Reading List 2010 (13/117)

Next batch of books!

  • The Secret Goldfish, David Means
  • Long Walks, Last Flights, Ken Scholes
  • Selected Short Stories, Honore de Balzac
  • Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, Astrid Lindgren
  • Jericho’s Fall, Stephen L. Carter
  • Dating Jesus, Susan Campbell
  • Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
  • Emma, Jane Austen
  • Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • Lady Susan, Jane Austen

I reread Austen every couple of years, but this time I was inspired by something specific.  “[The Boy] is a lot like Colonel Brandon,” said a friend of mine.  She’s absolutely right, of course!  This meant I had to go hunt for myself among Austen’s heroines.  Everyone wants to be Elizabeth Bennett, of course, and so do I, but really I think I’m more of an Anne Elliot.  She’s by far the most stubborn of Austen’s heroines, though it doesn’t diminish her charm.  Fortunately the resemblance doesn’t extend between my sisters and Anne’s – my sisters have been particularly great recently, while hers are uniformly selfish and mean.

In other book news, I keep thinking I should schedule myself a Balzac feast every time I read something by him.  His Human Comedy has all these interlinked characters who appear in story after story, sometimes as the focal character and sometimes in a cameo.  I would love to immerse myself in that world, letting it take on its own reality for me.  On the other hand, I keep thinking about it as the nineteenth century version of the DC Comics Universe.  You don’t have to read every comic in which Zatanna appears to enjoy the character!  Of course, that just makes me want to write “Crisis in Infinite Parises.”

… no, really, that makes me want to write “Crisis in Infinite Parises.”  It also makes me want to do research on the history of shared worlds.  Balzac can’t have been the first to write non-serial novels that nonetheless took place in the same, highly specific setting as marked by the reappearance of characters and fictional incidents.  I’m wondering what the tradition of that was.  I do feel like Balzac does something different from, say, the Norse myth cycles, but I think I’ll have to articulate it better.  Maybe I can find a book of Balzac scholarship that will tell me!  Or … hmm … maybe there’s a reference in the archontic literature.

Dating Jesus is the book that spoke to me most personally … er, despite the “Jesus” bit.  Campbell does a wonderful job of capturing the weirdness of growing up in a religious community.  From leading a youth group to realizing that as a woman you don’t matter, I recognized a lot of my own life in hers.  I particularly appreciated how she wrote about her life with love, even though she’s now a part of a religious community of a very different sort.  It’s hard to love a community that doesn’t recognize any other life as worthwhile, but it’s also hard not to love such a big piece of your past.  She seems to understand both difficulties, and to walk a loving but skeptical line between them.

Finally, Long Walks, Last Flights is worth buying just for the last story: “The Last Flight of the Goddess.”  What happens when a fantasy pulp hero gets old and loses his beloved wife, his partner in a thousand adventures?  The answer is often funny and always deeply sad.  There are other great stories in the book, too: a vaguely Appalachian version of where Cain’s wife came from, a Bear of Little Brain and his Very Long Walk, an alternate history where Hitler, Tesla and Hemingway team up to fight Nazis.  My only complaint is that Scholes had better write some more stories (or a novel or two!) in my favorite of his settings.  The world of “Of Metal Men …,” just for example, deserves more space than it gets!

Happy Labor Day reading, everyone!

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