Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 4/9

I do this every Sunday night, so most of you know the drill by now: I roll some dice, and look up a randomly-chosen past year in my reading notebook. This week it's 1997:
  • Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (4/2)
    I read both this and Mitford's other famous novel, The Pursuit of Love, in quick succession out of an old, ugly Modern Library volume. I found them a bit slow and slogging then, and I don't recall them well now; I suspect that there was a very strong element of roman a clef in them, and I'd have gotten more out of them if I were British, aristocratic, and a couple of generations older. Probably just of interest to specialists, now. I came to Mitford from Evelyn Waugh, and I still like Waugh miles better than Mitford.
  • Chip Harrison Scores Again by Lawrence Block (4/3)
    Exceptionally light-weight semi-mystery from early in Block's career; this is primarily of interest now because it shows him putting his porn-novel ideas and skills to work in a non-porn setting. It's the second of four "Chip Harrison" novels; in the first he solves a mystery while trying to get laid for the first time, and this one has essentially the same plot (except for the "first time" bit). The latter two books were written several years later, and are much more like real mysteries, but the first two are still fun for what they are.
  • Beneath the Vaulted Hills by Sean Russell (4/5)
    The first book in the "River into Darkness" duology. Russell wrote three two-book series to start his career, and all had low-magic worlds with well-imagined characters, complicated but understandable plotting, and excellent world-building. They all also seemed to sink without a trace into the marketplace; perhaps because he was published by DAW, a house that doesn't seem to get much respect or notice from critics. (I know the books of Russell's I tried to sell in the SFBC didn't do very well for me, unfortunately -- he's a wonderful storyteller who can write well in service of his plot, which is not a common combination.) More people should read Sean Russell, and this book is as good a place to start as any.
  • Easy Meat by John Harvey (4/7)
    Something-or-other in the Charlie Resnick mystery series, which were absolutely wonderful. Harvey is also a poet, and he brings that ear for language, or for using just the right image, to his mysteries. His main character is also appealing and idiosyncratic without devolving into the too-common bag-of-random-odd-traits school of mystery characterization.
  • At Least This Place Sells T-Shirts by Bill Amend (4/7)
    A collection of FoxTrot comic strips.
  • The Crown Crime Companion compiled by Mickey Friedman (4/8)
    Apparently, this is the mystery-world equivalent of David Pringle's Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels and Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels, with 101 books chosen by the Mystery Writers of America and essays on each by Otto Penzler. I'd completely forgotten what it was, and I don't seem to have kept it. From this, I deduce that I didn't find it all that helpful (though I might have taken notes from it, and it's quite possible that it introduced me to some good books, or put things onto my "Books I Want" list that are still lurking there).
  • The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (4/8)
    Simmons is great at beginnings and not quite as great at endings. This one was kind of disappointing.
  • The Amalgam Age of Comics: The DC Comics Collection by various (4/8)
    One of the many huge comics events of the '90s, as Marvel and DC flailed about trying to staunch the flow of readers away from underwear perverts (and comic pamphlets in general), was a big inter-company crossover event called "Amalgam." It was ridiculously geeky, even in this context, as it pretended that there was just one costumed-hero company, Amalgam, whose heroes were all combinations of one DC character and one Marvel character. There were two collections of the series, and this was one of them. This is a massively "inside baseball" project; if you don't already know the characters being played with (on both sides), you won't get much out of it. But it was fun, for those who had the necessary back-stories already stuck in their heads.
  • Tomorrow's Crimes by Donald E. Westlake (4/9)
    A collection of pretty much all of Westlake's SF work, including the short novel Anarchaos. None of it was as good as his best mystery novels, but it's all readable top-drawer pulp stuff from the early '60s. Still, Westlake's famous kiss-off to SF (recently available again in The Best of Xero) looks like a good idea after forty years of retrospect; he's a much better mystery writer.
Hey! I actually got this done on Sunday this week, which is a change. Of course, that meant that I haven't quite finished reading the new Tim Powers novel, Three Days to Never, yet. Life is never easy...


BlogReadingPerson said...

Looking forward to reading your review of the new Tim Powers novel. Is it the best one yet or not? Hard for me to imagine him topping the last one, but he always seems to manage outbesting himself.

Andrew Wheeler said...

I read it for the SFBC, so I can't say much about Three Days to Never at this point. I don't know if I could say that it's better than Declare (which is still one of my favorite of his books), but it's vintage Tim Powers, which makes it very good.

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