Saturday, September 6, 2014

Since I returned home from England...

...I've read some wonderful books.

I've been delighted to be back in the land of libraries that let you check things out and my own overflowing to-read shelf, which is supposed to be a single shelf, but is currently two and a bit (taking up valuable space for academic books for dissertation work!) The very first thing I did was pull out what are, for me, quintessential summer reads:

Tove Jansson's Finn Family Moomintroll and The Summer Book - these books span the course of a single (or several) summers, but I originally read both out of season. There was something magical about reading them in the heat and humidity of a North Carolina August, the rocks, rivers, and breezes of island life in the North Atlantic calling me to adventures... Upon re-read, Jansson's prose remains equally fanciful, but the more somber undertones regarding introversion, loneliness, and death came more to the forefront.

I exercised heroic restraint at my first trip back to the public library, coming home with only five books, and I have so far kept to my intention to switch between library sci-fi/fantasy/YA with Viragos off my to-read shelf. It has turned out to be a very refreshing alternation of genres, themes, and reading expectations.

Helen Dunmore's The Tide Knot - I still think Dunmore's idea of mermaids as half-seal instead of half-fish is clever (and the source of husband's and my many arguments about whether mermaids are fish or mammals), as is her conceit that Ingo (Sea) is a neighboring world to Earth and Air, the transition possible only for a few. It's hard for a second book in a series to sustain the fascination of the first, where the magical worlds were first introduced, but this one substituted plot and a terrific action sequence (and some very satisfying, if sad answers to some of the mysteries left open at the end of Ingo) and was reasonably successful in keeping the series interesting. I do plan to read the other three, but my public library doesn't have them (off to ILL!).

Radclyffe Hall's The Unlit Lamp - Possibly the first lesbian fiction I've read, which is a glaring omission considering my desire to read about as many aspects as possible of the woman's experience. I was amazed that though nothing happens in this novel - literally nothing; it's all about how a driven, intelligent young woman ultimately fails in her bid to escape from her stifling home to make a career for herself - I couldn't put it down. It asks hard questions about our responsibilities to other people, especially when those responsibilities prevent us from living our own lives.

Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island - My thoughts on this book are one enormous ball of wonder and awe. Like Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper and Chime, Lanagan uses unbelievably beautiful, poetic prose in service of a story based on folklore. This book uses the selkie myth (seals turned into women, forced to marry the man who steals her coat, and who will forsake her husband and children to return to the sea should she ever find that coat) to grapple with questions of sexuality and desire, shame, power dynamics within relationships and within communities, differing responses to the oppression born of systemic patriarchy, agency, and tradition. And more. From multiple perspectives (we hear the narrative through the voices of six very different characters - but, tellingly, never the voice of a seal-maiden herself). Because no one I know has read this book (which will hopefully change as I push it on people), I had to search out other reviews to satisfy my need to hear others converse about this incredible novel; I wanted to share with you my favorites: Ana at Things Mean a Lot and Karyn Silverman at Someday My Printz Will Come.

Katharine Thurston's The Fly on the Wheel - Meh. It's basically The Age of Innocence set in Catholic Ireland, but I didn't care about any of the characters, and her writing was increasingly frustrating, since Thurston felt the need to immediately spell out any symbolism or subtext. I finished it, but have no interest in keeping it.

Next up, Physik (third in the Septimus Heap series).

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