WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

handwritten booksThe usual questions being:

What have you read, what are you reading, what will you read?

I’ve been so busy with a house full of guests, and my brains are so broiled from the heat, that I have not been finishing a great many books. Lots of ongoing reading that I am involved enough with to forget the heat and the constant kitchen duty. (Which I often do with a book at hand.)

I began reading Katharine Kerr’s Sorcerer’s Luck late one super hot night, meaning to read a page or two, and ended up reading far too late. I love San Francisco, I love urban fantasy (especially the secret history variety) and I love the fact that I can’t predict where this one is going. At all.

I usually avoid Jane Austen bios anymore. Too many of them seem like writ-for-cash, as biographers sift the few letters Cassandra left behind, and perhaps read each other as well as the novels again, trying to pull guesses about Austen’s life from her fiction. Paula Byrne, in The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, acknowledges no only how wrong that is, but how offended Jane Austen would have been. She made it very plain in letters that have been left for posterity that she did not attempt to depict people from her life in her novels. Her imagination was far too rich for that.

Byrne has instead delved and sifted all the tiny details left by the other members of the family, in hopes of recreating a diorama of the world that Jane Austen moved through. Though she can’t help sometimes guessing what was in Austen’s mind. I find the book weakest when she does that—sometimes totally wrong-headed, as in her assumption on page 82 that Austen would not have been able to reject the notion that heroines must be beautiful without the publication of Burney’s Cecilia, a comment that ignores the fact that Austen’s juvenilia, in which there are plenty of plain heroines, was pretty much all written before Burney’s novel appeared—though when Byrne doesn’t venture into Austen’s head, but stays with her world, the “small things” of the title are fascinating.

I am also continuing to read Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, which is slow going because it is entirely too vivid in depicting the cost of individual lives. Atkinson demonstrates Homeric skill in differentiating everyone involved, from grunts to generals, and illustrates with unsparing detail not only the immense difficulty of massive invasions, but the fast evolving tactical situation with respect to paratroop drops, radio transmission, guided bombs, and the like. All this amid ancient sites whose millennial historical significance does not go without comment.

I am in the middle of several other books, and as for future reading, I have quite a stack. The newest one is Greer Gilman’s Cry Murder! in a Small Voicea magical mystery set in Shakespeare’s time.

Opening it at random, here’s a selection:

Venice, Ash Wednesday, 1604

In the shadows of a courtyard brimmed with wavering light, is hid a fragment of a boy in bronze. In ecstasy: his limbs out flung in tatters from his trunk. His clustering hair leaf-curled about his will-gill face. His bondage flight. His dance is scattered now. The ones ones, hornéd, pricked, and fluted, wait: at thresholds, in the shoals of fountains, set on bridge-ends and in niches, drowned in silt: the keepers of the isles.

More about this one when it is released in September.

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WWW Wednesday — 29 Comments

  1. Read: Eccentric Circles by Rebecca Lickiss Reviewed here.
    Reading: Return of the Shadow by J.R.R. Tolkien (and Christopher Tolkien)
    To Read: The First Casualty by Mike Moscoe
    The Treachery of Beautiful Things Ruth Frances Long

  2. Read: The Mountain and the Fathers, by Joe Wilkins
    Reread: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
    Reading: Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde
    To Read: the Norton Critical collection of Katherine Mansfield short stories, selected letters, and random criticism by important people

  3. Recently Read:

    Dave Barry in Cyberspace by Dave Barry (1990’s humor about computers is even funnier now than when it was written.)

    Retro Lives by Lee Grimes (I like the concept, but the ending was kind of meh.)

    Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson (Actually better than I was expecting. Of course, what I would personally like is stories that are different because they have asexual characters in them, who therefore have different goals and interests than non-asexuals, rather than stories that are essentially “will she/won’t she” romances with asexual characters in the leading roles. Probably an unreasonable expectation for a YA novel, though. Also, I’m sure I’m a minority in that respect.)

    Currently Reading:

    Still working on Medieval Schools From Roman Britain to Renaissance England by Nicholas Orme. (We are currently analysing the endowed schools from 1350 to 1530.)

    Also reading the last in the Jacob’s Ladder Trilogy, Grail by Elizabeth Bear.

    Reading Next:

    I’m debating between The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen by Delia Sherman, Bad Company by Liza Cody, The Aims of Education by Alfred North Whitehead, and Sixties Sandstorm: The Fight over Establishment of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1961-1970 by Brian C. Kalt.

