Recent Reads

  • Recent Reads

    Recent Reads: Strong Female Protagonist Vols 1 & 2

    Recent Reads: Strong Female Protagonist (Vols 1 & 2)

    I got volume 2 of SFP for Christmas, which totally surprised me, even though months ago (perhaps longer) Ted had said to me, “SFP Kickstarter! Should I? It won’t be out until December!” and I said, “Oh, yes! It can be a nice Christmas present for me!” And it was! A very surprising one! :)

    I re-read the first one leading up to v2, as it had been a while. One of the things I enjoy about sort of…early career comics? is watching the art style develop. (This is why I ended up reading Questionable Content, and why it makes me want to do SOME kind of little web comic of my own…) SFP’s art is still pretty rough at the end of v1, but it’s matured a *lot* by the end of v2, so that was kind of fun and exciting to watch.

    To be frank, I liked the story of v1 better. V2, *especially* the first half, felt very didactic to me, and specifically didactic toward an audience that I presume is already predisposed to agree with its thesis. Very much a case of “the people who most need to read this probably won’t,” although, I don’t know, perhaps–hopefully–it is in fact reaching people for whom its thoughts are important and revelatory.

    That said, halfway through v2 there’s a marked improvement. Honestly, v2 feels like v2 & v3, but left on its own the first half is *so* lecture-y I can’t imagine many people picking up a third volume voluntarily. They wisely avoided that problem by making it all one book, and the second half was quite enjoyable, especially the philosophical arguments chapter, which I enjoyed enormously both in content and in structure (I can’t remember which philosopher’s strategy they employed, but I recognized it as a philosophical structure and was ridiculously pleased with them).

    Overall I…I appreciate what they’re trying to do. They’re taking the idea I played with in Take A Chance, which is: “what if superheroes were real, how would they deal with actually functioning in the real world?” and have pushed it much, much farther than I was interested in doing. They’re tackling a lot of big ideas and trying to push a narrative that tells us, simply, that we can be heroes. All of us. And I love that. I love what they’re aiming for, and so although I feel that they stumbled somewhat in implementation with volume 2, they’re offering an inspiring message that I believe strongly in. Ultimately, I look forward to more.

  • Recent Reads

    Recent Reads: A WRINKLE IN TIME

    Having cried all over the WRINKLE IN TIME trailer, I thought I’d better re-read the book immediately to get a proper feeling for it again. It’d been at least twenty, possibly thirty, years since I’d read it, and…

    …it’s kind of equally weirder and more mundane than I remember it.

    I was prepared for, although somewhat exasperated by regardless, the Christian allusions; whenever I last re-read L’Engle, I was adult enough to notice her books are really laced with Christianity, so I knew that was going to be there. The story itself is actually a lot more straight-forward than I remember it being; possibly I’ve conflated the other books with it, or maybe it’s just that the weird bits are SO STRANGE that I thought the story structure had to be a lot more complicated than it really is.

    It’s not, from a modern storytelling perspective, especially well told. It takes about four chapters to really get going, and it’s only a 12 chapter book. There’s a lot of telling, but not much in the way of showing in terms of…*why*. Meg is not, to the adult modern reader, particularly sympathetic: she doesn’t fit in at school, she’s angry in general and specifically very defensive about her father’s absence, and is apparently some particular kind of dumb that excludes being spectacularly good at math. That dumbness may be meant to indicate she’s socially inept, but although that certainly appears to be true, it doesn’t seem to be what’s really going on.

    But that…dumbness…whatever it is…is crucial through the whole book. Meg doesn’t tesseract as well as the others. Meg is more vulnerable to the Darkness than the others. Meg won’t understand if you explain the thing…but I never understood why. (I’m not sure I understood as a kid, either, but it didn’t matter as much to me then.) And it’s apparently not something that came on simply because Mr Murry disappeared, because even he comments on it, and had done so before his disappearance, so you can’t lay her anger/ineptitude at the feet of her father’s disappearance.

