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It's the occasional reading thread!

Lily Fairbairn

May 21, 4:12pm

Views: 1088
It's the occasional reading thread!

I last posted a reading thread only two weeks ago, so my list is shorter than usual this time.

I finished listening to the biography of Alexander the Great---spoiler, he dies at the end---and plan to start listening to a book about the history of the Anglo-Saxons as soon as my tech-capable spouse gets it copied to my MP3 player.

In the meantime, I'm listening to Whispers Under Ground, book three of Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series, on my old cell phone with the Audible app. I've read all of the Grant books in print but am now working my way through them in audio because the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, does a superb job of narrating the vivid voices and clever incidents of these superb stories. In this installment, apprentice-wizard Peter is called in to investigate the murder of an American student whose body is found in the London Tube system.

On paper I read Piranesi, by Susannah Clarke, author of the epic and excellent Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This is a much smaller book, both in physical length and in the scope of the story. The first-person epistolary narrator lives in The House, a labyrinth of chambers and statues with sky and stars in the upper rooms and ocean in the lower ones.... Well, it's the first truly different book I've encountered in ages. It's beautifully done, beautifully imagined, and well worth reading.

And then, after the glories of Aaronovitch and Clarke, I come to Lost Birds, the newest Manuelito/Chee/Leaphorn mystery by Anne Hillerman, who took up the series after her father Tony passed away. As usual, the Navajo material and the landscapes of the American Southwest provide enough color for me to keep reading, but---well, I keep hoping Anne will figure out how to write fiction, as distinct from flat newspaper articles, but so far she's still telling rather than showing.

Plus, I'm waiting to see how a character born in 1977 could turn 55 years old this year. But that brings me to another rant about the lack of editing these days....

I'm just now starting the new issue of Smithsonian and am looking forward to the article dernwyn cites in the reading thread below, about the abandoned cities that remind her of Legolas talking about Eregion in one of my (hundreds of) favorite quotes from LotR.

So what have you been reading?

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow....


May 21, 5:04pm

Views: 1071
I had to give up on Mimi Matthews

After "John Eyre" I was eager for more, and I read 3-4 of her romances, but quickly realized I was reading basically the same story again and again. She did do a nice job of setting the story against real historical events, but the story itself always had the same elements:
1. VERY tall dark brooding man with a secret
2. Tiny but full-figured woman, also with a secret
3. Immediate & strong attraction between same, but lack of honesty and propensity to misunderstand each other (I'm so tired of this trope in romances)
4. Resolution therefore consists of one of them deciding NOT to be stupid anymore and finally being honest
5. Oh also, there actually is a real obstacle, but the solution is telegraphed almost from the beginning and is almost a deus ex machina

I often anticipated a more exciting turn of events--for instance, in the one where the woman is being treated as a madwoman by the person who would profit from getting her inheritance, I fully expected him to capture her again & lock her away, but nothing that thrilling happens, instead the tension fizzles. Disappointing because if she'd only had the courage to write some scarier stuff, the books would have been much more gripping.

So I went and re-read Naomi Novik's Scholomance trilogy, which stands up to multiple perusals.

On the nonfiction side I just acquired The Extended Mind, which argues that thinking is not wholly contained within the brain. It's by science writer Annie Murphy Paul, based on a paper by cognitive scientists Andy Clark and David Chalmers, which argues that the brain, the body, and the external environment are all partners in the cognitive process. (One example: if you use a notebook to keep information that you can look up as needed, that is a form of memory external to the brain.)

I'm giving a talk tonight, actually on possession rituals in certain religions, but researching just how possession (which is NOT a takeover by another entity btw, but a specific form of trance) happens led me down quite the rabbit holes of "just what is consciousness anyway, and how do we know what we think we know?" I've got quite a few books on the topic already, always fun to read the latest thinking on thinking.

I am a dreamer of words, of written words.
-- Gaston Bachelard

* * * * * * * * * *

NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967

(This post was edited by Annael on May 21, 5:08pm)

Greenwood Hobbit

May 24, 9:11pm

Views: 1034
Ah, Tony Hillerman had the knack.

He drew you into that world and spread it out before you in a masterly way. I've found Anne Hiillerman's writing less than satisfying in comparison, sadly. I don't listen to books, just read them on paper, usually at bedtime, so I haven't anything new to offer at present. I'm re-reading 'Carpe Jugulum' by Terry Pratchett, a very entertaining take on the whole vampire phenomenon - I just love the character of Otto, the black-ribboner!

Forum Admin / Moderator

May 25, 1:33am

Views: 1028
Also a huge fan

of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's reading of the excellent "Rivers of London" series. The audiobooks have very much become a collaboration between Ben Aaronovitch and him.

Spoilers for a story that's thousands of years old seems unlikely, but just in case: the next paragraph contains one.

I finished The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and loved it. A very familiar story (I've been a fan of Greek mythology since I was 13 and was given a book of myths as a school prize - surprisingly un-bowdlerised for 1970s rural New Zealand), but with new life breathed in, and just beautifully written. I wondered how she'd get around the fact that the first person narrator dies before the story is completed, but it's handled very satisfyingly.

Her Royal Spyness - thanks to Annael for recommending this series. I've read the first and have started the second, and am thoroughly enjoying them. Light-hearted fun, with a protagonist who's somewhat reminiscent of one of Wodehouse's plucky gels (and plenty of incompetent Wodehousian toffs). Very refreshing to have the issue of titled folk done properly - I find it a bit irritating when authors use noble titles as a plot device without bothering to read up on how they actually work, muddling up titles and surnames and how older and younger sons are addressed, and other such details. Mr Kimi is also reading and enjoying this series, and has started her "Evans" series, which he's also enjoying - a police officer who's refreshingly un-angsty, I'm told.

Birnam Wood, the latest from Eleanor Catton. Catton is a highly accomplished, multi-award winning writer, including the Booker for her tour de force and quite brilliant The Luminaries, but I do have mixed feelings about this - and let me first say this is very much about personal taste rather than finding fault. For much of the reading process I was completely caught up in the story, eager to know what would happen next, and also enjoying the very Aotearoa New Zealand details. But what did pull me out from time to time were the passages of in-depth description of a character's background, life experiences, and feelings about family and friends - so in-depth that at times I felt as if I were reading an insightful biography rather than a work of fiction. I should say that these explorations of character are the very thing that many reviews have called out for particular praise, but for me personally, they were just a little too much - there were several times when I really wanted her to let me make some of those connections for myself. And there were sections where she so brilliantly describes awkward, complicated relationships in just a sentence or two - I wished for more of those.

As I say, a matter of personal taste, and I appear to be outside the mainstream in my response.

The other thing (again, personal taste) is that I found the ending, which I'd led up to hardly able to put the book aside, dark to the point of being distressing - perhaps the intent. In which case it worked very well.

To finish on a lighter note, I'm interspersing a gradual re-read of Discworld among reading new (to me) works, and have just finished Mort. A delight.

The Passing of Mistress Rose
My historical novels

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View

Greenwood Hobbit

May 25, 1:36pm

Views: 1007
Mort was the first Discworld book I read -

and I was hooked! I didn't enjoy the first two quite as much, they were rather too consciously 'spoofy' for me, but I felt he had really got into his stride by Equal Rites and Mort.