I’ve decided I must never have read the Riddle-Master trilogy in its entirety at all. Maybe I only got as far as the story about Deth frightening the inhospitable man to death, and that’s why that bit stuck in my mind so vividly.
I most certainly did not remember, if I ever knew at all, that this is one of those “trilogies” that is really one long book split into three parts. I began to wonder, with some quiet anxiety, as I headed into the final ten pages and the story seemed clearly to be building to a grand final confrontation without space enough for grand or final, nor even much room for confrontation. And indeed, it ends on a cliffhanger. I’m dangling by my fingertips here.
McKillip’s worldbuilding is lush and layered, quite captivating. You can smell the rich soil of Hed, the sea tang of the Wind Plain, the crisp piney air of Isig. The characters are more distinct in their outer qualities—powers, homes, appearance—than in their voices, their personalities, but this is not a weakness; the outer details are sharp and vivid, and the prose is gorgeous. I like Morgan’s indecision and stubbornness; it’s funny how the Hed characters—even the ones who only appear in the opening of the book—have the most distinctive personalities. Mostly, though, this is a tumble-me-along story, plot-driven: I’m desperate to know what happens next.
Which is somewhat maddening, since today brought the magical surprise that A. S. Byatt has written a book called Ragnarok based on, yes, the gods of Asgard—but tied somehow to WWII Britain—and a review copy winged its way to my Kindle this afternoon, and my eagerness to dive into this book is roughly equivalent to the irresistible temptation experienced by the kids in the marshmallow experiment. It’ll take me the rest of the week, at least, to finish the other two Riddle-Master books. I’ve got to know what happens to Morgon and Raederle. But…Ragnarok! Byatt!
Augustine’s brilliant emphasis on language as a means of passage between our interior selves and the external world, a bandwidth for the expression of desires, introduces a theme which resurfaces again and again, almost uncannily, in the consideration of communication or information technologies. What is striking is not the truism that media of communication provide a link between internal selves and the world around them; what is striking is the anxiety that surrounds that linkage. We find that anxiety even in Augustine’s conclusion, that language acquisition propelled him “into the stormy life of human society.”
Sick with longing for it – “it took about 7 pages to realize I was reading something not lofty and poetic but actually beautiful, but about 70 pages to realize that this book was just what I needed. It’s The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels. And in it I found a much-needed oasis of stillness amid my otherwise chaotic life and frenzied reading habits of late. “
Russian Lit – “All because of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, by Elif Batuman. “
Times two – Yay! News of the sequel to Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
Scientists Figure out the Cause of Brain Farts – “A “brain fart” is a term for an inexplicably stupid error in a straightforward task made by someone with abundant skill and experience. Everyone is prone to them. Neuroscientists call these episodes “maladaptive brain activity changes.”
Chasing Ray – Nonfiction Books for Curious Readers – Science book recommendations including Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series & Extreme Scientists—looks like stuff up Jane’s alley. Also of interest: “Finally, after reading Anastasia Suen’s Wired, I was reminded yet again of how valuable nonfiction picture books truly are. This patiently written step-by-step overview of electricity’s journey from dam to living room light switch is truly a brilliant book. Suen completely demystifies the process making it clear to even the least technologically inclined.”
My monster TBR-pile woes are well documented on this blog. I’ve already accumulated more books than I can read in a lifetime. The trouble is, people keep writing new ones. And then other people go and read them, and write captivating posts about them, and next thing I know, I’ve spent the clothing budget on books we don’t have room for, and my library hold list is, well, an embarrassment. Seriously, ma’am, you think you’re going to get through all those in three weeks? Let’s face it, you and I both know that’s not going to happen.
(Which is why I never actually make the library pick-up myself. I send Scott. Let him take the rap. Ha.)
The trouble is, half the time I can’t remember where I heard about the books in the stack. And this matters to me, both because it helps me decide what to read next and because I like to give people credit for their excellent recommendations. Also, sometimes if it’s a children’s book, I won’t remember that I’m the one who put it on hold—I’ll assume it was a Jane pick, and then suddenly the book’ll be due and Jane will say, “Mom, are you sure you want this to go back today? You haven’t read it yet, have you?”
For example: Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Was this my pick, or Jane’s? If mine, where’d I read about it?
