rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Well, I think enough time has passed since this happened for me to be able to talk about it without wincing too much, so:

there was a book I went into my year of book reviews with the intention of reading.

I am not much on the general notion of 'classic' or the concept of The Literary Canon, because many of the finest and happiest reading experiences of my life have involved books which are totally orthogonal to those concepts, and the whole thing just seems limiting and limited and liable to cause Harold Bloom-related Oedipal issues (I am looking at you, Lev Grossman). That said, I am also a person who reads literary criticism for fun, and if you do that, there are books you wind up reading because they get mentioned so often. And there are books you wind up reading because writers you respect love them and think they are brilliant and/or entertaining. And there are books you wind up reading just to see whether you are right that they would be a total waste of your time. And so on.

One of the things that had been bothering me for some years before I started my book-a-day project was my almost total lack of acquaintance with what is mostly described as classic and what I would describe as frequently-critically-referred-to Russian literature. If it comes into your mind when I say 'Russian literature', I hadn't read it. I blame the Library Lady.

You see, when I was maybe eleven or twelve, I went to the library, as I did once a week when someone would drive me, and I happened to pick up a copy of Anna Karenina and began leafing through it. It had just about caught me when the Library Lady happened instead. I don't believe she worked there; I think she was some sort of volunteer, but she was there pretty frequently, and my usual practice when I saw her was to duck into the very back of the stacks and lurk out of her range of vision, because she had extremely strong beliefs as to What Young Girls Should Read, and they were not in any way related to my own beliefs on the subject. (Or, fortunately, my parents' beliefs on the subject, which meant she had no real power over me and was just extremely annoying.) So she came over, and she saw that I was holding Anna Karenina, and something happened which I had never experienced with the Library Lady before: she enthused.

She talked about how she had read Anna Karenina when she was just my age, and it had changed her life, and it was the perfect book for a young girl's secret heart (or something equally nauseating), and I would just love it when-- and then she described the entire plot of the entire book, in excessive detail. Including the ending. Blow by blow. And I stood there politely nodding, and trying to look for a way out of this, but there didn't seem to be one, and then she personally marched me over to the checkout desk and had the (not insane) library lady there check the book out to me, and I put it in my bag, and when my father and I were leaving the library I put it back in through the book slot and from that day to this I have neither read Anna Karenina nor ninety-five percent of the things that could be properly and according to popular opinion called Russian Literature.

That five percent is because I went into my year of a book a day intending to change that. And specifically, there was one book I meant to read, the book that critics refer to probably the most of all Russian novels, the one I had my sights on all the time I was reading and reviewing and really delighting in The Master and Margarita and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Viktor Pelevin. The book Ursula Le Guin insists is the greatest novel ever written, and I love and respect her as a writer and her critical opinions, and this statement of hers catches at me every time I reread The Language of the Night.

In short, I was going to read War and Peace.

I do not think this was a ridiculous ambition. I read Tristram Shandy in a day quite early on, and while it left me punchy and mentally reeling and basically high, I finished it and I was able to write about it. I finished Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear in a day a bit later on, which is pretty well brick-sized, and I have on multiple occasions at other times in my life read Les Miserables in one sitting, because there never seems to be a good stopping place.

So time wore on, and all of a sudden I had about a week of reviewing a book a day left, which really crept up on me. I had a lot of books I had said I would read for one person or another or planned out in other ways, and I realized suddenly that the next day had better be War and Peace or I wasn't going to fit it in. Spent some time on the internet looking up critical opinions of translations, decided the Constance Garnett sounded like a reliable old warhorse, walked over to the library and picked it up. I got up early the next day and everything. Took the book to the nearby park which has tables-- it was a beautiful morning-- gazed at the cover in some intimidation for a moment, and.

It turns out that in order to read something at the speed I am accustomed to consider normal, I need to be enjoying the book on some level. Any level. It doesn't matter what. It has nothing to do with complexity, it has nothing to do with length, but if I am to read without the sensation of walking through thick and sucking molasses there has to be something I like.

As opposed to merely respect.

Three hours later, at the close of the first hundred and fifty pages, I had a terrible headache, a collection of empty soda bottles, and the thought running through my mind: it's as though somebody turned Les Miserable inside out and made it horrifically misanthropic. Gah. Epic, epic levels of pervasive depression. Brilliantly written, gorgeously conceived, subtly argued epic meditation on the fate of all human vanity and the pointlessness of war and I felt as though I were hitting myself over the head with a brick.

Six hours after that, I'd gone home as darkness approached, built up a truly ridiculous collection of empty soda bottles, hit something approaching my stride although still in slow motion, had barely passed page five hundred, and was in a state of what I can only describe as hysteria. I had timed the rate at which I was reading, and the book was not going to finish until, if I read all night, about two p.m. the next day. It just kept going on and on and doing the thing Tristram Shandy had also done to me, where every time I turned around I'd miscalculated where I was and there were another hundred pages more than I thought, and I kept having way more book left than I expected. Except that Tristram Shandy, being an existential joke, is entitled to do that sort of thing, and also I hadn't minded. This, I minded. The problem was, I was hating it more every page, and I couldn't tell whether that was the book itself, or the knowledge that I had to get through the damn thing, or some combination of the two. My respect for the novel only grew with my hatred, because it just kept getting better and better and more and more dislikable.

I didn't have anything else lying about to read and review that day which wouldn't require any brain. Everything I had left to read was complex and my entire brain had been swallowed by this novel which I was starting to believe actually hated me on a deeply personal level. I didn't want to fail at my project in the very last week, but what choice had I got if I couldn't just fucking finish War and Peace? It felt as though it would be an invalidation of my entire year's work. (It would not have been, but did I mention the hysteria?) By this time we had gotten to pacing, ranting, and crying while reading.

At this point B., bless him, informed me that I was visibly hurting myself and this was not going to go on any longer. He removed the book from my person. I asked him what in hell I was going to read today, dammit, in that case, and he said that Thrud had left a single-volume manwha for me the last time she'd been in town, and that he didn't know whether she'd intended me to review it and he'd thought it might be a birthday present, so he hadn't given it to me yet, but here it was. After some argument, I realized that I was going to be totally impossible to be around even to myself until we had disposed of the War and Peace question one way or the other. I read the manwha. It was fine, not great. I cried a lot afterward in bitter frustration. Reviewed the manwha the next morning when I could think again, went back to the library, returned War and Peace, and got some less difficult things to read so I could cope with the next couple of days. It took a while for the crushing sense of defeat and humiliation to wear off, and it took a much longer while for the sense to wear off that the book had made some kind of existential point about the pointlessness of all human action by using me as a demonstrative device. This, from a philosophical point of view, sucked, but I am now just about reconciled to the fact that I finished the whole ridiculously huge self-imposed reading project anyway and people really liked it and it is just fine.

There are many things in the world that I can do, some of which are quite amazing, even to myself. I can read and review three hundred and sixty-five books in one year.

I cannot read War and Peace in one day. There is probably somebody out there who can, but it isn't me.

I have not finished reading War and Peace, and I don't know whether I'm ever going to finish it. Honestly, I am pretty okay with that. Sometimes these things happen.

Yes, I am still pretty bitter about the whole experience. You will notice it has taken me eight months to write about. But I did want to write it up because, well, it was a pretty major part of the whole project, in terms of emotional weight. And I wanted to remind myself: it's okay to admit that I can't do something. Even something I desperately wanted to do. It does not reflect on what I actually did. That feels important. And I guess it's one of those things one learns from a giant, year-consuming project. If I only learned the things I expected to learn, there wouldn't have been as much point, now would there?
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
On the strength of two novels, M. John Harrison is really, really high on my list of favorite writers now working. I was blown away by The Course of the Heart, and I am blown away by Light. The ways Harrison uses structure make me cry. Literally.

On the surface, Light is a pretty complicated novel: three-stranded narration with no obvious connections between the strands, at least at first. Kearney is a physicist in late-twentieth-century England, a man broken in complex ways for complex reasons who is running fervently from everything and maintaining a mutually damaging-but-helpful relationship with his ex-wife. Seria Mau Genlicher is a spaceship, her body wired into state-of-the-art-for-the-far-future alien technology-- she can navigate in quantum dimensions and see particles no detector can register, but she desperately wants to be human again. And Ed Chianese, in that same far future, is addicted to a particular form of sensory-immersive virtual reality, and owes money to the wrong people about that.

The two future strands take place on the edge of the Kefahuchi Tract, a singularity so incomprehensible, so powerful, that its entire circumference (the Beach) is one giant layer of the detritus of observation stations from millions of years of now-extinct alien civilizations focused on understanding it. Artificial suns support wormholes aimed into the Tract, entire cultures subsist on the mining of the artifacts that can be found around the rim, the rather dystopian descendants of Earth military forces will experiment on anything or anybody to get one toehold of knowledge farther-- and the one thing that remains true of the Kefahuchi Tract, through the aeons, is that no one who goes into it ever comes out.

The obvious questions, of course, are why the modern strand, and what is actually going on, and whether anyone is going to make it into the Tract; but honestly these are the questions that one would expect to have come together in a moderately competent novel, the things which would break the book if they weren't present. The reason I love this book so much is that Harrison goes so far beyond that. This book is so much more complicated than it initially appears, and beautifully subtle.

