recent readings

Sunday, October 25th, 2009 06:58 pm
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Finished Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk, by Boris Akunin.

I'm sure you can google or read amazon reviews to see the plot summary, so I'll just go straight into my impressions.

I had read two of the author's other series, and fairly enjoyed them. This one was longer, and it took more time for things to get going (and also, it was the second in a series, so a lot of the background on the recurring characters was unknown to me); basically the main character only starts uncovering the mystery about a third of the way through the book, because the Bishop sends three other envoys who all meet with misfortune. As a mystery, this works pretty well, IMHO, because I didn't see it coming, and yet it was adequately foreshadowed; although perhaps more of the interest in the book is in the portrayal of 19th century Russian social and ecclesiastical life (the narrator is clearly from the time period of the tale, as well: which I like because I like teh omnescient narration, and am amused at several conceits like how they handle Pelagia's various disguises). However, although this was fascinating, I was somewhat hampered because of my total lack of Russian literature/history background (yeah, I have a good background in English and French, and that sort of helps for the countries adjacent to them, to a certain extent, but I haven't read much Dostoevsky, and his novels kind of play a role in the plot (quite literally)). Although it is compared to Umberto Eco in the afterword (which outlines some Russian folklore references English-speaking readers might be aware of), IMHO Akunin hasn't Eco's "vastness," although he does have a similar erudition.
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
I've never seen the movie version of the Ring (the movie is based off of the book), so I can't really speak to how it's different; however, I'm informed there are quite a few changes.

Anyway, it takes awhile for the story to heat up (around a hundred pages before things start getting truly interesting, IMHO). There is little point in recounting the story, as we all remember the iconic image of Sadako, and the secret of the videotaped curse; the really interesting parts of the story are the recounting of the past of Sadako (which remains unclear in many ways), and the detective work. IMHO it might be better SFF than horror, although I think there is a certain eh, unoriginality in the forms of the ESP powers? And the stuff about the virus is somewhat confusing and 'wait, what?' The translation also felt odd/awkward at certain points.

charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
SubD had an interesting tangential comment in the last entry. Unfortunately, I'm totally unqualified to respond to it in any way, because I didn't even know that apparently indie concerts are cheaper than rap/pop/metal concerts. According to [ profile] jokersama, though, this is mostly a reflection of the relative lack of popularity that indie acts have. Pop and rock cost a lot because they play arenas which use Ticketmaster. Such indie acts, even if they can sell out popular venues, can't fill up huge arenas, therefore, they don't play there, don't use Ticketmaster, and prices are low, so it seems to be less of a reflection of the nature of indie than a reflection on its relative popularity. (Unless a band gets to that level and deliberately rejects playing large venues)

Anyway, was talking to Sabina about this, and what seems to have happened, according to her, is that in recent years, indie bands which were formerly obscure are hitting the top ten, not because they've become more popular, but because everything else has gotten less. Indie fans often love to buy things like vinyl, therefore they're overrepresented among that portion of the music-buying public who actually puts down cash to buy albums. Therefore, they've become more influential.

(So the audience has been reduced to the hardcore fans, with everyone else streaming or buying less or downloading?)

In other news, reading Harimanan Monogatari, which is SUPPOSED to be about Kuroda Kanbei (the dude who was Hideyoshi's strategist after Takenaka Hanbei dies, and now a new character in SW3), but I'm like forty pages in, and Kanbei hasn't even been born. This was serialized in a newspaper, so I'm kind of er dude are you trying to pad this story, which is why it's four books long? talking to myself here, as you either can't read this book or have no interest in doing so )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
1. Vaguely inspired by this post, I was thinking that journalists are required to disclose conflicts of interests. For the world of professional reviewing, I'm not sure how that works, but probably an editor would avoid assigning someone's best friend (or worst enemy) to review their book? (However, it might be hard, in some literary circles, to find a completely unrelated reviewer)

Yet, it seems increasingly, as review sections shrink in publications, that people are relying on amateur, online sources for their reviews. Simultaneously, authors are like anyone else, going online and meeting and befriending readers, as well as other writers (perhaps to an even greater extent which they did in the past?) Is there a problem, either practical or ethical, with the amateur reviewers not disclosing any dealings or relationships they might have with the author or entity publishing the author? Are amateurs bound by any codes? If you endorse a friend's work in your blog, will you need to add a disclosure statement?

