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The Wednesday is Too Much With Us

What I've Finished Reading

The Cricket on the Hearth is an incredibly sappy novella by Charles Dickens about Angels of the Home. There is a Scrooge-like character who has a last-minute change of heart no clear reason, and a saintly blind girl with a saintly father, and a charming awkward guy who is too nice for the Iago trick that Not Quite Scrooge tries to pull on him, and sentimental apostrophes for days. It's sort of a Complete Idiot's Guide to Why People Don't Like Dickens. I didn't hate it, but I'm not going to go around recommending it to anyone, either.

Hold Me had some irritants. Maybe just because I had prior personal experience of the phrase "asking for cookies" (meaning: expecting to be praised for what ought to be expected, like washing own dishes or apologizing for being a dick) being first introduced as a useful concept and immediately run into the ground, I found it maybe unreasonably jarring when Maria and Jay (in their serious-flirtation epistolary personae, following a particularly vicious bout of real-time hate-flirtation) have a tremendously earnest two-page discussion about "cookies" including the line, "I know what cookies are. I didn't think you did."

Which, if I were one of those non-lazy bloggers, could be the start of an interesting discussion about verisimilitude and its discontents. Why shouldn't fictional people talk in worn-out cliches? Real people do it all the time! But I want my rom-com nerds to be ahead of the curve, damn it! Or at least to occupy a slightly alternate universe where the dialogue is better.

There are some noticeable errors in this book: narrative repetitions that are the textual equivalent of the Three-Handed Cover, and one of the POV chapters is mislabeled. There's also what seems to be (based on very little evidence, but I'm working on it) a romance novel convention of having the main dude inject a lot of random swears into his internal monologue so that you will remember that this is A Totally Real Guy Having Private Guy Thoughts, Not Just Some Sanitized Fantasy Man. I don't have any general problem with profanity in a narrative, so I don't know why this particular trick bugs me so much, but it does! I'd almost rather have the colorless interior sugar castles of Stealth Christian Romance.

Anyway, nitpicks aside, I enjoyed this book. The dialogue is a lot of fun most of the time. There is an occasional feeling that the author is trying to teach us a valuable lesson - Milan states in an afterword that she was inspired to write this book because a science professor made a sexist remark one time - but mostly the lesson is "nerd flirtation is fun to read" and on that subject I am always happy to be refreshed. I even got to like Jay a little better, mostly because I'm a sucker for the old impostor syndrome.

Plus, I finally got a new copy of Catching Fire so I could finish it. (I did not find the one I lost). Katniss gets sent back to the arena, because how else are you going to follow up a book about traumatized gladiator teens, other than by making them go back and do the same thing they just did? It reminds me of the sequels to the book Hatchet, where after Brian gets rescued from the Canadian wilderness, some TV network asshole shows up and asks him to go back For Science. This time it's a Tournament of Champions, pitting past victors against each other, which gives Katniss and Peeta (who should be named Cinnamonrohl) the chance to meet and ally with adults of all ages. Can they break the game if they work together? Will the cost be too terrible to live with? The answers are yes and yes.

I like the repulsive President Snow with his sickly scented roses and blood on his breath, even though he is not great at being a dictator and his propaganda skills are laughable. Then again, people don't become dictators from a love of the craft and painfully idiotic propaganda isn't necessarily any less effective than the clever and insidious kind. If anything it's worse because you think you're seeing through it.

What I Didn't Read Because It Was a Movie

I don't know if there's much point in trying to talk about going to see I Am Not Your Negro, a film made from the notes for James Baldwin's unfinished book about three murdered civil rights leaders, in the middle of reading Collins' slick and earnest music-video fantasy of rebellion. This is another job better suited to the non-lazy. So I'll just be glib and tell you the pettiest thing that made me angry, which was hearing the FBI's ungrammatical report on James Baldwin dropped in like a grubby rock among all of Baldwin's terribly lucid and careful sentences.

