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Back to the book meme

I can't believe it's been a month since I did this, but then it was a very busy one...

Books finished:

The Lover's Dictionary, by David Levithan - I thought this would be gimmicky and/or twee, but it was surprisingly affecting. That said, it's funny how (the second Mrs. de Winter notwithstanding) a barrier can exist between reader and characters when you don't even know their first names.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, by Eimear McBride - I really wanted to like this, and the premise of how sibling relationships are affected by serious childhood illness intrigued me a lot. But it suffered from being another unrelentingly miserable book about the Irish experience of sex, religion, guilt and death (and it felt more about these things than about the sibling relationship; at least, it didn't render the relationship between the two any more explicable to me); doubly so because it's about the Irish female experience of yadda yadda yadda, and I wanted to strangle every one of the protagonist's family for shaming her. None of this is to say that it's hard to believe - it's just an unrelentingly bleak and tragically plausible story that will leave you feeling that people are awful.

The stream of consciousness style is worth mentioning - there are times when it's poetic, when it grabs you and you go, yes, because it's crystalised a perception, an experience. But often it's a struggle, and at times the literary community's response feels downright emperor's-new-clothes, for reasons someone else explains well here.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch - I turned up a cheap copy of this on holiday, right after a friend had urged me to try the series. It was a lot of fun to read it while travelling to/on the way home from London itself, and now I'm eager to read the rest. I'm not normally one for mystery novels, but I've noticed that I can latch onto them if they incorporate a supernatural element (e.g. the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly, or the Merrily Watkins books by Phil Rickman).

That said, the cop stuff here is really satisfying because Aaronovitch determinedly undermines any mystique policing might have: it's a massive bureaucracy (or a set of several massive interlinked bureaucracies), apparently fuelled by coffee, paracetomol, and the dashed dreams of idealistic young constables who were hoping not to spend their lives doing paperwork. And being drafted into the tiny, shoestring department of the Met that deals with magical crimes isn't an instant cure for boredom and disappointment with life; it involves spending painstaking months mastering a simple spell, and discovering that you blow your mobile phone up if you use magic near it without first removing the battery. And it's funny in a way that would be tiresome if I tried to evoke it here, but trust me on this. I've given up on so many books because they tried too hard to be funny. This one, I couldn't put down.

If you're British you'll nod a lot at a thousand little observations, but you don't have to be British to appreciate one of the most refreshing things about the book: that it riffs on English folklore in a way that embraces modern England: an England that, like the protagonist PC Peter Grant, is multiracial; an England whose genius loci includes black Britons - because really, who said anthropomorphic personifications of rivers have to be white? That's not to say everything works: I thought Molly fell into some unfortunate stereotypes of Asian women, and I'm hoping she gets to say more in future books. Aaronovitch is clearly an author who has the insight to give her character the depth she deserves. The preview chapter of the next book also shows that another character I liked will be in it for the long haul, and the way the author is dealing with the painful repercussions of Rivers of London really interests me. It's nice to have another series to obsess over.

Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger. I had to have this - it's a YA novel set among zine kids, and that's what made me go for it despite all the wrong places the plot could've gone: disillusioned boy pretending to have no emotions meets and falls for quirky lesbian zine queen, and his whole life turns around. In practice, thought it was a realistic depiction of how messed-up kids can fall into each other's orbit and complicate each other's lives for good and ill, understanding and misunderstanding each other. Marisol reminds me of that killer line Clementine gets in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."

Pig Ignorant, by Nicholas Fisk. I grew up on Nicholas Fisk's SF books and particularly loved Grinny and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair, but while I saw Pig Ignorant listed among his works, I never realised that it was a work of autobiography. But it turns out that in the 90s, Mick Gowar oversaw the "Teenage Memoirs" line, in which various Walker Books authors (others include Adele Geras and John Gordon) told the stories of their formative years. For Fisk, that meant being a jazz-obsessed school leaver who lucked into session guitar work in the bohemian London music scene, and muddled through various other jobs against the backdrop of the Blitz.

The young Nick is interrupted on his way to work one night by a bomb; on helping an ARP warden to dig a victim out of the rubble, he makes a grisly discovery. But he never can feel for himself the fear that his mother has over him and his sister: he's young and believes it won't happen to him. The book as a whole is a very effective evocation of learning how to be an adult, and ends just when you really want to hear about his stint in the RAF - I suspect because that's when he felt he'd finally grown up.

Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food and Frolics from Halloweens Past, by Diane C. Arkins - I've amassed the usual Hallowe'en buff's collection of books (Jack Santino, David J. Skal, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne), with a lot of commentary on how the festival evolved in different places, so I thought there might be a lot of duplication. But this book is focused on the trappings of Hallowe'en during its American "Golden Age", which ran roughly from the 1870s to 1930s and happily coincided with the Golden Age of Illustration. So the many magazine extracts, illustrations and photos of ephemera (party invitations, paper plates, Dennison's Bogie Books, paper decorations, etc.) are the external, merchandised, pop cultural counterpart to the more folkloric angle that other books cover in more detail.

What's interesting is that when you look at Hallowe'en obsessives, we often hearken back to the traditions and illustrations of our childhoods, and feel that Hallowe'en today has become too mass-produced or too American or too violent or whathaveyou (it's similar to how a lot of people feel about Christmas), yet this book makes it apparent that America during those sixty or so years was absolutely coming down with Hallowe'en tat. And I feel certain that people then tutted about the amount of merch and about the style of the illustrations, because every generation compares today's bland/tacky/name-your-criticism illustrations and products to whatever they grew up with, and we all think our childhoods were more authentic than the childhoods younger people are having now. Undoubtedly, someone once looked at those Art Deco bridge tallies with disgust, but collectors now would kill for them.

Me, I squealed repeatedly and kept pointing things out to my partner. And I squinted at the tiny, tiny pictures, because someone made a terrible choice re: the size and formatting of this book. It's still worth getting, but know that you'll feel driven to find bigger versions on Google image search to get a fix that doesn't hurt your eyes. And, if you want to have your very own reproduction classic Hallowe'en stuff, Beistle have started selling some of their early-to-mid 20th century designs again. Sadly, you must be in the US or Canada to buy them, but it's much better than buying the genuine vintage article on Ebay (or indeed via Amazon UK - seriously, don't buy these products there; they're gouging the fuck out of you and you can probably get it cheaper by forming an arrangement with a a friend in north America and using surface mail): http://www.vintagebeistle.com/store/c/18-Vintage-Halloween.aspx

(And while I'm on the subject, do not buy physical reprints of Dennison's Bogie Book online; some arsehole has got hold of the reprint rights and is charging cheeky prices that nevertheless tempt people who would otherwise be tempted by the originals, which go for hundreds of dollars due to their scarcity. The reprints might be worth buying if they were of decent quality, but buyers are complaining of missing pages, bad scans, etc. It's a crying shame.)

Just started, so no review yet:

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Echo, by Terry Moore

Still reading:

The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770 - 1866: A Belfast Panorama, by Mary McNeill
My Swordhand is Singing, by Marcus Sedgwick

Recent acquisitions:

First my birthday happened, and then a couple of book sales happened, one of which the Linen Hall Library helpfully announced on Facebook (they said they'd got a lot of history and cinema books in, so naturally we had to look):

Literary reference of the year:

I saw this on a house in Faversham and it made me ridiculously happy:



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 16th, 2015 01:40 am (UTC)
Ha! I love the last photo.

America during those 60 years was, but Canada wasn't. My Halloweens were very different from the way it is now.

So the Rickman series is worth reading? I'm afraid I stalled part way through his first John Dee book. The going got so heavy that I had to put it down.

Amazon.com or .ca won't ship the Beistle stuff to the UK?
Oct. 16th, 2015 10:29 am (UTC)
I had a feeling you'd appreciate that!

What was Hallowe'en like when you were growing up?

I'd heartily recommend the Rickman series - haven't tried the Dee books yet, so I can't say how they compare, but I like the Merrily Watkins ones because the characterisation is so good. Rickman approaches characters' beliefs sincerely; it's not just one of those things where someone just wants to rip off the more shocking tropes of The Exorcist but has no interest in depicting the lived experience of faith. I know some readers are irritated by Merrily's daughter Jane, but I like her character arc as she deals with her father's death, her mother having become vicar of a rural parish, and the various manifestations of folklore and pagan religions she comes across. I don't know if you saw the recent TV adaptation, but I wouldn't judge it by that - what's missing there is the sense of place (they skipped the first book) created by the village and its characters. Basically, it's a place I want to go back to.

Ah, sorry I wasn't clear - Beistle sell the stuff on their own website, and they won't ship outside the US and Canada. I've seen the same products for sale on Amazon UK, but the markup is huge; it looks to me like a second-party seller on Amazon is importing them, and whether they're getting hit by an import tax or bringing them over singly and by airmail, they're passing the cost on to customers here. I'm going to email Beistle and see if they could see their way to selling to the UK; with a bit of luck if enough people ask them they'll have enough of a consumer base to make it worth their while to deal with whatever's involved administratively.
Oct. 16th, 2015 10:16 pm (UTC)
I have at least one of the Rickman's in my Kindle folder - sounds as if they might be good winter reading. I haven't seen the series. I don't think we've had it here yet but I haven't been looking for it. It's not the sort of thing that I'd approach first through TV adaptations anyway since books are almost always better.

You were clear. I just wondered if ordering through the US or Canadian Amazon was feasible, failing all else. They're sold by Amazon here and not by one of their sellers. If there's something you want that our Amazon has I'd be happy to buy it for you and send it on. I'm sure we could come to an arrangement. :)

Halloween wasn't commercial and although I'm sure there were Halloween parties (my mother used to tell me about one that she went to in the neighbourhood) it was mostly a time for children to cobble a costume together (not buy one) and go out for a couple of hours of trick-or-treating. Entirely safe, no need to be accompanied by parents, not much in the way of decorations apart from Jack-o'Lanterns, we had fireworks (they're illegal now for most of the year), no tricks (it was a nice neighbourhood). Every year there'd be some story on the radio about a razorblade in an apple but I don't think that happened very often. In other words - quite innocent.
Oct. 17th, 2015 09:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, definitely good winter reading! If you've got more than one, and one of them is The Wine of Angels, go with that for starters.

I never thought of checking the US and Canadian Amazons! I've done a lot of experimenting today with adding up alternative baskets at the different shops, converting currencies and looking into postage, and while I really appreciate your offering, I'm going to have to pass. Apparently there's an issue with unpredictable taxation when parcels from Canada go through UK customs, on top of which, Canadian surface mail no longer offers a tracked option, so a lot of people have had parcels go missing but had no recourse. Well... it's saved some money! I may have to paint some large-scale cutouts of my own, 1930s Beistle-style, though!

it was mostly a time for children to cobble a costume together (not buy one) and go out for a couple of hours of trick-or-treating.

Something about that "cobble together" gets me - I started to notice, about 12 years ago, that my greatest enjoyment in decorating for Hallowe'en (which is far more common for me than dressing up) is in the last-minute stuff that gets thrown together in a needs-must, improvised kind of way. Don't get me wrong - the house looks great when I do the pre-planned stuff, especially the year we made some intricate cut-outs for shadow projection that worked well. But there's something about "Quick, let's throw together a way for this pumpkin man's body to hold his head up," using the contents of the garage and some old clothes that seems most in the spirit of the season...
Oct. 17th, 2015 09:47 pm (UTC)
Parents didn't, by and large, waste money on costumes and it horrifies me when I see someone buying a costume that will be worn once. I had some highly imaginative costumes - perhaps not as glitzy as bought costumes but unique and effective.

Canada Post swears that their international surface parcels have tracking but the cost even for surface! I don't understand why businesses can't get with the program. I should be able to buy from any UK site and have them ship to me. As with you and Beistle, it's frustrating to see exactly what I want and find that their 'international delivery' actually means 'EU only'. Erm...
Oct. 17th, 2015 11:00 pm (UTC)
Well, if there's ever anything I can get for you, I'd be very happy to - assuming you wouldn't be lumped with the same tax situation at your end!

International postage seems like such a minefield - this year I've started selling on Ebay regularly (shockingly, it turns out that books actually take up room, even when you have an entire house to put them in) and their system has weird holes in it, so I've had various 'learning experiences'. Firstly, the postal costs their site will calculate (and let you put in) doesn't always line up with what it actually costs to post things.

And then there's countries that don't fit into the scheme at all - a friend in Switzerland bought some of my stuff recently and we had to use a third-party site to figure out postage after Royal Mail Pricefinder quoted us a bonkers £92... which was undercut by the third-party price comparison site at £17... yet the actual couriering was done by Royal Mail Parcelforce, using a service which apparently does not come up if the general posting public query their site directly.

