sure Tey's editor should have sent the ms back with Try Harder written on it in red. But a worthwhile read. It's a shame really that Tey was writing at a time when she couldn't get the same recognition as say P.D. James. Tey's the better writer by a considerable margin.

Mayday by Nicholas Faith.

A disappointing book with great ambitions. I suppose expecting something of the order of Destination Disaster from a book one-fifth its size was unreasonable. However, this is little more than a round-up of various shipping disasters without much evocation of events or in-depth explanation of the cascade leading to them. Often I wished for a little more detail or even just a few names of people involved. Too dry yet not enough facts.

Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Better known for her Science Fiction, Le Guin has also dabbled in mainstream. This book is a collection of her mainstream short stories, set in the fictional European country of Malafrena, which might be familiar to readers from the eponymous and beautifully-realised novel. They're an odd little collection, mostly about love and loss. Definitely worth reading for the skill and beauty of Le Guin's writing, but perhaps more of an aperitif than a full literary meal.

What do you mean what do I mean by that? S'a metaphor!

(I bought this book to make up an order to three books so I could combine postage. Yeah.)

What's that you say, I was supposed to be reading The Romans? Erm....
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The book du jour is The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos. It was found on the shelves at the back of the local bookshop, grabbed by the scruff and hauled off to the cash desk. Most ruthlessly.

I'm on page 111.

"The priest tries to dissuade them but cannot. They know their minds, and will have what they want. They have reached this point from radically different directions and refuse now to turn back."

The book is based on the experiences of the Williams family, who were attacked in their New England home of Deerfield in 1704. Some were murdered there, Mrs Williams on the march to Canada as a captive of French-Canadian Iroquois, and the survivors split up among various 'masters' once their destination was reached. The focus of the narrative is supposedly on Eunice Williams, whose captors refused to release, exchange or ransom her, but her voice does not appear much on the pages. Instead, we hear from her father and brothers, and from various people engaged in attempts to negotiate her return to New England.

When I was much younger, I had a romantic interest in Native Americans, possibly the result of watching too many Westerns. I read some books by Dee Brown and while I didn't go the 'noble savage' route, I did feel sympathy with peoples who had lost everything and been almost obliterated. This interest lapsed for many years and was only revived when I read the fascinating 1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. I've also read Ancient Mariner by Ken McGoogan, which inspired me to think that on the whole I'd have been better off reading Hearne's original ms instead. Not that I have. Yet.

By far the most aggravating aspect of Demos's book is the endless religion. It's a necessary part of understanding events, especially as Mr Williams is a Puritan minister, and his children were in the hands of 'popery', ie Catholics, but oh it's tedious and dispiriting. At one point it seems likely that Williams believes his family's travails were the result of sin in the Deerfield community. He can't blame God so he has to blame people--not the people who murdered his wife, but his own parishioners. Such I suppose are the convolutions of a mind that has to reconcile belief in a God of infinite love with the ugly reality of life.

So far, however, it's a mostly interesting and engaging read. Some more context and background would however be useful to someone who lacks a firm grounding in American history.

I shall read on.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
What have I been reading lately?

Thinking back, and in no particular order, The Dream Years by Lisa Goldstein, from Ian Sales' Mistressworks list. CJ Cherryh's Cyteen, ditto. Monissaw and I were supposed to be reading books from this list in concert, but I read Dream Years before her copy even arrived, then she took one look at Cyteen and ran and hid inside The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I saw a copy of that in the local bookshop at the weekend, but it was hardback and I'm cheap. Apparently the paperback will be out in January 2014.

We haven't picked another book from the list yet. Slackers.

Three books by Winifred Holtby: The Crowded Street, South Riding and (just finished today) The Land of Green Ginger. By coincidence, I also heard a Holtby short being read on Radio Four Extra. It was called 'Why Herbert Killed His Mother'. That counts as a kind of reading, right?

What else? Knifer by Ronnie Thompson. Last year's Mammoth Book of Best New SF edited by Gardner Dozois. It was #25. #26 will be out here soon. Last Man Down: The Fireman's Story: The Heroic Account of How Pitch Picciotto Survived the Collapse of the Twin Towers and Led His Men to Safety by Richard 'Pitch' Picciotto. Not often is the title longer than the actual book. Anatomy of an Epidemic by Max Morgan-Witts and Gordon Thomas, about the detection of the bacterium responsible for Legionnaires' Disease.

James Tiptree Jr's Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Real name Alice Sheldon. Let's do a little happy dance here for this book. *dances*

The unintentionally hilarious Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite. The Dreaming Sex: Early Tales of Scientific Imagination by Women, edited by Mike Ashley. The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF, edited ditto (will the real Mike Ashley stand up please? two books of his I've read within days of each other and I'd never heard of the man before).

One reread: Joanna Russ's We Who Are About To..., reread in the hope it might make more sense to me this time round. And, finally, a crasht and burnt: Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn. Flicking through it just now to see if I could find the page where I gave up (can't), I noticed a reference to an establishment called the Exquisite Corpse. Synchronicity.

Oh, and I read Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, which came in through the door as my dad's book group book. He's gone out the door five minutes ago to discuss it with the others, and will return later with its replacement. Dark Matter is about Arctic explorers, which is what grabbed my interest.

Possibly there've been others, but that's all I can remember/find on the bedroom floor right now.

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