It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
• What did you recently finish reading?
I fell sick sometime back in – was it January? I think it was. Not bad-sick, just lie-on-the-sofa-with-cats sick. What I needed, obviously, was hot toddies and comfort reads. Traditionally that means the Chalet School books; but I’ve been eyeing the shelves recently and thinking “Can I…? Am I ready…?” Being pale and wan and feeble, obviously I was more than ready – so Master and Commander came off the shelves, and I plunged headfirst into Patrick O’Brian. Again.
Twenty novels later, I have just this morning come up for air.
Why do I love these books so much? In part because they’re really just a single narrative, one twenty-volume novel (that in the end still comes to no conclusion, having been interrupted by the death of its creator), and I’ve always liked epic projects; because they’re immersive in the way that the best SF and fantasy can also be, building a world that’s alien and credible and charmingly detailed (even O’Brian makes mistakes – there’s once where this edition at least says “latitude” where it clearly means “longitude” – but in general the flood of eighteenth-century naval terminology is just gleefully managed); because they are novels about competence (at least when they’re at sea; on land Aubrey at least is – forgive me! – all at sea, and those are the sections I don’t like half as much; the baffled hero lost his charm for me long ago); because they are novels of compelling action but also compelling character; and over and under and around all, because they are novels of language, novels that relish the English of which they are made.
• What are you reading now?
First thing, I am returning to the book I was in the middle of when we were so rudely interrupted by that pushy O’Brian character. I had thought I could read them in parallel, but I was wrong; immersive is immersive. So now, having broken surface, I am back to Jacey Bedford’s Empire of Dust, and back to enjoying it thoroughly. It’s a first novel, and I think that shows – there are issues of pacing and telegraphing – but it’s space opera of the core kind, with betrayed colonists and malevolent corporations and psi-enabled metahumans, and totally fun.
Less fun, alas, is my bedtime reading. I have the habit of reading food-writing last thing at night, and I’m halfway through Eating India by Chitrita Banerji. I was looking forward to this, and it’s proved a disappointment. She privileges her native Bengali cooking above any other, which is wearisome; and she’s pompous, which is unforgivable. I will finish, because I do that, but I am kind of reading through gritted teeth.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
I know what I’ll be reading next week, because I’m travelling from California to the San Juan Islands off Washington State, almost to the Canadian border. That’s a full day of travelling, with added airports. That means Neal Stephenson. (See above, under “epic projects”: I always read Stephenson on planes, his are the only books I trust to remain unfinished by the time we land.) I won’t be gone long enough for a reread of the Baroque Cycle, so it’ll probably be Reamde, because it’s the only one I haven’t revisited yet.
Between here and there, though? After I finish Empire of Dust tomorrow? That’s less certain. That’s the thing about full-immersion protocols, they can kind of leave you gasping and flailing around when you surface…