Books

I haven't written up the books I've read in so long that they're all out of order, and now I can't remember some of them as well as others—and shoot, I can't remember which I've posted about and which I haven't. If I repost, sorry. If I repost and what I write differs greatly from what I wrote about it before, please let me know! :-)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling. I have very mixed feelings about this book even more than I did about the original series. I had some serious problems with the original series:
1. Hogwarts is not a school. It's a bizarre combination of wish fulfillment, child abuse, and practical training without the basics of critical thinking, reading, writing—is it any wonder that the world of wizards is a complete mess? How could Rita Skeeter be expected to know journalism when she never had a course in reading or writing after she entered puberty? Are we surprised that Cornelius Fudge can't see things coming when he appears never to have studied history? Why should Dumbledore or any of the teachers have any idea how to deal with children and teenagers when they never seen to have studied adolescent psychology, pedagogy, or anything but how to do magic? Stop me now or I'll never shut up.
2. Hermione needed more self-respect. She should never have done the boys' homework, let alone marry Ron.
3. I just realized this list could go on for a long time.

To the book at hand: I'd have liked to see this as a play rather than read it. Rowling's prose isn't exactly deathless, but as a book, Cursed Child reads like an outline.

I rather liked Albus and Scorpius, but I didn't like anyone else! I felt betrayed by how boring and yet simultaneously problematic Hermione (always my favorite) had become. Where I had misgivings about the original series, this book felt outright sexist. The female characters really seemed like cardboard cutouts.

One of the best things about the HP books was the sense of wonder and surprise, and the movies capture those brilliantly. I didn't feel that sense of wonder, and surprise? My reading consisted a lot of hoping things weren't going to happen that then happened exactly as I didn't want them. There were a few surprises.

I feel some satisfaction for having read it that I certainly wouldn't have if I hadn't read it, but I can't actively recommend it.

Conclusion: go in with low expectations, and you might find some things to enjoy. I know I enjoyed some aspects. I just can't remember after waiting so long.




Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I recommend this novel. It's speculative fiction even though that's not immediately obvious, for, set in a time that is recognizably our own. (I think most of the action begins in the 70s but it's not quite our world.*) I recognized early in the book that there was something odd about the main characters and how they grew up, but I only came to understand it very gradually over the course of the book with no moment of revelation. By the time the true situation was made clear, I felt that I had already known for a long time.

The book is heartbreaking. Everyone is complicated and imperfect, with no easy enemies and no real heroes, but I could very much feel for the protagonist and some of the other characters.

I read The Buried Giant by Ishiguro a year or so ago and am still not sure what to make of it; one or two people advised me to read this instead, and I'm very glad they did.


*I'm realizing the 70s are not the time of some of my readers. I don't remember the early 70s, but I remember the late 70s, darn it, so that is indeed my time.




The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold Somewhere I read that this book is a must-read for people interested in time travel fiction. I think perhaps it is, but I found that description pretty misleading.

I knew David Gerrold as the author of the original Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," which I still find hilarious, so I expected humor. Brace yourself (tone spoiler alert!): this novella is short but deeply sobering and disturbing. It seemed to start light-hearted, but it didn't stay that way. It's not about the mechanics of time travel by the psychology: what happens if you can travel and meet yourself? What if you can affect your own past behavior? What if you can see fragments of your future What if you affect things well before your own lifetime?

Again, I don't want to give away too much. I recommend it with the caution that it's not humorous. Clearly, I need to read more Gerrold, because "Tribbles" may not be representative of his oeuvre!



God Help the Child by Toni Morrison: Bride is black and very dark-skinned; her color put off her lighter-skinned mother, but she makes it in the fashion industry for her unique look. When she starts, Bride seems to have everything. Of course, that's mostly illusion, and it's about to be violently shattered. The plot has surprising twists and turns, but the family and personal dynamics feel very real, and sometimes heartbreaking. I recommend it. Truth be told, I've never read a Morrison novel that I don't recommend. I'd love to talk about the ending with anyone else who has read it.




Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell: "Doc" is the infamous Doc Holliday. Brilliant Husband and I first met Russell with The Sparrow and Children of God, a science fiction duology where Earth sends a ship to an alien planet—with Jesuit missionaries and a Jewish linguist. They are outstanding—if you haven't read them, do so. (Brace yourself, though: I found them emotionally difficult to read. And if you don't like religion in your SF, you probably won't enjoy them.)

But back to her Western duology. Doc tells the story of Doc Holliday before Tombstone. It foretells the events at the OK Corral so specifically that "allusion" or "foreshadowing" doesn't describe it, but that's not where the story's focus lies. Doc Holliday is a dentist whose lung disease sends him to the West for dry air. There he meets Kate—Mária Katarina Harony—a highly educated woman who has become a prostitute but longs for intelligent conversation and arts. He also meets the Earps, most notably Wyatt. I expected them to be thrill-seekers and violent people, but they really aren't; they have bad luck and make some bad decisions, and other people make even worse decisions. They're trying to be good people, but they're not always good at it. I became slowly drawn into their story. I didn't like Doc much at first, and I liked Wyatt even less, but they grew on me in a way that astonished me. This novel takes place mostly in Dodge.

The second novel takes place in Tombstone, and you know already from the first book what happens there. And even if you didn't know, Russell never lets you forget. It's cast as a Greek tragedy, with explicit reference to The Iliad: I think every chapter title is taken from it. The characters have no idea what will happen, but she tells you who will die. The question is how, and the more we get to know the characters, the more inevitable it seems for some of them—but not all. This novel focuses less on Doc and centers more on Wyatt, following him to the end of his life.

I'm not a fan of Westerns; something about them puts me off. I recommend these, however, if you have any interest in Westerns or well-written and well-researched American historical fiction. They're well written, with humor and insight. They're also depressing at times, with glimpses of hope—and sometimes, you know that hope will be dashed. That is, after all, part of the tension in Greek tragedy. You know the outcome, but you see how it could have been averted.




I have read a lot more books about which I mean to post, but these will do for starters. If you've read any of them, please chime in with your thoughts! If you haven't but have questions, ask! I know it can be hard to know what to say on a book post, especially if you haven't read any of the books, but I hope you'll enjoy reading.
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