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I've spent quite a lot of the last few weeks pre-reading books to check if they are appropriate for my favorite 8-year-old. Her parents thought the Prydain Chronicles and The Dark Is Rising would be too scary for this year, but that she'd love some of Lloyd Alexander's books for younger kids. So I've been going through as much of Alexander's work as I could carry home from the library.

Discovery 1: There don't seem to be many adventure stories as exciting as the Keladry books and Wrinkle In Time (which she loved even before she was such a big girl) that aren't scary.

Discovery 2: I don't like Lloyd Alexander's books nearly as much as I used to. The sexism fairy hit them awfully hard.

Read more... )

I also read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. I LOVED it. It is wildly, completely, inappropriate for the 8 year old. (Not that I ever expected otherwise.) Sweetest proposal scene I've read in ages. And I love how the unreliable narrator gradually becomes less clueless about both dragons and foreigners. She starts off being painfully, realistically, appropriately (for her class and culture) insensitive to "those people," but it's pretty clearly the character being a jerk, not the author. (Unlike other books where a character suddenly become more enlightened between a book and its sequel, and the most likely reason seems to be the author's friends saying "yo. this is a problem.") Anyhow, Isabella learns a little better and it's perfectly plausible and I love her to bits. I returned the book to the library's "Awesome Box," and may get 2 copies. One for me to keep and hug, and one to hang onto and give the child when she's a teenager...

And furthermore, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper is really problematic. The first part of the book is the story of a Native American boy growing up in what is now Massachusetts. The strange customs of his people are described in ways that reminded me of Julie of the Wolves. First person description, yet somehow the strangeness of the customs felt exaggerated (unlike historical fiction that makes strange customs feel ordinary, as they do to the people who live with them.) Hawk dies as a young man, killed by Puritan settlers. The narrative then switches to a sympathetic Puritan boy, to whom Hawk's ghost eventually speaks. I can tell Cooper is trying so very hard to be sensitive and not racist, and it just doesn't work.
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This week, I finished The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham. I'm not sure, but I think I was completely finished with Betrayal in Winter before this week, and only read An Autumn War and The Price of Spring this week (immediately going back to reread the beginning of A Shadow in Summer, for the sake of arguing with it, as one does.) The series does so many things right. I like how it shows characters actually maturing--not just growing out of childhood, or even out of fumbling young-adulthood, but through many stages of adulthood. I like how seriously it takes genocide, and how vengeance/forgiveness/moving on are all shown as so very difficult. I hope I'm mistaken in reading a pro-bullying message into the end.

I am also reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, which is just stunningly good. The fairy-tale parts are right. And the other parts are right, with parents who mean well and Just Don't Get It. Like making good choices now that you're in 6th grade doesn't mean going off to rescue your best friend from a snow witch. (Really, the responsible choice in that situation is to stop and put boots on, not to just sit there and do homework.)

On audiobook, I'm listening to Lower Corte, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I read it a long time ago, and I'm not sure if I'm perceiving it differently because my feminist standards have changed or because I notice different things at the pace of an audiobook.

On Friday, Sovay was coughing pathetically and expressing unhappiness about the need to go out into the dismal cold rain and deal with tax paperwork. As soon as she was out the door, I went looking for that book by Nevil Shute where the NHS is obviously the villain because England has such bad weather. (As compared to a fundamentally decent place like Australia, where the sun shines all the time, there's lots of poor immigrants providing free labor, there's plenty to eat with no rationing, and nobody who matters has to worry about taxes.) I looked at several, and it's remarkable how Shute draws me in, considering I don't actually like his characters very much.

I realized The Breaking Wave (also known as Requiem for a Wren was not the book I was looking for, about halfway through. (Though it's largely about how Australia is so much better than England, and is set shortly after WW2.) That's the one about the disabled pilot who goes looking for his brother's fiancee, after the brother was killed near D-Day. It's about people who take it for granted that a respectable person simply does not confide in those they love. Such people really annoy me, in fiction as in real life. But what bothered me more was the idea of war as a positive experience for young people. Not: unpleasant necessity. Not even: we remember it fondly because we were young and together, even though it was horrible. Rather: it was so exciting anybody who experienced it once will want more of it.

