Sunday, November 8, 2015

Books Read in Autumn

These books all fall in an awkward category between late October, after I scheduled the October Books post, and early November. Thus, Autumn.

58. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

An instructor that I worked with gifted me with this slim volume a few years ago. It never felt like the moment to read it until I was ready to embark on NaNoWriMo (I'm past 16k!). While I've felt guilty for not reading it before, I'm glad I waited. It had a special resonance now. Although this book is ostensibly a book to help writers, it's not about the art of writing so much as it is the art of writing. The ironic, or perhaps, unironic observation I've made on books about writing is that they read so well. Each word has purpose, depth, motivation. What most captured me about Dillard's book is an image of a plane swirling in the sky, and even though it seems like it has nothing to do with writing, it gave me a vision for what to do.

59. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

I cannot be a slightly impartial observer about this one yet. Maybe later.

First Impressions:

It's not as good as the other two, and yet, it's the same. The same pitch-perfect tone, mood, Leckie captures the exact cadence of a machine that is in some ways more human than humans, and yet...she captures the intricacies of humanity and society in the panoramic and the particular. My only complaint really is that it didn't go in the direction I predicted or wanted, but I still ate up every morsel and wanted more. Maybe that's really the worst of it. The novel continues the story, there's no universe-shattering climax, unlike the first book, not even as much of a climax as the second book really, and there's still so much we don't know...this has to be a series. Ann Leckie, I'm begging you.

60. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The story of four young Londoners during and after the Blitz is told in reverse. Waters' writing is exquisite, and the plotting works, but only because the setting is a backdrop for a set of character studies. The book might have been just fine, an example of beautiful writing, but not as well-plotted and complete as her later book, The Paying Guests, which I read earlier this year. However, I had a visceral reaction to one of the characters, a very unpleasant one, so much so that I almost put the book down. I won't say which, but one of the characters reminds me of someone I used to know. And it is this that makes the taste of the book stick in my mouth, makes my thoughts return to it again and again, trying to use it as a lens to figure things out. And this is the terror and beauty of books sometimes, sometimes what hurts you most about it can elevate it too. It says much about the talents of the author that she is able to bring this character, and all the characters, to such vivid life.

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