TTT: Won’t Re-Read

This was actually pretty hard. Generally, if I like a book, I can say that I would (in theory) re-read it. Looking though my list of books, i’ve come to the unhappy conclusion that realistically there aren’t many i’ll ever re-read, because i’ll more likely choose a book I haven’t read yet. But, regardless of free time and priorities, these are books I liked well enough, but won’t be reading again.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This is first book I remember finishing and thinking, “I really enjoyed that book, but I won’t ever want to read it again.” I think it was just a nice book to get lost in for a while, but was not so interesting that i’d want to revisit it.

Thirteen
This is the second book I remember having that same feeling about as soon as i’d finished it.

Any Carl Hiaasen book
I’ve enjoyed a few Hiassen books. They’re fine as a bit of escapism, but they all suffer from the same flaws. I’ll likely not read any more at all, let alone re-reads.

Life of Pi
I abandoned this book half-read the first time I started it. Not a good sign, I guess. But I finished and enjoyed it on a second go… still wasn’t thrilling enough to be re-read.

Notes from an Exhibition (or any Patrick Gale)
Gale’s books are not my usual type, but there is something I love about his work. I’ll read them as a little light relief between other books… but I don’t love them enough for a second go around.

What Dreams May Come
This book was lovely in many ways, but it had some major, unforgivable problems. I’ve loved the film for many, many years. Why re-read the problematic book, when I could just re-watch the film?

The Godfather
I loved a lot about this book, but the blatant misogyny seriously fucked me off. Another where i’d rather re-watch the film!

Gone Girl
I got sucked into the hype with this one, and while I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would… once you know the twist, what’s the point?

The Handmaid’s Tale
I loved the world building in this book so much, but honestly… it wasn’t actually as terrifying as I had prepared myself for. The world building takes priority over the story, and while that’s its strength in many ways, it makes a re-read highly unlikely.

High Rise
A fascinating idea and a creepy story… but it didn’t meet the hopes i’d held for it. In a different author’s hands i’d re-read the hell out of this story.

Where’s your TTT list at? Link me up in the comments.

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The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

Brighton Bookshops

I recently had a few days away in Brighton, and while researching places to eat and sights to see of course I looked up where all the local bookshops were. Finding the bookshops is what I always do in new places (what self-respecting bibliophile doesn’t?), but this was the first time I thought of documenting visits and sharing it on my blog.

Brighton was awesome, with so many places for this vegan to eat, loads of little alleyways and streets to explore, and some really amazing graffiti art. But this blog isn’t about food, exploring, or pretty walls. It’s about BOOKS, so let’s get to it!

The first bookshop I went in was Brighton Books, located on a wonderful pedestrianised street along with clothes shops and cafés. Once inside the hustle and bustle of the people outside faded away. I had a blissful half an hour browsing the bookshelves, eventually picking out a book of essays by William Golding i’ve had on my ‘to acquire’ list for a while.

Next on my list of bookshops was Books for Amnesty, which was hard to miss as it’s painted bright pink! I loved this colour choice—it makes the whole shop stand out, but isn’t at all out of place in the colourful arty Brighton vibes. Although I didn’t buy a book here, the feeling inside was welcoming and put me immediately at ease. I could have browsed there all day, had they had enough books!

A bookshop that really caught my interest, and was backed up by a recommendation from a Brightonite bookstagrammer, was Colin Page Antiquarian Books. Immediately I could tell it was one of those wonderful bookshops, rammed full of books to get lost in, and that old book smell. It didn’t disappoint. The books are down a mental spiral staircase, and the space is quite and still, almost library-like. Most of the books are hardback, with only a table out front covered with paperbacks. There were also boxes of literary magazines on the floor, including one full of old pulpy science fiction—if I hadn’t been getting the train back, that entire box would have come home with me!

The last bookshop I went in was City Books, which is a typical independent shop selling new and modern books of all genres. I loved it. I saw many books i’d never heard of, but was enticed to pick up, read the back, and have a flick through. It’s exactly the kind of bookshop where I could easily spend a lot of money. On this occasion I limited myself to a single book—City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer. At over 700 pages, it was the best value for my money!

On my last, very early, morning, on the walk to the train station, I passed another bookshop that I had somehow managed to miss! Raining Books wasn’t open at the ungodly hour I passed by, but it certainly looks interesting and fun—I can’t wait to explore it the next time i’m in Brighton!

Have you been to any of these bookshops? Are there any more awesome Brighton bookshops I missed!? Let me know so I can add them to my visit list!

TTT: Forever Re-Read

It’s been a little while since my last Top Ten Tuesday. So long, in fact, it’s since moved from The Broke and the Bookish over to That Artsy Reader Girl. But it’s still going strong, and i’m still popping my head in when I have the time and the topic tickles my fancy.

I have so many freaking books to read that I very, very rarely re-read any. I wish I could. Once i’ve read a book, I only keep books I enjoyed enough to (in theory) re-read… and I keep like 95% of the books I read. So. It’s not for lack of wanting to re-read, it’s the guilt and anticipation over all those awesome books still waiting to be read!

But, if I had endless time, and 10 books I could read, re-read, and re-re-read, it would be these ones.

IT by Stephen King
I already have re-read this half a dozen times. It’s my childhood-becoming-adolescence book, and it will always hold so much of me in it for that reason. I couldn’t not re-read this book again.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A spooky, but psychological horror. I’ve read it a few times now and it’s fascinating, how it mixes the supernatural and mental health aspects, and how characters are portrayed within that.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
A book about books. If i’m re-reading one, it might as well be one about all the books. Though when this book points out how many books I could conceivably read in my lifetime, and i’m wasting that time on a re-read, it’ll make me feel bad.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
This book is just so bizarre, but so obviously has method and meaning in the madness. It’s definitely one that would age well with each re-read.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (or the entire Wayfarers series) by Becky Chambers
This series is just utter perfection, and I would happily get lost in it over and over and over and… ♥

Why I Write by George Orwell
I devoured this the first time around, finding it educational, interesting, inspiring, and endlessly quotable. A re-read would let me soak it all a little more.

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
One of my favourite Wyndham books, and one I pick up now and again to re-read certain sections of. I could never, ever tire of my main woman, Phyllis Watson.

The Passage (or the entire Passage triology) by Justin Cronin
An epic, brick of a book that I gave five stars to and had so little to dislike about… if i’m going to be re-reading books over and over, there are so many more interesting little details to be picked up from longer books.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Another long one—this one I simply got lost in. I wasn’t even that bothered about the story. I just loved the journey, and it is happily one I would take again.

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Although part of a series, I find this book has a perfect arc of a narrative. The two timelines, how they connect, the twists and turns and just… satisfaction in the entire book. I’d love to enjoy that multiple times.

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The Outward Urge

Title: The Outward Urge

Author: John Wyndham

Summary: The ‘outward urge’ was a factor in the Troon inheritance. Successive generations of Troons, looking up at the stars, heard the siren voices that called them out into space. And, as the frontiers of space receded, there was usually one Troon, if not more, out there, helping to push them back.

The five exciting episodes related here deal with the parts they played in the building of the Space Station, the occupation of the Moon, the first landing on Mars, and the trouble about Venus and the asteroids.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors. My absolute favourite, if you ask me on decisive day. I even recently got a John Wyndham inspired tattoo ♥ I’ve not read all his books yet; i’m taking them slowly, because there are only a finite number. It’s been a while now, though, so i thought i’d pick this one up.

This book has five stories set across 200 years, linked by the development and exploration of space, as well as by the Troon family. It is common for Troons to have the ‘outward urge’–that is, to explore space, to go further, to know what else there is out there. And so the Troons are at the forefront of every spaceward progression these stories explore. The first British space station, the first landing on the moon, the first Mars landing, the first Venus landing… I love that Wyndham uses a family to connect the stories. They are more intrinsically linked this way, yet still independent, with so much time passing between them.

The first story had me sobbing by the end of it, despite the fact it was pretty clear what was going to come. For the first story to hit me like that left me already so invested in the rest. I love that while we meet the first Troon, heading to help build the space station, he is a young man, but when we meet his moon station commander son in the second story, he is 50 years old. It’s so clearly not the same story or character development in each chapter; they each have their own heart and meaning. I loved them all, but the first and the last were stand out for me. The Mars landing was a very close third. Just… they’re all brilliant!

