Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ceci n'est pas une books post

Stuffing little parenthetical updates into the booklist just isn't going to cut it, altho I have fallen into the "everything must be PROFOUND or at least not boring" trap, hah. Screw it, these are just notes on what I've read recently.


Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan Maguire -- another intro to another of the author's interminable, no doubt super-lucrative, series. A lot of genre authors have been very ill-served by genre publishers' obsession with super-lucrative series, and that was before the mainstream media's current Game of Crap obsession. Disappointing, because I picked this up after reading the original stories online -- they've been taken down, but Wayback Machine is your friend and mine -- and those were good. Somehow most of the material got recycled into pulp, sigh. (And these don't seem to be actual urban legends, but urban legends Maguire made up, which are just not that interesting.)

Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis, Christine Montross -- one of those "well-meaning but God, this was badly written" books. The main problem is that the author's rose-coloured mini-memoirs about her personal life aren't well-integrated with the medical curiosity stories, and she has no profound -- or even really any new -- insights into mental illness. But she seems like a good doctor and genuinely caring person. Criticizing a book like this always makes me feel like I'm kicking a puppy, just wasn't that good. It'd be a good book for medical students to read, I guess.

Living with a Wild God: A Non-Believer's Search For the Truth About Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich -- fucking amazing. Go read it. Now. No no, right now. Beautifully written, scary in its blazing intelligence, as precisely argued as a theorem.  Unsettlingly, large swathes of it could've done as my adolescent autobiography, too, altho I was never that logical or mathematical (or interesting). Plus, a lot of it is just damn funny. I love Nickel & Dimed but this is on a wholly (hah!) different level.

What I'm reading now -- Never Let Me Go (yeah yeah, I'm always years if not DECADES behind everyone else).  Been meaning to read this for ages, and after having to go off my medz for financial reasons for about a week and a half, I didn't much feel up to challenging stuff, so here Kazzy and I are. Describing a science fiction setting as if it's mundane instead of futuristic and ooh shiny! is always a challenge, and Ishiguro is handling it well so far (I'm on page -- wait no, "Loc 283" -- no, wait -- the bit where she's talking to Tommy in the lunch queue, AUGH I miss actual pages). I am already sick of Tommy and his Wild Rages arising from his Not-At-All-Artistic-No-Really Soul, and want more Ruth-and-Kathy, but I know I'm not going to get that, sigh. Kathy is also basically the butler Stevens in drag, and a very unconvincing female character (compare this to Atwood's act of male ventriloquism in Oryx & Crake, which also included a beautiful example of a woman telling a man a tale he wants to hear which gradually turns into her own, heartbreakingly real, story). 

(And all you people going on about how "this isn't real science fiction" make me tired. It's about CLONES! so it's fucking science fiction. For Christ's sake. Altho all science fiction is fantasy, anyway, because all fiction is fantasy -- it's all made up -- which usually gets the science fiction fans even madder at me, so.) 

But you don't read Ishiguro for convincing Others, or beautiful prose, or compelling characterization, or even likely plots, but for the way the situations he puts his people in haunt you, long after finishing their stories. Kathy and Stevens are both collaborators in the regimes they serve, but also innocent -- or is there really any such thing? But how would you rebel? Is it even possible? And how much do we collaborate, in our own seemingly mundane lives -- what daily atrocities and awful compromises are we, unknowingly, committing -- and is it that we can't know, or don't let ourselves know? 

There are no good answers, possibly no answers at all; he "only" describes, he doesn't condemn, which lets the full horror flower. (Hell, maybe I do like him, after all, even if I always want to pour gallons of ice water on his characters to WAKE THEM UP.)


Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful, and their hesitant progression into knowledge of their plight is an extreme and heartbreaking version of the exodus of all children from the innocence in which the benevolent but fraudulent adult world conspires to place them. We grow up—if we're lucky—in security and wonder, and afterward are delivered to the grotesque fact of our end. And then?