WWW Wednesday 4-9-2014

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

 

I am currently in the midst of a sixth reread of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. 

The first time I read it, I sat down in my reading chair, curious, disengaged, the warm summer air wafting through my open window the distant cries of children running on the grass.

Another rereading, during the bleakness of a winter day, the sweet spice of cinnamon-laced hot chocolate at my side; a third image, just a flash, splashing across the deep green lawns of Mount Vernon, the book tucked firmly under my arm to protect it, at least, as I cannot protect my clothing, for I had no idea that a storm was coming. I took the book along in case I had to wait in line to see Washington’s home, and indeed, while standing in line, read in snatches. (rest of review here)

If We Shadows, by D. E. Atwood, is an astonishing first novel, a YA with a veneer of fantasy. The simple summary is, teenagers, gender identity–and Shakespeare. (Goodreads review here)

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison.  I really, really loved this book. A quick review here; I want to discuss it more in another blog post. Basically an epic fantasy that worked for me from the first page to the last.

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Full of brilliant character sketches, even if the heroine is the usual tiresome perfect, always deferential and obedient girl, this amazing novel just gets better the more history I read. Like, what an excruciatingly perfect caricature of that ultimate sponger, Leigh Hunt, in Harold Skimpole?

I think the thing that got me most is wondering just how much effect that this novel had on moving along England’s glacially paced judicial reform? I knew the Dickens timeline, and I knew my Victorian history, specifically the great changes in English legal systems 1863-73, but this was the first time I wondered about the effect of the first on the second.

Never underestimate the power of literature to mirror, and influence, social and cultural evolution, eh?

So! What have you been reading?

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WWW Wednesday 4-9-2014 — 26 Comments

  1. Read:
    Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt
    Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold
    Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 5: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by Bengt Ankarloo, Roy Porter, Brian P. Levack, and Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra
    Reading:
    Darkship Renegades by Sarah A. Hoyt
    To Read:
    Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

  2. I was in the middle of re-reading the Aubrey/Maturin books when I got sidetracked by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I also gave up on Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, which was fun, uncomplicated lunchtime reading up until it wasn’t.

      • Ah. Julia Spencer-Fleming writes a series of mystery/thrillers about an Episcopalian priest (female) and chief of police in a small town in New York. Clare (the priest) keeps getting sucked into these police investigations when her parishioners are involved, and she and Russ (the police chief) discover that what they have in common is far more personal than either of them expected, and since Russ is married, it’s also forbidden. Which all sounds like melodrama, except there is something really compelling about the characters that not only makes it work but for me was positively addicting. The mysteries are interesting, and she’s got a really good writing style, but it’s the character interactions that hooked me. I think I read four of them in the course of two days because I could not bear to leave those characters alone. The first one is In the Bleak Midwinter. Possibly not your thing, since I recall you said you don’t like mysteries, but they are a lot more like thrillers than the average mystery.

        • Oh, I recognize those. I was talking about this with a friend a month or two back who recommended that series. She said the priest actually is a real priest, not a villain, a child molester, or a fake, so refreshing these days, but she said that the downside is all this angst constantly keeping the main couple apart–as if the writer doesn’t know how to write a successful married couple, and so forever has to invent miseries to keep them from reaching that state. That was an instant turnoff. Do you see something different?

          • Yes. For one thing, they *aren’t* constantly kept apart; in the most recent two volumes they are a successful married couple, with the arguments and trials that every couple has to endure. A corollary to that is that their relationship develops over three years book-time, which I think is not unreasonably long for two people to realize they want to be married even if they are soulmates, especially when they’re not really allowed to do all the things that couples do that bring them to the point of marriage. If there’s angst in the story (and I won’t deny that there is) it mainly comes from the fact that they’re both morally upright people who are in every sense perfect for one another, and that relationship strains at that sense of honor; at what point, for example, does a relationship become an affair even if sex isn’t involved? It’s not the events that keep them apart–though they are extremely dramatic and, as I said, potentially melodramatic events–it’s life, and its attendant complexities, that does, though they have to deal with situations that most couples don’t.

            I would strongly disagree that the author is doing it because she doesn’t know how to write a married couple, as some of the best tension comes after they’re married and they have to deal together with some of those events. If she really were bad at it, the series would fall apart just as so many television shows do when the main characters finally end up together and the sexual tension disappears. And it doesn’t.

            The real potential turn-off, I think, is simply that really bad things happen to these characters and they really are things that will best ramp up the drama, which is either manipulative or brilliant depending on whether or not you’re invested in the characters. And I’m extremely invested in them.

            • Oh, my. This sounds so different than from what my friend was describing! Interesting, how different people come away from books. What you describe sounds very much more my thing. Thanks!

              • I’d be very interested to hear what you think, if you do ever pick the series up.

              • I *really* enjoy this series because it deals with a lot of people struggling to do the right things in situations where that is not clear cut. Plus you get the compassionate view of most characters, not a one-dimensional view.

                And I *love* Clare’s trying to balance priesthood, responsibility and her tendency to jump to conclusions.

  3. I just purchased The Goblin Emperor yesterday and am looking forward to reading it.

    I’m currently reading the novella, Branch by Gustavo Bondoni.

  4. I too have wondered about Dickens’ impact on legal reform. Certainly his name (‘Dickensian’) was being used by, for example, Oscar Wilde to describe the rigors of the British penal system in 1895. And if JANE EYRE could shame a generation of religious boarding schools to shape up, I see no reason why BLEAK HOUSE should not embarrass lawyers.

  5. Regarding your Dickens musings, I’ve often wondered the same thing (but with a lot less knowledge of the time period and Dickens than you have) in a more broad way–basically, I’ve wondered if he thought of himself as a social activist (did he? maybe you know?) His novels are so pointful *now* for social activism that I feel like they must have been then, too.

    • I think he did, and he also felt passionately that social activism was solely a male activity. Wow, does he pour on the scorn for women’s social activism in this book, and outside of fiction, he poured on the scorn when Elizabeth Gaskell dared to write about social reform in her fiction, rather than sticking to nice stories about home and hearth, the way he felt she ought, especially as a clergyman’s wife.

      • How sad that he couldn’t accept solidarity on something much more important–fancy rejecting aid because it comes in the wrong color container 🙁

        • Dickens was indeed socially active, and there are multiple layers of delicious irony here. For one, he organized a Home for Wayward Females (essentially getting streetwalkers back into decent employment), and it was funded in large part by a rich lady of his acquaintance.
          Another horrid situation occurred when he became enamored of Ellen Ternan, an actress who was 19 when she met him. He was unable (the great preacher for Home and Woman as he was ) to divorce his wife, the mother of his 10 children, and so maintained Ellen on the side. Yes, making her a Wayward Female; it was about this time that the rich lady bailed out and he gave up on the Home.
          And partly because of Miss Ternan he is on record as advocating for actresses and ladies of the stage, insisting that they were not prostitutes and were actually decent working girls. Except his, of course…

  6. More to be read and I do not know how long I can resist. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s third volume–The Broken Road came out early this month.

  7. Recently finished and liked: The Goblin Emperor; Yotsuba&! vol.12 (this manga series is always good for laughs); and Patricia McKillip’s the Changeling Sea (just out on kindle).
    Currently reading: Shadow Unit 2; Holly Lisle’s the Wreck of Heaven; and Lawrence in Arabia – very slowly on the last.
    Next up: Earth Star, and getting back to Inger Christensen’s Alphabet.