I’m not primarily a romance blogger, or even frequently, but I do pick up the occasional romance — usually not contemporaries, at least not for straight romance, though there’s Susanna Kearsley, but more classic stuff like Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. (I do read LGBT romance, but that’s a rather separate genre in many ways.) I think that mostly lets me duck some of the rubbish said about romance books: I don’t constantly get shamed for the interest, though I’ve seen that attitude out there. Heck, my grandma always dismisses what she reads as ‘penny dreadfuls’, and as far as I can tell at least some of it is mushy romance and family sagas (though she also likes Dorothy Dunnett, so there’s that for comparison).
I can totally understand people for whom romance isn’t a thing they want to read about — but I do hate the attitude that reading romance is pointless or inferior in general. First off, I don’t believe in disparaging people for what they enjoy, because enjoyment is something humans crave and even need. And secondly, I hate the attitude that reading romance is just escapism or whatever: it deals with powerful emotions that real people feel and have to deal with, and with relationships between people and how they’re negotiated. I don’t know how anyone can act like reading about the invention of flying cars is more important than reading about how to navigate complex human relationships!
Like any genre, romance has its problems. It comes with a whole bag of tropes that can be really problematic, and romance just isn’t a priority for a lot of people (or even an interest at all for some). That’s great. But let’s not label it as pointless for everyone in every situation — and that’s the attitude that comes across sometimes, especially when people just dip into the genre and talk about it as a “guilty pleasure” or “a bit of fluff”… or a “penny dreadful”. It just sounds so dismissive.
Fiction is, for the most part, designed to entertain the reader. Let’s not disparage romance just for being really successful at doing that!
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, Christopher de Hamel
Most of us will never get to handle the real copies of the Hengwrt Chaucer or the Book of Hours made for Jeanne of Navarre, but this book gets you pretty close, with Christopher de Hamel describing how each book looks and feels (though smell, on reflection, is lacking), and even how they’re stored and the reading rooms he visited to handle them. He describes where each manuscript has been, too, and what’s brought it to wherever it now lives. There’s a lot of detail, much of it focusing on the brilliant illuminations of some of these manuscripts (meaning that manuscripts without illuminations that nonetheless have great literary value are missed out), with a lot of black and white reproductions, and a few glossy full colour inserts.
I found it fascinating: it probably depends on whether this is something you’re interested in. I found it one of those restful reads where I could let a lot of the information wash over me: interesting at the time, but I don’t need to know it. (Unlike, say, specific examples of post-mating, prezygotic reproductive barriers. Did you know that various species of North American field crickets are reproductively isolated with each other because, though they can mate, the sperm fails to fertilise the eggs in heterospecific pairs? Now you know, or at least, it’s washed over you. I need to know it until the 11th June.)
Anyway, the point is, I really enjoyed it, though I doubt I’ve retained even half of the information. It can be a bit dense if this isn’t your interest, though.
Good morning, everyone! I’m in the UK again ready for my exams, and getting up bright and early every day to study. So it’s no surprise that I’ve, uh, had quite a haul and not managed to read much. But before we get into that, here’s the obligatory bunny pictures!
She looks stern, but she just wants a piece of banana. You know you want to give her one.
“Oh no! The paps caught me cleaning my paws!”
I miss ’em, even though they’re a pile of chaos.
Received to review:
I also now have a paperback copy of Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun to go with the ebook! Now I definitely must hurry and read it.
Bought this week:
Yay, more British Library Crime Classics! I think there are two more in the post, too… Better be the last of the books for a while, heh.
Read this week:
Yep, that’s the sum total.
