Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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Alienation – a book chain

January 12, 2009

Hans Persson is doing something interesting over at his book blog Du är vad du läser: a weekly book chain, where you start with a theme, write a paragraph about a book you associate to that theme, then another para about a book you associate with the first one, and so on. The paragraphs are not exactly book reviews, because that would make each link too long, He’s been doing it for a few weeks now, one every week. Take a look if you read Swedish.

At any rate, this week’s starting point is “Alienation” (Utanförskap). The first book I associate with that theme is Jo Walton’s Farthing. The setting is England in 1949, in an alternate history where Britain negotiated a peace settlement with Hitler in 1941. The protagonist is married to a Jewish man, and one of the main themes of the book is the systematic alienation of Jews in Britain – another theme is the failure of the ordinary people to see what is going on. It is utterly plausible and quite, quite chilling. One of the most worthwile reading experiences I had in 2008. (There are two other books in the series. I haven’t read them yet, but I most definitely will do so.)

Another fiction book which deals with World War 2 is Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. This is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, in the form of a young American woman’s journey to Poland to find out more about her late grandmother’s background. She makes some very terrible discoveries indeed, and just as in Farthing, the reader is confronted with the inaction, or inability to comprehend what was going on, by the ordinary people. In this case, the ordinary farmers who lived near the Chelmno extermination camp.

Jane Yolen is an excellent short story writer as well (in fact, I tend to prefer her short fiction – I’ve read over 80 of her short stories and like all of them, but a couple of the novels I’ve read by her haven’t really done it for me), and she is one of the contributors to the short story collection Starlight 1. It is a collection of science fiction/fantasy short stories, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1997. Two of my favourite genres, in a format (short stories) which I really like, only the best authors… what’s not to like? It’s years since I read it, and now I want to re-read it. And the other two collections as well. They are a good introduction to the science fiction field, especially for people who believe that SF has to be about spaceships and aliens.

Starlight 1 naturally leads me to Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. Not a heavyweight in any way, this book, but utterly sympathetic and readable. It is a fairy story for adults, and considerably less grim than many of Gaiman’s works. There is a rather beautifully illustrated edition with illustrations by Charles Vess – and the of course there is the movie, which was made rather later, and which I liked despite not usually being a fan of movies made from books.

I’d better end the chain here, even though I see several directions it could go in (The Jungle Book, Pride and Prejudice and Fray could equally obviously be the next link.) Nice idea, Hans. I hope you’ll keep doing this.

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Cool, and Chaucer

March 2, 2008

I got another audiobook! Canterbury Tales, unabridged, listening pleasure, mine, for the purpose of. I feel rich.

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All happy families are alike

February 23, 2008

As I’m typing this, Anna Karenina is being downloaded to my computer as 712 mp3 files. (Part 156 coming down right now.) I bought it for EUR 12 from the site emusic.com where we buy a lot of excellent music. It’s a very good music store, with a LOT of good music, cheaper by far than iTunes store and without any limitations to how many devices you can play the music on (there’s two people in our family, we have one computer each at home, J has another computer at work, and we both have an iPod. This doesn’t exceed the number of times you can play an iTunes store bought track, but I think it comes close. And I like not supporting that kind of stupidity by buying from them, anyway.) And if a track you’ve once bought is lost for some reason, you can download it again from emusic.com without any extra fee.

This wasn’t going to be a sales pitch for emusic, though I do recommend checking them out, for anybody who is interested in music or audio books. I look forward to listening to almost 34 hours of Anna Karenina. I’ve never read it, as a matter of fact, just excerpts. An audio book is a very different animal from a regular book, not only for the obvious reason that it’s mediated by a person narrating it but also because there is no skimming, and the reading pace is set by another person. The narrator is very important, of course. As I wrote a few days ago, I wouldn’t want to listen to an American voice narrating Jane Austen – though that would depend on the person’s accent. Too-flat narrations are no good either, not if I’m paying money to listen to them, and I’m a bit sensitive to overly theatrical performances as well. A while ago, somebody read his own book on Swedish radio and it was just really painful to listen to, because he was trying to do various regional accents. Which is not a good idea unless you are a genious at accents.

There are enough excellent narrators in the world to keep me happy, though. Torgny Lindgren, as I mentioned before, and also my grade 7-9 Swedish teacher who taught us the history of literature partly by reading parts of the classics to us, making them come alive to us in a way that mere reading of the works wouldn’t have done (and I say this, who has always been fond of reading silently to myself.) Unfortunately neither of those gentlemen is available through emusic, which limits itself to English-language literature. I’m looking forward to discovering the best English narrators; I know of a few I like very much, but there has to be hundreds and hundreds that I would like if I’d heard them.

The download is complete and J is setting the table for lunch, so I’ll wrap this up. Keep listening to books.

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Dunnett

February 18, 2008

I really enjoy reading Dorothy Dunnett. The first time I read Niccolò Rising I found it slightly hard going, but this time I was better prepared, both for the prose style which is lovely but demanding, and for the setting which is rather alien: Flanders in the 15th century. I very much look forward to reading the next book, now.