A few stories had some wonderful quotes and meaningful concepts. Wyndham explores that side of science fiction so, so well–the philosophical alongside the technological. I was underlining and dog earring quite a bit, and i love it when a passage strikes me so close to my heart that i have to pause in my reading to take a note of it. One of my favourites was this one:

Odd, he thought, in a kind of parenthesis, that it should need the suspicion of human hostility to reawaken the sense of the greater hostility constantly about them.

I would have given this book five stars in a heartbeat, if it weren’t for one glaring omission. Something that, for Wyndham, is surprising and disappointing. The lack of female characters. Every single Troon in this book, and every single space-bound non-Troon main character is a man. It could be argued that, writing in the 1950s, Wyndham was writing more in line with his era. BUT a) that’s never stopped Wyndham before, and b) the stories are set 40-240 years into the future, give me a god damn spacewoman! So yeah, the omission of decent female characters has irked me, but i also know how bloody good Wyndham is for including wonderful women elsewhere, so i won’t hold a grudge–this time.

In summary, I still love Mr Wyndham, but i’ll need a female-strong book from him next. And to be fair, that wont be for at least six months…

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Friday Face-Off: Stairs

I had planned to keep up and take part each week with this meme, but some how time got away from me. It’s definitely something i’ll jump into when i can, though! This was originally created by Books by Proxy, and Lynn’s Books has since taken up the torch!

This week the theme is book covers featuring a staircase, and the first and only book to spring to mind which would likely have covers featuring one was The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. At first i struggled trying to find a variety of covers with steps, but in the end i had too many, having to cut the number down from 11 to 8! They’re quite a mixed bunch this week!

I own none of these covers–my copy does not feature stairs–but i’m liking quite a few of these!

The first is a Dover Thrift Edition and i always love their covers. This is no exception. It feels classic, it fits the mystery/crime/thriller genere of the book and i really like it.

The second is simple with some great negative space. I really love the design, but the colour choices are a little too stark for my tastes.

The third one i like. It has the negative space, but with more interest and more to draw the eye. The colours and shadow are less–but not entirely devoid of–bleak. But the steps in the book are nothing like the steps show here, and that’s a bit rubbish.

The fourth one i like a lot. The colours really give it a spy/crime/thriller feel, i love the patterned colour and negative space, i love the simple representation of steps. This one hits it all for me.

The fifth is, honestly, the token terrible cover. I mean… it looks like a self-help book or a book about how to get into heaven. It’s horrible and hilarious.

The sixth is a Thai cover, and while not my favourite, is quite interesting. I like what it’s trying to do, i think. It has the vibe of the Dover Thrift cover, but done with a photo and MS Paint.

The seventh looks like a cheesy romance novel set in an old country house and it could not be further from the actual book. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so awful!

The eighth one i really like. It’s simple, but interesting. I like how unfussy it is, and i like the feet in the image. But it suffers in the same way third one does. They are nothing like the steps in the book, and the whole cover feels a bit too modern.

It is no surprise my favourite cover is number four. The colours, the negative space, the patterns… it has all the things i love in a book cover. Which is your favourite? If it’s the fifth one, you will have to find yourself a genuine self-help book!

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The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.

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Stories: Short & Sweet

It’s no secret i’m a lover of short stories. I’m also aware that a lot of other people aren’t. My love of short stories is so easy and natural that it baffles me a little why other people don’t seem to enjoy them as much as I do. I can’t understand what it is about them that’s unappealing. This left me wanting to articulate the reasons I think short stories are brilliant, so I had a go.

Most obviously, there is less commitment in reading a short story, and therefore a much quicker pay off. I can read a short story in minutes. I can experience the wonder, the tragedy, the humour, of a single narrative much more swiftly than with the commitment of reading an entire book. Even if I don’t enjoy the story, I haven’t wasted hours or days of my life reading it. They’re like chapters of a book, but with an entire set up and conclusion in each.