I have a shelf full of Shute (--now on a shelf, rather than in a box! I finally decided we are staying in this apartment, with all its flaws, and started nesting in earnest.) I went on to read The Far Country (I don't know the other title.) I'm less than halfway through, but the NHS has already been established as a great evil. So has the UK generally, because rain and cold and food shortages and equality. How dare a country tax the rich to provide health care! The little old ladies starving to death because they're too proud to accept charity from the government. (Accepting money from the government because of what one's husband did decades ago occupying India is respectable. Accepting money from the government because the government is offering to help just anybody is NOT.) It would all be very much funnier if the NHS and the underlying idea that it's good for poor people to get medical care and enough to eat were not under active attack.
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I usually don't have more than 2 or 3 books going simultaneously, but yesterday was a little unusual.

The Towers of Silence, Paul Scott. This is a reread. I like it a lot, but it's going slowly because of both complexity and small print. (Needs two kinds of focused attention plus especially good light and reading glasses.) It's making more sense because I'm rereading the series and because I'm on a lower dose of the stupid pills.

The Porcupine Year, Louise Erdrich. I don't like this as much as The Birchbark House, though I can tell it's very well done.

What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang. I read this based on a review by http://rachelmanija.livejournal.com/, which did warn that the latter part of the story (focusing on the action-adventure) was weak. She liked the concept of having 2 souls in each body, and the internal narrative by the secondary soul. It made me wonder how the intercision scenes in Golden Compass would look from Pantaleimon's perspective. But the actual narrator in this book bored me.

Amber Wellington, Daredevil, by Linda Glaser. I started paging through this last night, trying to find a particular scene I half-remembered. I ended up reading the whole thing because the scene was not there. Now I can't remember why I've saved it for almost 40 years.

A Betrayal in Winter, Daniel Abraham. I just started this. I know I'm not following all the political complexities connecting it with Shadow in Summer, or even chapter to chapter, but I'm tracking some. And the characters are strong enough that it kinda sorta works episodically.
adrian_turtle: (Dracomir)
Last fall, I went looking for Rumer Godden's doll stories. "Little Plum" was once one of my favorite books ever, and the youngest of the little girls I love seemed like she might be close to the age of appreciating it. (The older one didn't want anything to do with dolls.) I might have read one of the other books from the library, but Aunt Pat gave me "Little Plum," and I read it many times. After the paperback died in a tragic housetraining accident, the story lived vividly in my memory.

Or so I thought. After I managed to track down a copy (they're remarkably hard to find these days), I had to read it myself. Maybe it would have to go in the "when she's older" pile. Besides, I wanted to spend some time with Belinda again.

The only copy I could find was actually a collection including all Godden's doll stories, which would certainly make it a more impressive present. As I vaguely remembered, "The Doll's House," wasn't bad but didn't grab me hard. "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower" was wonderful! (Some of you probably remember it from when you were 8.)

The little girl who feels so out of place. The bookstore owner who helps her. The dolls who can't move or speak or do anything, but love her and play with her and make her less lonely. *happy sigh* And the other lonely girl in "Little Plum," who doesn't know how to play, and thus her doll is lonely and neglected. And how they are wished and pulled and quarreled into friendship and community and happy ending.

I still love it. Only now that I'm not 8, I'm not comfortable with some of the details. The little Japanese dolls are fascinating because they are so exotic. Nona making a dollhouse isn't just about making a nice comfortable home for dolls she loves. It's very strongly about making a Japanese dollhouse, so different from the English kind! with everything just so like the books. Making green tea out of paint. Making rice out of snippets of thread. Dolls bowing and thinking of "Honorable so-and-so."

And of course the dolls are silent. Nobody asks them what they want before moving them around. The only power they have is wishing. Where the silent and powerless dolls are so emphatically Japanese dolls, it makes me uncomfortable. Yes, of course they're dolls, and dolls don't talk. (I love how dolls' wishes have power, and how Godden shows the parallel with children who are moved around with nobody asking what they want.) But there's also that stereotype of small, pretty, exotic, doll-like, Asian women with no voices or wills of their own. It makes the whole thing feel vaguely creepy, unlike the small, pretty, voiceless, English or Dutch dolls in Godden's other stories.

Is this a glancing blow from the racism fairy? The colonialism fairy? Am I being hypersensitive about a book that's really sympathetic to all its characters--the disempowered ceramic Japanese ones, as well as the English children (and even the adults in the background.) I didn't recognize "Little Plum" as being even slightly racist, the first dozen times I read it. That might have been because I wasn't 9 yet. Or because it was the 1970s, and I lived in a world where "racism" meant calling people vicious names or beating them up. Not subtle othering.

