Sometimes? I Pretend To Be Neptune.

When I first started this blog, one of the things I thought might become a regular feature were book reviews — thoughts about what I was reading. But there’s a problem with this particular idea — I’ve been writing this blog for nearly a month, and in that span I haven’t finished a single book. How pathetic!

Part of the problem has been scheduling — the times I would normally spend reading I’ve recently spent watching movies, mapping floors in Etrian Odyssey III, or, yes, writing. But the real problem is simply that I am the pickiest goddamn reader on the face of the planet. If I’m engaged in what I’m reading, I’ll inhale it, but if it isn’t, I’ll hem and haw about it for days or weeks. (This is why I like Brandon Sanderson so much — if I finish one of his books in two whole days it means I’m taking my time.) I’ll pick up something and think “This looks interesting; I should read this”… but it’ll sit next to my chair as I think “Do I really want to read about the French Revolution, or would I rather watch Raiders of the Lost Ark for the fourth time in a weekend?” Robespierre and Marat ain’t winning that contest.

I have to be reading the exact right book for my emotional state at any given time, or I simply won’t read at all. This caused be no end of hell in college, but even now I find myself conflicted when I’ve got four books due back at the library in four days, but what I really want to do is re-read the Belgariad for the fiftieth time.

So, on that note, some notes on books which failed to captivate me recently, and which will probably never get read as a result. I’d like to say that I enjoyed our brief time together, but, well… if that were true, they wouldn’t still be unfinished. Damn these authors, not writing books to suit my precise mood.

  • Under Heaven, by Guy Gabriel Kay. I’ve never been able to get into Kay. I’ve heard good things about him, but his books are such slow burns that I can always feel my attention drifting after a few chapters (sometimes even after the prologue!). This one takes place in faux-China and is about… horses, I think, at least on the surface. In truth, it’s probably an intricate tapestry of byzantine political maneuverings, but I didn’t get that far. He’s obviously a highly skilled writer from a technical standpoint, I can tell that much, but I need more eyeball kicks to grab my attention.
  • Black Ships, by Jo Graham. I knew I was in trouble with this one when the main character, supposedly six years old and a slave at the time, started talking like a college graduate with a minor in shipbuilding a few pages in. A little thing, but one that annoys me probably out of proportion to its actual importance. Characters should speak in their own voices! The narrative tone here also had that bleakly self-important tone that grates on the nerves not just in fantasy, but in fiction in general. Just because your story is serious and mature does not mean you cannot have a sense of humor! George R.R. Martin and K.J. Parker write dark, dark books, but ones filled with sarcasm and self-awareness. I hate it when writers take the “this is the most important story that has ever been written” tone. Apparently this is a retelling of the Aeneid from the perspective of one of Aeneas’s guides, an oracle named Gull. I can take or leave historical fantasy, but retellings almost never do anything for me, so I was probably doomed here from the start. Ah well. At least I didn’t waste too much time on it.
  • The Murder of a Medici Princess, by Caroline P. Murphy. This one’s a biography of Isabella de Medici, the daughter of a Medici duke in the 1500s who was murdered by her husband at the instigation of her older brother. I picked it up because I was interested in reading about Renaissance Italy, and this book painted a pretty decent picture of it. My problem here that that while Isabella is an interesting character, intelligent and well-spoken, she doesn’t have much impact on the sequence of events as a whole. She’s an anachronism — a strong, intelligent woman in a world that didn’t have any use for such, she wields no real authority, she only remains as free as she does with her father’s sufferance, and as soon as he dies she’s killed ignominiously. To me, a biography is most interesting if its subject is central to events, if their decisions change the course of history. Isabella is interesting, but she could have been boring and we’d still be where we’re at today. As soon as I could see where things were headed, I lost interest.
  • The Terror: A Merciless War For Freedom in Revolutionary France, by David Andress. I’ve got a weird relationship with history. I’m kind of a dilettante — I don’t focus on any one period of history with any enthusiasm, but rather jump around more or less at random. Last year I was on a Roman Empire kick, but this year I’ve been focusing more on medieval times. And now I’ve started to enter into more modern periods. However, I don’t read about history constantly. After reading three or four books on the subject I kind of burn myself out and have to return to fiction for a while, but eventually the urge will strike me again and I’ll start all over. And, unfortunately, this book is sitting on the wrong side of that scale currently. I haven’t read a page.

So there we have it — not so much a “what I’m reading” post as a “what I’m not only not reading, but am accepting any excuse to not read”. I’m a monster, I know.


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