Thursday, April 5, 2012

Attacked by books

The other day I was talking about how I've been reviewing everything I've been reading, and then, as per my discussion with David Barron about how blogging about doing something makes doing that something impossible, I stopped reviewing the books I was reading.

So, I'll take my cue from Rahul Kanukia and do here a book roundup, because I have been reading some good books and I'd like to share them with you, despite the fact that I have re-organized by brain by trying to firm up my thoughts.

"The Etched City" by K. J. Bishop: This went unfinished. I got 100 pages in and it was pretty cool: real gunslingers of the old fantastical west and all that. But by page 100 I didn't really know where the book was going; it had changed gears enormously from the first to the second part, and, though I could sort of start to see what the "etched city" specifically was, I couldn't be sure, and, more importantly, I couldn't be bothered to wait through what might just be aimless adventurism to get there. Ditching "The Etched City" is somewhat a regretful action because it was well-written and fun, but it definitely was not "high literature" (as the jacket suggested) so much as "somewhat odd and gun-toting secondary-world fiction with a laggardly central conceit."

"Tainaron: Mail From Another City" by Leena Krohn: Rather excellent book. The whole "mail" thing is an annoying conceit, because the passages are not written in a way that any person would actually write letters--it's more like "mindscapes of soulpoetry from another city." However, this annoyance only created the slightest perturbation in my reading, because the passages themselves are so full of whimsy and insight and emotional resonance. Basically, the narrator is living in a city populated by bug-people, and learning about how they live, and writing home to some kind of estranged lover or friend. It was short and poignant, and I recommend it highly. Krohn's prose (in translation, anyway) is beautiful, very nicely arranged, and poetic.

"Personal Days" by Ed Park: This book was laugh-out-loud funny, but also incredibly insightful into the office-worker experience. There's something really dirty about insights into the experience of working in an office, like it's something we all know we shouldn't be doing even though we're doing it, but that's just that and let's live with it and laugh along with Ed Park. The story is told in various parts, at first in a sort of royal-we of a particular team in a company that is being re-structured into non-existence, then as a sort of legal document showing snippets of silliness as the team collapses, and finally in an enormous essay written by one of the team members that lacks a period key on his keyboard about how he uncovered a certain mystery in the office. There's a lot of almost mysticism in this book: the people that leave the office sort of die, or sort of come back as weird mutated versions of themselves. Amazingly good. I was referred to this book by the aforementioned Rahul Kanakia.

"Blood Meridian" and "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy: Also great books, reading the first causing me of course to read the latter, and also to pick up "All the Pretty Horses" for later reading. McCarthy has a very nice style of writing that reminds me of Hemingway: it is a style that makes things "thick" and "fleshy." However, McCarthy has a great deal more poetry than Hemingway (at least so far as I have seen in their various corpi), and also a lot more God or spirit. McCarthy's moral universe is also pretty disturbing, insofar as both of these books envision men ("the judge" and Anton Chigurh, for those of you in the know to possibly dispute/confirm) who are protagonists and move the world forward insofar as they are entirely brutal and free of care for others, who are brilliant and deadly at the same time. This is fearful because it is correct, but it is also aesthetically distasteful. The main party of characters in "Blood Meridian" were, generally, a very distasteful lot, and I found myself thinking that fantasy's current crop of "grimdark" writers could do to read the book for the sake of seeing that truly grim men are not likeable heroes that are shaded in grey, but rather total bastards that no one in their right mind would really like.

I also read Michael Cisco's "The Great Lover," but my review of that will be appearing in Strange Horizons--tomorrow, I believe. Now I'm on to another Cisco book, "The Tyrant," which is excellent so far--far more lucid than his newer work, strangely, and more awesome for that, even though I expect nothing less than sheer awesomeness from Cisco at this point, lucidity or otherwise.

Anyway, now I've got three books of theory on hand--Joshi's "The Modern Weird Tale," which I started but never finished; Mendlesohn's "Rhetorics of Fantasy;" and Eco's "Travels in Hyperreality"--alongside some Nero Wolfe mysteries my friend and master bass-player El Numéro Juan del Maro Profundo leant me. Lots of reading ahead.