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09 June 2012 @ 02:32 am
#4 - 30  
UGH IT'S JUNE HOW DID THAT HAPPEN. Just in case anyone thought I wasn't reading in that time ... I was! Here's the proof, behind spoiler tags: Absolute Zero, Good in Bed, Clockwork Angel, Ash, The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Marriage Plot, Our Man in Havana, King Lear, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Sushi for Beginners, The Secret History, Not Before Sundown, An Equal Music, The Forgotten Waltz, Tender is the Night, The Sun Also Rises, Everything is Illuminated, A Patchwork Planet, The 19th Wife, Bounce, The Glass House, The Shadow of the Wind, City of Dragons, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Night Circus, Mr Fox.

Come join in if you've read any of the above! I only have the sketchiest notes on these, culled from a notebook. If I don't at least write down titles I forget I've read them at all. A very reassuring trait in a doctor, I can assure you.



4. Absolute Zero - Helen Cresswell
Bought this as I remembered it from childhood - and in fact, this was the book with the 'all the bees are ded" line that made me choke with laughter at twelve. That happened again a few times at twenty-five, although there was the inevitable loss of pathos in the name of humour that I didn't note half my life ago. Very, very clever books for 'children', though, and amazingly well-realised characters. However, Jack as the hero of the piece plays into the boring Everyman trope. Team Uncle Parker!

5. Good in Bed - Jennifer Weiner
Came highly recommended on the internet; hugely disappointing. Plot that was insanely hotpotch but mainly just insane: fat girl gets dumped, meets movie star, sells script, falls pregnant, and - my absolute most hated trope - doctor falls for patient. Just, NO. Will not be reading any more of her backlist.

6. Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare
A huge surprise: actually readable, with a decent, if threadbare, plot and some engaging characters. Despite knowing exactly how I was being manipulated, I fell for Will, and saw how she catered to others with Jem. Tessa is refreshingly not the prettiest or smartest girl in the room, but she does have a degree of agency. Jessamine is awesome and quite sympathetically written. I actually wanted to read the next one. Going back in time was clearly the stretch CC needed.

7. Ash - Malinda Lo
God, this was SO. BORING. Lo is a competent writer, in that her sentences make sense and she can spell, but that's all you CAN say. Ash should have been Ais. She wasn't even a person. Not a single effort was made to humanise her stepfamily aside from the parts Lo lifted wholesale from Ever After. Making the love interest female was her best move, otherwise this pathetic effort would have faded into the obscurity it so richly deserves.

8. The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay
At times I felt - especially in comparison to ASOIAF - that I needed a degree in Spanish history to sort this out. It became clear eventually. Although moving, it falls short of the grandeur and scope at which it aims - mostly because it was trying to fit SO MUCH into one book, but also because of characterisation shortcuts, an excess of nobility, good-bad dichotomies and random insertion of magical realism. I do wish Ammar had died and Jehane loved Alvar differently instead (the old 'okay is okay' line of mine I love). Plus, why was everyone white with blue eyes?!

9. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
I really enjoyed the start of this, where everyone falls in love through literature. The depiction of bipolar disorder was very well done; however I feel it, and Mitchell's pilgrimage, almost belonged in a different book. Maybe what I wanted - and didn't get - was something that more closely echoed and argued with Austen et al, as suggested by the blurb. This book really had nothing to do with them at all, unless you could the Barthes love-in.

10. Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
Funnier than I expected, and amazingly prescient, given that it was written BEFORE the Bay of Pigs. I actually liked terrible Captain Segura best, probably because he was so terrible and because of who the cigarette case skin belonged to. There's a Coen-esque (or perhaps the Coens have a Greene-ish?) approach too making every character slightly loopy. I still don't know what this book is for, but I'm sure the internet can tell me.

11. King Lear - Shakespeare
So in the tragedies everyone dies, which has the effect of diluting the tragedy of death. Whoops? I read this as the frustration of a family dealing with a dementia patient who thinks he's a king. The three sisters are one dimensional ciphers for evil, seduction and virtue. The most blithely misogynist piece I've read for a while.

12. Twelfth Night - Shakespeare
If people fell in love at first sight, and that sight was enough to inform you of their personality, habits, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, to the point where you could instantly tell if they tallied with yours ... this would be very romantic. As it is, it reads like the worst hysterics of very young teenagerhood. Or as Wendy Cope suggests as a cure for love: 'get to know them better'. Might've stopped the Duke's whining.

13. Julius Caesar - Shakespeare
FAVOURITE.
I think I might like the history plays better - shame they're so much harder to get a hold of.

14. Sushi for Beginners - Marian Keyes
A through-your-fingers OMG WE WERE THAT AWFUL glimpse of the Celtic Tiger at the height of its power. Enough to make me feel we deserved this damn recession.

15. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Engrossing, but in the end I wasn't sure what she MEANT by it. If she hadn't referenced Dostoyevsky I wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but then I'm bad at things like that. Kind of lucky, having Orwell express an opinion on Julian? Who was a very slight presence despite Tartt's retconning at the end. Camilla had no agency. I don't know why she went from one 'strong' man to another without ever hitting back. Kept waiting for Francis/Richard, Camilla/Richard, Henry/Richard ... anyone/Richard. What a passive observer. And his life was over before twenty-five? Please.

16. Not Before Sundown - Johanna Sinisalo
Unbelievably lyrical, every sentence like poetry (although all very similar poetry). I don't ... get it, though. Does Angel now live with the trolls? Was that Pessi's plan? Dr Spiderman's 'wrap-up' about the trolls' master-plan seems hastily stuck-on. Sinisalo seemed to enjoy the immersion in troll lore without thinking it needed to go somewhere until the very end - and did it? Fascinating insight into Finnish culture too.

17. An Equal Music - Vikram Seth
Hard, so hard to believe this was written by the same author who wrote A Suitable Boy. Flat and stilted, as if it were written in translation, anyone's POV - Julia's, Piers's, the goddamn violin's - might have been less flaccid, wimpy and saturated with self-pity than Michael's. Although going incommunicado was bad, and he got what he deserved for being such a dick, I nearly wish he'd done something worse just to spice things up.

18. The Forgotten Waltz - Anne Enright
If Enright's usual prose is different to this, I suppose she did well to capture Gina's messy, convoluted, eating-its-own-tail internal monologue. If it's just her usual style, I don't think it succeeds in being as carefree and ill-measured, purposefully unpurposeful, as it wants to be. She added absolutely nothing to the old hat issue of the destructive effect of infidelity. Maybe because it's told from one point in time, we don't really see the outcome of Gina's discovery of Sean's true character. A few hokey Oirish elements too.

19. Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald
NOT EVEN F SCOTT CAN MAKE DOCTOR-PATIENT RELATIONSHIPS FLY. EW. EW. EW. I didn't like the implication that we should pity Nicole's father - that it was her fault for being so goddamn pretty. Dick was Don Draper - a boring egotist who treats other people as dolls and got just exactly what he deserved. Why did F Scott write characters he so clearly detested?

20. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Boring beyond the telling of it. I understand what and why Hemingway did what he did with prose, but pushed this far it might as well be a computer manual. My friend Eoin maintains that Jake had his dick blown off in the war, but it reads just as easily as shellshock-induced psychological impotence. Also, I don't care. Again, dude seemed to hate all his characters. No wonder he and F Scott were mates.

21. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foers
Didn't like the jocular crudity but did appreciate the way it apologised for itself later. This is book is what all amateur memoirists want to achieve and it is a very bad example to them, being excellent while making it look easy. Not sure where he was going with the anachronistic magical realism village? It was still my favourite part though: so full of vigour and charm, like a fantasy world by Diana Wynne Jones.

22. A Patchwork Planet - Anne Tyler
This was so easy to read, like swimming through milk. A lot of her little statements (via Barnaby) were tellingly poignant, and she paints such stark and accurate portraits of old age and ageing. She does remind me of Nick Hornby in the insouciant ease of her prose - no traps for the unwary, no cross-genre cheating. Will be reading many more.

23. The 19th Wife - David Eberschoff
Entry-level prose; sensationalist, yet thoroughly unoriginal in the fictional characters (all handily based on himself). Yet still more gripping than Hemingway or F Scott ... how is this? Why is this? HOW DO YOU LEARN TO WRITE LIKE THIS.

24. Bounce - Matthew Syed
Very interesting; I totally agreed with his theory. Would not want to read any fiction by him. He described black people living in mud huts as 'elegant'. Uh.

25. The Glass House - Rachel Caine
For what it was, this was reasonably good. No POC, but okay female characters. Reminded me of TVD in that the plot ideas were flimsy but fast-moving targets. In other hands the ghost-vampire could have a lot of pathos, but here it's very obviously just a way to fuck up his sex life and not much else. Also fail to understand why all these people, especially the protagonist, needed to be so young. Used 'and stuff' as a description of - well, stuff - at least twice. Doesn't see a need to improve, I guess (I think this is the writers seventeenth book or something).

26. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Topped my misogeny hitlist 2012! Yay! FULL of women being denied agency, the right to make their own decisions and the integrity of their own bodies. Fernan, a creepy sexual harasser, is THE HERO. The police villain is hilariously caricaturised. I don't know why Daniel was a character, let alone the protag, except to justify the book being laboriously non-chronological. And seriously, can we be DONE with the sekrit incest already?

