Posted by Sari
You might have noticed that what we are reading sidebar has not been updated for some time. It isn't that we (or at least I - I can't speak for Mr.Hoo here) have not been reading, it is just that of those particular books I managed to finish just one, the history of Alphabet by John Man. And that was a truly fun book, for once a popular science book (history and linguistics) which was fun and informative to read even though I already have the basics. And what a versatile and strange thing the alphabet is.
I did finsih Malcolm Brown's The Imperial War Museum Book of Western Front which goes through the major events on the front concentrating almost solely on primary sources and tries to give the contemporary view of the fighting. The book is well constructed and handles all the themes you might wish for, but it is bit short on the interpretation. Brown like Macdonald wants to let the sources speak for themselves, which makes the whole a bit disjointed and quote-heavy. Besides, "letting the sources speak" is a sort of an illusion. In the end the quotes are selected by the historian and making the interpretation more transparent might have made a better book.
Same can be said of Andrew Birkin's much lauded book on J.M. Barrie and his five adopted sons, J.M. Barrie and the lost Boys. The story of how Barrie befrended the Llewellyn Davies kids and how their summer games became the origins of Never-never-land is so strange and so very sad and potentially a bit sinister that the subject-matter alone guarantees a interested audience. Birkin, like Brown quotes extensively from letters and diaries but his light touch is sometimes annoying.
A good example is the death of Sylvia Llewellyn Davies which left the boys orphaned. Sylvia had written an informal "will" of what she hoped would happen if she died, and in it she said "What I would like wd be if Jenny wd come to Mary & that the two together would be looking after the boys & house helping each other". Mary was children's Nanny and Jenny her sister. J.M. Barrie transcribed the "will" as "What I would like wd be if Jimmy..." Birkin says that it was undoubtably a mistake and that with or without the "will" the only possible guardian would in any case been Barrie, but considering how possessive JMB was of the boys even when their parents were alive I would have liked a bit more discussion on the point. In any case, you never read Peter Pan in quite the same way again after this book.
Tarja was also kind enough to drop me some fluff to read while trying to get over this darn flu. This time it was an omnibus of the first three Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. And very nice fluff it was indeed. Stephanie is a fledling bounty hunter working for his cousin Vinny in Trenton, NJ. She has a number of eccentric relations like grandma Mazur who likes to go to funeral parlors to view the bodies, mysterious mentor Ranger and handsome but annoying cop for a friend. No brains needed for this, and the detectin' aspect of the novels is not that complex, but very very entertaining reads anyhow. Tarja, next ones, please.
And speaking of fluff, I also read (ahem...) Devin Grayson's Smallville tie-in novel City. She is better at writing comics. Subtextually borderline slashy, captures the characters well enough, but as there is just so much you can't change because of the plot of the TV-series that in the end the novel is an empty excercise.
And to redeem myself somewhat lets finish with Gwynneth Jones interesting and thought provoking collection of essays on SF, Deconstructing Starships. I am not sure I agree with her on on the impact of poststructuralism on science, fiction and science fiction, but both her reviews and articles certainly give food for thought. And she likes J.C Cherryh who is also one of my absolute favourites and pretty much for same reasons. I scribbled a lot to the marigins, maybe someday I can manage a more coherent review.