March 31, 2005

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, March 2005

Peter Straub, Lost Boy Lost Girl
Yes, I'm on a Straub kick. More serial killers, more messed-up families, a haunted house, at least four kinds of interlaced guilt, and two kinds of teenage love, one very familiar and one really, really strange; plus the return of some characters from Straub's Blue Rose novels (Koko, Mystery, The Throat). It seems to be hard to write a supernatural horror novel which actual fits in the world of daily life, as experienced by most of early twenty-first century America; here Straub pulls it off effortlessly.
Don't look at the movie on the book's website until after finishing the novel, though.
Nancy Kress, Crossfire
Readable first-contacts novel, complicated by relativistic physics and Quakerism. The plot is has echoes of the great William Tenn's magnificent "The Liberation of Earth", though Kress is earnest where Tenn was satirical.
Peter Straub, The Hellfire Club
Peter Straub likes to mess with his reader's minds. This book is partly a literary-detection mystery, unraveling the authorship of a cult fantasy novel that, itself, comes across as somewhere between The Lord of the Rings and The Catcher in the Rye; a portrait of a marriage foundering under the pressures of personal weakness and an impressively dysfunctional family; and a disturbing, sometimes very graphic serial-killer yarn, in the course of which some truly awful things happen to the heroine. (Those awful things are, I think, necessary to the story Straub wants to tell.) Running through it all as a consistent theme is the power and near-ubiquity of self-deception and even self-delusion in the service of our desires. It's very good, but probably not the most restorative thing to read when ill and jet-lagged.
Steven Saylor, Roman Blood
Historical mystery, set in late Republican Rome, and based on Cicero's oration for the defense in the trial of Sextus Roscius for patricide; Cicero is one of the main characters. The private investigator hero is, however, fictional, and (as Brad DeLong remarks about the series in general) implausibly modern-minded. (Though nowhere near as bad in that respect, i.e., nowhere near as sympathetic, as Marcus Didius Falco.)
Philip A. Klinkner with Rogers M. Smith, The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America
A historical argument that the only times America has made progress towards treating black people fairly is when external threats have forced it to do so, because blacks were needed as part of the war effort or because hypocrisy was just too damning to the American cause. I wish it weren't so convincing, for obvious reasons. §
John M. Ellis, The Theory of Literary Criticism: A Logical Analysis
Remarkably enough, this really is a logical analysis. Ellis tries to legitimately derive all his positions from his definition of what makes something "literature", and (allowing for the inevitable vagueness of merely verbal argument) does a remarkably creditable --- that is, honest and rigorous --- job. The definition, itself, is that literary texts of a given community are the ones it uses in a certain way. This part I like very much, because it makes sense in itself, and also makes sense of the huge variation in the characteristics of texts which count as literature: certain characteristics may facilitate that use in certain communities, but they're not constitutive of the category. I'm much less happy with his defining that mode of use as one which disregards the context in which the text was composed, but for reasons I find harder to pin down. If you accept that, though, his strictures about, e.g., biographical criticism make tremendous sense.
Needless to say, this is so much better than the vast majority of work on literary theory it hardly seems fair to put them in the same category.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur

Posted at March 31, 2005 23:59 | permanent link

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