The child wouldn't notice any hint of racism in the book. She reads very well, but she's only 7. She's only 7...but someday I hope she'll be a strong voice against bigotry, even the subtle kinds of bigotry. I don't want her to think this kind of thing is ok, or that Aunt Adrian thinks this kind of thing is ok. (But she won't notice.) But I do want her to know about Nona. And Mr. Twilfit, because of course miracles come from bookstores. And Gem. And Tom. And Belinda, who does spiteful things and then is sorry and tries so hard to fix them. Ack. Wibble. Thus do I grind to a halt.
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I am a little embarrassed how long it took me to notice this. Sylvester McMonkey McBean is in the same line of work as those people pushing skin bleach and hair straightener, isn't he?
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One of the things I like doing with Redbird is reading aloud. With the right book, it feels connecting and cuddly. With the wrong book, it's just annoying. We don't want books Redbird already knows. Or books that are deeply scary or depressing. So I'm asking advice from people who have read more than we have.

For this purpose, we want episodic books, or those not focused on very complicated plots. We want to be able to pick up reading chapter 17, and have it make sense even though we read chapters 10-16 three weeks ago. Detective stories would only work if each chapter were its own mystery. (Mirable?) Or if the idea was to follow the character development of the detective, more than to figure out the puzzle the detective was working on. (Charlie and Constance?)

Both of us have a low tolerance for sexism. (We all know the difference between sexist characters and a sexist story? Good.) I can be ok with an all-white story, but not with active racial bigotry. We have limited patience with characters being stupid just because it's convenient to the plot. One nice thing about reading aloud is being able to call out the annoying bits as they go by...but we don't want every page to collapse into MST3K.

We had a good time with Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and 2 of the sequels (the last in the series was less good, because of characters being gratuitously stupid, but not a disaster.) Naomi Kritzer's The House That Wasn't There was a somewhat more serious adventure, aimed at the young side of YA, and we really liked it. And A.J. Hall's The Curious Incident of the Knight in the Library was great fun.

There are a great many stories outside YA and fanfic that Redbird hasn't read yet. (Those categories do seem to help the odds. She's read very little fanfic, and only that YA which has crossed over to adult popularity.) In order to work for this purpose, YA needs to avoid dystopias and problem novels. Fanfic needs to avoid relying too heavily on the source texts--we read The Curious Incident of the Knight in the Library as a standalone novel with some peculiar character names. I think horror is right out, but other genres might work.

too late

Oct. 2nd, 2012 01:01 pm
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I wish The Birchbark House had been written sooner, so I could have read it when I was in elementary school.

I wish Slow River had been written sooner, so I could have read it when I was an undergraduate.

Wishing The Iron Cage had been written sooner is a different kind of thing. It's the fourth book of Gillian Bradshaw's Magic's Poison series (not exactly a series. Same place, same conflict, mostly different characters.)

I liked the first 3.5 books, even though they aren't nearly as good as Bradshaw's best work. They're about noncombatants (a vet, a historian, a printer) taking part in a war because they think it's important. Not joining up to be soldiers, but doing what they're good at in different directions even though it's scary. These are not subtle books. The bad guys practically twirl their mustaches. But I like the good guys a lot.

The hero of The Iron Cage is a printer, a foreigner who makes his living in a strange city by selling pamphlets--news, satire, scandal, poetry, whatever. An alien prisoner (whose people face extermination by the government) commissions him to print a pamphlet, something to drum up sympathy and outrage. Our hero agrees because he needs the money, and soon finds his own sympathy and outrage involved. Complications ensue.

This next bit is sort of a spoiler, but it's not a book based on suspense or mystery so I don't think it matters. And it's not giving away the end, just a bit of middle. I know some people are extremely sensitive to these things nowadays, so...
Read more... )

I don't like being manipulated to sympathize with Julian Assange. I really don't. If the book had been written 10 years ago, even 3, I might think it was a bizarre coincidence. It's a powerful setup because it threatens our hero on so many levels, though the obvious falseness of the accusation undercuts it. But it was published in November of 2011...so it looks horribly deliberate.
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I recently starting reading Anne Ursu's YA books, the trilogy starting with The Shadow Thieves. (Hat tip to Rush-that-Speaks.) If you haven't read them, you should, because they're great. I meant to say, if you haven't read them, you should know they're about a couple of contemporary 13-year-olds in conflict with ancient Greek gods. I love how the kids come across as entirely real and exactly as sensible as actual teenagers. I especially love how they realize they aren't just in conflict with a particular supernatural being, but with a whole metaphysical system.

