Sunday 25 December 2011

I'm making it official: Bookphilia is on hiatus

As it's been a solid month since I last posted, this will surprise no one; indeed, you may be wondering why I'm bothering to make it official at all. Well, I don't like to just disappear without saying anything (as I have) so here it is: I'm putting the blog on hiatus, until I don't know when. I definitely see this as a hiatus and not as a precursor to a deletion, but I have no idea how long this radio silence might last. I do know that I haven't really had time to engage with it in the way I'd like to in months, and I also don't know when things will improve in this regard. Also, and perhaps just as significantly, I think writing only about books has reached a critical enough low on my interest scale that I need to think seriously about making this into a different kind of blogwhich might necessitate a new name and a new layoutmore things that take time I don't currently have, in other words.

Before I head off into an internet-quiet 2012, here's a short reading update. I'm currently 300 pages into Charles Dickens's Bleak House (yes, I plan to keep up with my Victorian lit reading plan, even if I'm not able to write about it) and it's absolutely stellar; it's so good it's challenging David Copperfield for the "Best Dickens Novel" honours in my soul. I think Dickens is a genius; slightly restrained Dickens is uber-genius. I'm ready it incredibly slowly because I just don't want it to end. And as it's 900+ pages long, it might just not ever end. #win

Before getting the best Festivus gift ever (i.e., rolling out of bed very late to eat pancakes and read Dickens!), I finished a few other things, all of them very good, none of them perfect (although Sanshiro was close). First up was Dorothy Sayers's awkwardly titled Have His Carcase. More awkward than the title, however, was the plot which was just too ridiculously complicated; it was almost laughable. That said, I don't actually read Sayers for the plot. I read Sayers because she was an extremely gifted prose stylist and because the interactions between Harriet and Lord Peter are entirely irresistible. I loved this book in spite of its plot.

Next up was Charlotte Bronte's Villette, the tale of a downtrodden but alternately rebellious, funny, mean, and hysterical woman of mysterious origin (not that Bronte ever did anything with the mystery she invoked around Lucy Snowe, damn her eyes). Lucy's adventures in being a self-supporting single woman result in adventures with ghosts, gaggles of teenaged girls, a Machiavellian boss, and a ferocious but strangely attractive male English teacher and no one knows which of said challenges is scariest. I alternated between being repeatedly surprised at Bronte's excellent writing (I love Jane Eyre, but in the many times I've read it, I don't honestly remember being struck by the writing per se), enjoying the story, and wanting to give Lucy a good hard shake for trying to be so self-effacing. Self-deprecation rendered in extensive and minute detail does not make for good reading, even when done by a gifted author. Overall, I enjoyed Villette quite a bit but I'm fairly certain I will never feel tempted to re-read it.

Finally, there was Soseki Natsume's Sanshiro (the new Jay Rubin translation!), which I read in two days while Hubby and I traipsed around the perfect and beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal. Soseki is one of my favourite authors (in spite of my finding Botchan to be just shockingly over-rated) and Sanshiro did not disappoint; it was alternately quietly hilarious and sharply satirical, somewhat silly and deeply saddeningrather like the titular boy-hero himself. This book was just lovely; it made me wonder why I haven't stormed through more of the Soseki cache I have stashed in my bookshelves...Probably because my rationing instinct is stronger than my consuming instinct when it comes to books; if only that were true of peanut butter toast!

Now, we're all caught up. While I try to figure out when and how to return to Bookphilia, I will be reading, hopefully only from the large collection of unread books already in my possession. Yes, I have made a New Year's resolution, which is very unlike me. I've resolved to try and not buy myself books in 2012. I will, of course, continue to accept books as gifts because if I didn't, the lovely people who give me presents would likely go mad with confusion about how to give me things. Selfless of me, isn't it?

See you soon(?) my friends! (PS-I'll keep my currently reading tab here up-to-date just in case anyone's curious; you can also find me on Goodreads, which I remember to log into every 1-2 weeks).

