Hi, internet! It’s kind of been a while. In fact, it’s been so long that I have this urge to refer to Read ALL the Things as a neglected character: Read ALL the Things has been busy. Read ALL the Things decided to do things besides reading all the things. The things have simply been piling up around Read ALL the Things.
Back in August, I applied for a job. Actually, I applied for quite a few jobs, but this one is particularly relevant. In September, I went to Oregon for a week; when I got back, I started the job. The job involved reading some – perhaps several – books.
I got behind on the things. And when I did read the things, I got more behind on writing about them. I’m not one for resolutions, exactly – the timeframe is so nebulous! For how long must I keep my resolve? – but I did decide, in my fashion, to try to write about everything I read or see this year.
(Then I decided that TV didn’t necessarily count because no one wants to read a blog about last year’s Glee episodes, which I watch while sick. This is in present tense because I am a) still stick and b) planning to watch more Glee after I stop typing this.)
First, the plate needs clearing. This is part one of two posts about SOME of the things I read last fall.
The Magicians and The Magician King, Lev Grossman
I almost didn’t go into these books with the most open mind. My introduction to Grossman had been via that Wall Street Journal essay about plot being a dirty word, which struck me as one of the more prominently placed strawman arguments I’d seen in a while. It made me cranky. And then Grossman appeared to be The Guy Who Explains Fandom to the Masses, and frankly I kind of wished I’d thought of that job.
But then I went to a reading at Word, as I am wont to do, and Grossman read and was charming, as he, apparently, is wont to do, because he did it again next time I saw him read at Word (he also read the same piece of The Magician King, but it’s a good piece, so I’ll forgive that. This time). Enough friends had asked if I’d read The Magicians that I could no longer resist.
I loved it, and I didn’t. It’s too close and yet so far – so close to the story that I, as one of those bookish children who grew up in Narnia and Middle-Earth and read Harry Potter as an adult, feeling no shame, could have really fallen into. I get why people love it and I’m still not one of them, and that, it turns out, is exactly where my fascination sits: Every person who loves all of the things that go into these books has a different ideal, a different perfect vision, conscious or no, of how they could be combined. Grossman’s is just a few doors down from mine. The second book gets closer because there’s more Julia, but her story’s resolution (for now?) was so unsatisfying, it put a damper on my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I’m still struggling with what doesn’t work for me: Is it that I don’t find the idea of a dangerous magical land all that unusual? Is it that the smug, brilliant kids felt like smug, brilliant kids that would never have welcomed my younger self? (Is it that something about them reminded me of the kids in Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight, which I adored?) Is it that Quentin was just kind of a dick?
Whatever it is, it isn’t going to keep me away from the next book. I have issues, and then I want to see what happens. It’s kind of fun.
The Apothecary, Maile Meloy
I loved Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, but didn’t expect – or know what to expect from – a YA novel from her. The Apothecary is closer to middle grade, though, and strangely overlooked in this kids’ books award season, though its sweet, old-fashioned tone probably isn’t to everyone’s taste. The story of a girl who finds herself uprooted and moved to England after her screenwriter parents wind up on the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ watch list, Meloy’s book has a nostalgic tint and is written with a gentle hand. Janie Scott hates England, but finds her way into adventure and romance, intrigue and danger, all with an innocence that’s miles away from the knowing tone of so many young narrators. I like those precocious little brats, but I like Janie, too. The Apothecary feels like something from a different era, and at times the nostalgia, the reminiscence by the older Janie who seems to be narrating the story, is a little too much, too adult, too out of place. But so much in this book is graceful and lovely; it’s the kind of thing you want to hug to your chest when you’re finished.
I wrote about a few books in last year’s Winter Reading for Eugene Weekly – Neal Stephenson’s Reamde and Cherie Priest’s Ganymede – and one, Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, for the Procrastinator’s Gift Guide, so I won’t revisit those here, despite the fact that I spent so much time on Reamde, I almost feel like it deserves several hundred more words.
To come in part two: Brian Wood’s Local, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, and more…