#69 – Prelude to a Wedding, by Patricia McLinn
- Read: 5/19/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (62/150)
- Rating: 3/5 stars
After a rough start full of intentionally misleading situations for the characters and a lot of head-hopping, I ended up being surprised how much I liked this book. Bette and Paul represent to each other the things in life they actively do not want, but their attraction leads them to change their lives, with much hemming and hawing along the way.
However. I was completely not cool with the way Paul used his contract with Bette’s temp business to essentially extort a date from her. While it fits with his often-childish ways, it’s grossly unprofessional, and had I been Bette, I would have terminated my services and shoved Paul out of my life so fast his head would spin. Instead, she agrees to the date and they go on to have life-changing revelations.
Ultimately, it was an opposites attract plot that actually had some depth to it, even if both characters seemed clueless about why they worked so well together. And I honestly teared up a little at the end, when Paul wanted to elope but then backtracked so he could stop living impulsively. That’s what actual character growth looks like, and not something I see enough of in a lot of romances.
#70 – The Aeneid, by Virgil, translated by Robert Fitzgerald
- Read: 5/16/18 – 5/21/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (63/150); Expand Your Horizons — Classics
- Rating: 1/5 stars
DNF @ 60%. Disclaimer: this is clearly a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” The language at times could be beautiful, but everything I dislike about this is everything that fans of epics generally praise them for–war, blood, and rampant name-dropping.
Epic poetry just isn’t my thing. I did find this far more readable than The Inferno; while this translation’s back cover reviews purport it to be THE BESTEST EVAR, I have no other translations to compare it to.
However, it’s slavish fan fic of the worst kind. Don’t know what to do to keep your readers hooked during a slow part? Throw in Circe or Cyclops or Scylla for a page or two! Recount the twelve trials of Hercules! Talk about fallen Troy and its dead heroes some more!
I honestly only tried to read this to give me deeper context for Le Guin’s Lavinia, which I found at a used book sale. I’ll read anything she wrote, and I figured I should go into it having read the source material. But when I started skimming, it was a losing battle. First, I skipped the long lists of names and lineages, because they meant nothing to me. From there, I skimmed the battle sequences, because poetic images of war do not rouse me to any great emotion (not when I don’t care about the characters involved–again, these are just names on a page.)
By 60%, I was skimming so much I was no longer engaged at all. I would be much better served for my purposes to read a simple plot summary. Especially as, by then, Lavinia herself was only mentioned two or three times, and yet Turnus was waging war in her name. I don’t say “for her” because he seemed more angry at being denied his rights (ie, the marriage he assumed he was entitled to and his position acquired by it) than Lavinia herself.
Finally, and I know it’s almost silly to complain about this when it was written two thousand years ago, but it’s so vehemently sexist and mysogynist. Juno is the major villian throughout, in her staunch opposition to Aeneas and his exiled Trojans. But she works through trickery and deceit, while the male antagonists at least get the glory of honest combat (even when it’s motivated by Juno’s inflammations.)
In the early books, Dido isn’t a villian, per se, but she does distract Aeneas from his quest by… being hot? Her passion for him is described as almost unnatural, and in seeking him out and “marrying” him, she’s described as a vow-breaker and ridiculed by her people and her allies alike.
Because, you know, women aren’t allowed to be lustful, and giving in to her lust was a political mistake.
The only semi-positive portrayal of a female character I could find (admittedly I was skimming by then) was a mention of the praise for Aeneas’ childhood nurse at her passing and burial–which is minor, and only positive in relation to Aeneas himself, because he valued her as his caretaker.
I tried. I really tried. But I was just so bored and disappointed.
#71 – The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto
- Read: 5/21/18 – 5/23/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (64/150); Expand Your Horizons — Nonfiction
- Rating: 3/5 stars
I liked this on the strength of its completely unfamiliar subject matter, and disliked a lot about how it was written.
I can’t argue with myself that a “forgotten colony” narrative is fascinating, and learning a piece of lost history, only recently rediscovered, appealed to me greatly.
But the problems with the execution irked me every time I ran into one.
First, while Shorto often acknowledges where facts are thin or simply unknown, he doesn’t always. There are numerous places where, in the interest of making a cohesive story, he slips in phrases like “we can imagine” or “[this person] must have,” hoping the reader won’t notice how often he veers into assumption or speculation.
Second, I often felt like this book was written for exactly one target audience: New Yorkers themselves. I’ve been to New York City, once, when I was seven, on a family vacation. I have no reasonable idea of how Manhattan is laid out, so the constant references to its streets and landmarks now in order to give a sense of where things were then was useless to me. (Could I have stopped to check addresses on Google Maps? Absolutely. Did I want to be glued to my phone while I was supposedly reading? Absolutely not.) I don’t deny that those tidbits would interest someone more familiar with the city than I am, but there were simply so many times it happened that it irritated me.
My third complaint is an extension of that. This work is stuffed with extraneous detail. As if to make up for all the places where things are unknown, where records are missing, Shorto puts in much that has little or nothing to do with the main thrust of the book. I was actually put off by the very beginning, when we’re treated to a street-by-street, building-by-building description of Henry Hudson’s (supposed) route through London to start this whole shindig off. Do I care? Not really–there are plenty of better sources if I want to read about that era of London, and also (back to point 1) we don’t know that’s the way he went!