Saturday, July 31, 2010

People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

This book tells the story of a group of characters, led by Fernando de la Fe whose wife's desertion leads him to decide to go to war against the author, known to the characters as Saturn, who is himself in the throes of grief after being deserted by a woman. The book uses post-modern and post-colonial methods to question everything from religion to immigration to the authority of authors. With all sorts of techniques and innovations that put me in mind of Tristram Shandy (black spaces, words excised from the text, multiple columns), the book tells its story by words and by form. I will certainly return to this playful and beautiful text.

Inferno by Troy Denning

In this book Ben Skywalker becomes a much more interesting character as he not only sees through Darth Caedus's lies but starts trying to manipulate him, Luke regains some of his long-lost vim & vigor, Cal Omas transcends the political for a moment, Jaina, Zekk, and Jagg go on a old-fashioned scouting mission, and Luke, Leia, and Tenel Ka accept that the Jacen Solo they knew has died. I found this entry pretty good for this series, although, in the long run, I really wish that they weren't killing off all the fun EU characters (I think getting rid of Mara was the worst).

The Group by Mary McCarthy

While this book follows the coming of age of a group of Vassar graduates mostly in New York City during the end of the Great Depression and into World War Two, it's really in some ways the story of one woman's unfortunate marriage and how that match affects the lives of her college friends. I read Joanna Smith Rakoff's A Fortunate Age a while ago for the Barnes and Noble First Look program, and at the time heard that she had written an homage to The Group--now I can see she straight up lifted the plot and set it forward sixty years. I enjoyed this book, although I think it would have been more striking if I were a contemporary and if I hadn't read the knock-off version first. Despite the large number of characters, I think McCarthy does a nice job of managing them so that the various scenes illuminate and fill in the inevitable gaps in the history far better than a more full chronology might.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon

I read this book, belatedly, because of the read-along. I, like many of the people on the thread, found it a quick and gripping read. Now that I think back on it, though, I'm not sure how much I liked it. While I'm not the world's biggest fan of happy endings (or unmitigated happy endings, I guess), I also like a book to be hopeful, and I found slogging through Charlotte's misery really painful. There's a point in the book when her friend Andy calls her out for being a narcissist, and I think that he nails it--and she hears him and understands him and does nothing to change! The mystery surrounding the deterioration of her marriage was a bit overdone, I think, which ended up baffling me more than anything for most of the book. And when it comes right down to it, although she works through to the point where she's decided to leave her husband, he's the one who does the leaving. I really loved the roller derby parts and I found Francesca, Andy, and Jonathan generally much-needed spots of brightness, but this book didn't click for me.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

In this book Captain Will Laurence, upon making a routine capture of a ship, discovers a dragon egg. He's unexpectedly chosen by the dragon, and he must give up a life on the sea, adapt to the aviation Corps, and train the dragon, all while under a strict time crunch--the Napoleonic Wars aren't going so well. I liked this alternative history, and I think the book does some interesting work thinking about class and family. But the real reason to read it is to see the beautiful bond developing between Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire. I look forward to the next books in this series.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

This novel tells the story of Onyesonwu, the outcast girl who grows up to be the Sorceress with the potential to rewrite history and reality. The book is beautiful and I think it does the post-apocalyptic and the group-journey narratives very well. It doesn't sugar-coat its heroine--she has moments of violence and anger and failure as much as anyone. Although I found myself wanting more about what the apocalyptic moment was, the hints that were given were more than enough to put together the outlines. I am still wondering about the role of technology in the novel--people have computers, for example, but it wasn't clear to me quite how they use them.

Sacrifice by Karen Traviss

This book gives us some action--and Jacen's fall to the Dark Side. It's good as far as it goes, but, as I find more and more, I'm really hating the character deaths in the NJO & later Star Wars fiction. I think that Jacen's fall, too, is inconsistent with his previous characterization. So that's all annoying to me, but not annoying enough to keep me from continuing on with the series.

The Princess and Mr. Whiffle by Patrick Rothfuss

While Patrick Rothfuss claims that this book is not a children's book, I think he's actually quite wrong. The book would be fine for children, I think, along the lines of the original Grimm's Fairy Tales. I mean--I'm not saying I'd let kids read it without guidance, and it is a little dark, but I think when people hear "not for children" they end up disappointed. This is a lovely little book. I'd say worth buying for Rothfuss fans, and worth checking out for the rest of y'all.