As for costumes, my favourite ever was the time my neighbour and I got our wires crossed about the extent to which I was able to help with her daughter's costume - I was suddenly handed a bag of parts of a tiger suit, which I sewed together with more hope than experience (it held together for the night). But the mask went great because I had one of those cheap little fibre-optic torches, and I was able to feed the fibre-optics through holes in a tiger mask cut out of card so she had glow-whiskers. The handle of the torch then held the thing up, because by then it was too heavy for elastic.
Oct. 17th, 2015 11:26 pm (UTC)
There is something I need and I can reimburse you for the cost with a money order. I didn't want to ask anyone - I keep losing touch with the people who've supplied me in the past and don't like to place a burden. If it's on the customs form as a 'gift' and worth less than $60 there's no tax at my end. There were companies I used to buy from in the US who sent items as 'gifts' even though they weren't. :D What I want is something that you should be able to buy locally (or so the website tells me). If not, then we can forget about it. 5 boxes of these.
Oct. 18th, 2015 12:23 am (UTC)
Certainly - I'm going to the shopping centre tomorrow so I'll see if the small Boots has them; if not, I'll be in the city centre one of these days and can pick them up there. :)

Oct. 18th, 2015 12:34 am (UTC)
:D I know it sounds weird but I've been using these since 1978 and although they're not as good as they used to be they're still vastly better than any of the wax earplugs I've been able to get here. Or they were the last time I bought them. You wouldn't think that wax earplugs were an art.

I suppose that money orders/bank drafts are old-fashioned and PayPal is the way to go but I've never sent money that way. We can discuss it if you're successful.
Oct. 18th, 2015 03:49 am (UTC)
Not weird at all; one of the things I find frustrating about shopping these days is that in theory there is a lot of choice with so many different brands and shops, but in practice you tend to get six different chainstores that have basically the same product (including flaws). So yeah, if I had earplug preferences I'd no doubt cling to them with both hands! I'll let you know if I get them!
Oct. 18th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC)
Success! :)
I'll be back to you later with the postage cost options.
Oct. 18th, 2015 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Success! :)
Oct. 19th, 2015 03:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Success! :)
Sorry for the delay - had to get a pricing leaflet off them as Royal Mail Pricefinder was being facetious! It'll be £5 postage for airmail (£9.65 if you want it tracked and signed for) or £3.75 surface mail, which is 6 to 8 weeks. Let me know which you'd like, and your addy, via a PM or email (cloudsinvenice@gmail.com) and I can send you my bank info as well.
Oct. 17th, 2015 09:50 pm (UTC)
I have the first two books. I like to begin at the beginning. :)
Oct. 17th, 2015 11:01 pm (UTC)
I've got books that I will only get round to when I've picked up the first in the series (the second and third having turned up so cheap I couldn't not buy them). It's not that it's hard to find - just waiting for the urge to be so strong upon me that I have to rush to Amazon.
Oct. 16th, 2015 04:04 am (UTC)
I've really loved the Rivers of London series! I hope you continue to enjoy them, if you read the rest.
Oct. 16th, 2015 10:30 am (UTC)
Oh, I'll definitely read the rest! Btw, have you heard anything about a TV adaptation? I could swear I saw it mentioned a while ago, but when I search I just find fans' casting ideas.
Oct. 16th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC)
It was originally pitched as an idea for a TV series, but after it didn't get picked up, Aaronovitch decided to try it as a book instead. And it worked out!

Other than that, there's been some rumors now and again that it might get an adaptation (either TV or movie), but as far as I know, it's never moved past the rumor stage. It did get adapted to a comic book, though.
Oct. 16th, 2015 03:15 pm (UTC)
Ahhh, that explains a lot! It certainly works well in book form, and I'll definitely get around to the comics. Plus, a friend is lending me the other books! :D

Edited at 2015-10-16 03:15 pm (UTC)
Oct. 18th, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC)
I love that last photo of the house , and i live just four miles from Faversham. BTW, that selection of books you got from the ilbrary is awesome.
Oct. 19th, 2015 09:05 pm (UTC)
Small world! And yes, I felt very lucky - happened to be on Facebook when they announced it, emailed my partner who works nearby, and he got in before the rush.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )