Sunday, September 20, 2015

a smorgasbord of books as autumn nears

Berowne is running errands with Perdita, I have a mug of coffee, and there's an autumn breeze coming through the window. It's a moment of glorious peace and quiet, and the only problem is that the moment actually started forty minutes ago but I decided that I had to put another load of laundry in and mop the kitchen floor before I could start blogging. And now the washing machine has finished, so you'll excuse me, I have to go hang the sheets out on the line...

Back! Another precious few minutes wasted. Ah, the joys of parenting a toddler: loving your child with every atom in your being doesn't mean it's anything but deeply uncool when your co-parent fails to hold up their end of an "at this time I take over" bargain. So, I shall be as quick regarding the recently-read books as possible.

Waistcoats and Weaponry, by Gail Carriger. The latest in her steampunk "Finishing School" series, and it continues to be cute, but I'm getting a little weary of the "heroine is the best at everything ever and also has a Romantic Dilemma because two gorgeous awesome men would both die for her" thing. Of course, I weary of it precisely because it is not limited to this book, or author, or genre, or... it's pervasive. I worry more and more about this now that I have a daughter who, if trends continue, will love to read. How many otherwise cool books are going to teach her that she can't be a Heroine if she doesn't have men competing for her? That the female characters who have either a sole love interest or - gasp! - none at all are foils, comic relief, victims, or something else unimportant? I mean, the whole "Team Peeta / Team I Don't Even Remember What the Other Guy's Name Is Because: Team Peeta" thing being how we talk about a series in which the heroine instigates a nationwide armed rebellion by refusing to conform says it all. When it comes down to which boy she chooses, and the idea that the boy you choose at seventeen is your true love (HA HA HA), she might as well only have started the war in the sense that Helen started one too. We need girls to want to be Katniss because she is bad-ass and thinks for herself, not because two cute boys want her. But I worry that the parts of the books in which she dithers about the boys (and the parts of Carriger's books in which the heroine dithers about her two boys) are not nearly as boring to a pre-teen as they are to a thirty-eight-year-old.

Um, right, I was going to be quick about this. Anyway!

The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens. Most of these appear in his novels, so I didn't have to read the whole thing, but there were some fun stand-alone stories I hadn't encountered before. You just have to hold your nose and skip ahead whenever he starts talking about the ladies.

The Killings at Badger's Drift, by Caroline Graham. Looked like it was going to be a very cozy rural-English-village mystery, and then it was gory as heck and there was incest everywhere. I still enjoyed it - well written, well characterized - but it did startle me a bit.

The Women of the Cousins' War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother, by Philippa Gregory. I find Gregory's fiction unreadable, but I figured I'd give this non-fiction book (which she co-wrote with two historians) a try after watching some of "The White Queen" due mostly to its fun casting. I had to bow out halfway through because a) so much embarrassing sex and b) it started to feel like watching reality television, with overdramatic people I don't respect wanting me to care about them, but it did make me curious about the historical figures involved. This book was quite interesting and I'm glad I came across it.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert talks about past extinctions, mass and individual, and explains why we are on the brink of another mass event. I knew this on some level, of course, but it's still a horrifying book. Makes me very much question my choice to have a child (and to want to have another) when this is the world we're leaving them. I do recommend this book, despite its scariness. Probably because of it.

My Lady Quicksilver, by Bec McMaster. Trashy steampunk romance novel. I like her world-building, and this was decently fun, though both in this and in the next in the series, which I'm reading now, penetrative sex is considered so crucial that - in two separate books, mind you - someone who wants information brings the bearer of that information to orgasm through non-penetrative means and then says, "You don't get what you want [meaning penetrative sex] until you tell me what I need to know!" What's at least presented realistically is that this absolutely fails to work; what's not is that both characters are supposed to be brilliant seducers who can bend anyone to their will. I would think that "don't physically satisfy your seduction target before they give you the information" would be lesson #1 at Brilliant Seducer school, but hey, I've been surprised by curricula before.

The Hangman's Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch. Not nearly as well written as I expected, given its popularity. I actually found it dull.

Fraud: Essays, by David Rakoff. I also found these dull, because I currently have a low tolerance for rich white slightly-wimpy men whining about their anxieties in a manner that is not as funny as they think it is. But the last essay sort of blindsided me - Rakoff is a cancer survivor, who had Hodgkin's lymphoma in his early twenties. And he talks so well about how he doesn't feel he has a right to think of himself as a cancer survivor, because he didn't have the "right" kind of cancer, because his struggles don't compare to those of others, because he has been so far able to put it behind him. This is so relevant for me, as I deal with the fear generated by the latest MRI's findings, as I dig through my memories trying to pinpoint if I ever did tempt fate by referring to myself as a survivor when five years haven't passed yet (or even by not immediately correcting someone else who did). As if believing I brought this on myself would make it better (well, it would make me feel more important, because you don't get your own Hubris Alert button up on Mount Olympus unless you're kind of a big deal). Anyway, my point is that all of these were a little twee until the last one, which was painfully close to home.

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, by Jon Ronson. Um, yeah, what I said about rich white slightly-wimpy men whining about their anxieties. Ronson is a reporter, so most of these pieces are ostensibly about other people, but they all end up being about him. And he really should have either put the piece about income disparity earlier in the book or not used himself as one of the examples: the piece's premise is that he interviews one person living in poverty, and then interviews someone who makes five times what his first subject makes, and then interviews someone who makes five times what they make, and so on. Ronson sticks himself in the middle, and after reading a dozen self-indulgent not-particularly-impressive essays, I didn't need to find out that he makes $250,000 a year writing those. Urf.

Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal, by Harold Schechter. About Alferd Packer, Colorado's finest, but unfortunately it was quite dry. I guess when the facts of a case are so much in dispute, there isn't much you can do, but come on! Cannibalism!

And on that note, Berowne is home and there is chile to be roasted. Time to dash!


  1. I read your last sentence with horror. Then I realized you meant chile, as in chile peppers, not chile, as in the singular of chilluns. Whew.

    1. Oh no! No, despite her morphing into Little Miss Stubborn these days, I do not think we will roast her.