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What I've Finished Reading

The Hidden Land is much more fast-paced and intense than The Secret Country, and the intensity gets a giant boost three pages from the end, with YET ANOTHER inconclusive and uncomfortable ending. Characters are a little sharper and a couple of plot elements that were total mysteries in the first book are - not so much explained here as investigated a little more efficiently. Biographical note confirms that this and The Secret Country started life as a single novel, which seems much more like their natural state (though I liked the bit that was added to fill The Hidden Land out to novel length).

The Art of Fiction in the Heart of Dixie: An Anthology of Alabama Writers suffers a little from its educational goal. It wants to present a representative picture of Alabama fiction, including a selection of popular writing out of Alabama in the nineteenth century. Nineteenth-century Alabama fiction might very well not have been a vast wasteland of didactic melodrama and cloying overlong setups for mediocre jokes, but you'd never know it from the selections here.

One story would have been a perfectly inoffensive sentimental sensation piece if the author hadn't felt obligated to point out the moral three or four times. The moral: "Yankee propaganda says we Southrons treat our Negroes poorly, but this story I made up proves otherwise! Look how kind these fictional white people were to their fictional wet nurse, even though their baby was already weaned and even though the woman was free and no direct economic benefit to anyone! TAKE THAT, IGNORANT NORTHERNERS." It's interesting as historical data but pretty bad as fiction. Things get better closer to the present, but the overall impression this anthology creates of Alabama fiction, accurate or not, is that pickings are considerably slimmer than you thought. This book was published in 1981; a more recent anthology might take a different approach.

What I'm Reading Now

Is The Hunger Games as good as the soundtrack inspired by the movie inspired by the book? Would I like it as much as I do if I hadn't listened to the soundtrack a bunch of times first? It's hard to say, but I like it. Gladiatorial combat + reality TV = gladiators ON TV is so obvious a satirical equation that I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's pretty well handled and I think the narration (which I still have problems with off and on, though I'm not completely sure what they are) helps. There isn't any invitation to the reader to feel superior, even to people who are actively participating in the perpetration of the Games. The unseen Gamemakers may or may not be straightforward evil sadists, but everyone we've met so far is just living in the world they were born to.

There's a TERRIFIC plot involving Katniss' fellow tribute: is he a treacherous mastermind, or just a genuinely good guy? OR BOTH? There is also what feels like the beginnings of a weak and half-hearted love triangle. Katniss has formed an alliance with the little girl who reminds her of her sister, but it's just prolonging the day when one of them has to kill the other. OR IS IT? I really, really hope not.

(I REALLY don't want the little sister to be a ruthless mastermind, either. Maybe in another book. In this one, I want love to prevail. I don't care how psychologically unrealistic it is. I want the kids to lay down their weapons and refuse to do any more harm, right NOW).

Also: I shouldn't have started my continents with Antarctica, because now I'm halfway through another book about Antarctica and becoming increasingly tiresome about my guys on the ice. This one has the irresistible title The Worst Journey in the World. It's an almost-contemporary account by one of the participants of a different expedition, the Scott polar expedition, including a side expedition to collect emperor penguin eggs from a winter breeding colony (in the sunless polar winter). The egg expedition is successful, if harrowing, but the polar expedition comes to a bad end.

It's a more complicated story than the long return of the crew of the Endurance - because there are several goals involved, because despite a tremendous number of difficulties the trip comes much closer to meeting its objectives, and because not everyone made it back safely. It's also warmer and more leisurely - odd adjectives for a book in which everyone involved gets frostbite at best and at one point a blizzard steals the tent off the backs of the penguin egg party, but accurate, I think? The author, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, is writing about an adventure he remembers having with his good friends who later died, and he's very concerned that you understand what it was like to have good friends under bad conditions. There's a lot of personality and detail. It's hard not to like the guys, even taking into account some very 1911 tendencies like naming their animals after racial slurs.

