2005 May 8

The High Window, Raymond Chandler

The funny thing about these books is you learn very little explicitly about Marlowe. His character is revealed in great detail implicitly through his actions, but as to where he comes from and how he got to be where he is? Hardly anything at all. And yet he is by far the most important character. The book jacket quotes Ross Macdonald: "Chandler writes like a slumming angel," and indeed he does.

The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler

This is the one that starts the most like the archetypical hard-boiled detective novel:

The pebbled glass door panel is lettered in flaked black paint: "Philip Marlowe . . . Investigations." It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization. The door is locked, but next to it is another door with the same legend which is not locked. Come on in---there's nobody in here but me and a big bluebottle fly. But not if you're from Manhattan, Kansas.
It's the sort of book you have to read twice just to figure out who's really doing what to whom.

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

I think the connection in my head from Practical Demonkeeping to The Big Sleep was Sorcerer. Also, I was ready for a complete change of pace.

I'm not a fan of very much detective fiction, but the more sophisticated I think my reading of literature becomes, the more I like Raymond Chandler. He has a knack for rummaging around in the sordid side of human nature like no other writer I know. Most every character in The Big Sleep has a secret to protect, but in Chandler's hands that doesn't make them sexy or exciting; it mostly makes them pitiable.

Howard Hawks' filmed version with Bogart and Bacall is one of my favourite movies, but it's inevitably less intricate than the book.

Practical Demonkeeping, Christopher Moore

This might have been Moore's first novel; at any rate, I first read it probably a dozen years ago. Had vague fond memories but had mostly forgotten it until it came up as important source material for Ron Edward's Sorcerer RPG last year. And then I was reminded of it again after discovering that Shoshana had a whole shelf of Moore's later work. After borrowing her copies of Coyote Blue and Island of the Sequined Love Nun, I felt like re-reading my old copy of this one.

There's not a whole lot of there here, but it's cool. It's at least different.

Island of the Sequined Love Nun, Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore is now maybe my second-favourite comic author still working (after Pratchett, of course). It's light, of course, but I think Love Nun succeeds as a real story in a way that say Holt's Nothing But Blue Skies doesn't.

Flashman, George Macdonald Fraser

A re-read, because I wanted more Flashy.

2005 April 23

Delta, R. E. G. Davies

Believe it or not, a corporate history of Delta airlines -- I got it for free because I happened to be at Logan the day they opened the new Delta terminal. The book is lighter than it sounds, full of illustrations of old planes, and sometimes actually pretty interesting. The development of the aviation industry is a pretty important and in its way romantic subject, after all. But since Davies only talks about Delta, and the other airlines that got taken over by Delta, the context always seems missing.

2005 April 9

The Pleasures of Slow Food, Corby Kummer

It turns out there's an actual organized Slow Food society, founded in Italy in 1986 to work at preserving traditional artisanal foods from industrial homogenization. And you know, that's pretty much a goal I can get behind -- it's awfully easy to lose the last examples of once-common activities, if nobody is paying attention, plus I'm all in favour of good food.

The book, though, suffers from being too relentlessly rah-rah. There are drawbacks and problems with anything, but Kummer never sees a Slow Food that is not wonderful in every way.

2005 March 19

Flashman at the Charge, George MacDonald Fraser

If anything, even more fun than previous Flashman books. I sincerely hope Fraser's history is as accurate as he makes it out to be, because I'm taking him at his word.

2005 March 15

Nothing But Blue Skies, Tom Holt

Comic modern fantasy. At least sometimes it's comic; often it's just silly. I think the kind of comic writing I respond to best is the outrageously clever simile; Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams are brilliant at that kind of thing. Holt just doesn't have the knack.

2005 February 28

Atlanta Nights, Travis Tea

A "novel" written deliberately by a tag-team of SF writers to be as awful as possible, for the purpose of stinging an obnoxious outfit called PublishAmerica. And because I'm just that kind of glutton for punishment, I had to read it.

It is, in fact, deeply awful in an occasionally hilarious, occasionally educational way, though it can't be mistaken for the worst novel ever written by anyone who's ever ventured into the swamps of genuine bad fanfic -- it's not hardly pretentiously ineffectual enough, and it contains flashes of genius like this:

But he always came back, always came back for her athletic body and her wild sex and her Margarita and tequila sunrises and omelettes and steaks and chops and their video tapes, the ones recorded by the hidden cameras in the bedroom when they made love like wild beasts, like penguins of the Sahara diving into the sand and rutting wildly after feasting on sand sharks. She envied those penguins. All that hot sand to swim through, the raspy grains sliding over their feathers as they hunted in wild packs, baying at the moon, and diving deep, deep, down into the dusty depths of the dry smooth sand.

What would penguin leather be like? Would it have lots of dense patterns of whirls where the feathers grew, like ostrich leather did? Perhaps she could have something made of penguin leather to remind her of Henry, a love seat or a fine set of whips and straps. Perhaps she might travel to the Sahara someday to watch them from the tops of the pyramids, Mount Fujiyama off in the distance, duplicating the smooth sides of the pyramids. Oh, Henry, you jerk, why didn't you ever take me places like that?

Coyote Blue, Christopher Moore

Comic modern fantasy about growing up Indian in a white man's world, featuring such classic chapter titles as "Cruelly Turn the Steel-Belted Radials of Destiny," "Like God's Own Chocolate, I'd Lick Her Shadow off a Hot Sidewalk," and "Pavlov's Dogs and the Rhinestone Turd."

It took just six weeks for Samson Hunts Alone, the Crow Indian, to become Samuel Hunter, the shape-shifter. The transformation began with the cowboy on the bus mistaking Samson for a Mexican. When Samson left the bus in Elko, Nevada, and caught a ride with a racist trucker, he became white for the first time. He expected, from listening to Pokey all those years, that upon becoming white he would immediately have the urge to go find some Indians and take their land, but the urge didn't come.

Not a great novel, but how can you not like it? It's so adorable.

2005 February 2

Emma's War, Deborah Scroggins

A beautiful, fiery, romantic young woman named Emma McCune went to the Sudan in the late eighties as an aid worker, but soon ended up married to a warlord, doing propaganda for a conflict the Sudanese called "Emma's War". It's a true story, and at first glance you assume Emma is a contemptibly naive figure at the middle of it. But in Scroggins' telling, it's all much more complicated than that -- Emma emerges as a figure far to complex for me to summarize, both self-absorbed and admirable, and one who ends up making the lives of everyone around her look somehow small and cramped. Scroggins tells this story alternating with her own experiences as a journalist in the Sudan -- she met Emma a couple of times -- and a brief history of 150 years of Sudanese slaving, foreign meddling, and civil war. I haven't finished digesting the content of this book; at a minimum, it is a fascinating account of what foreign aid really looks like on the ground in one of the world's most terrible places. Highly recommended.

2005 January 11

Finder: Sin-Eater Volume Two, Carla Speed McNeil

I am terrible at reading this kind of book; I find myself focusing far too much just on the dialogue and missing details of McNeil's bold and expressive artwork, where the details really matter. But it's completely absorbing at all levels, a multilayered story set in a beautiful New-Sun-like neotribal far future world. I need to go reread it immediately to see how much more I can pick up the second time through.

2005 January 5

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, Will Ferguson

Ferguson is both funny and fascinated by history, which makes him the perfect travelogue writer. This is a collection of rambles in Canada, mostly of places I've never been to, and many it had never occurred to me to want to go to. I now need to see Churchill, Manitoba. And dammit, it's about time I got to Saint John's, isn't it? Ferguson makes me miss my country.
This was a Christmas present from my brother. Only problem is it wasn't long enough. Thanks!

2005 January 3

Sharpe's Triumph, Bernard Cornwell

Military fiction of the British Raj -- in particular the battle of Assaye. Look, don't go to Cornwell looking for character portraits or great subtlety, but he writes good adventure, and as far as I can tell he pays attention to real history.