For one thing, as he did in The Course of the Heart he is still working with myth. There's a white cat/black cat motif running through the book that is, I think, a loaded allusion to the old fairytale of the White Cat. It's no coincidence that Seria's ship's name is White Cat and her middle name is Mau, she the transformed lady, looking for the prince to turn her back again: then the fairytale eats itself, in a way that also serves as a beautifully upraised middle finger to Anne McCaffrey's Ship Who Sang books, and I laughed even as I sympathized and winced. (Those books deserve it.)

There's also a well-placed haunting that made me blink because the last time I saw that particular folkloric beastie it was in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which is not what one might expect. The image works without knowing that set of folklore, I think, but the resonance made the entire thing spine-deep effective for me.

And in addition to the echoes and allusions and the outright criss-crosses between strand and strand, this is also one of those novels in which the strands parallel each other; the three protagonists are going through the same journey in some ways, and being asked the same question, and pass through geographical locations and encounters that are suspiciously similar to each other but different in outward detail and in the ways that the characters react. There is a set of scenes where two of the threads are at a place called Monster Beach, and they are not the two threads you would expect. That sort of thing. I think, based on the two books I've read of his, that Harrison loves this sort of deep underlying parallelism, throwing different types of characters at the same thing to see what they do, and I love him for it. (He also has a dislike of pretention that I am pretty down with; in both novels there's a self-described magician who dies in a totally pointless way after making nothing of his life, and each magician is tagged as one of the five best magicians in London. Am now vaguely wondering whether he kills the other three off as background in other books. I would find that really kind of hilarious.)

So yet again, this is an intricate, precise, beautiful, layered, caring, wise, sympathetic, funny novel which I enjoyed immoderately and which a lot of the reviewers seem to think is really depressing for reasons that totally and completely escape me. I think I like The Course of the Heart better because secret histories and magic ping me harder than space opera, but they're about equal in technical virtuosity, and I'm really looking forward to Nova Swing. (Light ends satisfyingly as a stand-alone, but for thematic reasons requires a sequel; it's the white cat book and needs a black cat book to go with it. I will be interested to see whether the rest of the motifs invert or reverse or what.)



And that's a year. Thank you all very much for reading. It means a great deal to me that so many people have read and enjoyed these reviews. Later in the week I hope to run some numbers on things like how many books I tagged as what genre, and maybe some general reflections on what the whole experience was like; in about a month, when I can stand to think about it, I'll start putting a manuscript of the reviews together, in hopes that someday they'll appear in book form. Here on this journal I will definitely keep reviewing books, when I come across books I would like to review-- it simply won't be as frequent, and I'll have more time to write about movies and travel and some other things that have gotten totally sidelined in the past year. And I'll keep writing reviews for Strange Horizons and linking to those as they go up.

Again, thank you. Without the book recommendations, boxes of books in the mail, encouragement, factual research, people who actually came to my reading at Readercon, and endlessly enjoyable comments this would have been a much more difficult and much less enjoyable thing to do. As it is, I'm glad it's over, I'm glad I proved to myself that I could do this, and I did enjoy a lot of it-- though it was a lot of work.

I'm going to go reread The Book of the New Sun. And see if my brain can process the idea of not writing a review tomorrow.

Happy birthday, me, from my past self. I picked a decade-closing year for this, birthday to birthday. It was a good birthday present and I'm glad I thought to give it.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
It is day three hundred and sixty-four what is this I don't even. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF ON TUESDAY. Well. It will be very odd not to have to read a book. I can't tell whether I'm looking forward to it or not.

So this is a cookbook by the Lao American Women Association of the Washington, D.C. Metro Area, which they donated to the Fairfax County library. It's meant to show the differences between Laotian cooking and the food of other countries in the region, and to provide recipes for members of the Laotian diaspora. It is, in fact, bilingual, English-Laotian.

Lao food turns out to be heavily influenced by Thai and Vietnamese, but unsurprisingly is a thing of its own. In Laos, the default rice is sweet sticky rice, which is served with meals instead of only as a dessert; quite frequently in order to make it more savory it will be soaked in salt water before cooking, or boiled and then fried as a chunk until crunchy, or roasted (raw or cooked) and then ground to powder. But you also get it in balls, eaten out of hand plain, or dipped into sauce.

There's always a dipping sauce on the table, or several, and there's usually a plate of raw or roasted vegetables. Lettuce wraps are popular. The default mode for meat and fish appears to be poached, boiled, or grilled; there's very little distinction between soup, stew, and salad, as things labeled salad quite frequently have broth and the omnipresent vegetable plate is meant to be combined with the soup or stew if one sees fit. Steaming is a popular preparation too, in banana leaves (though there's a note which says you can fake banana leaves with a layer of plastic wrap on the inside and a layer of tinfoil on the outside, a note I have been waiting for some time to see in a cookbook because I do not usually have access to banana leaves).

Dishes of particular note include the beef stew with boiled cow bile, which the author says is so bitter that only middle-aged and older people eat it; the various forms of larb, which is the raw chopped salad that can be made of beef or pork or fish or shrimp mixed with chilis and spices; and the entire section marked 'Dishes favored by the diaspora', which are foods that very clearly show their Lao ancestry but which use techniques or ingredients that come from somewhere else or are easier to find in the U.S. (You can make pâté the same way you make larb.)

Desserts are centered around coconut milk and sweet sticky rice, in various combinations, colored with different flavorings and served in layers.

Although this is a fascinating book, and does explain to me very clearly some ways in which Laotian cooks see their cooking (I particularly appreciate that the recipes are sourced as to where in the country the cook comes from, so that you know whether something is Vientiane-style or from the north or south), I would not recommend cooking from this unless you are a very good cook. I am a little afraid to try, because there is no standardization of amounts whatsoever: things will be measured in 'cans' or 'packets'. Some names of foods are not translated into English, and loofah is noted as 'Chinese okra', which is just confusing. (I think it's loofah, but I could be seeing the picture wrong.) I don't know what size of pepper they mean when they say large, I don't know what they mean when they list 'red pepper', 'chili', and 'large red pepper' in the same recipe-- I can, of course, conjecture-- but basically these are recipes written by people who have a deep understanding of what proportions of ingredients are appropriate for the food they are working with, and who are not necessarily working for an audience that does not already know this. In order to cook from this a person would need either to know what the food ought to taste like, or to be able to adjust ingredients on the fly in such a way as to produce something which tasted good to the cook, with the knowledge that the result might not be what the recipe intended. A couple of these recipes are sufficiently vague that I'm not really sure I'd use the word recipe: more guidelines. Loose guidelines. I freely admit to being intimidated.

But it's better than having no idea about Laotian food at all, which is where I was starting from, and the association says that at least in 2006 when this book came out there wasn't much by way of Laotian restaurants in the D.C. area. So I recommend this, because I learned things.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Obligatory disclaimer: author is a friend.

There are ways in which I've been waiting to read this, because the third one's not out yet, and therefore reading this one means there isn't going to be any more for a while, but Ruth is most of the way through the first one, and upon finishing it would be several thousand miles from our copy of the second if I waited longer. I try not to be cruel like that.

Anyway, this is the direct sequel to A Book of Tongues, and is, as that one was, a violent and glorious alternate-history Western in which magic has more prices that anybody particularly wants to pay. For one thing, it's never a good idea to plot Things To Do To Make Your Lover Insanely Powerful without asking first, no matter how pure your intentions, and the fallout of that ricochets all over this book. There's also a lot of Aztec mythology done in a way that doesn't make me want to throw things and scream, which is... really, really rare and before this series was basically restricted to three issues of The Invisibles (of all things).

I can't talk too much about the plot here, because it really is very dependent on the first book, and one ought to start reading there. But I can say that I find it just as good, a little less tightly structured but for good reason (protagonist running around not knowing what the hell to do about the fact that everything has gone horribly wrong, and it's interesting enough confusion that I can forgive him for not working out a plan, especially since he's not the sort of person who plans much in advance anyway).

I just... really, really love these books. I don't have much to say about them because they hit everything my id wants in a book so hard. Okay, maybe this one had slightly less sex, but, you know, this is writing to all my particular narrative kinks and I want the third and I want it now and I want more people to go out and read these so I have a lot of people to talk them over with and basically this is my favorite series now running and that's all there is to it. They're dark and they're lovely and they're chock full of people one doesn't usually see in this kind of Western; this one, for instance, has a neat little instance of characters Doing Poly Right, possibly to show up how thoroughly the main set are failing at it, although they aren't failing at it for anything like the usual reasons...

So yeah. You need something of a gore tolerance, I suppose, I never know how to calibrate that kind of thing. But if you have ever been violently aggravated by some things about the entire genre of the Western, this is a good antidote, and if you are annoyed that there's not enough gay in fantasy, this helps there too.

Thank you, Gemma. Thank you very much.

Ordinarily I'd use my Twilight Sparkle icon here, which I've been saving for books I think are really good, but the character in my default icon would get along so well with the entire cast of this series I can't even tell you, so there it is.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
[personal profile] nineweaving reminded me that I wanted to read this. (And I am now vaguely wondering how much Beerbohm has influenced her own style.)

It's a collection of short pieces, each written in a parody of the style of a famous author of Beerbohm's day (the book came out in 1912). Each author is writing a Christmas story.

The whole thing is a work of sheer, desperate genius. Even if you aren't familiar with the writer being skewered, Beerbohm's style is so illuminatingly bitchy that you know perfectly well what mode of thing the original must have been. You can also tell, sometimes, that the original must have been good, which doesn't take out the sting at all. The writers I was familiar with-- Kipling, Conrad, Henry James, a few others-- well, it's the sort of parody that makes you shake your head ruefully and say, yes, I have to admit that that is true, even though I may like the work.

