Jessica Perry Hekman: Readings Reviews

Most recently-read items are listed first. See also my list of books I've read.

The Straw Men, by Michael Marshall: Possibly even more disturbing than the stuff he wrote before (as Michael Marshall Smith). But just as good.

A Question of Integrity, by Susan Howatch: Howatch isn't for everyone, but she scratches a very particular itch for me. I'm thinking about category names again, and for Howatch's books I came up with "emotional thriller." They're not romances, because the romantic interactions take second stage to the emotional/psychological catastrophes her characters have to muddle through. But they scratch the same itch as (well-written) romances (such as Austen). I'd put Bujold's books in this same itch-scratching category. Anyways, I recommend Howatch to all readers who consider themselves to sometimes be girls (some of them are men, I'm sure), and if you do want to read her, don't start with this one, which is number seven in the series; start with Glittering Images.

Red Shift, by Alan Garner: Whenever I am in a bookstore in the UK I become convinced I am going to discover an author who isn't available in America and who will become my new obsession. I am always wrong. This time I picked up a book which seemed to be full of scintillating dialogue, and upon reading it discovered that its plot was weird and confusing and there was no real closure and moreover I had actually read a book by this guy before and hadn't liked that one much either. Dammit!

Summerland, by Michael Chabon: Chabon was a little bit too conscious of the fact that he was Writing Children's Literature. Also I am always something between bemused and annoyed by stories about how baseball is the one true life philosophy. But for all that, it was extremely enjoyable. Great imagery.

Possession: a romance, by A.S. Byatt: I want to say that you have to really love literature to enjoy this book, but it apparently has been hugely popular, so I seem to be wrong about that. It's gorgeous and thick and has a wonderfully lazy pace. I said to a friend, "and the amusing thing is it's a thriller, but what you're supposed to care about is just whether these letters are going to be discovered, and by whom, whether you'll find out what really happened between these two long-dead poets," and he said, "you know the author's really good when they make you care anyways." Yes.

Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman: In my kitchen there are two cases of unread books, one on each side of the room. The one of the far side of the room is currently behind my very expensive and unused bicycle, so I tend more often to read books from the case on the near side (though honestly I don't read books from either very often, as I acquire them faster than I read them). Last night I was waiting for some food to warm up and looking at the one case, and saw that there were two issues of Markup Languages on it. I thought I know I have more unread issues of that and inspected the other case, and sure enough, there were three more there. So I took the two issues from the near case and put them with their siblings on the far case, and when I did, I discovered this little green paperback next to the ones that had been hidden under the bike. I didn't recognize the book, which is unusual (even though I don't read books from those shelves very often, I still know all of them), so I pulled it out. I still didn't recognize it, so I opened it up and started reading it. I spent most of the rest of that night reading it and I finished it tonight after spending a lot of the day thinking "I'd rather be reading that book." I conclude that someone must have given it to me for Christmas and I stuck it on the shelf and forgot about it. Last Christmas, since it's a 2001 edition. Who are you? I want to thank you. It was wonderful. There are people out there who are more insane about books than I am, and I got to read all about them. (It's a book of essays about books. And she really knows how to put a sentence together.)

Redemption Ark, by Alastair Reynolds: The arc cranks into full gear! I am totally digging this series. This book wasn't quite as great as the first two, though. It almost felt like Reynolds bit off more than he could chew. There was a missing scene (and I can see why he chose not to write it, but leaving it out was awkward; there must have been some better solution), and the ending seemed awfully rushed.

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds: Reynolds is just so good. This is the second book he's written and the second I've read; as I started each I thought "blah blah more hard SF blah blah" and then by the fifth chapter couldn't put it down. His first book, Revelation Space, was billed as space opera, which caused me to wonder what space opera really is. I mean, the Vorkosigan books (by Bujold) are space opera, and Reynolds is nothing like Bujold. I guess the similarity there is in the breadth of coverage -- so many planets, so many civilizations, such big wars. But I think Reynolds also writes books reminiscent of Star Wars: mythic. Probably not technically possible, and that's okay. This second book has a smaller scale. What I took away from it -- and this may be a little spoiler, so be careful -- was that Reynolds was playing a game with the reader. You have to trust him to not be treating you like you're stupid, but you also have to trust that he's not messing up, himself. And then this subtle mystery starts to grow. It was fun.

Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson: I mostly read this as research (for The Novel I Will Never Actually Write), and let me mention it's obnoxious as a way to get the details of daily life in Antarctica, because it's set just a little bit into the future, so it's really hard to tell what's true today and what was made up out of Robinson's head. As for the experience of it as a pleasure read -- yeah, it was just like Red Mars. But I couldn't get into the rest of the Mars trilogy (or do we say "series" now that The Martians is out?), so in my opinion, you may as well just read this one and bail on the Mars books.

Roswell, Vegas, and Area 51: Travels with Courtney, by Connie Willis: Man, I would have liked this book a lot more if it had been about how Connie Willis wants to believe. Instead, she's just amused by how stupid UFOers can be -- in her usual good-humored way, of course. It did make me desperate to go to Roswell, but then I've been desperate to go to Roswell since 1997. And kudos to Wormhole Books for their very nice chapbook. They have a catalog in which Ed Bryant writes a column in which he mentions Savage Love -- how cool is that?

The Physiognomy, by Jeffrey Ford: You have to stick with this one. By page ten I was ready to give up on it, but I was stuck on a bus so I kept going. By page 100 everything changed and suddenly it was interesting -- in this weird and wonderful way. So it's good, but it takes patience. Still, I'm not feeling the urge to read the other books in this universe, so maybe I'm not giving it all that strong a recommendation.