The Call of Cthulhu

This story tells about a man's process of putting together the facts about a being known as Cthulhu from papers left by his great uncle. I really enjoyed the layers of this story--multiple narrators, multiple sources of information, and a bit of a mystery along with it. I found it delightfully creepy. I'm looking forward to reading some more Lovecraft.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

This book tells the story of five brothers and sisters who discover a sand fairy while their parents are out of town. They make wishes and find that their wishes don't lead to the results they suspect--but while the story does have moral overtones, I didn't find it overly preachy. I particularly liked the wishes concerning their baby brother, Lamb, who was perhaps the most endearing and memorable character of the series. I think this is another one I would have loved if I had come to it a little earlier.

Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery

This book continues Anne's story with her time at Redmond College. She slowly and unwittingly falls in love with Gilbert Blythe, makes new friends, and sets up housekeeping for the first time. While not exactly repetitive, this book,  I think, isn't doing quite so many interesting things with gender and fantasy as the first book.

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery

This book tells of Anne's years teaching at the Avonlea school and helping Marilla save her eyesight and raise twins left on Marilla's hands by the death of her third cousin's wife. Anne's friendship with Gilbert Blythe grows stronger, and she keeps getting into memorable scrapes (such as selling her neighbor's cow, falling through the roof of a pantry, painting the town hall an ugly blue, and entertaining her favorite author on a cleaning day). Another fun addition to the series.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I really enjoyed re-reading this book. While Anne is a little over-the-top, I still really connected with her character. I was interested this time in the deft plotting of the book, which moves through six years with ease. I also was interested in Anne's friendship with Diana and her reactions to Gilbert Blythe. I'm looking forward to re-reading the rest of the books in the series.

The Piazza Tales by Herman Melville

This book only convinced me more of Herman Melville's genius. Aside from "Benito Cereno" and "Bartleby the Scrivener," these tales were new for me, but even the first two had new things to unfold (it's funny how crafting a reading of a text can put blinders on you to what else is going on in the text). Although the subjects and styles of the stories are all different, this time I was intrigued by the various manifestations of power and the way that power fosters both assumptions and blindness to situations. The stories also seemed to argue for an interconnectedness (if only by their juxtaposition of things otherwise quite far apart.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I reread this book for a summer school program I'm doing this week, and it has been such a pleasure to return. This time around, I really noticed the structure of the book. Melville does a really beautiful job lining the chapters up, so even in the parts where there's not a lot of action, the text progresses, and regresses, and moves in a really compelling way. I also noticed the humor this time around--there are parts that are downright *funny* that I hadn't appreciated before. I think there's also real character development in Ishmael--when he tells the Town-Ho's story, he projects outward to Lima, presumably after the voyage. When Ishmael starts his story, he has the hypos and is so anti-social as to try to sleep on a bench in the common area rather than share his bed with a stranger, and throughout his journey on the Pequod he seems isolated from both captain and crew (after Ahab convinces the crew to join him in the hunt for Moby Dick, Ishmael comments, after all is said and done, "I, Ishmael, was one of that crew..."--otherwise you'd never know it from his narration of these events). While Ishmael does bond with Queequeg, even this bond is limited (if not dropped entirely in the latter parts of the book--for a good reading see Geoffrey Sanborn's "Whence come you, Queequeg?"). But in Lima, Ishmael's sitting around telling stories with a bunch of friends, behavior we've never before seen him engaged in. I think this behavior indicates a change in Ishmael from the time he journeyed on the Pequod to the time he tells the Town-Ho's story at Lima: he has become more sociable. I also find myself much more sympathetic to Ahab as time goes on. Finally, as I have noticed before, this book is all about knowledge, epistemology, and writing. I'll definitely be coming back to this story as time goes on.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende

I enjoyed this book, set on Haiti and in New Orleans. The book tells the story of Zarité, an enslaved woman, who eventually persuades her master to free her after she saves his and his son's lives during the Haitian Revolution. In parts, it seems really engaged with its history (in a thematic way), whereas sometimes, I felt like the rich historical background was just so much window-dressing. I think in the long run, it's the former that prevails. I'd be very interested to read the book in Spanish, particularly because its settings are mostly Francophone.

Subversive Genealogies by Michael Paul Rogin

This monograph contends that Melville's fiction was profoundly influenced by his family life, but that it also subverts the genealogies of his family life. I found the readings of Pierre and Moby Dick and the American 1848 (which I think is the beginning of the critical turn that looks at the Mexican-American War as a key periodization of American history) particularly persuasive, and I thought the book provided a good introduction to some of Melville's fictions with which I am not familiar.