Books I’ve Read: July

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Nineteen books this month, blame it on revisiting Pan and Pinocchio and other slim little volumes. I finished Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, etc. etc. and it made me go poke at some books I surprisingly hadn’t got around to reading yet (books which are terribly Gothic, sorry Nick).

The monster list and all my little reviews from GoodReads behind the cut. I’ve linked to Gutenberg versions where possible.

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin, Richard Davenport-Hines
Whew. This book is packed with stuff, I had to keep taking breaks. And though by the end it’s clear that Davenport-Hines is just a touch, like, obsessed with Poppy Z. Brite and that, other than a few things he hates the States, this is a pretty well rounded book. It’s like a solid primer to one’s self education in Gothic, because after reading it you’re gonna wanna read all the books he mentions and quotes from.

Biggest problem for me? Didn’t mention Cronenberg (hello, degradation of flesh and constant exploration of power relationships?), didn’t mention the rest of the Americas (’cause like, I think that a lot of the writing, magical realism or not coming from Central/Southern America is just as Gothic as anything else).

The thing to remember when reading this is that though Davenport-Hines may be a historian, but he’s also a devotee of the Gothic movements in art and culture in the past four hundred years.

The Wife of the Red-Haired Man, Bill S. Ballinger re-read
The descriptions are appropriately rich for the era and style of the book. There’s a top-notch tension as the pursuer and perused draw near and apart as the chase speeds on.
The story, like one of the characters, is quietly fatalistic. And there’s a twist in the last damn line that makes this a beautiful re-read, as every interaction is changed when viewed with that last drop of knowledge.

Flash, L.E. Modesitt Jr. ( download)
Omigod the first half of this book dragged its ass. And, like, I didn’t know it was future-time thank you for info-dumping so many damn newspeak words to me—I wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise.
Possibly unsurprisingly, the pace gets a little better and the story interesting once the female characters are developed and introduced thoroughly, and the overall arc isn’t bad, really, just how it’s portrayed is a little, y’know. I understand the desire to make characters fully real by letting us know that sometime after picking a cup up they must return it to the counter, or whatever, but it gets a little (lot) much.

Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
This is a short and sweet classic vampire story, with a little subdued ladylovin’. The last couple of pages are kind of a distracted info dump, but the pace is good and the story better.

The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
Oh Transport! Man, this book is a freaking lark. I can see how its beautiful histrionics made for a smashing harliquenade. As Walpole said, “Everybody who takes this book seriously has been duped.” Lovely.

The Adventures of Pinocchio, C. Collodi re-read
This is a classically Grimm-violent story. It’s like a bunch of little vignettes, really. And pleasantly bizarro, just as a kid’s tale should be. I like that it opens with a talking piece of wood. No explanations necessary, really. There’s just this log that is sentient. Whatevs, am I right?

Read, hilariously enough, in my half-assed attempt to understand how child gangs are depicted in fantastical fiction.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
I feel that I partially have my lady hormones to blame in liking this book. But I am also a sucker for relentlessly sharp verbal ripostes between couples, also same for triple secret mysteries and strong character building. I am proud to say I did not cry and my eyes barely welled. I did, however, stop several times to explain angrily to Chase that people are dicks and why doesn’t he just love her?

A little heavy-handed on the God thing at the end though, Charlotte.

Soul, Tobsha Learner ( download)
So this is ‘fictional science’ more than science fiction. Pretend genetic research in an (overly time-stamped) 2002 that is shadowed by events in the mid-late 1800’s does not speculative, nor science fiction make. Not a problem unless that is what one is expecting, I suppose.

But like I parenthesised, way too time-stamped. Who are these people and events you are referencing, totally dating and damaging your prose with, m’dear? Oh wait, they are so obvious I cannot miss them. The past bits are better.

Tales of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this collection solely to re-read “Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, which is one of my fave short stories. The last two in this collection are way too jumpy and unsure, but besides that, the stories are all pretty dang solid. Oh Fitzgerald. We are fond of that crazy son-of-a-bitch in this house.

The Warriors, Sol Yurick re-read
So different from the movie and just as fantastic. Yorick says it well himself, that the movie is “trashy but beautifully filmed.” But the book—the book is violent and true, there is no beautiful ending and there are a lot more swears. I am obsessed with both versions.

This book really should be something more people read. Though the tie to Anabasis is a little heavy at times, the warriors depicted and the gang in focus, the Dominators, are fascinating.

The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne
Oh my God. Some dudes are castaway on this island and I cannot put real words together to explain why I wanted to kill this book. So here are some select Twitters from when I was reading it:

  • I find it a little horrifying that the castaways in Verne’s ‘Mysterious Island’ never use bone for anything. Too savage? [though they end up using some whale bone, but that’s pretty white so it’s okay]
  • They didn’t use bone to tip arrows! They waited until the dog found a porcupine! How are clothes mended?!
  • Nor have they tanned hide yet—and left several seals to rot on a beach, taking the fat (for ‘splosions & candles, no soap) [‘splosions being nitro-glycerine, the better for shaping the world to human desires]
  • My God, they’re doing everything backwards. The Mysterious Island castaways finally tan some leather, but not the rabbits. No. Koalas.
  • Yeah, I don’t see how reading the “prequels” of Mysterious Island would help any. Pretty vaguely interwoven, there.
  • Mysterious Island, has not made me want to expand my Verne reading. I mean, thanks for summarising ‘20,000 Leagues’ and all so now I don’t have to read it—but still. This book is on my shit list. My book shit list also names ‘Little House on the Prairie’, which I couldn’t even finish at the age of nine. Good company for it, I think.
  • The Terror and Unpredictability of Nature overwhelms Industry, okay. Whatever, Verne.

