27 August 2007

More reading

Below are all the books I’ve read in the past 7 days (bearing in mind that I was traveling for work and had a lot of plane time). This is also the order I read them in. Yes, I read extremely fast – about 100 pages an hour. No, I don’t skim. Yes, I retain well. It’s the legacy of a misspent youth, and came in extremely handy in school. On vacations and other trips, hauling enough books to keep me busy is a pain in the ass, though.

I’ve included hyperlinks to all the books on amazon so you can read a summary, if you’re interested – I hate doing plot recaps myself when talking about books, so didn’t bother.

There are no spoilers below, apart from a semi-one on the Jane Green book.

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age. Jesus, this book sucked so hard. I’ve been trying and trying to read this and Snow Crash and I never seem to get anywhere because while the world is interesting, the characters aren’t. But since I had three ups and downs (boston, pittspurgh, phoenix, san jose) on the flight, I persevered. I shouldn’t have bothered – any author that’s STILL doing world building 50 pages from the end is not an author that understands pacing or plotting, and I like plotty well-paced books. (They don’t have to be FAST – I love Henry James and Dickens – but they do have to go somewhere.) But if you love vaguely-explained tech stuff and world building and have more patience with paper-thin characters than me, you might enjoy the books – set in the future, the book comments on technology and the fascination with it in our present age. Recommended with deep reservations.

Deborah Crombie - Leave the Grave Green Decent series of police procerdurals; I’ve read a couple out from the library years ago but remembered very little and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was neither lost mid-series nor had that feeling that all the made character building had been done in earlier books. About on par with Reginald Hill’s best, if you read him. Recommended.

Julie Smith - Other People’s Skeletons. God, this was awful. Cliched writing and a predictable plot. I’ve read and enjoyed Smith’s Skip Langdon novels (set in New Orleans – pre-Katrina, or at least when I read the novels it was pre-Katrina) and they were enjoyable, the city as much a character as anything else – but this Rebecca Schwartz was terrible, felt completely phoned in. Not recommended.

Ellen Emerson White, All Emergencies Ring Super. White is a respected YA novelist who writes well. I tend not to like her stuff because it’s the sort of thing that tests my suspension of disbelief – a series about a girl who’s the daughter of the first American female president? Set in the 80s? Geez, even Geraldine Ferraro went nowhere and she was practically a man AND super right wing to boot. Her other YA series is about Vietnam, which while an excellent subject is not really my thing for escapist reading. But this novel was pretty fun ... again, I had some trouble with the suspension of disbelief during some of the more outrageous capers but it’s nothing that’s uncommon in the detective novel genre. Recommended.

Jane Green, Jemima J. Chick lit, pure and simple. True to the chick lit genre, it criticizes the modern obsession with appearance … but the plot itself completely reinforces that obsession. The jacket copy said, ‘an ending you’ll never see coming” which is total bullshit since I called it about 60 pages in, but whatever – that’s another staple of the chick lit genre, having predictable happy endings. And the plot twist which depends on, THE HORROR, fat chick porn, just made me roll my eyes – it’s not kiddie porn, give me a fucking break. Uh oh – you mean some men like to look at fat chick porn while dating a skinny girl? Oh Noes! Somewhat enjoyable for the fluff factor, but there are about 100 pages in the middle that could have been condensed into 50 or less. Not recommended.

Clifford Simak, The Goblin Reservation. This book was fucking bizarre, set in a university in the future where Neanderthals have been brought forward in time, ghosts are part of the general population and banshees look like paper bags floating around … I enjoyed it for the strangeness factor but unless you’re throwing up in a hotel room in the middle of the night and want something to keep you mildly entertained in between bouts of puking, I wouldn’t bother. Recommended with reservations.

Tony Parsons - Man and Boy Utterly charming and insightful, full of dead-on observations about modern life and the nature of family. Plus set in the UK in the very years when I lived there and Jamiroquai was cool (well … not that they were ever very cool but it was during their brief moment of success) – so I caught all the references and that was fun. Unfortunately I was reading an American edition – I really hate when they change “mum” to “mom”, it always grates. I plan to force Dave to read this book as soon as he finishes his current one. It’s chick lit for boys who don’t want to grow up, but smarter than most of the actual chick lit that’s out there. He’s a lot like Nick Hornby (who wrote, among other things, the novels Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy, all of which have been turned into movies.) Although I should say I haven’t actually read Hornby (the movie of About a Boy was sort of sweet, though, if you can get past the fact that Hugh Grant starred in it), I just know that Hornby covers the same territory – lads not wanting to grow up but having to in order not to lose their girlfriends/wives/children – as Parsons. (And in the US, you see that same subject covered in the movies of Judd Apatow.) Recommended - this was the best book out of all of these.

Tony Parsons - Man and Wife. A follow-up to Man and Boy, and not nearly as good. I almost wish I hadn’t read it, because Man and Boy was so much newer and fresher and this felt like he was repeating the same tricks, less successfully. Recommended with reservations.
The first Tony Parsons I ever read was One for My Baby, and it was when I was still living in the UK and I loved it – it is in large part about being an ex-pat, which resonated with me, so I was thrilled to see a couple of Parsons novels in the second hand bookstore and knew they’d be decent plane reads. Which they were. Recommended.

Joanna Trollope - The Choir. Your classic Aga saga (British domestic drama.) Think Anne Tyler for the American equivalent (I have never thought Tyler was such a shit hot writer, frankly, although she seems to get critical recognition.) Fine, cheerful reading, although the very genteel characters and their very genteel concerns made me feel very removed from the world of the book, which made it satisfyingly escapist but also cast an unmistakeable rosy glow over over Middle England which … is not really deserved – it’s not a particularly accurate portrait, I don’t think. It reads more like what she thinks readers (maybe especially American ones) want to think middle-class English are like, and there was little real passion in the book. Recommended with reservations.

Olive Ann Burns, Cold Sassy Tree. Actually I haven’t finished this yet (as of Monday morning, I am 30 pages from the end.) But I’m pretty sure I know how it’ll end and I’ve formed my opinion of it – Burns has a terrific ear for phrasing – the back cover mentions Alice Walker but not Flannery O’Connor, who I thought was a more apt comparison – and the book is certainly a fairly nostalgic look at a small-town southern past. Incest, frequent death, privies and sanitation issues and other darker subjects get a nod, but aren’t really covered in any detail – racism is mostly ignored. It’s WAY less dark than anything Flannery O’Connor ever wrote, for sure – people are essentially good, if flawed in amusing and comprehensible ways. But the narrative moves along at a pretty decent clip and it’s worth reading for the voice, although you won’t come away from the book with any blinding new insights on family life or what it means to be southern. Recommended.


Joseph said...

Good to know I can skip Man and Wife - I greatly enjoyed Man and Boy and would hate to have my enjoyment of that tinged by a bad sequel.

Kaethe said...

You're just not loving anything, huh? Sorry. I understand your problems with The Diamond Age (and you didn't even comment on the Heinlein nod), but I love the Primer itself and the mouse army.