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Still feeling coldish and in need of light reading so I turned to graphic novels:

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir, Nicole J. Georges. Nicole finds out from a psychic that the father she thought was dead is actu-ally alive and her family has been lying to her all this time. It's a great premise that got me to buy this, but the actual story isn't that interesting. She jumps around from her troubled childhood with an abusive mom and stepfathers, her current unhappy relationship, and eventually the story of who her father really was and why it was a secret. The drawings are in the naive style that I like from Aileen Kominsky-Crumb but find annoying by anyone else, though she can really draw faces well.

The Tale of One Bad Rat, Bryan Talbot. A well done story of a girl fleeing sexual abuse and looking for heaing in the Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter, whom she idolizes. Beautiful art.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel. Complicated, dense, fascinating memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional fami-ly with unhappy parents. Her father was ap-parently gay, but closeted, and seems to have been manic depressive. Bechdel describes her own childhood neuroses and her eventual coming out, and wonders if that triggered her father's death, which could have been a sui-cide. I read Dykes to Watch Out For for years (when I lived where I could pick up papers that carried it) and already loved her drawings but this is on a whole other level as she finds connections between various family events, literature, her own coming out, gay history, and more.

Stitches: A Memoir, David Small. Beautifully drawn coming of age story of a boy growing up in a loveless home. He has an operation for a cyst on his neck and finds out his parents have lied to him about that, and other things.

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, Alison Bechdel. Probably not fair to compare them, but I can't help it. I didn't like this one as much as Fun Home. It was a lot more wordy and cerebral, and I admit that I just didn't understand a lot of the psychological terminology she used to tell the story. Also I read To The Lighthouse a few years ago and for me it was eh, so I didn't have that connection. I mean, I got the main point - and it was very poignant for me - that her mother just didn't have love to give and Alison figured out early that the best thing she could do was to not need anything. That's pretty much my relationship with my mother, so it meant a lot to me, but in some ways it was a simpler and less interesting story.
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I finished a couple of books I had going, because I've been sick and they were pleasant light reads. First Canary: The Story of a Family by Gustav Eckstein. An odd but charming book about a family of canaries and their relationships and experiences. Gustav Eckstein was a psychologist who studied animal behavior and I don't know if these canaries were part of his research or simply laboratory pets, but he observes them with both scientific interest and fond affection. It's sweet to think that in 1936 somebody could write a book about his family of canaries and get it published.

Today I got done with Hello World: A life in Ham Radio, Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre. Gregory got interested in ham radio after finding a scrapbook of QSL cards, the postcards hams send each other to confirm they talked, at a flea market. They're graphically appealing, usually with a picture or something about the place where the ham lives, and information about the call. This book is both a history of one man's multi-decade hobby, and of radio and amateur radio in general. It's interesting and the cards are fun to look at.

I was mildly frustrated that they didn't explain why it's called "ham radio" until pretty far along. Wikipedia has this: "The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century landline telegraphers to an operator with poor or "ham fisted" skills. Early radio (initially known as wireless telegraphy) included many former wire telegraph operators, and within the new service "ham" was employed as a pejorative term by professional radiotelegraph operators to suggest that amateur enthusiasts were unskilled. In "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver, from the August, 1915 Technical World Magazine, the author noted "Then someone thought of the 'hams'. This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators...""

There are also various folk etymologies including one that the first radio station had the call letters HAM, etc.

Anyway, I enjoyed the words and pictures and it was a good read on hot days and when I had a cold and couldn't read something more demanding.
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Fledgling, Octavia Butler.

(Probably most of you have read this but if not, there will be spoilers.)

A young girl wakes in a cave, injured and in pain, with no memory of what’s happened to her. She slowly heals and makes her way outside, and uses her hypercharged senses to orient herself. Eventually she (and the reader) discovers she’s a vampire with the appearance of a young black girl.

The device of someone with amnesia is useful – she narrates her re-entry into the world. It’s fascinating to watch her slowly recover some of her memories of what she needs, how to care for herself. Later, when she encounters others of her kind – Ina – they explain everything to her about her family, her past, her people. I liked that too. They’re white, but she was a genetic experiment to combine human genes with Ina to create an Ina whose dark skin lets her tolerate sunshine and who can stay awake and think during the day. She’s 53, almost mature in Ina years.

She finds out she’s lost all her whole family, her male and female relatives who live in sex segregated communities, and her previous family of symbionts. She remembers nothing about them. There’s interesting suspense about who’s doing the killing and why. The twist: it’s not villagers with torches but racist vampires.

Along the way I realized I was uncomfortable with the relationships. Ina form families with human symbionts by biting them and using their venom as an addicting drug. After Shori leaves the cave she’s picked up on the road by a guy named Wright. She bites him in self defense and it’s pleasurable for him and draws him to her. That’s how it works. Once a human is bitten, the Ina can kind of control their mind, and after more bites they can be bonded to each other. Symbionts age more slowly than humans and don’t get sick, but they’re tied to their Ina and can die if their Ina does. They live wherever their Ina chooses, in a family of other Ina and symbionts. Many keep the same nocturnal hours. They might marry other humans in the Ina family and have children, though apparently there are Ina who see their symbionts as lesser creatures and who don’t treat them well, though we don’t see this.

There’s a lot of talk about how the symbionts have free will and can leave but we never see this actually happen. Wright accepts the bond without really understanding its implications. Shori bites Celia and Brook because they need to be taken in by one of her kind after they’ve lost their Ina (her father) but again, after enough bites they’re tied to her too. They had to choose to let her take them on but it didn’t seem like much of a decision for them – do each of them really want to do this? It feels like they just go along.

Theodora was the different one: Shori uses her as a random food source when she’s still learning what she needs, but realizes she’s drawn to her – her scent, her cluttered office etc. Theodora loves her, too, but how much of that is simply because of Shori’s venom?

Perhaps this is an allegory of slavery. Ina love their symbionts, they’re family, and they protect and care for them. But Ina need their blood to live, and symbionts aren’t free to go. Not really. So I think discomfort is what Butler wants us to feel.

It’s surprising to read reviews where people are offended because she looks like a child and has sex with human adults (and seems to be experienced with sex, I guess? It’s not really clear) which to them is pedophilia. I didn’t even think about this. I wasn’t visualizing her, I knew she was actually 53, pedophilia isn’t an issue for me, and this isn’t pedophilia. I think even if I had visualized her – something I rarely do when I read – it wouldn’t have bothered me. She’s 53, nearly mature. I guess the case could be made that she’s more like a young girl who hasn’t reached menarche – we know she’s not quite old enough to mate with other Ina, but old enough that her scent makes males uncomfortable. Not enough information.

What did make me uncomfortable was all the touching: hugging, snuggling up together in bed, back rubs, her need for constant touch from her symbionts and their willingness to give it. I felt skin fatigue just reading about it. But that’s my problem, not a problem with the book.

I was hoping there might be a twist, that her amnesia would turn out to be hiding something from her and from us. But once you get used to the Ina and their world, the plot is straightforward. I didn’t like Shori very much, truth be told. She’s sure of herself in a way that sometimes comes off as arrogance – that trips her up in the book, too, a few times. I didn’t like that she has this New Agey-name while nearly everybody else in the book has regular, familiar names. Maybe her mothers and other ancestors we never get to meet had similar names, but it was jarring.

It was an interesting, thought provoking book that I’ll be processing for a while. I’m sorry that Butler died before she could write a sequel. I’d very much like to know what happens to Shori and her family next.

Then I read nearly all of Child's Play by Reginald Hill on the plane. British mystery about a strange will and missing son and other complications, with Inspector Andy Dalziel.
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I finished The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths, a mystery from the POF of a woman archeology professor who gets involved with solving a murder. I liked it at first, interesting archeology stuff and gripping myster, though I was kind of irritated by a lot of mentions of her thinking about how fat she is. Probably not unrealistic but maybe a little too much. Anyway now that I've finished I have to say it was a big disappointment. The mystery just was solved a little too easily and with clues that the Mary Sue-ish protagonist discovered; there were some emotional things that didn't feel right (when she realizes someone she trusts may be untrustworthy, the description of her reaction didn't have the resonance I thought it needed; there are all these times when she's in danger but stupidly blabs to lots of people about her wherabouts and other things; something bad happens to a pet (and it was obvious this was coming) but she doesn't do anything to protect another pet. Finally it contained my most hated trope every and I'm going to say what it is because I think this book is so bad it should be spoiled: people have sex one time and a pregnancy results. At least the man isn't on his deathbed which is usually how this works.


Then I started Fledgling by Octavia Butler which is fantastic and which I do not expect to be disapponting.

After that I think I'll read another mystery - I'm in Hawaii and I brought a Reginald Hill and a P.D. James (that I read years ago and have forgotten.)
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I read Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is a mechanical engineer who loves building models of things like engines and clocks, and writes a column about that for Minature Mechanic magazine. His comfortable life with his wife in a London suburb is upset when his sister and her wealthy husband, who've left their daughter in Keith and his wife's care, are shipwrecked sailing from England to Vancouver. Keith, a man who's never left England, must find a way to get to a remote South Seas island to see about his sister and brother in law's graves, salvage the ship, and death with something else that will greatly affect their daughter's future. It turns out that his columns have readers all over the world and there are many fellow engineers who are happy to help him along his journey. He even manages to earn a considerable amount of money as consulting engineer.
It's a pleasant and satisfying read, with some amusing characters along the way. I know little about engineering or sailing but enjoyed the descriptions of handling sailboats and various engineering and mechanical things. Keith's tiny generator that he built for fun figures into the story, impressing everyone and making friends for him wherever he takes it.
Keith's a likeable guy but it's a little strange that during his months-long adventures he doesn't seem to miss his wife or worry about her or their ward, and doesn't even write home. But on the other hand, that's a lot like some of the engineers I know.
What I liked is how the common language of engineers and problem solvers is shown to unite a group of very disparate people, from a barely literate guy who built is own sailboat and sailed it across the Pacific, to a business tycoon.

After that I started Hello World: A life in Ham Radio by Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre. Gregory got interested after finding a scrapbook of QSL cards, the postcards hams send each other to confirm they talked, at a flea market. It's both a history of one man's multi-decade hobby, and of radio and amateur radio in general. It's interesting and the cards are graphically interesting.

However, I'm a astonished that so far they haven't explained why it's called "ham radio". Wikipedia has this: "The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century landline telegraphers to an operator with poor or "ham fisted" skills. Early radio (initially known as wireless telegraphy) included many former wire telegraph operators, and within the new service "ham" was employed as a pejorative term by professional radiotelegraph operators to suggest that amateur enthusiasts were unskilled. In "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver, from the August, 1915 Technical World Magazine, the author noted "Then someone thought of the 'hams'. This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators...""

There are also various folk etymologies including one that the first radio station had the call letters HAM, etc.

I also started The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths, involving an archeology professor who gets involved with solved a murder. So far, very good. I'm not sure what I think about all the mentions of her thinking about how fat she is. Not unrealistic but maybe a little too much.
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I finished The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I loved it. An Indian woman is violently raped on the reservation, and her son, now grown, narrates the story of how his thirteen year old self dealt with it. There’s lots about family and friendship and of course Indian legal issues. The relationships the kid has with his friends and family feel really true. I loved it even though it has one of my most hated tropes, kids trying to solve a (potentially dangerous) situation on their own. The descriptions of ghosts and the tales his grandfather tells are perfectly done, and fit neatly into the images of the rez and his world where spiritual and practical things meet. There are many beautiful images of people and Indian lives, like a description of older women dressing up and then dancing gracefully at a pow wow.

Not sure what I'm going to read next. Probably the mystery I mentioned in my last post.
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Watch the North Wind Rise, Robert Graves. A poet from our time (1949) is transported years into the future, which is now a peaceful, Goddess worshipping world culture where money, technology, and wars have been eliminated and people live in rural villages and in defined social groups. I love utopia/dystopia fiction, and part of what I love is being dropped into this alternate world and figuring out how things work. This one doesn’t have that because from when he arrives, everything is explained to him (and us.) I don’t believe for a second that this culture would work; I don’t have that much faith in humanity, but it’s interesting to speculate. What made it a page turner was the interactions between the protagonist and other characters including a troublesome woman from his past who has somehow appeared in the future with him. But that sort of fizzled out and it was ultimately kind of philosophical musing about Goddess culture and good and evil, which was okay (especially because of my acquaintance with the Goddess) but eh.

Now I'm reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich and really enjoying it. About a crime on a reservation in North Dakota and the narrator, the victim's son, reacting to it. There's a lot of great stuff about family and friendship, not to mention issues about crimes that happen to Indian people.

After that I'm going to read The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, a mystery somebody recommended.
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Kay Thompson, Sam Irwin. To refresh your memory, Kay Thompson trained as a singer and pianist, started out as a singer on the radio, and began doing arrangements. She had several radio shows, then moved on to Broadway, where she wrote and arranged songs but never hit the big time as an actress. She went to MGM in the 40s, where she did arrangements and coached singers like Lena Horne and Judy Garland. She was Liza Minelli's godmother. Then she left the studio to sing and dance in a nightclub act with the Andy Williams and his brothers. Naturally, she arranged all their music and choreographed their dancing in a new energetic style - by the way, she and Andy were lovers. The act was a huge hit in New York and Las Vegas. Around 1955 she finally got around to writing a book about the character she'd drop into to make her friends laugh, a little girl named Eloise. She was a huge hit, too, and Kay wrote several sequels. Somewhere in there she finally got a worthy movie role, the fashion editor in "Funny Face". She never got another good movie role and eventually stopped doing cabaret, but in 1973 she directed a legendary fashion show of American designers at Versailles. When Judy Garland died, she stepped up to manage her funeral and Liza says she was the person who stood behind her and her sister with her arms around them. Liza was a loyal friend, too; in Kay’s last years she had her move in to her apartment.
I really enjoyed this biography. Sam Irwin, who started out as Brian De Palma's assistant and went on to direct and produce movies including one of my favorites, Gods and Monsters, was hired to direct a documentary on the history of Eloise, and once he started interviewing people, he realized her story should be a book and that he had the passion to do it. He had no idea how big the project would be! He talked to what seems like hundreds of people - Kay knew everybody in Hollywood and on Broadway - and learned her family history from her niece and nephew. Her journey through radio and on to Hollywood has lots of great stories - she had a feud with Mary Martin, of all people - and while Irwin clearly loves her, he doesn't hesitate to point out when she made bad decisions or was her own worst enemy.
The theme that emerges in Kay's later years is that while she had tremendous musical and acting talent, she was a perfectionist who had to be in control. Noel Coward wanted her for the role of Madame Arcati in a musical version of Blythe Spirit and to star in Sail Away, another Broadway show, but she refused these and other roles. She claimed she had a complex about working on Broadway because of being let go from shows when she was starting out; the truth was she just couldn't commit to anything if she couldn't be in charge. She was almost signed as the friend of Rosalind Russell in the movie version of Auntie Mame but made so many demands that she was replaced by Coral Browne. There are many stories like that. As for her books, Hilary Knight, the illustrator of Eloise, eventually refused to work with her because she was so insistent on doing things her way. It's frustrating that for whatever reason, she didn't make more movies or write more books. I wish I'd known her!
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I've just started Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin. Back to a nice relaxing biography. I know about Kay Thompson as a big figure in stage & screen, though I don't think I've ever seen Funny Face because I'm the only woman in the world who doesn't love Audrey Hepburn. I discovered the Eloise books when I was "too old" for picture books, and love them then and now.
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I finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Psycho thriller told in separate threads by a husband and wife. The wife goes missing, the husband is accused and then there are some fun twists and turns.

I liked it, but I think my expectations were too high - I wasn't as surprised by the first twist as I might have been, though it worked great, then I expected even more twists than the book actually had. I thought a particular character would be more involved, but no.

I thought the ending was pretty perfect.

As far as my challenges around fiction go, this was an easy one - no deep meanings or sublties for me to wonder about.

I can't get the cut to work, so spoiler stuff below.

I see a lot of people didn't like how it ended; I'm guessing they wanted to see some kind of dramatic resolution with somebody getting killed (BURN THE WITCH!) or some other kind of closure. But I thought it was just right. He's scared of her... but fascinated, can't imagine being with a less intelligent woman. She wants his adoration. They're going to be together forever. The one thing I didn't really buy was her getting pregnant from his discarded wank-off tissues - I don't think sperm can actually live that long. Plus I didn't believe he really wanted to be a father. But I think it will all work out.
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Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos K. Doxiadēs. Well the fact that it took me months to finish this should tell you how much I liked it. The parts about Bertrand Russell's childhood and life were interesting, but the parts about logic, not so much. I didn't really like the drawing, either.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. A group of linked stories, many of which are about a woman named Sasha. They're all entertaining, some more than others. There are themes of being authentic and true to yourself in a lot of them, but that just didn't speak to me - either I'm already living authentically or I'm a phony, I guess. Anyway, I didn't love it. It started out fine but became a chore to finish. I think part of it was that the trajectory of her life seemed disappointing to me (marriage and kids, and the Powerpoint diary of one of them was just tiresome and gimmicky.) Maybe the bigger problem was that a big issue of hers introduced in the first story (her stealing) never really got explained, unless I missed something, which is certainly possible.

Edited a few days later to add: Okay, I listened to this podcast of people discussing it and it reminded me of many of the book's subtler points, including maybe an explanation of her stealing, and it made me realize there were a lot of things I like about it. So, it gets another star. It really is a book that works best if you read it in one go, instead of a little every day, as I did. http://fuzzytypewriter.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/ft-podcast-fuzzy-typewriter-book-club-a-visit-from-the-goon-squad/

Now I'm reading Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. Wife goes missing, it looks like the husband killed her but he says he didn't. And then there are twists. I'm liking it a lot and want to sit down to finish it tonight, which doesn't happen very often for me.
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Finished The Beautiful Visit, Elizabeth Jane Howard's first book. She died recently; I read her Cazalet Chronicles a few years ago and loved them, and didn't realize till I read the obits that there's a new book in the series. I'd had this one, unread, so it appealed. It's a memoir by a young girl in the years before and after World War I. I liked it a lot; she's good at describing thought processes and feelings. Framing the story is a visit she makes to some happy and glamorous cousins, which makes her question her own life and seek more, and another visit years later. There are some odd and memorable characters that she meets along the way, and she succeeds in conveying some of the horrors of WWI with deftness.

It has a few first-book problems with a rather unbelievable love affair but what the hell, it's sweet and moving even if it strained credulity. There were a couple of superb moments that made me put it down to think for a bit, which I love.

Now reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, because I'm trying to read more fiction (it's challenging) and I liked The Keep when I read it years ago. So far I'm finding it so-so; I just can't care about men's erectile difficulties and I can't relate to 9-11 sadness. I don't have to like protagonists but I have to carea bout them. Also I know I read part of it in the New Yorker (probably) already so I'm sort of waiting for something new to happen.
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Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind, Margalit Fox. There is a Bedouin village in Israel where, because of intermarriage, so many people are Deaf that everyone uses Sign. Because the village is isolated, the village’s language arose there, independent of other languages and other versions of Sign, so it’s being studied by linguists seeking to understand how human language instinct works. The book’s chapters alternate between discussion of linguistics and narrative about the linguists’ work in the town. I know some about Deaf culture and the history of Sign from other books, but the linguistic stuff is really great. Ms Fox is a senior writer for the New York Times who writes the best obituaries and I wish we were related.

Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis, Tomi Ungerer
I first encountered Tomi Ungerer when I saw his very dirty cartoons in Evergreen Review in the late 60s so it came as quite a surprise to me to find out years later that he's a respected children's book illustrator. Anyway, this book is a memoir of his childhood in Alsace during the German occupation. Appropriately, it's also a scrapbook of his drawings and of photos and ephemera of that era. His father died when he was around four years old and he drew from an early age. An early drawing is of Mickey Mouse (later condemned as degenerate art by the Nazis) and later ones show caricatures of friends, school days, German occupiers and depictions of battles as the war got closer to home. The occupation began when he was nine. Everyone had to start speaking German and even had to change their names from French forms to German ones. He includes pages from his copybook where the kids had to write out quotations from the Fuher and do drawings of swastika flags and other symbols. Another poster (not by him) shows the German broom sweeping away "Gallic trash" like Jeanne d'Arc and the rooster symbol of France, showing how Alsace is returning to its Germanic roots at last. Of course the Alsatians identified themselves with Alsace, neither France nor Germany.

Ungerer has some good stories about how his pretty, clever mother outwitted the Nazis and collaborators - accused (accurately) of speaking French at home, she went to the general's office and said something like "Yes, yes we are speaking French in our home - because when the glorious Fatherland finishes conquering France, who will be able to educate the French about the beauty and splendor of the Third Reich??" (etc., etc.) which of course charmed the general so much he gave the family carte blanch to speak French. The book ends with the Americans defeating the Nazis and treating prisoners as badly as the Germans had treated French prisoners, which Ungerer observes with sadness. Now I'd like him to write a book about how he came to America with a suitcase and $40.

Elizabeth Jane Howard died; I read her Cazalet Chronicles a few years ago and loved them, and didn't realize till I read the obits that there is a new book in the series. Since I don't have that yet, I've just started her first book, The Beautiful Visit.
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I finished The Emperor of Maladies, the book about cancer and cancer research. As a layperson who doesn't know a lot about this, and a person who hasn't had much experience with friends or relatives with cancer or any experience with it myself (except for one puny skin cancer), I found it very interesting. The science was on a level I could understand, which was good. A friend felt it was badly edited and I agree a bit, but not enough to bother me.

I've just started Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind, by Margalit Fox, about a village in Israel where so many people are deaf that everyone uses sign. She's the terrific writer of many obits in the New York Times.
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I'm still reading the biography of Tony Perkins and enjoying it. He's in college and starting to realize he might be gay, and it's 1951 so not a great time for that.

We're going on vacation starting Saturday so I'm enjoying picking too many books to take along. I like having a choice even if it means dragging them around.
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I'm still reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and to be honest, not loving it. I have to see how it ends, but I don't think I'll read the sequels. Meanwhile, I read some other things.

Big Questions, Anders Nilsen. I wasn't going to buy this because it was fairly expensive, even used, but I kept flipping through it and couldn't stop reading it, so I had to. Then it took me almost a year to read it.
It's a doorstop sized graphic novel drawn in the ligne claire (clear line) style I love. I liked it a lot but I can't explain what it's about. Some finches and their interactions; a pilot who crashes; the birds think he’s emerged from an egg and that they should feed him; a retarded boy whose grandmother dies, leaving him to wander; a finch who is taken under the earth by a serpent.

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See, Francois Mouly. The stories behind New Yorker covers that did or did-n't make the final cut, for various reasons. En-joyable but not terrific. I probably shouldn’t have bought this and am not sure if I’ll keep it.

The Polaroid Book: Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography, Steve Crist. Photos from the collection, covering a wide variety of subjects and techniques. Some abstract, some manipulated. We used to do that in the 80s - I wonder where those photos are now? Somewhere in my garage.

After I finish Knife I think I'm going to read a biography of Tony Perkins.
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I finished The Intuitionist; two stars. My review:

Novel set in a universe in which elevators seem to be the highest form of technology, and there are disputes between two schools of inspectors, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists. Lila Mae Watson, the city's first female black inspector, is being framed for an elevator crash designed to show up the Intuitionists. We're in a city that's clearly New York, in a era when segregation is just ending. I'm not sure I got all the subtext. I liked its quirkiness, the alternate universe, but ultimately I was bored and disappointed. I think I missed its subtleties and metaphysics. Okay, elevators are a way to rise, and being an elevator inspector is a rise in status, but beyond that I got nothing. There are a couple of big revelations, one of them about people not being what they seem; I couldn't discern the significance of the other.

Now I'm reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and am enjoying, as usual, viewing a different world and society. So far it's pretty intense and the tension is getting to me.
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I'm reading The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead. It's an odd novel set in a universe in which elevators seem to be the highest form of technology, and there are disputes between two schools of inspectors, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists. Lila Mae Watson, the city's first female black inspector, is being framed for an elevator crash designed to show up the Intuitionists.

It's kind of a whodunit about a search for lost blueprints from a visionary Intuitionist designer, with thugs and spys. I'm not sure I get all the subtext, but it's interesting.
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I finished Harriet Said.... Beryl Bainbridge's first novel, unpublished till later in her career. It's rather odd, about two precocious girls who prey on an older man. The narrator is in thrall to Harriet, her friend directs their schemes and the diary entries where they write about their adventures. For me it had a lot of personal resonance, so I liked it. There is a convincing aura of menace over the whole thing that I enjoyed too.
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At long last I've finished The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding. This is what a non-fiction books should be: a wonderful, absorbing history book. He starts by describing Georgian England and the many crimes that could get you locked up or hanged. (He points out that there were more slang words associated with hanging than with sex.) The jails were full, so they put hulks of battleships in the Thames and filled them with prisoners. (Any of this sound familiar?) Still not enough room. I know – let’s send them “beyond the seas” to this new land we just discovered, and make them support themselves. They can send back flax and timber from Norfolk Island, plus this will keep Boney and the Frenchies from claiming this part of the world! Win-win! Well, it didn’t work out quite like that, but it’s a fascinating story.
Tons of interesting facts from primary sources – letters, criminal records, etc. One example: apparently descendents of Irish convicts in Australia pride themselves on being the scion of political prisoners, when in fact political prisoners were only a tiny percentage – most Irish sentenced to transportation were common criminals. The Irish were treated more harshly than other convicts; there was one rebellion that was quickly crushed. Political uprising was easily quashed by dispersing the rebels – ending up on a remote farm where none of the other convicts had the energy to care pretty much put an end to that.
Australians also get a kick out of the idea that their formothers were whores, but that actually wasn’t a transportable offence. They were just thieves, mostly.
There’s a lot of thoughtful information about class issues and how historians disagree about whether the convicts can be considered a class; there was much loyalty amoung them, but as time went by some of them acquired wealth and disassociated themselves. Of course the military people and the folks who came over to farm (with land grants and convict labor) never saw them as anything but convicts, and the children of convicts were just as bad as their parents.
Along the way he mentions a bunch of stories of people that deserve to be made into books or movies: bushrangers; Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked, along with her husband, on an island off the Australian coast, married a convict who’d lived with the Aborigines, and eventually returned to England (there is a book about that one, Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves); William Buckley, who escaped and was taken in by a group of Aborigines because they thought he was the returned spirit of one woman’s husband and lived with them for thirty-two years; Mary Bryant and her family, who rowed to Timor in a six-oar cutter they stole from the harbor and claimed to be shipwreck survivors. James Boswell gave her a pension.

I've just started Harriet Said..., Beryl Bainbridge's first novel, based very loosely on the about the notorious 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand.
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