Books, My week in reading

Books books books

What are you reading now?

Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise. I started rereading this during my Malaysian wedding, in that vast dull space in the morning between the departure of the make-up artist and the arrival of the bridegroom. I was immured in my bedroom while my friends were occupied in setting him and his heng dai various challenges, and started rereading O’Brian to pass the time. The groom’s party arrived before I got past the first chapter, though. I am now doing a reread of the first book through to the twentieth — we have passed the debauching of the sloth and are now in Bombay, where Maturin has met Dil and is hanging around waiting for Diana.

As with all the best books, I always notice something different on a reread; this time it was the fact that Stephen’s dealings with Dil are a good metaphor or analogy or, really, example of the disastrous consequences that can attend the well-intentioned meddlings of the privileged in the lives of the less privileged. It’s hard to do good, and easy to mess up ….

This is the main thing I am reading: I am indulging in rereading because it is a holiday and also the Aubreyad is the right period for the novel I’m writing, so I can sort of justify it on those grounds. I am also reading Blue God: A life of Krishna by Ramesh Menon, having finished his retelling of the Mahabharata in two volumes, as well as Daughter of Elysium by Joan Slonczewski, which I downloaded when it was being offered for free a while ago. Daughter of Elysium is old-fashioned science fiction of the anthropological, we all live in giant living cells under the sea sort; it is too early for me to have any strong opinions. Blue God has the same satisfying mythic richness as Menon’s retelling of the Mahabharata, though I confess I am skimming the Bhagavad Gita bits.

What did you just finish reading?

800 Years of Women’s Letters, edited by Olga Kenyon, which was very disappointing — Cephas kindly ordered it off a catalogue of academic-y books he received. The letters are fine, but there is very little variety — she extracts letters from the same writers over and over, grouped under different topic headings — and the commentary is shockingly poor. Also, this was first published in the early ’90s, but there have been a couple of reprints since, and she hasn’t really bothered expanding the selection of letters — her sources are all late ’80s. And a good number of the letters are fiction — as in, extracted from fiction, and on at least one occasion she says, “OK, so the following extract isn’t a letter, but it kind of sounds like a letter ….” Really poor.

Post-Captain by Patrick O’Brian. The new thing I noticed was that Stephen is as much at fault for the parlous state of his relationship with Diana as Diana is — she makes it clear from the very beginning that she is looking for marriage, and then he doesn’t offer. I know she blows hot and cold, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s only doing that because she’s furious at him for being just like all the other dudes who just want to sleep with her and won’t commit.

The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. This was very good, but I found it incredibly brutal reading — it was part of the reason why I started an Aubreyad reread. It was making me so depressed and grumpy that I needed a boost — a spiritual palate cleanser. But it is very good! It is all about broken people and horribleness and survival.

What do you expect to read next?

The Mauritius Command! I’ve also borrowed A Brief History of Britain, 1660-1851 by William Gibson, which expires in 21 days, so I’ve got to read it soonish. (My library does ebooks! This is very exciting!)


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