Bookmania reviews, Sept. 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Medieval People, Eileen Power

A classic of history; Power reconstructs the lives of several actual people, obscure peasants, a prioress of an abbey, Marco Polo. She is remarkable mainly for writing about the lives of medieval women.

The Female Man, Joanna Russ.

Mind-blowingly good feminist classic. Multiple identities and timelines. Janet, from the feminist utopia; Alice/Jael, violent, greedy, power-hungry spy; Jeannie, insecure, confused, manipulative femme from the timeline where the 1940’s go on forever; Joanna, sarcastic english professor from the present.

Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500,
Henrietta Leyser

Just what the title says. I got some cool story ideas out of it. Leyser argues, from analyzing grave goods, that there was a tradition of “noble” women priestesses/healers in prehistoric England, and this tradition continued to the Christian era, with women from the nobility becoming high ranking nuns or prioresses. I didn’t know before that a lot of the illuminated manuscripts, from famous scriptoriums, were done by nuns.

The Hyde Park Headsman, Callendar Square (rr), Anne Perry.

More fun mystery novels, with Inspector Thomas Pitt, Charlotte Pitt and assorted female relatives, friends, and a scullery maid, as theintrepid detectives. Perry’s mysteries stand out for their cool characters- the people have very restrained yet intense analytical discussions of each others’ characters and of ethical issues; very thoughtfully done.

Lying, Sissela Bok. rr

Charlemagne, Harold Lamb

The life of Charlemagne, romanticized for a younger audience. On the historical fiction end, but gives a vivid impression of life among the barbarous Franks, and the slow awakening of ambition in the young king.

Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, Margaret Wertheim

Moomintroll Midwinter, Moominsummer Madness, Comet in Moominland
and every other possible Moomin book. Tove Jannsson.

I had a cold, and these were comforting! The one that stands out in my mind is the one where the Moomin family and Little My go to the lighthouse.
As Moominmama watches her husband cast about for projects to bolster his ego, and endures uncomfortable living conditions, bad food, dead rosebushes, and loneliness, you begin to realize this book is much more adult than the others. When she began painting idyllic scenes on the lighthouse walls, and then stepped into the painting, I got shivers.

The Lost World and Other Stories, Sir A.C. Doyle

Fabulous tale of warring scientists who travel to the depths of the Amazonian rainforest and discover the original Land of the Lost, complete with ferocious dinosaurs and a racist subtext; the noble cavemen and the brutal, hairy ape-men. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard. “The Poison Belt” should be a classic of science fiction
along with H.G.Wells stories- but no one knows about Doyle’s science fiction, overshadowed for so
long by Sherlock Holmes. *I recommend you skip the Spiritualist propaganda novella- it sucked!!!! *

Jenny: Lady Randolph Churchill, vol. 2

Can’t wait to find volume one. “Lady Randy” had hundreds of devoted admirers and lovers, including the Prince of Wales (future King Edward); she used her influence with them to help Winston. Their letters to each other are truly scary. Winston worshipped the ground she walked on, even when she scandalously married a man younger than he was. She also started a serious literary magazine- I believe she was the first woman in England to do anything like this. And she hung out with actors, like Mrs. Pat Campbell, who is famous for the quote “It doesn’t matter to society what you do in bed, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten
the horses”.

Hunting Party, Elizabeth Moon

Tough, military Captain Sheri Tepp. . . , oops, ‘scuse me, Heris Serrano, whips a posh space yacht into shape, disciplines bratty teenagers, learns to ride to hounds with decadent 25th century aristocrats. The hunting party turns out to be the most serious kind of “blood sport”. Exciting and well written. If you groaned in pain reading Sassinak, never fear, Moon’s later books are WAY better, in fact not even to be compared. Hard SF and the cooler, feminist facets of the romance novel blend perfectly.

5 Novels by

Dashiell Hammett.

Red Harvest The bloodiest one. Practically everyone dies. An extremely groovy bad girl, who charms me by being sleazy, mercenary,
and always cursing about having runs in her stockings. Not to be missed.

The Dain Curse Undermining of sanity. Hallucinations. California religious cults. Heroine is a junkie. No one comes out of this one clean.

The Glass Key The most anti-heroic of all Hammett’s heros. All these people are despicable!

