What are you reading?

Started by Jubal, May 14, 2009, 04:09:47 PM

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Quote from: Jubal on December 04, 2023, 11:35:23 PM
I assume the remaining unbracketed lines in your version would be something like

'Ne ses pas maridada?' (Aren't you married?)

Lo seguon le donet (The second he gave her (donet/donate?))
Uno polido bago. (A ?shiny? ring)
Oc!  (Because this is Languedoc where they don't say oui like the French)

Quote from: Jubal on December 04, 2023, 11:35:23 PMLo trosieme sautet (The third ???)
French  sauter and Latin salire


The Public Domain Review has long form essays about writers whose works are in the public domain such as German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/out-on-the-town/ Their house style is modeled on literary reviews like the New York Review of Books.


So I've been reading and enjoying Mizo Myths, by Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte and published by Blaft Publications, a small southern Indian publishing house. The book contains fifteen folk tales from Mizoram, one of the states of northeastern India (the bit you get to right round past Bangladesh, neighbouring the SE Asian peninsula). It's fascinating! There's a lot of focus on marriage and trickery, a lot of were-tigers and other anthropomorphised animals, and other enjoyable and unexpected elements including dancing pig dung and the reason that bats only come out at night (they switched sides too many times in the primordial war between land animals and birds, having bits of both groups, until they'd wildly annoyed everyone).

Would very much recommend, there's some really good elements and stories in there that I might swipe for running games sometime, and a cast of creatures and tropes that are both familiar and unfamiliar.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


Just started Ken Follet's Pillars of The Earth.  So far it seems kinda meh, and not particularly immersive. It feels like a fantasy setting inspired by a medieval period than the actual medieval world it's meant to depict.


There have been several books published on the personal politics and management decisions of TSR in Indiana.  I think there are similar books to be written about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Ansell  Ian Livingstone, the British Steve Jackson, and Tom Kirby.  Recently WotC hired Pinkertons to track down some pre-released Magic cards which is GW level skulduggery.


    I would like to write a more in depth post when I have more time, but for now and before 2023 officially ends here in the UK, I am pleased to note that I have read an average of a book every 2 weeks this year (which is in no way representative of my actual reading habits...).

    So here are my 2023 books:

    Mistborn: A Secret History
    Wheel of Time: The Great Hunt
    Witcher: Time of Contempt
    Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn
    The Bone Shard Emperor
    Kissed by an Angel
    Small Great Things
    We Cry for Blood
    The Song of Achilles
    The Ten Thousand Doors of January
    Wheel of Time: The Shadow Rising
    Reborn Empire: We Dream of Gods
    Witcher: Baptism of Fire
    The Last Kingdom
    Songs of Penelope: Ithaca
    The Atlas Trilogy: The Atlas Six
    A Deadly Brew
    The Blind Assassin
    A Forest of Vanity and Valour
    A Sea of Sorrow and Scorn
    Empire of the Vampire


@Pent Oo, I've not read Pillars of the Earth. Will be interested to see if it improves.

@Spritelady impressive list!

I hit fifteen books by the end of 2023, so here's some notes on the last two, an extremely wintery pair and both thus very appropriate for the time of year.

One was the short Once Upon A Time In The North, by Philip Pullman. I have to say, this one isn't a massively complex book but I loved it. It's two of my favourite Pullman characters, Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, on their first meeting having a run-in with a nasty populist political figure. And that, sometimes, is basically everything I want in a story: a very readable length at just 100 pages, characters with a dynamic that is comradely without being boring, side-characters who feel real and yet tie in well to the narrative, and a good balance between gentle tension, quiet conversational moments, and a bit of solid adventure work to cap it all off well. It's probably one that needs the reader to have read His Dark Materials (not the Book of Dust etc, but the original trilogy), so it has that entry barrier, but regardless I think it's now one of my favourite Pullman books and I would also kind of like more novellas in my life, a book I can do in one sitting where the sitting is shorter than most of a day has its uses.

I also read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin, the quality of which can be summed up with the words "by Ursula le Guin". It took me a little while to get into - I think her stuff sometimes does for me - but I think in particular there's not another SFF writer I can think of who reaches her exceptional grasp and use of metaphor, and the quality of that drew me fairly inexorably in. It's a very thoughtful story, and hugely interesting in historical context, and famously with its androgynous human folk as a key part of the novel exploring different ideas about gender and its potential construction. The contrast is made more stark than it might be if the novel was written today: the main character, written with attitudes perhaps more typical of men at the time it was written, is written largely as a very empathetic, progressive sort of figure but does at times feel faintly distant from my own world, nominally his own, in one or two of his thought processes when viewed with my 2020s views on gender, sex and sexuality. I think the specific androgyne culture of the book is really interesting in its own right and is written carefully and sensitively, nonetheless.

