Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vacation Reading

Once upon a time, I left for vacations with a big stack of books in my luggage. Eventually, I realized that I never read them, and I stopped bringing books. For the past few years the only thing I ever managed to read up at the lake was the cottage copy of Terry Pratchett's Lost Continent (I still have no idea how it got there), and maybe a magazine or two.

In high school, college, and early adulthood, it wasn't rare for me to read a book every single day. Not generally demanding books, granted; I do gravitate toward the fluffier end of the SF/F spectrum, but still. How I've gone from that to struggling toward a goal of a book a month is a long story, mainly to do with children and the decisions that came after them.

With this vacation, I tried to be a little more ambitious; after all, Lydia is older and more able to self-entertain, and JJ still naps in the afternoon. I had my copy of Jhegaala. I had an Ian Rankin novel (The Black Book) a coworker loaned me. (I still have the third of the Dresden Files, come to that, but I kind of dread resuming it.) I even lugged along The Middle Sea, which I got for my birthday--two years ago, or three?

And... I read! Jhegaala turned out to be something of a disappointment, which is always sad because when Brust is on, he is on, and when he's not, you feel like a massive opportunity has been missed. It was okay, but it was an episode that didn't really add anything to the Story of Vlad. It's set in Fenario, which is fine, but all the action is in one tiny town, so it can't be said that we get to know the land or the people. None of the old characters show up (I spent pages waiting for Aliera to appear and kick some ass... never happened; in fact, there was a striking shortage of ass-kicking throughout). The characters are almost universally people I have no interest in meeting again, which is good I guess, because we're not likely to do so. Vlad doesn't get any insights into his own situation or nature. I can't even figure out exactly when in his timeline it's supposed to have taken place--before Issola, since he still has Spellbreaker and doesn't know some rather important things, but after his split with Cawti, but including epilogue-type action it covers about a year so that doesn't seem to work... I confess to being confused.

Spoilers ahead! The Black Book was my first exposure to Ian Rankin. I'm not really into the modern crime-mystery genre, and I found this to be an okay book, but I'm not likely to read more of him. There were a ridiculous number of characters and a truly baroque plot, which the author seemed to think all had to be wrapped into a single final package, even if it didn't quite fit in the box. I found the entire McPhail subplot extraneous and pretty distasteful. Eddie and Pat's murder of Willie seemed waaaaay out of line for either character. Getting the final plot explanation in the form of a dead character's journal seems to be cheating. The whole thing left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Maybe if I'd read the earlier books, it would all have made a bit more sense.

I'm nowhere near done with The Middle Sea, but so far it has also been something of a disappointment; other than some stuff on the Norman settlements in southern Italy, Mr. Norwich has presented little that is new to me, mainly giving out a blazingly fast overview of ancient and early medieval times, much like you would find in any general history of the era. For some reason, I had expected the sea itself, and the surrounding landscape, to play something of a role in the story, but so far this has not really been the case. It makes me want to write the book I wanted this one to be, which is always a dangerous notion.

I also spent time browsing through two new cookbooks: 660 Curries, a longtime darling of the Cooking Light forums, and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. The first looks fun and challenging, though a bit complicated, and the author's tone is occasionally intrusive, and Ina Garten can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. I am hoping to get back into a new recipe groove once I have a chance to sit down and do some planning. Farmer's market today, we'll see what they have....

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