Here, for instance, is Beerbohm's Henry James:

It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it. But just where the deuce had he left it? The consciousness of dubiety was, for our friend, not, this morning, quite yet clean-cut enough to outline the figures on what she had called his "horizon," between which and himself the twilight was indeed of a quality somewhat intimidating.


I have to admit, this has always been pretty much my experience of reading Henry James. The protagonist of this story is a small child lying in bed and trying to figure out whether his sister has peeped into her Christmas stocking early, although it took me some work to determine that.

A couple of these, mind you, stand entirely on their own account, as stories, and can just be read that way. The Arnold Bennett, for example, is both a scathing indictment of the novel of manners and a silly little romance conducted entirely through idiosyncratic customs native to the town in which the characters live. The Maurice Hewlett is a crossdressing theatrical misunderstanding set in Edwardian times (that is, modern to Beerbohm) but told in every way as though it were a medieval romance, with the highest pseudo-Malory language imaginable. The Edmund Gosse is a piece of inveterate namedropping in which the protagonist claims to have gotten Browning and Ibsen into the same room of a Venetian palazzo at Christmas-- they hated each other, of course, hilariously, and the protagonist works five or seven other famous names into his explanations about why.

And the Hilaire Belloc I kind of want to frame and put up on the wall, if only for the following poetic interlude: Cut for length. )

That is, at one and the same time, the type-pattern of a certain kind of folksong I ran into often among sincere people in my youth, and of a certain kind of folksong produced by a certain kind of writer who would like to have become famous among those sincere people, and of a certain kind of fantasy novel which I have also encountered rather more often than seems entirely reasonable. And yet at the same time it has actual rhythm hovering around the edges, because Beerbohm would like you to know that he can if he wants to, he just doesn't want to. I would cheerfully read an entire novel's worth of that. Probably hurt myself laughing.

At any rate, if you like this sort of thing, and I hope the excerpts tell you whether you do, this is the sort of thing you would like, and should not be put off from by not getting the references. This is after all the era in which you can look them all up in thirty seconds in another tab as you read the book on Project Gutenberg anyway, she says, now that she knows who in hell G.S. Street was. I enjoyed this profoundly and dramatically. I mean, you should see the H.G. Wells piece, in which Wells cites himself, with footnotes, eight separate times. Comedy gold.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Daufuskie island is a sea island, technically part of North Carolina but closer geographically to Georgia. It's one of the places where Gullah culture survives, linguistically and in other ways, but it's both out-of-the-way and not terribly populous; there are many more tourists than permanent residents and there hasn't been industry since pollution closed the oyster cannery in the 1950s.

The author grew up on Daufuskie in the 1960s, in a manner that would not have been unfamiliar a century previously: subsistence farming, hunting, gathering, and fishing, with hand-pumped and hand-hauled water, wood stoves, kerosene lamps, and a trip of several hours to the nearest store. There was no regular ferry and most people on the island did not own boats, so that store trip would involve calling in favors from fishermen and was consequently a significant production which didn't happen very often.

Her writings here are a mixture of nostalgia, moderate bitterness, and the particular confusion that a person gets when looking back on childhood and realizing that not everyone does things the way they were done by one's family; the bewilderment of noticing that, culturally, one is and was not in the mainstream, when previously it had not occurred to one that things could be different than they were, because that was how the world worked. It sounds like a hard-working life, which was varied and taught a great many practical skills, almost none of which could be transferred off the island. (She talks about her teachers in school trying to make the class speak English instead of their native language, talks about not knowing she was Gullah until a tourist asked her whether she was and she asked what that meant.)

The food is fascinating and very, very, very Southern; it's also the food you get when using few pots and pans on a wood stove, preparations designed to stretch calories, produce all the flavor possible from fat, and utilize the properties of fresh ingredients in an area where there wasn't much by way of indigenous spices and even garlic powder had to be hauled from that store.

The word salad, for example, means chopped things in mayonnaise, usually with hard-boiled eggs and sweet pickle involved somewhere. Nobody grew lettuce. Most main dishes are 'long pots', designed to cook at medium-to-low heat for five to seven hours at a time-- she talks about the way this tied her mother to the yard. Breakfast was at sunrise and dinner, the meal for which the long pots were destined, was somewhere between three and five p.m. so that her mother had a few hours of unhampered working time before the light faded. No lunches, but snacks of fruit and nuts between meals. Bread was always home-baked and always stretched with whatever fruit or vegetable was in season; plain white bread was a day-after-store treat.

Most of the long pots, whether vegetable-centered or based around game, start with five or six cuts of pork, some smoked and some not, to add depth and variety. The other staples are onion, red and green bell pepper, and shrimp; ninety percent of the meals involve some combination of these ingredients, either stewed entirely, made into a roast with gravy, or as a sort of stir-fry. They're always served over rice or grits and would probably feed an army in most kitchens I know-- if you can get the pork. I have no idea how I'd start trying to find a smoked pig neck-bone. Seafood can also go into long pots, but tends to be breaded and quick-fried because it had usually just been pulled out of the water. Game meant stew; there are recipes in here for stew featuring deer, squirrel, raccoon and opossum, with instructions for cleaning the meat before cooking. (This book will also tell you how to pick a crab, but assumes that any civilized person should be able to head and devein a shrimp, an assumption I find endearing although totally incorrect.)

The few quick meals in here are mostly things the kids came up with when they were left at home by themselves while their parents were working and wanted something to eat that wouldn't take six hours. It says something, I think, that both gumbo and red rice qualify as quick meals.

The desserts are a fairly spectacular array of Impressive Things To Do With Fruit, including a boiled blackberry dumpling that appears to have taken the best of English pudding ideas and run wild, and a pear preparation that creates pear preserves as a side effect. They are also the things in the book which one might be able to find ingredients for if not living in that general region, and I may try a couple of them.

If you are not an experienced cook, this book is not going to be helpful to you at all if you want to use the recipes. It is one of those books that cannot imagine a person not knowing various things about cooking. There is a recipe in here that begins 'cook a chicken in the way that seems best to you and then do x with the meat'. That said, the author has attempted valiantly to impose measurements and exact temperatures on a set of recipes which never had either; she describes three generations of women using a scoop of this, a dash of that, and knowing whether it should be on the front or the back of the stove. It is now in language an experienced cook should be able to follow and duplicate. (I myself do not think I know enough about pork products to attempt any of the meat dishes.)

If, however, you're interested in it principally as a portrait of a way of life and a set of foodways, it's quite good. There are some very nice black-and-white photos of the island, and the whole thing is sentimental around the edges but has the feel of a labor of love. I've certainly never seen another cookbook remotely resembling it-- it's a little like the sort of booklet you sometimes get from churches and small towns, where people contribute their everyday recipes, except that it's one family's stock of recipes and the food is not remotely prosaic or everyday to anyone who doesn't live there. Well worth reading, if a touch intimidating to a cook who feels moderately guilty about never having had to kill her own chickens.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Via Mari Ness, who pointed out over at torcom that she had never read any of E. Nesbit's adult novels, and gave this one a fairly complimentary review. I realized I'd never read any of the adult books either.

It's very interesting. It's not a book in which much happens, but the ways in which things don't happen are, for 1902, revolutionary, and still, for fiction, in some ways impressive.

In short, this is a book about housework.

From a male perspective.

The protagonist and his wife, new-married and both working in artistic professions for a not-spectacular living, are left a house and a small income by an uncle. The house is gigantic-- twenty-nine rooms, far too large for two people, and besides has four adjacent cottages which belong to the property, an orchard and large garden, and a ridiculous number of necessary repairs. It would be silly to move into it. They promptly move into it; they cannot help it. (I don't think many people could.) And then they are caught in the trap that the things they want to do and most enjoy doing, which are fixing up the house and unpacking the furniture and building new furniture and going through the cellar and getting the mold off the doorstep and hanging the wallpaper etc. etc. etc., do not bring in any money whatsoever, but it can be very difficult to write and draw when you have a giant old house all around you calling out for things to be done to it and also half your clothes are still at the back of a pile of boxes under the stairs and damn it if you don't prune the peach trees this year they're going to fall over onto the roof.

The thing that I like is that this is an absolutely gender-neutral problem. They both work, neither takes the work lightly, and they are both in a state of new-house rapture compounded by still pretty much being on honeymoon compounded by spring. And neither one of them has ever had to do housework before, being of the class who keep servants, but they can't get one to stay; the house is too big. So there's the novelty value for them also, but in addition the organizational issue-- the protagonist thinks at one point that his wife knew how to be an organized person in the tiny house they had before this, because she had lived in a similar house growing up and was following her mother's rules, whereas in a tiny house he tried to spread out and claim territory all over the place. But in a large house she has to find out what rules she actually considers necessary, and he's turned into a person who wants to do the dishes between parts of dinner just so he knows where to find the things again.

Fortunately they have a good and sophisticated friend, who is willing to come in and gently sort them out, though one of the book's few sour notes is that she has an Obligatory and most annoying Romance of the kind that I almost suspect the Powers That Be of insisting on. Because in a book of this sort in 1902 having a woman of her sort (been to college, has a career) not have an Obligatory Annoying Romance would be sufficiently subversive as to be unpublishable. Still. Aargh.

The other sour note is that there are a couple of racial epithets of sorts that are nowadays not used, and which are not here used in reference to any specific people, but it is very odd and jarring to see them crop up in figures of speech and analogies: unpleasant.

Overall, though, this is a kind of book I thoroughly enjoy and approve of: it's a book about a happy marriage that I can believe, a marriage in which people talk to each other and in which they consistently and cheerfully enjoy one another's company. They are each other's best friends. And when she becomes pregnant, and they are both absolutely terrified and with good reason (they are twenty and twenty-two, they've only just sorted their lives out, and there is a real possibility of this killing her, because that happened randomly sometimes then), they talk out their fears to one another and are honest about the prospect of death. (Look! An Edwardian novel that mentions pregnancy!)

1902, people. This gentle, honest, humane, still unique book was the political equivalent of throwing a bomb. It's a sign of how well that bomb has exploded that lots of this is now actually somewhat quaint and even a little sexist. It's a sign that it is still exploding that my list of books which value housekeeping as a human art and endeavor is very short, and this is one of precisely two I can think of in which the narrator is male and his discovery that he enjoys housework isn't meant as a joke. (The other one is Gordon Korman's Losing Joe's Place, in which the entire rest of the book is a joke, and a good one, but not that bit.) I have a feeling this should not be this rare a quality in a novel; but at least, if three things make a genre, we are lacking only one now.
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I have been nervous about the Freddy books for about a decade now; that is how long it's been since I'd read any of them. At least. I grew up with them, as some relative or other tucked a couple into a holiday box one year, and the library had a circulating selection. I remember really liking the ones with the Martians and the others are kind of blurry, so I had the fear one always has about childhood books: did this, while I grew up, receive a visit from the Suck Fairy? And did she bring her friends the Racism and Sexism Fairies along for the ride? I was so nervous about the Freddy books that I put off rereading the ones I own for about five years due, solely, to that nervousness. They are exactly the kind of thing that turns out to be awful when you grow up a depressing percentage of the time, and given that they were written in the 1930s through 1950s, well, the awful could have been spectacularly hideous.

I went through the library today and reread a lot of the ones I knew as a kid and read one, Freddy Goes to the North Pole, for the first time.

Thankfully, they aren't terrible. Whew. They are not brilliant, and they vary in quality extremely; you can see Brooks teaching himself to write them as he goes. They do not have consistent worldbuilding to the point where they do not have worldbuilding at all. They do not have consistent memories of things that happened in previous books, even.

But they are and remain charming, cute little books about a farm full of talking animals who, as a farm full of talking animals would inevitably be, are bored with farm work and therefore do anything else that comes into their heads. Freddy, the protagonist pig, has been a detective, an editor, a politician, a travel agent, a rocket scientist, a terrible poet (sadly a consistent feature)... the list goes ever on and on. The whole is set in a sort of bucolic-to-the-point-of-comedic-exaggeration whitebread extremely-stereotype-American small town which manages to get away with its strains of anti-Communism, rabid patriotism and general dislike of politicians by being such a caricature that you cannot possibly take any of its politics seriously. I am not capable of taking anti-Communist sentiments as intended as a real statement when they are expressed by a sheriff who hands off the key to the jail to his prisoners every weekend to make sure they don't feel unloved and rejected by society. I'm just not. Nobody can make me.

As an adult, I am capable of noticing which precise great English poems Freddy has plagiarized and turned into travesties of themselves in the service of his, uh, art. (Put down the Kipling! And back away slowly!) Apart from that, the books really haven't changed a bit, although I have no idea what anyone would think of them now who didn't read them as a kid.

The new-to-me-today is an odd duck among them, one of the ones that is more out-and-out fantastical, which is not the usual direction of this series. I don't think it works very well, but this is only the second and Brooks is still finding his feet. The animals decide to found a travel agency for other animals, in which they show them around various sights of interest in exchange for farm labor, and consequently all find themselves free to take a very long vacation; a party decides to go the North Pole. When it is not heard back from, another party goes... and discovers, in fact, Santa Claus. Whose shop has been taken over by the crew of a whaling ship who want to make it more efficient, which is making everybody miserable. The animals have to find a way to get the crew to go home without hurting them, since they generally mean well. Along the way they save a couple of orphans, have a genuinely tense confrontation with a wolf pack, and totally disregard everything about the way the climate on the way to the North Pole actually is (seriously, they all sleep on the ground under feather beds every night and it's just fine). It's an incredibly peculiar book.

As with all other Brooks, some animals talk and some don't, and some animals who talk eat other animals who talk, even knowing they talk, and some people are willing to eat even animals they know talk while other people are perfectly willing to treat the animals exactly as they would human beings, and the inconsistency of all of this multiplies by about ten thousand when you throw in Santa Claus, a crew of whalers, abused children, a fake treasure map, and lots and lots of filked Tennyson and Walter Scott. This specific novel doesn't quite gel, in that it's more a series of peculiar set-pieces than a coherent anything, but I can't disrecommend it, because it's certainly different.

And as I said, the series in general holds up, especially the ones with the Martians, because Brooks turns out to be way better at SF than fantasy, once you just take the talking animals as one of those things that happens sometimes. Which in fact is how everyone takes it. So, while these are not the sort of kids' books that turn out to be treasures that were totally beyond one's comprehension at the time (Keith Robertson's Henry Reed books turn out to be hilarious in ways I had never dreamed possible), they are the sort you can read happily and reminiscently without feeling sick to one's stomach. This makes me very cheerful, because, well, that's a whole chunk of childhood.
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Yesterday's review.

This is an originally-English-language Tokyopop-produced graphic novel, which means that the publisher thought of it as similar enough to manga or manwha to be sold to the same audiences. The interesting thing is that, unlike a lot of the OEL work Tokyopop did, this is aimed squarely at adults and is trying to hit a market which reads serious, thoughtful slice-of-life stories; it's more josei than shoujo. It also has a distinct air of indie American serious-thoughtful-slice-of-life comics, but I definitely see why Tokyopop thought it could be their type of thing.

Unfortunately, it's also not very good, which makes me sad, because there are a lot of things about it which could have been pretty awesome. A lot of the problem comes from being compressed into one volume, although not all of it.

Jackie, depressed after her ex-lover Noah's death, gets Noah's brother to bring her some of Noah's ashes and drinks them over the twelve days of Christmas. Her hope is to forget Noah by assimilating part of her lover into herself. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work very well and makes her sick. Also, Noah's brother, who is of course also grief-stricken, keeps coming around to find out how this crazy project is going.

The story is told in elliptical side-shots, flashbacks, bits of Noah's family situation; Noah's lesbianism was never accepted by her family, and she left Jackie very abruptly to marry a man. The dialogue is occasionally snappy, and the art is cleanly drawn and interesting, with a style that merges realism and outline nicely.

The difficulty is that despite the obvious huge issues (life, death, sexual orientation, grief, the disposition of the bodies of the dead, secrets, lies) nothing much happens, and nothing much happens in a way where it's pretty clear that it wasn't the author's intent for nothing much to happen. This isn't a book about grief as an anticlimax, though it is somewhat one about the way it stops time. There's not room for anything to happen; we get told who these people are and what their situations are, but it doesn't build, or pointedly fail to build. It ends. It's very frustrating, because we do get to know these people, and know them pretty well, and become interested, and with another few hundred pages this could have been something moving and precise and extraordinary. It's not subject matter I often see in comics, the aftermath of an interracial lesbian romance where everyone is still picking up the shrapnel and the death is only an amplifier of the pattern of the way things were going already. I wanted more from this material and I wanted more of this material.

Ah well. At least it doesn't do the predictable things, the things one might expect of the story-pattern. I suppose I am happier with a story that goes nowhere with good materials than I would be with one that uses the same materials for cliches. It's just aggravating when something is so close to being interesting.
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[personal profile] rachelmanija sent me a package containing among other objects Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, a Harlequin romance entitled Wedlocked: Banished Sheik, Untouched Queen, and a postcard of le portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars, 1594. (Painting link probably NSFW although in irreproachable taste due to its age, because a provenance of several centuries makes most things more respectable.) It's amazing how well this all goes together.

The painting is, actually, a reasonable metaphor for Prince of Tides: over-the-top and trashy, but with surprising artistic technique and critical credibility, and a story that only makes the entire thing multiple magnitudes weirder. This is, you see, the portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées made to serve as her announcement to her lover, the King of France, that she was pregnant. The child would of course be illegitimate, but royal, so she's holding but not wearing his signet ring. There's a woman in the background making baby clothes.

And she is of course naked in a bathtub with her sister groping her because her sister is demonstrating that she will be very good at feeding babies. No, really. This is a gesture you can see the Virgin Mary making on herself in various paintings when she's suckling Christ. Of course, the reason it is being performed by somebody else and both of them are totally undraped ladies is because when you are the maîtresse déclarée of the King of France you have something of a reputation to keep up, and also he was probably into that.

So it looks like an extremely formal portrait of sixteenth-century lesbian sex, BUT ACTUALLY it's an extremely formal portrait of sixteenth-century vaguely suggested lesbian incest serving as a note to a prospective baby-daddy AND a comparison of the subject to the Virgin Mary.

In a similar way, Prince of Tides looks at first glance as though someone has forcibly chained Tennessee Williams to a writing desk and informed him that he is to write Love Story. It is a fusion of the Southern Gothic with the Big Fat Seventies And Eighties Epic Novel, you know, from the people who brought you Shogun; a book that is meant to keep you more entertained than any other seventeen books by being as long as all of them put together and also by having the entirety of their content, pureed. It has a confusing amount of very good descriptions of food, a prose style that is not merely purple and not merely mauve but pretty much Fauvist, and characters who manage to be interesting enough despite the fact that the narrator is not as funny as he thinks he is and spends a bit too long in every chapter reminding you that his childhood was terrible, which, yes, we got that, a narration of events would have proved that. (I am not going to try to give you any kind of narrative summary of this novel. I told you, it has the content of seventeen novels shoved into it.)