You get to the good stuff quicker because the whole story is the good stuff. Novels can take pages and pages and chapters and chapters to really get your teeth into, but short stories are wham and you’re there. Linked to this is the fact they draw you into the world and the characters so much quicker—you’re made to care and get invested from the get go, which leaves you no time to get bored.

Every word has to count in a short story. They’re not the place to wax lyrical about unimportant side notes or superfluous details. Everything mentioned in a good short story will add something to the narrative. It might be plot, character, mood—whatever the important things are to get across, and whatever it is the author is trying to convey in the small time they have your attention. It all matters.

My very favourite kind of short stories often have some sort of twist or unexpected revelation at the end. Something that makes you view the whole story in a new light, and makes a second read a whole new experience. It’s almost like you get two stories in one, and it can add such depth to such a short narrative. Of course, novels can have twists and turns and revelations, but re-reading short story is a much simpler task. There have been times i’ve finished a short story and gone straight back to the beginning to start it again. As much as i’ve loved any novel, i’ve never wanted re-read it immediately.

I find short stories can often make the reader work harder. The more thought and attention you put into a short story, the more satisfaction you get out of it. Novels can often over explain, or spell things out too much over time, but short stories won’t make it that easy for you. They give you all the pieces, but you might have to ponder on them before they fit together. They might, for example, not answer all the questions the story raises. They might leave the ending ambiguous or open to interpretation. I love endings like that anyway (be it novel, film, TV, whatever), but in a short short it forces you to take stock of the information you have been given and find new and extended meaning in it.

I just really love short stories okay? But don’t just take my rambling, biased word for it. Let these wonderful quotes persuade you to reading more short story collections…

A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.

– Stephen King

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.

– Edgar Allan Poe

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.

– Paolo Bacigalupi

A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.

– Eudora Welty

A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.

– Neil Gaiman

My advice would be this: Don’t get all up in your head thinking short-short stories have to be poetry without the line breaks. Don’t put on your beret. Just tell a story, an actual story. Quick, while they’re still listening.

– Rebecca Makkai

A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end.

– Michael Swanwick

The Word for World is Forest

Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin 3/5 StarsTitle: The Word for World is Forest

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, they find themselves forced into servitude, at the mercy of their brutal masters. Eventually, desperation causes them to abandon their strictures against violence and rebel against their captors. But in doing so, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love Le Guin’s writing, but honestly haven’t read enough of it. I’ve had this book on my to read list since i first read The Dispossessed five years ago. This book had already been next on my to read pile, though it proved timely, coinciding with Le Guin recent and saddening death. The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest are the first two books in the Hainish Cycle, and let’s not pretend the third book in the series, Rocannon’s World, isn’t now top of my to buy list. The books aren’t connected by plot or characters, and can be read out of sequence or independently of each other–but chronologically is how i roll.

But this book. This book was interesting and frustrating all at the same time. Set on a world of islands, all completely covered in trees, the human race (as we know it) has arrived, settled, and started a small logging colony. The world and races created and explored here are wonderfully done. The native Athsheans, small and covered in green hair, are Le Guin’s literal ‘little green men’. From the human’s point of view they are a quiet, simple, unintelligent race, barely worth training up for menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning. The Athsheans are actually a lovely, peaceful, extremely clever introspective race who put much stock in dreaming. I found them quite charming.

Our three main characters are two humans–the selfish, egotistical, and cruel Davidson, and the reserved, observant, and kindhearted Lyubov–and one Athshean–the headstrong, confident, visionary Selver. Davidson, as Le Guin acknowledges in her introduction, is 100% the bad guy. He has no redeeming features, and is there solely to cause trouble and be hated. And oh, was he so easy to hate. I hated him unreservedly, and though that was really the point, and i loved to hate him, it also felt hollow and disappointing, to know he was written in that way and for him to have nothing but hate to give or receive. Selver was a smart man, and i don’t blame him for any of the choices he made–he did the best and smartest things he could given the situation, and he handled it marvellously. For someone who acted so emotionally to trauma and loss, he also seemed, on the whole, quite emotionless. Though i wonder if that may be a byproduct of introspection, of dreaming, of knowing oneself–being able to acknowledge your emotions and make conscious decisions rather than gut reactions. Lyubov, though. Lyubov was my favourite. He was the middle man, the one trying to bridge the gap between the humans and the Athsheans, with very few people on either side going along with that. I found him to have the purest heart, the most interesting perspective, and to be the only one not quite sure of himself.

