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Fri, May. 9th, 2008, 05:37 pm
Reading List 2008 (10/107)

This week’s reading:

Button, Button, Richard Matheson
The Unquiet, John Connolly
Lust in Translation, Pamela Druckerman
Invisible Prey, John Sandford
The Witch’s Boy, Michael Gruber
More Tales of the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov
Educated in Romance, Dorothy C. Holland & Margaret A. Eisenhart
Gateway, Frederick Pohl
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Frederick Pohl
Heechee Rendezvous, Frederick Pohl

I should remember that I don’t like John Connolly. In point of fact, his meandering, rambling, obsessive novels just suck. Friends, if you ever see me pick up one of his novels, remind me that I hate his protagonist almost as much as I hate his plotting. The suggestions of the supernatural mitigate this, but only very slightly; Connolly’s taken what, six books to get to where he should have been after the first one.

The wonderful, wonderful, wonderful The Witch’s Boy makes up for that with room to spare, though. A lot of fairy tale retellings fall into the trap of “fantatwee,” assuming that because they can replicate a story’s structure they can replicate its mythic power. (When instead all they do is shout “LOOKA ME I KNOW A FAIRY TALE!” Phatic communication indeed.) Gruber, though, melds together fairy tale tropes to make a heartbreaking story about parenting, power, hope, despair, and growing up. Periodically his characters stop to retell their version of a classic fairy tale - or live it! - and a few of the sub-tellings seem forced. Still, the frame story is a tale of remarkable power and originality, which draws on fairy tales we’ve all heard and builds something that feels equally mythic from them. Personally, my sympathies were very much with the witch (who adopts an ugly orphan boy she finds in a tree stump, with devastating consequence), but every character had a lovely resonance and I wanted to know more about their stories.

Lust in Translation was disappointing, if only because I couldn’t believe the author had so little to say on such an interesting topic. Druckerman does a cross-cultural survey of attitudes and practices toward extramarital sex … and somehow manages to spend a good 20% of every chapter talking about herself, her writing process, and why she chose to do the research she did. Was she trying to pad the volume? I don’t know, but I wanted a lot more adultery and a lot less of her. More stories of other people’s experiences would have done a lot here!

Pohl’s Heechee series is about what I expected: a terrific classic SF series, which I have to read very carefully to avoid wanting to kick someone in the nuts. I just keep saying, “He didn’t know any better” when it comes to his portrayal of female characters. Still, I’d read one Heechee story in an anthology somewhere and realized it was a pretty awesome concept, and indeed the books are really very good when they aren’t pissing me off. I could use fewer recaps of the physics - yes, I DO get it already! - but the world-building and action sequences are equally excellent.

Finally, Educated in Romance was just about as good as I thought it would be. (Fuck you, culture of romance!) It’s the account of an eight-year longitudinal study of gifted college women in the eighties, and how they “made choices” (i.e. existed within a system that constrained their choices and actions) that took them off serious career paths. The authors show how college culture doesn’t reward women for engaging seriously with academics, and in fact makes it a competitive disadvantage to do so. As depressing as that was, though, the authors found that the women who retained their commitment to learning did so because of their ideas about how college should function. Rather than trying to get a credential or maintain their identity as “smart people,” the women who stayed on track had a clear concept of college as an opportunity to learn from experts. Even though every girl in this group had to marginalize herself socially and culturally to make this happen, it gives me hope that we can educate girls in ways that will inoculate them against the bullshit that college culture has to offer.

See you next week, folks! Shabbat Shalom!