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Half a World Wednesday (On Tuesday!)

I'm posting this week's Reading Wednesday early, because my internet access is still uncertain and I don't know if I'll have any tomorrow. Comments will get replied to eventually!

What I Bought on My Trip

More Anthony Powell, the sequel to Titus Groan, Sodom and Gomorrah (the next Lost Time volume), plus a whole bunch more of my 99 Novels. Special thanks are due to osprey_archer for enabling introducing me to her beautiful (in parts nearly impassable) local used bookstore, and also for encouraging me to leave before I got sucked into the mystery section again.

What I've Finished Reading

Eugenie Grandet is a very small book, like a fable, or at least it seems that way from the other side - not so much while I was reading it. SO MANY epigrams about women and their hearts in this book, but it was also great; nothing happened that didn't feel inevitable except the characters making more money (if RL Balzac had tried that trick with the stocks, all his money would have evaporated within a month, which is the difference between fiction and real life). A selfish miser lives with his wife and daughter. Eugenie, the daughter, is ignorant of his real net worth because they eat porridge and wear mildewy clothes and see no one. Her father gives her a gold piece on New Year's and her birthday every year, for her traditional dowry, and taught her to love looking at gold -- the one thing they do together. One day her cousin comes to visit from Paris, sent there by his father with no idea why. Eugenie gapes at him like Miranda and scrambles to get sugar for his coffee (Old Grandet still thinks of sugar as an expensive luxury it was when he was young, though it isn't anymore). What the cousin doesn't know, and Old Grandet does, is that his father has sent him here -- into the care of his "rich uncle," whom he hasn't seen in twenty years -- just before he shoots himself to escape bankruptcy. That's the beginning. It's a great beginning. The ending sort of hovers in a tension point between satisfaction and dissatisfaction, like Eugenie's life. So far, Balzac hasn't disappointed me at all - he's funny, compassionate and unforgiving, a little like Terry Pratchett minus the dragons.

Also: The Caine Mutiny, another of the 99. It was suspenseful and thought provoking - I kept thinking it would make a great book club selection (and probably was, back in its bestseller days). I enjoyed it a lot, even though I'm not at all sure I followed the author to the conclusion he was leading me to.

Jo Walton's The Just City ends just when things are getting really interesting, which disappointed me a little. There's a lot of time spent on the premise (Athena uses time travel to re-create Plato's Republic, peopling it with children purchased from slave markets and Platonists from all eras) but the story picks up a tremendous amount of steam once Socrates shows up and, despite repeated assurances that they won't answer, persists in trying to engage the robot workers in philosophical debate. I have a little more to say about The Just City, but I think I'll leave it for the near future.

ETA: I just looked up The Just City to make sure I was spelling Jo Walton's name correctly, and apparently it's the first in a three-volume series, which might change how I feel about the pacing -- actually, I'm not sure yet if it does or not, but it may explain some things.

What I'm Reading Now

Nana by Emile Zola! I may have mentioned before now that I have some difficulty believing that the past really is another country - as a child, I read nearly all vintage fiction, and spent at least as much time reading as I did doing anything else, so in a way my mind was formed by early twentieth-century juvenile fiction at the same time that it was being formed by the present, and with something like a similar weight. Even now, it's easier for me to see correspondences than differences, for whatever reason. Nana is fascinating because its moral landscape really is alien to me - all the sex is mercenary, all the marriages are political, no one is faithful to anyone else and only a handful of characters from this cast of dozens - a middle-aged man, portrayed as blighted by religion and a narrow upbringing, a couple of naïve and melodramatic young men - are even a little put out by it. It's not wildly different from some of Proust's milieus (Saint-Loup's Rachel could have been one of Nana's friends), but in Proust there is always a familiar sensation or a funny observation or something else to distract me from the strangeness; Nana is unfamiliar sexual mores all the way down.

Nana is a courtesan who got her start in the theatre; she could have snagged herself an advantageous and safe marriage by now (like M. Swann's Odette) but she's still young and there's money to be made, so she's holding out for more. Like Balzac, she is magnificently successful and completely incapable of saving anything, or even of spending her money in ways that most of her patrons would consider "in good taste." Balzac might have appreciated the gigantic bed she commissioned, crowned by a life-sized nude sculpture of herself in the person of Night uncloaked. Oh, and one of her suitors was inconsiderate enough to stab himself on the new white carpet, so now there's a big old bloodstain right on the threshold, how SYMBOLIC ridiculous and droll! Nana is not a nice person, or a particularly admirable one unless you count "total lack of scruples and common sense" as an admirable trait, but I like her. The book is rapidly running out of pages, so the promised downfall can't be far, but maybe it won't be so bad? I'd love to read a sequel from the point of view of her hapless little son, whom she occasionally totes along to major social events and who seems utterly forlorn and bewildered by everything on earth.

What I Plan to Read Next

Speaking of things that remind me of Balzac, The Cure of Tours, by BALZAC! - and speaking of Terry Pratchett, I now have Feet of Clay, the next book about Sam Vimes and the Watch! After I finish that, I'm going to take lost_spook's advice and read one of the books about witches; I will have to go back to that comment thread to figure out which one, because I can't seem to keep Pratchett's books straight in my head.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2016 08:00 pm (UTC)
I'm reading Automatic Detective and The Night Circus and having a blast!! Whoot!

Aug. 17th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to hear it! :D
Aug. 17th, 2016 01:06 am (UTC)
Ooooh, I'm glad the Balzac book was fun! Someday I must read something by him.

Von's used bookstore is like the Platonic ideal of a used bookstore, except perhaps for the fact that there is no bookstore cat. The perilous stacks! The books piled up on the floor in the aisles! The pervasive bookish scent! It would be an excellent setting to use in a book someday.
Aug. 17th, 2016 08:46 pm (UTC)
You should do it! The bookstore has lots of intrinsic appeal, and it's also a perfect crossover point for your coffeeshop crew, if you wanted to include them.

Eugenie Grandet was so good - better than I thought it was, actually, because it's one of those things where when you're reading it, it feels like just a pile of (excellent) scenes and details, but once you're out the other side, you can see the shape of it. I'm so glad that all those terrible work habits paid off! <3 <3 The Curé of Tours is a little messier, imo, but still enjoyable.
Aug. 23rd, 2016 11:30 am (UTC)
Penny Syber's secondhand bookshop in Melbourne does have cats. Three of them! I think she lives above the shop, so brings the pets down to work with her. And a lovely atmosphere - the shop specialises in science fiction and fantasy.
Aug. 17th, 2016 08:11 am (UTC)
Well, the Witches sequence is as follows:

Equal Rites (although this is very different to the others and is mainly about Esk, not the witches, but technically here because it introduces Granny Weatherwax).
Wyrd Sisters (Pterry does Macbeth! You should probably start here?)
Witches Abroad (fairy tales)
Lords & Ladies (Midsummer Night's Dream and Elves and Tam Lin and things)
Maskerade (Phantom of the Opera!)
Carpe Jugulum (Vampires)
(& then the Tiffany Aching books, although they're technically a separate YA sequence, but we don't really see the witches outside of them after Carpe Jugulum, sadly).

(I know nothing about anything else here, but I'm very glad you enjoyed Balzac so much. It would be disappointing to find the biography was the best bit.)

(Once you have read one of these, you will understand about my feelings when playing the 15 characters meme I got Granny Weatherwax and Jane Marple being left with a baby on their doorstep.)

ETA: I am having second hand bookshop envy. There isn't a good one in my immediate vicinity (although I have some v good and v cheap charity shops, so all is well. But there's nothing like a really great second hand one, even if everything's priced out of reach. Talking of Terry Pratchett, he made the best description of that kind of bookshelf as a "genteel black hole that knows how to read".)

ETA2. Sorry about all the additions! But I look forward to your thoughts on Feet of Clay. (Out of the Guards sequence it is probably the most detective-y, which is probably one of the reasons it's possibly my favourite.)

Edited at 2016-08-17 08:17 am (UTC)
Aug. 17th, 2016 08:56 pm (UTC)
Beautiful, thank you! I don't know what it is about Pratchett's chronologies that won't stick in my head. I think something in my brain just goes, "nope, too many!" and reflexively sweeps out the old mind attic, like what happens whenever Sherlock Holmes accidentally learns a fact about the solar system.

I'm glad about Balzac, too! :D It would be too bad if he'd gone and drunk all that sludgy super-coffee for nothing.

So excited about Feet of Clay! There are golems in it! I love golems!
Aug. 18th, 2016 12:16 pm (UTC)
a little like Terry Pratchett minus the dragons

Gosh that is a tempting description.

After finishing Just City, I read the blurb for the 2nd book and it was enough to make me go "meh" and not want to read any further at all...
Aug. 18th, 2016 04:57 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say (yet) that Pratchett and Balzac are necessarily very similar, just that they made me feel a similar way when I thought about them later on. Pratchett's books are chock-full of jokes and asides, and Balzac's - the two that I've read - are also very lumber-room-like while you're reading them, so there's that. But I do recommend Eugenie Grandet, if you're interested!

I haven't gotten around to reading any blurbs yet! I'm still working out how I feel about The Just City - in a weirdly self-referential state where I'm wondering why something wasn't as thought-provoking as I thought it should be, but wait - does this question still count as a thought that has been successfully provoked? There was a lot that I liked, and then a lot more that I didn't feel much about at all, and then whoops! Gods are capricious, no more city, nothing more to see here.
Aug. 19th, 2016 12:33 pm (UTC)
I have just downloaded it from Gutenberg! I have no idea if it is a good translation or not but anyway, now I have it. :)

Aha, your description of the ending is - not wrong. I could definitely have read a ton more about Socrates questioning the robot workers.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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