What I'm Reading Now

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. [Time for a spoiler cut!]Rebellion is breaking out all over Panem, District 12 has been destroyed (because dividing your country into single-industry production zones and then bombing them into oblivion is a great strategy) and Katniss is holed up in the secret off-the-radar District 13, a former nuclear power and tech-development center that the government (also VERY CLEVERLY) allowed to break away from Panem in exchange for pretending to be destroyed. Katniss is being groomed to lead the resistance, which involves a lot of TV crews and costume design. I don't love her new high-tech superhero bow-and-arrow set, and the fact that District 13 just happens to be the ex-R&D capital of Panem is just a little too convenient for me. It's not a coincidence, it's how they managed to strike the very damaging bargain with the Capitol in the first place, by threatening all-out nuclear war - but it's still SO EXTREMELY CONVENIENT that it's exhausting somehow.

Meanwhile, Peeta is being held at the Capitol and brought out for occasional public interviews. He begs Katniss to call for a cease-fire, warns her that she's being used, and warns District 13 of an impending attack. He's right about the attack. Is he right about other things, too? Does Katniss know who she's really working for? I'd hate to think this whole rebellion thing is just a giant FBI fake-out, but honestly it might annoy me less than District 13 just happening to have a lot of high-tech weaponry lying around unconfiscated and apparently unobserved by the Capitol.

I complain, but really I'm enjoying the heck out of these books, not just as a vehicle for complaining about shoddy dictatorial practices. Katniss is a genuinely flawed, genuinely strong protagonist, and Collins is sharp and unsentimental about trauma, hope, and guilt.

[I Capture the Castle]
Rose said: "I should have thought it was well worth while to have a little trouble in order to earn some real money."

"Then you have the trouble, dear," said Topaz.

This must have been very annoying to Rose, considering that she never has the slightest chance of that sort of trouble. She suddenly flung her head back dramatically and said:

"I'm perfectly willing to. It may interest you both to know that for some time now, I've been considering selling myself. If necessary, I shall go on the streets."

I told her she couldn't go on the streets in the depths of Suffolk.

"But if Topaz will kindly lend me the fare to London and give me a few hints --"

Topaz said she had never been on the streets and rather regretted it, "because one must sink to the depths in order to rise to the heights," which is the kind of Topazism it requires much affection to tolerate.

This book (by Dodie Smith, author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians!) is off to a great start. Seventeen-year-old Cassandra lives in a falling-apart castle with her stepmother, her sister, and her dad, a depressed writer who no longer writes anything. She's started a diary because she wants practice writing well and writing the truth. It's difficult! But she is going to do her best.

And still Marmion! It's interesting. My lingering prior impression of Scott was based on trying to read him as a kid and getting bored out of my mind two pages in, but that was prose. In poetry he's fun, fluid, a little didactic, fast-moving and melodramatic - and colorful! I feel I understand L. M. Montgomery a little better just reading it. Some knights kidnap some women and fight each other, there is a fake ghost, sunsets make everything red, and along they way they sing a few ballads. The poetry is a kind of poetry I think we don't get much any more. It's not "bad poetry" by any means, it's workmanlike poetry - genuinely musical, not prose chopped into lines, but also not ever in the least bit startling or sublime, which is itself kind of a remarkable feat for a poem two hundred pages long. In all that time you would expect something beautiful to happen just by accident.

What I Plan to Read Next

Hold Me satisfies the Romance portion of my reading challenge, but wordsofastory and lost_spook gave me so many recs that I couldn't pick just one, so I have some others waiting for me: True Pretenses, Cotillion, and one more by Milan. Next on Mount TBR is Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton. I've never read Andre Norton, but she is an incredibly prolific SFF author that I've been meaning to try for a while.

Also future-reading Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, which I have been informed is not a romance in the strict sense, but a comedy of manners with a very pink cover.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2017 05:28 pm (UTC)
I am beginning to wonder if you read at least two books at once, one in each hand?

(I didn't rec you any Romance! I only recced Georgette Heyer and she's not Romance, just sort of historical comedy of manners centred around a romance (usually, although not absolutely always). I don't seem to get on with the genre as such much myself, but I can't quite leave it alone, either, so i'm clearly not someone qualified to rec any of it.)

And, yay, I'm glad you're liking the start of I Capture the Castle. That's in some ways the best bit, really. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink..."
Mar. 1st, 2017 05:43 pm (UTC)
No, I've just been procrastinating on work and on job-searching and my sleep schedule is messed up. Procrastination + insomnia = loads of nervous stress-reading, apparently.

