|Renay (renay) wrote,|
@ 2008-09-04 04:35 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||books, let's get literate! 2008|
Other goals included:
1. Write! (fail)
2. Don't stress about work! (extra fail)
3. Don't think about Paper Towns or you'll overhype it! (colosal amounts of fail)
At least I'm on top with the reading! Sweet. I just fail at reviewing, but unlike last year, I will not fail my resolution! I will just, um, write less (sort of). As always, I welcome direct questions filled with spoilers and possible epic discussions!
97. A Game of Thrones, G.R.R. Martin
98. The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer: I liked the idea of a story of a human clone who finds his identity in a world that is aggressive in theory more than I liked it in the book. My problem with this story is that it has a terrible poker face. It gave away all the good bits in the telling of it, elements of Matt's journey I felt that would have been better unstated, that get highlighted and circled three times: the truth about Matt's childhood, feelings concerning Tam Lin (and I know I'm missing a reference here). Although I did like Matt, even when he was being an asshole teenager—maybe especially when he was being an asshole teenager, because his cruelty was the direct opposite of El Patron's.
The book felt uneven in the end, and I almost lost interest in the Lost Boys section—it was really bloated world-building. My biggest problem is that it didn't seem to address the philosophical implications it introduced, even after Matt learned the truth. It leaves them by the wayside for more tangible issues of politics as Matt trades one type of exploitation for another. I read it as a commentary on God, as well as on identity and both these things were dropped in favor of anti-communist issues. Probably a good softball introduction to this type of science fiction, though. SF/F-lite with no funny aftertaste.
99. Wicked Lovely, Melissa Marr: I liked this better than Tithe! I was surprised, considering all the comparisons I heard. Generally, I found the plot more accessible, the pacing less schizophrenia, the romance better, and the entire package more entertaining. The one thing I did tire of was Seth constantly sheltering Aislinn in his arms in some way. Is this the only way to show he cared? Really?
Instead of all the fairy politics being predictable and boring with no undertones to the struggles at all, the fairy politics were predictable and fun, which might be a weird distinction (like we don't all know from 1/4 through the book how it's going to end) but the journey is half of it. Tithe was darker, though, meaner, and maybe I'm not up for that kind of fairy fiction yet. I probably should have started with Wicked Lovely first, which reads like a delicious snack. It won a RITA, too, so I'm not alone here in enjoying it, but it won for the romance, which for me was the weakest part because it was a boat load of telling. Romance is not a dude reeling a girl in at every opportunity.
100. Bloom, Elizabeth Scott: The problem with this book for me is that it describes a character I really can't identify with at all, so while I understand it and the story makes sense, it didn't mean anything to me. I was never this girl, I was the boy the girl was dating (without the faith issue). The book shows how these triangles can so easily get out of hand and how easy it is to justify sneaking around and lying, but this sort of dishonesty is pretty lousy, and at the end of the book I don't think anyone guilty of being a douche really had to pay for it. I wasn't sure of the message? It's okay; we all make mistakes like this? You lied; fix it and move on? But where are the consequences of all the lying? Even the best friend blames herself, and I won't even get started about how from the very beginning of the book Lauren pissed me off with how she thought about and considered her friends—how she lied to them through omission. She was just a very unlikeable narrator who didn't become likable until she owned up to her behavior. This is probably the point and Scott meant to make her just a little unlikable, but not enough we won't want to know if being with Evan changes her for the better (I think it will). I can't decide if I've been manipulated just like Lauren manipulated all her friends in an attempt to put off figuring herself out and facing her issues.
101. Living Dead Girl, Elizabeth Scott: Alice is taken by Ray at ten years old from a class trip to the aquarium. Her old life is lost. She's taken to a world of sex slavery. I worry about dancing around the subject because this book—it's about sex and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. Too often these topics aren't broached at all, because people are too scared to bring them up, use the word, and doing that does this book a disservice. This is a book about sex as a tool to control, about sex as power, about sex as something that makes women evil, about sex as a punishment, and the terrifying reality of how sex abusers really see themselves when they have sex with young girls. It's frank; it's horrifying, and everything not said explicitly is between the lines in the imagery. Worse than Alice losing her childhood and five years to a monster, is instead of that monster simply using her he desires to turn her into what he is by charging her with finding her replacement. The little girl to take Alice's place—to fill the tiny clothes and bed that Alice has long since outgrown.
This story is fascinating in its implications. I have read quite a few books about sexual abuse in the past year, but none of them seem to touch on the one thing I would like explored: victim blaming. Living Dead Girl pulls this and so many other interesting questions out into the light: is it enough to lecture about strangers? Is it enough to teach kids their address? Will anything, ever, be enough?
Ray is both evil and yet sympathetic at the same time; at least, this is how I read him. He's caught in a cycle he doesn't want to escape, so broken he continues to break others. His humanity is taken away and that's what makes him all the more terrifying. The sign of a good villain is when I have to put the book down because he scares the beejesus out of me, but can't leave it alone because I need to know the outcome. Hope—we never stop looking for it. Hope is a double-edge sword that can be easily used to control. Such is the life Alice leads.
I have already read reviews of this book—mostly at Amazon, no surprise there—that indulge in a subtle form of victim blaming: "silly girl, why didn't you just run away! run away from him!"
This response should be challenged. It's never that simple; asking any abuse victim a question that begins, "why didn't you...?" is the equivalent of placing the responsibility for the abuse on them. You should have done this, it says. Why didn't you do this and save yourself all your pain and suffering. It doesn't add up; there's nothing on the other side of the equal sign, because in abusive relationships, there is no equality.
There is fear and pain and a life lived on the edge of the mood of the abuser. Equality is a type of freedom. There was little freedom in the majority of this book and the freedoms there were amounted to small things we would scoff at otherwise, so lucky, we don't know what we have. Except with Alice, we can revel with her over her tiny freedoms she finds even as we ache for her and want her to have more.
This book brings victim blaming to the surface in the most brilliant way possible. It's a conversation we need to have, because if we read and ask, "why didn't you just run away?" and leave it at that, leave that emotion, that question by the wayside, we are ignoring that in our society, there is the very real problem of female sexual abuse victims being blamed for their experiences—it can be seen in rape victims and in the kids growing up after sexual abuse by family members. It's a problem and this story—the story Alice tells us—opens a door to explain why logical solutions simply can't apply to illogical situations and all too real monsters.
I've read other books by Scott; I am impressed! jealous! awed! with her range and her skill with different kinds of narratives. This one is an absolute win and has cemented her in my pantheon of authors I will follow as long as they desire to publish (and I'm fairly sure I had already sneaked in the cement trunk after Perfect You, anyway, so I am ahead of the game).
102. Dreamland, Sarah Dessen: The thing I find fascinating about Dessen's novels is that under the surface, most of them are about family. How family shapes us, how family changes us, what the absence of family means for our futures. It's not hard to follow where the novel goes, although I was curious as to whether or not Caitlin was manipulated into the position she finds herself. Rogerson is for Caitlin a path towards reinvention, a way out from beind the shadow Cass left behind when she ran away, but the farther I got into the book after reading the pivotal moment of their relatiobship, the more I felt that Caitlin was probably an unreliable narrator even before Rogerson changed her life. It's kept me chewing on it for a few weeks, whether or not what I took from it was the truth—that most people that want to hurt us have the ability to reel us in when we would be the most pliant, easy for them to shape. It's a pretty stark look at teenage relationships of this type, more disturbing for me because I can look back and see girls (and guys) I went to school with following the same behavior patterns Caitlin does in this story. Troubling.
1. Peter Klaus the Goatherd: This was a German folktale about a goatherd, who takes his flock (is it a flock or goats? or is that just for sheep?) into the mountains, and he falls asleep. When he wakes, the world has moved on and he returns home to find one daughter grown with children. I don't know what the message of the folk tale is supposed to be besides "don't drink on the job!" and "don't trust people who bowl! especially knights!" but like most folk tales it peters out and then just ends. I read it so I could read Rip Van Winkle and was left bemused. Something was lost in translation.
2. Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving: Oh, Irving, you crazy fanfiction writer! What's the difference between plagiarism and fanfiction? Van Winkle is the Dutch version of Peter Klaus, but there are a lot of differences. For one, when Irving adapted the folk tale to an American landscape and culture, he added some things. Rip Van Winkle, unlike Peter Klaus, really does no work at all for himself and his own family. A huge chunk of the story is discussing what a nagging bitch his wife is, and how she routinely embarrasses and harasses him and his poor dog. Van Winkle eventually goes up into the mountain where he gets drunk with some spirits, just like Peter Klaus did (those tricky ghosts) and returns to find his town changed, King George evicted, his family gone—except for his son, who is basically the town lazy ass. The good news for Winkle is that his dutiful daughter takes him in and allows him to live for free and also, his nagging wife is dead.
I am sort of boggled at this story. When Irving adapted it, he made Van Winkle the opposite of a worker, unlike Peter Klaus. The parts about a nagging wife were absolutely his invention, and her sheer unpleasantness is what drove him into the Catskills in the first place. The most interesting part that's really not even explored is his return to a town that's part of a new country, divorced from the king he knew when he left. So what's Irving saying about the quest for identity with his foray into fanfiction? Hell if I know; I'm too boggled by the anti-woman vibe I get from this oh-so-classic American short story to try to figure it out.
3. Peter Rugg, the Missing Man, William Austin: The Missing Man is supernatural story about a man tossed into purgatory of constant journey home after challenging nature. It can said to be an American short story, but it does the same thing Irving attempted in Rip Van Winkle—it applies previous folklore to the American landscape. Austin delved into the sea and adapted The Flying Dutchman (other folk tales might also apply, but I'm not familiar with them). However, this story is framed by a man trying to solve the mystery of Peter Rugg; it's interesting as a opposed to a completely creepy and totally copied "wives are good for nothing but nagging and misery" story. Lesson: nature can kick your ass.
