May in Books: Reading Fatigue

Maybe it’s spring fever. Or maybe I am more tired than usual. Whatever it is, I  finished less books in May than I started.

I can’t seem to settle on one book. The pile on my bedside is getting precariously tall and still I can’t seem to get into anything.  But all I want to do is walk around in the glorious sunshine.

Confirmed: suffering from a case of spring fever. Of course, I did manage to finish some books. But as you can glean from the list below, a lot of them are audio. Which just goes to show you I have been spending more time walking around than sitting on the couch reading.

Part of the problem is I’m compiling several lists at work: what is everybody reading, suggested summer reading lists, best Can lit books for Grade 11 students (both harder and easier than it sounds) and am surrounded by a whole library of books I want to read. The shelf beside my desk where I horde books is also getting precariously full…

Also contributing is that I’m editing my own novel (okay re-writing the shitty first draft) and have to concentrate on where I want the story to go. This is the first time where I’ve had to cut myself off from other books in order to have the mind space for my own work. A good sign? I hope so. Otherwise it means that my cerebral real estate is shrinking…

Books Read:

Hold me closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Sam is one of those lovable losers who has fallen off the yellow-brick road college path and landed in the poppy field or, better known as the world of fast-food. But his life takes an unexpected turn when a very scary business man type (is there any other kind?) enters the restaurant and seems to know more about Sam than he does. He knows its serious when a mutant thug assaults him in the parking lot and one of his best friend’s head is delivered to his door the next day- and it can still talk.

Sam is one of the more sympathetic characters I’ve met in YA lit for a long time. although a little lost in terms of his own future, he’s kind, funny and not inclined to torture himself over things that he has no control over (see Jace from the Mortal Instruments series or Twilight’s Edward). He’s vegetarian and tries very hard not to do any harm. Unbeknownst to him, he’s also a necromancer, a fact his witch mother (also unbeknownst to him) has magically hidden from him and the rest of the world for his own good.

This is a fun read for those of you who would like to taste the fantastic world of witches, vampires and werewolves (werewolves play a big part in this book) with a generous helping of humour but without any of the angst-rich sauce.

The Wind-Up Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi (Book Club read)

Bacigalupi’s novel is set in the undetermined future where the world has suffered the cataclysms we can already foresee: rising water levels changing the world’s geography, our food supply contaminated by GMOs and new medicine resistant epidemics. Sounds like fun, eh?

No, not really. But Bacigalupi once again gives us a very constructed, comprehensive vision of what our near future will look like (I reviewed his YA novel a few months ago- that also took place in a world where the environmental catastrophes we can foresee have happened). The story follows a whole cast of characters from different walks of life in future Bangkok.  The city has shut itself off from the world in order to stave off contamination from the rest of the world (bad food, disease brought in with imports, etc) and the domination of the major agribusiness companies (see Monsanto on steroids- or finally using overt terrorism tactics instead of just legal terrorist tactics). It is the era where not only food can be genetically engineered but animals and humans also. But nothing can stay closed forever. The two most powerful government ministries – environment and trade are about to start a chain of events that will change everybody’s lives forever.

Bacigalupi’s world brings into question the ethics of GMOs. Are they the answer to a starving world or are they lethally screwing with the natural order of things/What is the natural order of things? And what if genetic engineering was the only way to ensure our own survival?

Yet, nowhere does he sacrifice plot to proselytize. The characters all represent different facets, different interests in this struggle. The American spy for the major agribusiness company who wants access to the city and their precious seedbank; the survivor of a genocide from a neighboring country who wants to make it back to the position of wealth and power he had before it was so violently taken away from him; the heavy fist of the environment ministry, the zealot who fervently believes in his job of keeping imports and disease at bay with whatever means possible and his lieutenant who betrays him. And of course, there is the windup girl from Japan, almost like a protocol droid except for way prettier and can be used for sex, who has been made to look exactly human except for her jerky motions.

This is a world you can really sink your teeth into- a seamless integration of idea and plot.

La Grande Enigme du Club des Cinq by COLLECTIF

I was asked to read this book by my ten-year old. She really loved it, but was having problems solving the mystery at the end (mostly because of a certain kind of mental laziness that I have detected in her- but that is another post).

