Three Quick Reviews « Once & Future

Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

December 31, 2009

Three Quick Reviews

I’ve been lax in reporting my reads this season.  I’ve been lax in reading as well – I think my final total for the year is something like 25 books.  I have three excuses: 1) a small child who does not like to share my attention 2) a heavy schedule of school-related reading and writing and 3) once again I managed to get stonewalled by some long, boring book that I couldn’t manage to read more than 2 pages at a time of.  I need to learn to abandon books sooner!  On the one hand there’s the question of discipline, of needing to try extra hard to get through dry, long or difficult books.  But really that doesn’t give any old book the right to torture me for long hard months.  I have some right to be engaged, don’t I?  If I put in the time and the effort to give it a fair shake, I should be allowed to finally throw it down guilt-free.  Perhaps this should be my New Year’s resolution.  I resolve to not feel guilty about giving up on books that I’ve given a solid chance to.

Anyway, here are the last three books I’ve read:

This book here (Hunter’s Oath by Michelle West) was exactly as good as it looks.  It came hesitantly recommended by a coworker of the author’s.  I was, at the time, looking for undiscovered gems of Canadian fantasy.  This was not one.  I have a longer post to make about how fantasy as a genre has missed the point of magic as a literary tool, and this book will make an excellent example of what not to do.  For a simple fantasy novel, this book took me an extraordinarily long time to read because I was continually bored with it.  Oh well.

The book on your right (Airborn by Kenneth Oppel), on the other hand, was wonderful.  Set in a slightly alternative past where the rich fly in luxury zeppelins rather than steamships like the Titanic and where the Lumiere Brothers were triplets, Airborn is everything you would want in a book to recommend to a younger person, or an older person who enjoys the freshness and optimism of young adult literature.  Loved it to pieces!

And finally, on the left you will meet the book that stalled me out for two months, The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper.  This was a tremendous disappointment.  There’s no question as to the value of the scholarship here, but the presentation, especially coming from an author with experience as a poet, was utterly lacking.  The book felt long, repetitive, and boring.  We know right from the get-go exactly what will happen:  A slave, Angelique, will set fire to her owner’s house causing the big Montreal fire of 1734.  She will be arrested, tried, tortured and hung.  So what does the book add in the telling?  Some details, often tangential.  Archival evidence and some history.  No drama, revelation, insight.  I can see the value of this work to research, but heavens it lacked as a straight-ahead read.  I almost wish she’d just approached the material differently, maybe saving us the details of the event for a “climax” of the story, rather than giving us everything we need to know in the first two chapters and leaving the rest of the book to serve as an itemized list of evidence.

So there you go, a little catch-up.  I am still reading Nikolski as well as Eleanor Wachtel’s More Writers and Company (a purchase from last year’s Trinity College Book Sale).  Both will warrant longer thoughts – but will have to wait for the new year!

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