And whoops! I guess I mentally lumped Heyer and the romances together since they both have frothy ballgowns on the covers. I will correct this false conflation. :)

I think in general I'm not going to get on with romance as a genre, but I always feel as if I'm not giving it a fair shake. And when I do it seems like it's always very close to something I do want to read, and yet so far.

It's such a good beginning! And Rose and Topaz and the dad are so distinct without being caricatures - I'm really not sure how to describe the low-key "realistic" colorfulness of Cassandra's family through Cassandra's eyes, but it's great.
Mar. 1st, 2017 05:58 pm (UTC)
Aww. Well, reading isn't a bad way to counter-act it, either. (It's a general stress-reducer!)

And whoops! I guess I mentally lumped Heyer and the romances together since they both have frothy ballgowns on the covers. I will correct this false conflation

Yes, the publishers do it too, so it's fair enough. I mean, it's all a technicality, really and I'm just being pedantic, but my current reading experiecnes keep underlining the differences!) All my Regencies come with a quote on the front that says they're like Heyer. It's always a lie! (It's a bit like all the fantasy writers ever who are all, apparently, just like Tolkien, except given all the door-stop elf-ridden quest trilogies, this is slightly more true. Slightly.) And technically her works are romances, but they're not like anything in the actual Romance genre I've read or seen. As I said, I'm being pedantic, because in my head there's Heyer and then a big chasm, and on the other side are all the actual Romance novels and Mills & Boon stuff.

I always feel as if I'm not giving it a fair shake. And when I do it seems like it's always very close to something I do want to read, and yet so far.

This is me with my Regencies, very much! I want something this light and fluffy and easy! I just want... not quite what it is. (Do I have to write my own historically inaccurate attempts to get what I want here? I probably do.)

And Rose and Topaz and the dad are so distinct without being caricatures

Yes, I think the Mortmains are so well done! That's what I meant about it being the best bit, because, no spoilers, but things change as the book progresses (as things do) and they're all great. (I have a feeling I can remember reading that not only is it quite autobiographical, but MOrtmain is based on someone.) But Cassandra's voice is also a lovely and distinct one. (I have some quotes that stay with me, but I think most of them are to come!)

(There is a film of it, which I like, although it deals with some of the book with more success than others and some people hate it. But I can't keep away from it, even if I agree on some points about why to hate it, and love it anyway. If I read the book, I have to watch the film, only then I have to read the book again to fix the bits they did wrong. It's quite a nice cycle of comfort reading and watching, though!)
Mar. 1st, 2017 05:58 pm (UTC)
Norton's work varies a lot. I strongly recommend avoiding both Sea Siege and Ralestone's Luck for blatant racism (which isn't, I think, typical of her work).

Sargasso of Space starts a series of books about an interstellar trade ship, The Solar Queen, operating on the borders of what the big companies claim. If I recall correctly, there aren't any female human characters at all.

It's been a very long time since I read it, but my recollection is that it reads much as if it's aimed at ages 10-15. Which is true of most of Norton's SF even though it's generally sold now as adult SF. Her fantasy aims at an older audience and actually touches on sex from time to time (not explicit).
Mar. 1st, 2017 07:15 pm (UTC)
I strongly recommend avoiding both Sea Siege and Ralestone's Luck for blatant racism

Oh, that's too bad. I don't really know what to expect with Norton, but we'll see. The cover of Sargasso promises energetic space adventure, and if it's a little juvenile in tone, I'm not sure I'll mind at all. . .we'll see what happens!

It would be difficult to write so many books and not be a little patchy, I imagine! Andre Norton drew my eye because she has so many, at the bookstore where I used to work her books filled a shelf and a half with no duplicates - all narrow little paperbacks, too.
Mar. 1st, 2017 07:05 pm (UTC)
How far have you gotten in Mockingjay? I want to read the bit that you've hidden, but I don't know if I'm far enough along. I'm still in the first part; they've just decided to send Katniss into a war zone so they can get nice inspiring footage of her as the Mockingjay, WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA, I mean I can totally see their reasoning but damn, that's cold. President Coin is already getting higher dictatorship marks than President Snow and I'm not even sure she's a proper dictator.