I think the things that will stay with me, though, are in particular some of the almost visual aspects as well as some of the characters. As for the former, le Guin writes hugely evocative descriptions, especially of the ice though also the cities are really interestingly described and are great fuel for rethinking how settlements can fit together. Conversely to one of the arguable points of the book, I think I found as much empathy for Estraven as Genly of the main characters. Estraven is a character type I'd hugely like to see more of, someone who is a fundamentally good character and whose abillity is essentially that of the chessmaster: we tend to be a culture that has scheming villains and straightforward heroes, and against that Estraven is a complex, messy, scheming hero, liminal in their position in the world and treading a complex dance between factions, cultures and mores. I'd really like to see more characters in fiction written like that.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


Quote from: Jubal on January 02, 2024, 11:49:04 PM
@Pent Oo, I've not read Pillars of the Earth. Will be interested to see if it improves.
Can't tell you, I decided to return it and bought a fantasy novel called Fury of Kings or summin like that. It was reasonably good, fairly full of tropes and felt like a YA attempt at GoT at some points but overall enjoyable. Apparently it's this authors debut novel so hopefully the second in the series improves.


First book of 2024 done and I started as I finished the last one with more le Guin, specifically Tales From Earthsea. It's a short story collection, a format I quite like and actually should write more of. It's really good (again, the "it's by Ursula le Guin" probably gave that away) - there's quite a lot of focus in the stories about the relationship between women and magic, and also a bit of a theme of history and memory especially as several of the stories, whilst not forming a whole, do echo each other through Earthsea's history. Definitely a strong start to the year's reading, let's hope I can keep it up.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I have so far read three books in 2024 and recently started a fourth, so I am apparently going through one of my manic reading phases. I know it won't last but I'm enjoying it at the moment.

I began If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio in 2023 and finished it off in the first couple of days of January. It was an excellent book, with interesting characters and very much reminded me of A Secret History (which was the comparison given by a reviewer that led me to purchase the book in the first place, as that is one of my favourite books). I solidly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mystery with a side of social drama.

My second book was The League of Gentlewomen Witches, a very funny, very well written book that manages to both gently poke fun at multiple genres and tropes (period dramas and epic romances among them) while creating interesting characters that I felt really quite invested in, despite or perhaps because of the silliness of the plot. It also left me with several new favourite phrases, including 'Assault With a Deadly Compliment' and this little gem of an exchange:
Two characters who do not like one another are talking
-Character 1 is interrupted-
1: "Oh, where was I?"
2: "I cannot recall. But I have a suggestion as to where you might go."

And finally I read The Book of Deacon, which I borrowed from my sister several centuries ago and neglected to either read or return until now. I thought the worldbuilding was excellent, the story was interesting but sadly the writing style was absolutely appalling. I'm not yet sure whether this is because of personal taste or an objective lack of quality, but either way I am interested enough to keep reading, so clearly the author is doing something right.


I have finished my second book for the year so am really not keeping up with Spritelady's pace!

It was Tower of the Swallow, the penultimate book in the main Witcher run (meaning I have two books left because there's also the standalone Storm of Swords to read sometime.) It was fine. It had a lot of the things I kind of expected from a Sapkowski novel, including some interesting historical and mythological references which I enjoyed - especially bits like the reference to the theory that swallows spend winter buried in mud at the bottom of lakes, a subject on which there was a real debate in the lat eighteenth century. There are also some stand-out side characters in the forms of Kenna and Vysogota (though Vysogota's reappearance at the end hit a bit weirdly for me). I think Vysogota is among my favourite side-characters, he was very well written.

Unfortunately it also included other things I expected from a Sapkowski novel, including bizarrely gratuitous levels of violence and sexual commentary or sexualisation of very unsexual situations, all of which kind of stops having any impact because once you're into needing to count the specifically sadistic villains in a story they start losing their impact. I think Sapkowski really leans into the random uncontrolled violence and the use of sexual assault as an "oh look this world is quite bad" background detail to an extent that robs it of any sense and power in the narrative.

