Reading Journal for March

A mixed bag for this month…

9. Building Bridges by Stephen King

This is what happens when you stretch the definition of audiobook past any useful limit. Our audiobook archive includes performances as “books”. This is a speech by Stephen King, accepting an award, in which he discusses his writing process and the separation between genre and literary writing. Interesting but, at6 29 minutes, brief and necessarily shallow.

10. The Princess and the Goblin by George McDonald

This book is one of the antedelluvian originators of the fantasy genre, in whose DNA we are able to see what will eventually evolve into C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, and other works of similar school, and all that followed them. Tori Amos is also working on a project based on it.  I liked it in the beginning, as a sort of whimsical fantasy story, but it loses interest because its plot is insufficently gripping. The ending is clearly designed for a sequel, and yet I have no desire to read The Prinjcess and Curdie. I’ll give him a break and then go back for some of his adult works: Phantasies, perhaps. I listened to it in the Librivox edition, but the Library service also has it in e-book and e-audio.

11. Barrayar by Lois McMaster-Bujold

I really enjoyed this. It’s a tightly-tied sequel to Shards of Honor, reviewed last month, in which the heroine flees her own planet to marry the nobleman who kept her prisoner in the previous war. The interesting thing, for me, is how little the science-fiction elements impact on the core of the story, which is a series of difficult relationships. I think it’s the first science fiction I’ve read which has deeply considered concepts of motherhood in a mature way. Unlike the previous book, I felt the immediate desire to read the sequel. At the time of writing the Library Service does not have this book, but a purchase request has been put in for Cordelia’s Honor, which contains Shards of Honor and Barrayar in a single volume.

15. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster-Bujold

The sequel, where the story shifts to a younger generation, and Miles Vorkosigan takes centre stage. Miles is a diminutive man with brittle bones, who wants to takes his place as a leader of a culture which places a huge premium on the aptitudes of soldiers. The story is about how he washes out of military college, and how his attempts to woo a particular woman spiral out of his control, leaving him in charge of a mercenary company blockading a planet. Miles has a lovely mix of confidence-man and crushing self-doubt due to the frailty of his body, which makes him a great leading man for someone, like me, who has reached the point of being sick of sci-fi heroes who win basically by being mystically stubborn.

The Library Service stocks this as the first third of a collected works volume called Young Miles, to which I will make repeated reference in upcoming months.

12. Bill Nye’s Funniest Thoughts by Bill Nye

I’d skip it: it’s left so little impression on me that I’m finding it hard to write a review.

13. Hymns to the Night by Novalis

An odd collection of poetry, which sees Night as a an embodiment of Death, but Death as the ascension of the enlightened soul to immortality. Therefore, light and day and all of their distractions are less impressive, to the author, than night. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more interesting description of an author craving death, and I’ve read my share of emo poetry. Highly recommended for those who like poetry, but to be taken a piece at a time, rather than the entire collection at once, as the motifs become repetitive.

I listened to the Librivox edition, which is based on a free e-book from Internet Archive.

14. Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. by Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

This is one of those books in which an outsider enters a community of interesting eccentrics, and is fleeced, than embraced. I found it difficult to enjoy, because the protagonist doesn’t actually motivate the plot, being carried along by others, and I didn’t find the chief rogue charming enough. Recommended for those people who understand why the characters could find foxhunting interesting enough to write many, many chapters about it. I listened to the Librivox edition, but the Library Service has the book, and the television series.

Books I started and chose not to finish

Under Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

An interesting evocation of a lost society, but the plot drags and dawdles to the point where you need to read anything else.

The Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen by Thomas Van Cleve

A great book on it’s subject. Comprehensive to an astonishing degree, in terms of the man’s policy and actions. Little attempt to penetrate the psychology of the subject, but still a towering book, that surpasses others on its subject. I only left off because my inter-library loan time ran out, my choice not to finish it, in this case being a mixture of laziness, Coursera, and a desire to finish my Vorkosigan books.