Sep. 22nd, 2017

juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Ecliptic
Author: Benjamin Wood
Narrator: Jane MacFarlane
Published: Penguin Audio, 2016 (2015)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 470
Total Page Count: 232,315
Text Number: 740
Read Because: this review, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the first third: an artist's colony, stylized and idyllic, contemplating themes of inspiration and artistic craft. In the middle third: a life history which initially and often feels like an excessively long parenthetical, wherein is revealed that the protagonist suffers severe mental health issues. In the final third: the aspects are united, revealing the colony as a hallucination which is part of the aforementioned illness. The voice is decent, overlong and overdetailed in a way that offers a hypnotic immersion if the reader is willing to be lost to its rhythm. The navel-gazing about art is indulgent, but counterbalanced by some extent by revelations in the ending which contextualize and deescalate all the artistic angst. But I hate, hate, hate the use of (mental) illness as a plot twist—in part because it made for unexpected, triggering content which dampened my reading experience; in larger part because it's insincere and exploitative—yes, even the twist is justified by the nature of the condition, even when the portrayal is sympathetic. It consigns it to a gimmick, to a mystery, rather than a lived experience, and the style and themes can't hold up with the twist removed. I admit my bias; bias or not, I don't recommend this.

Title: The Changeling
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Illustrator: Alton Raible
Published: New York: Scholastic, 1974 (1970)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 230
Total Page Count: 232,545
Text Number: 741
Read Because: beautiful, old copy found at a Little Free Library
Review: Chubby, mousy Martha's childhood best friend is Ivy, daughter from a no-good family who claims to be a changeling. This has an episodic structure that threatens to be overbearing: the adventures of two imaginative outsiders are charming, evocative, sympathetic, but also frivolous. It's the cumulative effect which matters more, and while Martha's arc is dated (fat reader surrogates are fantastic; fat reader surrogates who lose weight while gaining confidence is problematic) her emotional growth still resonates and the relationship between the girls has sincere chemistry. Ivy is by far the more interesting, dynamic character; Martha is a conservative PoV choice, but Snyder's compassion prevents Ivy's story from becoming a morality lesson and off-centering the most thoughtful parts of the narrative is something I suspect would age well with the reader. I would have liked this more as a younger reader; the restrained, episodic style means there's nothing especially engaging for an incoming adult reader. But I think I would have liked it very much indeed, and still appreciate Snyder's humor and humanity.

Title: Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle Book 1)
Author: Malka Ann Older
Narrator: Christine Marshall
Published: Macmillan Audio, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 232,935
Text Number: 742
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the near future, micro-democracy has divided the world into miniaturize nationstates headed by a single supermajority. But irregularities in the upcoming election threaten to destabilize the entire process. The setting is worldwide and convincingly detailed (especially the food and internet use), even if the technology/centralization is untenable. There's an attempt to make the characters accessible (and this almost succeeds in Mishima, arguably the protagonist), but with so many characters and such an excess of headhopping it's difficult to grow invested. The plot has a quick, clever pace—but I confess that I had a hard time keeping track of all the players and names, and was insufficiently invested to care. In other words, a decent book with the wrong reader—there's an audience for that Older is doing here, for smart and diverse techno/political thrillers; but it's not for me, and nothing jumped out to convince me otherwise.


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