2. write-up of a conversation which might make no sense, depending on how well I write it up )

The Inugami Clan

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 11:13 pm
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Finished reading the Inugami Clan. This is a translation of a Japanese detective novel (featuring Kindaichi Kosuke; the name of the protagonist of the Kindaichi files is a homage to him), by one of the greats of the Japanese mystery novel, Yokomizu Seichi. Right around the end of WWII, the patriarch of the Inugami family, a fabulously wealthy industrialist, has died, and his will is read, shocking his daughters and their families. It appears that the fortune will go to the grandson who marries the beloved ward of the patriarch, whom someone seems to be attempting to murder. The three daughters all despise each other, and also detest the ward, and all of this is rooted in the highly irregular and lurid personal life of the deceased man.

In some ways, this resembles another Japanese murder mystery I was reading, the Tokyo Zodiac Murders (actually, if you just had to read one, I would say read that book instead, because the story is even creepier and more atmospheric). This is the sort of normal detective novel where the detective is sort of an incidental character. Kindaichi's main distinctive feature is his habit of scratching violently at his hair when agitated, and he mostly functions as an observer (especially since he's not trying to figure out howdunit after the fact, but watching as person after person is murdered). The crux of the howdunit is telegraphed in a fairly obvious manner, but the meanings behind the murders can only be revealed through the tangled personal life of the dead. Anyway, if you like mysteries, it's worth a read (although, personally I found the translation to be somewhat stilted? However, not having read the original, I can't speak to the choices of the translator.)

spoiler notes, because I can't resist making them. This will obviously ruin the novel, though )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Finished Ode to Kirihito. This is a manga by Osamu Tezuka, but boy... is it NOT for children; suffice to say it contains a great deal of shocking elements. Embarrassingly, I don't score too well on classic manga. I've read like Glass Mask (everyone, BTW, should read Glass Mask), but not much of the older stuff at all.
mini-summary )

Was also reading through the interview at the end of Devices and Desires. Some of the statements by the author were fairly thought-provoking, so I have transcribed excerpts here.

interview parts )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Am about halfway through K.J. Parker's Desires and Devices. Since K.J. Parker is a pseudonym, there is no way to tell which gender the author is, which explains why I'm going to use "they" or "s/he" when talking about the author.

The book posits a semi-renaissance/medieval world. There are two mountain kingdoms, Eremia and Vadani, which are bitter rivals. Vadani is rich because of its silver mines, and Eremia, while having impregnable natural defenses, is poor. On one side, both are bordered by a vast desert, and on the other side is the Cure Hardy, where various "sects" of nomads live, and towards the coast, there's the city-state of Mezentia. The Mezentines arrived on the continent awhile ago from somewhere else, and are organized very hierarchically based on their guild structures, and possess advanced technology, by which I don't mean ray-guns or automobiles, but the principles of precision engineering and metallurgy. This has made them economically dominant on the continent. The Mezentine socity is pretty uptight, to the point where they'd condemn a man to death for a trivial deviation from their Specifications. This man, Zianni Vaatzes, escapes and comes up with a complex plot to somehow once again see his wife and daughter, a plot which will apparently involve betraying his city (though in his mind it's the current leadership which has betrayed it), betraying others, and the deaths of thousands), which rather does show a certain lack of perspective on Vaatzes's part. (Well, that's part of it, after all. Zianni is a product of Mezentine society to the core, and the books are almost anthropological in focus, showing the differences in culture and mindset which govern the conflicts between the societies)

more rambling, and there will be some spoilers )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Finished reading the Temple of Dawn: In response to a previous comment, yes, Mishima is weird, but weird is really a weak word for it. Yet on the other hand, in comparison to Tanizaki, and some of the less presentable parts of Kawabata, it isn't that weird. (The Japanese literary canon really seems full of strangeness. I wonder how this affects what's required reading?). This book isn't set continuously, but in two parts: In the first, Honda visits Thailand shortly before WWII breaks out, and meets the current reincarnation of Kiyoaki Matsugae, now a seven year old princess, the daughter of one of the Thai foreign students they met in book one. He then has mystical experiences in India (I really am wondering now if Mishima did indeed visit India), and studies Buddhist theories of denial of the atman (soul), while simultaneously looking up Western views of reincarnation. Fast forward to the post-war period: Honda has become incredibly rich by chance, and once again meets Princess Ying Chan, and becomes obsessed with her.

