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Every summer, I get a chance to catch up on my reading. Here are the book reviews, from my pile to yours, in no particular order.

The Memory-Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I can honestly say that I bought this book in Maine for lack of anything else to read. It was being hailed as the "beach read of the summer," and if that isn't warning bells, I don't know what is. The story centers around a doctor and his wife (circa 1950) who have twins in the middle of a blizzard, and the girl twin has Down syndrome. The doctor tells his wife the
girl died, and the nurse is supposed to take the girl to a home, but she runs off with the baby instead. The book is a character piece, a dreamy slow work full of misty emotional passages about how this Affects Everyone, and I found myself terrifically bored after a while. Maybe you have to be a mother.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict

This book is a cultural anthropological study of the Japanese post-WWII that was commissioned by the US government in order to better understand how to deal with the Japanese. The author writes without an agenda - there's no effort to rationalize how the Japanese behave, only "this is how it is." Particularly revealing are the sections on hierarchy and how the Japanese armies were absolutely boggled to find out that the people they were conquering weren't happy about it, and also the sections concerning the intricate and burdensome networks of obligations that the Japanese person must spend his/her life paying back - to one's parents, to one's peers, to one's teachers, to the emperor, etc (on, giri, gimu, ko, and so on.) I won't say we don't have similar feelings in the West, but they do not affect the American to nearly the same degree. It's pretty rare that my husband swipes a book from me, but he got his paws on this one before I was even done with it, and that says a lot.

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

Since I enjoyed the Tamir trilogy by Flewelling, I thought I'd try this trilogy, which is set hundreds of years afterwards. There's some medieval skulduggery and a lot of magical hand-waving, but the main thrust of this trilogy seems to be the blossoming romance between Alec and Seregil. Flewelling isn't the best at writing romance, and I've been around the fandoms too long to really want to read three books' worth of gay men wibbling like teenyboppers over First Love. Misty Lackey didn't break me in to the whole notion of homosexuality by writing seme/uke stereotypes, so I didn't bother moving backwards in my perceptions, and I won't be finishing this one.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Heartbreaking. Written in the hardlined Asian tradition of taking no prisoners where tragedy is concerned. The passages about how young Chinese girls had their feet bound made me nauseated, and yet the "golden lilies" were a ticket to a better future. The protagonist rises, her friend falls, and it's hard to call the ending happy. You all watch anime, you know what I mean.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

[ profile] buttercup0222 introduced me to Neil Gaiman, and this book was supposed to be really really good, so I figured it'd make a good cruise read. All I can say is, FANTASTIC. Devoured this in three days, interspersed with my PADI manual. Intriguing concept: immigrants bring the ideas of their gods with them to America, and the gods manifest, but then the people believe in new things and stop believing in the old gods, and the old gods are left to make their own way. The book centers around a war between the old gods and the new gods (like media and electronics) and who's really driving the war and for what purpose. I'd say this was my recommended read of the summer, but I'd have to declare it a tie with the next entry.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I'd understood that this book was a classic of the cyberpunk genre before picking it up, but I had no idea how revolutionary it was until I'd gotten about a quarter of the way through it and then checked the publication date - 1984. When the Internet was still a beepy thing that you might access with your phone line and boxy modem, if you had even heard of things like Prodigy. Neuromancer is complex and multilayered, and years ahead of its time, and you have to wonder how long it's going to be before people do start "jacking in" to the Internet the way the protagonist Case does. I'll probably have to reread the ending again because I don't quite understand the full relationship between 3Jane, Linda Lee, Molly, Wintermute, and Neuromancer, but it'll be a pleasure rather than a chore.

Red Azalea by Anchee Min

Anchee Min grew up in Communist China and wrote this autobiography after emigrating to the US. She starts out as an idealistic student who has memorized the propagandist operas of Comrade Jiang Ching and the sayings of Mao, and ends up finding the rot in the core of the regime. I was amazed by her descriptions of the people singing the highest praises of Chairman Mao even while his programs starved them to death - it was as if they'd traded one emperor for another. Some animals are more equal than others, as George Orwell wrote, and this book illustrates it in short, poignant, and often awkward prose.

Still have a couple books left to read, like Fateful Harvest, which my intern gave to me. I'm somewhat reluctant to read it because I'll probably feel like part of the problem afterwards, since I work for big chemical companies, but I feel like I should. Still, Fast Food Nation didn't do much for my appetite, so this might just further my current fantasy of selling it all and running a dive boat in the Caribbean. Ah well, they can't all be fun reads. :)


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January 2014

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