Jun 30, 2013

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

This famous novel is firmly entrenched in the fantasy pantheon, and I had been looking forward to reading it for years. While I appreciate its incredible originality, and absolutely love the idea behind it, I have to say I was a bit bored with the book itself. I know I'm reading a book I really like when I forgo Netflix or Reddit in order to sit and read for hours at a time. This book, I read only when eating and before I went to bed; the one time I tried to just sit and read, I became restless after fifteen minutes. Perhaps the problem lies not in the inherent value of the novel, which was unique at the time it was published, but in the fact that there have been many copycats since then. Having read the latter, the former just doesn't seem as exciting as it must have twelve years ago. I wish I had read it when it first came out, as I believe I would have liked it better. I certainly have enjoyed other Gaiman books. He's a fantastic storyteller, with that uniquely British sensibility I like so much. My slight disappointment with this novel will not stop me from reading Gaiman's other work.

Jun 19, 2013

English Creek, by Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig is one of my favorite fiction writers. His books, set in the West and Pacific Northwest, seem to me to be the literary equivalent of walking softly while carrying a big stick. Filled with cowboys and ranching and men who work hard but say little, Doig's characters and stories speak immense truths in the most unassuming ways. This particular novel, sequel to his famous "Dancing at the Rascal Fair," is a bit heavy on the ranching information, but no less powerful when getting down to the nitty gritty, as, for example: "People. A pain you can't do without." "English Creek" is ostensibly a coming of age story - Jick, a few months shy of fifteen, bridges the awkward gap between child and adult - but it is more about the end of an era, heralded by cars and telephones and World War II. I could have done without so many detailed descriptions of haying and of the national forest; these make the first hundred pages or so a little difficult to push through. After that, the story picks up, and it became easier for me to fall into Doig's writing the way I always do. Though this isn't my favorite Doig novel, it is still beautiful and moving, and as always, I look forward to discovering more of his work.

Jun 13, 2013

Bringing up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman

What an utterly fascinating book! Okay, full disclosure, I have no children of my own, no younger siblings, and never really babysat, so my frame of reference for child rearing techniques is admittedly quite limited. That being said, working years in retail has acquainted me with how American children of different ages act, and how their parents (usually mothers) often respond. It's also a culturally accepted fact that American parents will be exhausted by child care and that they would do just about anything to ensure their children a leg up in the world, even if it makes them look ridiculous.

Druckerman, a journalist and mother of three, lives and raises her children in France with her British husband, and witnessing the drastically different French style of child rearing inspired her to research and write this book. She acknowledges that she and her fellow Anglophone mothers are all too familiar with sleepless nights, tyrannical children who refuse to behave, and complaints about their husbands' varying degrees of uselessness. But Druckerman's French friends all have children who sleep through the night a mere three or four months after birth, who are impeccably behaved and sit quietly at the dinner table and are happy to eat what is placed before them, and actively romantic sex lives with their husbands. Druckerman's quest is to find out what philosophies and attitudes might lead to this difference, and whether it is achievable for parents outside of French culture. What she finds out and the conclusions she arrives at are astounding, both in their far-reaching consequences and their simplicity, and her engaging, personable writing makes this a wonderful read.

Jun 10, 2013

The Circle of Magic series, books 2-4, by Tamora Pierce

A little while ago, I reread the first book of this series, written by my favorite childhood author. When I had initially read it, many years ago, I didn't like it nearly as much as I loved The Song of the Lioness series, and was disappointed. I decided to give it another go and read the first book again, and it turned out that I liked it just fine. Over the last couple of days I read the rest of the series, and I think I understand why I didn't enjoy them in the first place. The Song of the Lioness, along with Pierce's several other series, focuses on one female protagonist. This made it easy for me to identify with her, while also making it simpler for a young reader to follow the thread of the story. The Circle of Magic has four protagonists, one of whom is a boy, and I think it was just a little jarring for my younger self. These books are also Pierce's only to take place in a different universe from all her other series, and that was a world I fell in love with long ago, whose rules and eccentricities I'm as aware of as our own. Loving Alanna's world made it difficult to love Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar's. Reading it now, Pierce's writing still has the same pull on me as when I was 12; she really is a treasure of a young adult writer. And while I don't love them as much as her Tortall books, I look forward to reading the next installment in these young mages' lives.

Jun 5, 2013

The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye

I have only one problem with this literary mystery, as it is on the whole quite good. "The Gods of Gotham" is written in the first person, which is perfectly fine, except that the narrator, Timothy Wilde, claims more than once to be "no dab hand with words," and Faye is decidedly not that. She is, in fact, a talented, evocative writer, and I'd absolutely read anything else she writes. But it's incredibly jarring to write beautifully in the first person then have your narrator claim to be bad at writing. The whole point of first person narrative is to get deep inside the protagonist's mind, to see the world through his or her eyes and experience it as they experience it. Tim Wilde says he is a simple man, a drawer but not a writer, but every word of this book is rich and textured and deliberate. Faye's good writing is completely out of character for her protagonist, and it took me quite a while to train myself to ignore that fact and just enjoy the book. It's simply incredible that no editor picked up on this dissonance immediately.

Aside from that, as I said, the book is quite well written and interesting. I especially liked witnessing the birth of New York City's first police force, and the politicking that went on around and alongside it is fascinating. The crime itself was a bit on the morbid side for my taste, but in today's society, one has to get pretty far out there to create a feeling of shock, and Faye can hardly be blamed for her audience.