Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

For a book I anticipated so much that I pre-ordered it, I took a very long time to finish reading it.  Now, at least half of that is just me and how my brain works, but half of it was certainly with the book.

This book is work to read.  It isn't bad work, or very difficult work, but it is thinky-thing work.  There are still the obstacles from the first book -- the handling of gendered language, for one thing, and the nonspecificity of characters' physical attributes. The main character, Breq, where our point of view lies, doesn't notice these things because they are not necessarily important, either personally or culturally.  For me, this is both fascinating and disconnecting.  So, I have to work around that.  It is good work to do.

There is also the "mystery" of the book, the questions it poses and then attempts to answer.  In the first book, Ancillary Justice, the reader shared ignorance with the main character -- we didn't know what Breq didn't know, and we discovered along with Breq.  This time, however, Breq knows more, but we aren't in on it.  Sometimes that got a bit oppressive for me, and I was frequently trying to catch up.  That was work I didn't enjoy so much, because I felt distracted from what I enjoyed in the first book -- how the world was constructed and how Breq dealt with it.  The conflicts in this book felt a little pulled from the air, although I strongly suspect they connect more to what will happen in the next book.  This book leans in two directions and didn't quite stand up on its own, which, again, I think is not unusual in the middle book of three.

Perhaps that is what made this slower reading -- this is the middle book of three that will tell a complete and complex story, and on this book's shoulders are all the duties of connecting the big events that started things with the big events that will end things.  That's hard work for an author.  I don't think Leckie failed on this -- I see paths, I see connection lines -- but that the particular style that worked to bring Breq to a distinct goal in the first book don't work as well here, but she has to use it because doing otherwise would tear everything apart.  Instead of letting me in on the story, it held me a bit at a distance so as not to "spoil" things.  Leckie also doesn't use the typical "clues" of series books:  very little dropping the events of the past in as references, or standing at some future point looking back to foreshadow other things.  I'm a series reader, so I'm familiar with those tropes. They aren't here, or are subtle, and while I think that is a positive for the trilogy, it creates some problems and I noticed the bumps, which I think slowed my reading.

I did enjoy some of the games Leckie is playing with gender this time, though.  Again, the language creates in the mind of this Western reader the vague idea that the world is peopled only with females, although this isn't actually true (the Penis festival underlined this idea nicely).  One secondary character is depicted as a sexual predator and abuser.  We do not know this character's gender at all, but we know that at least one victim was male or at least distinguished as being a "brother" to another character.  This subtle bit of plot casts shade on the idea that only men are predators and abusers who seek power over others (a typical male role) while not doing a "See?  Women can, too!" thing.  It just batted at the stereotypes, knocked them around, and made me think about them differently.  That's a successful action for a book to create.  Leckie is very good at poking at the stereotypes typical in science fiction without making an issue of her poking.

Of course, I have the next book, Ancillary Mercy, on pre-order.  I also intend to hunt down some of her short fiction (perhaps she has a collection?)  Leckie is well worth reading, even if her writing makes me work.  Maybe because her writing makes me work.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review -- Jack Strong

Jack Strong by Walter Mosley

Long short story or short novella, I'm not sure what should be the technical term.  Too short for me, really.  I got to the end and wanted more.  I can't complain, though.  The e-book was a gift and I enjoyed it.

Well, maybe not "enjoyed".  That's far too vague and mealy a word.  This is a scattered story told by a scattered protagonist, a protagonist who doesn't know what's going on, who or what he is, or why he's going through what he's going through.  Everything is a discovery, even when he "knows" what's happening in the moment, and which of the many people inside him is doing whatever he is doing.

This makes for a complicated reading experience.  I handle books like this by taking my brain out of gear and just riding where the author takes me without being very critical or doing much back-seat driving.  I was lucky that this time, despite the rugged road and the hairpin turns, Mosley is an expert driver who didn't wreck the story.

Yeah, that's a better metaphor.  This was a drive in the dark on a road I didn't know.  I couldn't even make guesses, and that was fun. The real negative was that the ride stopped at some lonely truck stop in the middle of nowhere.  It was certainly a different place than the one where I'd started, and I had an inkling that the ultimate destination would be interesting, but I wasn't there yet.  Part of me wonders if Mosley did this because he intends a series of short stories and part of me wonders if he just ran out of steam with his cool idea.  And there's a teeny bit that can't help sneering and wondering if this was intended to be "Art", that "let the reader..." stuff popular with a lot of young artists who are feeling very clever (more clever than their audience).  I haven't read any other Mosley writing, but that's not his reputation, so maybe that teeny bit is just some rising snark.  I have Blue Light on my wish list and am eying the Easy Rawlings series.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Found Something

Aigh.  Fighting through a cold, reading manga and not finishing anything.  That's ok.  I found something -- someone -- I am enjoying despite blurry eyes and woozy head.