Notes mostly for myself, as I want to discuss the spoilery elements and you shouldn't read this book without having read the first two anyway. (It'll make no sense, and to be honest, it isn't as good as the first two).

Read more... )

Started reading Devices and Desires now. Pretty good so far, although I'm a bit puzzled by the author's statement that s/he doesn't have the chops to write a seven book series. When you're writing a trilogy w/ the books at around 700 or so pages, aren't you pretty close to writing seven normal books? Unless s/he means that they would write seven books at 700 pages. I have things to say about this interview, also... But shall wait till I finish the first book, at least.
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Playing more Musou Orochi 2: Why does anyone bother trying to get Masamune to join their side, I wonder? It seems they're rather wasting their time. Maybe they were inspired by the first Orochi game or something. The Sengoku portion, BTW, seems like one huge glorification of Shima Sakon, which is fine by me. XD

Speaking of Masamune, am trying to read a Shiba Ryoutarou story about him, which seems to prominently feature the stuff about his mom trying to kill him. I guess we should be thankful that such secondary sources are not available to the English fandom, or Masamune would end up being portrayed as a ball o' angst. (But if you add all the apocryphal stuff together, Masamune has enough issues for four or five people).

Am also reading the Temple of Dawn; a third of the way through, and this book does feel at parts like Mishima is blogging his really awesome mindblowing trips to India and Thailand, although I have no idea whether he at some point really did go there. And then there's a chapter in which the main character's readings into Western theories of reincarnation are summarized. (As with the first two books, the contrast between Honda and my image of Mishima inappropriately looms large in my reading: much of the book takes place in Honda's head, or really, through Honda's head, yet he himself is a self-styled observer figure, and Mishima admires action (or at least this is my image of him). Anyway, more when I'm done w/ the book)

For my own ref:

a post o' the day

Sunday, August 9th, 2009 10:48 pm
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Finished Gyakuten Kenji: Solid, but not world-altering (er, in the sense that it doesn't really develop the whole situation of the prev. appearing characters; more like it's a good detective novel, rather than the sort of novel where the point is to rearrange the characterization)

Finished also a Japanese novel that vaguely reminded me of Shunsaku Endo's stuff in that it's about the miserable lives of the common people in premeiji Japan (I can't tell whether it's Sengoku or Edo period, and that should tell you something), about a wretched village of fisherfolk who depend on luring ships to disaster for their very survival. The back cover describes it as "Gothic," yet it's nearly naturalism, but more lyrical than the image of what naturalism commonly is.

What to read next: Mishima's the Temple of Dawn (book 3 of the Sea of Fertility) or K.J. Parker's Devices and Desires? Or, another Graham Greene? (vote if you feel like it)
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Was thinking recently on fiction, and how it's presented and packaged:

rambling )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Probably well... many of you have read Jorge Luis Borges, or heard of him, so I'll dispense with any introduction. Borges is like Kafka, not only thematically, but in the sense that he's become adjectival. I could talk about how after reading this collection, I thought 'though I have never read Borges extensively, it's odd that without having read him I suspect he's a 'necessary' writer for me, in the way that Poe or Valery were 'necessary' to Pierre Menard, because I see echoes and homages to him in so many of the other works which I've read.'

I think in this long entry, I'm going to entirely leave the realm of readability. Ahoy fragments and notes. )

Apropos of nothing, but it's a good thing I never answer 'tell me what to write' memes these days, because I would say things like 'a story that ends, 'and it was all a dream,'' or 'a story in which the reader genuinely cannot figure out whether there really was a ghost or not' or 'provoking a sense of existential dread.'
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
The Swimming Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst, takes place London during the early eighties before the AIDS epidemic; the main character, Will Beckwith, is a privileged heir to a viscountcy in his mid-twenties. Blond, gorgeous, and mostly idle, he spends much of his time hanging out at the Corinthian swimming club (which is frequented by many gay men) or going to night clubs. One day, he happens to save an elderly man has a heart attack while cottaging in a rest room. Serendipitously, this man, Charles Nantwich, is a titled lord who takes it into his head that Will should write his biography, though Will himself is ambivalent. However, Will's best friend James, a doctor (and also gay) urges him to take on the project, so Will pages through Charles's diaries, while discovering correspondences and connections between his life and that of the older man, in the context of the history of gay life in Britain. (Especially the author Ronald Firbank)

