Monthly Archives: September 2010
I dropped by my local branch on Tuesday to pick up some holds and they had the most fantastic Banned Books Week display. The sign on the usual display pedestal read “Book Challenges in 2009,” and as well as the usual display slots being filled, there were piles of books all around the bottom of the pedestal on the floor. It was the most striking display I’ve ever seen (although the clerks sounded less than thrilled at the prospect of cleaning it up at the end of the week).
I grabbed a copy of ttyl by Lauren Myracle off the display. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while — I love experimental literature, so this should be just my cup of tea. Besides, this is the book that’s been making people angry all over the country, it’s got to be good.
Oh, Banned Books Week. It almost seems ridiculous that this needs to be said any more, but apparently it does. It is not the library’s job to monitor what your (or anyone else’s) kids are reading. It’s the library’s job to provide people with the information and reading material that they need and want. It is your job to monitor what your kids are reading, and everyone else’s job to monitor what their kids are reading. If we divide up the work and everybody does their part, we can all be happy. Really. I promise.
I am on a book-finishing roll.
Tamora Pierce, Wolf-Speaker
Second in the previously-gushed-about Immortals series. I admit I don’t like this one as much as the first; where Wild Magic features tons of characters from the Alanna Quartet, plus some new ones as well, this one is almost all just Daine, the wolf pack, a girl from the Dunlath fort, and the basilisk Tkaa. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all new characters, or if it’s because they’re so isolated, both physically and in their concerns, but Wild Magic (and the sequel, Emperor Mage) feel much richer than this book. Not that I don’t love it, mind. It’s just the least-awesome of the four.
Phonogram Vol. 1, Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
A graphic novel about…well, lots of things. On the face of it, about a phonomancer — a magician who uses magic as his medium — attempting to save himself and the memory of BritPop from retromancers — magicians disguised as DJs who play nothing but old music in an attempt to make people feel nostalgia, which they feed off of. You can kind of see the other things they’re playing with from that; music and pop culture, of course, the difference between nostalgia and memory, what it means to be shaped by your past. I liked it, even though the main character was a wanker. (He knew he was a wanker, but that didn’t stop him, which is exactly the kind of person I hate the most.) I’ll read the other books in the series if he’s not the main character any more.
Ann Jones, Women Who Kill
The classic work on women murderers throughout history. Originally published in 1988 and reissued in 1996, this is a very classically feminist work, focusing on the way women who were subject to a law more interested in keeping them out of the way than addressing the wrongs done to them might turn to murder just to get any damn thing done. Jones explicitly says that she’s talking only about cases that excited the public imagination; she’s not talking about murder as much as she’s talking about women in history, with murder as the catalyst. I started reading a dissertation on female serial killers once that made no sense to me as part of the serial killer literature, but now makes a little more sense as a kind of sequel to this work. (Maybe I’ll dig that dissertation out again and finish it, actually…)
China Miéville, The City & The City
As usual from him, a book you can’t even begin to talk about sensibly unless the other person has also read it. Reviewing without spoilers is complicated. Basically: this book takes place in two cities that occupy the same space, Besźel and Ul Qoma. (Do you know how long I had to hunt for that accented z? I finally gave up and pasted it from Wikipedia.) That is, citizens of Besźel live in their streets, some of which are all Besźel and some of which are part Besźel and part Ul Qoma, and they go about their days and if they encounter any citizens of Ul Qoma (as they are bound to do), they unsee them. Act as if they aren’t there. Same with buildings, cars, smells, sounds…everything. (Obviously tourism is somewhat complicated.) One day a murdered woman turns up in a Besźel slum, and it seems that she was killed in Ul Qoma and dumped in Besźel, which is a breach, which is handled by Breach, a shadowy, mysterious, and entirely creepy organization that stringently enforces the boundaries between the two cities. But Breach won’t take the case (since, it turns out, there was no breach involved), and the poor inspector who started working on the case is stuck with something much, much more complicated. It’s an amazing book (featuring two of the most incredible chase scenes ever), and the effort it takes to get started is entirely worth it in the end.
Tamora Pierce, Wild Magic
I read this series for the first time…in middle school, probably, because I remember having to wait for the fourth book. I actually read these before the Alanna books, so I still kind of like them better (not that there’s any Tamora Pierce I don’t like). Pierce is great at female characters — there are gender issues in these books, not just the magical “in fantasy universes women can do everything.” There’s class issues, although Tortall is kind of a utopia in that way. There are people of distinct races, and people with prejudices (and not just the bad guys, either) and people who learn things. …and this is not an advertisement for Most Politically Correct Fantasy Series Ever, I swear, they’re also full of fun and interesting magic things, and an interesting use of mythological beasts, and all kinds of other delightful fantasy things going on. I’m not sure I can talk about this series rationally, since I read it early enough that it’s kind of imprinted on me as “default fantasy setting,” but that’s not a bad thing.