There are also some character issues: Bonhart is a solid uncomplicated villain, but also having to keep track of all the other villains makes him lose his impact, coupled with the fact that not enough is done to solidify their respective roles. I think Skellen/Tawny Owl probably gets the worst deal here, he's potentially a much more interesting antagonist and I'd have liked a bit more exploration of his motives. Also, Ciri doesn't always feel well written to me, and this book is really more about her than Geralt, which is sort of one of its problems: Sapkowski's story is pushing him more and more to rely on bits of his writing that he just isn't as good at. This is partly because I'm not sure anyone could write Ciri well given the bizarre complexity of her biography (it's really hard to follow what she's doing at any given age) and her skill set: but the mess of anger, violence, heroism, sexuality and deep trauma ends up meaning she never really either breaks from or processes any of the trauma, but she can't be written to be as traumatised as someone with her backstory should be or she'd lose her functionality as a character.

Anyway, I have critiques but I don't regret having read it, and I'm interested to see how the last book pans out. I think another thing that I'm increasingly thinking about is how this all ends up transferring forwards into the games and what they've had to twist to make the game narratives work. Will report back when I've finished the series!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I have also recently read Tower of the Swallow! And intend to start on Lady of the Lake soon.

I always find it interesting to read your analysis of these books, because I think I tend to switch off a little and enjoy the story, and then I read your thoughts and think "Actually, that's a very good point". I also enjoyed the mythological references (and have throughout the series, I think they're quite well worked in), and found some of the unnecessary sexualisation rather odd and flat to read.

I particularly enjoyed the two short story collections in this series, and have enjoyed the overall dramatic plot novels rather less, but I'm interested to see what happens in the last book, Season of Storms (I think Storm of Swords is from A Song of Ice and Fire?), since it's set between some of the stories from the first book I believe.

In other updates, I have now read a total of 14 books this year (and done very little else it seems!), most of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I wonder if I should make a separate post somewhere to talk about the various books I've read, since this one will get a little clogged if I were to put up 14 short reviews! In brief though, the major thing I have read was the ACOTAR series, which despite being a major fad among the fiction reading world was very enjoyable and had a range of interesting characters, cool worldbuilding concepts and intriguing magic.


You're absolutely right, it is Season of Storms (though I think from the blurb it is actually a book themed around swords, hence my confusion).

I have meanwhile gotten round to reading The Lady of the Lake. Decisions sure were made in the writing of this book. Rest of post spoilered because I know Spritelady hasn't read it yet:

So, we get into a lot more "Ciri bwips around between universes" stuff, and a bunch of "Weird elf shenanigans" stuff, a whole bunch more weird sexual stuff including with unicorns in it, and a lot of jumping between subplots rather oddly. Ultimately, there is a big ol' confrontation with Vilgefortz, the key villain of the books, and due to a magic amulet that Geralt obtained by giving a random secondary sorceress a very good time he tricks the guy and wins, yay for that (what witcher amulets can and can't do is one of those "this is very relevant and never discussed properly" topics.)

Also, framing narratives are used like they're going out of fashion. In the Tower of the Swallow we had Ciri's discussion with Vysogotha as a single core frame for most of the book, but here we have tons of the damn things in weird nested overlaps, starting with "the whole book is Ciri telling literal Galahad from actual Arthurian romance England what is going on" and not getting much less odd from there. As much as I don't mind catching up with fictional colleagues now and again, being randomly transported into future schools in the Witcherverse to get the starts of lectures on events in the main text wasn't awfully necessary. Even the eponymous Lady of the Lake is yet another framing device character who is more mundane than being the actual Lady of the Lake which is somehow more weird in a book where literal Galahad and actual dimension travelling unicorns are very much present. She has a marginal but important effect on the plot which is tied up about 2/3 of the way through the book with almost no interaction with the characters and plot themselves. Honestly, CDPR going "nope, we're putting the actual Lady of the Lake in, full fey nonsense" was definitely a very sensible change in the games.

The Witcher works its best I think as a relatively twist-folkloric, low-focus setting, and on average gets weaker the bigger things get and the more everything ends up tying back to wide-scale politics, having to lean on scientistic explanations of its magic, etc. The Lady of the Lake is the book that goes biggest, and is consequently kind of the weakest, which is a pity.

Anyhow, time to read some other stuff, still not sure what...
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I finally also finished Lady of the Lake. I agree with pretty much everything you said about it really - once I started noticing how often odd sexual things cropped up, it really started to irk me, especially when it was completely unnecessary.
I've started playing the Witcher 3 again, to give myself some good Witcher vibes.

I am currently almost at the end of The Bone Shard War, the third part in a trilogy that I really really like, not least because of its excellent characters, interesting magic and good suspense building. Strongly recommend.