April 25th, 2014

Dead Dog Cat


I recently finished a Harry Turtledove book from his Crosstime series, called The Gladiator. It's set in an alternate Italy, in which the USA lost the Cold War, and the world has fallen under Soviet-style Communism. Very readable, very quick, left me hanging a bit.
kitty, reading

Books #17-18

Book #17 was "Permanence" by Karl Schroeder. I've read one novella and one other novel ("Ventus") by Shroeder and really liked them (and enjoyed hearing him speak on some panels at a con last year) and "Permanence" has been on my "to be read" list for a while. I really enjoyed this space romp. My only little criticism is that it starts out entirely from Rue Cassels viewpoint and abruptly changes viewpoint to Michael Bequith about 100 pages in. I wasn't expecting it and it was a little jarring, but overall, I really liked this story a lot. On the small scale, it's about Rue and her attempts to get away from her controlling half-brother and to find her place in the world. On the macro scale, it's about competing philosophies about how to keep a large, far-flung group of human colonies in touch with and trading with one another, and on an even bigger scale, about what makes us human. Highly recommended.

Book #18 was "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange. This is a very slim volume, less than 100 pages, and it's the first book of poetry I've read since I started logging my books on LiveJournal in 2006. She calls it a "Choreo-poem" because it includes stage directions for having 7 women dancers perform the poems. I was mildly put off by the slang she used in the introduction to the piece, where she tells about how it was developed when she was participating in an all-women's art collective in the 70s. Don't get me wrong - I'm fine with slang and other language shortcuts in the poems themselves but found it kind of pretentious in the prose introduction (I mean, how is "waz" even an abbreviation for "was"?). However, I loved the series of poems as a whole and would love to see this performed live. I liked some sections better than others, but as a whole, it's just amazing. Also highly recommended.

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brain tree, book tree

Book 87: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Book 87: The Little Friend.
Author: Donna Tartt, 2002. Introduction by A. O. Scott, 2007.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1970s Mississippi. Literary. Coming of Age. Drugs. Racial Issues.
Other Details: Paperback. 592 pages.

Twelve-year-old Harriet is doing her best to grow up, which is not easy as her mother is permanently on medication, her father has silently moved to another city, and her serene sister rarely notices anything. All of them are still suffering from the shocking and mysterious death of her brother Robin twelve years earlier, and it seems to Harriet that the family may never recover. So, inspired by Captain Scott, Houdini, and Robert Louis Stevenson, she sets out with her only friend Hely to find Robin's murderer and punish him. But what starts out as a child's game soon becomes a dark and dangerous journey into the menacing underworld of a small Mississippi town. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This is a powerfully evocative novel about a young girl living in Mississippi in the late 1970s. Although Tartt does not mention any specific dates mentions of Star Wars and related action figures suggests 1978/79. Yet somehow Harriet and her family live out of time and so mentions of popular culture seem slightly intrusive.

Despite the Prologue in which we learn that "For the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son's death because she had decided to have the Mother's Day dinner at six in the evening rather than noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it" and the details of Robin's death, this is not a 'whodunit' but an examination of the effects that this death has upon the extended Cleve family and especially upon twelve-year old Harriet, who had only been a baby when her brother died.

Harriet is a precocious child, very interested in books and making her own way in life. Her desire to find and then punish the person she decides must have been responsible for Robin's death is not only irrational but as the synopsis above suggests brings Harriet into contact with a dangerous family, who among other things are involved in the production of 'crank', an impure form of methamphetamine. For those sensitive to such matters there is a fair amount of animal death in the novel and some of this was rather upsetting. I can read about the murders of people but when it is a bird, cat or dog dying I'm a wreck.

Aside from myself, the novel was not well received by members of the library group where it was the April selection. This was likely due to their expectation that it was a murder mystery rather than a tale about the Deep South and the loss of innocence as childhood yields to adolescence and adulthood. However, I had been pre-warned of this back when another group read Tartt's first novel, The Secret History, and someone who had read The Little Friend, compared it to works by William Faulkner and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

I enjoyed this very much though it is fair to observe it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

Book #22: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Number of Pages: 400

The wizards of Unseen University, Discworld's school of wizadry decide to form a football team.

This is the basic premise of this Discworld novel, and unfortunately I was disappointed by this. I had expected another Rincewind-centric book, all about more exploits from the character who made the first Discworld novel I read so great; instead, he doesn't appear until almost half-way through and is limited to very brief cameos. This book centres around other characters such as Archchancellor Ridcully, who I've always enjoyed as supporting characters; as the book's principal cast, they fare less well. There is also a subplot involving Orcs, which includes characters who were evidently supposed to be witches, but for some reason were not Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Like many recent titles I've read, I noticed that Death once again only makes a very fleeting appearance, and here it seems that Pratchett was desperate to shoehorn him in somewhere.

Like many of the recent Discworld titles I have read, this satirises human behaviour, this time targeting football and its supporters. In older Discworld titles that did similar, like Moving Pictures and Soul Music, I enjoyed it as Pratchett also created enjoyable adventure-based stories, which often pointed out the absurdities of the subject that they were sending up. In this book, it mostly references typical football conventions without exactly making them funny; also, the story did not feel like it could sustain a 400-page book.

This book isn't entirely bad, but it's definitely not one of the best titles in the series; it takes ages to get going, and everything builds up to a climactic football match that seems almost interminable. Personally I think reading or watching depictions of fictional sports matches is never as good as watching the real thing (I've felt the same way about constantly reading about Quiddich matches in the Harry Potter novels), and the same feels like its true here. There are some nice touches, like knowing nods to previous novels however, and my favourite bit was the moment where Ponder Stibbons has painful recollections of being last to be picked in a team; I do too.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I hoped, and I do think that the Discworld series has been going downhill in the last 10 or so years.

Next book: God's Big Picture (Vaughan Roberts)