Friday 25 November 2011

In death they were not divided

I finished re-reading The Mill on the Floss tonight; I first read it in 1998-1999 when I had the pleasure of being in Rohan Maitzen's graduate seminar on George Eliot. I loved it then; I have a much greater appreciation for it now. Why I love this book is radically different in 2011; it's a sign of how immature a reader I was then that it's only now that I understand how much this novel is not about Maggie and Stephen and how much it is about Maggie and Tom, and the larger web of familial and social relations they stand at the centre of. For those of you who saw this obvious fact ages ago, don't laugh too hard at me.

I've never believed the fairly commonly held notion by so many readers I've come across that if you don't properly sympathize with a book's central concern and its characters' most basic and irresistible desires and motives, it's because you haven't experienced them personally. I have argued with a number of parents about this with specific regard to Cormac McCarthy's The Road; they insist that I don't like it because I don't understand it, and that I don't understand it because I don't have children. I have dismissed this fuzzy syllogism as balderdash and I still do. I maintain, against a tide of disbelieving moms and dads (mostly dads) who read books, and internet trolls given to uttering death threats, that that book is bad because the writing is bad and because the plot in no way makes up for this deficiency.

But my failure to understand what I now see The Mill on the Floss is about--the central importance of our first relationships with the people and places who raise us--is sort of related to this claim, and that's surprising. My failure to see what this novel's primary concerns are isn't the result of my not having had that experience, however (although my experience growing up was certainly nothing like Maggie's, and not just because I luckily had electricity, but unluckily no fetish whose head I could hammer nails into). Rather, it was, I think, the result of my being, at that moment in my life, determined to escape all the scenes and claims of my life thus far, to leave and be someone else by being somewhere else (and, indeed, I escaped directly to rural South Korea within the year). It wasn't that I didn't understand what made Maggie what she is; on the contrary, I quite desperately didn't want these things to be this powerful or important, and that clouded my reading judgment.

To be someone else by being somewhere else--naive? overly simplistic? foolish? weird? Yes. But it's something Maggie feels implicitly and partly why I've always felt both attracted to and irritated by her. For while other characters in the book seem to enjoy the appearance of such bonds, none feel them so excruciatingly deeply as she does; certainly, none are as devoted to them as she is, even in spite of her struggles with her own vanities and selflessnesses. For her, family, birthplace, and her everyday life cannot be separated without serious damage to her soul. I was always desperate for her to show enough chutzpah to tell the stupid, self-righteous, and unbending Tom to shove it; to just leave, one way or another, and try to find some place where she wasn't constantly belittled and misunderstood.

In other words, I wasn't just an immature reader during my first go-round with this novel, I was also a selfish one--for I wanted things for Maggie that she wouldn't have wanted for herself, things that would have made her even more miserable! I had a touch of Stephen Guest in me then and would have gladly tricked her down the river and out of town, just to give myself the satisfaction of kicking her dumbshit family to the curb.

No, I was not a generous reader, and I suspect that's not unrelated to the fact that I wasn't a very generous person. I don't know if I'm a generous person now; probably not. But I think I'm a somewhat better reader. I think George Eliot was incredibly generous; indeed, I don't know how anyone who wasn't painfully generous could write books like hers. Her profound intelligence was focused so entirely on the human; even her philosophical musings, which the very silly Anthony Trollope complained about, never stray far from the most central human concerns. She looked deep and doesn't seemed to have judged anything she saw too harshly.

Now, about the physical act of reading The Mill on the Floss. I started out with a trusty Penguin Classic, sturdy and well footnoted. But my back has been not so great lately and to try to make carrying it around in my bag less of a burden, my husband convinced me to try it on the Kobo eReader he got for his birthday.

At first, I absolutely loathed the experience. It didn't feel like a book and so I was constantly being reminded of the ridiculous Star Trek: The Next Generation prop I was holding in front of my face. I was distracted by how frequently I had to "turn" the page. No footnotes. And a lot of typos. I didn't think I'd make it. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But then, it somehow began to grow on me. And it's fine; at some point, it stopped feeling like staring at a gadget and started feeling like reading. I switched back to the Penguin tonight to finish The Mill on the Floss and that was also good, and now all of a sudden I have double the reading options I used to have. I don't know how often I'll use this thing; it is my husband's after all, and as acceptable as the experience turned out to be, I still missed the tactile associations of holding a book-book in my hands. That said, if I ever get around to Clarissa, it might have to be on Kobo...otherwise, I'll end up in hospital.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

I miss those days of jam and idleness

My reading is all over the place lately; it's taking me a long time to finish things, in part because Autumn hasn't been very cold and I've been cycling like a fiend. I've also been working on the 4th Annual Totally Fabulous Vegan Bake-Off because its inventor and fearless leader, Lisa, is off to distant lands to talk to people about raw food. She's a brave and lovely lady.

But I have been reading. I've been plodding my way (enthusiastically! but it's still plodding) through The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom for months now. There are two things you need to know about children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom: 1) She wrote fantastic letters. (E.g., "Someday very soon I'm going to write you a great letter. But not today.") 2) She discovered the genius that is Maurice Sendak and it's her we have to thank for the timeless, wild rumpus that is Where the Wild Things Are.

Letters take me a long timeI read one and then I feel as though I'm done with that author for at least a few months; short stories are the same. It's absurd. My sleepy snail pace with this collection has been exacerbated by the fact that the first copy I borrowed from the library fell to pieces in my hands, and there are only two circulating copies; I may not be able to immediately renew it when my time is up.

(This book was recommended to me by Rohan Maitzen, who is much better at storming through books than I am, unless those books are by David Mitchell.)

I'm also slogging through cult favourite The Dog of the South, by Charles Portis. It began like a beautiful, hilarious, silly dream; there was a deer's head mounted on the wall of a seedy bar, and that deer had a smoke in its mouth...but then, I don't know. The book just deflated and while I'm 2/3 of the way through I don't know if I can bring myself to even finish it. I honestly don't know how a book that began by making me laugh, and out loud like a stupid git at that, every 20 lines or so can have become so totally dull and uninspired.

And I feel wretched that I don't love this bookKevin recommended it because he loved it so. But you know, we actually often don't love each other's favourites. I thought Soucy's The Immaculate Conception was brilliant; he objected that it didn't always make sense, and not in a charming way. He loves Cormac McCarthy, who I think is very clever only for having made it as a famous writer who generally can't write complete sentences. We tend to agree completely only on Cloud Atlas; but that is more than enough to build a friendship on.

Rohan, again, directs my reading life: After 13 years, I'm re-reading The Mill on the Floss, which I first read in her George Eliot graduate seminar; she's teaching it again now to some undergraduates. I'd been hoping to read along and write a series of posts worthy of my eddication as I did with Romola last year. However, while I think I love the book much more now than I did in 1998, I just don't have the time; those Romola posts took me hours and hours, and as I worked in a bookstore then, it seemed much easier to find time to spend hours and hours thinking and writing about books.

I lament not giving this novel the attention it deserves, but I'm happy that it seems to have reignited my enthusiasm for my Victorian Lit projectwhich I am absolutely not going to jeopardize again by trying, again, to read Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond! I might even skip Villette and go right back to Dickens, just to be safe.

Then there are all these books I haven't even cracked, the most important being my Lisbon guidebook and my Portuguese phrase book. I really, really should look at these books, as we're heading to Portugal in just over a month...but somehow it just keeps not happening. I keep finding myself busy with something else. God, I'm such an irresponsible pre-traveller!