Grant Snider -- Incidental Comics

I'm adding him to my list over there so I don't forget after the germs are evicted.  Germs can carry stuff away with them like looting invaders.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Drug & Drop V1 (Manga)

Drug & Drop V1 by CLAMP

I went through my manga phase about 6 years ago, and among my favorites (in fact, I'd say my absolute favorite) was Legal Drug, a CLAMP Manga published by the now defunct Tokyo Pop, that, unfortunately, stopped before it was finished as the creators concentrated on other projects.  It languished for years, and while I was able to read one or two issues that weren't released in the US online, it just wasn't the same.  I figured it was my curse come into another medium (the curse that dictates any TV show I really love will be canceled before it is finished -- if the show is very popular and I stop watching, it might wobble, suffer scheduling changes, drift around, and generally have problems, but it might survive.  Most do not.  That's a different post.)

However, at long last the manga continues.  I've awaited this issue of the new version for months and I devoured it upon arrival in my mailbox.

I haven't quite figured out why I enjoy this particular story so much.  Yes, pretty, pretty boys and lots of suggested homoeroticism (yaoi goodness) but that isn't really the big point of reading these.  The art is beautiful, as is usual with a CLAMP title, but I've resisted a lot of their more popular stories.  I just like this one -- the mystery of the story, the tiny drops of information, the "saying things without saying things", the resistance the characters have to the ties that bind them together -- that's got me snagged.  I've sampled a lot of manga that just didn't catch me like this one has.

I'm excited that another edition of the story will be showing up in May (yes, I pre-order) and I have high hopes that CLAMP will give this story the full execution and proper ending it deserves.  If they could haul Tokyo Babylon to its end (a title I didn't enjoy nearly as much and, in fact, found pretty frustrating), certainly they can do it with this much superior story.

This title also fulfills three of the Book Riot challenges I took:

  •  a book that takes place in Asia
  •  a book originally written in a different language
  •  a graphic novel/comic collection.

My copies of Legal Drug are in storage, but I just found an Omnibus ebook edition which I will pick up so I can re-read the original story without digging through boxes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

My first book of 2015 was a book about books.  I have several such books in my library now.  The "book about books" is becoming a favorite genre of mine.

This is also an autobiography of sorts, since the author includes all manner of detail about his life, his past, and his imagined future, since books are tightly entwined with his life -- much the way books are entwined in the life of any enthusiastic reader.  The books we read shape us, and our lives shape our experience and memory of the books.

The first book Miller records reading is one with which I am familiar: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.  He seems to be as fascinated and confused as I was (and still am) about this Russian classic, not quite getting all the jokes and pokes but getting something from it nevertheless.  Miller spares us deep, insightful analysis of what he reads and instead gifts us with something a bit more concrete -- how what he reads, and the very act of reading, affects his life. I found myself identifying quite a bit with Mr. Miller, especially with the difficulties he faced in just managing to read, to keep his mind concentrated, to find time, and to avoid all the many distractions available.  Like I am attempting, he kept for a while a blog about his reading, but he found that keeping up with the blog was detracting from his reading, even preventing him from fully grasping the book. (I don't think I'll have this problem, as my whole purpose in keeping a blog is mostly to talk to myself while allowing other people a peek into my head and a chance to converse if so moved.)

He also spends some time discussing and dealing with the huge "library" that is the Internet, and everything that is available via means legal and illegal.  I had one takeaway quote that I think is worth remembering and perhaps making into a quote poster:

The Internet is the greatest library in the universe: unfortunately someone has removed all the "no talking" signs.

If there is a single biggest block to my reading, it would be the Internet.  However, I'm trying to use it to make myself read.  I'm making myself publicly accountable and even getting friends interested and involved in my reading.  A sprinkling of guilt might be the encouragement I need to keep this up.

As is true of any book about books, Miller includes book lists.  Three, in fact, listing books he read, books that have influenced him, and books he intends to read.  I'll say that I find him hugely ambitious, but he has given me a reason to attempt some Tolstoy, among other members of the Great Western Canon..  War and Peace might one day sneak onto my reading list, although I'm holding out against Moby Dick.

CHALLENGE MET: Read A biography/autobiography by someone I don't know

Monday, January 05, 2015

Will You Take the Challenge?

Jammies at Curmudgeonette posted about BOOK RIOT on our favorite social media network.  I took a look and decided I like the idea of "reading harder".  So, I went through the list of challenges and picked out some I would accept for myself.  My goal is to find books that meet these challenges from among those I have lining those 10 shelves in my office.  So, this year I will read

  • A book written by someone under the age of 25
  • A book written by someone over the age of 65
  • A collection of short stories
  • A book published by an indie press
  • A book that takes place in Asia
  • A book by an author from Africa
  • A book by or about someone from an indigenous culture
  • A microhistory
  • A YA novel
  • An SF novel
  • A Romance novel
  • A National Book Award/Man Booker Prize/Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade (2000-2010)
  • A retelling of a Classic tale
  • A book originally written in a different language
  • A graphic novel or comics collection
  • A guilty pleasure
  • A book published before 1850
  • A book published this year (2015)
  • A self-improvement book
I've added a couple of challenges myself
  • A biography/autobiography by someone I don't know
  • A book by or about an LGBTQ person
  • A book by a person of color
  • A book with a person of color as the main character
Some of the books I read I think will fall under more than one challenge. 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Purely Wishful Thinking

I do have a lot of books.  A lot of this is because, yes, I just love books and I see all kinds of books I want to read.  The last 3 or 4 years, though, due to The Crazy, reading has been well nigh impossible.  In part it is because I now need glasses to read comfortably (depending on the book -- typeface makes all the difference) and in part it is because my brain won't settle down to the activity of reading.  Each year I'd make promises to read books and each year it would be just too hard to read much.