So this is a French translation of an Enid Blyton knock-off. Yes, you can imagine the writing when the author is COLLECTIF. Written partly in journal form through the eyes of each of the four members of the Club (the fifth is the dog) and interspersed with an undetermined narrator using the odd french 3rd person singular “On”, which as far as I can understand, means that it is written in the collective voice of the kids, the Club stumbles from clue to clue in the mystery of the missing Dragon of Siam, that supposedly sunk with the ship of their great-great-great-grandfather in 1859 off the Coast of England. There is an evil journalist in heels who will stop at nothing to get the dragon before them and a curmodgeonly scholar of a father who who is the most shadowy father figure I have ever encountered.

But I can see why my daughter liked it. First: the book changes font every time a new character is talking, making each page visually different from the first. Second: the clues are easy to figure out (and by this you are meant to read predictable and duller than doing the census). A clue is presented in the form of a map or an image. The reader has time to examine it and come up with the significance of the clue before they tell you. Last and most: The kids are allowed to do pretty much what they want. Like allowed to go camping alone in a forest they don’t know. Like sailing a boat to a deserted island and also camping there a few days. Now I consider myself a pretty free-range parent, but there is no way in hell I would let my kids do that.

The enigma is left for the reader to solve at the end as the club runs out of time and has to go back to school. When you find the answer, you have to log on to their extremely counter-intuitive site to see if you are right.

Books Listened to:

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I am embarrassed. I can hardly remember this one, although there were a few repeats from M is for Magic (Sunbird of Suntown, the one with the motnhs telling stories, How to talk to girls at parties). Included in this collection is also his “Study in Emerald” a take on the Sherlock adventure, “A Study in Scarlet”. I would have liked to be reading this one though, as I sometimes got a bit lost and would have liked to have the luxury of flipping back a few pages and re-reading (and yes, I am too lazy to rewind).

The story that stood out for me the most was the novella-length sequel to American Gods where we see Shadow traveling through Europe. He ends up in a backwater in Scotland where he is asked to play security for a private party that isn’t what it seems. Oh and the short story told through they eyes of a strong man working for the elusive “Mr. Alice”. That was good. Gaiman has a way of taking what could be extremely cliched storylines and completely re-inventing them. And yes, I still want to be him when I grow up.

The Face of a Stranger: the first William Monk novel by Anne Perry

I haven’t read a whole lot of mysteries (though I enjoy them) and, in an attempt to be a good, well-rounded librarian and read as many genres as I can (excepting romance. I don’t do romance), I picked this out of an audible virtual sale bin.

Set in the latter part of the 19th century in London, we meet William Monk, a taciturn detective who has lost his memory following a bad accident. For fear of losing his job and landing in the workhouse, he must not only piece his own life together without anybody knowing his secret, but must also solve the brutal murder of a nobleman and war hero.

Although Monk’s constant questioning inside his own head becomes a little repetitive, and sometimes the clues seem so obvious you want to smack him over the head, the ending is twisty and satisfying enough to forgive him.

However, the best part of the novel were the sections that followed Hester, an independent 30 year-old spinster who had served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea but who was called home after the death of her mother and father. She is funny, smart and above all tired of being condescended to by men who are less competent than she is. She and Monk form an uneasy, grudging relationship as their stories collide. It would be worth reading more William Monk novels just to see what happens between the two.

I would recommend this as a summer read for any Sherlock/ 19th century-era London mystery fans.

Books I started and am reading simultaneously: (let’s see which ones make it on the books in June list…)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (started in March but not willing to give up on it yet)
Werewolves of London by Brian Stableford (battered library discard I couldn’t get rid of without having a peak)
I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson (saw the trailer for the movie and thought the light tone might be what I need to get out of my slump- only half working)
Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings by Sophia Bennett- recommended by my daughter (so will probably read this one first.)
Pandora’s Picnic Basket: the Hazards and Potential of Genetically modified Foods by Alan McHughen

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One Response to May in Books: Reading Fatigue

  1. Alice Zorn says:

    I think it's an excellent sign that you're working on your novel–given which I'm not surprised that you're reading less. I read ve-e-e-ery slowly when I'm editing.
    I can't imagine reading Wolf Hall simultaneously with anything except maybe Dr. Seuss. It's dense. I loved it. But years ago I did a lot of research on Oliver Cromwell for a thesis, so I was particularly interested in this period that precedes the years when a king of England was beheaded.
    Good luck with the editing. Summer lassitude notwithstanding.

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