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What I've Just Finished Reading

Samuel Johnson is Indignant is not a bad book and it's probably an admirable one, but I didn't like it. I didn't necessarily dislike it. I was just bored and felt kind of thick and heavy and occasionally mildly curious about my complete failure to like or dislike anything about it. In general, I liked the stories that were small and Kafkaesque, disliked the stories that were small and confessional without being Kafkaesque, was unmoved but not actively annoyed by the one or two line stories, and disliked the longer stories. There were exceptions to all these rules.

My favorite story was the letter to a funeral parlor objecting to the unfortunate portmanteau word "cremains." If I had read it in a journal, I might have bought this book because of it. I would have been disappointed. As it stands, I was not disappointed, but I also wasn't surprised.

Like The Beekeeper's Apprentice, a book I felt I ought to like but couldn't (probably for different reasons), reading Samuel Johnson is Indignant made me curious about why I love some things and am indifferent to others. I don't know why SJII and its narrator (there is more than one, but there is also one dominant voice, so that most of the stories seem to be about a single nameless person who strongly resembles the author) left me so cold. I don't think it's just because the dominant narrator is a successful professional with a lot of minor problems and petty grievances, or because the subject matter is quotidian and confessional, or because I was expecting a plot and didn't get one (I wasn't expecting a plot). None of these things are flaws. It just slid off me, for whatever reason.

Of the books I've read so far for the Water Damage Club, it's by far the most confidently written. The best-written, probably. Lydia Davis knows what she's doing and does it well. I respect it but I don't love it, or even wish that I could love it. This is probably just as well.

What I'm Reading Now

I'm keeping an eye out for a good representative passage in At Swim-Two-Birds, but it's hard! This book is frequently hilarious, but so much of the humor is this rolling accumulation of voice that I don't know where to make the cut. Right now, a bunch of fictional characters are interrupting each other to lay down some truth about poetry and the Voice of the People, and the hapless narrator's uncle has brought a phonograph into the house, the better to sing along with his favorite number from Patience. What is there to do but head out into the rain-mirrored streets and hunt up a decent drink? I also need to find a passage to illustrate how beautifully it captures the (apparently timeless) experience of failing to write in Dublin in between sleeping and drinking too much. Dublin is an inspiring place but not always an encouraging one.

I'm also in the middle of Right Ho, Jeeves, which is a re-read that I started by accident and was predictably unable to stop reading for any length of time. It's also extremely funny, but the selection difficulty is different: there are too many quotable passages to choose from. Here, have an enlightening conversation about courtship strategy:

"And you can't get away from it that, fundamentally, Jeeves's idea is sound. In a striking costume like Mephistopheles, I might quite easily pull off something pretty impressive. Colour does make a difference. Look at newts. During the courting season the male newt is brilliantly coloured. It helps him a lot."

"But you aren't a male newt."

"I wish I were. Do you know how a male newt proposes, Bertie? He just stands in front of the female newt vibrating his tail and bending his body in a semi-circle. I could do that on my head. No, you wouldn't find me grousing if I were a male newt."

"But if you were a male newt, Madeline Bassett wouldn't look at you. Not with the eye of love, I mean."

"She would, if she were a female newt."

"But she isn't a female newt."

"No, but suppose she was."

"Well, if she was, you wouldn't be in love with her."

"Yes, I would, if I were a male newt."

A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point.


What I Plan to Read Next

Next to of course the human heart, What I Plan to Read Next is the true mystery. Pick up some poetry for a very belated Poetry Month? Continue with Father Brown? Finally open The Moving Toyshop? Dive back into Finnegans Wake? I don't know if I'm going to do any of these things next.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
lolmac
Apr. 22nd, 2015 01:14 pm (UTC)
Clearly, Madeline Basset would look upon her suitor with an eye of newt, right?

I abandoned The Beekeeper's Apprentice one or two chapters in. It's shippy AU fanfic -- in fact, it's a pure old-school Mary Sue, complete with the inevitable distortion of the canon lead that the premise requires to make it work at all. When one cares about the canon lead enough to dislike the distortion, that kills the work from the outset.

In addition, I had read enough of Arthur Conan Doyle's work by then that a weak imitation of the style only made me miss the original. I actually liked The Seven-Percent Solution when I first read it, not having read much Doyle -- but when I tried to re-read it after, it was, again, weakly written AU fanfic.
evelyn_b
Apr. 22nd, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)
For most of my life, I was appalled by the premise of The Beekeeper's Apprentice and determined not to touch it with a barge pole. I got a lot more sympathetic to the idea of Mary Sue characters in the past five years or so, and then I read Gaudy Night, which I loved so much that I became irrationally convinced I would also love TBA. Self-insert detective-marrying adventures for everyone!

But it was not to be. I couldn't believe in or enjoy Mary Russell, the plots were dull right up until they hit implausible, and the best you can say for King's Holmes is that he's too indistinct to be OOC most of the time. Plus, it's shippy in shape alone, not in substance. Not!Holmes and Russell have so little chemistry they should hire themselves out as protective lab equipment. So unappetizing -- and in such small portions. :(

Can you recommend any good ACD-style Holmes pro-fanfic? I love a good pastiche, but they are so difficult to do well and when they fall, they fall so far and splatteringly. I'm probably too picky. I've never read The Seven-Percent Solution, but I see it at the bookstore all the time.


Edited at 2015-04-22 05:05 pm (UTC)
lolmac
Apr. 22nd, 2015 05:39 pm (UTC)
so little chemistry they should hire themselves out as protective lab equipment

You almost owed me a new keyboard there. It would have been worth the sacrifice, though!

Part of my take on Mary Sues, at this point (as a former hard-sore Sue-er, I used to be much more forgiving), is that it's usually OOC for a canon lead to be indistinct, or to exist in a dull or stupid plot (unless canon includes such). I can no longer give passing grades for that. I don't count Gaudy Night as a full-blown self-insert; yes, a great deal of the author is certainly visible, but no more so than many other works. Hell, if Harriet Vane is a Mary Sue, so is Stephen Dedalus!

As far as Doylefic goes -- The Seven-Percent Solution is actually about as good as it gets, to my knowledge. It's more enjoyable if you have not read any Doyle for a while, and the premise is interesting. I wish I had more to offer you there! Missy (my wife) (brief pause while I gloat over being able to use that word, ahem, where was I) tells me that Doyle's son Adrian is at least readable -- "On his best days, he's equal to Doyle on his off days, and that's saying something." Missy is even pickier about tone and style than I am. (She also adores Gaudy Night.)
evelyn_b
Apr. 23rd, 2015 08:14 pm (UTC)
Everyone defines Mary Sue a little differently, I think. I don't necessarily think all Mary Sues are bad and so my definition is a little broader. Probably that'll change over time -- it's changed a lot already in the past few years.

I'd say Harriet Vane does have the canon-warping properties that are the hallmark of the Mary Sue, only the warping pulls mostly toward realism instead of away from it. And a huge part of the appeal of the Vaneiad for me is the fun of watching a character who, on being abruptly dropped into several formally Sue-tastic situations, persists in reacting to them like a normal human being, as the embarrassing and inconvenient interruptions to her writing schedule they are.

I'd never heard of Adrian Doyle until now, and thanks to you I just spent [too long] reading about the mildly contentious history of the Doyle estate. The guy he co-wrote Doylefic with (John Dickson Carr) seems to have a decent reputation, though I haven't read his books yet.

Edited at 2015-04-23 08:15 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b
Apr. 23rd, 2015 08:25 pm (UTC)
PS: congratulations on being able to gloat! :D

(I'm in AL currently, hoping to see a sharp increase in happy local gloating soon :\).
wordsofastory
Apr. 23rd, 2015 06:36 pm (UTC)
That is a fantastic Jeeves (or, well, Jeeves-adjacent?) quote!
evelyn_b
Apr. 23rd, 2015 07:47 pm (UTC)
It's so good! The whole book is conversations like that.

Actually importantly Jeeves-deprived, as Bertie has decided that Jeeves has lost his touch and that he, Bertie, will be taking charge of Gussie Fink-Nottle's situation from now on. He is about as triumphantly successful as you might expect.
wordsofastory
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:10 pm (UTC)
I've read one of two of the Jeeves books, but I really need to read more of them. They're so wonderful! And this situation sounds amazing.
evelyn_b
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:51 pm (UTC)
It is a perfect meringue of delight (with only one or two dead gnats of casual racism). I don't think there's a single page that isn't funny, and the ending is truly inspired.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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