    And, just as much as Meg’s lack is not explained, neither are Calvin and Charles Wallace’s aptitude. Calvin communicates well; well, okay, that’s fine, but why does it make it easier for him to tesseract? Charles Wallace is, as far as I can tell, not even actually human, and Calvin, who does not come from the Murry family at all, is apparently More Like Charles than Meg is. But I don’t know what they are, or why they are, or why they’re the special ones and our heroine isn’t (well, that last one is institutionalized sexism, but let’s move past that). I remember *loving* Charles Wallace (and crushing terribly on Calvin), but I find him fairly creepy now, and that’s as the parent of an extremely self-assured little kid who, like Charles Wallace, is quite certain he’s able to Do It His Way without listening to the wisdom, or at least the experience, of his elders.

    The one thing that maybe felt the most true to me in the whole book was Meg coming around to being the one who can save Charles Wallace. She wanted someone else–her father, specifically, but ANYBODY ELSE–to have to do the hard work. She was terrified and resentful of having to do it herself (and possibly that’s what the aforementioned “dumbness” is, since everybody keeps saying If you’d only apply yourself, Meg,, but that still doesn’t explain why she doesn’t tesseract as well, etc), and that seems very appropriate to a 13 year old to me. To people a lot older than 13, too, for that matter. But it comes in the 11th hourchapter, and her willingness to go on there is the only time in the book that she moves forward of her own volition. I’m not saying that isn’t fairly realistic, maybe, for a young teen, but in terms of making a dynamic book, it…doesn’t, really.

    There are parts of the book that remain wonderful. The Mrs W are still splendid; Camazotz (which I always read, name-wise, as being what happens when Camelot goes terribly wrong) is still EXTREMELY CREEPY, and the thrumming presence of IT remains startlingly effective. Aunt Beast is wonderful. (So basically: the aliens work a lot better for me than the humans do.)

    It doesn’t feel like a book that could get published now. It would need more depth; it felt shallow to me. A lot of its weirdness seems to me like it came very specifically out of the 50s and early 60s; I don’t think that book would, or perhaps *could*, be written now. It’s very internal in a lot of ways, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the film adapts the weirdness and the internalness and Meg’s basic lack of agency into an accessible story. My *feeling* is that they’re going to do a magnificent job of it, that it’s going to be one of those cases like Frankenstein or Jeckell & Hyde where the book’s conceptual foundation proves more powerful in film than it does on the page. I hope so!

    But you know what I really wanted to do when I finished reading A WRINKLE IN TIME? I wanted to re-read Diane Duane’s SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD, because I felt like the Young Wizards books use A WRINKLE IN TIME as a conceptual springboard and dove off into something that worked a lot better as a *story*.

    So I guess I know what’s up next (or soon, anyway) on the Catie’s Re-Reads list. :)

  • Recent Reads

    Recent Reads: The Expanse

    We watched The Expanse late last year, & liked it a lot, so I got Ted LEVIATHAN WAKES, the first book in the series the tv show is adapted from, for Christmas. He read it & liked it & said I had to read it, so I did a couple days ago.

    It was very good. It also happens to be one of the best adaptations from book to screen I’ve ever encountered, which is unusual and appealing. Anyway, having finished it I immediately started the second book, CALIBAN’S WAR, which Ted has not yet read.

    LEVIATHAN is a good book. CALIBAN is a terrific one. It made me laugh out loud repeatedly, and there were lines I stopped to read to Ted. There was a thing from the last book that hadn’t been addressed, and I was muttering about it, and Ted said “Maybe it’ll come up later,” and I said, “I’m on page 342 and it hasn’t been addressed yet, I don’t think it’s going to be.”

    In the middle of page 343 it was addressed. :)

    “Oh no!” I aid, and started laughing. “A new element?” said Ted. “Holden!” I said. “There must be a law, like Murphy’s Law. Any bad choice you can make, Holden will make. Holden’s Law.”

    And then reading the last several chapters went like this:

    Me, involuntarily: Fuck!
    A few pages later: Hah! HAH HAH!
    And a few pages later still: Oh, shit! Shit shit shit!

    Ted: DO YOU MIND?
    Me: NOT AT ALL

    I can’t wait to read the next one. GOOD BOOKS YO.

  • Recent Reads

    To Be Read Shelf, 2017

    I’m pretty sure I’ve gone over to the dark side. I’m looking at my TBR shelf and thinking “the only way I’m going to read half of these is if I get the ebook.” My last…several…book purchases have been e-books, with the exception of one that’s on its way that wasn’t available to me in e-book (and which I have the first book in print and signed), and I’ve replaced a few with e-books at this point. And there are several more on this list that, realistically, if I’m gonna read them, it’ll be by replacing them in e-format.