I borrowed the second book from the library, and found a bookmark--a little Christian evangelical pamphlet. I have no idea if somebody left it there entirely at random, or if that book was chosen because it mentioned pagan gods, or if somebody recognized it as a book advocating metaphysical revolution against pagan gods and thought its readers would be good targets for evangelism.
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I was hanging out in a bookstore recently, when I overheard a somewhat peculiar conversation. It was not a private conversation, but it didn't include me, and certainly didn't include all of you, so I feel the least little bit uncertain about sharing it with you.

Three young women were looking at fantasy, and having the kinds of conversation about new authors I sort of expect to hear at cons. One of them told her friends about a man she had gone to high school with, and how much he had changed. "Can you believe it? It's just so weird. He used to be such a geek, but now he writes urban fantasy!" The others agreed it was bizarre that a geek could grow up to have any interest in that sort of thing.* One of them said how strange it was for him to write about hot women and sexy vampires, when girls hadn't wanted anything to do with him.**

In a tone of sharing a scandalous bit of gossip, the first woman said she had seen her old classmate recently, and that he lifted weights now. "He's really buff. You'd never believe HE could write these books." A serious exercise program cuts into the time a person with a day job has available to write...but enough writers manage that it doesn't seem implausible. And of course the time problems are no worse for urban fantasy than for any other genre. (I suspect she might have been thinking something like, "I don't get it. He doesn't LOOK like he's got girl-cooties." I could, of course, be misinterpreting.) Her friends seemed to understand and agree with her.


*Because geeks aren't interested in worldbuilding? They're only expected to write nonfiction, or rigorously realistic novels with plot details worked out like sudoku?

**Because one's status as a teenager is supposed to define one's fantasy life, as well as one's adult life? Or because fantasies of being desired have too many girl-cooties for a boy, even a geeky boy?
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It can take me a long time to go from idea to post, especially when I'm depressed. I started thinking about this one years ago, when I was reading various enlightened commentary, disapproving of 24 and other mainstream/conservative stories glorifying torture. I keep being reminded of related issues, and bogging down in stuff that's difficult to even think about.

Spoilers for Vorkosigan books 1-7. Disturbing moral questions. Not for the squeamish. ANNE, DO NOT READ. If anybody is still with me, Read more... )
adrian_turtle: (books)
I've lost track of how many romantic comedies I've seen, based on how cute it is for some charming hero to pursue a reluctant sex object until she (usually "she" in this sort of story, though not always) gives in to his charms. I don't mean the kind of story where the audience sees into the ingenue's head enough that "reluctant," is obviously different from "unwilling," and his pursuit is a quest to find reasons for her to change her mind. I mean stalking stories, where her repeated attempts to get away from him are regarded as cute and foolish, and his persistence is supposed to look resourceful, and the whole thing is played for laughs until the dramatic clinch at the end. You know. Like "Green Eggs And Ham."

I hadn't noticed it before. I was at the library with the 5 year old recently, playing a computer game with text and animation. It might have been the animated body language that made me look up and think, "Sam-I-Am is flirting!" but the animators weren't putting anything in there that wasn't in the original drawings. And as soon as I looked back down, it was really obvious to me that Sam-I-Am was flirting with somebody who did not welcome his attentions. I no longer see that as cute. Even when the stalker is chasing the victim down with a cute little cartoon car, and it's perfectly obvious that nobody is hurt even when they runs into the path of an oncoming train in an effort to get away...somehow, it's not quite as cute as it once was. Still incredibly catchy, though. When I said, "Wow. Sam-I-Am is really being mean to not let him get away," we didn't reach much of an understanding. But I'm glad I said it anyhow, just to plant the seed.

I won't be online much in the next few days, but I will respond to comments when I can.


"Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon" tries so hard
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Back when I was working in a manufacturing environment, and there was a radio playing in the background, I remember being surprised by the prevailing narrative I was hearing over the radio (in country music, in talky ads.) It's been too long for me to remember exact wording; I just remember being surprised by the overall sense of union=menace. (Sometimes as financial corruption, sometimes as evil union organizers stalking people--decent folks have to watch out or they'll get you, sometimes just as thoughtful creative people have to be careful not to get stuck in a hopeless/meaningless/stupid union job.) Last month, I ran into some remarkable anti-union hostility, and what looked like real fear, from a woman who was on the poor side of working class, doing a job where she was exploited by her employer.