103. Old Man's War, John Scalzi (re-read)
104. The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi: This is a sequel to Old Man's War, but it's not about John Perry. That disappointed me for a little while, but as the story continues and we get to see more of the universe Scalzi only hinted at during OMW, I was able to forgive it. For me, Jared seemed to be the exact opposite of John—things didn't really come easy to him on relating to people, even though he spent a lot of time hanging out in the heads of various team members. To make up for the lack of John, there's Jane (what's with all the J's? Really.) and I love Jane like burning. The plot is pretty standard—it's easy to figure out what's going to happen and how it's going to happen, but I really didn't expect the twist at the end. It's a very pretty set up for The Last Colony, and is, like Old Man's War, so readable it's addictive. I know in a lot of ways Scalzi really isn't breaking major new ground with this series, but it's just so damn interesting the way he structures and writes it. He's a master at pacing.
105. The Last Colony, John Scalzi: Returning to John's story, we find him and Jane and Zoe as part of a human colony, retired from military service but about to be called into action again for leadership of another colony—Roanoke—made up of colonists from other colonies rather than colonists from Earth. I had no clue what to expect from this title, and I have to say it was harder to get into than the other two. I just wasn't sure about it—I read these books for stories about epic space adventures, not life as settlers. Thankfully, there was epic adventure, and politics (oh, where there politics) and John being his charming self (I really did miss him a lot). At the end, I wondered about how deus ex machina things were going to get, but the beautiful thing about the ending here is that Scalzi wrote another book—Zoe's Tale—that fleshes out the bits of the story that seem suspect. Even then, all the elements that make the end of this plausible are in the other books—Old Man's War in particular. It's hard to make the argument for the resolution here being anything but really excellent plotting even though my brain wanted to try.? I am really depressed that the novels are over. I will have to find all the short stories for this universe.
106. Becoming Chloe, Catherine Ryan Hyde: This book was at once incredibly depressing and also incredibly heartening. The story is very coincidental and at times so depressing I had to put it down. However, this book is full of something I love; families of choice. Jordan and Chloe are totally mismatched, as broken as they are, but the people they meet as they cross the country do a good job of keeping the plot moving and not getting preachy. The end might not be exactly surprising and there was one section in the middle I felt was trying too hard to get a message across instead of tell a good story. Besides all the excessive serendipity and darkness that annoyed or alarmed me, this was a really great story.
107. This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen: I don't think the theme of this book is as strong as Dessen's others. It coes through without being stated, of course—Remy and her boyfriend list—but it has to struggle. It's fighting to breathe and I'm not used to Dessen's narratives being like this. They are tight and well-structured, but they also have all this space. It was like the main theme was being suffocated until the last few sections of the book. Once again it's about family, but a different kind—merged families and how they work and don't. I can't decide whether I'm surprised at the outcome of the marriage or annoyed for the mother being so passive about, well, everything. Also, Dexter reminded me of Wes from The Truth About Forever—in large part, flat, not really there in a lot of ways, except as someone taking up space in Remy's life. I didn't care about him until the end either, not long enough for me to feel much of a relief from the story's resolution. I was spoiled in advance for this book, too—because there are so many references to this world Dessen is building, it's hard to read older novels without knowing what happens because you've heard the stories in others. It's not my favorite Dessen novel (although it's good, so-so Dessen still is). I'm starting to wonder if anything will ever top Just Listen.
108. From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up, Ted Gideonse & Robert Williams: I really don't know how to feel about this book. There's a definite generation gap between the gay men I know and the gay men writing these reflections. In large part, these stories are told before the 1980's (or early 80s, possibly). What a difference a few decades make, although the themes of fear and uncertainty still ring true—I know plenty of friends who dealt with the same issues in similar ways. There are happy stories but also heart-breaking ones, made worse by the fact that for the most part, they're true (I suspect most real-life stories or memoirs are embellished). The one that was worst for me was the story about the little boy who, as a kindergartner, idolized a sixth grader, resulting in that sixth grader enduring a lot of abuse from the community and his friends. The good news is that stories about growing up with a different sexuality will get better as we grow as a culture and move away from a lot of the hatred that surrounds the things we don't know about. This collection goes a long way to showing that growing up—gay or straight—is a shitty deal, and is only redeemed by the fact that we eventually get to leave it behind and grow away from all the restrictions placed on us by parents or community.
The part that annoyed me the most about this book was that a lot of the men could not tell a story to save their lives (really, not at all) and it can get depressing if read without breaks. Otherwise, it was pretty good.
109. Coraline, Neil Gaiman: Everyone has told me how awesome Gaiman is. American Gods bored me to death, Good Omens didn't make much of an impression until after the fact, when I had some of the extremely-British-and-conceited-American
Bottom line is I liked it a lot. I finished it in two sittings on my breaks and cheered for Coraline the entire way. I still am underwhelmed by Gaiman's actual writing—it feels bland and I can't puzzle out why. It might be that it's sparse. I read so much work that's been groping the thesaurus I'm unused to it. This is a perfect scary story for kids—the other mother creeped me out even without the illustrations.The spider references didn't really help, either. Erg.