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13 August 2015 @ 01:11 pm
publicBooks of 2015: III  
21. Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change by Caroline Lucas
"Caroline Lucas is an outsider, inside, fighting for parliamentary reform and for the interests of her constituents. She is a politician with a radical mission and a clear vision of how change can be achieved. From the NHS to corporate tax evasion, from climate change to immigration, Honourable Friends? tells the story of 5 years in Westminster and offers bold and practical suggestions for a fairer British political system. It is a unique book by a unique politician and activist.”

I’m so glad that she got back into her seat in this General Election! Her book was full of common sense, compassion, anger, and the feeling that she just genuinely works hard in order to do the best that she can for her constituents and the rest of the UK (or indeed world). The second half of the book was mostly going over things that I already knew, but I was pretty shocked to discover in the first half that the fancy restaurants selling champagne and caviar within the House of Commons are subsidised by our taxes, and that MPs’ offices are given out by the governing party, with the party whips going through voting records to see how loyal MPs have been to the party, and giving rebels the offices next to the toilets, and line-toers ones with views of the Thames... She also pointed out that everyone contributes to social security through VAT, so the argument that people who’ve never worked (though as we have no actual statistics about how many people have never worked, who knows how many of them there really are, anyway) don’t deserve Jobseeker’s Allowance or housing benefit is just straight up crap. I already disagreed with the idea on principle, but I hadn’t considered the fact that it’s just not true! I also like her approach to the debate about renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system - “[t]he more cogent argument is that our security is better guaranteed by addressing the causes of war: the scramble for natural resources, increasing poverty and inequality, international rivalries, the arms trade, the suppression of democracy and freedom of speech, and so on. The money spent on Trident could do far more good in supporting ways to reduce tensions between nations and combating nuclear proliferation” (p157).

22. Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella by Lewis Trondheim, translated by Joe Johnson
"The great talent behind the new generation in Europe, the Dungeon series, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and Mr. O, pours his heart out in funny snippets of everyday life. His paranoia, little annoyances, big annoyances, chase of rainbows, love of comics, travel impressions from around the world, dealing with kids, being a kid: it’s all about life as we know it. A collection from his comics blog that expands his palette with full color painting, one can only be awed at Trondheim’s uncanny sense of observation and relate to all his experiences closely. Another touch of genius by one of today’s best and most influential comic artists.”

Probably the best thing about libraries (other than the fact that they save me about £1,000 a year that I’d otherwise have to spend to read all of these books x.x) is browsing around and picking up random things that catch your eye. This comic was funny and charming, and some of his various little habits and superstitions really struck a chord, like being paranoid that you’re on the wrong train until you hear the destination announced, or always checking to see that you have your house keys if your partner’s away. It was just kind of nice to read about the quirks of someone’s everyday life. It reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s writing in that way - saying that there doesn’t have to be big drama for life to be interesting.

23. The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
“For a thousand years the ash fell. For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Every attempted revolt has failed miserably.
Yet somehow hope survives. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the courage of an unlikely heroine, a Skaa street urchin, who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a mistborn.
What if the prophesied hero had failed to defeat the Dark Lord? The answer will be found in the Mistborn trilogy, a saga of surprises that begins here."

For the first couple of hundred pages, this book was really irritating me - a single female character (other than one who had died in order to create Man Angst), a ubiquitous Mysterious Man with Tragic Past, and a group of privileged men who were going to succeed where the ordinary people had failed due to beaten-down apathy and lack of imagination. But I kept reading because of the things that I did like, and the multiple recommendations for the book that I’d received, and to my surprise the author actually started addressing and calling out these issues :O How awesome! Unlike so many other fantasies that I’ve read, he used The Chosen Few to explore what makes a movement for change, what creates hope, how people can resist oppression, the interactions of rich and poor, and how belief systems are formed. I hope he does introduce more female characters in the later books, because that’s still disappointing, but in the other areas my annoyance was overturned and I found the discussion of how a revolution could actually occur thought-provoking. The Allomancy was definitely one of the things that kept me reading those irritating first sections; the logic of how the metals worked was excellent. I think it’d make a great film, visually, shadowy figures following streaks of light in the gloom of an ashfall. The plot twists are addictive too - I could see some of them coming, and had so much fun speculating, but some of the major ones were a complete shock, even though I could then look back and see where the clues had been laid. One random detail that I really liked was the fact that the meals he described were vegetable-based - poor people were eating realistically for once.

24. L'Odyssée DaleMark, Tome 3 : Les houppelandes magiques by Diana Wynne Jones, translated by Laurence Kiefé
"Tanaqui et ses frères et soeur sont contraints de fuir leur maison lorsque tous les villageois se retournent inexplicablement contre eux.
Ils entreprennent un long et dangereux voyage jusqu'à la mer, luttant contre les forces maléfiques qui se déchaînent autour d'eux. En racontant l'histoire de leur périple, la jeune fille va peu à peu rassembler des éléments qui lui permettront peut-être de venir à bout de Kankredin, le terrible mage noir à l'origine des sombres événements qui ravagent le Dalemark préhistorique. Parviendra-t-elle à préserver sa famille et à accomplir la destinée qui est la leur?”

