Sunday Status Update: February 17, 2012

This week, we hear from guest speaker Peter Pan. Who is in retrospect woefully unsuited to be anywhere near a literary site.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Brad: This week I finished rereading Pride and Prejudice. I love it more every time I read it. I consider talking about it in the classroom one of the great pleasures of teaching. As for my comic book reading, the next installments in two of my favorite noir series came out this Wednesday: Fatale #12 by Ed Brubaker and Powers: The Bureau #1 by Bendis (Powers has been around for years; The Bureau is merely the latest installment, or storyline). I also stumbled onto a hysterical sitcom style superhero comic called Love and Capes by Thomas F. Zahler. I’m not a fan of sitcoms, which makes this comic even funnier as it seems to be making fun of both sitcoms and superhero comics by combining the two. I also read a graphic novel called Gingerbread Girl by Colleen Clover and Paul Tobin. I’m still not sure what to make of this off-beat story that tells of a young woman and the impact her parents’ divorce had on her. As for my Witchblade obsession, I’ve backed up a number of years to read the great run by Phil Hester on the related title The Darkness: The Accursed, vol 1-3.   Finally, I read two great essays online, both of which I highly recommend. “Southern Kadish” is by my undergraduate professor and advisor, Terry Barr, who writes creative nonfiction about growing up in a small Southern town. This essay deals specifically with the Southern Jew.  Here’s the link:

A Southern kadish also read an excellent essay about the problems good high school students and teachers face in striving for a true education in the currently broken public school system. Having observed the effects of this problem in my past twenty years of teaching college freshmen writing, I feel Strauss must be accurate in these comments.  Please read this article by Valerie Strauss:

fantasy and science fiction book reviews John: Super busy at work with some major events coming up. Trying to get into a new UF novel that may remain nameless, but the girl so attracted to the bad boy theme has gone from being annoying to being utterly repellant for me.  I begin to wonder if I have completely lost my taste for Urban Fantasy because that theme is so entrenched.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Kat: I read four audiobooks this week: Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (quite enjoyable, surprisingly emotional), Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (yes, finally), Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon (nothing to get excited about, but I’ll give the next book a try) and Nancy Springer’s I Am Mordred (short and sad with lovely prose). I am seriously getting concerned about my lifespan. I know I should have decades left, but I’m worried I’m not going to get everything read. I have this fantasy that for five years the publishing industry would just stop so I could get caught up on my TBR pile. In five years I could probably read 600 books. That would get me a long way through my stack. Does anyone else have this fantasy?

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Kelly: I’m still reading Chloe Neill‘s House Rules, but I’m starting to suspect that I’m just not that into it. Anne Bishop‘s Written in Red is winking seductively from my shelf. Meanwhile, I’m also reading the YA novel Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett, which as far as I can tell has no “magic” in it, but is an enjoyable retelling of the Minotaur myth with lots of food for thought about religion and storytelling. It’s nourishing my fantasy brain without having any actual fantasy in it. This weekend, I’ll be taking in some really old fantasy; I’m attending a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the college where I work.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Peter: This week I killed a lot of pirates. And made myself King of Neverland. Then I decided I’d rather be a fiery revolutionary, so I let the new Wendy be Queen. Then I went hunting tigers, and…what? What books did I read? What’s a book? Is it like a kind of basket?

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Ryan: I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not very much of it has been SFF. I have a copy of Iain M. Banks‘s Use of Weapons on my shelf. Most readers have told me it’s their favorite CULTURE novel, but I have found it less engaging than The Player of Games.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Steven: This week I finished The Jack Vance Treasury,and read part of Big Planet, a Jack Vance novel set on a world colonized by outcasts from “normal” Earth society. A re-read but just as interesting as I remembered so far. Also finished non fantasy work John Steinbeck‘s Travels With Charley for a local book club I belong to. Maybe I can talk them into a fantasy or science fiction work later this year. I’m open to any suggestions. In previous years they’ve read The Passage by Justin Cronin and Anthem by Ayn Rand.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Terry: I mentioned on Facebook this week that I have 38 books in the “currently reading” section of my Kindle, and noted that my Kindle is more ambitious than I am.  My statement was challenged by a friend who said she thought I probably really was reading 38 books, which prompted me to take a close look at what’s sitting on my nightstand.  Somewhat to my dismay, I found that I’ve started 13 different books and am at different stages of completion in all of them.  I’m not going to list all 13 here (hold your applause, please), but I will say that the book that’s getting the lion’s share of my attention right now is Gililan Philip‘s Firebrand.  Normally I’m not a big fan of Celtic fantasies, having read more than my share, but this book is a good one.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Tim: As it turns out, I’m going to be studying at Trinity in Dublin next year, which has meant a great deal of back and forth on preparation, especially as regards accommodation. It wasn’t quite as busy as last week, but still up there. I did, however, get a chance to start The Unremembered, by Peter Orullian. I found it extremely disconcerting, mostly because so far I’m not particularly enjoying it but feel that I should be. I first got into the fantasy genre on Epic Fantasy and I think I continue to subconsciously view that particular subgenre as my “home base” to which I can return for rejuvenation every once in a while. The Unremembered, so far, has the usual elements in play that I remember from my teen years — evil dark lord, mysterious everyman, blah blah hurr dee durr blegh. In other words, all the elements I once found clichéd but comforting. I now seem to be over the “comforting” part. I’ve probably read too little of the book to fairly render judgement on whether I’m completely burnt out on these tropes or if the text is just fairly pedestrian (although I think it’s some of both). The cover quote is by Terry Brooks (who I’m pretty sure keeps a variety of “generic approval” stamps on his desk so he can deal with the stacks and stacks of manuscripts that arrive for his perusal each day with minimum conceivable effort), so I perhaps should have foreseen this.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Brad, Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favorite novel. Elizabeth Bennet and I are soul-sisters (along with Jo March from Little Women). I’ve read the novel at least four times – surprising for me, as I rarely reread, but in this instance I think it might be time to again reread it (along with the rest of Austen, which I’ve read only once).

    Kat, as I live with more books than I could possibly finish in my lifetime even if I lived to be the oldest human on record, I have that fantasy all the time. But I keep buying new books; utterly illogical. Let’s not even talk about the fact that I have 28 books checked out of the library as well.

    Tim, could we please trade lives? I want to study at Trinity in Dublin next year! You can stay here and write legal briefs from a very nice home in the Central Valley of California. At least the book is stocked with a better science fiction, fantasy and horror collection than you’ll find most places, including the majority of public libraries.

  2. Bill (up late and forgetting): This has been a dry stretch for both reading in general and good books sad to say. So along with a raft of essays on Gilgamesh and some Greek heroes, I read Communion Town by Sam Thompson, a collection of linked short stories all set in the same somewhat fantastical (very subtly so) city. As is often my experience with story collections, it was a bit of a mix, with a few excellent ones, a few solid ones, and some weaker ones. I’m also about three-quarters of the way through A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, which I am quite enjoying and which appears to possibly be the one to break my dry stretch of good books.

    Right there with you Kat on the X years left Y books per month Z books being published per year calculation. Heavy, heavy sigh . . .

  3. Tim, congratulations! That sounds wonderful — quite an adventure.

    I love Pride and Prejudice and it’s on my list of books to reread periodically also.

    • The most frustrating thing about P&P? All the people who think they won’t like it because of what they THINK it is about. For one, it’s not about silly love stories, weddings, and love at first sight. She spends most of the novel ironically skewering most relationships as shallow, the first wedding is described in about one sentence as if it’s not worth describing at all, and she directly critiques the concept of love-at-first-sight as a complete mistake. Secondly, the novel is less about the time period–though it says quite a bit about women and marriage and finances and family and custom of the time–and more about what is wrong with certain types of people, types that still exist today, and about what makes for good friends and life-partners, all points that are still relevant today. And its style demonstrates intelligent wit at the highest level. I am truly suspicious of people, particularly self-professed lovers of literature, who claim that they do not like P&P. (I may read and write about comic books and teach Kerouac, The Beats, and Crime Fiction, but I’m still a complete, judgmental snob when it comes to the great Jane Austen!)

  4. And, as a writer who hopes to be published one day, I NEVER have the fantasy of the publishers shutting down for five years. That’s a nightmare.

  5. Brad,thank you for the link about the warning to college professors. I can see France and US face the same kind of problems :-( I’ll turn to Pride and Prejudice to brighten the day!

  6. John – I think you’re just picking up the wrong urban fantasies – you need to find ones that aren’t disguised paranormal romances. Unfortunately, they are rather hard to discern – but check the first two sentences of the blurb, if they mention a love interest, move on. It also might help if you switch to those with a male protag like John Levitt, Mark delFranco or Anton Strout. And after that try my favorite indie UF writer, Maria Schneider.

  7. P&P is one of the few books I re-read occasionally. I first read it in 10th grade. My literature teacher was Mrs. Williams and I consider her my favorite high school teacher and that was my favorite high school class. I think P&P had a lot to do with that. Audible gave away a free copy on Valentine’s Day, so I’m ready to read it again, this time in audio.

    • Brad Hawley /

      Kat, you’ve managed to get me interested in audio books, but I find I must look at the book while listening (I love Kindle’s new immersion reading!). For the first time ever, “read” P&P while listening to the audio book, and I absolutely loved reading it that way. The version I used was narrated by Lindsay Duncan (some of the other narrators I checked by listening to samples on audible and some sounded like they didn’t even know which sentences were and which were not ironic!).

      • Yeah, the best narrators “get” the story, so for Jane Austen they have to understand her humor and do the ironic inflection just right. I hope the narrator of my version gets it.

  8. Brad Hawley /

    I’m sorry to hear France has some of the same educational problems the U.S. does. It is so very discouraging. I do think this newer generation has some skills regarding technology that are wonderful, but certain aspects of that technology, along with the type of testing emphasized in high school, can really cause some problems for current students. I had no idea how to read closely in a sustained manner when I went to college. And the sad part is that I was trying! I had to work hard to learn how to overcome my weaknesses as a student. However, I wonder if I would have been successful if I were constantly being interrupted by cell phones or if my typewriter/notebook were connected to the internet (I’m showing my age here). I can handle these interruptions fairly well now, but I’m not sure if I would have learned how to read and write and think in a sustained manner given the distractions students have now. Twenty years ago I would get essays that were clearly the work of students who either had serious problems or were high. Now, an equally bad paper might merely be the result of an otherwise good student trying to write an essay and text simultaneously. They might as well be high as far as their work is concerned. I remember I had secret spots all over campus that were my special study places, and I would never be interrupted. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that, and I seriously doubt most students can resist the urge of texting and internet browsing. I know I can’t resist it now, but my writing skills are already established (though I hope I am still improving as the years go by!). Anyway, these are just some thoughts I have about other problems current college students face.

    As always, I enjoy hearing from another Austen fan. Today in class we discussed how much Austen loves satire: how, instead of describing proposals, nice weddings and conjugal felicity, she describes in detail only the ridiculous proposals. She describes no weddings really. And all marriage states examined are horrible–Mr. Bennet to Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte to Mr. Collins. We know Jane and Elizabeth will be happy, but they cease to be of interest to Austen once they are married. I love Austen’s fascination with the ridiculous!

    • It’s really the same kind of humor that Jack Vance uses, don’t you think? My favorite authors have that type of sense of humor.

      • Brad Hawley /

        Well, I’m new to Vance, and that connection didn’t jump out. That’s probably because they are so very different in content! But I’ll look for it now. But do you mean Austen’s satirical writing in general (which I see in Vance) or Austen’s subtle irony at the sentence level (which I don’t remember in Vance, but it’s been a few months since I read him and his voice is not one I am able to recall automatically yet)?

      • Yes Kat, I totally agree. Vance doesn’t always have that subtle irony in his writing, but in those of his works in which it shines through, it is reminiscent of Austen.

  9. Brad Hawley /

    If the version of P&P that you picked up for free is not very good, it’s worth getting the audible version I listened to. The narrator is exceptional.

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