Actually, it occurs to me that this uncertainty is probably why she's getting better marks: she clearly has more finesse.

...Although President Snow and his blood roses do have a certain je ne sais quoi, it's true. President Coin and her jumpsuited soldier-citizens are clearly drawing on a different, less flamboyant, more Sparta-inspired mode of government/dictatorship.

I also like Cinnamonrohl for Katniss and Peeta's ship name, because they so are. Peeta very obviously so (he's even a baker!), and Katniss too, although she'd never believe it. But for goodness sake, she just saved Prim's horrible cat, there's some quality cinnamon rollery right there.

As much as I go on about President Snow's poor grasp of certain portions of dictatorship (although he does have the creepy decadent aesthetic down), I am loving these books. I just want Katniss to be somewhere happy and peaceful forever and ever, is that too much to ask?

Also YAAAAAAY I'm glad you're enjoying I Capture the Castle so far! I love them all, but Topaz is definitely one of my sneaky favorites because of her flighty Topazisms and her underlying common sense, bless her.
Mar. 1st, 2017 07:34 pm (UTC)
I don't think I'm much further ahead of you - early Part II, but there's a small spoiler under the spoiler cut if you haven't finished Part I yet, so I'll just sum up my non-spoiler-related thoughts for you here: District 13 is TOO FREAKING CONVENIENT and it's making me tired. "Oh, they said they bombed us into oblivion but actually IT WAS A RUSE and look at all these cool weapons we've been stockpiling!"

I do want an end to the Games and a happy ending for Katniss (insofar as happy endings are possible or plausible in human life, which may be NOT MUCH but that's why we have books ok) but just. . . something about the District 13 setup is very narratively unsatisfying to me and I'm not sure exactly what it is.

President Coin is already getting higher dictatorship marks than President Snow and I'm not even sure she's a proper dictator.

TRUE. I think it's probably a win for Collins, even though I don't "like" it in a superficial way, that I'm feeling really wary of and irritated by Coin and Operation Great Optics, even though of course you need propaganda to bring down a government, don't be naive - I don't know, I just don't trust this extremely convenient secret underground bunker state, why would that be??

I do love that hideous decadence. It's something Collins does really well, imo.

I just want Katniss to be somewhere happy and peaceful forever and ever, is that too much to ask?

IT BETTER NOT BE. (It almost certainly is).

I'm glad you're enjoying I Capture the Castle so far! I love them all, but Topaz is definitely one of my sneaky favorites because of her flighty Topazisms and her underlying common sense, bless her.

<3 is all I have to say about that.

Mar. 1st, 2017 08:05 pm (UTC)
The Cricket on the Hearth IIRC struck me as one of those minor Dickens that gets set as a text on study reading lists these days... and doesn't get read much otherwise.
Mar. 1st, 2017 10:58 pm (UTC)
I spent a long time conflating it with The Cricket in Times Square, which I have still not read. It had been set as a text on somebody's study reading list back in 1898, too, since I had bought it in a school edition from that time.

It doesn't have a whole lot to recommend it, unless you're already really into Dickens.
Mar. 1st, 2017 08:25 pm (UTC)
Mar. 2nd, 2017 02:06 pm (UTC)
I don't Think I ever read Marmion, but I read a number of Scott's novel when I was around ten. I was a big fan of Ivanhoe. :) The plot seems pretty standard Scott.
Mar. 3rd, 2017 04:34 pm (UTC)
Someday I'll get back around to trying Ivanhoe! It was one of my dad's favorites from his own childhood, so I wanted to like it, but couldn't make heads or tails of either the original or Illustrated Classics versions for some reason.
Mar. 11th, 2017 08:41 am (UTC)
My introduction to Ivanhoe was the 50's Movie with Elizabeth Taylor and George Sanders, so I had the plot (basically) down. Also, my father read it for me the first time, and I suspect he simplified things a bit. But then I re-read it several times. Nowadays the attitude to Jews is pretty hair-raising, and not only in Ivanhoe.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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