lycomayflower's 2009 challenge thread part 2
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The first thread was getting a bit long, so: part two.
Part one is here.
My at-a-glance 2009 list (click titles to go to individual post within my threads):
65. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
64. The Library at Night
63. No Fond Return of Love
62. A Christmas Carol
61. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
60. The Fate of the Phoenix
59. Bastard Out of Carolina
58. The Price of the Phoenix
57. A Boy's Own Story
56. By His Bootstraps
54. An Experiment in Criticism
53. The Prometheus Design
52. The Crofter and the Laird
51. The Beekeeper's Apprentice
50. Spock's World
49. The Tale of Despereaux
47. Star Trek: Academy: Collision Course
46. Giovanni's Room
45. Something to Tell You: The Road Families Travel When a Child Is Gay
44. The Mysterious Benedict Society
43. Star Trek: The Vulcan Academy Murders
42. Star Trek: Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows
41. Epistemology of the Closet
40. Short Bits Read for My Dissertation
39. The Time Traveler's Wife
38. To Sail Beyond the Sunset
37. Star Trek
36. Kate's Klassics
35. The Jane Austen Book Club
34. The Witches
33. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
32. A Solitary Blue
31. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
29. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
27. My Ishmael
26. Here, There Be Dragons
25. Surprised by Joy
24. Broken Hallelujahs
23. The Following Story
22. House of Fallen Leaves
21. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
20. Day by Day:The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students
19. Breaking Dawn
17. New Moon
16. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
15. The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia
14. The Code of the Woosters: Jeeves to the Rescue
13. Death at La Fenice
12. I Was Told There'd Be Cake
11. Pomosexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality
* The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction
* Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and The Novel of Development
10. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
8. A Room of One's Own
7. The Catcher in the Rye
6. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
3. The Arrival
2. Short Stories read with my creative writing students Spring 09
* Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding
1. The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Link to my 2008 50 Book Thread
Explanation of what I include in my challenge list.
51.) The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King ****
Enjoyed this foray into Sherlock Holmes's "retirement" from the point of view of his apprentice Mary Russell. Like the atmosphere and characterization very much, though I found it very easy to put down and not come back to for long stretches (it is fairly episodic, though in the end much of the bits get tied together)--but that may not actually be a criticism.
52.) The Crofter and the Laird, John McPhee ****
Delightful read about the people living on the Hebridean Island of Colonsay in the mid-twentieth century. Full of observations of the culture and how it is changing and is constantly influenced by Highland history, the history itself, personal anecdotes from the author's stay in Colonsay, and the mythology of the Highlands. It leans toward the romantic but avoids being overly so by making clear the difficulties of life in the Hebrides and by looking at things from the point of view of both the crofters and the laird. Recommended.
Have you read any of McPhee's other works, Laura? Just curious. I got one of his books in a couple of weeks ago, but have not had a chance to read it yet.
I am adding The Crofter and the Laird to Planet TBR.
I haven't. Geatland recommended The Crofter and the Laird to me, and I'd not heard of McPhee before that. I'll probably seek out some of his others though.
53.) The Prometheus Design, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath ****
All the Star Trek books by Marshak and Culbreath I've read have been idea books--they take some philosophical concept and tease it out by putting the Triumvirate through their paces. The result is usually far from the Star Trek adventure formula, and, I think, better for it. I first read their The Price of the Phoenix at about thirteen or so and the exploration of power negotiation and the concept of the alpha male in that book absolutely boggled my poor adolescent brain. (I loved it.) The Prometheus Design also takes the issue of power (particularly what happens when one James Kirk is forced to confront individuals and situations which compel him to yield) as one of its ideas, though the bigger issues here are the seeming coupling of aggression and high-order thinking; the detriments of categorizing beings into "self" and "other"; and the tendency of intelligent life to use for their own purposes the lives of those they perceive to be "lesser." Recommended for those who like or can accept a Star Trek novel which does not strictly conform to the atmosphere of canon.
