Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Reading into the Past: Week of 3/2

I'm not going to declare that these "Reading Into the Past" posts will go up according to any set schedule, but it does look like I'm going to try to do them mid-week, when I can. And, again, they're a look backward, in which I randomly pick a year from the past two decades and then write about whatever books I was reading this very week back then.

This time, we're going back ten years, to early March of 2001, a year that still evoked Arthur C. Clarke at that point, rather than Osama bin Laden:

(3/1) Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island -- When I wrote about Bryson's most recent book, At Home, I lamented that I preferred the old Bryson, who would get out of the house to find things to write books about. This is one of his best books of that era, his farewell to Great Britain -- where he'd lived, at that point, around twenty years -- with a big trip to the most interesting parts of that island. It might not read quite the same way now, since Bryson was back in the states for less than a decade before fleeing back across the pond, but it's a great travel book of the best kind: a loving view of an interesting place by someone who's essentially an outsider but has been trying to work his way in.

(3/2) William Goldman, The Silent Goldoliers -- Hey, remember The Princess Bride? So did everyone else. Remember any other novels of Goldman's? Thought not. (It's an unfair question, since the people reading me are most likely SFF types, and he mostly wrote outside the field, but what the heck -- I'm not here to make friends.) Silent Gondoliers is not a sequel to Princess Bride in any way, but it was another novel supposedly abridged by Goldman from the original by "S. Morgenstern." It's witty and smart about people the way Goldman always was, but it's a minor work, and has not stuck in the memory.

(3/3) Rick Geary, The Mystery of Mary Rogers -- Geary has been turning old murder cases into great graphic novels -- full of idiosyncratic faces, painstaking floorplans, and a deep sense that people of earlier eras were their own selves and not just modern folks in funny clothes -- for more than a decade now, and this is one of the more interesting of those books, telling the story of a murder famous at the time (it inspired an Edgar Allan Poe story) but not as well known now as some of his other subjects, like Lizzie Borden and various Presidential assassins.

(3/4) Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf & Cub, Vol. 6: Lanterns for the Dead -- It was a fine historical samurai drama, one of the best manga for adults, full of blood and thunder. But I'm sure I couldn't tell you what was in one random volume out of twenty-eight, particularly a decade later.

(3/5) Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart -- This probably wasn't the first time the fantasy field discovered sex -- Laurell Hamilton was already a few steps down her road towards full-blown porn at that point -- but Carey definitely upped the stakes for that point in time, appropriating ideas from romance and erotica and stirring it into an otherwise pretty vanilla alternate-Earth story of love and intrigue and all that castle-opera stuff. I didn't love it as much as many people did -- it felt too long and the sex scenes didn't particularly enthrall me -- but it's a major book and an important signpost for a lot of fantasy subgenres later in the decade.

(3/6) Calvin Trillin, American Fried -- I submit that no one is as entertaining in writing about eating than Trillin, and the books in his "Tummy Trilogy" -- in best trilogy manner, later expanded by a fourth, Feeding a Yen -- are as purely enjoyable as a big Kansas City barbecue feast. Better yet, you can keep reading Trillin for much longer than you could keep eating. This is the first of those books, originally published in the early '70s -- when Trillin was crisscrossing the country almost weekly for his "American Stories" series in the New Yorker -- and it had been out of print for a long time when it was brought back in an omnibus called, of course, The Tummy Trilogy. Anyone interested in American regional food, or what we colloquially call "good eatin'," needs to read Trillin.

(3/7) Kazuya Kudo & Ryoichi Ichegami, Mai the Psychic Girl: Perfect Collection 1 -- This was my third time around with this series; I read it in single-issue form back in the early days of the first manga invasion, and then got volumes 1 and 4 of the four-volume reprinting (for complicated reasons I don't now remember) in the late '90s. When it finally turned into a trilogy, I finally got it all together and read ti straight through. It's not great literature, but it's good pulpy fun in an idiom that was still pretty unfamiliar to Americans. (And it's not all that much like the flood of contemporary shonen and shojo series filling up the shelves now, either -- Mai is genuinely itself, and is less obviously generic than its distant descendants.)

And, right after that, I read the second and third volumes of Mai and finished up Dennis Lehane's Mystic River.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps most Princess Bride fans only knew the one, but Marathon Man had its following . . .

(Of course, I also read Brothers, Magic, Tinsel, and -- of all things -- Boys and Girls Together, so I'm not exactly representative.)

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