*_* There is something simply beautiful about this book. I think that this is the first Diana Wynne Jones book so far to have made me cry, and that this was the first book to make me cry in this nostalgically melancholic way: feeling as though I’d just witnessed something important and precious, like I was privileged to have touched this sliver of the past, that leaving it behind there was painful, but that I was so happy to have glimpsed it. It made the history of our own world much more real to me, in the same way that first realising that your parents or teachers are also people with thoughts and feelings makes you realise that other people exist, as something more than the background for your life. And I loved Tanaqui. I loved her weaving, her grumpiness, her bossiness, her confusion, her realisations, her bravery, her fear. She was so alive, as was the incredibly vivid landscape. There’s so much power coursing through this book. I’m also interpreting certain things as pointing to the first canon queer DWJ characters that I’ve read - this is pretty much the only thing that I’d fault her writing on: too much neat heterosexuality.

25. Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

"Diana Wynne Jones is best-known for her novels and stories - of magical fantasy - written mainly for children. She received a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2007, as well as two Mythopoeic Awards and the Guardian Fiction Award for Charmed Life. But she was also a witty, entertaining speaker, a popular guest at science fiction and fantasy conventions and an engaged, scholarly critic of writing that interested her.
This collection of more than twenty-five papers, chosen by Diana herself, includes fascinating literary criticism (such as a study of narrative structure in The Lord of the Rings and a ringing endorsement of the value of learning Anglo Saxon) alongside autobiographical anecdotes about reading tours (including an account of her famous travel jinx), revelations about the origins of her books, and thoughts in general about the life of an author and the value of writing. The longest autobiographical piece, 'Something About the Author', details Diana's extraordinary childhood and is illustrated with family photographs. Reflections is essential reading for anyone interested in Diana's works, fantasy or creative writing.
The collection features a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an introduction and interview by Charlie Butler, a respected expert on fantasy writing.”

This was so interesting in a variety of ways. The two last essays are by her sons, and, after reading an entire book of her first-person narrative, it was a real shock to hear some of the events that I’d taken her word for told from a different point of view. I had formed such a clear image of what she was like as a person (intelligent, eccentric, alive, fair, quick, honest, frank), how she lived life, that to have that suddenly called into question was a bit brutal, an inescapable reminder that everything is viewed through each individual’s very subjective lens. Another interesting and bewildering contrast was that of her amazing essay about Fire and Hemlock's interwoven mythologies and complex structure with her piece about how writing just sort of happens, as though you’re seeing it occurring from the corner of your eye, even as you’re also contradictorily planning it meticulously... That idea reminds me of deliberately temporarily forgetting something, which feels as though it should be impossible. She also wrote a lot about the roles that fantasy and imagination play in the lives of both children and adults, giving you a safe place in which to work out your problems by yourself, stretching your mind, and also just allowing you to have some fun. Even if my 100% rosy view of her has been wrested from my grip, I’m still blown away by her cleverness and funniness, and her respect for the art of writing and the intelligence and validity of her audiences.

26. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
"The impossible has happened. The Lord Ruler has been vanquished. But so too is Kelsier the man who masterminded the triumph. The awesome task of rebuilding the world has been left to his protégé Vin; a one-time street urchin, now the most powerful Mistborn in the land.
Worryingly for her Vin has become the focus of a new religion, a development that leaves her intensely uneasy. More worryingly still the mists have become unpredictable since the Lord Ruler died and a strange vaporous entity is stalking Vin.
As the siege of Luthadel intensifies the ancient legend of the Well of Ascension offers the only glimmer of hope. But no-one knows where it is or what it can do...”

Woo, 200% increase in developed or semi-developed female characters!!! That still leaves us with a ratio of 3:15, buuut, at least it’s an increase. I was pretty disappointed by a disparaging remark of Ham’s which belittled one of my main reasons for coming to like The Final Empire - Vin’s outburst about the crew’s privilege - but otherwise I thought the philosophical discussions about power, leadership, and citizenship continued to be interesting, if less focused on my particular interests as compared to the first book. I’d’ve liked to see more about how the skaa live now (now that they’re not being Soothed by the Lord Ruler, for one thing), about whether it’s acceptable for the supposed liberators to have servants whom they casually order about, and about how far social change can go in a limited time frame. Also, why do women in fantasy novels always hide somewhere during the crucial fights for the survival of their people/cities/whatever? Why are only the men trained up when there’s advance warning of an approaching threat? You could literally DOUBLE your army! And in this particular case, the skaa women were also physical labourers under the Lord Ruler, so it’s not as though they’d be any less capable, other than a probable height/weight difference which would be unimportant considering the level of the crisis... Is hiding the women an authorial decision meant to show the nobility of the male characters or increase the stakes/pathos of the situation? Why is the agency of these women never talked about? Men go into battle thinking they might well die, so women must be going into hiding thinking that they’ll probably be found and slaughtered - that’s a pretty horrendous headspace that could be explored. I really liked some of the character development - the arc with OreSeur was great, and Sazed is still my favourite ♥ I also liked the theme of manipulation via Breeze, Zane, Tindwyl, and Kwaan. And the fucking plot twists ahhhhh, so good! What’s going to happeeeeennn?!?!

27. きのう何食べた? 1 by Yoshinaga Fumi

Wooooo, my first Japanese read of the year! Well, first finished read - I’m still crawling through Norwegian Wood (crawling not because it’s not great, but because I get scared off reading it in case I’ll feel sad about how many words I have to look up... Evidently a vicious cycle...). This series is slice-of-life, half recipe collection, half story, about a middle-aged gay couple, their friends and family and work. It’s actually nice to be reading a BL (well... ML?) manga where the characters falling for one another isn’t the drive of the story, rather their everyday interactions - sad, thought-provoking, hilarious, or awkward - with a whole range of people, and I’d like to try some of the recipes! Reading this was actually much more difficult than Norwegian Wood, because of all the slang and abbreviations in the dialogue and little author’s notes, the many times when only half of the grammar is there because you’re expected to know the rest of it from the context. Thank god for internet language forums.

28. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
[Just so ya know, this blurb is pretty SPOILERIFIC for the previous book in the series!!]
"Who is the Hero of Ages?
To end the Final Empire and restore freedom, Vin killed the Lord Ruler. But as a result, the Deepness---the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists---is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.
Having escaped death at the climax of The Well of Ascension only by becoming a Mistborn himself, Emperor Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by the Lord Ruler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been tricked into releasing the mystic force known as Ruin from the Well. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. She can't even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!
The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave readers rubbing their eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.”

I’m actually a bit vague on my impressions of this book, as I devoured it in an adrenaline-fueled rush. So many mysteries to unravel, so much guesswork about who the hero had to be and how Ruin was doing things and how the hell they were going to get out of the many messes. I do remember that I really liked Vin’s character development in this book - showing that, throughout the series, she’s become her own, independent person, not reliant on others for validity or definition, but knowing who she is and what she wants and needs, which I think is pretty rare for female characters. Said’s development was less pleasant to follow, but pretty thought-provoking - I liked the discussion of what it means to have faith, what the point of it is, and could accept the points made, even if I’m not sure that I agree with the general idea. It was great to finally find out more about long-standing questions: the Steel Inquisitors, the Lord Ruler, metals.

29. - 31. Yukon Ho!, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, The Revenge of the Baby-sat by Bill Watterson

"Perhaps the most brilliant comic strip ever created, Calvin and Hobbes continues to entertain with dazzling cartooning and tremendous humor.
Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes has been a worldwide favorite since its introduction in 1985. The strip follows the richly imaginative adventures of Calvin and his trusty tiger, Hobbes. Whether a poignant look at serious family issues or a round of time-travel (with the aid of a well-labeled cardboard box), Calvin and Hobbes will astound and delight you.”

I read these while on holiday in America, which seems fitting. Man, they’re just hilarious XD I want to make icons of Calvin wearing fake eyeballs made from ping-pong balls and of Hobbes saying he has a bad feeling just before everything goes horribly wrong. Reading these also gave me an interesting window into where I am at this point in life in terms of imagination - is Hobbes a live tiger or does Calvin just have an extremely vivid imagination? It can’t be that you lose the ability to see his true live-tiger form due to age (his parents), because Susie can’t see him this way either... So does he pretend to be a stuffed animal in front of others as a defense mechanism, or can only Calvin see his true self because they’re close? Or... is he really just a cuddly toy? I’m happy that my mind is still genuinely open to possibility that he’s really a live tiger, but a bit sad that it takes a little bit of effort to keep it that way. That said, I still find it easy to believe that there are dragons living hidden in the hills - the closer-to-everyday-life situation of Calvin and Hobbes is just harder to sort out...
Mood: shocked
Music: Together - Patrick Wolf
( Post a new comment )
Emily-Faystar_sailor13 on August 13th, 2015 04:18 pm (UTC)
I'm a big Brandon Sanderson fan myself. It's been an absolute age since I read the Mistborn trilogy but I am really invested in his Stormlight Archive - two books have been published so far (out of a proposed 10 for the series) but they're both around 1000 pages each so it's no exactly a quick read! The male:female ratio wasn't something that struck me as being particularly imbalanced, and book two is focused on the story progression of one of the main female characters. As you mentioned, Sanderson's work is really visual which I find very appealing. I think rather than a film adaptation, his stuff would make for an awesome anime.
Caspian: Go Gryffindorpunkheid on August 18th, 2015 03:37 pm (UTC)
(Hello!) That sounds promising, and I'm certainly not averse to long reads :D It's been added to my ginormous to-read list! I'd actually really like to get into an ongoing series again (after ages of determinedly staying away from them), just for the immense fun of speculating with folk about what's going to happen. I'd also like to read The Alloy of Law soon, and I'm quite intrigued by Warbreaker. Ahh, that's interesting - now that you've suggested an anime, I see that my imaginings were a mixture of live action and animation (sort of in the style of Sky Blue).