March Reading Thread

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I wrote, about Williams's Descent into Hell, "I find myself giving up on understanding what he is saying" -- I meant this happens sometimes as I read. It's not that the book in general is confounding. Also, certainly one must acknowledge that Williams is serious about conveying experiences outside the ordinary, also about giving an unusual and searching perspective on "ordinary" matters such as conventional social situations. Being serious about evoking them, he must use language in a way that will challenge us, all the more since so much of what we are used to reading nowadays is trite. (One of the effects of reading Williams may be to make one ashamed of wasting so much time reading things not much more valuable than the texts printed on cereal boxes.)

People like our much-missed J. D. Worthington, who read supernatural horror fiction as a specialty, must not miss Williams's material about a succubus conjured unconsciously by a prominent historian. The evocation of the haunted suburban hill is not done to be scary but it is disturbing.
 
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of Donner Party by Daniel James Brown.

I feel like Brown handles a subject that can be difficult to discuss very well. His prose is simple but gripping, and with regard to the one topic everyone knows about the Donner Party, I'd say he's very matter-of-fact but without being gratuitous or distasteful.
 
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of Donner Party by Daniel James Brown.

I feel like Brown handles a subject that can be difficult to discuss very well. His prose is simple but gripping, and with regard to the one topic everyone knows about the Donner Party, I'd say he's very matter-of-fact but without being gratuitous or distasteful.
Did Brown say anything about the earlier treatment of the Donner expedition, Ordeal by Hunger by George R. Stewart (Earth Abides author)?
 
Did Brown say anything about the earlier treatment of the Donner expedition, Ordeal by Hunger by George R. Stewart (Earth Abides author)?
He mentions a couple of earlier works in passing, but doesn't make any commentary on them. I don't think Ordeal by Hunger was one he mentioned.
 
@The Judge , I read Piranesi and was totally overwhelmed by it. I re-read it immediately, very unusual for me, and it is still one of my all-time favourites. It was a gift, in a fancy hardback edition, so it looks gorgeous too. I didn’t notice any inconsistencies, but I may not have been thinking very clearly! I recommend it highly, especially if you watched or read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (and enjoyed the experience, of course.)
 
Read during my week away from the computer:

The Outnumbered (1970) edited by Charlotte Brooks. Essays, poetry, and fiction about minority groups. Seems intended for young adults.

Remainders of the Day: A Bookshop Diary (2022) by Shaun Bythnell. The owner of a bookstore in Scotland relates his experiences, as he did in previous books we read. The folks who work for him are eccentric and/or annoying, and his customers think the stuff they want to sell to him is valuable and the stuff they want to buy from him is overpriced. Evidence, if any be needed, that you don't want to run a bookstore.

Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can't Live Without Them (2020) by Adrienne Raphel. Wanders all over the place, but some interesting information about the subject. Notable for the author's failed attempt to sell a crossword puzzle she created to the New York Times.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2002) by Oliver Sacks. The noted neurologist relates his autobiography up to adolescence, when he was obsessed with chemistry. Interesting.

Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America (2015) by Bill Schelly. Long, exhaustive, heavily documented account of the life, from birth to death, of the cartoonist/writer/editor. Informative, with plenty of reproductions of his work.
 
I didn’t notice any inconsistencies,
Not an inconsistency, but for me:

The whole plot hinges on the house causing amnesia, something that (unless I missed something) is never explained. Without that effect, there would have been no story, but it doesn't seem to tie in with anything else, so felt convenient.
 
I have started Charisma (1975) by Michael Coney, It seems that I read this some years ago:



I have just started a three-in-one volume of novels by Michael G. Coney: Mirror Image (1972), Charisma (1975), and Brontomek! (1976).

I have no memory of it at all. It starts off slowly, with no speculative content (except for very small clues that this is the near future -- hovercrafts, news reports on a handheld device) but forty-odd pages in we realize the narrator has met and fallen in love with a woman from a parallel world very similar to our own.
 
I have started Charisma (1975) by Michael Coney, It seems that I read this some years ago:





I have no memory of it at all. It starts off slowly, with no speculative content (except for very small clues that this is the near future -- hovercrafts, news reports on a handheld device) but forty-odd pages in we realize the narrator has met and fallen in love with a woman from a parallel world very similar to our own.
I've just started Brontomek!
 