So, OK, I’m going to try keeping a record here of the library books I reserve and where I heard about them—which review made me want to read the book, to quote Jen Robinson again.
This morning’s early blog perusing added a number of titles to the hold list:
Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder. Anything by Laurel goes automatically in my TBR pile, but in this case it was Book Aunt’s review that reminded me to add it to the queue.
Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray is going to cause a relapse of Scott’s back problems when he has to haul home the pile of books I have my eye on after reading this post. I’m going easy on him by starting with only two titles:
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (wah, our system only has it on order; could be a while before it arrives). Psst, Becky, have you seen this one yet? Seems up your alley.
Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns. This was another memory spark. Who reviewed it last year and made me go ooh? Susan, was it you?
Any Which Wall is in that post, too. Along with a number of other books that look quite intriguing. Be warned.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Have been meaning to add this one for a while, but didn’t remember to until reading BEA roundups and hearing about people snagging ARCs of its sequel, Fire.
Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. Surely I heard about this one at Mental Multivitamin. And yet a quickie Google search doesn’t turn up a link, not on the first page of hits, at least. Can this be? I must be missing it.
I see we’ve reserved a copy of Battle Royale, a manga title by Koushun Takami, because Scott told me it’s a very similar premise to that of Hunger Games (which I loved, and whose sequel, Catching Fire, I am desperate eager to read).
The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott. On my list because all Julianna Baggott’s books go on my list. Stay tuned for more about that. 🙂
That’s just this week’s list. This week’s library list. It doesn’t count the books I bought. (And odds are I’ll wind up buying copies of some of the above, too. With five avid readers in the house (so far), we tend to hold on to library books longer than is, perhaps, fair to other patrons. If a book is a hit with all of us, it’s better to just go ahead and buy a copy. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. And that’s why crisp new copies of Guernsey Literary Society and Mysterious Benedict Society are sitting on my table right now.)
(Also because apparently I will pay cash money for any book with “Society” in the title.)
You see why I have a TBR problem. I hope no one needed new clothes this summer.
Ah, now we’re coming to it. I’ve reached the essay in which Nick Hornby includes a novel called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson in his list of books he purchased that month. This is bound to be the Housekeeping that takes on The Dirt in the title of his essay collection. But I don’t know anything more about it yet because he didn’t actually read the book that month. We’ll have to live in suspense a while longer.
The “Books I Bought This Month” lists are one of the things I love about these essays. Hornby begins each column with side-by-side listings of books bought and books read, on the premise that the books you want to read, intend to read, go so far as to purchase in order to read, say as much or possibly even more about you as what books you actually do read. He explored this idea in a thoughtful passage I would like to quote, but five minutes ago Scott left for the library and The Polysyllabic Spree is, alas, mine no more. I mean, it was never mine at all, but I loved it well during its tenancy under this roof. Laid it tenderly upon a tasseled velvet pillow when home duties forced me to turn away from its enchanting pages for a while.
Okay, maybe I’m laying it on a teeny bit thick. It’s just that after inviting Nick Hornby over for pizza, I went and ran off at the mouth about not liking the plot of a movie based on one of his books, and (insult to injury) not even having read the book to see if the plot is better executed in prose. It probably is. I mean, I feel no guilt over not having read all his books—after all, I’m quite sure he’s never read any of mine. We can’t all read everything, can we? I’m thinking my stuff is a wee bit outside his preferred genres. For example, I happen to know he has read Man on the Moon at least sixty times. (Cf. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt p. 34.) I’ve never written a word about astronauts, so you see how it is. So no haven’t-read-yet guilt (the yet is key: I’m sure I will someday; I am always stubbornly, delusionally optimistic about the likelihood of my getting around, eventually, to everything on my mental TBR list), but it’s probably bad form to invite someone to dinner and in the next breath start picking apart the themes of his books which you haven’t even read. Hence the velvet pillow for the books I have read.
It was nice to see, in H. v. the D., that Hornby agrees with me about the no-guilt-over-unread-books thing. About reading the classics, he says,
“There comes a point in life, it seems to me, where you have to decide whether you’re a Person of Letters or merely someone who loves books, and I’m beginning to see that the book lovers have more fun. Persons of Letters have to read things like Candide or they’re a few letters short of the whole alphabet; book lovers, meanwhile, can read whatever they fancy.”
