Monday, February 06, 2006

Book Resolution 2006: Books 3-8

Yes, I've been reading. No, I haven't been blogging about it. Yes, you can skip this post if you like.

Book #3
Title: Shards of Honor
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Date Started: January 8, 2006
Date Finished: January 9, 2006
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I'd read a couple of McMaster Bujold's fantasy novels last year and adored them--really, I swooned over her writing style and her characters. I haven't ever explored sci-fi as much as fantasy, so I was afraid I wouldn't enjoy her work as much in another genre. What a stupid assumption; I found myself sympathizing with her characters in Shards of Honor just as thoroughly as I had in Paladin of Souls and The Curse of Chalion. One of the aspects of her writing that I noted enjoying the most was her willingness to force a reader to read between the lines in her characters' dialogue. If Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith are having a conversation wherein Vorkosigan says, "ABC," McMaster Bujold's narration doesn't intrude to explain, "Cordelia realized with irritation that Vorkosigan was referring to DEFG." She likes to just write Cordelia's reply, sans explication. At times I found it slightly disorienting, as I am often too stupid to understand exactly what conclusions a character must be drawing--but once I got used to it, I enjoyed the author's willingness to assume that I'm smart enough to figure it out. I liked the book well enough to make a note to read the rest of the series.

Book #4
Title: Four Ways to Forgiveness
Author: Ursula Le Guin
Date Started: January 10, 2006
Date Finished: January 14, 2006
What can I intelligently say about a book by Ursula Le Guin? I can't get enough of her. This is one I need to re-read, having once read it, so I will be able to catch more of the quiet connections between the characters and stories in these four linked novellas. I wrote down this scrap of dialogue: "'The world is sacred, Havzhiva. The cosmos is sacred. That's not a knowledge I ever had to give up. All I learned, here and there, only increased it. There's nothing that is not sacred....You can choose the local sacredness or the great one. In the end they're the same.'"

Book #5
Title: Ten Little Indians
Author: Sherman Alexie
Date Started: January 14, 2006
Date Finished: January 15, 2006
I always come away from Alexie's books with the awed sensation of having been able to witness the first telling of a future set of myths. His writing is sinuous enough to be hilarious, tragic, searingly honest and sardonic all at the same time--often all in the same sentence. I don't know how he does it. It's enough for me to be able to drink it down.

Book #6
Title: Indian Killer
Author: Sherman Alexie
Date Started: January 16, 2006
Date Finished: January 20, 2006
I thought this book was slightly less cohesive than the other of Alexie's books that I've read. The POV moves between many characters, and the number of them meant that not all of them ended up feeling fully developed. But it's still got all those qualities of his writing that I so enjoy, and the furiously merciless shredding of the kind of romanticism with which many non-natives view Native Americans. The anger of his characters can make you squirm, but...isn't that the thing that sometimes makes anger such an effective tool?

Book #7
Title: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Author: Christopher Moore
Date Started: January 21, 2006
Date Finished: February 2, 2006
Talk about a change in tone...from Sherman Alexie's searing characters to, uh, Biff, the childhood pal of Jesus H. Christ. I've seen Christopher Moore's writing compared to Tom Robbins, but I'm not sure I'd have come to that comparison on my own. Lamb is narrated in the first person by Biff, who has been brought back from the dead to write his own gospel in honor of JC's two-thousandth birthday. Biff is profoundly irreverent and jokey; though a lot of the jokes were a little too proud of themselves, I did chuckle quite a bit throughout this book. I enjoyed its portrayal of a Jesus who wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to be doing, and devoted those "lost years" between 12 and 30 to seeking answers to that question. Obviously it's not supposed to be a serious historical theory, but it's a fun "what if." Unfortunately, after enjoying the first two thirds of the book I found the last third to feel a bit rushed. It almost seemed like the author realized he still had to recap the contents of all the gospels, and had to keep it under a hundred pages, so crammed it all in together. Jesus' character gets all flat and uninteresting, frankly, when he stops departing from the gospel accounts of his words. Wow, what an awful thing to say...but I stand by it. Come on, we all know those parts; I want more irreverence and disrespect! Funnily enough, although Biff is a rascally, blasphemous kinda guy, this book as a whole is actually fully respectful of Jesus' life and message. The idea that his message didn't drop in a lump out of the sky, but was something he had to process and create for himself in the midst of the world and its problems, makes that message seem even more relevant. And the idea that Christ would ever hang out with such a scalawag as Biff? Totally canonical.

Book #8
Title: Life as We Know It: a Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child
Author: Michael Bérubé
Date Started: February 3, 2006
Date Finished: February 6, 2006
Hey, non-fiction makes its first appearance on the list! You may know Michael Bérubé as one of the 101 most dangerous professors in America (you know, on accounta he has one a them Frenchie sounding names, plus he aint like us right thinking folks, but he talks a lotta fancy words, which you always oughta be on guard against). This biography of his son's first four years takes a look at (here I quote the jacket, because I am lazy and tired) "the charged issues that each stage of James's growth leads into: I.Q. testing, the politics of education, disability law, social services, health care, and entitlements. Framing these issues is thte larger debate...over concepts such as social justice, what it means to be human, and, ultimately, what kind of society we value and by what means we determine it." His son James was born in 1991 with Down syndrome, which is why I found this book on the shelf in the conference room library at work. I'd read Bérubé's blog a few times before, always enjoying the sardonic humor and intellectual essays that I found there; both were evident in this fascinating book as well. I want to go through the bibliography and read quite a few of the works he refers to.

Passage (full of fancy words) that I noted as particularly relevant to an issue that affects my workplace quite a bit:

...[One] size, one policy initiative, does not fit all. To decree that all children, irrespective of individual needs and group idiosyncrasies, shall be educated in regular classrooms is ethically as dubious as to decree that all children will be classified by "intelligence" or "aptitude" regardless of circumstances. Our challenge with regard to inclusive education, then, is actually quite similar to our challenge with regard to reproductive rights: What we need is a system bounded by the broadest possible definitions of freedom and justice, but internally variegated so as to admit multiple competing moral imperatives--imperatives which can only be deliberated with the nuance they deserve if we publicly maintain that some decisions are so difficult that they can only be "private."
So there you go. Eight down, forty-four to go. It looks like I might completely follow through on a New Year's Resolution this year. I wonder what that'll feel like.