Then you look more closely at it, and you go, this is a book in which an eighty-five-year-old man waterskiing forty miles on a bet to win back his suspended drivers' license is an interlude between the chapters in which melodramatic things happen. This is a book which contains, in its entirety, the text of a highly symbolic pseudonymous children's book written by the narrator's tormented-genius twin sister. This is a book which has not one but two scenes involving the narrator being very good at football which are genuinely emotionally effective, even if one does not know the rules of football (and I don't). THIS IS A BOOK IN WHICH SOMEONE BECOMING A VIOLENT ENVIRONMENTAL TERRORIST IS AN ANTI-CLIMAX BECAUSE THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE THAT WERE SO MUCH WEIRDER.

Apparently I am going to spoiler-cut this. Huh. )

I knew about this plot point going in. It was even more spectacularly odd than I had been told to expect. It was also genuinely disturbing, in that way where there is a lot of violence in this book and when you pile violence upon violence after a while you are kind of ready to buy something when it goes THAT FAR over the top. It would be way less disturbing if you could even see the top under your feet, you know? This scene is, by itself, so completely outside the boundaries of all plausibility that it almost makes the entire book emotionally believable.

I SAID ALMOST.

You see the analogy to the painting? I mean, that painting is so way the hell over the top that it only wound up in the Louvre.

It is true that, to date, of the things [personal profile] rachelmanija sent me, so far only one has had the supreme artistic accolade of having a Barbra Streisand movie made out of it.

It is, however, not too late. She may, after all, still get around to Banished Sheik, Untouched Queen. I can only hope*.

* (Look, I-- actually went through a Barbra Streisand period, as a young teen, where I saw everything I could get hold of containing her about fifty times each (though not this), and I still quite like her. I am one of the three human beings on the planet to have seen On A Clear Day You Can See Forever more than once. Having read this novel, I don't even have to look up what role she played to tell you that she was horribly, horribly, terribly miscast and that the whole thing cannot have ended well. But if she ever were to film that Harlequin romance novel, I would, in fact, see the movie. I thought I should make that clear at some point in here.)
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Short and charming autobiography centering around Dahl's childhood and adolescence; it follows his usual pattern of covering quite appalling events in entertaining and ironic ways.

Dahl came from a large and loving family of Norwegians living in England, which suffered a serious shock very early in his life when his older sister died of appendicitis, followed a month later by his father dying of pneumonia. His mother, upon his father's death, had two children to raise by her husband's first wife, three surviving of her own, and a baby due in six weeks. Looking back on it, Dahl is justifiably surprised that she didn't sell the house, take the children, and flee to her family in Norway, but she seems to have stuck it out in England with an iron will and a tenacious good humor. His talk about her is admiring and endearing, and she comes across as competent beyond belief, practical, wise, and a master of organizational tactics (she got all of them, and the nanny, to the coastal islands of Norway on summer holidays every year, an undertaking slightly more logistically complicated than siege warfare).

School, however, seems to have been the major problem in his life. His mother took him out of one school because they caned him, and sent him to a highly reputable boarding school-- where they not only caned him more often, but stood over the students writing letters to make sure no one said anything undesirable about the educational environment. His sense of injustice is deep-seated, desperate, and accurate; he happened to be a very good athlete and mentions that he must have been the only team captain at Repton never to be made into a house official, because the faculty knew perfectly well he wouldn't beat the junior students. This goes a fair way for me in explaining the two kinds of adults who appear in Dahl's fiction for children: the good ones, loving, imperfect, and usually economically or otherwise not capable of achieving much, especially in defense of children; and the bad ones, who are rotten clear through and in power and abuse it. This does appear to have been the way adults were to him as a child, and the wounds of school in the 1920s are visible in him writing sixty years later. (And more than visible-- he mentions never having been able to sit on a hard bench for any length of time in later life.)

So this book is an odd combination of terrible things that happened to the author, terrible things he did to other people by way of revenge (a dead mouse in a jar in the sweetshop owned by a woman who hated him; goat droppings in his sister's annoying fiance's pipe), and the usual anecdotes one gets from a happy cheerful large family who all want to be around each other and have gotten very good at it. All told in the same tone of voice, which you wouldn't think would work but does, because the content itself makes the voice ironic or humorous or bitter as the case may be.

I would say, then, that it's enjoyable, and interesting if you like the author; but it is not indispensable as an autobiography, though it is well done, because I have read many books with similar content. The unusual thing is that this time they are all the same book.
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... it appears to be day three hundred and fifty-five. Whoa.

You would be amazed by how complicated a concept the thought of being done with this is. I mean, there are ways in which this project is the thing what has been keeping me sane, and there are ways in which it has eaten major chunks of my life at occasionally inopportune times (I get, like, three days every few months with my girlfriend, you know?), and ways in which I'm absolutely exhausted and ways in which I'm not and I mean what am I even going to do with myself?

Besides reread Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, which is NOT COMPATIBLE with a new book a day, believe me.

The answer to what I am going to do with myself, by the way, is: not this. As incredible an experience as this has been, it ain't sustainable. I am going to, firstly, take some time to relax; secondly, run some statistics, which should be interesting; thirdly, start arranging the reviews as a book and putting together the agent packet and all that jazz. And I assume I'll keep writing up really notable books, and I have some other ideas for Possibly Interesting Blogging Tricks, but no way are any of those starting until oh let us say November or so.

Now, your regularly scheduled review.

If you aren't a knitter, this isn't your book. There are knitting books I cheerfully recommend to non-knitters, mainly Elizabeth Zimmermann, who is an absolutely fantastic prose stylist and as much an autobiographer as a knitter, but this is not one of them.

On the other hand, if you are a knitter, even if you are a complete and total beginner, this really, really is your book meant for you and you should go look at it right now. Possibly even if you only want to learn to knit.

Alice Starmore is justifiably a legend in knitting circles. Her sense of color is amazing, she lives in the Outer Hebrides and draws on a substantial Scottish knitting tradition whose history she actively researches, and one of her sweaters is so famously complex and beautiful that Adrienne Martini wrote a very readable book about the process of knitting it. (Speaking of knitting books I recommend to non-knitters.)

This book is about Aran knitting, which most people know as 'those sweaters with all the cables from those islands off the coast of Ireland'. Starmore begins with a history of Aran knitting, in which she explains where the prevalent scholarly theories about its origin arose (commercial mystification) and proves, using historical records and careful stitch-by-stitch analysis of museum-held knitted garments, that Aran knitting arose as a tradition in the 1940s and was almost certainly based on the innovations of a single knitter working from the base of the Scottish fisherman's gansey. This section of the book is amazing. Very, very few people bother to do solid research into the history of knitting, and Starmore looks at it from cultural, economic, social, and gender-relations directions. I have read books by professional historians on many subjects that were both worse and less comprehensive than this single, gorgeously written chapter.

Then she starts explaining how to do it. All you need to know at the start of this book is how to cast on, make a knit stitch, make a purl stitch, and bind off. That is all. She takes you from there through simple cabling theory (not difficult; when I was learning to knit I taught myself to cable on a twist tie), using photos of real swatches, and then expands... and expands... and expands... She is always careful and logical, going one step at a time: what happens if I use three stitches here instead of four? it does this. If I put two cables right next to each other? it does that. And within a very few pages you're getting these gorgeous cascading complexities that look as though you'd have to be Escher to come up with them, except that they make perfect sense, because they are elaborated from things she explained from the ground up. And she does explain everything she does, from which yarns make the designs really pop to how to keep the border from looking crooked. This is a model for structure in a knitting book. I would cheerfully hand this to somebody who started knitting last week, and I bet they could do Aran from it.

Then there are the actual garment patterns. I am usually one of those fidgety picky people who is like 'I want to knit x pattern only in a different yarn and a different weight and I don't like that bit so I'll graft on the bit from the other thing oh god I'm not experienced enough to be doing all my own designing aagh'. In ninety percent of knitting books, there are two patterns I like enough to consider knitting, and I usually want them to be in a color other than, say, chartreuse. This is why I don't own any knitting books (Elizabeth Zimmermann, being all out of print, is a library thing).

I would knit every single thing from this book, in the yarn she says, in the color she says, knowing I would have to order the yarn from Britain. Okay. Maybe I wouldn't do the pink one in pink. But. I would even knit the hats. I don't wear hats! I don't think I know anyone who wears hats! (As opposed to hat, singular. I know a couple of people who have A Hat.) Most knitted hats look like confused beanbags! I would knit these hats anyway.

In addition to all of this, Starmore points out that Aran knitting sometimes looks a lot like traditional Irish knotwork, except that knotwork is based around the concept of the infinite line that goes around and around, and Aran cable lines begin at the bottom of the garment and end at the top. So she said to herself, I like knotwork, and invented a method of making cable stitches into an infinite line. Which means, if you want to knit motifs from the Book of Kells into a sweater? She did that pattern for you. It's ridiculously beautiful. And there is a section on how to design Aran and knotwork patterns for yourself; I was kind of overloaded by that point but it seems as methodically solid as the entire rest of the book.

Sometimes when people are legendary it is for very good reason.