      • The first half of the book is about curriculum, different types of schools, the way the schools were structured, and so forth.

        • Thanks! I went over to look up reviews. Unfortunately, it seems to exist in a vacuum–what I hoped for was comparison to mainland schools.

          • It’s probably not quite what you’re looking for. The bibliography might be a useful resource, though.

  4. I got Cry Murder! In a Small Voice and am *very much* looking forward to reading it.

    I really enjoyed Burma Chronicles, Guy DeLisle’s chronicle in cartoons of a year (2005, I think) spent in Myanmar/Burma when his wife was working there with MSF France (Doctors Without Borders). His touch was very light; he was trying desperately hard to educate, which I appreciated. He did touch on political stuff–Aung San Suu Kyi, the nature of the multiethnic conflicts there, the politics of natural resources, the hothouse NGO community–but you also got to see just his everyday life. His art style is very simple, and one thing I noticed was how his use of shadows made me really perceive how bright the sun must be–and how hot the day.

    I visited his website to find out if a certain book he mentioned in Burma Chronicles was available (it wasn’t) and found he’d recently published a collection of his cartoons relating to parenting (A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting). I bought a copy for my brother, who’s a new dad. It’s pretty hilarious.

  5. Just read: Frost Kissed by Patricia Briggs– not the best in the series, but pretty good.

    In the middle of 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson– wonderful landscapes and science, and an excellent high-tech weapon. I have serious doubts about planned economies, even with their computer level.

    In the middle of The Moon in the Nautilus Shell, which argues that people still have a fantasy of Nature being static, and this leads to bad environmental policy.

  6. The Mask of Command (John Keegan) + Tombstone (Yang Jisheng) + a book of Jewish theology that I’m too lazy to get up and check the title of. I got about 130 pages into Can You Forgive Her (Trollope) before quitting because I didn’t actually *like* anyone and Heroine #1’s story seemed too inevitable.

      • S&S is my least favorite Austen, so that would explain a lot.

        I’m enjoying the Keegan so far. “No one knows if he killed his dad – but he might have. Or maybe his mom did. Macedonians, you know!”

  7. Recently Read: Wee Free Men and Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (Tiffany Aching books). Books 3 & 4 are now on the TBR pile.

    Reading: Cold Steel by Kate Elliott, which I have to be careful to slow-down my reading so I don’t miss any of the fantastic (and important) details in just wanting to know What Happens Next.

    Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough: I’m always tempted into new books by dragons, and this is a fun adventure. I want good things for Aral, but am afraid I’m going to be disappointed.

    Next-up TBR: Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Sirens reading that looks promising.

    Lurking: Feed by Mira Grant. I love Seanan McGuire’s fantasy series, which I respect for her ability to invoke subtle creepy. Not sure I want to invest in thriller/horror with an author who knows so well what lurks in shadow.

  8. Recently read:
    Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Which continues the keep things moving fast and fascinating effect. I’d noticed that reviews get more mixed as the series goes on, but I wasn’t disappointed, yet. I did note that she doesn’t always really protag as such, but at the end of this one, that’s partly the Point.
    The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin. Not really up to a coherent review, mostly just happy flailing.

    Currently reading(s)
    And all the Stars by Andrea K. Höst (I hope the symbol works…): I’ve been going through this slow mainly because it’s on the e-reader which is not my first go-to for reading. I am finding it interesting, if not *as* engaging as I’d like.

    For Elise: Unveiling the Forgotten Woman on the Criddle Household by Oriole K. Vane Veldhuis. Slow going because even as I’m enjoying and interested I’m also annoyed and prickled.

    It’s non-fiction describing the writer’s great-grandmother Elise Vane’s life attempting to settle in Manitoba (I use attempting advisedly; the Criddles try to act like English country gentlefolk and several times this leads to conflicts with neighbours, avoidable troubles with crops if they’d actually have asked the established locals, and a generally slower route to prosperity), but in spite of the excerpts from her great-grandfather’s diary, letters to (but not from) Elise, and other sources of information, it reads like fiction in all the wrong ways for what’s supposed to be a factual revelation about a woman. We’re continually given Elise’s thoughts and opinions (And to a lesser extent that of her children and the Criddle children) without any offered source for evidence that she had remotely these thoughts.

    It’s otherwise well written, but it would drive most historians absolutely bats.

    A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer – I know this is one you (And some others) don’t like, but that others do very much, and it was the strong variance of opinions that made me choose to read it. So far, enjoying it much more than, say, The Reluctant Widow, April Lady, or Cousin Kate. Less than Cotillion or Frederica or The Grand Sophy, but those are a high bar, and it’s not *much* less.