I don't think that hostility and fear comes from logical argument so much as it comes from stories. Those heartwarming songs about sticking with the union seem to be from my grandparents' time. Some of us still sing them, but they're relics. I can't think of many pro-union popular songs or stories created in my lifetime.
Click-Clack, Moo! Cows that Type, is the strongest example that came to mind.
I think the 1631 series is pro-union, though I didn't find it readable.
I don't think Bruce Springsteen lyrics really count. "For my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat," is part of an image about giving up on dreams rather than achieving them. He's just sympathetic about feeling trapped.
There's a little pro-union sympathy off to the side in Orbital Resonance.
Are there lots of others I'm missing?

placement

Aug. 17th, 2009 07:41 pm
adrian_turtle: (books)
The local 8-year-old went off to Worldcon with her sketchbook and a few volumes of her favorite extruded fantasy product. (The BeastQuest series is...*reaches for courtesy*...not to my taste. But she adores it.) More than a week later, a 9-year-old came back overflowing with enthusiasm for Neil Gaiman and stories of the Insectarium. So You Want To Be A Wizard had magically appeared on the shelf over her desk (with a birthday card between the pages.) It's going over very well.

Thursday's

Apr. 30th, 2009 09:32 pm
adrian_turtle: (books)
It took me a long time to stop despising Margaret Thursday for being so vain and obsessed with nice clothes. Sure, I recognized her virtues on first reading. She's brave, loyal, compassionate, protective of her friends, stubbornly independent. (30 years ago, it didn't seem strange to see those presented as admirable qualities in a little girl who was not especially pretty or clever. ) I thought her desire for nice clothes was shallow and petty at best, and her loyalty to her fancy underwear undercut her loyalty to her friends.

I think I was 8 or 9, the first time I read Thursday's Child, and I understood perfectly well how a person could sometimes be brave and loyal and heroic, and sometimes be so overcome with selfishness or arrogance as to do exactly the wrong thing. In the abstract, it made sense that vanity could be that kind of problem as well, but it was so far beyond my experience I couldn't really grasp it. Rereading it around 1990, I saw Margaret as a child in an adventure story, which is different from being a young woman in a romantic story (she doesn't even flirt.) So her obsession with embroidery on her underwear started to look implausible or creepy, and I didn't look back at the book for almost 20 years.

Then I read Rumer Goden's Episode of Sparrows.* Lovejoy is a less likable child than Margaret. Lovejoy comes across as quite a bit more damaged, either because she's not the protagonist of a children's book, or because she didn't start with ten years being cared for by somebody who loved her. Her clothes are pathetically inadequate, and she tries so hard to keep them as nice as possible. It doesn't look like vanity. It looks like Lovejoy is clinging to the symbols of her mother's care for her, and of her own status as a sophisticated child who danced on the stage. If she keeps up appearances well enough, maybe she won't have to acknowledge her mother abandoned her. I read it a few weeks ago, and was struck with sympathetic understanding for Margaret Thursday, who has no memory of her biological parents since she was abandoned as an infant. The baby clothes they left her with ("three of everything, all of the very best quality") are mainly valuable as tokens that they loved her. When she has to leave her childhood home, the old baby clothes get remade into underwear with elaborate trimmings**, because the woman who raised her can't bear to send her off with nothing.

Meanwhile, my mother expresses concern that I don't have the right summer clothes. She frets that I will spend all available money on books, and go around looking like a ragamuffin. I am learning to be more patient with her.


*Papersky spoke very well of something by Rumer Godden a few years ago. In the course of looking for the book about the house, I found this. And several other fascinating books, which are leading to paired readings so strange I want to post about each individually.

**Can't you just imagine doing that now? With all the velcro and elastic, and appliques of flowers or animals?
adrian_turtle: (books)
Friday evening at Boskone, there was supposed to be a panel on Cyteen and Regenesis. I think they scheduled it for Jo, because she was so exuberantly excited about Regenesis coming out, and wanting to talk to people about it. A couple of minutes before the panel was going to start, the panelists were gathering in the hallway, with one of them trying to explain why she really didn't feel comfortable talking about the subject. (I wasn't sure if she hadn't read the second book, or didn't remember the first clearly, or had something else demanding her attention.) Anyhow, Jo asked me to fill in, on the strength of a flip comment I made here a few weeks ago.

I've been intending to post comments on Regenesis for weeks, and having gotten my act together well enough to actually write them down. But that's nothing. I've been intending to post comments on Cyteen for YEARS. I've fallen so far behind on posting comments on things I read in 2005 that I've essentially given up on them. So it was kind of nice to have people interested in what I could come up with off the top of my head, rather than waiting for the right words at the right time.