I have to buy this and knit everything in it ever. I am not actually sure I have much of a choice in the matter. God, now I have to save up for yarn from Britain.
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It is very odd to read this book, to be reading it, to have read it; because I have known and loved the film since I was in high school. Woman in the Dunes came out as a novel in 1962, but Abe was already at work on the film script. The movie, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, came out in 1964, and is one of the great masterpieces of world cinema. I have never seen sand photographed the way that it is in that movie. It is one of those films that actually changed the way I look at an object, at the way that sand moves.

So you see the novel had a lot to live up to, and the film is an extremely faithful adaptation of it. The question is whether the additional input from Teshigahara and the other people who worked on the movie makes the work a better or a worse one in its trip across media.

The premise is of course the same in both. A man, whose name we don't initially know, travels into the country on an insect-collecting trip. He reaches an isolated village, surrounded by massive sand dunes that peter into ocean. Misses the last bus back. Is offered a place to stay for the night, and is lowered into a house in a sandpit, a house so deep in a sandpit that one needs a ladder to reach it at all. A woman lives there, alone, her husband and child buried in a previous avalanche. Her life is one of backbreaking labor, digging the sand away from the house, putting it into barrels, having it hauled out of the pit. Without this labor the house will be buried very quickly.

In the morning when her guest wakes up, there is no ladder.

It becomes obvious that the villagers will never let him go, and that the two of them can easily be made to work, because they don't get water or food if they don't. The man tries scheme after scheme. The sand trickles, flows, seeps, insinuates, itches, rots clothing and wood. The woman works. The sand hauled out of the ground is sold to a construction company, but the salt content is too high: the concrete made out of this sand will rot and crumble. The man is distressed by this. The woman doesn't care. Digging sand is the life of her house and her village; her dead are buried here; it would be, she says, the same anywhere else.

There are levels on which this is an allegory, of course, about human nature and the nature of work and the world, hardship, degradation and surprising redemption. There are levels on which it is about identity and the questions of Japanese identity in the wake of WWII, whether clinging to a village way of life is destructive or communal, whether the city is dehumanizing or freeing, and what individual personhood has to do with that. It is, also, genuinely about these two people and their personal reactions to each other and the sand, whether they are trapped, and whether they think they are trapped, and whether the status of whether or not they are trapped is affected by what they think about the matter.

The novel spends a lot of time inside the man's head. We get snatches of his daily life, in the city, what he thinks about that life, his previous relationships. We get the close-ups of his desperation, the intricacies of his plans, the moments when he is sure that something in him is breaking, the exhilaration when he thinks he might be getting somewhere.

The movie, as it must, has a much more exterior perspective. We can't see his plans until he carries them out. We must read his state of mind by his face.

Both are absolutely full of sand, the sound of it, the eternal presence of it, sand in teeth, sand in water jug, sand in clothes, sand falling in on one's head all the time, sand superheated by the sun. Teshigahara said about this story that there were three characters, the Man, the Woman, and the Sand. He is right. The novel has more freedom to indulge in philosophy, thoughts about the ways sand is fluid, the way it wears at things, the questions about why sand grains become such a uniform set of sizes (there is only a very limited range of sizes of grains of sand). The film has, as I said before, the greatest photography of sand ever performed.

I think that in this circumstance I like the movie better, because in the novel, I honestly think we lose something by knowing too much about the protagonist. He has Freudian theories that have since been disproved, and he has misogynistic tendencies that are annoying, and we get much more invested in his plans. Also he sees the woman from outside, so we don't get her subjectivity. In the film she is as much the protagonist as he, because the viewer can decipher from each of them only what the viewer can read from the facial expressions, dialogue, and so on. They are equal forces in the film, and although they probably are in the novel, the weight of the book is tipped to the man. Also, I really do like not having to put up with the misogyny and Freudianism. I suspect that the lack of these is one reason the film has lasted and will continue to last-- it's a very timeless movie. And I miss the soundtrack, which is music so cleverly threaded with the sounds of blowing sand that the two are inextricable.

There is, however, one thing about the novel I like better, which is that it is illustrated by Maiko Abe in a gorgeously sparse, spare style of precision linework. There's one illustration which just amazed me, which is at one and the same time a picture of the woman asleep on a reed mat, with a towel over her face to keep the sand out of her eyes and mouth, and a picture of the dunes leading to the sea and the small creek cutting through them. The towel is the creek, the reed mat is the beach grass, the curves of her body are both precisely recognizable as human curves and not so definite as to fail to be believable dunes. It's an utterly breathtaking drawing.

In general, though, this is one of those rare circumstances where I would urge you to see the movie rather than read the novel. Criterion has very kindly put it out on DVD, and I think it may even stream on Netflix-- I know it did at one point. Still, I am glad to have read the book, to have the reference point. It makes me appreciate the movie even more.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Obligatory disclaimers: Author is a friend of mine. Also, the book isn't out yet, although you can pre-order it on Amazon, and I read it in an advance review copy.

This book starts with a situation that has been done by everyone up to and including the X-Men and then makes it work by dint of tone and a willingness to let things have consequences. Matthew, also called Teller, lives in Safe, which is a haven carved out of various sewers in Toronto by people who have odd powers and odd appearances. His mother had gills and his father had the feet of a lion; Matthew has scales down his back and clawed toenails, but he can pass in the world Above. Or he could, if he knew one thing about how it works apart from the fear-laden oral histories of his people. The one he loves, Ariel, has bee wings; one of the images I liked most, near the beginning, is of their room, layered in her shed wings, and the way they cloud the light.

The thing is, Safe is not necessarily Safe for everyone. Some years previously the leader of Safe threw out a resident, called Corner, on accusation of murder. Corner did not leave the underground, although sie wasn't allowed in Safe, and that is beginning to make things happen.

This book wouldn't work at all if it weren't willing to let itself contain ambiguities to the point of contradiction, but it does. It's true, for instance, both that doctors and psychiatrists have badly, badly hurt the people of Safe, to the point where Matthew is unable to trust them to behave like human beings and doesn't really see medical staff in aggregate as people, and that this fear has to be put aside in times of great danger and of illness, and that maybe there are some kinds of illness, physical or otherwise, that simply being Safe does not do much for. It's true that Matthew will protect Ariel and give her anything, and that that is not necessarily the best thing for either of them, and that it's a love that is one of the lights of both of their lives.

In short, it's three-dimensional.

I also like the voice, which is first-person, and distinctive. Matthew is called Teller because his function in his community is as storyteller, but words aren't his usual medium of choice, so he has a perfect idea of the way a story is meant to go and the shape of it and how to get people to tell him stories and how to tell truth from falsehood and what details are important, but he is maybe not so clear on grammar, and the idiosyncratic formalities of his home weave in and out. It's a very well-done extrapolation of a voice that is perceptibly contemporary but from a completely different cultural background from anyone who, well, doesn't live in a sewer. (One thing that comes up tangentially is that his father was from India. Matthew has no consciousness whatsoever of the ways this may affect how people Above treat him, and it doesn't come up overtly, but I found it interesting to try to figure out whether that is a factor in any of the times he thinks Above people are reacting oddly to him; I suspect it is.)

This is a first novel, and as we all know a novel is a verbal narrative which has something wrong with it. There is one very specific plot thing in this book that-- it's not that it didn't work for me, but it felt, very slightly, rushed. I don't want to go into it in detail because no one else has access to the book yet. However, it's nothing that severely bothers me or even changes how things work out; it's more like 'I would have had five more pages of discussion first'. Apart from that, this is a really awesome book. It's different, it's very much itself, and I could see some people not liking the voice because voice is a subtle and taste-laden thing, but I personally love it. And this is urban fantasy in a way that has nothing to do with most of what is called urban fantasy nowadays: it's urban fantasy because it is fantasy that takes place in a city.

For some reason the publishers appear to think it is YA. I am not entirely certain as to why. No, seriously, I don't get it. Not everything with a teenage protagonist is automatically YA. At any rate, when it comes out, that is the section you should look in. And you should look.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
If most writers were to write a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, I should look at them doubtfully, over my glasses, and try to be polite in the face of my doubts, and worry about whether or not to read the thing, and so on.

But this is Hilary McKay, and she wrote Saffy's Angel. Which is one of the best children's books of the past decade or so and stands proudly with writers like Elizabeth Enright.

So I knew that this would be a good book, as indeed it is. What I didn't know was whether it would be a reasonable sequel to its predecessor, whether it would have anything to do in tone and character development with the things that happen in that book.

Yes and no.

This is a story about what happens at Miss Minchin's Seminary after Sara Crewe leaves it behind. Because she had friends and enemies there, and left them lacking a scullery maid, and went off very suddenly, and this is the sort of event that changes a place forever. Things cannot go back to the same dull round after you have had A Plot Occur.

And indeed, in this book they do not. Ermengarde, who was Sara's particular friend, misses her and is greatly distressed by having been left out of the last bit of the plot of the previous (which I hadn't really noticed, but, indeed she was). Lottie, who was Sara's particular charge, can no longer be told what to do by anyone or anything. Lavinia, who was Sara's particular enemy, sees her as having managed a jailbreak, which means that the school is a jail: and in looking around for ways out of the jail the thought that occurs to her is labeled, in grand colors, Oxford.

It's a book about mourning, and wondering whether one was really ever necessary to the person one mourns for, and coming to life again in the ashes. As that, it works, and it follows its model, for A Little Princess is very much a novel of and about grief, and the stages of grief, and coming back from that.

It is, also, in an approximation of Burnett's style which is reasonable without containing the preachy aphorisms Burnett goes off into sometimes. But McKay does not have Burnett's gift for the single exact enlivening sentence-- at least not with the Victorian sort of adjectives she is here required to use, for that is a gift I have seen her have elsewhere, with contemporary language.