The Maltese Falcon Read it a year ago, didn’t re-read.

The Thin Man Just like in the movies, Nick and Nora Charles quaff cocktails and champagne like there’s no tomorrow. Strangely light
hearted compared to the others. “Have a drink!”

Strangers on the Train

Scary for the feeling it gives you that insanity and murder lurk just around the corner, waiting inside your soul to spring out and take over your life. . .

Bookmania reviews, August 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Western Trees. Petersen Field Guide. Also Trees.
(Golden Nature Guide) and Pacific Coast Tree Finder.

I have been poring over these
books lately, trying to identify trees in my neighborhood, although all my books are for the west coast. Eastern cottonwoods, various other poplars and aspens, ash, elm, sycamore,
maple, black locust, Alianthus, and catalpa trees are all common in Hyde Park. No oaks yet, but
on the U. of C. campus, especially noticable down Ellis, several nifty gingkos. Why this strange obsession with trees? I don’t know, but at least they sit still to be identified. Birds are too difficult.

The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister, Earle Stanley Gardner

Playback, Raymond Chandler.

Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, Paul Conlinvaux, 1978.

Fire with Fire,

Naomi Wolf. rr

This has my vote as the coolest book of the year. It is very heartening to read Wolf’s arguments that women are the political majority (51%). Her analysis of Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas & also TV commercials, other media- hilarious & interesting. The positive trends she was predicting a few years ago are continuing.

“This is a book written for Jill Blow, not Gloria Steinem. Wolf encourages feminists to live fruitfully and responsibly in the mainstream. In a voice
remarkably free of backbiting or jargon, she speaks compassionately of the problems that women still face, encouraging women to be successful as individuals; the more economic clout and personal satisfaction you have, the more resources and energy you have to give to your cause.” – review by Barbara Strickland

Nova, Samuel Delany .

Three Plays, Turgenev

A Month in the Country was the best. Everyone in it was in constant emotional anguish. It is hard to keep all their names, nicknames, and patronymics in mind. Vera should definitely NOT have married the farmer, that’s all I can say.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare. rr

100 Selected Poems, ee cummings.

O sweet spontaneous earth

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Abraham Maslow. rr

The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Illustrated. rr

Vinland Sagas

Another Icelandic saga. This has the story of the discovery and settling of Greenland and Vinland. Especially memorable: Eirik the Red’s evil daughter Freydis, when the colonists are running from the Skraelings with flint tomahawks, screaming that they are all cowards, and standing off the whole tribe of attackers, even though she was in advanced state of pregnancy. She comes to a bad end, though.

More on Vikings in New World

The Ink-Dark Moon, Transl. by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. rr

Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu.

    How invisibly
    it changes color
    in this world,
    the flower
    of the human heart.

      –Ono no Komachi

Slow Funeral, Rebecca Ore.

I recommend this book to people who don’t usually read speculative fiction. Well written, made me feel that my sense of reality and sanity were twisting a bit, just like Maude’s was when she confronted her witchy Appalachian family. Better
crossing of the line between sanity & schizophrenia than in Woman on the Edge of Time. Very moving portrait of her dying grandmother, of how people act around old & dying people, the tensions in families. I especially liked it when Maude “hears” what people are actually thinking/meaning behind their ordinary small talk.

Impossible Things, Connie Willis.

Great science fiction short stories. Hilarious realistic details of the way people act, of the bureaucratic obstacles of life, of marriage, family, & midlife crisis. She is quite versatile- from hard to historical to psycho-social SF- I can’t wait to read her novels.

Quote for August:
If you are no true men, be at least true animals. Be unaffected, and you will, of necessity, be useful or agreeable to somebody.” — Baudelaire, Intimate Journals.

Bookmaniac reviews, July 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Daughter of the Samurai, Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, 1926.

Autobiography of a woman who grew up in Japan & moved to the U.S. to marry her brother’s business partner. If Louisa May Alcott were Japanese,
this is what she would be like. I felt dissatisfied reading this book- it was interesting, but kind of ponderously written, and towards the end I wanted to know what happened to Etsu’s two daughters, who grew up with the relative freedom of American girls, then were uprooted and taken to Japan. Their fate is unclear but probably they were married off
just like Etsu was.

Njal’s Saga, 13th cent. Iceland. rr

Another Icelandic saga, re-read. Lusty sword and axe-fighting. Evil women wearing red velvet robes marry and kill husbands, start hundred year feuds. Njal is the central figure, trying to stay outside of all the feuding, giving wise advice, but eventually he and his family are doomed. Best character in this saga is Njal’s son, Skarp-Hedin- fey, tough, and sarcastic.

Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson. rr

City of Illusions, Ursula K. LeGuin rr

Seventh Son, Orson Scott Card.

First of the Alvin Maker series. Witchery, dark religious conflict, old U.S. pioneers.
As usual centers around moral choices of strangely powerful central character and those around him. The alternate history of Pennsylvania/Ohio stuff is compelling, and you have to admire his nerve for lifting William Blake and just plunking him down into the countryside.

Incontinence. Susan Hahn, 1993.

Poems. I like her writing style- reminds me oddly of Marge Piercy and
Anne Hebert
, two of my favorite poets.

The Invisibles
Grant Morrison. Issues 13-23.

An intense comic book series. Dark conspiracy, interdimensional weirdness, outcast “superheroes” without official identities. I noticed the team of people working on this comic book had
several women, like
Jill Thompson
, but for some odd reason, I have never heard of them thru feminist comic artist circles, which perhaps tend to glorify “independent” work by women.

Voyages and Discoveries
, Richard Hakluyt. Penguin classic edition. rr

Entertaining and oddly comforting to hear people long dead whining about the inconveniences of travel. Scurvy. Fleas. Robbers. Infidels. Audiences with capricious kings. Doomed search for Northwest & Northeast passages. But in the face of it, the intrepid 16th century British merchant trudges onward, searching digilently for new markets for the stodgiest product possible- woolen cloth. The one flaw of this book: No index! For shame!

The Tempest, William Shakespeare. rr

Makes me feel like all other attempts to write English are thin and weak. I wonder if WS’s original audiences liked Caliban despite of or because of his brutishness. The actual plot isn’t at all what makes this play so thought provoking- it’s Ariel & Caliban
& Prospero. Is it just my tendency to deconstruct everything, or does the perfect, prince & princess love story of this fairly tale ring hollow, purposefully, to set of the actual tragicness of
all the other characters’ flaws, hopes, and fears?

Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare. rr

It takes some gall to write a 2-line review of a Shakespeare play but if I’m doing it, I might as well give my real reaction to it. It’s boring! Boring boring boring!

Conference of the Birds, Farid Ud-Din Attar. rr

12th century Sufi allegorical poem. The birds
set off on a quest to find their king, the mythical Simorgh. Each bird has different excuses and problems that get in the way of their quest; they are models of different types of people. On the quest,the hoopoe bird
tells them moral fables about famous dervishes, lovers, and sheiks. My favorite is the story of Sheikh Sam’an, who was a respected religious leader; on a journey to Rome he falls in love with a Christian girl, who makes him renounce his faith. Then she laughs & spurns him. Of course eventually she falls in love with him after all and renounces HER faith. It is extremely melodramatic.

Caravan, Dorothy Gilman. rr

A good story about the adventures of Caressa in the Sahara Desert. But too far-fetched even for me, too many co-incidences and psychic power incidents. Camels. Sandstorms. Being sold into slavery. True Love. Interesting, but not as gripping as the Mrs. Pollifax books.

Ten Plays by
(A more modern translation than the ones I linked to here)

I’m only halfway through but will review my favorite one of the ten, soon. Intense. Medea,
Ion, Alcestis, Hippolytus, Andromache,
so far. Euripides has the reputation of being extremely negative about women. I find this odd since his plays have excellent female characters
who show the frustrations and dangers of their lives & who are used to express universally tragic themes.

Laexdala Saga;
13th century, Iceland. Penguin classic edition. rr

The saga builds a complex, detailed web of colorful characters; you see their histories and motives laid out over generations, until events build to the beginning of a horrendous series of feuds.

Gudrun Osvifsdaughter
is at the center of it all. Women in pre-christian Iceland had equal rights
under the law, accumulating wealth, founding families, travelling. Everyone seems terribly proud and ready to draw their noble swords and do some slaying.

Sunwaifs; Sydney Van Scyoc.

More eco-science fiction, with fascinating mythological twist. As usual in her fiction, Van Syoc features a mutant teenage girl who is obsessed with death and violence. This one, Corrie, gets to have a better ending than the one in Starmother. Outcast teenagers grow up to be gods; transgender echoes, mystical drug visions, soul-shaking encounters with
Mother Destiny, the planet itself.

Driftglass; Samuel Delany. (about 1965?)

Chaotic beauty, love, grief, complicated families, complicated sexuality. Mesmerizing short stories. I admire Delany so much I can’t sum up his writing very well. Absolutely the best.

Fourteen Byzantine Emperors; Michael Psellus. 11th century.

Gossip and scandal of the rich and famous. Psellus is great at claiming that he is about to praise an emperor, and then scathingly, sarcastically, tearing him or her down. Also amusing: he constantly praises himself, his own wisdom and breadth of learning, and eloquence. Why do all these emperors have such disgusting ailments? Also, be warned, there are lots of eyes put out and noses chopped off. Ugh.

Black Hearts in Battersea; Joan Aiken.

Will the orphans turn out to really be long lost noblity? Hmm I wonder. See Sophie save the old duke & duchess, each time using the duchess’s
humonguous embroidery project, from: burning buildings, sinking barges, deflating hot air balloons, collapsing opera boxes, and ravening wolves. Excellent and I can’t wait to read the rest in the series!

Tarka: His Life and Death in the Two Rivers; Henry Williamson. 1927.

Incredibly realistic story about an otter, from the otter’s point of view. Beautiful, entrancing descriptions of English riverside. Full of cool Devonshire dialect words. My favorite: “oolypuggers” = bulrushes.

Third Eagle; R.A. MacAvoy.

Science fiction with native american-y twist. Adventures of Wanbli, naive martial artist, going offplanet to become a movie star. MacAvoy’s books have been consistently excellent beyond much of the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read. She avoids being didactic but get a lot of cool messages across.

I, Zombie;
Doris Piserchia
writing as Curt Selby. 1982.

Piserchia’s usual tough, seven foot tall, orphan girl hero, this time dead and re-vivified to be a zombie worker on a glacial mining planet. Cool psychic frog-like aliens. Vivid descriptions of people diving into a vat of molten metal.

Quote for July:

Critic does not mean criticize. It means to open the eyes. To be the
translator of the demon of creation… transforming the seed into a substance soluble and palatable so
that the people may eat. –Patti Smith

Bookmania reviews, June 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

The Tale of Genji; Murasaki Shikibu. (Seidensticker translation- complete).

Everyone should read this. Prince Genji’s adventures in 11th century Japan. His childhood, his innumerable love affairs, and his rise to power in the court. I love the way they all glorify vague melancholy moods into a fine art. The lives of the women are fascinating. Women in Heiian court life were supposed to be learned, good poets, artists and musicians. They had nothing else to do, so they were great writers and great lovers!

Star Mother; Sydney Van Scyoc.

Funky mutated tribal people and a strict, patriarchal religious society clash, with the plucky young space cadet caught in the middle. Interesting eco-science fiction. I was sad when the blood-lust of the crazed, mud covered, mutant girl led her to her doom.

Temporary Agency; Rachel Pollock.

Fabulous “alternate world” science fiction. The world of the present,but magic and ritual works. Satisfyingly feminist. Good disgusting, violent scene in the NY Stock Exchange where all hell breaks loose.

The Lens of the World, and Belly of the Wolf; R.A. MacAvoy.

Good fantasy world. Nazhuret’s life rising from obscure orphan and wanderer to expert fighter and powerful political figure. Nicely philosophical. If you liked Gene Wolfe’s new sun books, but got annoyed at the women characters, then I’m sure
you’d like the Lens of the World series. I haven’t found the 2nd book yet but I cheated and read the last one anyway.

Stillness at Appomattox; Bruce Catton.

Melodramatic description of the end of the Civil War. Each battle is more bloody and horrible than the last. I read a few of his other books about the Civil War, and they were all quite similar, and good if you don’t mind the constant fever pitch of excitement, mud, hardship, and gore.