Friday 28 October 2011

Mo money, mo moustaches

It's almost Movember, friends, the month during which those who can grow hair above their upper lips do so to help raise money for men's health. My husband is participating, and there will be photographic evidence every day here. Join the very silly fun! Magnum P.I. wants you to.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

An unlikely trio

Another round-up, my friends! I'm looking forward to soon finding the time for writing round-ups of one. Today, three books that in no way belong together form the subject of my early morning musings. (Actually, it's not that early; it's almost 9:30 ayem as I begin writing this. I woke up late. Yesterday, I gymmed for an hour and then later had an hour-long swimming lesson. I feel both very strong and very tired today.)

Last week, I finished reading China Miéville's fat novel Perdido Street Station. I can't give you a plot summary without telling you the whole story, so I won't even try. Some generalities: it's fantasy completely sans swords but not sorcery (but no funny hats or wands are involved), it's sci-fi, it's an excellent example of literary world-building, it's absolutely full of disturbing and bad shit.

Perdido Street Station is almost 700 pages of trouble going down. For a long while, I loved the perpetual climax (crisis!) of the plot but 300+ pages of unremitting tension started to wear on me a little by the end. China Miéville, who is lovely because he looks like a bouncer but has a PhD from the London School of Economics and a vocabulary at least 10 times larger than most people's, is also generally a very good writer. As I noted in my review of The City & The City, I really admire his ability to write compelling fiction in a semi-academic "voice"; I honestly don't know how he manages to make this work, but he does, and that's my third reason for adoring him.

But I didn't adore Perdido Street Station, at least not as a whole. And my biggest complaint about the book is something I'm not sure is, in fact, a problem with the book; it might very well be only a reflection of the limitations of my being a Bear of Very Little Brain. This is the problem: I kind of hate descriptions of the physical context of a story. I like some very basic information to set the stage, and then my own brain takes over and aggressively creates its own set of visuals. This compulsion was set repeatedly in conflict with Mieville's extensive, rich, and unending details about the physical aspects of the world he creates; unfortunately, all his information couldn't silence my own notions of how things looked and so I suffered from a mild but persistent headache the whole time I was reading this book. Also, and this is a much smaller issue but it grated on me more and more as I neared the book's conclusion: the word "architecture" was so over-used it started to make me feel crazy. With a vocabulary bigger than god's boots, I know Mieville needn't have relied so heavily on this one word.

These seem like pretty minor problems, yes. Indeed, much of the book was wonderful, fantastic. But there is one major problem with Perdido Street Station that doesn't seem minor to me at all, but which I can't reveal here as it occurs at the very end of the book and to discuss it in any detail would be to blow the whole plot up in the air. But I will say this: Isaac's reasons are damned stupid, because the moral bind Miéville puts him is a total cop-out. That said, I'm still desperate to read Kraken.

Next up was a collection of short stories edited by Kenzaburo Oe: The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath. In terms of historical, archaeological reflection this is an excellent collection as it covers writers of different ages, experiences, and gender. As a literary collection, it is wildly uneven and the only reason I see this is a problem is that, given how rich Japan's literary history is, I just can't imagine it was actually necessary to choose historical variety over artistic merit.

Indeed, stories by Tamiki Hara and especially Hiroko Takenishi's "The Rite" were literarily amazing which, of course, lent much greater poignancy and pathos to the historical moments they addressed. These two recognized, or at least were able to articulate, that the physical calamity of the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II was only the beginning; that the emotional, familial, social, mental calamities would go deeper and last much, much longer. So, this book was also not all it could have been, but I'm incredibly grateful to have been introduced to two excellent Japanese writers I hadn't before known of.

And to make it three partial disappointments in a row, there's Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, which I finished yesterday. I keep reading Roddy Doyle but the fact is, I think I've actually only really loved one of his novels so far: The Snapper. All his books have great moments, and sometimes those great moments are lengthy. But his writing style is so set, his approach so uniform that even different topics come out looking pretty similar. All his characters speak exactly the same way.

