Monday, November 19, 2007

I read some books

Mothers and Other Monsters, Maureen McHugh

I haven't been reading short stories over the past few years, but this collection made me reconsider. Sci fi/ horror/ alternate history are all represented, but for the most part as means to her ends rather than important elements in their own right. The major themes I was intrigued by were of choice and culpability, but she also focuses on genetic engineering/ medical decision-making. The author has the rare ability to write tight not-of-our-world stories without wasting words with tedious explanation, and to know when to end without giving too much away. Highly recommended.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

The author discusses her mental processing of events in the year after her husband died and her daughter simultaneously became seriously ill. In some parts she does a good job of conveying the illogic of grief, and acknowledges the degree of literal insanity which I suspect is normal after a serious loss. But within the first 20 pages, she managed to alienate herself from me through casual references to the resources of the rich and famous that she drew upon in this period, and it only got worse as the book progressed. I'm not sure if she was intentionally namedropping as a way to keep herself from feeling pitied, or if she's so out of touch as to not realize that her lifestyle is nothing like most of ours, or if she just didn't care about the latter. But she inhabits a completely different world than the rest of us, and her seeming unawareness of her level of privilege made me dislike her as a person. Which of course makes an autobiographical book less powerful.

An Unconventional Family, Sandra Bem

Discusses the author's "experiment" in egalitarian childrearing. I would've been more interested in explicit discussions of the largest barriers they faced and how they overcame them. But it was more autobiographical, and instead went into (painful) detail about the woes of getting tenure. I also realized that while the author and her then-husband may have been very cutting-edge when they got married, they're not to me. I'm always pretty shocked when women don't seem to see themselves as equal partners in a marriage, even though a surprising number of my friends have seemed to think nothing of, say, moving and giving up an entire community they've built for themselves to enable their husbands to take a different job, or care for kids while their husbands work 80-hour weeks, or manage all of his relationship responsibilities (like buying anniversary gifts for his siblings). If anything, my marriage is more egalitarian than theirs was.
So an interesting skim, but not really enlightening.

The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross

Turns out that nasty creatures from different dimensions are more reliably summoned through computer-assisted mathematical computations than via traditional methods. Turing figured this out, and governments around the world have been covering it up ever since. The protagonist works for the secret government agency assigned to prevent a demon takeover. The intrusion of bureaucracy in fighting the denizens of Cthulu is pretty funny, and I'm just geek enough to appreciate the system admin-speak which dominates the first third of the book. The writing is overly pulpish for my taste, and could use editing, but it's only occasionally intrusive. Good airplane read.

Two Girls Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill

I just didn't get it. There were good parts, but as a whole, I never figured out the point, and the conflicts it gave me to think about weren't too interesting to me. It might've been better for me if I were more interested in Ayn Rand, but I'm not even so sure of that.

1 comment:

shannon said...

I think "The Atrocity Archives" may have been serialized before it was mad a novel. It's not *literature* by any stretch, but I thought it was fun and I liked the mathematics cross with occult.