The thing is, though-- look.

I am a feminist. I am fond of books about women. I am fond of books about women and girls learning who they are and what they can be. This book is full of that. I enjoy it wildly.

In fact it is, for the time it takes place, possibly unconvincingly full of that. I know it's a children's book, I know it's meant to end happily, but this is a book in which every woman of any interest to the reader sees whether she is in a trap and if so figures a way out of it, every single one of them. In short, this is not a tragedy at all: and in the original, there is still death. I look at the way things work out in this book, and the plot, and the plot says 'hard work will make everything absolutely fine', and that is not what the first book says; it says 'hard work and kindness will make everything fine, except what is by nature unfixable'. In the world in which these young women go to seminary, the trap of the female role was, sometimes, unfixable despite rage and pain and all the work in the world. I would have liked that acknowledged, because if I had read this particular book as a girl myself, I would have thought that if things weren't coming right that meant I wasn't working hard enough. Sometimes all the hard work and all the dreams and all the kindness in the world do not change a reality that is a harsh one. Sara's father really died. In McKay, even Miss Minchin breaks her chains, finally.

In short, the first, despite having been written in a notably sentimental age by the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, is darker, and I think a great children's book needs at least an undertone of darkness. The reason A Little Princess lasts is the darkness, the loneliness, the grief, and the attic, and the portrait of what kindness can and cannot do for those.

Which McKay has known before, in her Casson books, and will probably know again. It is difficult to have things come out ambiguously or complicatedly when you are working with material you have loved as a child. This is perhaps why I do not like her Sara. Her Sara is, well, not enough older; hurt has its aftereffects, doesn't it? Not as much here.

So I would say this is very good, and very readable, and does not make me wish to throw things, but it is not a Great Novel as the first was (not that one expected a Great Novel, but one could hope). Still, it is nice to know what happened to and at Miss Minchin's, at the end.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This is entirely [profile] bookelfe's fault, because a little while ago she did a post on the terrifying profusion of YA high school AU versions of things that have been coming out lately. Things like So Shelley, which is Byron, Keats, and Shelley committing hijinks in a U.S. high school, or Falling for Hamlet, which is exactly what you think it is.

And the one on her list that seemed most cracktastic to me was Another Pan, in which Peter Pan is a hot supernatural gang leader at a ritzy Manhattan private school who is seducing Wendy and searching for-- I am not making this up-- the lost Egyptian secrets to immortality.

It is the sequel to Another Faust (which would be why the school is called the Marlowe School).

So, laughing hysterically the whole way, I went to the library, discovered that the book was sitting right there, checked it out, brought it back, and spent a few days cackling every time I looked at it. Today I read it, and the most surprising thing happened.

You guys-- I can't believe I'm saying this; something may have gone wrong with the karmic balance of the universe and/or me-- people, this is a completely reasonable and fairly proficient YA fantasy novel. It reminded me highly of Rick Riordan. It also-- I can't believe I'm saying this either-- although it is nowhere near as good-- it reminded me vaguely of Frances Hardinge.

It isn't even a paranormal romance. Because while there is a romance, it is completely and entirely not the point of the plot. It's like fourth or fifth down on the list of subplots.

The deal is that Wendy Darling and her younger brother John are faculty brats at a school full of rich kids, and their father is an Egyptologist who can't get tenure anywhere because he keeps babbling about unorthodox and poorly attested mythology, which is why he's teaching high school. But because he is personally liked by his old professors, and because the school and its students have more money than God, and because no one cares about the things he thinks are critically important to his research, the British Museum sends over some artifacts (not considered terribly valuable) so the school can have a little exhibition and he can teach an archaeology class. Among the things they send is a copy of something called The Book of Gates, which claims to be a text telling you how to find five mummies of people who died with horrible unresolved grudges. If you mix the dust of all the mummies together, you become immortal, but they're all in a terrible netherworld ruled by a powerful death goddess and guarded by horrible beasts.

Peter turns up on the mummy-hunt and figures the Darling kids are his door in to exhibit access, especially since John is desperately trying to become a social success in his first year of Terribly Rich High School, and Wendy thinks Peter's hot.

The thing that makes this book actually work is simple. Kindly take a moment to imagine what a Peter Pan would be like who knows, with absolute, bone-deep solidity, that if he accomplishes this one thing, he will be eternally himself, with the network of Lost Boys he's built up, with everything he is intact forever.

And if he does not do this one thing, he will grow old, and become human, and die.

... pretty creepy, huh? Yeah. He is. And the book takes it for all it is worth. He has all the heartlessness and charm of Barrie's original, all the ruthlessness, all the smarts, all the inability to remember or care about anything that doesn't affect him and his interests directly.

But the alternative to working with him is the triumph of a massively grudge-holding goddess of death who's going to take out anything around The Book of Gates and make the school property contiguous with Hell. Not an easy decision. (And you see why I said it isn't a romance.)

This is not a spectacularly good book. The prose is only solid, and there are maybe a few too many threads, and one too many subsidiary villains, and I am not sure there should have been any romance involved at all. Also there is some plot-coupon-type racing around to find mummy parts, and it's odd how Wendy keeps sitting down and sussing out in one session riddles Peter's had a lot of brilliant people working on for decades. But the creepy is creepy, the portrait of John as a kid who desperately wants to be some kind of cool and isn't making it is nuanced, the adults are as three-dimensional as the teenagers, and some things about the ending are nicely ambiguous. Given that this should by all rights have been a review I spent pointing and laughing, I am really very pleasantly surprised.

I actually unironically want to read Another Faust now. On the title page of this one it says 'Book Two of Another Series', and I laughed, and I know I was meant to and I appreciate the joke. If Daniel and Dina Nayeri, who are apparently that oddest of writing combinations, a brother-sister collaboration, want to keep this sort of thing going indefinitely, they can for all of me.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Author via I think [profile] bookelfe?

This is fascinating, because it's a very classical adventure plot, in which the protagonist runs around the jungles of Guatemala looking for a fabled and fabulously antique artifact called the Queen Jade, which has been sought after and described by various conquistadors, archaeologists, dilettantes, and probably Indiana Jones. Well, actually the protagonist is looking for her mother, who is an archaeologist who has disappeared while looking for the Queen Jade-- a disastrous hurricane swept through her last known location.

But the way this plot, with all its ciphers, cryptography, machete-whacking through jungle, and so on, is handled is not classical adventure story at all in several directions. For one thing, Guatemala had thirty years of civil war ending in 1996, and this comes up and is addressed: the army are dangerous, the wounds are deep, the country has been devastated, and a lot of people have pasts on one side or another that they don't want to talk about. For another thing, the protagonist is Mexican-American, and her traveling companion is from Guatemala but moved to the U.S. at a young age and became a university professor, and there are actual ramifications to this because despite fluent Spanish and skin tone these backgrounds in that country make them norteamericanos. (The companion keeps protesting that he's from here, to which the response is pretty much 'so where were you during the war?')

And this is a book which has a romance (not a terrible one, but eh, whatever) but which is centered mostly around competent women being competent. So that's a good thing.

There're a lot of folktales, diary entries from the sixteenth century, folksongs and whatnot, of the sort people make up for stories like this, and they are a lot of fun, especially since people indulge in linguistic speculation about them, which is always my cup of tea.

The major problem I had is that the story took about a hundred pages to stop being setup and do things, and they were not the most interesting hundred pages ever. It was obviously setup for something, but I think it could and should have moved faster. That is one third of the entire book during which I was bored while waiting for the other shoe to drop. And the prose is workmanlike, which means that it by itself was not enough to entertain me while I waited, especially since one of the things on which I was waiting was for there to be enough character development for me to care about these people and this plot. The other shoe did drop, eventually, and I cared enough about these people and this plot to enjoy the resolution, but seriously, needs faster pacing. This kind of adventure novel traditionally has a snappy opening setpiece and there are, in fact, reasons why.

So my impression overall is that it is a vast improvement most of the way around on lots and lots of similar things in its genre, but that that brought it to the level of a decent, enjoyable, non-brilliant beach book. I hear there is a sequel. Maybe, since it does not have to do so much work at the beginning, it will get to the parts I liked faster.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Review copy sent by the publisher.

Okay, so. There is one way in which this book is one of the most pretentious things that has come by me in some while, although there is also a way in which I understand what the author is trying to do. Only it doesn't work. Mostly.

Tanith Lee has in the past written under the pseudonym Esther Garber. In this collection, she claims to be writing both as and with Esther Garber, and both as and with Esther's half-brother, Judas Garbah. The foreword goes into this a bit: it's one of those things where these aren't really pseudonyms to her, but rather characters, since the stories she's written under those names are (mostly) autobiography of the pseudonyms. This, combined with the power that a pseudonym can have to change a writer's voice, allow them to free themselves of various inhibitions etc., means that she wants to allow the pseudonyms full authorial credit while nonetheless admitting to them as pseudonyms.

As I've said, I kind of get this. Except for how it comes across, which is, well, pretentious beyond imagination. Because, the thing is, if you the author are going to insist that I suspend my disbelief in this particular set of directions, then you the author must have a sufficiently different authorial voice, a set of things that cannot be said other than in this way, in short must have a sufficiently different set of actual personae to justify it. And while this collection is not, in fact, in the voice I mentally think of as 'usual Tanith Lee', it is not in anyone else's voice either. Except a sort of sub-Angela-Carter something-or-other. Also, as far as I can tell, the things she can't say except in this way involve a lot of semi-explicit gay and lesbian sex.

