Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: How to Be a Heroine

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis


I have a small but insistent affection for books about what books people read, and this one is about so many books that I've either read or want to read (and one or two I'm giving a big skip).  I won't go into the details of the books -- there's a full bibliography at the end of the book -- and instead tell you a bit about the idea of being a heroine.

In Ellis's life, what a heroine is changes, and because it's important to her to be one, she considers them from many angles.  It's not something that I've every really considered, at least not consciously.  At a fairly young age I discovered that most of the book characters (and TV and movie characters) I most admired were all male, which sort of denied the whole idea of a woman as hero for me.  It was some years before I found enough female literary heroines to think of them as a thing, and I never thought to model myself on them (I was busy trying to me Mr. Spock for too many years).  But I can sort of catch onto what she's saying, that we are the authors of our lives and the heroines of our own stories. 

It sounds so pat and even trite, but in the context of the book, it isn't.  It's important and deep and a thought a lot of women (and men) don't really incorporate.

Above that, Ellis really examines these characters  -- Lizzy and Anne and Scarlett, Jane and Laura and so many more.  She digs into them within the fictional worlds they inhabit, and she digs into what their authors did with them or didn't do with them, what the authors were saying or not saying.  If you have a taste for literary analysis (in a lighter, less academic form), you'll find it here. 

I now have to read and reread a number of books to see these heroines for myself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (Movie Novelization) by Alex Irvine

Reading has been a struggle for months, but (quite suddenly, it seems to me) I am back to reading again.  I suspect it might be a slight change in my meds, or the coming of spring, or a change in the planetary alignments.  I dunno, but I'm glad.

First book read was this one, because I love the movie and I tend to like novelizations when I want a non-thinking read.  This one satisfied.  It's pretty much spot on to the movie (a few minor variations which are to be expected), and it filled in some background.  It isn't exactly stellar writing, but I wasn't expecting to be blown away by the prose.  It was comfortable, familiar, and easy to read, which was just what I wanted.  I'm already on to the next book, which is a bit more challenging.

In other reading news, I'm mourning the end of a favorite series, The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.  The last book arrived.  I'm not likely to read it, to tell the truth, because for me the series really ended 3 books back when I realized Hearne was sick of his character and the world he'd made and just wanted to get it over with.  The last few books have felt rushed and a little bitter.  I've heard a synopsis of the final book and I'm content with that.  I'd rather hang on to the positive feelings I have for the first 6 books and the short stories than to have it all sink into a bitter aftertaste.

I suspect that's a problem with a good series -- there comes a point where a smart author has to end it if there is a long running arc or an interconnected series of arcs.  As a writer, I know that when I already know the end of the story I'm writing, I tend to lose interest in it.  I write as much to tell myself a story as to tell it to anyone else.  There are series I've read where the author jumped the shark bigtime and couldn't go back to fix it.  Others, the author didn't realize when enough was enough.  But the hardest ones are when the author has gotten tired of what she's writing about and is eager to get on to some other project, but due to contractual obligations or just a completionist obsession has to write the thing out to a projected conclusion.  Those are the saddest endings.

That might also be one reason I haven't finished reading the whole Dresden Files series yet, because I fear that it will have that sad ending of a author who no longer loves his characters and just wants them to be done and over.  I think it's better when an author ends a series while she still loves her characters and still has a few stories left about them, but doesn't want to get sick of them.  Better to find a nice parking spot, move on for a while, and decide later if the whole thing is really done and better left alone, or if perhaps one or two more stories might be ready to appear in the world.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: Two Old Women

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis

I'm struggling to read, still, and since neither the third Dresden Files book or The Fire and the Fury seem able to hold my attention, I pulled this off my shelf and finished it.  It's a short little story.  The book itself is not even 150 pages and it's a small format with illustrations.  But as a retelling of a legend, it was enjoyable and interesting.  Not much else to say about it, really.  Lots to think about, though. 