Die Like a Dog, Brett Halliday re-read
I actually read the 1959 paperback of this and was so going to add that edition, but GoodReads was all “please just use the edition listed), which is lame all around. That is lame, GoodReads. The cover on mine is so much better than anything the early-nineties produced. Ever.

I really cannot imagine why someone would not like a book where the detective kisses ladies he’s just met (some recently widowed), beats the crap out of people who deserve it, and is a loveable jackass who treats his secretary nice.

Three deaths (one a dog) solved in about thirty-six hours and an immeasurable amount of booze. Goddamn you gotta love pulp.

Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie re-read
Man, I do not remember Barrie/Narrator being as angry and hateful during the end when I first read it. Issues.

Way more fun than any version based on it, pretty much (except the one that exists in Bill’s head). More violent, more histrionic, more like children in general. We are simply beasts when we’re young and I swear only folks from that whole UK area are spiteful enough to capture that. Again, except for Bill.

Darkness of the Light, Peter David ( download)
A classic view in sf is that the only things humans have going for themselves are their creativity, cruelty and luck. Everything else is against them. Here, what they have against them are banished creatures from mythology (who’d arrived before in small groups, creating such mythology). Fauns and dragons and cyclops, similar to tales but different than the myth of ages have painted them. Humans have nearly been wiped out, but those dubious qualities, listed above, are still in place.

This is one of those books that follows several different groups, everyone with their own quirks and personal vendettas that are just this side of blatant. Internecine war is constant, and there are other problems—stemming from the near-extermination of those soft and stupid humans.

Almost interesting enough to continue reading the series, but not interesting enough for me to hunt down more of the books.

Mizora: A Prophecy, Mary E. Bradley Lane
Lemme preface this by saying it was a random download and I swear my mobile has some sort of awful plot that involves me reading way more adventure/exploration/hollow earth books than I would ever read by choice.

So, hm. Kinda more enjoyable than that other hollow-earth book The Coming Race, the two of which I think would work nicely together in a great contrast essay. The idealised utopian folks still practice the arts, to the point of crazy ability (they have flexible glass and all sorts of neat shit). There exists a lovely balance and interaction between science and art. I gotta wonder if the author and narrator’s gender has anything to do with that. Bonus! The utopia is populated only by ladies.

And these ladies have made a world where everybody gets educated all they need/want for free, nobody is hungry, or ever in need, thanks to a pretty damn involved State. Course, all this benefit comes from the no men and breeding out the dark-complexioned.

Oh yeah, and romantic love and passion, like religious feeling, is a barbaric, ancient and outmoded thing, so it is actually a kind of boring utopia. Like all utopias.

Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
Y’know, shit. This book? The film followed it amazingly well. I think the two need to exist together, one a colour picture of the other.

It’s like reading a dream that is typed as seen, and you’ve been there and you haven’t. You know every asshole and jerk described in the book and you remember the same hopes.

Fun fact: A housemate rented this movie when we lived in this bizzaro house and we used to make everyone watch it and we’d judge them by their reactions. Then, after it’d been around for like a month, (’cause we figured “Hey, since the rental place is closing, they can’t want this right? They’ll forget it, totally!”) we got the craziest, frothingist call from the rental place’s owner. She threatened to sic her pet policeman brother at us.

We returned the movie through the door slot in the middle of the night.

Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis
There’s a million reviews out there for this and so I’ll make this one short: I’ve never seen perversion so gleeful.

There are a couple of patches where it doesn’t work, but overall, Ellis knows how to use his ability to write fantastically tight and sharp short pieces to make an entire novel. It’s vignette-y, but it ties together. It’s a quick read because it pulls you in and chokes you lovingly until it’s done.

The Complete Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway : The Finca Vigia Edition, Ernest Hemingway (figures) re-read
This is a tome. It’s difficult to summarise or review short story collections, especially one so extensive as this.

So lemme just say, there is a reason that Heminway is canon. He reminds me of Chekhov, of Vonnegut—the sadness implicit in humanity’s existence and the true, yet sometimes hollow joy that is found despite it.

I first read this when I was house sitting a cabin for a couple of weeks up in the coastal range, me and this dog and a dubious VHS collection. It was a good way to read these stories, marooned in the woods.

Dark Piper, Andre Norton
This one sort of takes the “children must make their own way after terrible thing happens” story and puts in on a planet inhabited by scientists, after a war. Norton spins a good tale while still bringing up points and themes about humanity and finds a good balance in it all. Action, thinking, sadness, mutants.

What I find a interesting is that Norton’s writing style for this book is more formal than in her other work. I think it may be because this is essentially a transcription of an oral history and the world involved is one filled with the progeny of scientists.

One Thought to “Books I’ve Read: July”

  1. Impressive list! Here’s something to add…more Peter Pan adventure that’s based on Barrie’s idea for more! Yup…this exists and unlike the other prequels and sequels out there, this one also remains faithful to Barrie’s original stories. Here’s a link:
    Keep reading! It’s good for us. 🙂

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