Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've kept up with my reading, but not with my reviews. Only so much leisure time in this busy grad student's life.

After these mini-reviews, I may stop posting reviews for every book I read and instead post reflections on literary happenings and movements, responses to other reviewers and bloggers etc. *These posts are assignments for a journalism class that I'm taking, which are first and foremost for class and will be posted on the blog only after being used for class purposes.*

33. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings

I finally read the third book in David Eddings' genre fantasy cycle The Malloreon, which follow some of the same characters in the same fantasy world from the earlier series The Belgariad. These books feel a lot darker, which is perhaps appropriate as the characters explore the realm of Mallorea, formerly the dominion of evil god Torak and discover that the "bad guys" are just as complex and fractured as the "good guys."

What really struck me about this book was the treatment of Ce'Nedra, wife of protagonist Garion. The quest is to recover Garion and Ce'Nedra's son, Geran, who was kidnapped by Torak's former priestess Zandramas. Eddings is clearly trying to portray a mother's grief, but succeeds only in making Ce'Nedra appear like a hysterical stereotype and Garion like a hapless man-child in response. I wish Eddings would let Garion take Ce'Nedra seriously and not insist that it is appropriate to treat her like a mental patient, as most of the characters, including the powerful sorceress Polgara, collude in doing for much of the book.

34. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld wrote YA dystopia before it was a phenomenon. The high-tech world he creates (hoverboards, interactive computer screens) is intriguing, but not extensively fleshed out. Main character Tally Youngblood and best friend Shelly are likeable rebels though not especially memorable. The gruesome premise of the novel, that on their sixteenth birthday, everyone undergoes cosmetic surgery to become a vacuous and cheerful Pretty, is its strongest point. Even the secret behind that is visible from a mile away. Entertaining reading, and potentially thought-provoking about the nature of beauty and the beauty (or ugliness) of human nature, but I'd suggest Fahrenheit 451 or The Stepford Wives instead.

35. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne M. Valente

This book deserves a full review and then some, but maybe I'll be able to atone in a review of the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, was released October 7.

September rides away on a Leopard with the Green Wind in his green smoking jacket and green jodhpurs and into her very own Fairyland adventure. While reminiscent of classics such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Phantom Tollbooth (and no doubt hyperaware of both), Fairyland has a rather idiosyncratic sensibility and much more specialized argot than either of those works.

At first, it doesn't really seem like a book for children, some of the vocabulary is too advanced for the average adult. On the other hand, there appears to be no more to the story than a very simple quest. September is accompanied by quirky but steadly archetypal companions (a "Wyverary" or cross between a wyvern and a library, and a Marid, a type of non-chrono-linear sea-person) and prepares to do battle against an evil witch/queen known as the Marquess.

The charm of Valente's story lies mostly in her words, which are the star of the show, but also in her consistently whimsical creations and her refusal to bow to the conventions she simultaneously pays homage to. Fairyland is a tour de force that is perhaps too marginal to deserve the term, and yet cannot seem to discard it either. This is most certainly a book for a very particular subset of children and only the most peculiar of adults.

The Rules of Fairyland as dictated to September by the Green Wind:

"First, no iron of any kind is allowed. Custims is quite strict on this point. Any bullets, knives, maces, or jacks you might have on your person will be confiscated and smelted. Second, the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays...Third, aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk."

36. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality by Sigmund Freud

37. Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud

While familiar with his most famous ideas, I had never actually read Freud before. In a couple of weeks, I've read both Theory of Sexuality and Civilization and Its Discontents. I must say, I found Freud much more likeable and sensible than expected and have come to quite admire his style of argument. I don't agree with all of his thoughts, but I do agree that he provided a very comprehensive framework for ideas that no one else was talking about, or at least no one else was considering scientifically rather than morally. I found much to compare to my understanding of Darwin and also my more recent understanding of Nietzsche.

If you're at all interested in human psychology, sexuality, and gender, start with Freud.

38. Plato's Symposium

Never read Plato in full before; it was exactly what I thought. Lots of Greek names and rhetoric, and important for cultural resonance i.e. the great myth of how human beings used to have two heads, four legs, and four arms and cartwheel to get around.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I need to read Catherynne Valente one of these days!