27. City of Dragons - Robin Hobb
Oh Robin Hobb, how I weep for how good you once were. If I didn't know that she COULD write without every character recapping the events of the previous chapter in their own POV, explaining every piece of dialogue in the prose, and just in general over-writing, it wouldn't be so bad. There were loads of new ideas and plots in this and I was surprised that it was so obviously set up for a fourth book. A duology to a quartet and beyond? Surely better to have thought out and edited this plot into three tight books instead of the sprawling superfluous mange we're getting instead.

28. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
OMFG HOW SO PRETENTIOUS? The ending - what? So the point was to save the kid from suicide because PEARL-CLUTCH OH WON'T SOMEBODY THING OF THE CHILLEN? It would have been a MUCH stronger book if the kid had topped herself. I sort of liked the pseudo-romance but the whole thing reeked of the worst kind of Orientalism. I might have been impressed if I didn't know that Hikaro No Go had a lulzy fandom or liked Anna Karenina? I just feel everything about this is WRONG ON THE INTERNET.

29. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Terribly impressive, authentic and evocative descriptions, but fell down on two things:
1. Depiction of the OMG TRAGIC FATED TO BE DOOMED romance between Celia and Marco. I bought Celia/Thiessan way more off the back of JUST ONE SCENE;
2. The contest itself. Could have been four years long and more intense, while cutting the pointless ageing dilemma that added no value to the story. WHAT was the contest? Who were the teachers? And why'd it take this long for Prospero to learn invisibility?

30. Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi
Interesting but I just didn't GET it. Maybe am just not smart enough. I didn't realise till I read the end credits that it was supposed to be a Bluebeard retelling. Plus, if it hadn't come recommended by a feminist reviewer (requires hate) I would have mostly been struck by how flagrantly misogynist it was. I didn't really feel that she turned that on its head very successfully or, like, at all. Uh. Admirable rather than enjoyable, I guess?
 
 
 
cleodoxacleodoxa on June 9th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC)
The Bagthorpe books were like my favourite books as a child! I love the characters so much and despite Jack being the hero I loved that almost everyone else was both kind of awful and so much more fun. I remember I learned a lot of words and quotes from them.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on June 9th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
More than anything else those books primed me for what I liked to read and write, and led naturally on to worshipping Terry Pratchett. Cresswell has all the smarts, seriously, and doesn't let the kid's book issue stop her quoting all sorts of excellent people. I loved that Cecelia was smarter than her husband and could do the Times crossword and he just basically fanboyed her all over the shop. It was awesome.
ravurianravurian on June 9th, 2012 10:04 am (UTC)
I think most of Shakespeare's plays - particularly (but not exclusively) the romances - make more sense if you think of them as the Dawson's Creek of their day. Most of the characters and motivations only make sense if you imagine them as hormonal teenagers somewhere between 15 and 17 (occasionally up to 21 or 22, perhaps), incapable of asking questions or reading the motivations of others, utterly certain that they know everything, struggling with logic, reason, consequences and accountability, and their changing bodies. This applies as equally to Lady Macbeth as it does to Hamlet, as much to Beatrice and Benedict as it does to Romeo and Juliet, or any of the dozens and hundreds of others...

I couldn't believe just how bad Robin Hobb's most recent series was. It was as if she began writing in the hope that she would stumble over a story and just... didn't. I agree entirely with your review. No points, Hobb, and much disappointment.

I really enjoyed The Night Circus, though. Apparently it's been optioned for the big screen? No surprises there.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: hot air of balloonsscoradh on June 9th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Ha, that's excellent. Thanks for that validation. I only know one other person IRL who's read any Shakespeare (outside of school-assigned Shakespeare) and he maintains Shakespeare is a GEHNIUS who cannot be questioned. I'll accept the genius part no problem, but I will always question. ALWAYS.

I am truly saddened by Hobb's - I was going to call it de-skilling, but really I think what happened is that she became successful enough to sell books on the back of her name alone, so she sends out first drafts as finished books. There was an inkling of a good story there, particularly the last-minute Selden stuff, but she's clearly developed a horror of truly harming her darlings. (Remember Kennit's leg, Wintrow's finger, Fitz's ... everything?) Ugh, and the slut-shaming of Jerd, Malta having a baby UNDER HER SKIRT, and off-screen romances happening in five seconds OICU THAR REYN'S SISTER. DISAPPOINT TO THE MAX.

I was greatly impressed by the scene-setting in Night Circus. This sums up neatly my issues with it. I totally understand getting swept up in an element of the characters rather than the plot, but this would have worked just as well as a story about a magical realism circus. The challenge was a bit too YA paranormal and the author didn't commit to it fully. I heard it got sold before it was even published - it went round and round editors/agents for about a year, which probably means the plot was even sketchier to start with.

Edited at 2012-06-09 03:20 pm (UTC)
ravurian: insufferable british snobravurian on June 9th, 2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
I'd love to direct Shakespeare-as-teenage-drama, actually. It would be so much more plausible. I'd do Hamlet and Macbeth first, for the angst and lolz.

You're right about Hobb - I thought she'd stumbled across story part-way through City of Dragons, but she'd wasted so much time getting there... I've come to realise that there are very few writers who are naturally great all of the time. So much of their greatness comes from having a good editor (speaking of which: am on it with a red pen), and as they become more successful they often dispense with the editorial process (cf. Anne Rice, who wasn't all that to begin with)...
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: jillicons: yellow portraitscoradh on June 9th, 2012 05:59 pm (UTC)
Perhaps that's why 10 Things and She's the Man work so well? I've only ever seen The Winter's Tale done professionally; does watching plays acted have a significant impact on the enjoyment factor? Because I can't imagine it making them more plausible.

I actually find that a reassuring thought, as opposed to my original assumption that people started off decent, got better with time, but gradually decompensated (Pratchett is another fine example). I feel that once you never lose sight of how much editing is needed to end up with a really great book you won't get as disheartened. For example, if The Liveship Trilogy was Hobb AFTER copious amounts of editing, and The Rainwild Chronicles are BEFORE ... well, it makes me feel a bit better about how much work I need to do. :D Also - literally a red pen? Because for some reason that would be AWESOME.
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on June 10th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
I loved The Marriage Plot. But I was a bit taken aback, because I used to carry around A Lover's Discourse in College and consulted it frequently, just like Madeline. I thought I was sooo original, but apparently not!

Re The Night Circus: I wanted to love it so much more than I did. I really enjoyed the style in which it was written, but the characters fell flat and the plot didn't really go anywhere. I feel like once this author gets more writing experience she could come up with something really amazing. Bailey was the only character I cared remotely about. Also, it was so unrealistic for these early 20th century British characters to be so casually accepting of homosexuality (I won't spoil here by mentioning which characters), especially given that such acts were a criminal offense at the time (remember what happened to Oscar Wilde?). If the author had put something in there about circus folk being bohemian and understanding of different lifestyles, it would have made more sense, but lacking any sort of reaction or explanation made this seem less believable.


Edited at 2012-06-10 02:21 am (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on June 10th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
It made me want to read A Lover's Discourse, and I love when books do that! It is rarely disappointing. However, I still feel that book was disjointed and he didn't carry off the interconnectedness as well as in Middlesex.

Huh, I don't even remember the gay character, unless it's the one who ~looked~ at Marco once. I liked the twins, but I felt they were vastly underutilised. Also, when everyone seems to be magically prescient Poppet's gift falls flat. (Also, for minor characters, they had THREE NAMES: given, nickname, and nickname of nickname. TOO MUCH DUDE.) I have to say I love Morgenstern's blog; she really does live the way she writes and that's cool, but it needs a bit more something something.
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on June 11th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC)
Tsukiko is the gay character (she was in love with her female co-contestant), and no one comments on her lesbianism. Also Chandresh as you mentioned (I thought there was more than one mention of his proclivities, but I could be wrong - sometimes I "read" more into books than is there!) I'll have to check out Morgenstern's blog. I really do think she's a talented writer despite the lack of substance in The Night Circus.
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: P&P hatscoradh on June 10th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
The book world is full of people lying through their teeth. The fact is the more I read the less I like, because no one ticks all the boxes I want, and few even try. Ash was boring as shit. If you want gay fairytales, try Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch. She actually does something with it.

I think there was a huge untapped well of potential with the Poppet/Bailey(/Widget) subplot. Like how Poppet and Bailey could have been the next contestants, or someone finding a way to overturn the contest itself. The problem, of course, WAS the contest. It was so vague and anaemic, it probably died of natural causes.
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on June 11th, 2012 01:25 am (UTC)
Yes, Poppet and Bailey being the next contestants would have added some much-needed dramatic tension!
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: iconomicons girl of lightscoradh on June 10th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
After all that positivity, I didn't rush out and buy the next one. I guess I'll wait till the series is finished - it's not like she's hurting for first week sales or anything. I'm pretty over trilogies anyway. Fantasy and YA paranormal seem to churn them out as a matter of course these days, instead of writing stories that need that space. The plots get stretched pretty thin.

Funny thing, I read about half of it and - almost overdosed. A reviewer on goodreads compared it to wedding cake. The description is a lot to take and it needs time for true appreciation. Because that's all you'll get out of it - an appreciation for her powers of description. The plot is basically non-existent.