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The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.

 

Two Reviews: Thor (2011) and Night’s Master by Tanith Lee

Okay, so on tap today are two reviews: the 2011 Thor movie and Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master. Let’s go in chronological order.

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee is the first book in what has become known as The Tales of the Flat Earth series. Set on a world that is flat (hence the name), this book follows the various visitations of the demon prince Azhrarn, the titular Night’s Master.

The novel is really more a collection of six novelettes or three novellas. What unifies the six or three is the presence of Azhrarn. He moves, seductive and dangerous, through the various stories bringing joy, pain, and always desolation wherever he goes.

If you remember back to a few posts ago when I talked about myth and history in fantasy, here you will find a useful example of the former. Night’s Master is written in a heavily mythic style. This style works well with Lee’s technique. She is a mistress of simple poetic storyteller prose. This is an early work, but her style and writing skill is really good.

But this same style also hurts the stories as well. As much is said as is left unsaid, and things are left to assumption that should, perhaps, be better explained. Let’s take an example from the very first story- Sivesh. Why does Sivesh so desire the sun? From shortly after birth to about the age of sixteen or seventeen, he was raised by Azhrarn and his servants. Despite his curiosity, he should still think more like a demon, like an eshva or vazdru, than he should a human. His upbringing should preclude thinking like an ordinary human, much less an annoying Romeo figure.

As in mythology, the stories of Night’s Master have a sociological meaning imparted by the storyteller. In this case, the clear message is: do not so readily fall for the love of demon kind, for so often the destroy what they most desire. This typifies Azhrarn character very well. Often he will act to destroy those he once helped, those he desired after they have moved on. But with Sivesh (and even Ferazhin), they should be different than they are.

Despite my criticisms, I am rather fond of the book. Many of the stories are delightful to read. And Lee’s willingness to explore sexuality is a great bonus.

 

Thor (2011 Kenneth Brannagh) surprised me immensely. I did not think I would like it, but I found the movie to be one of the best super hero movies I’ve seen in years. Essentially, this is the story Thor (Chris Hemsworth) proving that he is worthy of being the god of thunder and Loki (Todd Hiddleston) descending into genocidal rage against Jotunheim.

The film can be seen to be two movies in one: Thor’s redemption on Earth and Loki’s fall on Asgard. In this way, I think, as much time could be spent on that absolutely gorgeous world called Asgard.

The visuals are stunning, especially the CGI renditions of Asgard and Jotunheim. Wow, those images are just amazing.

The acting is very good with Anthony Hopkins owning Odin, Hiddleston’s Loki is wonderful, and Natalie Portman is good as Jane Foster. And Hemsworth is really surprising as Thor.

That said, I have to admit that I am actually more sympathetic to Loki than I am to Thor. I wonder if it is intentional that Thor and Loki can both be seen as protagonists? Thor is clearly the protagonist of the overall movie, but Loki has his own subplot in which he himself is the protagonist (though not a super hero). Loki’s plot depicts his tragic fall from a trickster jealous of his brother to a deluded god wishing to prove his worthiness by exterminating the Frost Giants. Which is more compelling, I wonder, Thor’s redemption through self sacrifice or Loki’s fall through revelation?

In the end, I fear that Thor 2 will not be as good as this first movie. More than likely, a director more attuned to action/ super hero films with just rehash the standard formula. Brannagh’s directing on this film is excellent. And it is a pity that he will not be back for the sequel.