M is for May, and May is for Modernism! At least in one case. May is also for Murder! And May, though it may not seem so on the surface, is for Short Fiction.
Here are the books I read last month (with comments appended):
The Princes of Ireland, by Edward Rutherfurd. This was a re-read, which didn’t occur to me until I was done about the first chapter. It’s still good, although I think I enjoyed it more when I read it the first time. Edward Rutherfurd writes huge historical novels — huge both in time covered and in physical pages! The Princes of Ireland was the story of the city of Dublin, told through stories following numerous generations of its Irish, English, and Viking inhabitants. The narrative didn’t reach modern times (unlike in his book London), but I believe that there is a sequel.
*Virus Games, by G. L. Sheerin. I will let my full review speak for itself.
*The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks. Likewise.
*The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. May is for Modernism! And murder! I dropped a modernist fiction class quite early in the fall term on account of not liking the professor, and so most of the books for that class are still unread upon my shelf. I’ve decided to read through them all (though it’s worth noting that I decided this at the beginning of the month, but only picked up The Grass is Singing). This is a hard book (in terms of what it deals with, not in terms of how it is to read) but a very good one, I think. It reminds me of a lot of Bryce Courtenay novels; it’s set in South Africa and deals with themes of racism and what happens when a white woman becomes obsessed with her black servant.
Journey to Cubeville, by Scott Adams. Ho, hum, another Dilbert anthology (i.e., bathroom reading).
*The Togakushi Legend Murders, by Yasuo Uchida. May is for Murder! This is one of two Japanese books I read in May (the translated-to-English versions, anyway). It’s a strange little book; the prose seemed very formal and somewhat stilted a lot of the time, which may well be a facet of the translation. This is a classic detective story with a twist: the murders seem to be symbolically linked to regional legends about a demoness named Maple. It was interesting, but not particularly wonderful.
*Jennifer Government, by Max Barry. Now this book had a very neat concept behind it. It takes place in a sort of alternate universe, where “capitalizm” has trumped all other systems of economics and even of government. In this world, the United States has an Empire. People take the name of their company as their last name (Jeniffer Government, John Nike, etc) and the unemployed have no surnames. Children take the name of the company that sponsors their school (so Hayley McDonalds goes to a McDonalds school). As to the actual plot, there’s a murder (of course), and a revenge story, and a romance … pretty standard stuff, really. It’s the world itself that captured my interest, rather than the plot.
*Springtime on Mars, by Susan Woodring. May is for Short Stories. Review, author interview, and giveaway are all coming on June 4! Until then I will say nothing.
*Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett. Surely nobody is surprised that I’ve read more Pratchett. Gosh, I really love these books. Carpe Jugulum is the first to feature vampires and was, as always, very smart and very funny.
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night! I love this book. I love Dorothy Sayers all told, but I am especially fond of this book (and those of you who have read it will surely know why!). It’s so good. It’s also the only mystery I’ve read recently without an actual murder in it: just threatening letters, and a good lot of vandalism. And it takes place at Oxford! Yay.
*Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald. This is a great big book with a great big story to tell. Just go read it, okay? I wish I had read it years ago.
*Asleep, by Banana Yoshimoto. My second Japanese book in May, Asleep is a strange little story collection. There are three stories: of a woman who becomes haunted in her sleep by another woman whose love-triangle rival she used to be, of a woman in a relationship with a married man who suddenly cannot stay awake, and of a woman who is mourning the loss of a lover and starts mysteriously sleepwalking. Very bizarre, but beautifully wrought.
*The News from Paraguay, by Lily Tuck. This was a pretty mediocre read. I’m not really sure why I finished it, actually. The history bits are interesting but the extraneous “love” scenes and gratuitous violence really made it a chore to get through. I don’t object to love scenes or violence in general, but they really need to be well written to make it worthwhile.
*The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett. Hooray, more Terry Pratchett! This book is certainly not about Australia. No no no. It’s just about a continent that’s curiously and coincidentally similar to Australia. Surely.
Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner. This is a book I read first a few years ago, and then snatched off my friend H’s shelf on my last visit. This is Lauren Winner’s story of her life and her faith: her girlhood as the child of a Christian mother and a Jewish father, her teenage conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and her subsequent conversion to Christianity. From the way she writes, I think she’s the kind of person I’d really enjoy being friends with. She writes openly about her failures as well as her successes in her life, and touches well upon a lot of other things (the value of liturgy, the value of reading, studying Scripture…). It’s really good.
*Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë. I have now read one book by each of the Brontë sisters: Jane Eyre by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, and now Agnes Grey by Anne. Agnes Grey is a wonderful and sweet story. It’s really just charming. I still think that I like Jane Eyre the best of the trio, but this book was lovely.
*Storm Glass, by Jane Urqhart. This is another Short Story collection, written relatively close to the beginning of Urqhart’s career. I very much enjoyed it; I hadn’t know before how much I liked short stories, but I seem to be reading a great many of them and they’re definitely growing on my as a storytelling method. These stories are smart and mysterious and well-wrought and you should read them.
*Deception on His Mind, by Elizabeth George. This month was rounded out with another nice murder. I do very much enjoy George’s books (as a glance through my Book List will surely tell you). Her mysteries are smart and thick and the characterization is just as good as the plot (which are usually excellent) if not better. This is one I read all out of order, as are most of them, but they stand alone well.
Also this month I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction out of a Norton Anthology for my criticism class. I haven’t listed them because they’re not “books” in themselves, and because I haven’t finished every story in the book in which they are contained. I mean to, though. Short stories are cool.
So! On to June …