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?

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over 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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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)
[livejournal.com 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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
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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.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
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.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
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.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
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.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[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.)

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[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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