Reading Glorious Exploits at the moment. A couple of unemployed potters from Syracuse decided to stage a Euripedes play using Athenian slaves from quarries. Set after the Athenian attempt to take Syracuse in the Hellenic Age. Moving, funny and thoughtful.
 

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@The Judge , I read Piranesi and was totally overwhelmed by it. I re-read it immediately, very unusual for me, and it is still one of my all-time favourites. It was a gift, in a fancy hardback edition, so it looks gorgeous too. I didn’t notice any inconsistencies, but I may not have been thinking very clearly! I recommend it highly, especially if you watched or read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (and enjoyed the experience, of course.)
I also re-read much of it immediately, which I rarely do, and I would definitely recommend it purely for the writing (and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed JS&MN, too!) but I agree with HB that there was a little too much that was convenient that just took the edge off it for me. The example HB uses is one. Others that occurred to me:

  • the amnesia is also convenient in what it allows him to remember from his past life -- he remembers the things the Other gives him, and understands what they are and how they work, yet forgets everything which might have an impact on the plot
  • he's conveniently too innocent -- he never really questions where the Other gets all the stuff he doesn't have and how the Other can live there without knowing anything of the layout of the Halls etc, and he never suggests meeting him elsewhere, or tries to follow him, or gets there early to wait for him to see where he comes from
  • I never bought in to Ketterly's motives -- he's kept Sorensen there 6 years, and even if he really is still looking for the secrets of mind-control etc, why keep visiting twice a week every week, since he's patently not learning anything new?
  • Sorensen was an academic, but in none of his mini-biographies of other people does he give any indication where he's obtained the information, barely even a casual "according to" let alone chapter and verse, yet the notebooks are vital for him if he's going to be writing a biography of sorts, which will require a bibliography and probably itemised footnotes, and he needlessly, but meticulously, gives full details of his own writings
  • when as Soresen he writes about his meeting with Ketterly he goes into novelistic detail with direct speech. Even if at that point he has a phenomenal memory -- which is nowhere noted by anyone else -- so he can quote everything accurately, the episode simply didn't ring true as a person writing about something terrible that happened. Of course, all first person narratives require us to suspend disbelief on that front, and I was happy enough when as Piranesi he was reconstructing his conversations with the Other, but for that particular entry, when he was still Soresen, it felt egregious, not least as it went on so long and he's not writing for an audience who need that dramatic touch, as someone telling his life story would be doing
  • he conveniently finds the pieces of ripped out pages just when he needs them to make sense of his predicament -- I can't now recall if that's said to be the first time he's been in that Hall since he left the pages there, but it feels too convenient if it is, and if it isn't why hasn't be found the papers before?
  • when he realises he's beginning to forget and he's losing his mind, why doesn't he make a note to himself to keep re-reading the relevant pages, so he can maintain his anger against Ketterly? If Ketterly won't return him to the real world, why not keep up the anger in order to kill him?!
  • why did he rip out those pages but leave everything else? If, when he's losing his mind and memory, he wishes to destroy them to maintain his equilibrium why doesn't he soak them to pulp so they are utterly destroyed, he's certainly got enough water!
  • this might be faulty memory as I don't have the novel any longer to check -- it was a library book -- but my recollection is when he starts putting the ripped pages together he can only get so far because nothing else fits, but then later he's able to reconstruct everything. From memory, too, I thought he'd only got a limited number of pieces, far fewer than would surely have resulted from ripping so many pages

So, they're mostly relatively minor issues, certainly ones which could have been easily solved, many with just a few words, but they were enough as I was reading to just prick me and keep me from fully embracing the story.
 
Life Sculpted: Tales of the Animals, Plants, and Fungi That Drill, Break, and Scrape to Shape the Earth by Anthony J. Martin
The subject of the book is bioerosion: the "breaking, scraping, drilling, or otherwise changing the solid to the not-so-solid”. Martin provides a brief overview of how (past and present) bioerosion shapes the planet and influences ecosystem function and the evolution of various organisms. The book is essentially a collection of "Gee! Whizz! Look at these fascinating microbes/plants/animals (including humans)/fungi that can damage rocks, shells, wood, and bone by scraping, drilling, gouging, crushing, chemical attack, vacuum sucking and biting". Two wonderful examples you don't see very often is the wood-boring clams and Jurassic crinoids floating along on a log. The chapter on whale fall is also very interesting. I do wonder how many people are going to give up their beach holidays after finding out the beach sand is essentially parrotfish poop?

Despite the plethora of fascinating "creature features", I felt the book lacked an overarching synthesis and contained too much filler (I'm not particularly interested in the author's personal life) and occassionally went off on not-so-relevant tangents. So, an interesting book if you looking for jolly collection of tales of wonderful "animals, plants, and fungi that drill, break, and scrape to shape the Earth", written in an overly jaunty, colloquial writing style that isn't as funny as the author thinks it is.
 
So, they're mostly relatively minor issues, certainly ones which could have been easily solved, many with just a few words, but they were enough as I was reading to just prick me and keep me from fully embracing the story.

I see what you mean, and I too was struck by some of those instances at the time, but immediately forgot about them as I was swept along by the narrative. I always am. I’m a terrible reviewer.

I was never bothered by the selective amnesia however, because it is a real phenomenon, well documented, brought on normally by extreme stress. Agatha Christie’s lost weeks is a case in point.

FYI, the protagonist goes back later after the birds have finished nesting and dismantles the nests to retrieve as many as possible of the bits of paper.



You do wonder if the author could have done with the assistance of a slightly more thorough editor, if the issues are mostly quite easy to address. Perhaps her success has made the publishers cautious of criticising?
 
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You do wonder if the author could have done with the assistance of a slightly more thorough editor, if the issues are mostly quite easy to address. Perhaps her success has made the publishers cautious of criticising?
I recall reading that she'd been unwell after finishing JS&MN and found it hard to write, and she revisited an earlier project in the hopes it could be completed quickly. So it may be that her editors were conscious that perhaps her mental health wasn't the best, and therefore didn't overload her with issues that the vast majority of readers wouldn't bother worrying about.

Despite my cavils, I'm glad I read it, and it's something I might read again in a few years' time to see if I can make more sense of the end, ie the way real people were there in the statues, and exactly what message it's sending!
 
The Death of Ivan Ilitch, by Lev Tolstoi.

Trying this after watching Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952), which is loosely based on it. Not a bad read; but nothing impressive either.
 
Read Sara Paretsky's Indemnity Only, and that wasn't a smooth series start for me. Lot of unfunny angriness and mouthing off, rather cliched, not a lot of charm. I did want to know what happened so can't judge it too harshly but not what I was hoping for after my first Paretsky.

Also a win for jumping in midway through a series, if this was my first from here that'd be the end of it but as it is I will return.

Winter Warriors by David Gemmell, a Drenai book (lots of fighting, naturally, but some interesting and psychologically true characters);

Which is why I love this book. I think another reread of it is in order over here. Will be making a note of some of the historical mysteries.

Also re Piranesi -

It's definitely not the world's tightest book in terms of detail but I think that works to its advantage. I think a lot of people enjoyed its conciseness and air of mystery. I have to admit it didn't totally land for me, but that was only enjoying the prose in small chunks and not due to the missing details.
 
I'm starting Cascade Failure by L M Sagas
This is one I'm still plodding on with, the main plot (about greedy tech barons committing genocide on unprofitable worlds and a hero bunch of misfits trying to stop them) is good and gripping, but the sub plots are so woke!

Fair enough we had the original two starship crew, a grizzled combat veteran who's haunted by his past and his sassy engineer who has her own fighting skills.

But then, in rapid succession, we get two new members - a gene modded guy who can see in the dark and run super fast , together with a very cute girl tech wizard.

Lo and behold, instant gay relationships begin, the two men together and the two women together.
The ships AI is constantly changing it's holo projections. So we have a man some days and a woman on others - always with pink hair.
Pronouns they/them appear, but only when referring to the ship AI.

TBH all these shenanigans are now distracting from the main story, I wanna see more of the bad guys getting shot in the fight scenes, not have a six page discussion about who got who a lavender plant .....yes that really is in this book!

I've read about three quarters through it so I'll plod on and hope the story speeds up again. (It's looking like there'll be sequels because I don't think there's enough book left to wrap events up neatly)
 
Warriorborn: A Cinder Spires Novella by Jim Butcher. Excellent: but like all novellas I've ever read, too short.
With novellas in general, I always end up thinking "Well, I enjoyed that, but it's a shame that it wasn't a full-length novel." I appreciate that sometimes the plot is too slight to carry one, but they always make me think that they're a wasted opportunity.
 
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