Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Jane of Lantern Hill

36. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

Rapture, creamy, dreamily--these are the hallmark words of an L.M. Montgomery novel. Jane of Lantern Hill is the perfect amalgam of Montgomery's best plots and descriptions--refined, elevated, reified.

Montgomery is notorious for her descriptions that run off the page (especially of flowers and sunsets), her protagonists' soliloquizing tendencies, and her plots' lazily episodical nature. All of this is present in Jane , but the flowers are pruned, the protagonist is capable as well as dreamy, and the plot's episodes contribute to a clean arc.

Jane, unlike Montgomery's other famous protagonists, grows up in Toronto, with her soft-willed mother and forbidding grandmother. But of course she's magically whisked away to the infinitely divine (another one of Montgomery's words) Prince Edward Island, by the father she doesn't remember. Jane will have to reconcile her old and new selves, and heal some old wounds, all while learning to cook, bake, garden, and all the other mundane tasks her grandmother won't let her do (Montgomery really is a genius at creating these cuttingly nasty old society dames).

I will never cease to be grateful for having found this book. I remember a fellow blogger recommending it on a comments list, somewhere, and I added it to my Bookmooch wishlist. Soon enough, it arrived at my door, perfect down to its pristine condition and 1980s cover that matches all of my other L.M. Montgomery books. I've, sadly, learned to be wary when discovering the little known works of my favorite authors, especially very early works or very late works. Jane is later than Montgomery's more famous books such as the Anne and Emily series, but it wasn't her last gasp either. Here, her style is matured, ripened. (Sorry for the endless description, I'm feeling Montgomeryesque). But then, I have tended to enjoy her lesser known works, A Tangled Web is one of my favorite books of all time, and the short story collection The Road to Yesterday, is full of gems. Nothing she's written has really let me down, except for maybe Blue Castle.

In any case, I cannot praise Jane enough. Montgomery fans will love her, Anne of Green Gables junkies should check her out, and anyone who likes stories about writerly, plucky girls and fabulous descriptions of settings should set-to.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top Ten Bookish Things I'm Thankful For

This week's Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR List--but I don't feel like making another TBR list I'm not going to fulfill. Instead, I want to take a moment in honor of Thanksgiving and think about all of the things I'm grateful for, and I'll attempt to make it bookish.

1. Junot Diaz, and my students

I'm thankful that many of my students really strongly responded to the Junot Diaz short story I assigned them, it's clear that they've taken ownership of the material and feel like it "belongs" to them. They've even shown interest in reading more of his work!

2. The growing popularity and abundance of short stories, sci fi and fantasy in particular

I usually read novels growing up, but I think it was less of a conscious decision than that was just what was around. Now, everywhere I turn, authors are releasing short story collections, and more and more anthologies are gaining attention. and other websites are publishing short fiction as well, and I feel like it's really led to a revival of the art, in new and exciting ways. Most of the short stories I was aware of in the twentieth century were by and for a certain literary corps of old, white American men, and I just never cared for that prevailing style or subject matter. Now, all kinds of people are writing about all kinds of people in all kinds of situations (could I get more vague? I know), and it's awesome.

3. The community of book bloggers

Reading others' posts leads me to read books I might not otherwise have read, consider thoughts I might not otherwise have considered, and inspires me to write posts I might not otherwise have written. Thank you.

4. Tanuja Desai Hidier's long-awaited sequel, Bombay Blues

This, and getting to meet her, was really an unexpected bonus this year. I haven't even read it yet (..okay, a little) because I want to save and savor it, but I am really grateful for its existence.

5. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

I have a confluence of people and items to be thankful for here. Besides the physical book on my shelf that I've just begun reading, there is the book blogger who made me aware of its existence, the Bookmoocher who mailed it to me, and Lucy Maud Montgomery herself. So far, Jane is everything I love about Montgomery's writing style, plot, and characters--it's such a neat amalgam of her typical themes and subjects, with a slight difference in setting and family arrangement, and a style that's still hers, but a bit crisper than usual.

6. The National Book Festival, and other book festivals

I'm very grateful for book festivals for bringing authors and readers together, and making an event where reading is fun and exciting. At this point, I'm most familiar with the National Book Festival, but I've been to some other great ones as well, and know there are many more (book festival tour, anyone?)

7. Book Awards

I know some book awards have spotty track records in terms of the types of people who tend to win...BUT in general, I applaud book awards for making us all aware of great books out there and incentivizing authors and readers. And hopefully, more progress will be made so that these opportunities are more open to everyone (and there should be more and more specific types of awards, the better to identify potential reads!)

8. Physical bookstores

For however long they last, I appreciate the experience. And I've tried to consciously buy in physical bookstores when I can, as a show of support.

9. Ann Leckie

Her books have really helped me through this semester. She has big ideas wrapped up in the cleanest but still human writing style (ironic, I know), and there's so much there both to dig into if you want to think, or glide through if you just want to be entertained-she is truly a literary everyperson.

10. Rules for Writers, and Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers

This book has gotten me through everything at all of my jobs. It's helped me teach, and it's helped teach me. Seriously, for a basic guide to grammar, punctuation, and the writing process, it's got everything. I am so grateful for this book's existence (as well as its many sibling books), and that it was given to me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait to Get

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

1. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

I'm cheating, I already got it =D

2. The untitled sequel to The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

3. Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Also, already got it!

4. The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin

But, you know, not holding out too much hope for this anytime soon.

Sequels That I Want, But I Guess I Can Wait For (since, you know, I've waited this long)

5. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I was waiting for the third book...

6. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

It's complicated.

7. The Magician King and The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

Again, it's complicated. My feelings about this series are so conflicted.

8. Son by Lois Lowry

It's not complicated. I'll get to it when I can, I just don't actually own it.

9. The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory

Not complicated, just a matter of priority. I needed Ancillary Sword more.

10. Exodus by Deborah Feldman

Just don't own it yet, but it came out recently. So.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reading Update: Short Story Time

I have been doing plenty of reading, but more of the sort to keep me sane between work (read: bouts of grading).

Recently Finished:

Old Missouri Reviews

Years ago, an old student of my dad's got wind that he had a literary-minded daughter. She was cleaning out her closet, I suppose, but didn't want to throw out a large collection of Missouri Reviews that she had accumulated. Instead, she gathered them up, and presented them to my dad, instructing him to give them to me.

I was flattered, but overwhelmed, by the gift. For years, they sat in my closet, unread. Finally, I decided it was no good just leaving them there, and enacted a ruthless purge. I went through and took out issues with prize-winning stories, or issues with stories by authors whose names I recognized.

The issues that made it onto my shelf have provided most of my reading recently. I've read almost all of the stories now. I admit to skipping most of the poetry, I didn't care for it. The issue above is one that I've read, they're all from the early 2000s. (Don't worry, the rest of the issues weren't thrown out, they're currently in a donation pile.)

Almost Done With:

The Best American Non Required Reading 2014, edited by Daniel Handler, introduction by Lemony Snicket

Who could resist a book edited and introduced by Lemony Snicket (we all know Handler is just a front)? For me, it was almost worth getting the book just for the introduction. The stories are actually chosen by a committee of high school students, which I also found interesting. I was very impressed by the first two entries: "On the Study of Physics in Preschool Classrooms" by Matthew Schultz and "AP Style" by Dan Keane, respectively. The following entries were not as impressive, and again, I didn't care for any of the poetry (I'm picky about poetry, what can I say?).

I did really like Rachel Swirsky's story "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," which apparently won an award. I remember her from her novella, "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window." Not in this book, but also a thought-provoking and satisfying read.

Cole Becher's story "Charybdis" made me laugh out loud more than once, even though it's just as heartbreaking as Swirsky's. The bittersweet really has a stranglehold on our national imagination right now, or did it always?

Anyway, collections that I can dip into and out of have been a boon to me lately, and I'm sure will continue to be in these saturated next few weeks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Top Ten Characters I Wish Would Get Their OWN Book

Love this topic over at the Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday.

1. Ismene from Sophocles' Antigone

I always thought it was unfair that Antigone gets a whole play when it's her recklessness that gets her poor sister Ismene killed. It's only fair that calmer, wiser Ismene get her own story.

2. Gustav III of Sweden from Francine du Plessix Gray's The Queen's Lover

Gustav III stole the show from Marie Antoinette a bit, and I hope du Plessix Gray writes more about him.

3. Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter

I feel like Luna's life is destined to be interesting. I'd love to learn more about her early life, but also what she went on to do.

4. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings, and his daughter Elanor

I wish there were continued adventures of Sam, and then Elanor. I'm sure that she has to go see the Elves, just like her Dad. I imagine her sneaking off to Lothlorien, and Sam having to follow her.

5. Oscar Wao from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Yes, Oscar is the title character, but Yunior is the narrator and so the reader only ever gets to see Yunior's perspective (and occasionally third person limited narration for Oscar and his mother and sister). I always wanted to get Oscar's direct version of the story.

6. Silk from the Belgariad and Malloreon

Prince Kheldar, alias Silk, is the most fascinating character in the above series. I'd read a whole series just about him, and his financial schemes and spying exploits.

7. Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire

The books should just be about Tyrion. Honestly, I want to skip everyone else at this point. Maybe just him and Daenerys. Oh, and more from Sam.

8. Balin from The Hobbit

We know that Balin goes back to Moria after the Lonely Mountain is secure, and that he becomes king for a few years, at least. But we never get the full story of the quest.

9. Gimli from the Lord of the Rings

Gimli also has some adventures after LOTR and ends up being the only dwarf ever to make it to Valinor. I wish there was a book.

10. Jane Fairfax from Jane Austen's Emma

Jane always seemed like a much more likeable heroine, and she's got some real economic and social disadvantages to explore.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

35. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Have you ever heard the joke that one person is a world? In Ancillary Justice, one person is a ship. It's an idea that we can all relate to, stunningly realized by Ann Leckie in crisp, simplistic diction.

This idea, of a ship that is a person, is what makes this story sing (literally). Ancillary Justice is a compelling example that great science fiction is essentially the literalization of metaphors (according to Seo-Young Chu in Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep?), or a cognitive estrangement from the mimesis of reality (a wordier but not more complicated idea from Darko Suvin's criticism).

Breq, the narrator, is the last remaining "piece," if you will, of a vast artificial intelligence network that controlled an enormous troop carrying star ship, which led ominous "annexations" for thousands of years. To complicate matters more, Breq is actually a human body, that hundreds or thousands of years ago was wiped of its memories to become an "ancillary" of the ship, one of many ancillaries imbued with the same artificial intelligence. In a sense, Breq was (is) the ship.

Talk about an identity crisis.

It's this concept that captivated me most about Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, but it was not the concept that was the reason I read it in the first place.

All the characters in Ancillary Justice are referred to as "she." The language of Breq's empire, the Radch, does not distinguish between genders. Biological sex exists, it simply is not reflected in the language. When I read reviews that mentioned this phenomenon in the up-and-coming novel that was nominated for, and went on to win, the Nebula Award and also the Arthur C. Clarke Award, I thought, that is a book I should read.

But like another reviewer (can't remember who, sorry) said, referring to all characters as "she" makes very little difference to the novel. It's distracting, at first, when one realizes that a character described as "an old person with gray hair and a close-cut gray beard" is probably not female, but it's ultimately irrelevant. As it should be. That's the point. Just as Kathryn Janeway's captaincy of a star ship is a non-issue, so is the use of feminine pronouns for all characters in Ancillary Justice. And so, it's not the Janewayean language that makes this story tick.

After you've gotten used to the pronouns, it's this line that really throw you:

"Nineteen years, three months, and one week before I found Seivarden in the snow, I was a troop carrier orbiting the planet Shis'urna."

I had to read that line several times. And refer back to it later on.

Ancillary Justice is meticulously crafted, with a hard kernel of non-fantastic truth. Identity is a phenomenon that, despite the eons we've spent struggling with it, we still don't understand, but that the nature thereof, both individual and collective, can tear us apart. And in Leckie's universe, we won't be able to take our eyes off the unraveling. I've already bought the sequel, Ancillary Sword, and I can't wait for what comes next.