I think I'm over that now, or I am at least relearning how to read.  Plenty of distractions exist, of course, and I'm not out of the woods as far as being easily distractible, but I'm working on it.

I've finished sorting and shelving books now.  I'm down to the bottom two shelves which are, frankly, books I'm not likely to read this year, but I could very easily pull one out and read it (in fact, there are 5 down there I MUST pull out and read because they aren't mine, but so far...)  Reading is, in fact, something of a mood influenced activity for me.  I can intend to read a particular book all I want, but if my brain, my mood, my energy level, my chakras, my stars, and my aura aren't all lined up properly, it won't work.  I will wander off.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Yet More Ambitions aka Wishful Thinking

The purging and rearranging of the shelves continues because it's still raining outside and I slept much too late, so I have limited ambitions.

This shelf -- shelf #3 -- is of books that, yeah, sure, I do want to read them but this year looks dodgy.  Of course, I MIGHT read a couple of them.  It's POSSIBLE.  But it isn't likely.  Still, they are on the shelf.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Bigger Ambitions

I'm very ambitious when it comes to reading.  I rarely fulfill my ambitions, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the possibilities.  Since I'm scouring and cleaning and organizing my shelves this week, I am thinking about all the reading I'd like to do.  I've set up a shelf of books I am determined to read this year.

But I have so many, many, MANY books...and so I created a shelf of books I'd  like to read this year, if I get a chance.  You know, because it's not impossible to read  a lot of books in a year if I just put my mind to it and all.

Really, I feel as if I am relearning how to read -- not the letters and the words, but the actual technique of setting aside time and attention to open a book and read.  Something I did compulsively for much of my life became very difficult in the last few years, and it's as if I have to retrain myself how to do it.

Like I said, I'm ambitious.

Movie Experience: Into the Woods

I haven't seen the stage production.  In fact, I was barely aware of it, as I stopped really being aware of stage musicals  in about 1985 when I no longer was involved in theatre.   I walked in without much information or many preconceptions, knowing only that Meryl Streep was in it and I had earplugs to keep the sound system from deafening me.

I don't think I'm spoiling the plot for this 30 year old play if I say it shakes up and examines many themes while interweaving and deconstructing traditional "fairy tales" -- Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and innumerable stories about childless couples willing to do anything to have a baby. Deconstructing? unraveling.  Every happy ending falls apart once we get past the "end" of the story.  Characters die, disaster strikes, true love falls apart, and no one really gets what they wished for.

In short, I cried a lot, quietly and unexpectedly, as Sondheim's music and Rob Marshall's unrelenting closeups tapdanced across my emotional buttons in the most graceful way.  This being a Disney production, some of the creepier and darker stuff (I'm looking at you, Big Bad Wolf, and I've studied these old tales, so I know what the story is really about) is off screen.  That didn't make it any less painful, because, really, the pain of death isn't with the dead, but with the living who must continue.  That was the wrenching part for me -- those who have to continue.

The Husband was also crying, which isn't typical for him (I weep my way through many a movie that doesn't bother him at all).  In fact, he continued crying even after we walked back to the car, and we were both laughing at the same time because he was crying.  It was quite the catharsis.

All that said, I'm not sure I liked the movie. It had a few chuckles and one big (uncertain) laugh with the song "Agony".  We had a small crowd to watch the movie and when the song started, with the two princes hamming it up exuberantly, no one was quite sure if we should laugh.  I couldn't help myself and burst out.  But that was really the only laugh.  The rest was much more grim.  The film was beautiful, the acting spot on, the singing remarkably good (I had no idea Chris Pine had those pipes, much less Meryl Streep, although I am convinced she can do anything.)  The Husband and I cannot make up our minds if we would want to watch this one again, despite the beautiful music.  I didn't exactly enjoy the experience, although I doubt I will forget it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Reading Ambition Shelf

I've spent today sorting and moving books and putting together a single shelf with the books I hope to read in the coming year.  

More books

I'm still combing through my shelves and picking out books to read.  I found more Books with a Marker in them.  I am really _terrible_ about starting a book and then starting another book and then another book...yet not going back to finish!  So, to expand the list...

Batman and Psychology by Travis Langley.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (the spider-thingies at the beginning just skeeved me right out)
Thin Air (Weather Warden books) by Rachel Caine
Small Favor (Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher (I really need to catch up on this series, and now enough books are out that I won't have to wait!)

And I found another book to add to the New Books list as well.
Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
On Ugliness, edited by Umberto Eco

So, I may be curling up with a book tonight!