Reviewed this week:
–The Great Mortality, by John Kelly. A historical look at the Black Death, how it started and how it spread. Less science details than I’d have liked! 3/5 stars –Death on the Cherwell, by Mavis Doriel Hay. Entertaining, but not a patch on that other book written in the Golden Age about a women’s college in Oxford. 3/5 stars –Keeping Their Marbles, by Tiffany Jenkins. One of my more in-depth and conflicted reviews in quite a while. This book examines the case for repatriating artefacts and remains, and the author’s opinion is a resounding “don’t”. I struggle with that. 3/5 stars –The Fisher of Bones, by Sarah Gailey. Some fascinating ideas, and particularly the ending, but it felt more like a sketch map than a painting. 3/5 stars –Brimstone, by Cherie Priest. This one worked for me because of the strength of the characters. I’m not sure it’s Priest’s most memorable book, but I enjoyed reading it and definitely got invested. 4/5 stars
I’m always willing to try Cherie Priest’s books: I haven’t loved all of them, by any means, but there’s usually been something — an idea, a sense of atmosphere, a character — that just really makes it for me. So it was this time: I got really interested in gentle, tortured Tomas, in good-hearted and lively Alice, and I wanted them to triumph. I hated what was happening to Tomas, and to the community Alice finally found of people like her. I enjoyed Alice’s irreverence, her good intentions, her delight in things like food and drink and the fact that she didn’t care what people thought of that, for the most part.
The solution to the mystery of what’s haunting Tomas didn’t surprise me any, and the way things worked out was pretty much as I expected too. The strength of it was in how badly I wanted things to be okay for Tomas, how much I wanted them all to triumph, and the fact that I was actually afraid that one particular character would die before the end of the book.
The horror here is mostly, for me, in the way Tomas is manipulated which is really what darkened the book for me. Violent and demonic ghost/spirit/things, eh, but those things hiding themselves and using a (relatively) innocent man — that got to me.
Wow, where to start with this. My thoughts are still all scattered! I wasn’t very wowed while reading it: that’s not what has me conflicted. It was an interesting enough story and setting, though at times it felt as if Fisher was just lurching from crisis to crisis, with no real indication of what happened in between. I wanted more characterisation, more meat on the bones of the ongoing tragedy, to make me really feel it and feel the strain of the characters’ journey, their isolation.
There are some really raw feelings here — hurt and betrayal and displacement and fear… but it was blunted by not knowing enough about the people it was happening to. I would’ve also enjoyed more background and depth to the world: it didn’t feel two-dimensional, but it felt like a sketch map rather than a painting, if that makes sense. The detail might’ve been there, but I couldn’t see it at this resolution.
Anyway, before I delve any further into mixed metaphors (ack! there I go again), I’ll just have to conclude that I found this tantalising and intriguing, but I wanted more from it, and I wanted a bit more foreshadowing of the conclusion, which was like a bolt from the blue for me as well as for the characters. It should fit in with all the other pieces, in hindsight, but it didn’t quite.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
Too much at once, as ever, but really actively I’m reading Witchmark by C.L. Polk, which is fun and which I really need to give more attention to, and Hadrian’s Wall, by David J. Breeze and Brian Dobson, which is satisfying my brain with information I don’t have to remember. Have I mentioned I have exams coming up? I have exams coming up.
What have you recently finished reading?
My brain actually went totally blank about this. I think the last thing I finished might’ve been The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, a few days ago. I still need to collect my thoughts about that — I liked it, but not excessively. I did enjoy the fact that the characters were all squatters and travellers — not a perspective you see that often (at least in what I read).
What will you be reading next?
Endless flashcards with names of infectious diseases and lists of symptoms. But, uh, book-wise, I don’t really know. I might reread The Invisible Library, and have some good fun to distract my brain. Or I might just dig into Deadline, since I reread Feed for the sole purpose of getting back into reading that trilogy.
Argh, this book gives me such mixed feelings. Tiffany Jenkins is an unabashed supporter of keeping the Elgin Marbles, and many other items in collections like that of the British Museum which come from other countries. She lays out several arguments for this, including the fact that some of these items would have been destroyed if they weren’t in the UK, either now or when they were first collected. She also argues that no contemporary culture can really claim direct descent from the people whose artefacts and remains are now displayed, and that the British Museum (or insert other museum with a comparable collection here) is an ideal place to study and understand these artefacts. The British Museum, she points out, allows you to see objects in their historical context, and make connections between them.
She also argues that some of these items were legitimately bought or obtained originally, so that should still hold now — even if those sales were forced by the poverty of the people in question, by colonial pressure, etc, etc. That’s such a weak argument, I just dismissed it straight away: how can we know those choices were really free choices, now? Best to assume they were not, and accept whatever moral obligation that puts us under. We’ll be right more than half the time, I would guess.
Jenkins is notably particularly against returning bodies to their putative modern equivalent cultures, because of the loss of scientific data that entails — that, she argues, is more important than the fate of bodies whose former owners surely don’t care about it now! I find this a callous and dismissive point of view, because it demands that everyone else see the world the way she does, and ascribe no value to physical remains. She wants to totally disregard what people may have intended in having their bodies interred in particular ways: science is all. And I’m not with her on that; personally, I don’t think it’ll matter to me what happens to my body once I’m dead, but I’d fight you if you wanted to exhume my grandfather without my family’s permission for an indefinite period of time, even for science, and even more so if you wanted to display his remains. They’re human remains: I think we lose something of our respect for the living when we fail to remember that the dead were once alive and had their own wishes.
I don’t disagree with some of the goods Jenkins ascribes to museum collections, though. There is a scientific value in the remains and artefacts from long ago, and particularly in fields I’m very interested in myself, genetics and the history of disease. In the end, is that worth more than people? Not to me — but I feel that me and Jenkins would be at an impasse on this anyway, since I’m sure she would argue no disrespect is intended, no judgement of worth inherent in the decision.
I love museums, I do. I’m glad I’ve seen the real Rosetta stone, the real statues of dead kings, the actual cups or plates or coins that someone used long ago. Replicas and facsimiles aren’t the same in terms of their emotional impact. But still… there are people who are closer kin to the long-dead artisans and craftsmen who made all those items or were buried with them, and they deserve a chance to have that feeling too, in Greece or wherever else.
So I come to no conclusion on repatriation. Probably it’s something that should be considered on an individual basis, with careful evaluation of all the facts, with one exchange not necessarily setting precedent for another. These are discussions we need to have.
(Don’t ask me about the exhibition of dead bodies of whatever degree of antiquity, unless you want an impassioned and incoherent rant. I’m profoundly uncomfortable at the display of people who died in pain and confusion, such as the casts of bodies from Pompeii; to me, it’s an intrusion, and tourism a sick excuse.)
All in all, this is an interesting read: I don’t agree with Jenkins, and I feel that some of her arguments tend to the insensitive (just as probably some people think that my concern for people of other cultures in the face of scientific facts is just my bleeding heart liberalism speaking), but it’s worth reading even if you expect to disagree. Honestly, I went in wanting her to convince me we should keep the Elgin Marbles and everything else, for selfish reasons, but left the book feeling that it really would just be selfishness, with no better reasons winning out.
Obviously, when you read this, you can’t help but compare it to Gaudy Night if you’re a Sayers fan, or at least versed in your Golden Age crime fiction. It’s set at a women’s college in Oxford, after all, though it lacks the maturity and reflection of Sayers’ novel — the characters are mostly undergraduates, and there’s some leaning on stereotypes like the one single foreign student who attends the college (and doesn’t think about time, or tidiness, or anything else in the same way as British students — of course). The characters get all entangled in solving a mystery half for the fun of it, although there is the same focus on protecting the reputation of the college as Harriet and her peers feel in Gaudy Night.
Overall, it’s entertaining, with a fairly obvious (to me, anyway) mystery; it’s an interesting read as part of my ongoing dive into Golden Age crime fiction — but I’m not in a hurry to read Mavis Doriel Hay’s other two novels republished by the British Library. I probably will, but they haven’t catapulted to the top of my list.
The Great Mortality is how the Black Death was referred to, before we came to know it by that evocative name. There’s a lot of detail here if you’re interested in the historical aspects of the plague: where it struck, how people reacted, the changes it brought about. The scientific background is a bit more lacking, though: there’s some tantalising hints, like a brief discussion of the increased virulence of the illness compared to the modern version that’s still endemic in some parts of the world, but for me with my primarily scientific rather than purely historical or sociological outlook, it began to drag.
So, not a bad read, but not what I was really looking for.