writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Review: Elizabeth Hand’s “Generation Loss”

elizabeth hand generation lossSince I had been so comprehensively dazzled by Hand’s Available Dark, it only seemed logical to read her Cass Neary series opener. We have the same principles: reprehensible heroine, near-junkie, photographer, nihilist and “damage” connoisseur who ends up in a grim locale (here: Maine islands in midwinter), encounters bizarre and disturbing locals, and gets to photograph some dead people in insalubrious circumstances. It was a solid novel, alright, and I’d recommend it for photographers and dilettantes of the dark side. For me, though, I think you can only get smitten by an author the once. Sigh. The end.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A few beddy, armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Never try to relive first love
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön; Five Photos of My Wife by Agnès Desarthe

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Review: Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things”

elizabeth gilbert signature of all thingsI was entirely gripped by this novel, and I confess that I had the faith to try another EG because a) Eat, Pray, Love was considerably less offensive than I had feared and b) The Last American Man showed what an excellent writer – and more interesting human – she was than her EPL persona. Plot basics: Alma Whittaker, 19th century female botanist (or bryologist, moss specialist, to be exact), grows up in excessive wealth in Pennsylvania, studies plants on the vast estate, falls in love, exiles herself to Tahiti post-tribulations, sends herself to liberty in Holland, dies old, venerable and respected. Ta-da. Well researched, solidly written, interesting, absorbing. The constellation performance was sublime, as was the Tahitian women’s football game.

But I do have some quibbles with this book. The characters all seem to be types of incomprehensible masks rather than people (e.g., the cowboy/entrepreneur, the selflessly good woman, the angelic aesthete, the classic bluestocking-come-good). The heroine develops to about age 25 and then remains just a framework of herself. The groundbreaking woman in history is a slightly facile chestnut as a plot device. And dammit, she deserved some kind of decent sex-life after absorbing faux-literary porn for so many years.

So, not a perfect novel, but I found it fascinating and I confess that possibly I chose public transport rather than bicycle today because of the reading opportunities of the former (and also because of the ludicrous winds threatening my helmeted self). Recommended.

Where it came from: Work
Time and manner of reading:
Two thorough days of reading in every possible tram, train, walk between tram and train, bath, and shopping centre opportunity
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: Of the various bookmarks: “Too many people turn away from small wonders, I find. There is so much more potency to be found in detail than in generalities, but most souls cannot train themselves to sit still for it.” (p.203)
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of a literary pageturner
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Sven Birkerts’ “The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age”

sven birkerts the gutenberg elegiesThis is a terribly difficult review to write; I am so conflicted by this book. This essay collection was recommended by BE several years ago, and I’ve just coaxed my new library into seeking it out for me. By all rights, I should be enamoured of this curmudgeonly account of the demise of reading and literature due to the influx of digitalia in our world; I myself have espoused those same seething-grumbling views on many an occasion. But I just found this book too ponderous, too self-important. Yes, Birkerts knows books, literature, publishing. Yes, he’s taken good time to evaluate and consider the incursion of metadata into what had been a world governed by type. Yes, I share the basic position of “I love reading, I don’t love computers”. Nary an argument there. But I wanted a more public analysis of the contemporary fate of reading, and less a personal cri de coeur. I write this aware that Birkerts berates the “young” [sic] for the shallow, inattentive reading abilities, their lack of time for complex argument, the shallow pond which serves them as literary history, and therefore aware that my annoyance with this book could exactly represent the modern impatience Birkerts describes. However, the book did make me impatient, and it taught me a great deal about SB’s thinking about reading and very little I couldn’t work out myself about cultural and literary evolution. It is useful, though, that this erudite (if not beautiful) contrarian view has been set out and disseminate, however much it resembles a finger-in-the-dam scenario. Not a book to be taken lightly.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Various days of small, dense samples
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Anna Dusk’s “In-Human”

anna dusk in-humanI bought this out of curiosity: the supernatural genre has been so flooded with sexualised vampires and werewolves and lang-legged beasties that an Australian vernacular narrative of adolescent girls being werewolves could only be interesting. Plus it had full-colour reproductions of paintings as the fold-out cover. And it was unusual, I can certainly give it that, but I didn’t really like it. Teenaged Tassie shazzas being gross and boganly visceral and getting dazzas to “put yer cock in me” in the playground and playing out their teen romance-controversies and rages by eating people, I just didn’t enjoy it. It was grimy without being beautiful. I’m glad the author’s voice is added to the world, though; I’m sure there’ll be others who are ardent fans.

Where it came from: Mega-opshop-books
Time and manner of reading:
Several days of curious but eyebrow-raised samples
Where it went: Opshop
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön; The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts

Review: Merlinda Bobis’ “White Turtle”

merlinda bobis white turtlePurchased because of Bobis’ splendid novel Fish-Hair Woman. I’m not very fond of short stories as a genre – I find them too neat, too writing-school trim to be truly emotive; I also love narrative absorption, which the genre cannot by definition [‘short’] provide. I think this collection is competent enough, interesting in terms of cultural awareness of the Philippines and a Filipina experience in Australia, but I’m not enamoured. If you’re planning to read Bobis, I’d recommend putting your energies into the above novel first.

Where it came from: Mega-opshop-books
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of lie-down reads
Where it went: SJD
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Culturally curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön; The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts; In-Human by Anna Dusk

Review: Kate Summerscale’s “The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water”

kate summerscale the queen of whale cayRequired reading for a bookclub I may or may not be able to make friends with, this biography is quite the ripping yarn. Marion Carstairs, best known as “Joe”, inherited some cool oil millions and did whatever she damn well pleased in life – claimed to have left home at 11, drove an ambulance in WWI, slept with every pretty lady who crossed her path into her 70s (including Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich), raced speed boats to international acclaim, ran her own benevolent imperial dictatorship in the Bahamas, enacted piracy in the islands when her family annoyed her, and did it all accompanied by her faithful homunculus (man-doll) Lord Tod Wadley. Quite the life; amazing what you can do when you’re so rich you’re ranked as “eccentric” rather than “freak”. A pretty good bio, although I was disappointed by the author’s titillation at Carstairs’ life and loves as a classic invert. Recommended.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Evening armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: A reminder of the power of perspective: “As the heady 1920s gave way to the sober 1930s, Carstairs’s verve, independence and experimentation were being interpreted as insalubrious and freakish.” (p.114)
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers dulled by ordinary [sic] lives
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Larissa Lai’s “When Fox is a Thousand”

larissa lai when fox is a thousandHypnotic and provoking. Lai takes Chinese folktales about Foxes (mystical tricksters), blends them with historical accounts of women poets, and leads those stories into the lives of a group of queer Chinese Canadian young women in contemporary Vancouver. It’s a highly sophisticated diaspora novel, questioning identity, race, sexuality and gender in classic 90s fashion, but with genuine and innovative flair. I found the 20-somethings’ dramas a little wearing – thank god for age — but that would be the author successfully reaching her intended audience. A really interesting book, worth chasing down.

Where it came from: Mega opshop book section
Time and manner of reading:
Pre- and post-yoga reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “She was crying with new eyes made of brown glass, beautiful and smooth as polished wood, so perfect that she almost believed she had her own eyes back” (p.193)
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of something curious & modern & gender- and genre-bending
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön