Monday, June 1, 2015

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 18)

For those of you keeping track of the NHL/Fanfic bracket (explained here, updated here and here), we're now officially down to two: the Chicago Blackhawks (Fallout:Equestria) overcame the Anaheim Ducks (My Little Dashie) out west, while the Eastern conference saw the Tampa Bay Lightning (Friendship is Optimal) knock out the New York Rangers (Fall of Equestria).  Chicago and Tampa will now face each other in an epic battle to determine which story has the best extended universe who gets to hoist the Stanley Cup.  Game one is Wednesday!

In the meantime, though, let's talk about some of the stuff I'm reading right now.  I haven't had a lot of for-fun reading time over the last few weeks, but I'm still in the middle of more than a couple of books; what I think of them so far, below the break.

The Stories of English, by David Crystal

What it is:  A history of the English language, focusing specifically on how the major modern dialects of English came to be accepted by their respective speakers/cultures, while other dialects withered or were absorbed.

How I'm liking it so far:  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to enjoy this as much as I ought to have, because it's a very dense read.  It's got some nice bits of humor and isn't hard to follow, but the density of information and professional tone make this something that's not really amenable to reading in short bursts--and that's all I've been able to give it so far.  BUT!  Summer starts next week, and with any luck, I'll then be able to give this the sort of sit-down reading I'd like to.  Even as-is, it's a fascinating book, and I have no doubt it'll be even better when I'm not self-sabotaging my comprehension.

Recommendation:  This would be a good choice for language aficionados of any stripe, provided they're looking for something a bit more on the academic (but not inaccessible) end of the literary spectrum.

EDIT: I almost forgot; thanks to InquisitorM for gifting me a copy of the book!

A Baroque Fable, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

What it is:  A fairytale-cum-musical about an unusually vain prince, an unusually bored princess, and an unusually pathetic dragon.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is an odd beast of a story; the present-tense omniscient narration still hasn't clicked for me nearly a quarter of the way through, and the tale itself mixes a fun, ridiculous (perhaps a little predictable, but that comes with the territory, I figure) plot with a a bunch of very one-note characters.  I rather like the frequent intrusions of verse, though!  Of course, I liked it in Tolkien, too, so I know my opinions on the matter may be in the minority.

Recommendation:  This is more of a gentle sendup of the fairytale corner of the heroic fantasy genre (or of heoric fantasy-based fairytales, maybe?  I'm not sure quite what the nomenclature to suggest the area intersection/overlap between the two is) than a Fractured Fairytale proper; readers who find the idea interesting and who aren't put off by shallow characters may want to give this a look.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L'Engle

What it is:  The further adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace (following A Wrinkle in Time), wherein they must avert a nuclear war with the help of a unicorn--which is in no way as silly as it sounds.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is a re-read: I love L'Engle's works, and I just re-finished Wrinkle a bit ago.  She's an author with a knack for never talking down to her audience, despite her stories frequently being cataloged (and on occasion, dismissed) as "children's books," and for mixing fantasy and science in exciting and intriguing ways.  I'm still at the beginning, but come on: how can you not love a story that has a tesseract, a mystical Irish rune, nuclear terrorism, psionic bonding, and a freaking unicorn--all in the first thirty pages?

Recommendation:  I'd start with A Wrinkle in Time, even though A Swiftly Tilting Planet is unlikely to leave one lost.  But just in general, I highly recommend this book.

Who's Afraid of Beowulf?, by Tom Holt

What it is:  A viking king and his band of twelve warriors have slumbered for many centuries, awaiting the moment when they can rise and defeat a terrible wizard.  That moment turns out to be the present day, and it turns out a bunch of medieval barbarians aren't particularly well-equipped to deal with present-day Britain, though.

A few thoughts:  This captures some of the same humorous style as Terry Pratchett, with plenty of wit in the dialogue and observation-based humor in the narration.  A lot of the humor also focuses on the temporal displacement at hand (there's a running gag involving the vikings' discomfort with the name of the woman who found them--Hildy Fredericsen--which they're quite sure ought to be Fredericsdottir), and I'm finding that to be right up my alley.

Recommendation:  This would be a good choice for readers looking for something humorous in a fish-out-of-water vein with a mythological/historical twist.


  1. Aww, I was so close! ;_; Curse you, Rangers! Curse you, Lightning! All this week, I've been noticing posts about hockey (Concerned Pony on Tumblr likes the Ducks) or even seeing it on TV and thinking to myself, "What fanfics are on the ice right now?" Oh well, GO LIGHTNING

    Man, I really need to reread L'Engle's stuff. I read the original trilogy when I was a kid, and you'd better believe I had no idea wtf was going on. I want to put my more mature literary understanding to the test and see if those books actually make any kind of sense.

  2. "... how can you not love a story that has a tesseract, a mystical Irish rune, nuclear terrorism, psionic bonding, and a freaking unicorn..."

    There was a point where I would've thought that was stupid, but lately I've been reminded that I did once find that stuff cool, and I've fallen in love with it all over again. That reminds me, I should really get back to reading Vance. He's sooo freakin' good! I've also got one of Augie's books to read. Lot of free time opening up in two weeks, so I should get both of those done then

    1. Why will you suddenly have lot of free time in two weeks? Does it, perchance, have anything to do with a tesseract?

    2. As far as I know, they aren't installing one at work, so no. Mustang's shutting down for three or four weeks (hopefully the latter), so I'm taking a voluntary, temporary layoff. Gonna finally catch up on shit and spend time with my pig!

    3. I was really hoping for a tesseract. Well at least don't pass up the opportunity to burst into your boss's office and dramatically exclaim, "I'm a loose canon [insert your own name here], and until I learn to play by the rules, I'm fired!"

  3. I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time when I was little, and I remember being disturbed by it, but I don't remember why. That's always weird; remembering the emotion tied to something, but forgetting the actual context upon which those emotions were based. I guess that's just how brains work though.

    Also it's probably worth mentioning (since it's part of this post) that I've always had trouble reading more than one book at a time. No one else in my family ever did, so maybe that's just a me thing, but if I ever read multiple stories simultaneously, it makes it so I can't get invested in any of them. I like sitting down and reading straight through something from start to finish, then thinking about it for a while before finally moving on to something else. I feel like I get a lot more out of it that way.

    1. One or two other people have mentioned the same thing in previous posts; that they need to read one book at a time. I'm just the opposite; I need a different book for the car, for before bed, for work breaks...

    2. ...for the shower, for the movie theater, for fight club, etc. etc..

      I wonder which way is better? Or I suppose, what with things usually—if not always—not being absolute, what the pros and cons of the different types of book consumption are. Do you read more books that way? How's your comprehension of the details? How long does the mental imprint of the book stay with you? So many questions. Questions... for science.

    3. I'm one of those one-at-a-time people, though I've found there are exceptions. Articles seem to take up their own brain space, as does fanfiction. So I could read some Cracked, Vance and pony, but I have to finish one ponyfic before starting another, and I can't read Morning, Noon & Night before finishing The Dying Earth, though I could get to it before The Eyes of the Overworld because, while still part of that series, it's a different book. If I tried what Chris does, Van Helsing would be fighting Elric and a horde of psychic apes in the Congo, or Littlepip might raise her own cat-eyed Dashie while satisfying values through friendship and spiders (also CaraMac's there for some reason)

  4. I should really check out that History of English book; it sounds like it'd be right up my alley.

  5. Who's Afraid of Beowulf? sounds like my kind of story. I'll need to track down a copy.