June 20, 2005

a few reviews, from Dorothy

A coworker commented today that I look "just like Dorothy". The hell of it is, she's right (MGM version, not the original illustrator). I hadn't realized quite how reminiscent of Judy Garland's pinafore this dress (blue plaid, sleeveless, calf-length, slightly high-waisted) really is, nor that I really shouldn't wear it with my brown hair parted in the middle and pulled up and back on both sides. Oops. At least I'm not wearing actual ponytails or hair ribbons.

I've been reading quite a few things recommended by various people I read on the web lately; they've ranged from OK to mindblowing. Here are few quick opinions. All of these are in print, available at your friendly internet bookstore.

Wild Life, by Molly Gloss. I'm not sure where I read about this one, but it was in someone's list of favorites and someone else had commented that they'd loved the book and had never met anyone else who'd read it. I didn't love it. It had interesting ideas, but strikes me as a partially but not totally successful experiment. The vignettes of other characters' lives seemed gratuitous, mostly. Charlotte's actions were generally not consistent with her man-hating principles, though that may have been deliberate. And one particularly annoying thing was that if you carefully watched the dates of the other interspersed writings, they didn't seem tro show much change in Charlotte from what should have been (or why write about it?) a life-altering experience. I'll probably read it again, someday, but not often.

Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear, lauded by practically everyone who comments on Bear's blog. Wow. It took me a while to get to this, just because it's harder-edged than most of what I've been reading and I needed to get in the proper mind set. It was a much faster read than I had expected and very worth the reading. I did have to pay close attention. I found myself loving the characters not because they were sweet and likeable but mostly because they weren't (except Gabe, who is, but can be rughtless when necessary - and the subject for a great line - "it's hard to miss that aspect of a man who is willing to blow off your arm to save your life, on your first meeting" (quoting from memory)). I am fascinated to see what happens further between Gabe and Ellie and Jenny, because it's a sort of thing I see more and more in real life and very rarely in fiction. I have only two minor quibbles: I'm frustrated that I'll have to wait for the sequel to find out what happens to Leah - most of the other plot threads were drawn together up just enough to make this book end satisfactorily but leave plenty of room for the next book. And Alberta Hunter isn't developed enough as a character to seem to need to be present in the book, except to enable Valens to be not totally evil. But those are minor. I recommended this book to Rudder, who doesn't read much SF but who likes complicated political thrillers, because I think it will be complicated enough for him and better than Clancy and some of the other stuff he reads.

When I Was Older, by Garret Freyman-Weyr: I got this one based on Mrissa's review, and I agree with her comments. There is some L'Engle in it (Vicky Austin, specifically) and also maybe some Norma Johnston. I'd have loved it even more at 14, but I'm glad I've read it now, anyway, and it's perfect for a girl geek. How can you not love a book whose main character thinks, in all seriousness, "Apparently I like kissing more than doing math homework. Who knew?" (Note to Swooop: might be very good for Herself.)

Jew in the Lotus, by Roger Kamenetz: Recommended by Rachel. Mind-blowing in a different way than any of the books above. It's about the visit of a delegation of Jews from across a fairly wide spectrum to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I'm not done reading it yet. It's teaching me more about Judaism than about Buddhism, including some of the principles of Kabbalah in an authentic, nontrendy - and how that fits into mainstream Judaism. It addresses some of the same concerns about assimilation as Anne Roiphe's Generation Without Memory, but by contrasting Judaism to Buddhism and examining some of the people who are in a spectrum between the two ("JuBus") comes closer to finding some answers. It's also making me grateful that somehow, between Hebrew School and in my own reading, I've come to a better understanding ("better" in my mind, anyway) of what Judaism is and what it is for than a lot of young Jews get, as witness Kamenetz's state of Jewish knowledge going into the book or some of the JuBus' accounts of their Jewish religious training or lack thereof. It's also clear that Kamenetz himself learned a lot during the events he writes of, and the book makes it possible to ride on his shoulders through that process.

Posted by dichroic at June 20, 2005 01:21 PM

Actually, I think my daughter HAS read that book--it certainly sounds familiar.

If you're looking for something lightweight and fun, try Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking. Starts a little slow, but it's good fun.

Posted by: Swoop at June 21, 2005 09:41 PM

Really glad you're digging "The Jew in the Lotus" so much. :-) I really think it's a fantastic book, for a variety of reasons...

Posted by: Rachel at June 27, 2005 04:09 PM
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