A little inventory

August 25, 2011

Summer-addled magical thinking led me to believe I’d have August free and clear, but obligations nearly swallowed me whole, and now it’s closing in on the start of school again, synced, sadly, with the ramping up of work, and I’ve nothing but a few loose days to ride into the fall on. At least I read a lot this summer. I would characterize this list as summer-reading random, but tacking toward the supernatural. Here’s a less than comprehensive inventory.

YA and/or Kids Books
Scott Westerfield’s  Leviathan and its sequel (better steampunk fare than Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, though sans zombies) put me onto his dystopic-future Uglies series, which finally left me ripe for Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, two of the three managed over one-hour snatches sitting in the Barnes & Noble cafe, where you can read any Nook title free for that brief span. This is not a plug for the Nook but rather to note the lame equivocation. After all, you can hang out and read any of their paper titles all day long if you like (see also Nook’s pitifully limited LendMe feature and the way they ghetto your hard disk’s “library” so e-books not of B&N origin have to inhabit another “shelf” ). I’m a late adopter of the Hunger Game series, resistant to its reality TV theme and suspicious of blockbusters in general, though I frequently succumb to their everyman charms, and HG was no exception, with its plucky renegade heroine and its decadent Rome-like Capitol, complete with vomitoriums.

You don’t need me to tell you any more about the freaking Hunger Games, do you? Nor Harry Potter, which we started reading our older son this summer. He tore through the first two books, then embarked on a comprehensive study of Harry Potter Lego sets he would very much like to own if only his parents weren’t so cheap and selfish. To pace things out a bit, we’re tackling Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider since all things dragon are of interest to him, but also because I’d just read and enjoyed two of her Inkheart trilogy, still a bit mature for him. Characters from a book intrude into our world, accidentally summoned via a read-aloud by Mo, bookbinder and inadvertent conjurer. Sounds fun, only one of the characters is evil, and the mechanics governing this process require a swap, so when the bad guy bleeds through, Mo’s wife is pulled into his world.

Library Grabs
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth and Pastoralia by George Saunders have nothing in common save they were grouped together in a library display of books that have won awards of one sort or another, and bless those librarians for putting together such displays so I can grab and go. MP depicts a fourteenth-century ragtag acting troupe that breaks from its traditional biblical set pieces to stage a play depicting a recent murder in the village they are passing through. Shitstorm ensues. Pastoralia is a story collection of high dark absurdity so funny I constantly read passages to my husband (luckily I don’t have Mo’s gift), like this description of a TV show called The Worst That Could Happen,

. . . a half-hour of computer simulations of tragedies that have never actually occurred but theoretically could. A kid gets hit by a train and flies into a zoo, where he’s eaten by wolves. A man cuts his hand off chopping wood and while wandering around screaming for help is picked up by a tornado and dropped on a preschool during recess and lands on a pregnant teacher.

That’s from the story “Sea Oak,” the book’s centerpiece, or at least my favorite in the bunch. Toward the end of the book one starts to tire of such excesses, and especially the constant self-effacing, horny streams of consciousness attributed to various characters. Not that we don’t all have them.

Highbrow Highlight
Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris
by Asti Hustvedt. I have to pick up something like this every now and again to convince myself that despite my tendencies toward YA fantasy series books and random library grabs, I really am an intellectual. But perhaps this title lured me more because of my affinity for crazy ladies. The famous hysterics of Salpêtrière Hospital may have been manipulated by their doctors, but their antics in and out of hypnosis approached performance art. Photos!

Lowbrow Highlight
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Originally published in 1992 and recently re-released (perhaps to capitalize on the current vampiremania’s last gasps), it’s far superior to any of the “urban fantasy” pulps abounding. Its alt-historical premise is that Dracula has eluded his would-be assassins from the Stoker novel, wooed and wed the widowed Queen Victoria, and now England is under his rule and London society is teeming with vampires. It’s gritty and hideously violent and smart. Full of characters borrowed from vampire fiction and movies.

Lowbrow Lowlight
(Newsflesh Trilogy Series #1) by Mira Grant. Zombies are fast supplanting vampires in the world of pop fiction, I suppose because zombies staggering dangerously across a denuded landscape best reflect our fear of the world’s imminent doom, likely to be brought about by our own science and stupidity. This series is set in the post-zombie apocalypse, which in this rendition has something to do with the ascension of bloggers. (Huh?) It seems that when the virus hit and society began its rapid breakdown, they were the only reliable sources of news. (Hmm…) Mainstream media is already shambling around half dead, so I say bring on the end times!


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