19_crows: (Default)
19_crows ([personal profile] 19_crows) wrote2015-06-10 12:20 pm

what I'm reading, about to read

Uh oh, just noticed I haven't updated this since April. Here you go.

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey. I’ve had this around for a long time and figured it would be fun with the Richard III news lately. I’m really liking the characters and the history and enjoy the idea of a detective trying to solve a mystery from his hospital bed with help from researchers. Also amusing how everybody’s sitting around the hospital room smoking.

I don’t know a lot about the War of the Roses or British rulers before the Tudors, so I’m going to Wikipedia and my book of kings and queens for background. I like the theme of how much of the history we “know” is wrong, but I know enough to take the detective’s conclusions with a grain of salt. Amusing that the Stanley mentioned here is an ancestor of Lord Derby in the book I just read (Life Mask, Emma Donoghue), and of the Lord Stanley who originated the Stanley Cup.

Reading My Father: A Memoir, Alexandra Styron. I read part of this in Vanity Fair and liked it enough to get the book. Memoir of growing up as the youngest daughter of William Styron, a difficult and apparently narcissistic man who was ultimately crippled by depression and his guilt about not living up to his full potential by never writing the Great American War Novel. It's a good picture of depression and its effects, and of how everybody in the family was affected by him. I also enjoyed the story of how she set out to understand him by writing about him and researching his papers at Duke University. Not sure I understand some bad reviews because this is more about her than him - it's her memoir.
I'm not a huge fan of his, read Sophie's Choice and saw the movie, but in both I felt the story of Sophie was far more interesting than that of Stingo, who is, of course, Styron. I never read Confessions of Nat Turner and am not in a hurry to do so but the stuff about the book and its reception was interesting.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie. I love books that drop you into a strange culture and you have to figure out where you are and how things work. The details like how showing one's hands is vaguely rude and everyone wears gloves of some kind are great as are the religions of the Radch and other cultures. I hope there's more about that

This was a fun and satisfying read; she did a great job of conveying the viewpoint of an AI - what? "person" isn't right, though Breq has personality and feelings. I'm not good at intrigue so I hope I understood all of the double cross and double double cross and wheels within wheels. . I'm not sure if I understood the point about Breq's icon that occurred at the very end.
I like how people and places have exotic names, but things like "gun" and "year" are just normal English words. The gender thing is just not a big deal, for me - neither applause-worthy nor distracting. Actually it fits with my perception of myself: I'm an "it" until reminded that I'm female by other people or biology.

The only thing that made me suspend disbelief was wondering, if a human was in suspended animation for 1000 years then woken up, wouldn't they be freaking out and unable to deal with the changes that had taken place? Maybe "years" has a different meaning. Or more likely, they have a way to treat it, like the correctives for things like broken bones.

Al Jaffee's Mad Life: A Biography, Mary-Lou Weisman. A short but very entertaining biography of Al Jaffee, writer and cartoonist best known for his work on MAD magazine.
He was born in New York to immigrant parents. His father managed a department store in Savannah. In 1927 his mother got the crazy idea to take her four young sons back to Lithuania, to the shtel where she grew up, because she was homesick. Al, the eldest, was six years old. His father refused to accompany them and somewhere along the long journey Al realized that he could not depend on his mother for protection or survival. They found lodging with his mother's father and other relatives, in the vanished world of pre WWII Europe complete with outhouses and kerosene lamps.

His mother reassured the boys that their father would come "soon" to take them home, but weeks turned into months with no father, though he sent them packages of Sunday comics every few weeks. Al realized his father was similarly untrustworthy for having let their mother take them away, and for not coming to their aid. Things were chaotic: their mother was obsessed with doing charitable works and spent their money on others, while her boys didn't have enough to eat. Al remembers always being hungry. She'd lock them in the house while she went out to help the poor.

The boys adapted; they were on their own most of the time and made their own fun with home made toys and games with the local kids. On the eve of WWII their father finally showed up and took them back to America. Their mother was eventually killed by the Nazis. Back in the USA Al was a greenhorn with his hobnailed shoes and accented English, again the odd kid out.

He'd always been good at drawing, impressing other kids with his copies of comic characters. In Lithuania he drew in the dirt; in America he kept drawing on paper. His teachers recognized his talent and he was chosen to go to the new High School of Music and Art, along with his friend Wolf Eisenberg. Wolf later changed his name to Will Elder. After high school he freelanced for MAD and worked on various comics till he joined Trump and Humbug (both failed) and eventually MAD.

I know him only from MAD and hadn't realized he did other comics. He created a syndicated strip called "Tall Tales" with vertical strips and jokes that worked with that format – he figured it was a good way to get onto the comic page. Somebody should put together a book of these. At MAD he both wrote and drew all kinds of stuff. I have one of his "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" books around here somewhere, and his most famous contribution is probably the foldin that appeared on the last page.

It's an entertaining and poignant book. He's frank about his family problems and the legacy of distrust his chaotic childhood left him. His next youngest brother Harry was his playmate and drawing partner growing up, but as an adult he became more and more paranoid and disoriented and died alienated from family. A third brother had become deaf from meningitis in Lithuania; he went to a school for the Deaf but his disability limited their communication. Al's first marriage ended unhappily but as he says, his MAD family came through for him. Eventually he married a second time, more happily, but at the end of the book he's joking about how hard it is for him to enjoy himself. He’s still alive though I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in.

The Jew of New York, Ben Katchor. Typically surreal graphic novel by Katchor. According to Wikipedia, "inspired by Mordecai Manuel Noah's attempt to establish a Jewish homeland in Grand Island, New York in the 1820s." Weird story and odd drawings which is why I like it.

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie. I liked this almost as much as the first, though the story was a little less complex. We see more about ships and stations and their relationships with their officers. The book suffers from middle book problems; some things happen that I suppose will be resolved in the final book. I still am fascinated by Breq, though she's almost a Mary Sue: sees all, understands all, knows how to deal with every situation. Is she capable of behaving unethically or cruelly? It would seem not. That's not bad, it just makes her interesting in different ways than most protagonists. I don't think an AI could be an unreliable narrator, either.

It strains credibility a bit that she can survive so many hair-raising situations but I’m happy to go along with it.

The Night Watch, Sarah Waters. World War II-era London and people with secrets. Liking it.
cereta: (Literary Fangirl)

[personal profile] cereta 2015-06-11 03:12 am (UTC)(link)
Daughter of Tine is an interesting book. Shortly after I read it, I read the (non-fiction) Princes in the Tower, which makes a compelling counterargument. It was a fraught time, that's for certain.