I've concluded that Roddy Doyle is quite good at what he does, but he only does one thing. Or, he sort of does two things: funny books and not funny books, but the writing style and voice issues remain problems, and so it's really just one thing. And that one thing is lower middle class Dubliners screwing shit up and having tough lives. The question is simply whether or not there will be laughs involved.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is about one Paula Spenser, a woman with an abusive husband and a problem with the bottle. There are some truly powerful moments in this novel; indeed, I found myself tearing up on the subway train yesterday. But I already can't remember why; Doyle's style just isn't strong enough, on the whole, to find any purchase in either my short- or long-term memories. I'll still read the sequel, Paula Spenser, just to find out what happens though; if Doyle's writing isn't memorable, it's easy and sometimes that's what's required.

Being such a negative Nelly isn't enjoyable for me either, by the way. But it's mid-morning and it's as dark outside as midnight during the apocalypse; sprightly blog writing simply can't occur under such conditions.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Autumn has well and truly arrived

This afternoon, I was wearing all black and riding my shiny black bicycle (with flash red panniers) when I felt autumn arrive. As I came around the corner on Annette Street by my favourite coffee shop, I was caught in a rainstorm that didn't exclusively comprise rain; manically swirling yellow leaves were at least as abundant as the cold water running down the back of my hoodie. It was lovely, not to mention slippery. After a month of relatively endless ("relatively" because, after all, the sun is setting before 8pm these days) sunshine and sandals and bare legs, summer has finally moved on. And you know what that means: Bookphilia has come back inside and has some blogging to do.

I have been reading steadily, of course, as well as physically covering a great deal of ground, both on foot and on wheel. And I've been busy with other "life" things (don't ask me what those scare quotes imply, for I can't quite recall at the moment), but the fact is, a persistent and slow-burning internet disaster has been afflicting Bookphilia Castle. I am writing this post on a laptop that is from the Stone Age of Computing, i.e., it's about 8 years old. It takes 5-10 minutes to load pictures to Blogger (and given that this post contains 3 images, let's just say that I'm in the process of developing a Zen-like state of calm and disconnection (double entendre fully intended)). The real computer, the newish computer, the fast computer can't be reliably used these days because it breaks up with the wireless connection approximately every 45 minutes; it's behaving like a fussy and dramatic 14-year old boyfriend I once had (we were both 14, relax).

This problem began well over a month ago and my dear husband, Master of Computery Things, has been unable to fix it. So I've been stuck. When I was spending almost every minute of every day outside, this clearly wasn't a big problem; now, however, that we are all quickly becoming dead leaf- and rain-bound, things have reached a crisis point. There may be a duel, but I'm not yet sure who I'll have to challenge.

But yes, I've been reading. And now I am sitting cozily and happily ready to discuss. Several weeks ago, I finished a mad romp by Nick Harkaway called The Gone Away World. Part sci-fi, part action adventure, part slapstick, part surprisingly touching coming of age story, this novel was simply over-stuffed; Harkaway tried to pack too much into his first novel. But here's the thing: it was still really good and it still worked. My initial concerns that Harkaway didn't have complete control over his own narrative enthusiasm have, for the most part, proven to have been rather too prim and worried of me. Given how the whole thing ties up, he clearly knew from the beginning where he was going.

And while, yes, he did pack a lot in, which created an appearance of literary chaos, the fact is, there were a whole packet of connecting clues I failed to pick up on. Why? The danger of the good romp is that you're too busy enjoying yourself bouncing around in the apparent chaos to get down to analyzing. That's one possibility. It could also have been residual coffee withdrawal, which I think (after two months) I am now finally free of.

It may also have been the writing. I don't know how else to describe the energy of Harkaway's writing except to say that I think it entirely possible that every day when he sat down to write, he roared, in the spirit of that living genius Maurice Sendak, "LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!" I don't think it necessary that Harkaway wore a monster onesie in order to channel the Sendak God, but I do imagine he regularly pounded his chest while belting out this ageless, good-time battle cry.

It doesn't matter why I missed all those damned connections; The Gone Away World is a bloody good, if not perfect, novel; I can't wait to see what Harkaway does next.

In an attempt to circle stealthily back towards my Victorian Lit project and my unappetizing copy of Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond, I picked up Honoré de Balzac's Lost Illusions. This seemed like a safe bet, given how completely I loved my first Balzac novel, Père Goriot; alas, this latest foray into the father of French realism's vast oeuvre was not entirely satisfying.

I think it should have been, though. Balzac's writing was just as stellar, as penetrating, as incisively cynical and condemnatory, as strangely compassionate of extreme and ridiculous human failing as it was in Père Goriot; which may have been the problem, actually—Lost Illusions didn't seem sufficiently distinct from this other novel. Indeed, I'm fairly certain that in a year's time, I won't be able to distinguish the two in my memory except in very broad and fuzzy outline. As with Père Goriot, Lost Illusions features a naive provincial man-boy moving to Paris to be corrupted and to ruin those who believe in and adore him. The temptations Eugène and Lucien face are similarly shallow, fleeting, and amorphous, having entirely to do with succeeding in "Society." Because of this, Balzac's moral scalpel-wielding seemed less convincing overall, and that makes me incredibly sad.

Of course, I will read more of Balzac's work; I still think he was likely a genius of a very high (and well caffeinated order) and so I am more than willing to eat the above expressions of disappointment if further reading shows them to have been premature. Also, I have a lovely little reading copy of Cousin Bette sitting patiently but persistently on my shelf...

Meanwhile, my frustrated love affair with Haruki Murakami has reached a new low. I recently finished After Dark, the last novel published before this month's (well, this month in English) hysterically anticipated 1Q84. Don't get me wrong, After Dark contains some very, very good bits, but of all the Murakami novels I've thus far read, it makes the least overall sense.

Murakami has with this novel made explicit something that I've always unconsciously believed—his works read best around 3 am, preferably when accompanied by a hard dose of insomnia. The dark and quiet whispered life of reading alone after midnight is his fiction's proper milieu. In the middle of the night (not when I've read most of the Murakami I've read, but when I've enjoyed it most), it doesn't seem problematic that much of his narrative makes no recognizable human sense (the lovely Norwegian Wood excluded, of course); indeed, it seems appropriate. As I still have several of his major works left to me, I almost miss the heyday of my grad school insomnia/Murakami renaissance.

Even knowing that Murakami belongs in the cracks of existence made visible only after the sun goes down, and even knowing that Murakami clearly knows this about himself, After Dark is nonetheless the weakest, most self-indulgent, most inconsistently written novel he has in my experience produced. It should have been hacked at with a sacred editorial machete; it should have been cleansed in ritual re-writing fires. It was not; it simply cannot have been interfered with in the way it needed to be interfered with. It was, I'm guessing, published in the malformed state in which it burst original and entire from its author's forehead.

But original...yes, Murakami is still absolutely original, at least in comparison with other writers, if not with himself. Nobody else writes the way he writes, and sometimes it's just so irresistible...Yes, I will probably eventually read the 900-page monstrosity 1Q84; I suspect there will be gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair though.

Friday 16 September 2011

Why I must never, ever, ever read (auto)biography again

Just a (hopefully) quick post on what I've been reading, and what I ought not to be reading so that I can read other things I want to read. Anthony Trollope and I are going to have to have a duel, that's all.

I had been enjoying my Victorian Literature project so much that I decided to read Anthony Trollope's An Autobiography in between fat Victorian novels, instead of something more contemporary.

I enjoyed the Autobiography very much, at first, for Trollope seemed to be rather endearing in his stiff-necked hilarity; e.g., finding himself wedged between two men at a gentlemen's club, who didn't know who he was but who were loudly complaining that Anthony Trollope over-used the same old characters in different novels, Trollope announced himself and then promised to kill one of his most famous characters dead the next weekand did! This made me really very happy.

But his hilarity died somewhere along the way, and he spent a lot of space coarsely (and dully, so dully) discussing in great detail the precise amounts of money he earned for each novel he published. I don't object to authors making a living via writing; it sounds rather delightful, in fact; it's that he was so specific about it. People who talk a lot about all the money they've made regardless of profession are tiresome.

