juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Mr. Fox
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: Riverhead Books, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 221,710
Text Number: 705
Read Because: reading more from the author/listed here in a reading list from Indra Das, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The iterated narratives of an author, his muse, and his wife. It's stories within stories, stories about stories—a playful, fluid experiment in form that reminds me of Margaret Atwood (especially "Happy Endings") and Joanna Russ (especially The Female Man) in style as well as theme, because this is a conversation on gender, gendered violence, and the relationship between narratives and human experience. It's somewhat limited, but does good by what it engages, particularly as regards competition between women (over men). The iteration is handled about as well, with each instance lasting just long enough to achieve investment. Tone is the weakness; the surreal fairytale atmosphere alternating with parody (especially of historical eras and socioeconomic class) feels disjointed, without the same effective self-awareness or flagrant disregard as Atwood or Russ, above. This is ambitious, and succeeds without excelling.

Title: Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
Editors: adrienne maree brown, Walidah Imarisha
Published: AK Press, 2015
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 222,010
Text Number: 706
Read Because: mentioned in Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An anthology of 20 stories—many of them quite short—of visionary fiction: speculative narratives that explore marginalization, social justice, and radical social change. Many of these stories come from activists who have never written fiction (others are poets, writing here in prose). The lack of experience shows in clumsy, unconvincing worldbuilding, hamfisted social justice themes, and a general dearth of technical skill. There are a few happy exceptions, like the density of "Evidence" by Gumbs and the fluidity of "Lalibela" by Teodros. Editor adrienne maree brown's "the river" is also strong. But, surprisingly, work from published authors isn't much better; the excerpt from Fire on the Mountain by Bisson is the most promising, but it doesn't work as a short story. The intent of this anthology is pointed and brilliant, and there's something refreshing about reading work from activists whom I otherwise might not encounter. But it's simply not very good. The majority of stories share a structure which frontloads worldbuilding and characterization, but cuts off plot while the larger conflict remains unresolved—a logical limitation, given the complexity of the social conflicts at hand and the lengths of these stories, but still repetitive and oddly self-defeating: all these narratives about social change, rarely offering a plan to change society. There are exceptions—there are uplifting stories, cathartic stories, productive stories; but on the whole, this collection feels like an unfulfilled ambition as well as being technically unaccomplished. I admire it, but didn't enjoy it, and don't recommend it.

There are also two nonfiction essays; "The Only Lasting Truth," Tananarive Due writing on Octavia Butler, is a good read and strong finish to the anthology.

Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Published: Broadway Books, 2014 (2012)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 375
Total Page Count: 222,385
Text Number: 707
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After his crew makes an emergency evacuation, one astronaut is stranded on Mars, left to MacGyver his survival. Remember that bit of Hugh Howey's Wool where someone has to improvise an underwater breathing apparatus in order to repair a generator? that scene, but long form, with an irreverent tone in counterpoint to the harrowing survival situation. This was originally self-published, and feels like it: the tone is repetitive and everything outside of the protagonist's PoV shows this most and worst; the pacing is rendered predictable by condensed foreshadowing and an "everything that can go wrong will go wrong" plot. It's compulsively readable, absolutely—the sudden-onset crises and their clever (nerdy, math-heavy, repetitive, but: clever) solutions makes for a lot of momentum. But there's no cumulative effect or staying power.

(Teja of pretty much the same opinion. He accidentally read it super fast, so I did too, and that's what it has going for it: momentum, speed, action-adventurey survival. He had more tolerance for the tone and voice—also works among this same power nerd demographic, so he has more fond feelings; I actually didn't mind it until external PoVs were introduced, as they are of two types: incredibly dry inanimate object narratives, and the realization that all the characters sound like this & Weir doesn't actually have any grasp of tone, this is just his default. Wouldn't have read on my own, but don't regret reading it—it's harmless. But pls Missy pls stop reading white dudes!!! they're boring!!!!)

(I will tag on to almost anything Teja reads just for the opportunity to read something with someone and talk to them! about books!—but his inclinations v. much run towards "things that appear on a lot of lists" and, surprise, dominant culture reiterates itself & has shitty taste.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Every Heart a Doorway (Every Heart a Doorway Book 1)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Published: New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 170
Total Page Count: 187,200
Text Number: 550
Read Because: interest in portal fantasies, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is home to youths who have previously gone through portals into fantastic realms and now find themselves back in the mundane world, searching for a way to fit in—and to get back. As a piece of metafiction, this is captivating. I don't always agree with it (I wish there were more explicit discussion of folklore, the explanation for the gender differential is insufficient, I want more information the minor directions, and the way students judge some portal worlds feels like a betrayal—albeit, perhaps, an intentional one), but even my arguments indicate engagement. As a story, this is less successful. I love the diverse cast in theory but the execution is somewhat hamfisted; the mystery plot has a great tone, but otherwise distracts from rather than contributing to the premise. I wish that all of Every Heart a Doorway were as sublime as its concept, but the general thrust remains an unequivocal delight. I look forward to rereading this someday.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: My Real Children
Author: Jo Walton
Published: New York: Tor, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 176,605
Text Number: 517
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the grips of dementia, Patricia remembers the two parallel paths of her long life. This frame narration is interesting but too concise, particularly in the book's resolution. And there's something disappointing in the final message of spoilers. ). But the embedded narrative is fantastic. Each life is full of minute detail, but the alternating narrative maintains the pacing. Patricia's lifetimes, one in an abusive marriage, the other as a lesbian in a nuclear world, are issue-heavy and occasionally moralizing, but with the best intentions; together, they illustrate the way that sexuality and sexism and circumstance build a life. In no reality is Patricia confined to her social limitations; she remains, and makes herself, a complete and dynamic person. My Real Children is intimate, finely detailed, sympathetic, and personal; beautiful to read, for all its heartbreak. That it sometimes folds under close scrutiny makes the experience it offers no less effective.

