Adventures in reading

It’s been a while, but mainly because I’ve been writing a short story, so no apologies. Since I’ve been away I’ve cracked through lots of books and thus here comes a huge post.

Following on from the epic Martin Chuzzlewit I finished off Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, one of the many half-read books lying around my house. It had some interesting material but there are better examples of this type of book out there.

Moving on from there I felt that I wanted something light, so I chose A Wicked Liaison by Christine Merrill. It’s a Mills & Boon Historical Romance and quite far from my usual choice. I have it (and a few others) because my writing group did a workshop on writing for Mills & Boon and getting some examples was for follow up research. Anyway, I feel violated. On a content level, this offended me. On a writing level it does offer some interesting observations of what is missing from the book. What is there is well written, it’s just that there is so much that is left out. There is very little world building (as it is set in Regency London). We are offered little in the way of description, hardly any smells, sounds or kinesthetic input. The book takes place completely in the mind and we are entirely caught up in the thoughts of the two protagonists. This does make it very intense but the inner monologues are quite repetitious. Ugh. Did not like.

My non-fiction interlude was Earth Path by Starhawk, which I loved.

Then, due to an unscheduled trip to Doncaster, I read February’s book club book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. It was an interesting style. The author chose a monologue for the whole book and the writing was wonderfully tight. What was there was very well done but, for me, the style made it distancing. It felt like an intellectual novel not an emotional one. Disappointing, because it could have been much more powerful.

After my unpleasant toe-dip in to romance, I felt a strong need to return to speculative fiction, in the form of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. I find that Dick’s novels are very much the fiction of ideas. I did notice lots of new words for not-so-new concepts and at one point it did feel a bit overwhelming. I loved the idea of stress being measured in units of Freuds. Having said that, the world-building was great. The book plays with the idea of reality, the nature of god and altered states of consciousness. I really liked it.

Following that I read The Introverted Leader: Building on your Quiet Strength by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, which I found really inspiring and helpful.

Then I picked Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (I’m noticing a lot of people using middle initials today). I think I’m going right off the use of the first person in the long form. The story had potential but the writing was unsophisticated. I couldn’t make up my mind up whether it was YA fiction or not; in the end I decided that even if it was, it could still be held to the same standards as anything else. There was too much tell and too much ‘Yelena had worried about/planned for/thought’ where we hadn’t been given that previously. The world-building and characterisation lacked depth. It also committed the cardinal sin (in my eyes, at any rate) of not being internally consistent with levels of technology, clothing, dialogue, etc. I couldn’t fix an historical period in my mind. Characters fought with swords, lived in castles and used magic but then had factories and used incredibly modern dialogue. For me, it was distracting and annoying. The dialogue as a whole was not well done; often I felt that the dialogue didn’t reflect the characters as they were described. The relationship between the protagonist and her love interest was pure Mills & Boon and was so creepy. Not good. And there are two more in the series.

Most recently, I’ve read Belching out the Devil by Mark Thomas, which is an exploration of Coca Cola’s activities in the world. I may not be able to drink pop again.

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