The premise is that, during a particular hard winter, an indigenous Alaskan tribe makes the hard decision to leave behind two elderly women in order to help save the rest of the tribe.  It's done with much heartache and sadness, but it's the way The People have done for a long time whenever times were particularly tough.  Usually, though, the ones left behind were near death, or unable to do much for themselves anymore and thus a drain on the tribe.  These two old women have just sunk into the complaints and peculiar stasis of their age.  So, when left behind with two secret gifts -- a bundle of precious sinew and a hatchet -- they decide to fight for their own survival with the idea that rather than sit around waiting for death, they would die trying.

Their struggle is hard, but they draw on the knowledge and memories of their long lives and push their bodies to find a place that The People have forgotten and set up camp there.  They not only survive, but flourish.  And then The People come back looking for them after a long, terrible year. hoping to find them alive, and the repair of relationships must happen.

It is a moral tale, of course, as most legends are, about the value elders are to the younger, of the problems the elderly are prey to and how they can lose sight of their own value, and about the harshness of nomadic life in the far north.  It's a sweet story, and  rests upon a solid foundation of knowledge about what life was like (and, for many, still is like).  It is the sort of story that leaves an impression.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Wow, How Do I Work This?

Yes, a very long time.  Seems that the summer in Maine was so rough this year that I stopped reading.  Indeed, not a book was finished for 5 months. A long drought.

So, because of the new year and all that, I set a goal to read a book per week.  I was stymied in the very first week by the flu, of course, but I still finished the first book.

Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Ok, so I went easy on myself.  I had the flu.

This retelling of the Austen classic isn't so bad.  If I knew some very young person who liked Manga and was curious, I'd pass it along.  But for someone who is either familiar with the story or has a more complete understanding of the historic era and/or mature emotions, eh, not so much.

In short, the story has been hugely streamlined. Stacy King, who adapted the novel for the Manga, really cut and condensed, in my opinion, far too much. All the social criticism, satire, and commentary of the original book is gone.  Much of the character nuance, depth, and complexity is gone (as well as a number of characters).  Women now seek to marry wealthy men because they are golddiggers.  A man who romances women in search of a fortune is just a horndog. And everything is Elizabeth's fault.

Yes, I think that was the most annoying part of the whole story for me -- the final chapters, in which Elizabeth and Darcy apologize to each other for past behaviors, come to understand each other, analyze their relationship and how it came to be, are all compressed into a kiss and some wedding images.  Darcy doesn't even apologize to Elizabeth at all for the manner of his first proposal or for the things he did and said when they first came to know each other.  He doesn't reveal his shyness and his retreat behind his position and power.  He's just the hero with some 'flaws' taped to his side.

Elizabeth's sharp, satirical eye and  tongue are also gone from the book. She's just a very pretty girl. Yes, it preserves the occasional quote, but the color and energy that make Elizabeth a favorite heroine are removed.  We don't need her observations in part because Manga is a symbolic, visual medium and the signs and clues she saw (and therefore we saw) in the original novel are now given to us in the language of Manga (in fact, if one is not familiar with Manga, I suspect the story will appear a little confusing).

Now, as Manga, it's quite enjoyable. Po Tse's artwork isn't 100% to my tastes, but in general I liked it very much.  The clothing was fairy true to the Regency period the novel is typically seen to be set in (although there are many historical indications that the novel was written during, and perhaps imaged by the author originally, in the Georgian period).  Scenery was nicely done and often included.  I can't fault the representations of the characters just because they didn't suite me so much.  I'd guess the artist has seen the A&E/BBC miniseries at least once based on the appearance of the characters.

Last of all, as a book to read while one has the flu, it was just about on level.  It took me a while to read only because of coughing, headaches, and the constant need to sleep.  In other circumstances, it would have been an hour or two, tops.


So, I have my next book picked out -- another easy read, a reread of Jim Butcher's Grave Peril, book 3 of the Dresden Files series which I had started rereading quite some time ago to refresh myself before diving into the last few books of the series.  My brain tapped out at some point, so I parked a marker in it and put it on the pile. As a post-flu recovery novel, should be an easy read.