(An oddity of this book I've never seen in any other Star Trek novel: all of the references to canon are footnoted. This struck me as particularly odd since most of the references were to firmly established canon (i.e. the show or the film--there was only one film at the time the book was published) rather than ST novels, and they should have been quite easily recognizable to the kind of audience one would expect to read an ST novel. And furthermore, the references could all have been taken at face value; knowledge of the canonical event itself would not have been necessary to understand the reference in this story. I'd love to know what the authorial thinking/intent behind these footnotes was.)
5- One of these days the world is going to wake up and decide they should have been reading John McPhee all along. For anyone interested in trying his non-fiction, he has written on a wide range of topics. Check out his author page and find a subject that may be of interest to you and try that one. There is quite a bit to pick from. Some of the subjects may appear mundane but he has a way of making even boring themes come to life.
I have a couple of McPhee's books in my personal library, I just have not managed to read them yet.
54.) An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis ****
A fascinating discussion of how literary criticism works and why the way it works doesn't work. Lewis takes as his thesis that we ought not judge books but ought to "make our distinction between readers and types of reading the basis" for judgment. Interesting, intelligent, and a thoroughly complex argument which is always highly readable.
I'm glad to see you embrace "we ought not judge books" by labeling this one "interesting, intelligent and ...highly readable". *ducks and hides under the desk*
Well, he wasn't talking about how to judge the argumentative mode . . . though point taken. A little bit.
Great! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Crossroad is pretty good, so I'm glad you aren't passing it up onacounta my vindictiveness. =) I think I just wasn't in the mood for some of the grimness in that one this past weekend.
I have enjoyed several of Hambly's other books, so grimness will not surprise me at all in this one.
56.) By His Bootstraps, Robert Heinlein ****
A time travel story of the novella kind. I found that I figured out everything eons before the main character did (though I might chalk this up to the fact that as a sci-fi-inclined resident of 2009, time travel paradoxes in narratives are old news--perhaps Heinlein can be forgiven for expecting audiences in the early 50s to have taken a bit longer to cotton on) and the gender roles made me twitch (women, and therefore the main character's attitude toward them, appear only very briefly, so I was able to get through it, but golly gee, I like Heinlein's later (if still somewhat troubling) women-as-lovely, intelligent, horny-equals philosophy much better). But the way Heinlein plays with point of view in the first half of the story by following one character through a time paradox is fantastic. Just nifty in all the ways I hope science fiction will be when I sit down with it.
#19: I will give that one a try, too. I appreciate your science fiction recommendations, Laura.
57.) A Boy's Own Story, Edmund White ***1/2
Fantastic sentence-level writing but on the whole the story left me a little cold. This is the story (at least semi-autobiographical, I think) of a young homosexual man's coming of age in the mid-twentieth century. I disliked the narrator more and more as I went on, and by the end I was impatient with the lack of even one redeeming character in the book. I am wary of my indignation at this sort of thing for fear of being dismissive, but in the end (Gardnerian goggles: engage) I just found nothing affirming here and for me that lack washes out the skill and beauty of the prose.
58.) The Price of the Phoenix, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath ****
This Star Trek novel is one of very few books I've read where bad and frankly annoying writing is completely overwhelmed by my fascination with the subject and plot. I sort of shoved this at my fiance a few weeks ago when he said he wanted to read a TOS novel and then I heard for three days about how bad the writing is. I didn't remember much about the writing at all, so my decision to reread it now was largely because I wanted to see if it was as bad as he said. It is. It's overly dramatic and the use of dashes where--ellipses--would better serve was--frustrating. But! By about the one-quarter mark I realized that I wasn't paying any attention to the writing anymore. (This is a mean feat, really. I can ignore bad writing, but that's a conscious decision. With PotP, after a while I just wasn't seeing it.)
Like The Prometheus Design (which I don't remember being so badly written--maybe that one just blinded me too?), PotP is thinky and very much about the nature of the relationship between Kirk and Spock. The book takes as its themes power, the concept of the alpha male, gender roles, identity, and immortality. (I'm going to get spoilery here, just so you know.) The story starts in medias res with Spock beaming back to the Enterprise with the body of a probably-murdered Captain Kirk from a planet run by a charismatic, super-strong, genius madman named Omne. Much Spock-moping and Spock-fury a la TOS episode "Amok Time" ensue. Cue Omne calling Spock back to the planet to reveal that he's developed a process by which he can make an exact replica of a person at the moment of his death by harnessing his mental emissions at the moment before expiring made-up!science blah blah blah. And lo! Omne has just such a replica of Kirk, and guess what, Spock? You can have him if you betray the Federation for me. Non?
