This Week, I Read… (2018 #10)

35 - Corambis

#35 – Corambis, by Sarah Monette

All the tension between Mildmay and Felix, every harsh word, argument, physical altercation… all of it was finally paid off in the last book in the series, when Felix is arguably at his lowest (knowing exile, compared to his earlier unknowing madness) and decides that it’s time he tried harder to be a decent person.

His faults and his transgressions are not wiped away–quite the opposite, in fact. He’s less able to forgive himself for what he’s done than others are, especially Mildmay. It comes out, in a short but beautifully emotional conversation between the two of them, that basically Felix did so much to push his brother away because he couldn’t believe anyone could ever accept him as he was, and the fact that Mildmay did felt undeserved, unwarranted.

I am wholeheartedly satisfied with this conclusion, and it was a real pleasure to watch the two of them interact like friends, even like family, rather than brothers-by-chance who were thrown together by circumstance.

On top of that, what made this final book a standout for me in the series was a twist on worldbuilding I’m not sure I’ve ever seen. The first three books seemed to have the same rough level of technology as say, Edwardian England–carts and horses and boats for travel, at best. Then, in exile, Felix and Mildmay go to a country totally unknown to them, and there are trains! Corambis has a higher level of technology, and while steampunk is nothing new (and technically they’re steam- and magic-powered) I’ve never read anything involving higher technology without alien visitation being involved.

Also, Monette uses a very similar structure for the books throughout this series, many seemingly unrelated plot threads that gradually (or suddenly, in some cases) come together in a spectacular ending. While I criticized the previous book for doing this badly, here, it’s handled much better. While I couldn’t see all the specifics of how the ending would play out, I did at least get some sense of where things were going, instead of being bewildered about the importance of a character or an incident for most of the book.

I look forward to rereading the entire series in the future, hopefully picking up more of what confused me the first time, now that I know how it all works out.

36 - The Hate U Give

#36 – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

I can’t fault this story for the reality of the world it presents. Life is hard living in the ghetto. Life is hard when you’re code-switching constantly. Life is hard when the institutions meant to protect you are in fact dangerous to you.

This book matters.

But I don’t understand who, exactly, the audience is. I’m white, and almost all the cultural references in this flew straight past me without leaving any marks. I don’t know who these artists are (the current ones–I’m of an age with Starr’s parents, so I know Jodeci and Tupac and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but that was about it.) I don’t know what a “dap” is. I didn’t always understand why what Starr considered important was important to her, where it fit into a larger cultural context. And the narrative did nothing to explain it to me. So in that respect, it felt like the target audience wasn’t white, it wasn’t out to educate us on what we don’t know and should be told about black life in the ghetto.

But if the target audience was black, if it’s out there for positive representation and giving young black readers their own heroes, then why was so much time devoted to explaining what would be obvious to most of those readers, like code-switching or microagressions? The whole time I was reading this, I was remembering the gut-punched feeling I had when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me which was unequivocally and unapologetically written for a black audience, and brilliantly so. I felt uncomfortable reading it, an interloper peeking into something I could never fully understand from the outside, but something I should do my best to educate myself about anyway.

I didn’t get that feeling from this, and I’m not saying I should have–they’re vastly different works. But I felt like this book was straddling the fence, trying to be everything to everyone, and that diluted the experience. It bears out in the million subplots, some of which are incredibly weak–did it matter, really, if Starr had slept with her white boyfriend Chris or not? What did their fight early on in the story about his bungled attempt at getting her into bed add to the larger themes of the story?

In trying to depict so much about Starr’s life as a black teenage girl, the weight of the story was scattered in so many directions that it pulled emphasis from what seemed, at the outset, to be the main message–the effects of police brutality on black families and communities.

37 - The Little Paris Bookshop

#37 – The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

Great premise, too bad that’s not actually what the book is about. I was so disappointed by this.

In skimming other reviews to see if I was the only one, I came across a lot of anger about Manon’s infidelity, and Jean’s complicity in it–but polyamory is a thing, and if Luc (the husband) consented to an open marriage, as it’s explicitly stated several times that he did, then I don’t have an issue with that.

Okay, maybe Manon was only setting up Jean for disappointment by casting him as the other man in her life–she didn’t strike me as a particularly likable character for that, even after reading her diary entries…which also surprised me with their sudden introduction? And we don’t find out why they’re included until the last few pages, which struck me as a cheap hook.

What irked me most was the lack of depth to anything. The basic pattern of the style was:

1. Description of scenery or weather in vivid terms just short of purple prose
2. “Jean felt X— feeling.” Telling. No showing.
3. Another character does or says something quirky
4. More florid description
5. More of Jean being introspective or philosophical
6. Some odd calamity occurs, and I’m supposed to feel emotional about it, but I don’t (for example, the deer drowning)
7. Yet more overdone description

When was I ever supposed to connect with these flat and frankly bizarre characters? Where was their space for me, the reader, to interpret their actions and build an image of them myself, rather than having everything spoon-fed to me?

38 - Fire and Fury

#38 – Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff

DNF @ 20%. If I wanted to write my review in the style of this book, I would call it the most slapdash, hyperbolic, nonsensical, pandering, rushed-to-print-to-make-a-buck book I’ve ever attempted to read.

I am aware this was quite literally rushed to print, and boy, am I glad I borrowed this instead of buying it, because it shows.

The first chapter alone had three spelling and grammatical errors; did anyone do more editing than simply a spell-check? Because that doesn’t catch words spelled wrong when they spell something else right (“subtly” for “subtlety”) or missing words in a sentence. Verbs, for the love of god, give me verbs! Many sentences have so many dependent clauses that by the time I do find the verb, I’ve read most of the paragraph and forgotten the subject.

I also called it pandering, because it’s clearly sensationalist, and not in an interesting way. I don’t have a high opinion of my nation’s current president’s ability to govern, but this book is obviously intended to further fan the flames of those who believe the president and everyone he employs is moronic. Which could be the truth–Wolff was in the White House doing interviews, I wasn’t–but the bias in the narrative is notable, especially when he adopts a surprised tone whenever he has to talk about someone actually doing something right.

I’m not on the ramparts screaming “fake news!” but if that battle cry has taught me anything, it’s that I need to be more critical of my sources of information, and it’s honestly difficult to take this book seriously (whether it’s factual or not) because of the hyperbolic tone and shoddy workmanship.


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