This is not quite one of the books-about-books that compel me to write lists–but it’s by Jo Walton; of course it’s also about the narratives we consume to create ourselves. Thus:

Media mentioned in My Real Children
including name-dropped historical figures, not including locations; in approximate order of appearance; probably not exhaustive, but close

Charlotte Sometimes, Penelope Farmer
J.R.R. Tolkien (as a teacher), also: The Lord of the Rings
Margaret Drabble ("at Oxford [....] everyone had the excitement of thinking they might be going to be someone famous." I can't find the source of this reference.)
Elizabeth Gaskell, generally and: Cranford
"Ozymandias," Percy Bysshe Shelley ("The lone and level sands stretch far away")
"Sea Fever," John Masefield ("the lonely sea and the sky")
John Ball ("When Adam delved")
King Canute
A.E. Housman
John Milton
Metaphysical poets
The Bible; The Acts of the Apostles
Virginia Woolf, generally and: A Room of One's Own
Robert Herrick
Andrew Marvell
T.S. Eliot
1984, George Orwell (the two minute's hate)
The letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barret Browning
Thomas Hardy
William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, also "Shakespeare's bawdy"
Romanticism, specifically: its view of nature
Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Adventures of Roderick Random, Tobias Smollett
D.H. Lawrence
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (Malthusian belts)
Andrew Marvell
"To His Coy Mistress," Andrew Marvell ("A hundred years should go to praise Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred to adore each breast..." "Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball" "And tear our pleasures with rough strife Through the iron gates of life" "Time's wingèd chariot")
Gustave Doré's etchings of Dante's Divine Comedy, specifically of Inferno
Inferno, Dante Alighieri, trans. Dorothy L Sayers
Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
Renaissance art
Madonna of the Magnificat, Primavera, and The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli
Raphael, specifically: portraits of popes
Ganymede, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, and autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini
Bust of Cellini, Raffaello Romanelli
Christ and St. Thomas, Andrea del Verrocchio
Oscar Wilde (in context of homosexuality)
Alan Turing (cameo)
Niccolò Machiavelli
Middlemarch, George Eliot (Causaubon's sterile Key to All Mythologies)
The frescoes of Pitti Palace: Lorenzo de' Medici welcoming the exiled muses to Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici pointing out the young Michelangelo
Marsilio Ficino's tomb (and as translator of:)
David, Michelangelo
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan
The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer
Astounding Science-Fiction a.k.a. Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Miscellaneous paintings: of Saint Elizabeth, of anonymous Renaissance Italian women in crowds
John Donne, general and specific: ("Her marriage had never been her whole life. Donne was wrong about that as so much else." I can't find the source of this reference.)
"To Lucasta, going to the Wars," Arthur Quiller-Couch ("I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not Honour more")
Peter Gabriel (musician)
Italian pop and "Volga beat"
Antonio Vivaldi
Igor Stravinsky
Henry Moore
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Since my favorite thing, of all possible things, is when a book turns out to be about books, and this particular book was about the way that we use narratives to understand, interpret, and create ourselves (and, also, was phenomenal), I present:

Book mentioned in Fire and Hemlock
(including plays, but excluding music, sorry; in approximate order of appearance; nearly but probably not exhaustive)

Times Out of Mind, ed. L. Perry (fictional)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (referred to as The Wizard of Oz), L. Frank Baum
The Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
The Box of Delights, John Masefield
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White
The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Black Beauty, Anne Sewell
Sherlock Holmes (collected stories), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Popular Beliefs (Nina reads this one--it's a non-fiction book but probably fictional)
Author: Michael Moorcock (Seb reads this)
Author: Isaac Asimov
"East of the Sun and West of the Moon," traditional
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G.K. Chesterton
The Thirty-nine Steps, John Buchan
Tom's Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
The Oxford Book of Ballads, ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch
The Castle of Adventure, Enid Blyton
Pierrot, traditional (Polly performs this)
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde (another forum performs this)
The Golden Bough, James George Frazer
Twelfth Night, Shakespeare (Polly performs this)
Shakespeare, in general (who borrows plots from everywhere!)
Tales from Nowhere (fictional)
"Ode To a Nightingale," John Keats
and, of course:
"Tam Lin," traditional
"Thomas the Rhymer," traditional


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