But wait, my story gets better. Turns out that the original Kirk did not die and there's two very real, very authentic Kirks running around. And Omne believes the replica is his property, to do with as he pleases. Furthermore, he's determined to get the original Kirk to concede that Omne out-alpha-males Kirk's alpha-male act. Thus begins a literal game of cat-and-mouse with Spock trying to rescue the original Kirk (referred to as either Kirk or Jim throughout) while trying to keep the replica (James) safe and free from Omne's proprietorship. Throw in the Romulan commander from the TOS episode "The Enterprise Incident," who shares a mutual attraction with Spock and develops a bond with James, and you've got a whopper of a romantic triangle laid on top of a crazy power matrix. Seriously, it's like a pop culture mash-up of de Sade, Girard, and Sedgwick. And then once they escape Omne (sort of), the question of what to do with James arises (just which one of them has the right to the life they each remember as their own?) and it gets all metaphysical and awesome.
This was a revelatory text for me as an early teen in a lot of ways (exploration of the dark corners of human psyche and all that) and it's still powerful for me. Shame about those damn dashes though.
Yes. That's okay though. But. Stand by for a discussion of this in the near future. Cause now I've finished it, I want to hear more about why you didn't take to it.
*taking a seat to listen to the discussion*
I read Dorothy Allison's Cavedweller and liked it quite a bit. I've been meaning to read more by her.
I think we're "on", sprout. Of course it's now been over two years since I read it, but I remember not being able to empathize with the narrator. I thought the emotional tone was quite flat, and I guess I totally missed the "affirmation" part.
Here's a link to my review from back then
Okay, Mommio, I just reread your review and there's two bits in it I want to respond to. Firstly, this here reaction: "There is neither joy nor hope, anguish or despair---just resignation to a lifestyle that ultimately denies the humanity of all its participants." I thought the novel explored and affirmed the humanity of these characters in this setting. I loved the aunts, especially Raylene and Ruth, and thought their relationships with Bone were loving, guiding, and affirming. And with the exception of Daddy Glen (who I'll get to in a minute) and maybe Uncle Wade (who is mostly off-page), I thought that most of the men in Bone's life, while not what you and I would call "decent"--what with the womanizing, fighting, boozing, and so on--had complex ties to their families which included an admirable protectiveness of the children (I'm thinking particularly of Uncle Earle, here).
And then this bit: "I am also disturbed by any story line that moves the reader to root for a violent outcome; despite the main character’s apparent lack of outrage at her abuser, I found myself wishing somebody would KILL the S.O.B. No good can come of that feeling. Ultimately, I found the mother’s behavior unbelievable, not because I don’t accept that there are women so evil, so desperate or so helpless that they can allow horrible things to happen to their children, but because I did not understand how this particular woman could tolerate the circumstances of her daughter’s life when it was in her power to change some of them." My reaction to Daddy Glen is really complicated. In the scene when the family first realizes for sure that Daddy Glen has been beating Bone, I was rooting for the uncles and cousins to go get the bastard--but that reaction was more because I had been seeing a deeply protective streak in the men of the family and was excited to see that confirmed, not because I wanted a violent end for Daddy Glen. The outcome I did want to see with Daddy Glen is completely impossible, and, I think, that's part of the power of the novel. I wanted someone to have given him the love and compassion he so clearly needed back at a time when it might have done any good. By the time we meet him, I think there's no hope for him; dude is fucked up. But as much as I am sickened and horrified by his actions, I also feel a certain compassion for him. There's no excuse for him, but there is an explanation and that explanation would likely reveal that he was once as much a victim as Bone was. That I feel both horrified by and compassionate for Daddy Glen at the same time is part of the power of the novel.
Finally, I don't understand Bone's mother either, but I do believe her. For me, understanding her character was not necessary for finding it believable. I'm not sure we're meant to (or can?) understand what's going on with her (in the same way that I don't understand my reaction to Daddy Glen), but we can see it, we can feel it. About twenty pages or so from the end of the book, I had this thought: "Damn. This book is not going to answer any of my questions." But then I realized that maybe that's okay. It's not the answers that are the point here; it's the questions, the looking at, that is the point.
