Reading

Feb. 19th, 2014 11:06 am
diony: (Default)
Oh, how I have been reading. I have made a decision this year to try not to read anything I can tell is badly written; when I realise it so, I declare myself done with it. It is both simpler and more complicated than it might seen, as I have always been the sort of person to keep going just in case the book gets better, or just in case the flaw is in myself and I might suddenly understand the true glory of the work before me. This year, no; if it is bad, then it is bad, and I quit. This had slowed my reading speed a good deal, because I am no longer racing through poor works to find out how the story ends, and instead only reading those things I may give my full time and attention to.

I find it interesting that, when I have told people in my circle of friends about this decision, so many react with outrage, as though I were in some way criticising or challenging them. It relates to other thoughts I have had, about media consumption and identity, but they are not fully formed yet.

So what have I read? A great deal of manga, some terrible that I gave up on partially through, one indifferent series that I finished and then put into the bags going to the used bookstore. One I am quite fond of -- CLAMP's xxxHolic does not yet exhibit the difficulties I find with almost all other CLAMP series, but then I have not finished it yet, so it still has time to fall apart. Combining as it does the visual and the text, reading manga puts my mind into a usefully liminal state, where the urge for image and word balances, and sometimes I may get to my own feelings more clearly through it. And sometimes of course, not, and it is just enjoyable, like any reading might be.

More titles must wait for another post, as I should eat something.
diony: (Default)
I've now finished Antonia Fraser's third and fourth mysteries and I am delighted to announce that Jemima Shore, Investigator, did in fact live up to her name in these, investigating with some will (not as much as I would like, but enough to be consonant with her character; a reluctant heroine in some senses) and intelligence and not a single faint yet. Fraser seems to have found her ground in these; she is writing a world that she is confident in, media and the creative artist -- not the Bohemian, but the ones who are concerned with survival, so the mix of those who create and those who promote and those who do the technical work that makes the creation and the promotion happen. In both A Splash of Red and Cool Repentance the characters are themselves interesting, a little too large for life, perhaps (reminding me of some 80s night-time soap opera, Dynasty or the like) but coherent enough, and following their own paths through the story. Not all of them are likeable, but they are (especially in the former) there enough to be liked or disliked, and that was a great improvement on the first two.

Fraser also does some things I found interesting with physical detail, material culture, which reminded me of the 1960s gothics as written about by Joanna Russ and also of shoujo manga -- the way that who consumes what, and how (in this case mostly clothing, but also make-up, jewelry, interior decoration, flowers) is meant to tell us things about their characters. I think I cannot read much of what she is saying, the early 1980s are both too close and too far, but sometimes she makes it explicit, Jemima Shore's beige clothing with the hints of red and navy, calm with a little splash to signal Jemima's own professional distance and intelligence but with passion beneath.

Cool Repentence is clearly doing something intertextual with Chekov's The Seagull that I missed through lack of familiarity with the text. Although I was very, very annoyed by the ending for a variety of reasons.

And yet, and yet. The books are profoundly dissatisfying; Fraser is not using the mystery genre to do anything, she is not investigating or commenting or even looking deeply, she is writing these beautiful people in their interesting world behaving badly or well, and in the end it does not really come to anything except casual encounters and the move on. Very 1980s in its way, I think, it gives me a certain flavour I did not have before, but I find it boring. I was hoping for real novels that make use of the mystery genre, like Sayers, and these are sensation fiction. No wonder Shore kept fainting in the first two books. I cannot decide if I am going to read the last one I have from the library or not. Right now, not; I am going to read something I will enjoy more instead.
diony: (Default)
I am on to the third of Antonia Fraser's mysteries (A Splash of Red), and this one looks like it might be an actual mystery in which the protagonist investigates the mysterious happenings, rather than the second which was really a 1960s gothic set on a Scottish island, or the first which started off looking like a mystery and then stalled out because Jemima Shore simply would not actually investigate anything... or believe that a murder had happened... or generally behave in the ways necessary for the genre. I suppose one might see it as a fascinating experiment in what happens when one's protagonist resolutely refuses to engage in genre tropes, but I thought it made for a poor novel. Ms. Shore, sadly, did much better in the gothic, where she ignored the menace of the strange old house she found herself in, got involved with the brooding handsome man with a hawk-like profile, and then fainted dead away at a strategic moment. It is enough to make me throw up my hands and go read Amanda Cross, except the third really is growing on me a little; we will see if she manages to write either an actual mystery, or if not that something in a genre I am interested in reading. So far we have a female author whose work is being compared to Alison Lurie, and the protagonist is reading Nadine Gordimer, so I am hoping for intertextuality -- which I will miss, not having read either of those authors, but still, it would really be a step in the right direction.

Up next: Well, the same things as last time, since rather than reading any of them I am continuing to read Fraser. How did I get to be nearly forty without realising that I am incredibly stubborn? Answer comes there none. At least I am no longer willing to waste my time; I did skip large chunks of the first book, and skimmed a healthy portion of the second. (Yes, I might have just stopped, but there kept being little moments of grace, and I do like her history so much, I want to give her every chance.)
diony: (Default)
My reading follows a very predictable rhythm in its form if not content; I get too many books from the library, return those and get more, and manage to keep up with the cycle for a while until suddenly I run into a wall and return all the books to the library and start over again. This usually happens in autumn, and so it is no surprise to me to have returned from Farthing Party full of the desire to read more speculative fiction and particular sorts of literary work, and less interested in the random assemblage of library books I have out.

On the plane I read The Documents in the Case (which is an epistolary novel by Dorothy Sayers and Robert Eustace, her only mystery novel without Lord Peter) and while it was really not very good, being written more to touch on some philosophical ideas about science and religion than anything else, it did give me the thought that perhaps for my (still very theoretical) PhD I might try to do something with female criminality in literature. The novel was clearly a take on the Thompson-Bywaters case, and I know two other novels from the period which treat it, and then going back to the Victorians there is Lady Audley's Secret, and I can imagine a line from the one to the other, although it might go earlier and end later -- there would be much research -- and also they are different flavours of criminality, and if there is enough out there, I might do all of it on the sort of Edith Thompson idea, the woman as evil muse -- and that could spill into art too, so very fertile ground when I can see so many ways to go from the core. This is quite a pleasant surprise, really, as the desire to do the PhD and teach and study more has been strong for a while, and I have had a rough idea of what I might like to look at, but never anything so specific, and I think I am more likely to get into the program I would like if I have a very good idea about whom I want to work with and why.

Up next -- well, that is complicated. I might read those other Thompson-Bywaters books, but I should take notes if so, just in case. I have a children's novel by Jill Paton Walsh to finish (The Dolphin Crossing, a very early one if not her first), and a mystery by Antonia Fraser, who is an excellent historian but I am not yet certain what I think of her fiction -- this is the first I have tried, and it is interesting, but it has not really come into focus for me. And further out I have an Atwood novel, and I would like to read Susan Palwick, and I am slowly rereading Jane Duncan's "My Friends" books because they are quite enjoyable even when frustrating... and so it goes, there is always more to read than I have the time for, especially as I am also wanting to work on my fiction and send email and spend time in relationships and all. But better that than the reverse.

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