    I’m starting, honestly, to have the horrible feeling that my TBR shelf is more of a Never TBR Shelf. I’m finding that if I don’t read something pretty much immediately on purchase, it goes on the shelf and becomes…well, something of a burden, at this stage. And the lovely thing about the e-books is I can put together a wishlist and go buy something from it when I have a moment to read, and then bam, I’m reading it and all is copacetic. Furthermore, if there’s a sequel available, I then tend to buy them up on e-book and read them while my enthusiasm is still hot. So…yeah. I think I’ve gone to the dark side.

    Last year the goal was to read all the books on the TBR shelf and anything left at the end of the year was going to the used bookstore unread, but last year sucked and I’m not holding myself to that line. I may give it another go this year, especially as I’m starting to realize an awful lot of the books on these shelves aren’t actually *mine*. I should, frankly, be able to get through the 20 or so fiction books on my physical shelf without straining myself too much this year.

    The non-fiction shelf needs some active effort as well as updating. I suspect there, as well, that e-books would be read more quickly, but I’d…have to really change my habits to buy history books in e-format, so I’ll just try to work with what I’ve got right now. (Mneh. I see I could replace Ben Wilson’s DECENCY & DISORDER with an e-book, which is…extremely tempting, because a significant part of the reason I haven’t continued reading that is it’s a big fat book with small leding and margins which makes it physically difficult to read. And that’s not just because my eyes are getting older, as I’ve had the book for several years now and it’s only in the past year my focus point has changed! It’s just not a well designed book….)

    I need to make a graphic novels list, too, just to remind myself there’s stuff I haven’t yet read.

  • Recent Reads

    Recent Reads: The Tiger & the Wolf

    I *have* others of Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s books (one may even be signed), but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any of them because my TBR shelf is a disaster, and then the book club I nominally go to here was reading THE TIGER & THE WOLF so I got it and started it and no that’s not true

    I played it cagey, ladies and gentlemen. I used the preview option on my Kobo and got THAT, and it suggested I had like 80 pages of preview to read and I was like “awesome” and I got to like page 39 and SUDDENLY THERE WAS NO MORE BOOK

    well, THAT was awful, so I immediately bought the book and read the rest of it!

    Honestly, by page 40 I was already in despair over the intelligence and originality of the worldbuilding, and by page 100 I’d concluded I should probably never try to write anything epic again because I was just never going to come up with something as cool and well constructed and fresh as this and I needed a pit with a pony to console myself.

    In Tchaikovsky’s world, true people have animal forms and souls as well as their human forms and souls. Maniye, daughter of the Tiger *and* the Wolf, is supposed to choose between her two animal souls, while Asmander, conflicted son of another tribe, comes to ask the Wolf clan for assistance from their legendary warriors. Hijinks, to summarize wildly, ensue.

    The plot is, I’m afraid, literally circular. There are a lot of chases around the top of the world where the Wolf tribe rules. There are a lot of captures and escapes. And on one level that’s all that happens, and I admit by the third or forth iteration I had grown a little weary of it. There were Big Plot Twists that I predicted very early compared to their eventual reveals, although I’m not certain they were so much Obviously Telegraphed as I’m just pretty good at figuring those out.

    But despite those flaws, the book really did keep me going. I was drawn into the relationships, which grew increasingly complex as the book went on. As is not uncommon in epic fantasy (for me, at least), the secondary characters were my favourites, but I was absolutely invested in Maniye’s journey, which I thought was a really solid coming of age story. In fact, I found out htree days after finishing THE TIGER AND THE WOLF that its sequel, THE BEAR AND THE SERPENT, was coming out this month, and I promptly went and broke my Very Important Unbreakable Rule about not buying e-books that cost more than €9.99, because, uh, I wanted the next book, and that Very Important Unbreakable Rule only applies when I want it to. :)

    (I have no idea what the book club thought of the book, though, because although I finished it in time, there was a political rally in Dublin the night of the book club, and since I was in Dublin that day, anyway, well… :))

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