Monday, September 08, 2003

What I've Been Reading

One of the benefits to having so much help after Alec was born was that I was able to do lots of lounging around reading (in between my bi-hourly impressions of a dairy cow). Here's the rundown:

A gigantic reread of Diana Gabaldon's time travel / romance series: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, and The Fiery Cross. This series is surprisingly good, given that it's usually shelved in the Romance section (ok, that was an unfair dig - I hate it when people dismiss entire genres like that). It's also increasingly *not* a traditional romance, given that both the major romantic relationships are firmly established and no longer the primary focus of the books. I'd categorize the recent books as historical fiction with some spicy (but tasteful) love scenes.

More historical fiction: Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl - intrigue and romance in the court of Henry VIII, as seen through the eyes of Anne Boleyn's younger sister, Mary. Highly recommended. Very readable, and evocative of the period. Also, Sharyn McCrumb's latest, Ghost Riders. Like all of McCrumb's "ballad" books (a series of suspense novels set in Appalachia), this one has parallel plot lines, one set in the past and one in the present. The historical storyline is much more compelling and fleshed out in this book, though - the contemporary story feels like an add on. McCrumb should have stuck to her fictionalized account of the effects of the Civil War on Appalachia, and the fascinating true story of a young mountain woman who disguised herself as a boy to join her husband in the Confederate Army.

Not one, but two books which are adaptations or expansions of personal web sites: Mil Millington's Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About and Pamela Ribon's Why Girls Are Weird. Both stories start from premises close to the authors' lives and previously documented on their web sites, and then surround them with fictional events. Millington's attempt falls flat, both because the fictitious events are so outrageous and also because he doesn't end the book. It just. . .stops, with very little plot resolution. The main character's bizarre arguments with his girlfriend are the best stuff in this book, and you can read those (or very similar ones) at Millington's web site. Ribon's novel is more succesful, in part because the fictitious parts of the plot are more plausible and mesh well with the material she imported from her web site. (Full disclosure - I knew Ribon when we both attended the University of Texas at Austin, and she performed in a play I directed. I've lost touch with her, but remember her as a talented actress, beautiful woman and all around great person. I'm glad she's having success with her novel - it couldn't have happened to a nicer gal.) Despite the fact that I enjoyed both these books, I'm wondering if books based on the authors' web sites is the hot new trend in publishing (like "chick lit," e.g. Bridget Jones' Diary, was a few years ago). Is anybody else as afraid of this possibility as I am?

A little fantasy - John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time, a coming of age story set in a world where the land of elves and magic have begun to bleed into our world, creating "borderlands" - cities where elves co-exist with humans, some kinds of magic work, and technology is unpredictible. Highly recommended for those who enjoy urban (i.e. nontraditional) fantasy. The world building is fantastic and the characters are original and interesting. Also, a reread of Susan Cooper's classic young adult fantasy, The Dark is Rising , for my book discussion group. The Dark is Rising is one of my favorite traditional fantasy novels, for adults or children, and I reread it regularly. Cooper uses many of the worn out cliches of fantasy - Celtic myth, seasonal imagery, light vs. dark tropes - in surprising and interesting ways, and her central character is believable and sympathetic. Her style is more sparse than more recent young adult fantasist like Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling, but the story is satisfying and complete.

A few comics: the second volume of Fables and Neil Gaiman's amazing 1602. Fables continues to delight me with it's own version of urban fantasy and 1602 is essential reading for any comic fan. Gaiman has created an alternate universe in which Marvel superheroes (the X-men prominent among them) exist at the twilight of the Elizabethan age. The first issue introduces the world and the characters and sets up several mysteries, chief among them, who are the modern equivalents of these historical superheroes (in some cases, obvious, others are sparking loads of speculation on the web). There are already several good annotations of this issue on the web (useful if you aren't as familiar with the Marvel universe) - best for historical information, best for comic information, and also good.

Currently I'm reading a book about Victorian Murderesses, and getting geared up to (finally) read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. And once I have the money to pay off my library fines so that I can start borrowing again, I'm going to be reading lots of books about pirates. Who me, obsessed? Why do you say that?

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