And tomorrow I’m going to get my eyes checked for new glasses. About time, too.

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You’d love to buy a nice egg beater, wouldn’t you, fuzzy face?

February 12, 2008

It is rather bizarre to hear an American narrating Pride and Prejudice. She’s not at all a bad narrator. On the contrary, she reads very competently and the recording is a labour of love. The problem lies with me – I just can’t listen to that book read in an American accent. I got as far as “Have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?” before switching it off. I suppose this is terribly narrow of me, although of course P&P is a special case, because I have seen the BBC series from 1995 so many times that those actors are become the real people in the book. (I will listen to her narration of Huckleberry Finn however.)

Do other people think about accents like that? To the point where the “wrong” accent really jars and makes an audio book, a movie or a play less enjoyable? Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie, Elijah Wood, is another example – his accent (as well as his age) was so very wrong for the part and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would not be able to listen to a Scanian narrate a book by Torgny Lindgren, either, i somebody would come up with the bizarre idea of recording such a thing. I really take these things too seriously, don’t I – it makes me enjoy things less! But then on the other hand, hearing Torgny Lindgren himself read one of his books, or David Case read P G Wodehouse, is such a pleasure. I guess it is related to listening to a lot of a particular kind of music and losing the ability to enjoy an inferior recording.

The title of this post? It’s not at all related to the contents.

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Robert Jordan and face strategies

February 11, 2008

This is something I have surely mentioned before, but for me, there are three main components to a book that can make me like it or not: style, plot, and characters. Of these, style is probably the most central. There are books I know are really good that I just really dislike because of the style.

At the moment, I am reading Dorothy Dunnett and, for some reason, Robert Jordan. Yes, I am indeed reading the Time Wheel series, skipping as much as possible of the dialogue and the descriptions of people, not to mention inner monologues; some chapters I avoid entirely. Jordan could really plot a story, and I am curious to see what will happen. I have read the first six books before, as a matter of fact, and even rather liked the first four of them, then. Not so much this time.

There are some rules about how people in Jordan’s books behave. All people, without exception. Most important of these rules is that if a man is talking to a woman or a woman to a man, the main purpose of the conversation is to score a point of some kind. This is usually also true when women are talking to each other, and occasionally when men converse with each other. However, many men are able to carry on a conversation that is at least reminiscent of something two real people could have. Never, ever so in discourse between people of different genders. Of course there are people like that in real life, but in Jordan’s world it is true of everybody. My theory is that Jordan was overly obsessed with the strategies that sociolinguists refer to as positive and negative face, strategies that people use quite unconsciously to negotiate communications (at least this is true for English, and also for Swedish and many other Indo-European languages. It is always dangerous to assume that a feature of language is universal.) But Jordan’s characters don’t do it unconsciously, they think about the negotiating strategies all the time, the same way we do when we meet people from a very different culture, for instance, or our new boyfriend’s parents, or some other situation where we are very anxious not to offend and to say the right thing. Or, on the other hand, there could be situations where we consciously use these strategies with an aim to say the wrong thing; my point is that the normal case is not to pay this much conscious attention. Even people like me who often feel quite awkward around other people including people I know well, don’t think about the face strategies that much. Jordan’s people do, though. All the time.

They also sometimes ignore the basic face strateies in a rather unrealistic way in order to score points. Communicating is a game played to win. Again, yes, there are peple like that, but there are also people – the majority – who are not like that, in the real world.

And that is the heart of why his characters are so unrealistic, unlovable and all-out annoying, I think. It’s not primarily that no men can ever understand a woman, and no woman ever understand a man (although all women understand one another perfectly even when they are from radically different cultures. The men are again somewhat closer to real people, but only somewhat.) It is not primarily that every single person acts and thinks like an extreme stereotype of a moody teenager, and that none of them develops or matures – they are still very young 13-year-olds, mentally, by the end of book 6. It is not primarily that values and morals are American conservative values and morals, everywhere on the supposedly very huge continent and outside it. All these things are annoying, but the obsession with face, and the underlying premise that communication is a game where you win or lose, that’s what makes the dialogue and characterisations jar so much that I have to skim rather than read them.

And yet I do read these books, for the story. And I read Dunnett at the same time, as a balm for the soul.

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Mythaxis Magazine

February 5, 2008

Mythaxis is a new online short story magazine, which publishes fantastic fiction (that is, science fiction and fantasy) in English. There is one issue, just published, available at the moment; I have read two of the stories and enjoyed them, so have no compunction about linking to the site. Good quality writing by people I’d like to read more from; mostly previously unknown names but also one story by HG Wells. They welcome submissions of sf/fantasy stories and artwork, btw.

I know the editor of Mythaxis, he is gil of MCiOS fame. I knew he was into sf related activities, and his writing is on par with his widdershins strile. Read Mythaxis Magazine.