Monday, January 25, 2016

Comfort reads

Between Husband leaving after a long stretch of being home, which always makes me a bit melancholy, plus a cold (very brief – I’m learning how to take care of myself! Self-care is important!), coupled with a whole bunch of DNFs (seriously, this is the worst run of DNFs in a while), I’ve been enjoying comfort reads.

Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons is the first in her Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and it’s by far the best. The others are worth reading – Mendenbar is pretty great, and Telemain is awesomely insufferable – but the first one is just such a perfect gem of a book, with an unforgettable heroine and just exactly the right tone of love and absurdity. It might not feel all that original now, but its story of a princess who didn’t want to do princess-y things and ran away to have adventures was utterly unique at the time. It was one of my childhood favorites, and in fact, for a while, I didn’t know there were any sequels.

Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child was not a childhood favorite, but a recent release that immediately became one of my favorite books. It marries a retelling of a Russian folk story with the rugged harshness of 1920s homesteading Alaska. I re-read it every year now, with the first snowfall of winter. Each time, I get something different out of it. My first read focused on the central tension, “is she or isn’t she real?” with special attention paid to the way that Jack and Mabel seemed to embody realism and imagination respectively, but ended up almost switching roles. My second read was all about the violence of the Alaskan winter and of hunting, and I marveled at how different my experience of The Snow Child was. This time, I spent the whole book wondering if Faina existed at all, or whether she was an embodiment of the Alaskan wilderness itself, shaped to the needs of the people she interacted with. It’s amazing how a good novel can produce so many different responses, and even more so when the book itself is a debut.
 

Then I got sick. And when I’m sick, I get apathetic. I don’t want to watch anything, I don’t want to read anything; I just sit staring at my bookshelf or DVD shelf getting steadily more frustrated that nothing calls out to me. With a fuzzy head, I don’t have the desire to read something new, so I always end up with a comfort read of some kind. First, I tried Piers Anthony’s first Xanth book, and got so angry I almost threw it across the room. Oh my goodness, the suck fairy (c.f. Jo Walton) has visited this childhood favorite in a big way. Sexism, objectifying women, rape culture, toxic masculinity, it's all there. I was amazed and appalled and will probably give this omnibus back to my father. So instead I read a little-known cyberpunk series that, most improbably, has always held a place among my deepest loves. Raven in Hex (first of Rhiannon Lassiter’s Hex trilogy) is a manic-depressive, psychotic, antisocial, selfish, violent, rock music-loving computer genius, and I wanted to be her. Hex isn’t the best-written book, and it doesn’t clearly fit into a category anymore because it was published before YA became a thing (so it’s middle-grade length with YA concepts, but without any romance). But I have loved it for so long that it will always hold a place on my bookshelf.

4 comments:

  1. I'm back, and so pleased to see that you are still blogging about your reading, Samantha! I have a lot to catch up. "Dealing With Dragons" is an absosolute family favourite. We first listened to it on a long drive to British Columbia and as is so rarely the case every single one of us loved it. We bought the series while we were away and took turns with it. Interestingly, it was you who first recommended The Snow Child to me a few years ago and I did eventually get a copy. I'll take this as a sign that I need to get right on reading it and stop using it as a dust collector. Looking forward to digging in to your archives.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by again! I'm afraid I do very little book blogging, but occasionally am able to keep up with it.

      As for The Snow Child - yes, yes! Especially if you've got snow or even just cold wintry weather. It's lovely this time of year.

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  2. I've had that same feeling of not being able to enjoy a book that I loved when I was younger because of all the sexism, etc. that I absorbed without noticing before!

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    1. I find Jo Walton's concept of the suck fairy to be a particularly useful one in such circumstances. It doesn't mean you were a bad person to not notice things when you were younger. But now that you're older/more observant/better educated/more analytical, you notice things for the first time, almost as if they didn't use to be there...and the suck fairy has visited again.

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