    • Yeah, A Civil Contract seemed a cheat–a supposedly realistic novel of the period with a plot far more melodramatic than any of her outright melodramas, and with less wit and verve. (And it really isn’t very realistic if one knows the period.) Yet the last few pages are Heyer at her best.

      I really loved And All The Stars–the twist made me have to read it again to see it as a different novel. I do think the end was rushed way too much, but I still love it even so.

      • I’m definitely not finding it realistic as such (The moping about his former love, and all said former love’s moping, period) are definitely melodrama, moreso as his behaviour the rest of the time doesn’t really fit with genuine pining. But I’m liking a lot of the touches and the way it doesn’t fit the mold, and the heroine’s worries and efforts seem, so far, much more real and solid. It’s a bit like the difference between the older, more experienced mroe down-to-earth couple and the flailing romantic kids in the Talisman Ring (Which, IIRC, are actually less than ten years’ different in age) except that Adam is playing BOTH male leads at once.

        I haven’t hit the twist in And All the Stars. The aliens have appeared, but not much more yet.

        • I would have respected A Civil Contract more if the heroine had genuinely not known Adam, and had to get used to him as well as his lifestyle. But her being secretly in love and suffering, while having to hang out with his rejected love who is also suffering, blarg. Too much melodrama for me.

          • Hmm. Agreed. Though thankfully she hardly plays up that aspect. And it does help to have her familiar with her “rival” Julia, which would have made not knowing Adam harder.

            A side note: Oriole kindly and correctly noted that I have both her middle initial (A, not K) and her title wrong: It’s Homestead, not Household. (The former was a genuine error, the second was my fingers typing something other than what I was thinking: I know it’s homestead.)

  9. Recently finished David Rakoff’s Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. It’s a short novel written in rhymed couplets, and I loved it. As a book—an object—it is wonderful. The design was done by Chip Kidd. The illustrations of the characters at the beginning of each section are wonderful and help you navigate the story. The eccentricity of writing a novel in verse is staggering, and it really worked for me. I tend to read too fast, gulping down the words to follow the plot. This slowed me down, and made me appreciate the book more. The story jumps from character to character, but converges. The cover is a portrait of a woman. There are holes drilled in it, which reveal letters on the next page to spell out the title. The book is rather like that. The story covers decades, but does it by giving you glimpses of short, vivid scenes.

    I’m reading Seanan McGuire’s serial Indexing as it comes out each week. It’s sort of a police procedural crossed with fairy tales. People can spontaneously become part of one of the standard tropes, with bad consequences (lots of murderous characters in those stories). The story is told from the point of view of a team of crime(?)-fighters who step in for the police in these situations. I loved the incipient Snow White stomping the damn flowers springing up in her hallway carpet, and glaring out the window at the adoring little woodland creatures.

    I just started Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I’d heard her interviewed on NPR, and it sounded fun.

  10. I’ve just read the first couple of Barbara (Hambly) Hamilton’s Abigail Adams mysteries and liked them a lot; they have all the historical accuracy you expect from Hambly as an historian, but are but are a lot lighter in feel than her Benjamin January mysteries , mostly by reason of Adams not being a black man in slave society; parts of the Ben January books are literally sickening and unfortunately those bits are all based on historic events. Hamilton’s Abigail does think a lot about the plight of slaves but from what I know of her that’s an accurate portrait.

    I’m halfway though Her Majesty: The Court of Queen Elizabeth II, which is a portrait of a complex organization rather than a bio of Elizabeth II. The picture it paints of the Queen herself along the way is so hagiographical that it’s hard to believe entirely, but the gist of it is probably correct; on the other hand, it’s increased my respect for Prince William, who comes off sounding like an appreciative and thoughtful guy. From a business point of view, it is interesting hearing how the Court is organized; I hadn’t realized it had changed (and improved) so much and become so progressive in the last couple of decades, partly because I’m getting to the age where it’s hard to think of the 1990s as a past era rather than yesterday.

    • Yeah, the 1990s sound like yesterday to me, too. Heck, the sixties do!

      I need to try the Abigail books by Hambly. The Ben January books were too heavy–there are certain subjects I don’t want fiction about, and slavery is one of them. I tried one, and didn’t enjoy any of it. If I want to delve into that sickening morass (slavery, not Hambly’s writing!), I tend to reach toward memoirs and letters of the period.