Books read, early March

You can tell that I had a cold by the type of reading I’ve mostly been doing. I have a half-read volume of fairly dense political history on my desk, and…we’re just not going to get there until next fortnight. Just: some weeks, no.

Marie Brennan, Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent. Discussed elsewhere.

Hilary McKay, Saffy’s Angel, Indigo’s Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After, Forever Rose, and Caddy’s World. All rereads. Oh how I love this series. Definitely comfort rereads. I like Sarah best. I don’t know why I might overidentify with the fierce character (with a good hat!) who can’t walk right and whose mother uses her prodigious organization to be kind to people and whose father fixes the water feature. That part will have to remain a mystery. But the bits that reliably make me laugh instead of smiling on the third go-round are almost all Sarah. I think that the prequel nature of Caddy’s World simultaneously saves it (it would be unbearably dark if we didn’t already know that Rose does not die as a newborn–and I really don’t think that counts as a spoiler since her name is in two of the titles) and makes it worse (Caddy’s friends really should have shown up in the earlier published/later chronological books). But it’s still a fun read, and I feel like there’s room for more interstitial additions if McKay is careful.

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, and A Tangled Web. All rereads. One of the things that jumped out at me this time was how much there is stillbirth, infant death, and miscarriage in Montgomery–and how differently it’s treated than in a modern book. Anne’s own loss is part of the actual plot, a notable event–but there are places where there’ll be just a brief mention that this is something that happened to another character–and that it affected them strongly, just–this isn’t their story. You’re allowed to know about this sort of loss when it isn’t the main character’s. It reminded me of the people who want a “reason” for a character to be anything but an American white dude: being a person who has suffered that kind of loss is something that modern books seem to think needs a “reason,” in a way that these older books really don’t, they just acknowledge it as part of being human. There was also a moment in AoGG in which Anne reports that her beloved and respected teacher has told her that she should never put anything in her stories that couldn’t happen right there in Avonlea, and…given how much L.M. Montgomery wrote about imaginative girls in mundane settings, and given how the advice was framed, I seriously wonder whether this happened to her. And whether we were robbed of a Maritime Hope Mirrlees by it. (So I have a story to write with that.) Anyway, I still like these books and still find their anecdotal approach entertaining. A Tangled Web, I will note, ends with gratuitous racism on the very last page–product of its time blah blah, but still, it’s totally unnecessary, and if you’re not braced for it, it’s a poison pill in a puff of cotton candy.

Arthur C. Parker, Skunny Wundy: Seneca Indian Tales. This is a pretty old book. Parker was himself Seneca, but it’s an old enough book that it was explicitly addressed to young white male readers. It’s mostly animal tales, mostly the just-so kind of animal tales. Interesting both for the stories it tells and for the assumptions involved in telling them. I’d be interested in contrasting this with some Seneca stories that were aimed at an adult, female, and/or Seneca audience.

Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment and Interesting Times. When I heard the news of Terry Pratchett’s death, I wanted to reread something, but I didn’t feel up for rereading the ones that are most personally meaningful to me yet. (Soon.) So I picked up MR, which I recalled enjoying, and I enjoyed it again. If it was Sir Terry Pratchett’s Grand Statement on Gender, it would leave something to be desired, but it wasn’t, it was a light comic novel that did a few good gender-y things. Then I grabbed IT, which I didn’t remember at all. It’s not one of his best. There are some entertaining bits, but I am generally less enthusiastic about Rincewind than about most Pratchett characters, and also I feel he is much stronger when making his jokes about an “us” rather than about a “them.” (IT has both, but the pseudo-Chinese culture just didn’t really work for me, as a joke or as serious.) Well, with the number of books the man wrote, to have some of them be kind of forgettable is not a horrible thing. And there are so many wonderful rereads ahead of me.

Dana Simpson, Phoebe and Her Unicorn. I really need to learn that when people say, “This is the next Calvin & Hobbes!”, they mean, “I wish this was the next Calvin & Hobbes…oh God, I’m so lonely…COME BACK TO ME, BILL.” This was a moderately entertaining comic about a girl and her snotty unicorn best friend. It was fine but in no way had the range of C&H.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Seal of the Worm. Last in a very long series, and for the love of Pete do not start with this one; it will make no sense and be emotionally unsatisfying if you don’t have the rest of the series. I felt that in some ways Tchaikovsky’s strengths were also his weaknesses here: he kept introducing new antagonists, which is great but didn’t really wrap up some of the potential of the other groups he’d introduced at all. I did like the fate of the Wasp Empire, and for a ten-book series of this size, I suppose any more wrapping up might have felt tied with a bow. I’ll look forward to seeing what he decides to do next.

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