April reading brings May rehash: let’s get right to it, shall we?
- The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England (Brandon Sanderson)
- Ramona the Brave (Beverly Cleary)
- Negotiating with the Dead (Margaret Atwood)
- The Princess Diarist (Carrie Fisher)
- Standing in the Rainbow (Fannie Flagg)
- Lex Operandi, Lex Credendi (Christine Pennylegion)
- Stranger Planet (Nathan W. Pyle)
- Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! (Fannie Flagg)
- Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven (Fannie Flagg)
- The Whole Town’s Talking (Fannie Flagg)
- These Old Shades (Georgette Heyer)
First this month was BrandoSando’s delightful The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, a slightly bonkers multi-dimensional-travel blank-room novel; by “blank-room” I mean that when the book opens the protagonist has no idea who or where he is, à la Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir) or Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold). John wakes up in what appears to be medieval England — except that magic appears to be real, as are the Norse gods. Mistaken for an aelv, he’s captured by the local lord and things only get crazier from there. It’s funny; I enjoyed it. This was the second release from Sanderson’s four-book kickstarter campaign last year, and so far I’ve been very glad that I bought in!
Ramona the Brave is a bit of an outlier on this list. I’ve been reading through the Ramona series with the kids at bedtime, and normally I don’t keep track of the books I read to the children, because that list would get out of control very quickly. But I enjoyed this one so much that I read ahead about five chapters on my own to finish it, so I think that counts! Cleary’s books hold up very well, and it’s been a pleasure to share Ramona, companion of my childhood imagination, with my own kids.
Negotiating with the Dead is one of Atwood’s nonfiction offerings, a book about writers and writing that was constructed around a series of lectures she gave about twenty years ago. I think I’ll be buying a copy of this one at some point; it’s a retrospective on her own career, but it’s also a fascinating meditation on the writing life and the writer’s social role (or lack thereof). There is also a very interesting discussion of the duality of authorship — of being at the same time the “Margaret Atwood” of literary fame, and the “Peggy Gibson” of her regular life. Fascinating stuff.
Also a memoir, albeit of a very different sort, Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist revolves around the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her long-rumoured love affair with Harrison Ford. It contains excerpts from the diaries she kept at the time, along with a lot of terrible teenage poetry (no shade; I’ve got a few piles of that myself). More interesting to me, however, were her accounts of growing up in the shadow of her parents’ fame, and the ways that celebrity has affected her own life and sense of self, for good and ill.
About midway through the month, I was paging through my book log — or perhaps it just fell open, I’m not sure — and I found my list from April 2019, which included a couple of novels by Fannie Flagg, which reminded me how much I enjoy novels by Fannie Flagg. (My poor working memory is about 80% of the reason that I keep this log.) So I read some! Standing in the Rainbow and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! were both new to me, and I accidentally read them out of order, which honestly didn’t matter particularly much. Both these and the two others (Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and The Whole Town’s Talking) are set in the fictional town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, although a good part of Welcome takes place in NYC. They’re definitely character-driven books — I mean, they have plots, but the plots are certainly not the narrative driver — and I’ve enjoyed seeing how Flagg further opens up the interior and exterior lives of Elmwood Springs’s inhabitants with every sequel. The timelines in each book overlap with the others, and it’s a pretty deft trick to interweave them without too many inconsistencies. (There were several errors in The Whole Town’s Talking, which Flagg’s copyeditor should have caught, but none of them were of narrative-ruining size.)
When I was preparing Lex Operandi, Lex Credendi for publication, I must have skimmed through it half a dozen times getting the formatting and everything set up. But it had been many years since I actually sat down and properly read it straight through, as if someone else had written it. It might not have been since after my thesis defense, in 2016, now that I think on it. Anyway; I read through it and I thought it was pretty good. Ha.
Stranger Planet is Nathan W. Pyle’s second comic collection featuring the “Beings,” a charming race of aliens who live in a world very much like our own — but different. The kids love these comics, especially Anselm, for the way Pyle makes the ordinary stuff of our lives whimsical and unfamiliar through clever renaming. Toast? That’s a twice heatblasted doughslice. Smoke alarm? That’s a hot danger screamer. Coffee? Hot jitter liquid — not to be confused with my beverage of choice, hot leaf liquid. Kissing is mouthpushing. Salad is a leafbucket. It’s all wonderfully silly; here’s the (very relatable) comic that started it all.
To finish off April, I read Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades, which takes place somewhat earlier than most of her novels, in this case, in Paris and England during the reign of King Louis XV. Lord Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon and notorious for his debauchery, is quite literally run into in the street by a peasant urchin fleeing a difficult family situation. Instantly captivated by Léon’s distinct colouring, Alastair buys the youth into his service — setting off an insane chain of events involving mistaken identity, kidnapping, unrequited love, and all sorts of nefarious plots. It’s quite the romp. These Old Shades is the first in a series of four; the next book, Devil’s Cub, takes place about twenty years later and features Alastair’s son. I didn’t realize it was a series, and in fact I read the third book, Regency Buck, many years ago. Perhaps it’s time to revisit it.