What really appalled me, though, was that his commitment to never missing a deadline was so ruthless that he sent things off which he himself believed to be not very good. He was a great reader himself so I find it doubly shocking that he didn't appear to have an inkling of how rude that is to the readers that kept him in business! Trollope, damn your eyes, I thought we were going to be excellent friends. As it is, I'm now rather relieved that it'll be some time before I encounter one of your novels on my Vic Lit list.

This book hasDear gawd, please, make it briefly!put me off the Victorians altogether. (My reading comfort is rather like a delicate flower, or small and easily frightened woodland animal; any little upset can cause catastrophe.) Worse yet, my next Victorian novel is supposed to be Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond; that this was one of Trollope's favourite books of all time is making the problem harder to overcome.

It's not that I disliked Trollope entirely; but that doesn't seem to matter; much about the book was enjoyable, particularly his thoughts on his contemporary authors (although I completely disagree re: George Eliot). It seems that knowing almost anything about authors I like is potentially fatal. I thought it was just that Mishima was a whole packet of crazy unpleasantness; but no, the sad fact is that while I think the New Critics were unmitigated idiots, I actually don't want to really believe that authors actually exist(ed). Except for David Mitchell, of course.

In my non-Victorian lit-reading meantime, I have, of course, turned to my beloved and entirely reliable Ellis Peters for solace and healing. The Confession of Brother Haluin is the 15th chronicle of Brother Cadfael, and it's one of my favourites so far in the series, right up there with The Virgin in the Ice (book 4). Cadfael et al got to be very tolerant but Peters didn't, for a change, overuse her favourite adjective. There was snow and pain and death and remorse and more pain and lust and murder and redemption. A comforting, satisfying read, in part because it wasn't particularly surprising or suspenseful.

Reading Ellis Peters is like getting wrapped up in your favourite blanket and being given a bowl of your favourite comfort food. I'll be quite sad when I'm done the series (just four or five more little books to go).

Much more challenging was Junichiro Tanizaki's uber-famous novel of Japan near the end of the Second World War, The Makioka Sisters. A compatriot of mine in my MA year told me that this novel was like a George Eliot novel. Now, with that I can't agreebut that's because no one, as far as I know, has ever come close to replicating Eliot's profound ability to unpack her characters' characters.

But this by no means should imply that The Makioka Sisters is not an excellent book; it is an excellent book, truly. This story of four sisters trying to maintain old traditions of behaviour and sentiment in a world that's leaving them behind is by turns amusing, appalling, terrifying, and frustrating. And Tanizaki's skill at subtly cranking up the underlying anxiety as the events that lead to Japan's surrender is "set your teeth on edge" effective. Painful, yes; but Tanizaki also somehow maintains the compelling story-telling throughout. Just wonderful.

Finally, I just re-read a Renaissance slice and dice of the first order, a play I hadn't read in probably twelve years and which I did not remember at all: Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women.

My gawd, it is just so damned good. It is stunningly foul in its portrayal of human desire; people are truly a disgusting lot in Middleton's world view. I've never met such a compelling she-villain (Livia) in my explorations of the Renaissance drama (that I can remember; you can be damned sure I will be seeking out all the Middleton going in case I've missed and/or forgotten more amazingness of this lurid order). I am desperate to see this play performed; a double-header of it and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore might well constitute my idea of heaven on earth.

Just read it, trust me; and while you're doing so, try to think of who could do justice to a character like Livia. I can only imagine Angelina Jolie in five years or so, in one of those rare instances in which she doesn't simply phone in her performance.

Also, William C. Carroll's introduction was very compelling; it almost made me miss academia (in part because I met this prof at a conference once and he didn't know me at all but made a point of being really nice to me).

Right then, I'm all caught up. I'm back to The Gone Away World which I put down for awhile but am now rushing madly through again.