Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading into the Past: Week of 1/17

I used to do this, back in the dim misty days of the beginnings of Antick Musings, and I've intermittently said since then that I want to do it more regularly. I'm not promising anything, but let's hope it becomes a weekly occurrence.

But what is "this," you ask? Well, I've kept up a reading notebook now for just over twenty years (since the beginning of December, 1990), and "Reading Into the Past" involves my using a high-tech randomization device (some dice) to pick a year in that span, and then writing about whatever books I was reading this very week, that many years ago.

The dice this time gave me an 18, so please return with me to the amazing year 1993, when we were all younger and prettier:

2/17/93: Linda Barnes, Steel Guitar -- the then-new book in the Carlotta Carlyle mystery series, about a Boston cabbie (who was also, if I remember correctly, a tall leggy redhead -- though the fact that is precisely my type really shouldn't apply in a first-person novel) who was also a PI. I'm horrible at remembering mystery plots from series books, so I can't tell you what happened in this one. But it was a fun series, part of a general flourishing of tough female PIs in the early '90s after Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky.

2/18/93, Karen Kijewski, Copy Kat -- Speaking of female PIs, this was another series in the same area, slightly more gimmicky. The heroine's name was Kat something-or-other, and she operated out of some city out West -- I want to say Denver -- with cases that, in my mind, had lots of women-and-kids-in-jeopardy scenes. Kijewski wrote nine books in this series in just about a decade and hasn't been heard from since; it's a not-uncommon career for a mid-lister.

2/19/93: Joseph Hansen, A Country of Old Men -- The last of the Dave Brandstetter mystery novels, a series notable for being told in real time (Brandstetter got a year older every year, unlike most mystery heroes), for the fact that Brandstetter was an insurance investigator, so he had a reason to poke around the edges of murder cases, and for the fact that Brandstetter was happily gay and not at all stereotyped about it. It's one of the best of a strong series of books, and I hope Hansen isn't forgotten over in the mystery world these days; he had a near-Ross-Macdonaldish scope and power at his best.

2/20/93: Poul Anderson, Harvest of Stars -- Anderson wrote a bunch of linked books in the mid-90s with confusing titles -- some of the others are The Stars Are Also Fire, Harvest the Fire, and The Fleet of Stars -- and I can't remember precisely what happened in any of them. I vaguely remember that they were longer than they should have been, and slightly too libertarian for their own good. Anderson wrote at least a dozen better books, which you should read before you look for these.

2/22/93: Michael Whelan, Wonderworks -- In those days, Whelan was by far the biggest, most important artist in the SF field -- his work was on what seemed like most of the biggest books each year in the field, and he was an inventive painter of gorgeous, technically accomplished and tightly rendered works. (Something like what Donato is now, only even more popular.) He was so popular, in fact, that publishers not only published a couple of books of his art -- SF art books have always been an uncertain market, since it relies on the overlap of two interests -- but gave them nearly identical titles: this one and the later, larger Works of Wonder. This one is smaller and older, Whelan's first collection, and it has a lot of his most famous works. It's not in print -- art books don't stay in print long, being expensive to make -- but its worth looking at, at least, if you ever come across it.

2/23/93: Sara Paretsky, Guardian Angel -- You might have noticed that I was on a bit of a mystery kick at the time -- the Anderson was read for work -- which is something I did several times a year back in the '90s. I'd read mysteries for two or three weeks straight, and I generally had time to finish a novel each working day, what with commuting and lunch and maybe a little time at night. Paretsky's first five or so novels are among the very best American mystery series ever written -- I'd stack her Blood Shot up against anybody's mystery novels -- but, around the time of Guardian Angel, Paretsky was sinking into shrill polemics, as her politics started to overwhelm her stories. (And I say this even though I was generally in sympathy to the axes she was grinding.) I'm several books behind on her now, so I don't know if she's still digging that hole, or if she's changed course. If you only have time for one Paretsky, it's Blood Shot you want.

2/23/93: Betty Ballantine, editor, The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, Book One -- From the '70s Ballantine series (which eventually had four books of Frazetta art), this and its companions has been superseded by the later Underwood Books trilogy of Frazetta collections. (Which are absolutely gorgeous, and which I recommend; the first is Legacy.) But this was just fine for its day, and had a good mix of color and black & white work.

2/24/93: William Poundstone, The Ultimate -- Poundstone is a sold writer of nonfiction whom I've been reading for about two decades now; he's not flashy, but he does good research and consistently writes about interesting things. This one was a bit less substantial than most of his books; the idea was that it settled "the great armchair debates" once and for all -- such as the scariest amusement park ride, toughest tongue twister, and so on. It was a pleasant book, and one designed to sit near a cash register, but it's probably severely out-of-date now.

2/24/93: Betty Ballantine, editor, The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, Book Two -- See above; this was the second in the series. (And I read Three and Four the next day.)

And that's what I was reading this week eighteen years ago. As always, I'm in awe of the sheer volume of print that '90s Me was able to put away. It's almost like he didn't do anything else but read!

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