Monday, April 09, 2007

BooksFirst - March & April 2007

Books Bought

Q Is For Quarry by Sue Grafton
S Is For Silence by Sue Grafton
G Is For Grafton: The World of Kinsey Millhone by Natalie Hevener Kaufman and Carol McGinnis Kay
The Best of The Best Volume 2 edited by Gardner Dozios
Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
Schrödinger’s Ball by Adam Felber
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Selected Poems 1947-1995 by Alan Ginsberg
Slouching Towards Nirvana by Charles Bukowski

Books Read

She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders
Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Books Abandoned

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde


Between travel and the NCCCC, I’m running late with the BooksFirst this month and I needed to stretch the deadline a little. All three books I read this month came from the public library, putting me even further behind on clearing the purchased books backlog. In my defense, several of the books I bought this month are for collecting and reference, not reading.

Somewhere along the line I started collecting the Kinsey Millhone mysteries by Sue Grafton. Since they are all in chronological as well as alphabetical order, I thought it would be easy enough to keep track of where I was, but even that is too daunting a task. I am pretty sure I have read A through E as well as G, but I could be wrong. In the meantime, I snarf up the new hardbacks as soon as they hit the remaindered bin or show up at the used bookstores. G is for Grafton is a compendium that will help me keep track of all the books once I am far enough along for it to make sense.

As a goof, I keep a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems (1947-1980) in my office next to my engineering reference books. Unfortunately, when I went to read “Howl” as an example of the poetry my son should be reading in his high school English class instead of Carl Sandburg, I didn’t have a copy in the house. While trolling bookstores in Harvard Square, I ran across this other Ginsberg collection that seems well suited to my occasional need to read Beat Poetry aloud.

Cambridge was also the location for my find of the Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence reprint of Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. My wife bought me the true first edition by Charles Scribner's Sons for our first (the paper) anniversary. I also have the 1952 book club edition and the Utopia 14 paperback edition. Normally, I would pass on this one since there are still true firsts I don’t own (Welcome To The Monkey House, anyone?), but the very friendly proprietor of Lame Duck Books gave me five bucks off so he could regain the shelf space.

Now onto the books I read:

Every subculture has a tradition of collecting conversion stories. Fundamentalists can rattle off their testimonial of how they took Jesus as their personal savior at the drop of a hat. Every gay person or lesbian has several versions of their coming out story depending on the context. The “hitting bottom” episode is a staple of 12-step programs. She’s Such A Geek is a collection of reminisces by women recounting when and how they knew they were a nerd. The stories are by a wide range of women of all ages, backgrounds, races, and sexual identities. What they have in common is a career in or touching technology.

Despite the varied backgrounds, a lot of these testimonials begin to sound familiar. One common theme is the isolation and the sense of alienation. My son is looking at colleges and a big factor at the more hardcore schools is The Ratio. MIT has a 45% female enrollment while Georgia Tech hovers around 30%. The military service academies strive for 20%. This book is a good insight into the personality of women that are willing to follow their muse into the sciences. Perhaps someday women in math and science won’t be such a novelty and this book will look quaint.

The other two books I read are sequels to books I read back in January. Lost In A Good Book is the follow-up to The Jane Eyre Affair. Here Thursday Next becomes even more engulfed in the fictional world were literary characters are real people. Her nutsy alterna-universe where extinct species have been genetically re-engineered and time travel is just another layer of daffiness is further developed. Unfortunately, the book reeks of mid-trilogy set-up and ends rather unresolved. These are fun books and it may be worth the trouble to continue on.

A book I started but couldn’t make it past the first two chapters was The Big Over Easy, the first book in Jason Ffordes’s other series. In this one the premise is that nursery story characters live among us and they tend to live particularly film noir-ish lives. The relentless puns and endless layers of nursery story allusions made this just too much trouble. Funny how an author can approach something the same way and just cross a fine line that can’t be defined until it is broken.

I managed to force my way through Throne of Jade, the middle book of the Temeraire dragon series. Here the dragon and his Napoleonic War-era rider get sent on a diplomatic mission to China where draconian culture is much more enlightened. This sets off some concerns about how you are going to keep your dragon on the farm after he has seen Peking. I’m a little perplexed about the use of nineteenth century British aristocracy as heroes knowing what little I know about The Opium Wars and gunboat diplomacy. There are also hints of a yet to be developed theme equating “ownership” of dragons and slavery. It will be interesting to see if that can be pulled off tastefully. One of my complaints with the first book was the leisurely pacing, and this book slows it down to downright languid. The dragon spends most of the book petulantly pouting while traveling by ship and it takes over 250 pages to get to China. Once there, the court politics that make up the MacGuffin of a plot are confused and hurried. Let’s hope there is a little more action and a lot less moping in future volumes.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Are the second books in a series always dreadful, or are some clever expansions of concepts that need room to develop?


Elizabeth said...

I love all the books in the Clan of the Cave Bear series. The second was much better than the first and they just kept getting better!

Impetua said...

I have heard that the second book in the Nursery Crimes series was much better than the first.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the second book dip is a fairly common problem. A sophomore slump, so to speak. In planned trilogies, it often happens because the second book bridges the period between set-up and finale. In a single book, that bridge can be kept short enough that you don't notice. Of course, in the hands of a good author, things are better plotted.

For longer series, I think the problem is the author has a good idea and writes the first book. Then it occurs to him or her or the editor, that this could make a series, so the author has to pull an idea out of nowhere. After that, the author is more comfortable with the universe and the ideas flow a little better.

Anonymous said...

I second impetua's comment--although The Big Over Easy was interesting, The Fourth Bear was a whole lot more enjoyable. If you ever have time to kill, I'd wade through the first book just for its sake.

The second book in Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series slumps just a little, but the other 18 are excellent. It's a little different from most series, though--it's less like a series than like one very, very long novel.