Winterfair Gifts – 3/5 Stars
This is a reread from a few years ago when I read all of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. I also started rereading them last year and got through about half before I stopped short, but I bet this will get me started started again.
This book also starts out or sets of to tell the story through an alternate perspective from the other books. So far we’ve had Miles being the lead protagonist in the most of the books, followed by his mother Cordelia, and then two one offs — Ethan of Athos and Falling Free which don’t have any Vorkosigans at all.
This novella takes places at a wedding and focuses mainly on a security officer guarding the affair. He is connected to Miles and an ancillary character to other novels, and at the wedding he finds himself attracted to and spending time with Taura, the large, genetically modified wolf-woman who works with Miles and is definitely in love with him as well. Taura is up to something, but it’s not clear what, but given their differences and reasons not to trust each other, the two find themselves connected in a small mystery for the bulk of the novella, and in a touching and sweet conclusion, find themselves in each other’s arms. I like this novella a lot and it’s very sweet, but the Miles Vorkosigan novels about plot, and there’s a satisfying amount of plot here, but the book is more about giving some minor characters their own chance at a narrative.
Door in the Wall – 3/5 Stars
A kids’ novel from the late 1940s. This novel takes place in England during the 14th century, which I recently learned closely aligns with the history of the plague, depending on the decade. This book is about the plague. Our protagonist does not get the plague, but does get an illness with causes him to loose the use of his legs, and now, a child in the grips on a crippling disease finds out that it takes the kindness and grace of others to be treated well amid these circumstances. He mostly feels down on himself for his plight, and well, yeah, who wouldn’t. But he also finds strength in the kindness of others.
The title refers to a metaphor created by one of his benefactors, a monk, who sees a wall as an obstacle and any door is the thing that allows one passage through that hardship. So the book does a good job of teaching the purpose and use of figurative language and idiomatic language to young readers. But this book has the issue of being from the 1940s and well, who knows if a kid would be able to read this without being exceptionally talented at reading. This novel puts me in the mind of a book I loved as a kid Adam of the Road, which was one of those novels a teacher put on a list and I went to the library and saw it and good excited, got intimidated by its length, and then loved it and think about it from time to time.
Start Now! – 3/5 Stars
So this is a encyclopedic book devoted to living well written by Chelsea Clinton. In addition, she narrates the audiobook.
It’s an interesting book that is mostly fine and good, though I doubt some of the soundness of some of the advice. Fatty foods are fine in and of themselves, but do add a lot of calories for a very little amount of food, but are not an issue otherwise. There’s a few more issues like this.
But the problem with this book is not that the information is wrong or the message is off, but instead it’s so preachy and telly. Like I get it that you have to do all these things and try to live well. And so while the book does a good job of teaching white liberalism to white liberal children in terms of food justice, and climate change, and health, and other such issues, I can’t imagine this being a book that will help any kids looking for ways out of situations on the far side of the issue. To combat almost any of the issues presented in the book and to engaged in positive responses to them requires the privilege to make choices and not simply eat what you can and live how you can and just get by. And so then, if the message here is only truly accessible to people of privilege, who is it for, given the likelihood of their already in a position to make these choices in healthy ways?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – 5/5 stars
I didn’t realize I was going to love this, but I loved this one. I decided to read it because I read all of The Once and Future King last year and I am looking into reading The Crystal Cave before long, and this felt like a big gap.
What I kind of expected was a perfectly story that I could get something interesting out of. What I didn’t expect was a cool, sometime rhyming, mini-epic that reads quite clearly and entertainingly in the contemporary terms.
So the plot here is that all the knights of the Round Table are hanging out and getting drunk about Christmas time. Out of nowhere a giant green knight shows up, and when we say green, we mean Green green green green….everything about him is green…his armor, his face, his hair, his horse, his sword, and his axe. Well about that axe, he challenges the whole room to a game. He will let someone hit him with that axe any way and any where they want and then a year and a week later he gets to do the same. So they grumble about it and Gawain says let me! And they do. So he picks up the axe and chops off the Green Knight’s head. Well, that doesn’t kill him. So he goes off a-questing for the rest of the year and close time to a year out he meets a lady and hooks up with her and then boom the Green Knight is back.
I also read this because I might want to read the Iris Murdoch novel the Green Knight soon and should know the story.
Anyway, here’s how I would beat the green knight. Lightly tap him with the axe.
Some of Your Blood – 4/5 stars
I don’t know much about Theodore Sturgeon, except his name is a fish and he gets name-dropped in almost too goofy way in David Brin’s The Postman.
This book starts off with a letter to a psychiatrist to another psychiatrist discussing an army man who’s been imprisoned in a mental hospital for striking a superior officer. It’s treated like a kind of injustice based on revenge. So the doctor finds the patient and starts interviewing him. The book then switches to a long central narrative about “George” the name the patient gives himself growing up and having a fitful and abusive childhood and being very good at hunting and making traps and having a screwed sexual relationship and a terrible relationship with his father.
We then are treated to a series of different medical documents — reports, interviews, case studies, etc that give us more and more of the background of the case.
It’s a very short, dark book and at one really shocking moment, I gasped, which was great.
The book reads like a weird mix of Robert Louis Stevenson, Iain Banks, and Jim Thompson — if you can imagine that.
The Mysterious Stranger – 3/5 Stars
This is a very odd novella by Mark Twain that he apparently wrote over the course of a decade or so when in the late 1890s/early 1900s and didn’t get published until he died.
A group of boys in Austria in the late 16th century meet a new visitor to their town named Satan. Not THE Satan, but his son. He tells them he’s an angel and that so was his father, and they kind of just roll with it. They then ask him tons of metaphysical questions about life, morality, the Bible, language, and life, and he uses his powers to impress them and discuss ideas with them.
What they basically come up with is the idea that humanity is pretty arrogant regarding their importance and while they might very well be at the top of the food chain ontologically, they need to remember that they have a place in the greater order of things.
It’s also a book that’s pretty anti-religion. Humanity is put into its place by the fact of a superior and more powerful being and Satan’s “morality” is challenging because he shows them how he really stands outside their judgment. It’s a book that also discusses how chance and arbitrariness matter greatly in the flow of events.
At the end of the day, it’s a curious story, that I don’t find all that challenging or interesting because, well, I am not a religious person from 1900.
The Screwtape Letters 5/5
So I get why a lot of people wouldn’t like this book and also why a lot of people would like this book. I grew up in a not particularly religious but church-going family, but I went to a very cliquey, and increasingly conservative evangelical Baptist church. This kind of paints you as an outsider. I also ended up having pretty much zero religious feeling in my body and have never actually felt anything remotely like it before. So when I stopped going to church and went through my “No I have decided the church is corrupt and this is not about wanting to go play Magic the Gathering on Sundays instead at all!” phase, followed by a “I will read all virulently anti-religious atheism books” phase, I would have avoided and hated this book. But now, much removed from that space and completely confident in my areligious life, I find this book really interesting. Mostly because it’s a brilliant kind of rhetorical game.
The book satires “Letters from a Young Poet” and books like that where an older master in a field writes back to a fledgling. The difference is here is the master is a demon and the field is sin and temptation. The book then chronicles and explains how to properly tempt someone into sin by following the young demon’s progress at tempting a recent convert. So the whole book works as an ironic primer in recent conversion by illustrating how fragile it is.
Fire in the Blood – 4/5
Irene Nemirovsky died in 1942 in Auschwitz. Found among her papers is the now quite famous novel Suite Francaise, which I have’t read, but was translated in 2005 or so to much acclaim. This shorter novella is another book not previously translated and is quite good.
The plot here involves a small town in the French countryside in which love affairs and marriages and other such things are fraught, intense, and something that can easily become inflamed and everybody’s business.
Our narrator is an older watching from a afar as his young cousin gets married and becomes involved with another man. The resulting affair is intense and becomes violent as well.
This book is short and interesting and really beautifully and brilliantly rendered and makes the amazing case about the nature between small towns and big cities and the affairs that happen in each.
The Prophet – 3/5
Ok so I might be the only single person in the whole that doesn’t think this book amounts to much. If you haven’t read this, this is a collection of fables and parables that centers around the title story in which a prophet is quizzed and queried by a group of stakeholders about the nature of life and the world. He covers just about every topic you could imagine.
Then the book spends the rest of its length exploring very short fables.
This book basically falls into two categories, and I am immediately uncomfortable with what I am about to say: they either make trite and conventional sense (but say nothing profound 0r novel) or they don’t actually make much sense.
So the issue with my criticism is twofold: one, they might make “conventional” sense because of the popularity and influence of this book. Two, they might not make much sense because of translation issues.
The other issue is that this book would best be put in the hands of someone much younger than me. I think my time has passed me by on this one.