Lovecraft Unbound, edited by Ellen Datlow
I love Lovecraftian stories. Most of the stories in this anthology aren’t quite what that usually means, though; there are vast tentacle-filled monsters in less than half of them, I’d say. Most of them are simply stories in that genre of horror that Lovecraft and Blackwood and Machen wrote in, that unfortunately doesn’t have a name other than “Lovecraftian.” I particularly liked Brian Evanson’s “The Din of Celestial Birds,” “Marya Nox” by Gemma Files, and the final story, “That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas. (And the Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette story, “Mongoose,” but you knew that already.)
Ann Rule, A Rage to Kill
I think I like her shorts-collections better than the longer pieces, if only because the book-length stories (I keep wanting to call them novels, what do you call true crime books?) tend to suck me in and make me a little bit paranoid. Which is not a huge amount of fun. The shorts don’t have the same depth of character, though, which is really what Ann Rule does best, and is the reason she’s the only true crime writer I’ll read. Also, I had to skip a whole section of this book, because it was “a prostitute kills her john,” except that apparently the reason it was an exceptional enough case to include in a true crime anthology was that the prostitute was transsexual. And I just couldn’t cope with the fail. Life is too short, y’know?
David Allen, Getting Things Done
This is an absolute favorite of the personal productivity genre, and while such books are often tremendously cheesy (see: Allen’s smarmy photo on the cover) and clearly targeted toward exactly one segment of the population (see: advice to get your assistant to do all your filing, if possible), I did think this was both interesting and useful, particularly as I’ve been reading about GTD online for years and most of the rewrites I’ve seen of it seem to miss the point. There are two aspects to the system, and the first one is the one that most websites get. That’s the physical organization system, which consists of an inbox, a “things in process” box, and a filing system that lets you save pieces of paper for a particular day without letting them pile up on your desk. Handy.
The other part, though, the intellectual part, seems to me to be more interesting and more useful: everything that you are working on needs to have a “next action” attached to it. “Do it later” is not a next action — you don’t “do” a project, he says several times throughout the book, you do a lot of small, concrete physical tasks that eventually pile up to make the project finished. So if my project is “clean my living room” (which it is), that’s not just one thing, the first thing I have to do is…hmm…the thing taking up most space is that fan that may or may not work any more. So the first thing to do is see if the fan works. And if it does, I have to put it away, and if it doesn’t, I have to put it out for the trash. And then… This, Allen says, is how projects get done, and how they fail to get done is by having “clean the living room” on your to-do list without thinking about how you’re actually going to do that. Multiply that times the millions of other projects you have going (get a job, spruce up my professional blog, work on my craft business, start working on Christmas presents) and you can see how easy it is to not get anything accomplished.
Lavondyss, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Death Troopers, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Happiness Project
Robert Holdstock, Lavondyss
I liked this one much better than Mythago Wood, which is saying something, because I absorbed that book in the course of a couple of days. Lavondyss is the story of the little sister of one of the secondary characters in Mythago Wood, Harry, who was shot down over a mythago forest in France during the Second World War and came home with a horrible burn scar over half his face. In the first book, he accompanies the main character into the forest for reasons of his own; in this book, his little sister Talis (feminine of Taliesin) goes out to find him. Mythology happens. Very awesome.
Kate Summerisle, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Historical true crime, about a country house murder in Victorian England, but also about the history of detectives and detective stories. Real-life detectives were phenomenally popular for a while, but after this case — and due to other factors, I’m sure, but this case was huge — became much more looked-down upon, partly because it was one of those “only a member of the household could have done it” things and Detective Whicher was sure it was one of the daughters of the house. Gasp! Shock! Working-class people accusing upper-class daughters of murder! And all that.
Joe Schrieber, Death Troopers
I sat down to read this one night before I went to bed, thinking, It’s a Star Wars novel, how scary can it really be? AAAAAH. It’s not a Star Wars novel, it’s a horror novel that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe. And it kicks ass. Although, I have to say, I was expecting zombie Stormtroopers — that’s practically in the title — but I was not expecting ZOMBIE WOOKIES. CREEPYASS ZOMBIE WOOKIES. NOT OKAY.
Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
What Rushdie said was probably his only really happy ending ever, in a novel he wrote for his twelve-year-old son (at the time, the novel for the currently twelve-year-old son is coming out in November). I really, really liked it — a great older children’s novel, lots of wordplay and good mythological structure, and a good excuse for the kid to save the day even though there are plenty of adults involved.
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I’ve been reading the blog for a while now, so I finally decided to try the book. I like the book better, I think; there’s more structure to the system, which makes it make more sense. Basically, Rubin sat down one day and said, I have a good life, why aren’t I happier? So she did a lot of research on the things that are supposed to make people happy, and made some guesses of her own, and set out a twelve-month intensive plan to do things to make herself happier. And some of it’s that really obnoxious advice that you never want to hear — act happy and you’ll be happy, for instance — but she’s good about pointing out that that’s not the easiest thing in the world and it’s work to be happy. I enjoyed it and found it inspirational, although I don’t think I’ll be having an epic Happiness Project any time soon.