What I Plan to Read Next

More Hunger Games! I'm still keeping the reading to lunch breaks, so as to avoid burning straight through in a day - so it will be a little while before I finish this book. The next book is called Mockingjay CATCHING FIRE and there's no shortage of copies at my library. My library may or may not have The Whim of the Dragon, the final book in the Secret Country trilogy.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 26th, 2017 12:01 am (UTC)
I tend to dither about The Hunger Games - its sheer popularity tends to put me off and the theme isn't one I car much about - but maybe one day...

Sis has a LOT of books about Antarctica, the expeditions and the history. I've read some of them but they're invariably bleak...
Jan. 27th, 2017 12:36 am (UTC)
They are bleak but I'm also finding them surprisingly cozy? I'm enjoying the tension between the half of my brain that keeps going, "But WHY would you even GO to the South Pole, there's NOTHING THERE" even as I sympathize with the guys and want them to be ok, and the other half, or tenth or however much it is, that kind of gets it. Plus when I am on my feet for 12 hours straight at work and then have to walk home in the rain, I can think, "This rain is suboptimal but at least I'm not camping on pack ice."

I didn't think I would like The Hunger Games because I'm not really into dystopias, but the film soundtrack hit me where I live in all the most obvious ways, and the book is very fast-paced and exciting, even if it does have the most half-hearted love triangle ever.
Jan. 28th, 2017 03:16 am (UTC)
As I am not into romance and triangles at all anyway, half-hearted sounds good to me :)
Jan. 26th, 2017 01:38 am (UTC)
The Secret Country and The Hidden Land would work so much better as one book smushed together. It would get rid that totally non-ending ending in The Secret Country - the ending of The Hidden Land is still inconclusive in a lot of ways, but at the same time it does feel like an end, you know? Whereas the ending of The Secret Country is barely a stopping point.

Good luck with The Whim of the Dragon! I had mixed feelings about it, but I feel like it's a must-read after reading the first two.
Jan. 27th, 2017 12:42 am (UTC)
It does! I mean, the situation changes appreciably! We learn something new! I'm actually really concerned now. . . at the end of The Secret Country I was like, "Well, this is certainly a cliffhanger. . . of sorts. . . a plateauhanger?" But now I am genuinely distressed.

I hope I'll be able to find The Whim of the Dragon at the library! I'm on STRICT ORDERS from myself not to buy any new books until March, so . . . :(
Jan. 26th, 2017 03:21 am (UTC)
Guys on the ice is a fun category! I particularly like to read about the Franklin expedition, if you've heard of it: two ships in 1845 make an attempt to find the Northwest Passage by going through the ice north of Canada; after leaving Britain none of them are ever heard from again. It's depressing, but the various attempts to figure out exactly what happened to them are fascinating.
Jan. 27th, 2017 12:46 am (UTC)
I did not know about this expedition. Were they never found? D:

Not that it would be very surprising if they weren't; northern Canada is huge and full of carnivores, even if there weren't also miles and miles of icy water to fall into. :(

ETA: "A breakthrough was made in September 2014 when an expedition led by Parks Canada discovered the wreck of HMS Erebus, in the south of Victoria Island in Nunavut. A second breakthrough happened in September 2016, when HMS Terror was found in Terror Bay, further north."

I found this page on Parks Canada! They have a page about the history of the expedition and some pictures of the things that were found in the shipwrecks.


(also, I think there are a couple of mountains in Antarctica named after these ships!)

Edited at 2017-01-27 01:01 am (UTC)
Jan. 27th, 2017 09:38 pm (UTC)
That's the one!

Dan Simmons has a novel about it called The Terror (which, how amazing is it that one of the ships was actually named that?) which slightly fantasy-izes the story (he adds a psychic polar bear stalking them, which really seems unnecessary given how many other things went wrong with the expedition), but which is nonetheless incredibly well-researched and goes deep into the day-by-day slow disintegration of their plans.
Jan. 27th, 2017 11:54 pm (UTC)
I might read it! I am laughing at how extremely unnecessary it is for a polar bear to be psychic to do great harm to a bunch of guys wandering around on some ice.