... I must have missed something. How is it that Tanith Lee requires pseudonymity to write, semi-explicitly, about gay and lesbian sex, in a book whose foreword is dated 2009? Tanith Lee was writing kinkier things than this in the 1970s and I have read them.

In short, this collection is centered around a gimmick which does not work, and which fails to support stories that do not work either. Esther's pieces are mostly about Unattainable Women Who Might Be Ghosts Or Something, and Judas's are about Dangerous Young Men Who Throw Him Down Stairways; there is a lot of weirdness about the way people are about the ethnic backgrounds of the pseudonyms in a way that just feels off to me in some direction (exoticizing?), and I think it says something that the one (one) readable story in the collection is credited to both Esther and... Tanith Lee.

That said, if the one readable story in here has been anthologized elsewhere, it's actually pretty good. It's called 'Death and the Maiden', and involves a young woman who gets picked up by the wife of a famous pre-Raphaelite-type painter, only to discover that she's been picked up to seduce the woman's daughter. The painter has spent years instilling in his daughter an ideal of Pure Womanhood stolen from Coventry Patmore by way of The Taming of the Shrew, and the mother will at this point do quite a lot to get her daughter to break her self-and-parentally-imposed role and think for herself for a minute. As it turns out, things are extremely much more perverse than anyone, including me, expected, and not in the directions you are thinking of or I was thinking of. In fact, I sat back and blinked at the end of the story and said 'huh, I haven't seen that one before and it was genuinely vaguely creepy'.

But it is not worth picking up the rest of the collection to get. Maybe if you see it in a library. The rest of the collection ranged from 'boring' to 'I think Colette already wrote that' to 'I think Angela Carter already wrote a parody of Colette writing that', to, in one impressive case, 'I think Angela Carter already wrote a pastiche of Isak Dinesen writing a paraphrase of Colette writing that', which is to say seen it, and, I guarantee, so has everybody else, even if you have not read the specific works to which I'm referring, because cliche can be a very universal language.

Does anybody want this book? I'll mail it to you.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
You know a thing I really like?

When a person writes a very good first novel, and then the sequel is better.

The first was a glorious dive through conflicting mythologies seen through the lens of one of the most unreliable narrators who ever unreliabled, and I liked it very much but wanted to remove a great many of its adjectives. With prejudice.

This one complicates the mythology, fleshes out the characters even more, has a ton of cool plot stuff, and fixes the adjectives.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I know some people haven't read the first one. But Kvothe, our protagonist, is still telling his life story to a scribe-- this is the second day on which he is telling it-- and it's still an interesting exercise to compare the world, and Kvothe, as they are now, with the world, and Kvothe, as they were then. This book has more of fantasy's most insane magical university; a culture where women are much more highly regarded then men, but no outsider has noticed because their men will say things like, to the opponent in a bar fight, 'bring as many women as you need' and everyone takes that for sexism; the creepiest tree ever; the most entertaining sacred tree ever; a metaphysical description of why the moon waxes and wanes, and a story about the man who stole the moon; people speaking in rhyme in a way that does not make me want to throw things, and a character who has an interesting typographical trick that does not make me want to throw anything either; and a man in legends who is canonically described as having 'a cloak of no particular color', which people then sit down and have a conversation about, involving what it might actually have looked like and how they have always seen it in their heads when they hear the story and the obvious questions people in books like this don't traditionally ask.

There is a chapter involving a game of cards and a long con and a lost ring that left me gasping in delight at its structure.

If I have a problem, it's that everything happens within too short a span of time, that things are always happening in weeks that ought to be months and months that ought to be years. The amount of time it takes Kvothe to become reasonable at fighting is, frankly, ridiculously short, I don't care what a genius he is. But this is minor, and at least this isn't one of those books that forgets about distance: travel is messy, inconvenient, dangerous, and takes longer than you want it to (one of the book's most hilarious sequences is about that).

It's also a book that spent a lot of time skirting the edge of my massive embarrassment squick but never, thank fortune, falling over into it, mostly because Kvothe is really, really hard to embarrass.

This is one of those books also that is long enough to have phases, to be extremely immersive. I read it on B.'s Kindle so I wouldn't hurt my wrists, but I read for sixteen straight hours today. That probably puts it somewhere over fifteen hundred pages, and it has comedy, tragedy, violence, unexpected peace, bad puns, good worldbuilding, and the sheer and certain knowledge that next book things are going to get pretty damn dark and I cannot predict how. And enough revelation that I want to go back and read the first one again.

In short, this is a damn good fantasy series doing exactly the things I would like fantasy to do, in an intelligent and interesting manner, and I want more of it yesterday, and now I'm going to go read all Jo Walton's chapter-by-chapter analyses.
rushthatspeaks: (bestest authorservice)
Recommended by / lent to me by Thrud's father. I should have remembered maybe that the last book he lent me was Samuel R. Delany's Hogg*.

So.

There is this short story by Joanna Russ called 'The Clichés from Outer Space', in which she gives an example of the Weird Ways Of Getting Pregnant plotline. Here is the beginning of that example:

"Eegh! Argh! Argh! Eegh!" cried Sheila Sue Hateman in uncontrollable ecstasy as the giant alien male orchid arched over her, pollinating her every orifice. She-- yes, she-- she, Sheila Sue Hateman, who had always been frigid, nasty, and unresponsive! She remembered how at parties she had avoided men who were attracted by her bee-stung, pouting, red mouth, long, honey-colored hair, luscious behind and proud, up-thrusting breasts (they were a nuisance, those breasts, they sometimes got so proud and thrust up so far that they knocked her in the chin. She always pushed them down again). How she hated and avoided men! ...But this was different.


I swear to God until I sat down with The Pollinators of Eden I didn't know she was talking about a specific book. That paragraph serves as a far, far better review than I am personally capable of; I can only bow to the master. Russ has even gotten the tone of the novel right. And the prose style.

EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THAT HAPPENS except her breasts hitting her in the chin, which only happens figuratively, in that her breasts are what the Senate Judiciary Committee chooses to find memorable about her.

Oh, and her name is actually Freda. Not that that matters.

The thing is... I didn't hate this book. At first, I was confused, in that way where nothing that was going on made any sense because it was all based on cultural assumptions that have vanished into the mists of the aether (publication date 1969, extrapolation of the fictional 2200s, heavily pun-based language centered around stuff that must have been current at publication date, might as well have been written in Indo-European except I have more theoretical background on that). Then I was incredulous, in that way where you see what a person is getting at but cannot quite believe that they mean it, because seriously.

THEN THERE WAS GIANT ORCHID TENTACLE PORN and after that I was just laughing too hard to find any of it anything other than delightful.

I would like to apologize in advance for lapsing randomly into capital letters for the rest of this review.

People. She gives birth to a seedpod. SHE GIVES BIRTH TO A SEEDPOD. While she's in the mental institution she's been clapped in for plant-related nymphomania. Her doctor hates her because she is AN UNWED MOTHER despite the fact that this is THE YEAR 2230-SOMETHING and CASUAL SEX IS TOTES ACCEPTABLE but THERE ARE LIMITS, and he is a total dick to her throughout her pregnancy, and then she gives birth TO THE SEEDPOD which HAS BLOND HAIR because her HUSBAND HAD SEX WITH THE FEMALE ORCHID AND THERE WAS CROSS-POLLINATION. And then after the delivery the doctor is all 'I am so sorry you gave birth to this whatever it is, should we burn it?' and she is all 'NO IT IS BEAUTIFUL I HEAR A HEARTBEAT WE MUST PLANT IT' and then he has a MYSTICAL CONVERSION BECAUSE OF THE DEPTHS OF HER MATERNAL LOVE and SEES HER AS THE DIVINE SPIRIT OF THE EARTH MOTHER and is consequently willing to break her out of the mental institution and send her back to the alien space orchids. After having sex with her a lot.

At this point I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt, and it had become obvious that about the last fifty pages of this book are one of the great stupid dénouements in the history of fiction, the kind of thing that elevates a book to legendary status, the kind of thing that made it entirely worth the previous hundred and fifty pages of administrative one-uppery, bureaucratic fuckery, homicidal ultrasonic space tulips (HOMICIDAL ULTRASONIC SPACE TULIPS which, I would like to point out, CALL HER THEIR MOTHER) and Freudianism. My affection for this book knows, I tell you, no bounds. I mean, after the thing with the space orchid, her husband, who has been standing there nodding approvingly the whole time (he's been seeing the female orchid for a while now) informs her that that was very pretty AND COMPARES HER TO LEDA AND THE SWAN. How can you not love that? I would say they should film this and show it every Christmas, but I think I saw that hentai once.

In conclusion: glorious beyond the wildest dreams of a reader who walked into it cold. I knew nothing about this going in except that Thrud's dad sent it and I didn't read the flap. At about page fifty I couldn't figure out why he had. At about page one hundred I was starting to wonder if I'd done something to offend him. As it turned out... I must write him a thank-you note. And see if he's aware of the Joanna Russ story.

* He wanted someone to discuss its philosophical themes with. If any of you have actually managed to finish reading it, he is still in need of someone for this purpose, and I can put you guys in touch; I understand that he is sad about not having anyone with whom he can talk about the book, but it is not merely a case of not my kink, it is a case of I find this kink actively boring to read about. In Thrud's dad's case, it is, and I guarantee this absolutely, a case of 'I didn't notice the kink because I was thinking about the metaphysics'.

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