30 May 2002

Reads & Listens, May 2002


The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
Highly entertaining memoir in which Bechdel describes her progression as a cartoonist and includes lots of early drawings of men (oddly enough). The bulk of the book is made up of strips from her calendars, for other magazines, or special occasions, and autobiographical work like her highly amusing coming out story.

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Very clever juvenile novel about a young girl, Corinna, who disguises herself as a boy and works as a Keeper of the Folk. The Folk are what we might think of as boggles or imps, but much stranger and more inhuman -- more something that stepped out of a nightmare than characters out of the Blue Fairy Book. The Keeper must keep the Folk fed and placated lest they make mischief. At fifteen "Corin" is hired by the Lord of Cliffsend to be the Keeper of his estate. At Cliffsend she encounters mystery after mystery ... An extremely well imagined story with several neat twists and turns along the way.

Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds by Judy Grahn
Mine is the "updated and expanded edition," but it doesn't seem much different from the edition I read obsessively in college. This book is an extremely educational combination of gay cultural history, folklore, and memoir. Damn fine poetry, as well.

The Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains & Harming Our Children by Carol Simontacchi
"Nutritionist Carol Simontacchi takes a hard, shattering look at how the pseudofood being promoted today ... can, in fact, physically erode our brains." It's an interesting and, perhaps, valid premise (bad food is bad for your brain), but the book is badly written and doesn't contain the amount of clinical research I expect. Instead, it reads too much like another hysterical diet of the month book. It's also quite shamelessly (and erroneously) linked with Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring.

Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate, & Fear Food by Michelle Stacey
Well written social history of America's love/hate relationship with food and the pseudoscience behind these obsessions. Supports what I've suspected for a while -- for many people, food isn't merely food, but either a clever enemy or a wonder drug. Me? I am an apologetic Food Hedonist. I like my pirogi fried up in some nice butter with lots of onion until everything is a golden brown. And I eat it with gobs of real cow full fat sour cream. Then I feel guilty and don't eat any for another 3 months ...

A Thing of Beauty by Casey Claybourne
Amusing romance novel about a socially inept bluestocking, her magic "beauty cream" (boot polish), and the rake who loves her. Makes decent use of British history.

Naked by David Sedaris
Neither as funny nor interesting as Me Talk Pretty One Day, this is similar bitter collection of adventures and mishaps. I expect the audiobook version would be much more entertaining.

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
Quite disappointingly, I couldn't seem to get into this novel at all. The characters? A lot of annoying prats and wankers. The plot? Another story about middle age angst and the search for fulfillment. In the end, it was just so much blah, blah, blah ... A great pity, as I loved High Fidelity and About a Boy -- they were witty, sharp, and had characters I cared about.

Black Rubber Dress: A Sam Jones Novel by Lauren Henderson
Sam Jones is much more kickass than Stephanie Plum will ever be and thank god for that! The world only needs so many whinging Jersey girls. Sam is sexy, cynical, and really quite brilliant. Am I smitten? Oh, yes. This particular novel (I'm not certain it's the first in the series) is a neat little mystery about the dirty world of the Sloans -- blackmail, drugs, murder, and champagne.

Juniper by Monica Furlong
This is billed as a prequel to Wise Child (which I haven't read). Happily, this book stands well on it's own. Juniper is the only child of the King of Cornwall. Her privileged life ends when she is called to study under he godmother Euny. Euny is a doran (a wise woman) who disdains creature comforts like filling meals and soft beds. After Juniper has learned all she can, she returns to Cornwall to fight her wicked aunt. A good read although the end did seem ... rushed? pat? not clever enough for the rest of the book?

The Wayfarer Redemption: Book One by Sara Douglass
My library catalog has this cataloged as Battleaxe and I've also seen it referred to as Book One of the Axis Trilogy. I think the problem is that this series (whatever it's called) has been repackaged for the U.S. market and, somewhere along the line, names were changed and books were condensed together -- six into three, or something like that. Anyway, it's a very good book and I look forward to reading the other two (or five). Unfortunately, the cover art, while very good, bears little connection to the content of the book.

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
The newest collection by the US Poet Laureate -- this is actually a collection of previously published poems plus twenty new poems. Very good, but I still want to listen to The Best Cigarette.

Dress Codes of Three Girlhoods -- My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine by Noelle Howey
"Memoir of three journeys into womenhood as experienced by a transgendered father, a tomboy mother, and their daughter". Really good. Makes me realize my childhood experiences were normal -- or, at least, others have had similar experiences. Go read it.

Darkling I Listen by Katherine Sutcliffe
All right, so I knew straight away that the nurse was Anticipating. Disappointing? Yes, because it was just too fucking obvious, but I hoped the how and why would make up for that. Did it? No, she was just the son of an abusive conservative Christian cult family who grew up to be a transgendered psychopath. How original is that? It reads like an over-the-top Jeffrey Deaver novel that tried too push itself too far. I'm also quite bothered by the whole linkage of psychological instability with transsexuality. Oh, yeah, freaks and murderers. Brilliant.

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quinlan
Very amusing and insightful book about the joys of reading. I wish this book had been around when I was twelve and feeling life a freak of nature :)

Farm Fatale by Wendy Holden
Surprisingly flat. Such a pity, because I loved Holden's previous novels, but this one lacks the wit and charm of its predecessors. It's cute, but not clever. The ending? Ick. How perfectly Disney. The characters? Two dimensional, at best. Still, a good library book for the train or waiting room.

The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Short" story collection set in the Hainish Universe. Many of the stories reminded me of stories by other authors. Particularly, "The Matter of Segri" (ah, the power of naming things!) which reminded me of an anthropologist's look at The Gate to Women's Country. However, what Le Guin has written is distinctive enough from the other stories, that I did not find myself doing a compare and contrast exercise in my head.

Song for the Basilisk The Tower at Stony Wood Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip
I love Patricia McKillip. Ever since The Riddlemaster of Hed, I have been completely enamored by her storytelling abilities -- the lushness and rhythm of her language is positively addictive. Already, I want to read these books again.