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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :Library:

Review: Graeme Simsion’s “The Rosie Project”

graeme simsion the rosie projectIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a high-on-the-Aspergers-spectrum genetics professor with tenure must be in want of a wife. Don Tillman sets out to get his. He has a questionnaire. Rosie doesn’t match the questionnaire. It’s still Rosie. I enjoyed this book. It made me laugh. I think the Great Performance Revision of the finale was highly improbable, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of days of snigger-out-loud bed, armchair and library reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: The Big Bang Theory
Who I’d recommend it to:
Comedy seekers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley

Review: Lauren Groff’s “Arcadia”

lauren groff arcadiaIn which we follow the fate of Bit, first-born on the back-to-the-land community of Arcadia, through the community’s rise, downfall and afterlife. Transcendent. Has hit me too hard to say anymore.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A few too-tempting samples, then an evening bath-and-bed mission
Where it went: Home, but I need to get myself a copy
Best line of the book: “It seems a give-and-take, you know? Freedom or community, community or freedom. One must decide the way one wants to live. I chose community.” (p.268)
Reminds me of/that: The farm
Who I’d recommend it to:
Dreamers
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: Jesse Blackadder’s “Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica”

jesse blackadder chasing the lightJesse Blackadder’s fictionalised account of the first women to set foot on the Antarctic mainland, fruit of her own journeys there. It’s a competent novel, easy enough to get absorbed by it, the oceangoing scenes are vivid, as is the (anti)whaling panorama. I’m not convinced by it as a “historical” novel, though; I have no sense of either the 1930s or Norwegians in a work entirely peopled by 1930s’ Norwegians, and there was no real distinction of voice between the three female leads. (Who, most disappointingly, got into a catfight partly over a man. Sigh. I’d definitely expect better of a dyke writer than that.) I also couldn’t give a damn about the “who stood where when” shenanigans, which meant the plot’s key tension entirely missed me. Overall, solid and moderately enjoyable but not superlative.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
An exhausted Saturday evening read
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: 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

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: 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: Georgina Harding’s “Painter of Silence”

georgina harding painter of silenceThis is a simply beautiful book: set in 1955 Rumania, dealing with the re-meeting of deaf [see comment below] Augustin and Safta. Augustin is the son of Safta’s family’s former cook; they last saw each other as WWII got underway, on the family estate in the country. After the vagaries of war and Bolshevism, the two are still only able to communicate through silence and drawings. Beautifully expressed, its premise is simple and it’s execution evocative. Very fine, highly recommended.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Bed reads pre- and post-visit
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: [It’s all like one long poem]
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
SJD
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; Moments of Desire edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker