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Wednesday is a Reading Meme

What I Just Finished Reading

The September Society, the second mystery novel featuring extremely comfortable amateur detective Charles Lenox. It's messy but fun. I didn't care as much about the skulduggery as I did about yelling at Lenox to quit stalling and ask his friend to marry him (he announces his intention to do so on page 10 and on page 150 he's still just standing around in her house not saying anything), but that's not a point in its disfavor. It's a Sign of Four plot with less racism, and probably also a bit of a Sayers homage. Lenox takes on a dilletantish aristocratic apprentice and wanders around Oxford waxing nostalgic and drinking too much beer. Also, murder.

And now I really am taking a break from Murder in Deathingham Close, except for A Murder is Announced and the next Charles Lenox book, which are finding their way to me as we speak. I've heard too many good things about the former and I'd already ordered the latter when I was halfway through The September Society.

What I'm Reading Now

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

It's time to re-read more of the books I hated in my youth to see if I like them any better now! Writing Down the Bones is. . . surprisingly boring. I felt so alienated by it as a surly teenage perfectionist that I dropped out of the creative writing class I'd signed up for and wouldn't touch another one for ten years. These days it's a little funny and a little flaky, but mostly just kind of plodding. I've read too many things like it in the intervening years, I think.

Fahrenheit 451 is excruciating. Ray Bradbury is a good writer under many circumstances, but satire is not his strong point, at least not here. Some of his paragraphs sound like the voice-over narration from The Beast of Yucca Flats. It's a dystopia, so everything in it gets described dystopically whether it makes sense or not. There's a machine that can replace 100% of a person's blood in a few minutes, operated by technicians in the patient's own house. That's amazing! But when it saves the protagonist's wife from an overdose of sleeping pills, all he can think about is how hollow and mechanical it all is, and how awful that they send technicians instead of an MD and how empty and soulless everything has become. Boo hoo, bro. Maybe you'd rather have a dead wife and a soul quickened by the golden light of mortality, but some of us don't feel that way. The wife is just a sad 1950s satire doll, though, so we're not supposed to care like that. We're supposed to think her life is a pitiful shell because she likes interactive fiction and listening to music and doesn't want to get arrested by the book police.

The world has some great stuff, though! There's flawless medical technology anyone can operate with a few weeks' training, there's this really sophisticated robot dog with eight legs, there's what looks like an early ancestor of Star Trek-style holo-novels, and all dwellings are completely fireproof except when the government comes to burn them down on purpose. I kind of feel like this is a dystopia I could live with. It's got a lot of problems, but there's a lot of promise, too. It probably helps that I'm from the future and already know that TV isn't destroying literature any more than the invention of writing destroyed poetry. I don't know, maybe it gets better.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'm not completely sure. I have a stack of fantasy books I was planning to read before I got on this murder jag, and today I bought William Kennedy's nonfiction book about Albany, plus I'm still meandering around in this Thomas More biography. I might make a list at some point. Sometimes I make a list of all the things I want to read in the next month or year or season, and it seems like a good idea, but I nearly always abandon it within about a week. We'll see.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
Nov. 26th, 2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
This was pretty much my reaction to Fahrenheit 451 too. I mean, clearly the book police are a bad thing and all that, but it just feels so hysterical: TV will kill books! SOON THEY WILL BE ILLEGAL! Criminy.

And I hated the way Bradbury portrayed the protagonist's wife.
evelyn_b
Nov. 26th, 2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
Poor Mildred never gets to be anything but a head-on collision between all the most misogynist tropes in anti-consumerism and pop-culture criticism. It's not charming. I guess it's instructive, in a way.

The book police are bad, but honestly, it's hard for me to believe in them. The repressive totalitarian regime that torches poetry because it might lead to civilian discontent doesn't mesh at all with the post-industrial culture of hyperabundant inanity that seems to be Bradbury's real beef with Fahrenheit 451-land (you get the impression that he wouldn't mind the firemen nearly as much if they were burning prints of The Colgate Comedy Hour). It might be possible to make them mesh with worldbuilding, but Bradbury isn't interested in that kind of worldbuilding.

Probably this book only works if you already share some of Bradbury's attitudes toward pop culture and/or women and don't mind not examining them at all, or if your YA librarian told you it was a fable about censorship and you skimmed it and decided that was probably about right.
osprey_archer
Nov. 27th, 2014 12:21 am (UTC)
I remember reading an article a few years back, actually, where Bradbury told an interviewer that Fahrenheit 451 was actually about TV, not censorship. The article writer got rather snitty and death-of-the-author about it, but actually the book backs Bradbury up: it's much more about TV and consumer culture (and how these things are EVIL) than censorship. Like you, I get the feeling that if the firemen decided to torch TV sets, Bradbury would be standing on the sidelines cheering.

I really didn't like this book. It's put me off Bradbury ever since, even though I've heard that some of his other work is really good.
evelyn_b
Nov. 27th, 2014 07:10 am (UTC)
I'm almost to the end now, and somehow it's managed to get even worse D:

I have very fond and sad memories of The Martian Chronicles and a couple of other short stories by Bradbury, but yeah, this one is not endearing.
osprey_archer
Nov. 27th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
Have you gotten to the part where the bad guy is all "Here, let me quote tons of quotes at you, even though that makes no in-world sense because there's clearly no way the protagonist would be familiar with any of them"? At that point I was just like, GO WRITE THE POLEMIC YOU CLEARLY YEARN TO WRITE, BRADBURY.
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