Nov 28, 2011

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This famous retelling of the Arthurian legends is a seminal work of feminist fantasy, and I can well see why it is; I just wish the writing was good enough to justify it. Bradley was certainly breaking new ground when she wrote this tome, and it is easy to understand why girls and young women devoured it. Now, however, after having read many books inspired by her genre-creation, I know that there are many better writers than Bradley. The descriptions are good, but the emotions of her characters are incredibly repetitive: "Oh, how I love him! Oh, but he is wicked and I hate him! Oh, but I pity him so, he can't help it! Oh, but I hate him, he's a traitor! But I love him!" It isn't that people don't actually think that way; they certainly do. That doesn't mean, though, that I want to read 875 pages of it... Less than stellar writing notwithstanding, I'm glad I read it, so at least I know what everyone raves on and on about, and I wouldn't not recommend it to a young girl looking to read more complex books than those labeled "young adult."

Nov 17, 2011

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

This is the third book I have read by Moers, and it did not disappoint. If anything, it was even better than the other two, since it's all about books and the people (creatures?) who love them. This is an absolute must for any avid book-lover. There is danger, excitement, mystery, fantasy, and the entire story is run through with an incredible love and respect for the written word.

The action takes place underneath the famed city of Bookholm, a metropolis entirely dedicated to any and every aspect of the book business. Our hero and narrator, Optimus Yarnspinner, a dinosaur from the famed literary stronghold Lindworm Castle, goes to Bookholm in search of the author of the most amazing piece of writing he has ever read. His innocent search runs afoul of many terrifying and nefarious characters, and he nearly dies several times. The action is breathtaking and the writing style impeccable, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Moers, and his translator, are truly masters of their artforms.

Nov 10, 2011

When you are Englufed in Flames, by David Sedaris

This is the second book of essays I've read by David Sedaris; the first was "Me Talk Pretty One Day." That book was hilarious, I often found myself laughing out loud. This book, while it definitely has its funny parts, is much more introspective and, as such, rather more powerful. The events Sedaris writes about are largely inconsequential in the span of a life, and there are several essays written not about a single happening, but about a person over a period of time. This makes the essays more poignant, more meaningful than just another funny circumstance. I've always been a fan of short narrative formats, be they essays or fiction, and this book did not disappoint. I'm interested to read more of Sedaris' work in order to see whether this particular compilation represents an evolution in his writing over time, or if it is a stand-alone set.

Nov 7, 2011

The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine

Wow. That sure explains a lot. Brizendine's short book follows the progression of a typical female brain from 6 weeks after conception all the way past menopause. Her conclusions are backed by decades of work studying women and hormones and an incredibly extensive list of studies and sources. Her goal is to make women aware of how their brain is wired (i.e. for the Stone Age; our world has evolved much more quickly than we ever will) so that they can understand why they act and react as they do, thus enabling them to make more informed choices.

Brizendine's arguments are convincing, and for any woman who has gone through what she describes, eyeopening. I now understand why men and women have such a hard time communicating, and why I feel the need to gossip with my girlfriends even though I loathe drama and talking behind anybody's back. Brizendine's writing only rarely gets bogged down; I read the nearly 200 pages in only two days, a feat unheard of for me when it comes to non-fiction. I absolutely recommend this to every woman, so they can better understand themselves, and every man who is perpetually confused about why the women close to them act the way they do.

Nov 5, 2011

Irresistible North, by Andrea di Robilant

I decided I needed to make a foray into nonfiction after so much Tamora Pierce, and this was a great choice. This short book is about the Zen brothers, medieval Venetian gentlemen who's Renaissance descendent claimed had traveled to Iceland, Greenland, and North America in the 1390s. Di Robilant researched both the journey itself and its historiography, which was a back and forth debate over the veracity of the account. Di Robilant retraces the steps the younger Zen claims the brothers took, trying to identify confusing place names and oddly drawn maps with actual places. Never does the author claim to be the deciding voice on the matter, though his research and work is compelling.

The writing is quite easy to read; the narrative flows and, since much of it is first person as opposed to the boring third person factual descriptions of most history books, the book reads more like a story than a retelling of facts. This is light reading, perfect for someone interested in history but not willing to dive straight into the depths of historical nonfiction.

Nov 1, 2011

Mastiff, by Tamora Pierce

Thus ends Pierce's first-person trilogy about George Cooper's famous ancestress, Beka Cooper. Beka is a guardswoman in the Provost's Guard, an equivalent to today's police force. She patrols the slums of the capital of Tortall with her partner, Tunstall, an older man, her scent hound, Achoo, and Pounce, a black cat with purple eyes and deity-like powers (he's a constellation, not, as people keep thinking, a god).

What is so interesting about this book, which is just as enjoyable as all Pierce's other books, is that it details the rise of the Gentle Mother cult. Its adherents believe that women who fight are trapped by the violence of the lives they lead, and would be fulfilled if only they'd settle down, get married, and have children. This religious movement explains the disappearance of Tortall's lady knights by the time we meet Alanna in the first books Pierce wrote about the realm of Tortall. I'm impressed by an author who is both willing and able to put such a backstory to her work, so that the world is just as consistent as our own. I continue to collect and read Pierce's work with great enjoyment and pleasure.