At first, this novel proved quite uninteresting, perhaps because I found Will himself unentertaining. Looking through the Amazon reviews, I found that some readers felt that Will was unlikable or irritating; however, I tend not to mind this as much in characters. But the main problem was that Will's life isn't very interesting. He has some sinecure job where he occasionally writes articles, but otherwise he devotes himself to his personal life. However, I found his relationships with both Arthur and Phil to be less interesting than his odd friendship with Charles, and Charles's diaries, which appear mostly in the second half. James is probably the most likable character, so I also wish we saw more of him.

commentary involving spoilers )
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
This was a random pick, but since it looked fairly insane, I decided to read it. Not a long book, but one which takes longer than one would expect to read, because of the density of surrealistic prose, allusion, and metaphysics. (Not that it falls into the category of the nigh unreadable, IMHO. The author is doing that 'every sentence seems quotable' thing like Durrell or Mieville, maybe, although not in the same way. Also reminded me of a picaresque, or maybe even of Wolfe because like Desiderio and Severian share strange similarities, such as writing much better than one would expect them to)

The premise (more than the plot) is this: In a nameless South American city, probably during the latter half of the twentieth century (though possibly also Nebulous Time, and the diction makes it feel like the 19th century; the imagery feels 19th century, maybe), a city is under attack by phantasms, produced by the mysterious Dr. Hoffman. The protagonist, a clerk named Desiderio, goes on a mission to assassinate Hoffman, but is embroiled in all kinds of metaphysically significant incidents on the way. Also, he falls in love with Hoffman's daughter, the continually disguised Albertina.

Atwood describes Angela Carter's prose as 'baroque,' and perhaps this accounts for my feeling that Desiderio is not a man of the 20th century. I guess I won't spoil the pleasures of reading the book, but the sensation of reading the book was akin to viewing the peep shows/tableaux which are central to the transformations and unreality (authentic simulacra?) at the core. Viewing a diorama obscenely crammed full of symbolic meaning, perhaps.

Now reading Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library. Not really enjoying it; I think it may be one of those things that was ground-breaking at the time.
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
Via OTF_wank: The Talent Killers: How Literary Agents are Destroying Literature and What Publishers Can Do to Stop Them. Or, a lot of BAAAAWWWWW and WEEEOOOO.

The evil, evil literary agents are obsessed with books that people will pay money for, and avoid books that they don't think people will want to buy. Shocking...

However, I think the ones really to blame are..... readers! Readers are the reason they're publishing so much vampire fiction and fantasy novels and mystery-thrillers.

This comment is also very perceptive: it's the bookstores which don't make it possible for an author to slowly build up an audience, because they return books so relentlessly.
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
1. Traditional book club model: a book is collectively chosen. Everyone ideally reads it and it is discussed at the next meeting.

2. The opposite: everyone reads whatever books they wish, and posts reviews on them.

3. Bibliophages model

4. Modified bibliophages: Theme, suggestions solicited, everyone reads a book chosen from the compiled list.

5. Free themed reading: A theme is chosen. Members choose a book theoretically relating to the theme. They post their reviews.

6. The idea of posting reviews within the comm is abandoned in favor of weekly posts, or even monthly, posts in which members can comment whatever reviews they have recently posted, which are then incorporated as links within the body of the post. The comm is instead given into book-related activities. Perhaps in a way this is preferable because what's the point of having reviews within the comm, if they cannot be discussed, as most of the other members have not read the book, unless model one is followed.

7. Assuming 6, some activities can include: collectively making lists of books, like a game. People posting requests for recommendations, of the "if I liked this, what other books will I like?" Other types of book related games, etc.

8. People find like... one of those annoying "50 best realist novels about middle aged adultery! Bold the ones you've read!" lists and collectively, the entire group challenges themselves the ones they haven't read, posting reviews in the comm.

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