Right. That's me.
OK, I will definitely be checking out Bastard out of Carolina just to see which side of the fence I am on!
60.) The Fate of the Phoenix, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath ***1/2
Picks up right where The Price of the Phoenix leaves off and starts well with an exploration of what it means physically and emotionally for James to live as a "princeling" in the Romulan Empire. Then Omne shows up again, things get plotty and talky, and the thing sort of stalls. Marshak and Culbreath continue with some of the themes from Price, but with Omne, Omne's double in a body that looks like Spock, James (who still looks like Kirk but with Romulan features), a real Romulan princeling named Trevanian who sometimes poses as James, Kirk, Spock, and the Romulan Commander all running around with their own motivations and honors to uphold, things get very sticky and very tricky to keep sorted very quickly. I sometimes lost sight of who was who and who wanted what from whom and why. (And this was a reread!) All told, the first third is compelling, the last third fascinating, and the middle third confusing. The thinky bits are just as interesting as in any other Marshak and Culbreath Star Trek undertaking, though they sometimes get mired down in too much talking this time. The end is incredibly unsatisfying in that it refuses to resolve the thing (this is intentional and pointed, I'm quite sure), and I gave the book a nice heave across the room at the close of the last page (as you do).
I think I will just read The Price of the Phoenix and skip the other one just to save damage to the book (should I feel like heaving it) and my own mentality.
61.) Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami ****
I'm not sure yet what to say about this except that I really liked it. If I had to label it, I suppose I'd call it postmodern urban fantasy. The prose is first-rate, and the pieces of the narrative fit together strikingly well. I shan't say more as I would hate to be spoilery. Recommended.
*phwef, phwef* Just blowing the dust off this thread. Glad to see you've found some time to read for the pleasure of it again.
#33: I will have to add that one to the BlackHole. I am trying to read all of Murakami.
62.) A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens *****
An annual Christmas read of which I never grow tired. It wouldn't be Christmas without Scrooge and his journey to redemption.
#36: I completely agree with you. I never tire of that one, either.
Have a wonderful Christmas, Laura!
63.) No Fond Return of Love, Barbara Pym ***1/2
Picked this up from one of Mom's bookshelves as I've been meaning to read a Pym, and, well, there it was. I enjoyed Pym's small observations of life immensely but was a little weary of the almost complete absence of real plot by the end. I don't necessarily need Things To Happen in my books, but at the end of this one I was left wondering what made that the end rather than just where the words stopped. I liked the style and atmosphere well enough that I imagine that I will read more Pym despite not being completely taken with this one.
63 - Sorry you didn't like that one more. I really enjoyed it but it grew on me slowly. I didn't find myself really attached to the book until the last 1/3. When the main female character finally gave the main male character a scolding/lecture, I laughed out loud and I knew I loved Barbara Pym...
64.) The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel ****
A series of essays about libraries--about what they mean to us, how they are organized, what they say about us. Pleasant reading full of history of a literary sort.
#41: I read that one several years ago and enjoyed it. Have you tried his History of Reading yet?
65.) Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry ***1/2
Improves on the movie greatly (though it would be hard not too), yet still only an okay Star Trek book. Plusses: better understanding of Kirk and Spock through the kind of interiority the book gives them and a movie generally can't, better explanation of what goes on between Decker and the Ilia-probe, some neat sci-fi-y commentary on what Earth societies might look like 300 years in the future (the prologue "by" Kirk and the following introduction by Roddenberry are particularly interesting). Minuses: random italics, abrupt ending, strangely erotisized descriptions of inanimate objects (mostly the Enterprise). Though, I have to say, that last bit was pretty funny, but points off because I'm sure it wasn't meant to be.
That's it for 2009. Although I didn't hit 75, I am pleased that I have managed to get myself back into the habit of picking up a book when I'm at loose ends rather than turning on the TV. I think I actually spent more time reading this year than last (when I clocked in at 70 books) as so many of the items on my list last year were short plays. Maybe 2010 will actually yield that nice-sounding 75. I'll be keeping track here.
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