Monday, February 21, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of 2/21/05

Mondays are for lists. New books, if I have them. This week, there's nothing new, so instead I'll pull up what I was reading "this week" some time in the past, and see what I remember of them.

And the year is 2005.

Tom Perrotta, Little Children (2/16)

I didn't blog about the book when I read it, but I did see the movie a couple of years later, and wrote about that. There's some comparison-to-the-book buried in there, written by someone fifteen years closer to reading that book than I am today.

I have a complicated relationship with Perrotta's books. He writes well, and his characters are often hugely like me, generationally and in their concerns and places in life. I think every major reader has some writers like that: the ones that hit bulls-eyes with you almost without trying, because you came so much out of the same worlds. On the other hand, there's something deeply middle-brow about Perrotta, so there's an elitist part of me that feels bad for liking his books so much. But, at the base, he's a strong writer who writes about things that are electric in the culture and resonant for huge audiences.

This is the one about an affair among suburbanites with young children, to be reductive. Perrotta's books are always more complex than their reductive descriptions, though - and what the movies never quite capture is the psychological, individual depth of his secondary characters; a lot more people get the narrative to run through their heads in a Perrotta book than ever could in the movies made from them.

So I still think this is a good one. I don't know if I'll ever re-read it.

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (read to my older son, 2/16)

This was the middle of my big reading-to-kids era. My older son was born in 1998 and the younger one in 2000, so I read a lot of bedtime books starting about 2000-01 until maybe 2008-2009. For roughly a year before this, I'd been intermittently reading longer books (Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Narnia - the usuals) to Thing 1, but he was and still is a very antsy person, so that didn't always work well. The routine moved to Thing 2 alone, mostly, for the last few years, and I think I had a second burst of trying to read longer books that also didn't last long. (Thing 2 was a bigger reader of fantasy novels to begin with, though - I basically pointed him toward Pratchett, had some conversations about other writers, and helped facilitate his own reading from that point.)

Great Glass Elevator is a weird book, as I recall, episodic like the first one but set mostly on a space station - of course a candy magnate would fly his space-worthy elevator to an alien-infested space hotel, why would you think he wouldn't? - and it does not get mentioned as one of Dahls' best books for good and sufficient reasons. But I've always liked the weirdness.

Jennifer Fallon, Harshini (photocopies of Australian edition, read beginning & end, 2/18)

For no good reason, at this point in my career I'd weirdly slipped into the role of being the SFBC editor who handled pretty much all of the Australian authors that we acquired - Sean Williams, Sara Douglass, Isobelle Carmody, Sean McMullen, George Turner. Neither then nor since have I ever been to Australia; it was just a random thing. But it did mean I read a lot of fun writers.

Jennifer Fallon fell into that bucket: she did a couple of solid epic-fantasy series that we did in the club and I enjoyed reading. This was the end of what I think was the second trilogy we did, and clearly I was feeling the press of time. (Third books of trilogies being huge and often serving to work out at length what the reader already knows what will happen.) I'm afraid I have no memory of this book.

Andre Norton and Sasha Miller, Dragon Blade (typescript, read beginning and end, 2/19)

Oh, look - I did it again! Yes, the dirty secret of reprint publishing (and possibly certain kinds of reviewing, as well) is that you often don't have to read all of a book to understand or deal with it. A lot of books are what they are, and the middle is just the complications and events that keep the covers far enough apart to charge the appropriate amount of money. (And give the reader more stuff to read and spend some time with - that's the less mercenary way of putting it.)

This was fourth and I want to say last in an epic fantasy series, and I have to admit that Norton (often with collaborators) was doing a lot of epic fantasy in my SFBC years, and I was generally lukewarm at best about it. Norton SF was muscular and smart, with lost civilizations and tough heroes stuck in dangerous situations that sometimes even obliquely commented on real-world social issues. Norton Fantasy was clotted, written in backwards-syntax, straining for mythic effect and running to endless volumes. A lot of people seemed to like that, though - there were a bunch of those books and they all sold well. So maybe my personal tastes don't mean a hell of a lot.

Kazoi Koike and Goseki Kojima, Samurai Executioner, Vol. 3: The Hell Stick (2/20)

This is another series by the 'Lone Wolf & Cub" team, which I think is set in the same continuity - don't the two series cross over, or refer to each other, at a few points? Anyway, more samurai action, more straightforwardly, without the larger take-care-of-your-infant-son-while-pursuing-vengeance frisson. I have no idea what happened in this one, but I bet the hero killed a whole hell of a lot of people in interesting and exciting ways.

Gardner Dozois, The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Second Annual Collection (2/21, photocopies)

I'm going to have to look up a ToC to say anything coherent. Well, wait, before I do that: in those days, Dozois was the "standard" Year's Best, the really big one with an equally impressive essay about everything going on in the SF field during the past year. Dozois always had a viewpoint and often axes to grind, but he was about as honest as any editor ever is and tried to be clear about even the stuff in the field he didn't enjoy or like as much. So his books were great signposts of What Is Going On every year, albeit given his usual bent towards slightly more literary work.

OK, here's a TOC, from ISFDB. I see stories there I remember from Kage Baker, Walter Jon Williams, and Eleanor Arnason, which isn't a bad hit rate for something almost twenty years old.

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