The book is not without problems. Women treated as objects and commodities by the humans and all the main characters being male are two of the biggest. While the Athsheans have a more equal society, it still rubs me the wrong way that women have their assigned gender roles and men have theirs–it’s not fair to anyone. And while the women as sex objects and baby producers in the human society is certainly a negative commentary, it is never discussed or explored enough to be openly critiqued in the story, and i find that a huge blow.

Stand out in the story is the concept of violence and change. How people and societies develop in ways they need to to their surroundings and threats, but how that change is permanent. Although the threat might have passed, the actions taken are irreversible and will shape the development of things forever. It is, like every Le Guin book i have read so far, exceptional world building and exploration of ideas and themes and characters. I can’t wait to read more.

Station Eleven

Book Review: Station Eleven. 3/5 Stars.Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.

One Snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while. It has glowing reviews and the premise is spot on for what i love to read. I was so happy to finally pick it up and get reading. As happens far too often with books the general population seem to rave over, though… i was left a little disappointed.

There was plenty i loved about the book. I love the setting–20 years after an apocalyptic virus wipes out most of humanity. So often books deal with the very immediate fall out and/or 100 or more years after an apocalypse. It was interesting to see this 20-year stage. Long enough that there are children and young adults who remember nothing of “before”, there are adults who remember very little and have adapted easily, and there is an older generation who had jobs and families and remember everything of a life “before”. It’s the stage where things have changed, but the ‘old’ world is still very much remembered.

I loved (most of) the characters. My favourites were Miranda, Clark, and Frank. I loved Frank from the moment we met him, when his brother shows up on his doorstep with seven overflowing trollies of food and a stricken expression and Frank’s only comment is, “I see you went shopping.” Clark was slower to make an impression on me, as he is quite a side character for most of the book, but the more he showed up and the more i learnt about him, the more i liked him. Miranda was wonderful from the get-go. A strong, but wonderfully lovely character. She was kind and thoughtful, but never at the expense of herself. Her mantra–“I repent nothing”–are words i might start saying to myself more often.

I have two main issues with the book, and they are both simply personal preference. The first is the dual focus between the time lines–one 20 years post-apocalypse, one stretching back many years in the life of famous actor Arthur Leander. And the crux of my issue with this is that… i gave exactly zero hoots about Arthur Leander. The book is, on the whole, a character-driven narrative, and generally they just aren’t my favourite kinds of stories. I didn’t care about Arthur. I didn’t care about his life, his career, his multiple marriages and divorces. That his life served as a tenuous and improbable link between various characters in the post-apocalyptic time line was irrelevant to me. His life and its inclusion in the story felt simply like a device for that link and little more.

The second main issue i had was that… not a lot really happens? This typically goes hand-in-hand with character-driven stories–the focus is on the people and their feelings and experiences and growth, rather than on any circumstances or events. And like, okay, an apocalypse happens, but for the post-apocalyptic time line, there is not much tension or eventfulness. What there is, unsurprisingly, revolves around an individual–it is this character and his links to the past, to Arthur, and the other characters, that are the focus. And for me, that’s not enough. The story just never feels like it really gets going, but that’s because–for me–there just isn’t enough story.

The other niggle i can’t really shake is that the book is coming from quite an entitled place. The characters are rich actors, successful business people, theatre goers, classical musicians, and Shakespearean thespians. It didn’t sit quite right with me, and honestly didn’t enamour me to their post-apocalyptic plight. But honestly, with a name like St. John Mandel, a privileged upbringing on a remote Canadian island, and studying at a dance theatre… it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s writing what she knows.

I enjoyed the concept and ideas in the book, and found the emotive use of language quite lovely–the book is infinitely quotable. But nice one-liners and being meaningful in isolation doesn’t a brilliant book make–it takes more to impress me. What i enjoyed here i enjoyed a lot, but i won’t be rushing out to read more of this author’s books.