Unfortunately, most of the fans in the room had not read Regenesis. Despite the announcement in the program booklet and on the wall outside the door, saying we would be discussing the sequel to Cyteen, they did not want to hear about spoilers. {Polite turtle makes an effort to be polite about spoilers.} If you don't want to read spoilers for Cyteen or Regenesis, you should probably stop now. I'm not sure if my comment about The Jewel In The Crown/The Raj Quartet counts as a spoiler (it might for sticklers.) Commentary refers to sexual abuse, among other things. If any of you are still with me: Read more... )
adrian_turtle: (books)
I know many of you have read both books: do you think _Sorcery and Cecelia_ is written at the same level of difficulty as _The Grand Tour_, or is it easier? Both are nominally YA, but some YA is for 9-year-olds, and some is for 14. I'm asking about how difficult the sentences and paragraphs are to understand, and the complexity of the plot. A book can edge towards the adult side of YA in how it deals with brutality or ethical complexity, but that's a very different thing.

my particular concern )
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There once was a man from Wabash,
But the brain eater got him when he was young,
So the world will never know what his limerick might have been.

Friday night at Boskone, I was talking to a friendly group in the hallway about _The Princess Bride_, and how the frame story changes the tone of the adventure story. Someone (who might have been Kate Nepveu, but I don't remember) mentioned reading it from the library as a child, without any frame story, and asking if it had ever been published that way. We talked a bit about how the story existed with the original frame of Billy Goldman and his father who could barely read English, reading him "the good bits" in 1941, and in the movie frame with a sick boy in the 1980s and his grandfather reading to him. We talked about skipping boring introductions and prefaces to jump right to the story...and maybe a kid who was very focused on the adventure story itself could have failed to notice that the first 30 pages of _The Princess Bride_ are setting up an interesting and relevent frame story, not just introducing the author and the context in which he wrote the book.

Then last week I read Dan Simmons' _Ilium_. Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles. )
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My school had two 9th grade English teachers that seemed to form a set. They were both short men named Bob. They both had mustaches, but not beards. They both wore suits, rather than dressing like teachers. They both had a fondness for elaborate diagrams with colored chalk. They swapped classes for a couple of months every spring, so twice as many students could have the dark Bob teach us grammar (with sentence diagrams in colored chalk) and also have the blond Bob teach us Dickens (with plot diagrams in colored chalk). It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I remain indifferent to diagrams in colored chalk, however elaborate. That's not quite right. I'm indifferent now. I was actively hostile, then. I spent weeks of remarkably intense effort at the stage of "You say these colored lines are supposed to convey some kind of meaning, some meaning beyond having the words themselves in a particular order. I'd like to believe you, but I can't find any evidence for it."


The blond Bob read to us from the detective story he was writing. It's been more than 20 years, but I can still remember most of it. Not because I liked it; just because it was my introduction to a certain style of first-person-smartass narration.
"My tongue felt like a fuzzy blanket. I reached for my fuzzy blanket. It felt like a tongue. Good. I like to know the world is balanced and sensible." (*)

Why do I think of this now? Last week, I read _Only Forward_, Michael Marshall Smith's first novel. Rysmiel told me this was the same Michael Marshall who later wrote _The Straw Men_. For the first hundred pages or so, I still found myself wondering if it could be my old English teacher writing under another name. The echo of the voice was too familiar.

spoilers for _Only Forward_ )

_The Straw Men_ was much better. I'm not sure if it's darker. I tend to be a lot more comfortable with straightforward treatments of appalling situations than with attempts to play them for laughs.

(*) Now, one would almost certainly write "fair and balanced," but of course he didn't.
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By this time, I should be accustomed to Aubrey-Maturin books ending with a bit of a thump. There's a huge complicated buildup, and then the cliffhanger suddenly resolves at the very end of the book. I finished _The Thirteen Gun Salute_ yesterday, and it didn't seem to follow quite the same pattern. One plot element was resolved well before the end of the book, and another was left hanging, just stranded there like it was going to be resolved in the next book. Ok...I am with these guys for the long haul, so I can be [a little] patient.

This morning, I started _The Truelove_. After setting the scene (back on the Surprise) there was a rather entertaining infodump about Stephen's adventures with a platypus, but no hint of how our shipmates had managed to escape their predicament off Batavia. WTF? And furthermore. Huh?

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