I am so pleased I have things to report this week! I got tons of reading done over the holiday break. (Although I got basically no writing done in the same timeframe; this may be significant. You have to read to write, though, IMO; the one fuels the other.)What I have just finished reading
:The Raven Boys
, by Maggie Stiefvater. In which a daughter of psychics is drawn into the quest of four private school boys for a sleeping Welsh king. This was superb. Stiefvater has a precision with language that takes my breath away. Her five main characters are all so distinct in their strengths and private conflicts, and she sold me on her plot despite my total disinterest in tarot cards, ley lines, and imported Welsh monarchs. ( spoilers )
I said on Tumblr that the proof would be if I liked the book well enough to put a library hold on the next book, and I just today picked it up from the library, so.The Story of Christianity, Vol I
, by Justo L. Gonzalez. The first volume of two, this is a nice very basic survey if you have an extremely weak grasp of European history, which I do. Gonzalez is a historian, and I thought he did a good job of balancing page constraints with specific detail. I found it very readable. This first volume was from the time of Christ to right before the Reformation, which I shall now being reading about in volume II.The Left Hand of Darkness
, by Ursula Le Guin. I'd read all her major novels except this one; not sure why it took me so long. I'd been spoiled for the basic premise by her much later short story, "Coming of Age in Karhide," which is all about someone experiencing kemmer, sexual characters, and sex for the first time, and was therefore altogether much more interested in the juicy details of those topics than the original novel was. I was thus somewhat taken aback by how much politics there was in it, especially in the first half or so.
In fact, since the first-person POV character through most of it, Genly Ai, is a first-time visitor and envoy to the planet, the book maintains a pretense of objectivity for quite a while, mixed in Genly's rather pettily expressed personal concerns, which makes for a somewhat dryer book than I was expecting. Also, Genly's kind of insufferable for quite a while - small-minded, self-centered, and sexist, although IMO he gets better on all those counts eventually, which I think was a major point of the book. In that way this book reminds me some of A Wizard of Earthsea
, except that Genly is never as overtly obnoxious as Ged and also doesn't get hit over the head with a moral lesson the way Ged does. It does make for rough going in the first half, though.
The sexism might have been what grated the most, though, and what I think dates this book. The fact that Genly isn't sure how to deal with an agender population isn't notable, so much as the lens through which he does try to deal with them. Gender essentialism is rampant in his thinking in ways that I would hope an interstellar diplomatic organization would train its ambassadors out of - he talks about one citizen as having womanly hips, another having masculine energy. Like, dude. Have you never met a genderqueer person in your life?
He also refers to all the citizens of Gethen with male pronouns, with the reasoning that those are more universal and less gendered than female pronouns, which is I think clearly meant to point up his gender assumptions, but at the same time gives the reader the impression that this is a planet made up wholly of men. It has a weird flattening effect on the worldbuilding around gender that I think Le Guin was trying to get across.
And yet despite all these caveats, I ended up really liking it, largely because the last seventy-five pages or so feature a get-there-or-bust, two-month mad dash across a glacier with his Gethenian ally, and that hits like half a dozen of my iddy spots. It's there that we realize that this novel has a much more intimate story at its core than I thought it did, about two people from different planets coming to understand each other after a lot of cultural misunderstanding and a lot of mistakes and hiccups as a consequence. I really liked the way that snuck up on both me as a reader and on the characters.
So the gender stuff did not do precisely what I wanted it to, but it gave me plenty to think about, as you can see, and the interpersonal stuff more than made up for it, IMO. I like this one more the longer out I get from it, and the more I chew on it.What I'm reading now
I'm working very slowly on a reread of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
, but I keep being distracted by other things. Likewise I still want to finish Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation
.What I'll read next
As I said, I just picked up the next Raven Cycle book at the library, and I'd like to get started on the second volume of the Christian history book. It's also time to start my annual Hogfather
reread! Yet another thing I've suddenly realized I have a looming Christmas deadline for.