Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Book Report

I have been having a bit of a reading fest since returning home. Well I've been reading a lot more than I usually had time to do for the past couple of years. A full time job teaching, along with learning another language and writing a novel and some short stories along the way, as well as taking trips to Thailand and other various places in Japan and also just regular recreational time with friends gave me a really full schedule, so I was reduced to reading maybe a book a month when I lived overseas. But in the past two months I've read five books! I feel like I'm in heaven, having read so many. Five books in two months!! Incredible! I used to read a book or two a week at one time in my life, but I really did nothing but read and write and study at that time. I have other things to do now, but I'm still going to try to work myself back up to fitting four books into my monthly readings.

All of these books were really good for varying reasons. First up, I loved Hal Duncan's "Vellum", and was thrilled to find an SF book with credible gay male characters in it that live and breathe and love and have sex and are--well, gasp!-- human! And who figure into the actual plot importantly! I'm psyched to read the sequel, Ink.

Francesca Lia Block's "Necklace of Kisses" was a very pretty book, though it felt slighter than her previous Weetzie Bat books, and though I love Blocks' prose and details, her poetic imagery and her genius for describing things in the realm of the senses, I do feel like her all grown-up Weetzie was a bit of a passive character, not doing much of anything for herself to earn her happy ending. Most of the time she sat in a ritzy hotel and ate Japanese food and allowed other people to compliment her and make her feel better about her middle aged self. It's true, as Holly Black brought up in conversation at Wiscon, that Weetzie has always been a character who loves everyone she comes into contact with, so it would feel good for her to be reciprocated this unconditional love as well, but narratively this reciprocation had no tension. I still liked the writing though.

Theodora Goss' collection, "In the Forest of Forgetting" was full of beautiful prose as well, and beautiful stories. It's always a pleasure to read Dora's writing. This book in particular was a treat as I hadn't had a chance to read any of the stories that repetitively feature a character known as Miss Grey, a witch who intervenes in the lives of central characters and attempts to aid them in some way. I would love to see a full length Miss Grey novel. I really liked that character quite a bit.

Reading Alan Deniro's collection "Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead" was more of a re-reading for me because I'd read all but one of the stories either as a critiquer for Alan sometime in the past, or when they first appeared in a journal or magazine or anthology. I really love Alan's stories because no one in the world writes like him or could, and there's an authentic original sort of thinking being done in his stories. He never takes easy ways out of narrative problems, and I admire his fiction for its depth and breadth. I can't wait to read his new novel, which I hope sells to some lucky publisher soon.

Justina Robson's "Living Next Door to the God of Love" made me absolutely jealous. It's the sort of book I wish I could write. It's the sort of book I had to sit up with late at night and read and read and read until I finished. I ran through this book so fast that when I was done with it I couldn't believe it was over. It's a big book too! Around 450 pages, I believe, and if anyone knows my readerly tics, one is that I'm suspicious of novels that grow beyond four hundred pages. I have less of a suspicion about that now that I've written two novels and know that even the space of a novel sometimes feels limited, but it's a tic of mine that exists nonetheless. In any case, this is a far future novel of ideas, and I do mean Ideas, with a big I, because it really does have a narrative tjat explores the philosophy of Eros in our lives, not just in the far future, that is rigorous and honest and uncomfortable, which is to say, full of truth. What was even better about this book is that it was told with such clarity and with characters so compelling and real that I disappeared into it the way I did as a teenager while reading a book, trying to find a place for myself in its pages. I cannot recommend this book enough, and am about to go seek out Justina Robson's previous novels and look forward to her new series of novels that are beginning to be published first in England before hopefully making their way into print here in the States as well.

That's it for me. Book report over.


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Hey Chris! I ran into Johnzo at a party in Seattle! It was very cool. I felt positively cosmopolitan.

I read Vellum on planes and while teaching and I admired it. I even liked some of it. I think it's ambitious and fabulous, but I also think it was a lot of work. And towards the end I was slogging.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Hey Maureen! Glad to hear from you. I actually agree with your reading of Vellum. There were parts of it that I had to work through more than I wanted. I was happy with the experience by the end, but yes, there were times where I felt like I was working. I sort of think the parts that felt like that for me were narratives I was less interested in, and not that they were badly written, but mostly a matter of personal taste and kinds of narrative I gravitate towards, but I think it's a great start to a really amazing big book. Hopefully Ink will be as good or better. He has a lot of balls in the air. I think it's amazing how many he manages to keep going.

Since you're moving to Texas, I guess I will see you there for World Fantasy!

Lots of love,

2:29 AM  

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