Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 

A Few Reads, Then Back to Writing

Oh, The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins, 2008) is a good long drink; not as scintillating as what I first tossed back, in the days when the springs were fresh and my thirst quite bottomless and everything that poured from this particular pen went straight to one's head; but I'd gladly give this book to anyone who'd never tasted DWJ; if they like it, well, the older, stronger stuff has been so beautifully rebottled, and is so readily available. ... okay, I'm getting tired of this metaphor!

Of course, it is simply fun just to be near Howl and Sophie again. The heroine of this story is very humorously full of and unknown to herself, even more than Sophie was.

Years ago I meant to read The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer ((Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) and now I finally have. It was lovely. It tells the story of a man whose body has lived its life backwards, starting with an old man's body and getting younger and younger every year. Amazingly, the author makes it work; and what a device for balancing observation, experience, and the limits of point of view, so that for once, the young can what the old know, while, yet, humanity is not glorified, and youth and all it represents is still wasted, one way or another. I didn't recognize the woman Max loves and longs for all his life, though; or was it just that such a woman, if I encounter her, I find hard to connect to; and, even, scorn a little? Or is she that thing I always find frustrating and opaque, a (literary) man's woman?

I really enjoyed Mistress of the Art of Death, a delightful historical/medical/murder mystery with an unusual heroine, so of course I made time for the sequel, The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin (Penguin, 2008). It was more of a straight murder-mystery read than the first one, because I was familiar with the set-up and the main characters, and because there was less bone- and flesh-reading in this one. But the historical setting and details, and the relationships between the main characters, and the unfolding of the plot (though achieved with some tricky withholding of information which, later, was apparently known to our heroine) were all satisfying and rich. If you haven't read the first one, it should definitely be on your summer reading list, with this to follow up in the fall.

Finally (for now), Mud Girl by Alison Acheson (Coteau, 2006). I have had reason to be made aware of this writer's weakness, which is the heroine who is mute with tragedy, trapped in her own suffering mind and heart; it's a weakness because sometimes it works (when the reader can agree that what happened was sad and difficult) and sometimes doesn't (when the reader thinks, "What's the big deal? Get over it, already!"). I was glad to see that in this book, it works; very well, in fact. You do, at a certain age, if you have been frustrated and need something more or better, and if you are lucky, emerge from the mud of your own family and experience and expectations and begin to get the idea that you can arrange things for yourself, differently; and if you are lucky, you find loving people who help you start to do this, despite your stunned inarticulateness; for in that state, you simply lack the language to describe a reality you have only just begun to imagine.

And, as the Canadian Children's Book Centre review put it (roughly), it's so nice to read a YA about a girl that doesn't involve endless prattle about shopping, snogging, or snarking!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

 

Vile Temptress Casts Her Spell

After meeting Vile Temptress at BookExpo, I receive a gift in the mail: the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. It was waiting for me when I got home today. Of course I had to sit down and read a little, just enough to make me sigh and wish the next page turn would reveal, "A Spell For Producing Dinner Out of Empty Pots and an Unprepossessing Fridge and Cupboard Array When the Cook Is Just As Tired and Grumpy As the Family Members Hanging Around Waiting For Dinner Are."

More later! Thank you, VT!

Monday, June 09, 2008

 

Another Rare Success

Husband is such a picky reader, it's a miracle when he enjoys something I recommend. I think my first unqualified success was How To Be Good by Nick Hornby, which he loved as much as, though in different ways than, I did. Now there is Doing It by Melvin Burgess (Penguin, 2003), which I recommend to all fathers, mothers of teenagers (especially teenage boys) and high school teachers. The cover on the copy I picked up is arresting, as you can see here—actually, that's why I picked it up. The story starts out being about sex, but of course it's about so much more. The main characters are 3 males, one whose enormous self-confidence takes a licking, one who gets through his sexual terror, and one who saves himself, using dubious but necessary means, from a twisted situation. There are also a couple of female characters we hear from, and even, in a few instances, some parents. Here is one of the little brilliant moments in this book: one of the quaking bogs Mr Confidence (Dino) is standing on is his parents' marriage. In the book, he witnesses his mother passionately snogging someone not his father; mother and son dance around the fact that Dino knows for a while, and when it's finally out in the open, Dino can hardly stand it:

He watched her as she turned to make the tea. This was a woman, he hardly knew her. She was like a tiny box he had held in his hand all his life, and he had pressed a catch and she'd opened up and here she was, big as the sky. She was like the bloody Tardis. He felt a wave of resentment that she had so much life.

I loved this book!

I also loved Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin, 2006); so did a lot of other people, so it needs no help from me. I'll just point this out as required reading for any of those remaining literacy snobs who think graphic novels are only for readers who can't handle "real" reading. And for the subset who thinks they are kids' reading, a warning: sexual content, adult situations and existential musing.

A sister sent me an essay which pointed out a few writers I hadn't heard of (not the purpose of sending me the essay but the fruitful offshoot); one of them is Malorie Blackman, a British writer whose unpretentious tone comes with a side of quick and playful wit. I read Dead Gorgeous (Corgi, 2003), the most unscary ghost story I have ever read (except for The Ghosts Who Went to School, maybe!) and am waiting for a couple of others to arrive at my library. Slightly higher on the scary scale was Margaret Mahy's The Other Side of Silence (Puffin, 1995) which I bought at a secondhand store because I had never seen it before. (I've read many others by this excellent author.) This was the scariness of the unhinged, though. The book says some interesting things about what gets left unsaid, and why; and how people slot themselves, sometimes into different slots for different things.

An ARC of The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, 2008) came my way (thank you, Rabbit Girl!) and it was down the hatch in short order, for both Son and me. The author (who wrote the Gregor books) must have spent some time watching Survivor; the logical extension of that appalling and soul-dirtying franchise is this: a television series everyone must watch in which the contestants battle to the death. The story's world is the poverty/decadence of our world condensed into one City and its twelve outlying and resource-providing Districts; the author adds to that a dose of ancient Greece and Rome, and a dash of video RPG (stuff appearing in mid-air when you need it! and if you have the means to get it) and creates a story that is consistently compelling and well-imagined. Only at the end, when the "hounds" are released, did its hold on me waver: I could almost see the jerky-fluid CG movement of the creatures, and the detail about the eyes seemed egregious, a mere plant for follow-up in the next book. However, I forgive and eagerly anticipate moving on.

Joanna Trollope's North American editors continue to annoy me with their laxity (Diane Krall? Hello!) but Second Honeymoon (McArthur&Co, 2006) was all right. Another title read for the author's sake: Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy (Arrow, 1992; Century, 1982). I galloped through that at breakneck speed and enjoyed it.

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