One thing about not being able to go outdoors is that I got rather a lot of reading done, although I had to battle with Mr. Bell for custody of the chair. I tell you what, competition for the chair can be quite vicious, especially when restless cats are involved. At any rate, this weekend I read books 172-176, and I ate a lot of shrimp curry.
Black Swan Green
This book was recommended by Haddock, via Kris, so I guess I have to give both of them credit for the fact that I read it. I have to say, I rather liked it. Something about coming of age novels from England gets me all giddy, and the setting of the 1980s was particularly interesting. Thatcher’s England. The Falklands War.
One thing about the book that I really liked is that each chapter stood alone as its own story. While the chapters did string together, and clearly followed a plot line, they could also be read independently, and I rather dug that. The use of language was also quite interesting; I like how Mitchell played with the concept of the narrator’s stutter, using it as a plot device without being all overt about it, and while I don’t normally like books written in the first person, it worked for Black Swan Green.
This might be one of the better books I’ve read this month, and I have a sense that I will be returning to it at some point in the future. And I’m also going to order the right Cloud Atlas so I can read that, too.
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. Published 2006, 294 pages. Fiction.
I needed some cheesy mystery novels to flesh out my book table, so I grabbed a couple of Kathy Reichs books. There’s not a lot to say about mystery procedurals, except that these are rather interesting because Kathy Reichs is a real live honest to god forensic anthropologist, and that, I think, makes a big difference. There’s a note she strikes that other mystery writers don’t, because they just don’t have the experience. Small details from her career experiences make the books that much more alive and real.
I’m also a fan of Bones, the television series which is very loosely based on Reichs’ books, although it almost seems based more on her career than the books. Pretty much the only consistent thing between the books and the series is the lead character’s name. I think I like the Temperance Brennan of Bones much better than the Temperance Brennan of the books. The book Tempe seems like a bit of a dolt, honestly, running around doing very unbright things.
But it does make me add “forensic anthropologist” to my long list of “careers that would be neat to have someday.”
Monday Mourning, by Kathy Reichs. Published 2004, 305 pages. Fiction.
The revolution is here, argues Chris Carlsson, and he wrote a book to prove it. It’s a pretty neat book, covering all manner of subversive behaviour in communities across the United States, from guerilla gardening to bicycle activism. It’s also a well-researched and interesting history, and while I don’t totally agree with the conclusion that the revolution is underway, it was still an interesting book.
I would argue that instead the book was a fascinating collection of profiles of people on the fringes of society who are trying to make a difference in the best ways they know how. But it’s not revolution until the people rise up as a popular collective. Sure, Nowtopia could be considered inspirational and all, but it’s only going to be read by people who are already engaging in revolutionary activity, so I’m not sure how much it accomplishes, honestly.
In a way, the book really illustrated the huge gulf between the thriving subculture, and the reality of American culture. Yes, people are doing things that are amazingly cool, but how much of a difference does it really make, when the vast majority of Americans aren’t paying attention?
Nowtopia, by Chris Carlsson. Published 2008, 278 pages. Sociology.
The first book in the Temperance Brennan series, and it shows. Deja Dead is clunky, a bit overstuffed, and obviously struggling to find its footing, but it’s not necessarily a bad book. I think it laid solid groundwork for the rest of the series, establishing characters and issues so that they can be developed later. Obviously, it’s highly autobiographical, but there’s no need to view that as a bad thing. After all, Kathy Reichs has a pretty interesting life, and she can’t write about it explicitly for ethical and legal reasons, so why not fictionalize it?
One flaw with these books, I think, is the sense of overwrought tension. Granted, I’ve only read two, and I’m not, you know, chomping at the bit to read the rest of the series, but there does seem to be a sense of constant, stressful tension in the books that makes them a bit unpleasant to read, because it’s like this never-ending barrage. What will happen next? Goodness gracious!
Anyway, for those who haven’t read anything by Reichs, but enjoy reading good procedurals, I would recommend taking a peek at the series.
Deja Dead, by Kathy Reichs. Published 1997, 411 pages. Fiction.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I’ve been working my way through the Harry Potters again on the side, in the midst of reading other books, because the last time I read them all in a row was last summer, right before Deathly Hallows came out. I wrote about the book right after I finished it last year, and now that I’ve read it again, I have a few things to add. I said last year that it was “my favourite,” and I’m going to have to rescind that. I liked Deathly Hallows, but I don’t think it’s the best, because it was poorly edited, and it felt very rushed, and I absolutely loathe the epilogue, which, I believe I have said elsewhere, reads like a piece of fan fiction.
Yes, the story found resolution in Deathly Hallows, but it was also wrapped up almost too neatly, especially courtesy of the epilogue. I like long series that leave you wondering about what’s going to happen to the characters in the coming years of their lives, allowing you to continue building on the story after it ends, and we weren’t given a chance to do that at the end of Deathly Hallows, which was all wrapped up with a neat, tidy bow.
Deathly Hallows certainly confirms my ideas about the weakness of Ron’s character. I know that some people think that Ron redeems himself by returning, in the end, but I think that his actions can’t quite be forgiven that easily, and that’s going to be a wedge in their relationships for the rest of their lives. Yes, coming back is better than never returning, and yes, Ron contributes hugely to the outcome of the story, but the fact that he left at all is always going to be there, in the background, whether or not people like it.
And I thought Harry really developed some spirit and spine, making difficult choices and all. I love the scene where he shames Lupin for abandoning Tonks, while Ron and Hermione don’t seem to understand how passionately Harry feels.
Of course, what the book is really about (what the whole series is about) is the redemption of Snape. And I’m not sure how it is that I can be so hard on Ron when Snape has done much more evil things, but there it is. I respect Snape as a courageous and determined character who tried to atone for what he did, although true atonement can never be reached, and I still maintain that he is the most interesting and complex character in the whole series. Too bad there will be no Snape spinoff.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. Published 2007, 759 pages. Fiction.