It is too perfect a name. I don't know how comfortable I would feel going on a journey of any length in a ship called The Terror, though 1) that is just superstition, and 2) it's not like naming your ship The Safe Return or The Total Absence of Hypothermia isn't asking for trouble, probably.
Jan. 26th, 2017 09:00 am (UTC)
the overall impression this anthology creates of Alabama fiction, accurate or not, is that pickings are considerably slimmer than you thought.


And if you don't stop with the Antarctica, next it'll be the most famous expedition of them all, with Scott and Oates and nobody making it back alive, you know. ;-)
Jan. 27th, 2017 12:58 am (UTC)

The twentieth-century selections are a lot better, to be fair, even if there are too many white authors and too much space has been lost to the historical-interest stuff. And the nineteenth-century stuff isn't awful (except when it is). There's a lot that is kind of on the decent side of mediocre, and it probably hasn't aged as badly as a lot of its contemporaries, but that doesn't mean it's aged particularly well.

This book is about that expedition! That is, it's about the larger Terra Nova expedition of which Scott's Polar Party was one part. Is it the most famous one of all? I have been forewarned by the introduction that Scott's team is going to die only a few miles from their supply drop. :(
Jan. 27th, 2017 08:42 am (UTC)
Well, in the UK, Scott of the Antarctic is the most famous, but then we always do enjoy a story of heroic failure; and then there's the whole Captain Oates part. ("I'm going out. I may be some time.")

Poor Alabama, or is it only what they deserve? Or just not the best anthology??
Jan. 27th, 2017 04:10 pm (UTC)
It's hard to say. I don't know enough about the period to know what's being overlooked. I suspect an anthology made ten years later would find a way to include stories from African-Americans and e.g. Muskogee and Cherokee stories along with the four different flavors of white people feeling put upon because those snooty Northerners are so ignorant and condescending. Which is frustrating because I hate regional condescension and am naturally inclined to cheer on anyone who says, "Fuck you, my hometown is all right," but it's harder to sympathize when that "Fuck you" is explicitly a defense of chattel slavery and white supremacy, and during this period in this part of the US it nearly always is.

There's one story about a tricky gambler that is all right, or at least it has some lines of dialogue that I liked, like the phrase "I was drinky and played careless" (I just like the idea of people regularly describing their state of mind as "drinky")

Poor Oates. :((((((( I knew what was going to happen to him from the introduction, but I was still unprepared for how sad I was going to be. Poor everybody. :(

I don't think I know enough about polar explorations in general to have picked up on what the most famous ones are in the US. I knew roughly that there were some, and that they were dangerous and a lot of people got frostbite - that's all.
Jan. 27th, 2017 05:35 pm (UTC)
The Scott expedition is just very well known and the "I'm going out" line has become part of our culture & pops up everywhere as a joke. Which takes away from the tragedy of its origin, but it was tragic when you get back to it, of course. (I read a YA novel by Gerladine McCaughrean once all about a teenaged girl getting haunted by Oates. Probably metaphorically.)
Jan. 28th, 2017 12:01 am (UTC)
Ah! I can see how that would happen!

Was the haunted-by-Oates book any good?
Jan. 28th, 2017 09:39 am (UTC)
The Oates book was The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, who's always good and it was my favourite I've read of hers. I can't remember what happened or why I liked it, though! (I met her at one of our book festival gala days and she was so pleased to hear that, because apparently it was one of her favourites, but everybody else kept talking about her other books. Which was the opposite of the time I met Michael Morpurgo and told him War HOrse was my favourite of his, which led to him telling 300 people at the YLG conference that he had hated me instantly. :LoL:
Jan. 26th, 2017 04:00 pm (UTC)
I've guessed the name of the dog, but I'd better not say. There's an old pub near me where the RAF used to drink during the war and there's a picture of a badly named dog and it's pilot master on the wall.

Have fun with guys on ice ... or not;p
Jan. 27th, 2017 01:03 am (UTC)
Best not! Though it was a cat in this case.

It's always a good time with my guys on the ice. . . until it's not. :(
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