Nonetheless, Hornby does seem to experience a fair amount of angst over books he meant to get to but didn’t and probably never will. When moving house he suffers the pangs of the book-hoarder, pangs I know all too well: there is nothing like filling up boxes with books you haven’t read yet to stir up a whirlpool of reader’s agony, the swirling currents of longing and remorse. When we were getting ready to leave Virginia and I had movers come in to give us estimates, one guy who’d been in the business for twenty-five years told me he’d never seen anyone planning to move that many books before. And this was after I’d shed a good 25% of our collection. When you’re going to be charged by the pound, those are scary words to hear. I did some more purging before the truck actually arrived, but still. We’ve got a ridiculous number of books here, and it would be swell if I, you know, actually read them someday.
Well, Nick Hornby and his recommendations aren’t helping. Neither are all those intelligent book blogs out there. I read a post today about the most recent A. S. Byatt and it was like a knife in my heart. I don’t know how I managed it, but I forgot about Byatt. Possession is one of my favorite books of all time, top five material, no question. Angels and Insects was spoiled for me by the movie (saw it first; big mistake) and the short story collection, Sugar, left me flat. But that was almost ten years ago. She has at least half a dozen novels I haven’t read yet. How could I forget her? Seriously, I’m baffled. So now I’ve got the urge to chuck my whole TBR pile and go on a mad Byatt binge.
Except that three more reserved books came in from the library today. (Gilead—which I heard about on Semicolon, I think, and was amused to see in one of Hornby’s booklists during the very same hour in which Scott was picking up my holds at the library—and The Graveyard Book and Olive Kitteridge. I don’t remember a thing about that last one, not even who recommended it.) Plus there’s the Benedict Society sequel and another Jane recommendation called Chasing Vermeer. And then—talk about guilt—this terrifying tower of review copies I’m supposed to read and say insightful things about.
Oh, it’s hopeless, isn’t it. Agony. And at the very same time, deliciously, satisfyingly tantalizing, like the hour before you sit down to Thanksiving dinner and the kitchen is full of good smells driving you crazy.
One step forward, two steps back, so the saying goes. Only in this case it’s: one book behind me, half a dozen ahead. I finished Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict today, about which more later, maybe (I didn’t love it), which was one of the fourteen books from the TBR stack I shared in March. But after a stroll through blogland today, I find I have added (gulp) six more titles to my library hold list.
Tomorrow I’ll come back and add links to where I read about these. For now, in the last minute before LOST, a quick list:
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (read this many moons ago, inspired to reread by a Theodora Goss blog entry, which visit was inspired in turn by Sarah of Knitting the Wind) ***Updated: Scott just IMd me to say we own a copy. I thought we did but I couldn’t find it. Not that I really put my all into looking, if you know what I mean.***
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (you had me at Canterbury Tales + thriller). (But WHO is you? I’ve searched my Reader and can’t locate the link.)
I’ve read three books since posting that picture—only one of them (The Sherwood Ring) was in the pile. And another of the three (The Plain Princess) was very short, a fairy tale really. (Sweet and pleasant, very similar to my favorite George MacDonald story, whose name I am suddenly blanking on. The one about the Wise Woman who takes in the spoiled princess and the arrogant shepherdess girl.) The third, The Polysyllabic Spree, was a library request that came in and catapulted immediately to the top of my pile.
Am still reading Lucky Girl, which I had started several days before that post.
Read one chapter of River of Gods—that big fat book adding three inches to the tower in the photo. I really want to continue with this book but its whopping size is hindering me. I tried to read it in bed while nursing the baby and nearly dropped it on the poor child’s head. If it were available through Kindle or Stanza I’d consider buying it to read on my iPod. But it isn’t.
The Glenn Gould piano book was one of Scott’s library picks. He read it and thinks I’d enjoy it too but it went back to the library before I got to it.
I’ve got Daughter of Time here on my bed; was going to pick it up today and then remembered The Mysterious Benedict Society which was supposed to be in the TBR stack photo but was hiding in the girls’ room at the time. Since it’s a copy we borrowed from good friends, I figure I ought to read it before I start anything we actually own. Am three chapters in and transfixed. What a delightful tale.
Meanwhile, I have received six more review copies since I wrote that post. I’d better get busy.