April 11th, 2008

Reading List 2008 (17/72)

Almost caught up! This is the last batch of backlogged books; maybe later today I’ll actually log this week’s reading.

The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope
Rupert of Hentzau, Anthony Hope
Red Cat, Peter Spiegelman
The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
Greenmantle, John Buchan
Mr. Standfast, John Buchan
The Three Hostages, John Buchan
The Island of Sheep, John Buchan
Grotesque, Natsuo Kirino
Infinity Plus, ed. Keith Brooke & Nick Gevers
Angelmass, Timothy Zahn
Blindsight, Peter Watts
Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones
Deep Storm, Lincoln Child
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks
What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman
Bad Luck and Trouble, Lee Child

It’s just a few too many books to do extended comments, so I’ll just mention the extremes. Nothing here was really terrible - even the Lincoln Child, which had a surprisingly unforgettable climax. Also any story set underwater is going to creep me out doubly! So really that just means talking about the books I particularly liked.

The unexpected surprise - and I’m still not even sure if I really liked it - was Blindsight. It’s a far-future story about consciousness and aliens and vampires and love and evolution, which already means it’s got a lot of stuff going for it. I’m still chewing over the book’s message, and the ending is heartbreaking and sad. At the same time, there are long stretches of the book that involve the characters going “Whoa! An alien thing! We have no idea what’s going on, but let’s go into long descriptions of what we don’t know!” This for twenty pages at a time. I could have done with more plot and less random ranting about the alien artifact - though given the protagonist’s nature, maybe it’s not such a surprising narrative choice. Still, even with some weaknesses in the middle part of the book, I’ve found myself thinking about it, off and on, almost every day since I read it. I’m going to have to call that a win.

I love John Buchan, I have always loved John Buchan, and I’m fairly sure I will always love John Buchan. The Thirty-Nine Steps is a glorious adventure novel, far better than the movie. Sorry, Hitchcock fans! Some of the later books have structural flaws; for example, Mr. Standfast jumps around in time and place a bit more than I thought served the story, while in The Three Hostages my poor Dick Hannay didn’t get to do nearly as much in the plot as I might have liked. Still, Buchan has a gift for handling drama in a way that feels adventurous but plausible - which is precisely where many modern thrillers fail - and his characters are wonderfully likeable. If I could write a book that felt like this, I’d be very pleased.

Finally, Anthony Hope is everything that I thought he’d be - at least in The Prisoner of Zenda. Love! Romance! Mistaken identities! A kingdom at stake! Evil uncles! Poison! Kidnapping! Swordfights and assorted mayhem! Rupert of Hentzau gets significantly darker, and I regretted the change in point of view. Still, both books made me wish I had more to read along the same lines. Any recommendations?

Shabbat shalom!