Sunday, December 30, 2012

tiny beautiful things

This came up in a conversation about Captain Awkward - I still think it’s one of the better reviews I’ve ever done.

a review of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

a heaven where some screams have gone

Love. Children. Earning a living. Friends. Drinking. Pushed too far, to do too much. Silent years....
- Elizabeth Smart, journal entry on February 13, 1976

 (quoted in Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and their Famous Literary Partnerships)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

reading Wednesday 12/12/2012

Well, Tumblr's working again, so nobody's going to be reading anything else, but I like this idea anyway, and I want to write about BOOKS more on the internet, altho I feel sort of like a small doughty pebble getting swept up in the loud immense 48 fps tide powering down upon us from the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world. Hah.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions… 

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

 I am Sick as Fucking Hell (it's a technical medical term) with chronic acute sinusitis (which one, you lucky dog? They're both cute, those Sinusitis girls) which has plagued me all my life and ONLY NOW have I found a doctor even remotely sympathetic to the idea that no really, I need long-term antibiotics when this happens and I'm not some kind of Augmentin junkie (that word always throws me off because it makes me think of Le Guin's "Augmentor".....anyway) -- so I've been reading and rereading comfort books. I've been sick since about the end of October (FUCK), so I reread the Holmes canon. All the Holmes canon, even Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four, which I really truly don't like. I always put off "His Final Problem" until after I've reread all my favourites and then immediately have to fix it with "The Adventure of the Empty House" afterwards, because I am a sap. (It always amazes me Watson doesn't just fucking sucker punch Holmes at the end of "The Dying Detective," but ANYWAY.) I reread Hound of the Baskervilles twice because that was my first Holmes ever and it's my perpetual favourite.

Then I was all out of Holmes. And I was still sick and couldn't focus on anything longer than a shortish novella that didn't have dropped clues all over it and wasn't neatly explained at the end. My eyes were returning to the little morocco case with the seven per cent solution and the syringes (EVERY detail points to Holmes knocking himself out with morphine, can you imagine him on crack?). I was jonesing.  

"I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." 
-- Arthur Conan Doyle to his mother, 1891

"You won't! You can't! You mustn't!" 
-- Arthur Conan Doyle's mother

So I went looking for methadone. Years and years ago when you wanted this sort of thing you had to hunt around in shadowy corners and sometimes even suffer hectographitis of the digits or "Xerox lung," but in these digital times you can just order authorized sequels and pastiches downloaded right onto your registered corneas, uh, I mean e-reader. So far have piled up: The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr, The West End Horror (already read Seven Per Cent Solution a while back) by Nicholas Meyer, Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye, A Slight Trick of the Mind (with grave misgivings) and The House of Silk (with slightly less grave misgivings. Call them coffin misgivings? No?).

Sadly I found Meyer really arch and unreadable -- that's probably a bad side effect of either the sinusitis or the Augmentin, because the day I don't love culture vulture literary references is the day I'm really fucking sick. Also bought Dirda's On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, which was 90% about books other than Holmes, and also really glossed over the imperialism and, yes, racism as completely as the latest shiny "steampunk century" website. That was dreadfully disappointing.  

Dust and Shadow was really surprisingly good -- there was a great working-class original female character who wasn't a dreadful Mary Sue, Watson's narrative voice was just right, and although it was a Holmes v Ripper book, it wasn't horrendously graphic. (Number of Holmes v Ripper pastiche novels I now own: five. Number of Holmes v Ripper pastiche novels I owned last week: zero. I amused myself by wittily -- so I thought -- tagging them "Alien v Predator" on LibraryThing, only to get solemnly lectured by someone on Twitter, but then again Twitter seems to drop peoples' IQ numbers right along with that 140-character limit.) I would highly recommend it.

I just couldn't face Trick of the Mind, with droopy older Holmes apparently going all Late-Roth-and-Updike about his past affairs (what?), and oh, my God, House of Silk was bad, just bad. He fluffed Watson's voice, everyone else sounded like fake-Watson as well, the author committed phonetic fake Cockney upon the defenseless characters and reader and never stood in the dock for it, and if Dirda skated right over all the 19th-century prejudices, Anthony Horowitz was apologizing for them every other page. Holmes had never thought of the danger he sent the Irregulars into! Watson had never thought of the people they put away as anything more than just criminals! It was done in the most heavy-handed anachronistic way. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with pointing out the glaring social injustices of other eras -- in fact I think it's necessary -- but when it's done so poorly, the intended criticism is itself undercut and the author just looks hypocritical and patronizing.

Now I'm eyeing Caleb Carr. I really didn't like The Alienist and I tried The Angel of Darkness but just couldn't get through it, so I am not hopeful. What I really want is for Lyndsay Faye to write another Holmes novel, but apparently she's spun off her own series about a former Irish bartender who's now a Yank private dick in the 19th century "in the manner of The Alienist" (groan), so no joy there.

Or I could just reread Hound of the Baskervilles again -- its kick never dulls.  

And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance.

-- Arthur Conan Doyle, Preface to The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes