Mocking Jonathan Franzen: A links round-up

In a review of a novel by Mussolini, Dorothy Parker wrote:

If only I had a private income, I would drop everything right now, and devote the scant remainder of my days to teasing the Dictator of All Italy…Indeed, my dream-life is largely made up of scenes in which I say to him, “Oh, Il Duce yourself, you big stiff,” and thus leave him crushed to a pulp.

And this is just how I feel about Jonathan Franzen. Not because he is a fascist or in any way a danger to America. Just because I find him extremely annoying, and I find internet jokes at his expense extremely delightful. All of which to say: ‘Tis evidently the season once again to be making fun of Franzen.

A call for messy comic book heroines.

I still like listening to stuff on vinyl, but otherwise, this point about the internet improving our lives is well taken.

Y’all this may make me a curmudgeon but I don’t want a brain-net. I like the internet where it is, exterior to my brain. Please and thank you.

Linda Holmes of NPR tackles the problems with portraying Black Widow in a superhero landscape woefully short on women.

HOORAY Eddie Redmayne is confirmed going to be in the JK Rowling movie about magical beasts.

After the most recent icky rape scene in Game of Thrones the Show, The Mary Sue has made an editorial decision to stop promoting or talking about the show.

On titles that are lists of three things. It notes that they sound better if the third thing is longer, and that, friends, is why some genius came up with the name “ascending tricolon,” a phrase I tried not to overuse on my Latin AP exam many years ago.

This woman was, as a toddler, a participant in primate research. She remembers almost nothing about it.

Lessons learned from Dan Jones’s The Plantagenets

Dan Jones’s The Plantagenets is a hugely enjoyable read, particularly if you are (as I am) already roughly conversant with the early kings and queens of England. Since I have a vague outline in my head of the course of early British history, this book might as well have been Gossip about the Plantagenets. My main takeaways were on a theme, that theme being People from History Who Were Way Worse Than You Thought.

First up: Thomas Becket. I know you learned in school that Thomas Becket was a martyr to his faith, and “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” etc. That is true as far as it goes, but what I learned last year in rough outline and then again from The Plantagenets in some detail is that the principle in question was neither especially religious nor especially defensible on moral grounds. Henry II wanted to change a policy whereby rapists and murderers who were also members of the clergy faced trial by the church rather than the state. Becket refused to entertain this idea, and he kept right on doing church trials where the clergy people got off with light penalties or none at all. Henry II did not care for this, and neither do we modern folks.

Down with theocracy!

Also, Becket sounds very annoying. Every time he got mad at Henry and his political allies, he would order them to be excommunicated, and he did this so often that the Pope had to say, “No, don’t worry about it, y’all are still in the Church.” I’m not saying Becket deserved to die, but at a certain point it’s like, bro,  you know what century you live in. You can’t print up business cards that say Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and Full-Time King Disobeyer and remain sanguine about your life expectancy.

NEXT AND BEST: King John. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, But Jenny, I already know that King John was garbage. If he hadn’t been so garbage, we wouldn’t have the Magna Carta. Dude, I know. I also thought I knew what a garbage king he was. But I did not appreciate the full extent of his awfulness. I sort of thought it had been exaggerated by history. I was super wrong.

I made this gif! Yay me!
Accurate historical representation.

For one thing, he levied so many taxes on his subjects that there was a coin shortage. Just think about that for a moment. He had so many coins living in his royal coffers that there weren’t enough coins for other English people to use for purchasing goods and services. This was not ultimately beneficial to the Plantagenet leadership, as his son Henry III basically spent it all on making fancy churches fancier, leaving the kingdom in enormous debt to Italian bankers.

This one time, he imprisoned the other potential heir to the throne of England, his teenage nephew Arthur (fine), and he kept the kid in fairly dire conditions (not fine). Once when he got drunk, he ordered one of his vassals to go to Arthur’s cell and blind and castrate him, which luckily the guy chickened out of doing. But later that year, Arthur disappeared from his prison and was never seen again. It is believed that John got drunk, killed Arthur, and threw his body in the river. It is sort of hard to believe that he would do such an insane and unbeneficial thing, but on the other hand, he was all the time doing insane things that didn’t make any sense.

Maybe take a break from killing people for a little while, John old pal.

Case in point: One year, John decided that one of his barons, William de Briouze, who had been a strong ally to him all along, was probably actually plotting to destroy him. (This was not the case.) He started demanding that de Briouze pay huge sums of money to the Crown and send hostages to John’s court to ensure his good behavior. When de Briouze did not immediately comply, John sent mercenary armies to capture his castles, and then billed de Briouze for the cost of the mercenary soldiers. Like, he wanted de Briouze to pay wages to the guys who had just stolen his property.

After some ultimately unsuccessful fleeing by de Briouze and his family to Ireland, John captured his wife and son and imprisoned them in very yucky conditions in one of his castles, where they died within the year. One report says that they died of starvation, and that deBriouze’s son’s body had tooth marks on it because his mother went insane from hunger and tried to eat him.

Whether or not that particular gruesome story is true, we can all certainly agree that John I is sure to be known as John the Worst. And too bad, I think! John is an excellent king name, and thanks to rotten John Lackland (that’s a mean nickname people gave him when he was young, though not the meanest nickname he ever received; see tags), we’ll never have another King John of England.

This post could be twelve paragraphs longer, but I’ll let you digest all of this, and we’ll see about coming back to the Plantagenets in a later post. Maybe in that post I will make the disclaimer that Dan Jones has not got nearly enough footnotes and sometimes he says things as if they are fact when actually they are under some dispute by historians; but that his writing is extremely engaging and I am learning many excellent stories about the early kings of England.

The Villette Readalong is here at last!

I had a bumpy start with Villette, insofar as I instantly loathed everybody. I’m not trying to get on Lucy Snowe’s case, but her youth seems to have prepared her exceptionally well for becoming the kind of mean governess who hits you with a ruler for saying you think Richard the Lionheart was bad at governing a nation. She is so judgey right off the top. Here are Lucy Snowe’s assessment of all the characters in the first three chapters, in GIF format.

Polly:

Polly’s father:

Graham:

The effect of this is to make me dislike all those characters (well done Lucy Snowe), but also to sort of hate Lucy because if she can’t abide any single person in her life, maybe the problem is her. Plus, she says this when Polly cries (bear in mind, Polly is six):

I had some thoughts of consoling her, and of improving the occasion by inculcating some of those maxims of philosophy whereof I had ever a tolerable stock ready for application.

She sounds like Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, and that’s not a good look for anybody. Luckily she then heads off to live with somebody she does like, an old invalid lady who hires her as a companion. The old lady one day decides that she’s going to Do Right by Lucy Snowe and organize her will in such a manner that Lucy Snowe will be Taken Care Of.

Except! This is not the end of a Horatio Alger story; it is the start of a Charlotte Bronte story. Nobody has governessed even a little bit so far, so you know Lucy Snowe’s not going to get off that easy. The very night Mrs. Marchmont decides she’s going to help Lucy out, she dies.

Ain’t that a kick in the head.

If it were me, I’d be bitter about this situation, but Lucy Snowe takes it in stride, which makes me like her more. She doesn’t waste any time on recrimination and anxiety. She puts on her big-girl panties and goes off to London to try her fortunes there. Good for you, Lucy Snowe! London is the best! I hope everything goes awesome for you in London just like it did for this dude:

Head over to Reading Rambo where this readalong is being hosted and discover what the other folks have to say about it!

Reading the End [Pod]cast, Ep.20: A Review of Captain America: Shield of Dreams

Here is an experiment me and Randon did! Testing out some new equipment, we here have a podcast review of Captain America 2. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, leave us a review! We appreciate it very very much).

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Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

 

Wilkie in Winter!: Epoch the First

WILKIE IN WINTER I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. A hundred thank-yous to the wonderful Estella Society for hosting this event. Today we shall discuss the First Epoch of The Woman in White, or as I like to call it, the much-more-successful-first-act-than-the-first-act-of-The-Moonstone. (It’s a long nickname, yes, but it makes some good points.)

Of Wilkie Collins’s two most famous works, The Moonstone has a stronger finale, and The Woman in White a much much much stronger set-up. Where The Moonstone spends a lot of time on place-setting, The Woman in White has a short set-up where we meet Our Hero, Walter Hartright, and his friends and relations; and then, straight away, he finds himself in the middle of a mystery: He meets a woman in white, who won’t tell her name or her circumstances, but who is in some sort of atmospheric trouble and desperately needs his help to get to London.

just like this, except the woman has fair hair, and the enormous blue hand is the totality of strictures imposed on Victorian women

When Walter gets to his job in Cumberland, he is shocked to find that one of his pupils, Laura Fairlie (a woman of extraordinary beauty and sweetness, obv), is nearly identical to the mysterious, desperate woman he helped out in London. The memory of the woman in white gives him chills. Her similarity to Laura gives him chills. Hanging out in graveyards gives him chills but he elects to do it anyway. Like, kind of a lot, considering he’s a drawing master.

It’s hella atmospheric

Nobody cares about Laura Fairlie anyway because MARIAN! Marian is Walter’s other pupil, and she is — let’s face it — the point of this book. Marian Halcombe is Laura’s half sister. Where Laura is beautiful, sweet-natured, and dumb, Marian is outspoken and brilliant and ugly. Laura is too fearful and timid to even be told that there is a crazy lady walking around wearing her face and talking smack about her affianced husband — oh yeah, I was too bored with Laura to mention that the reason Walter’s love for her is doomed is that she’s engaged to this minor noble, Sir Percival Glyde, and she can’t get out of it because ?her father set it up? I don’t even know, and she’s too sweet-natured to change her mind. Oh, and she’s an heiress, also. Whatever.

So, MARIAN. While Laura is painting second-rate pictures or whatever she does to pass the time, Marian is using her wits to figure out whether Sir Percival Glyde is, in fact, a villain. (She thinks yes.) She and Walter try to get Anne Catherick to explain her horror of Sir Percival Glyde; but it’s tricky to get any sense out of her because she’s crazy. After Walter leaves (because of doomed love), Marian enlists the family lawyer to help her out. They do this by basically going to Sir Percival Glyde and saying, “Are you evil?”

Marian’s philosophy (for now)

Sir Percival Glyde gives a totally Snape-in-the-first-chapter-of-Half-Blood-Prince answer to this. Marian has reservations still, but the family lawyer buys it completely. Then he discovers that the proposed marriage settlement for Laura is insanely profitable to Sir Percival Glyde and would give Sir Percival Glyde a twenty thousand dollar incentive to murder Laura, basically.

Here’s where the book really picks up, suspense-wise. The strength of The Woman in White is how vividly it portrays the choicelessness of the women. Though Laura is wealthy and Marian clever, they still depend enormously on the goodwill and integrity of the men in their lives. All of Marian’s considerable intelligence cannot save Laura from the marriage; in fact, she depends on the goodwill of Sir Percival Glyde to remain in Laura’s life after her marriage. Whatever Wilkie Collins’s views were on women, he makes crazy suspense out of female inequality in his era.

I’m excited for the second epoch! The first epoch is scene-setting — which is great — but the second epoch is where it’s really at. Marian gets to do stuff, and Count Fosco shows up, and those are both good things.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.8: Fantastic Beasts Movie, Food in Books, and The Virgins

This week we’re here to talk about some amazing Harry Potter news, depictions of food in books, and Pamela Erens’s new novel The Virgins (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), and play a game of guessing where movies came from. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We will appreciate it very very much).

If you want to skip around, here are the contents of the podcast:

Starting at 1:04: We talk about the thrilling news that J. K. Rowling, the woman who gave us our entire childhoods, will be producing a brand new movie set in the Harry Potter world, based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. An announcement for the project can be found here, and further information compiled by nerds about what we can expect from this movie can be found here.

3:36: I come out against Benedict Cumberbatch as Newt Scamander. Whiskey Jenny is strongly in favor of him. You may give your opinion on this in the comments.

9:00: Please note that the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is making more money any more. It is the 12th highest-grossing film of all time.

Starting at 12:05: What makes food in books memorable? Whiskey Jenny has a bunch of good examples, and I invented a taxonomy. (When I revealed that there was a taxonomy, Whiskey Jenny said, “Good Lord. Gracious.” That is a fair response, I think.)

21:16: Here is the blog with the Game of Thrones recipes, in case your heart hankers after that.

Starting at 24:02: We review The Virgins, a book about teenagers in boarding school falling love and navigating the loss of their virginity etc.

25:16: Readers, you do not need to find out for yourself who is right. Whiskey Jenny is right. I am wrong. She is smarter than me.

Starting at 40:48: WE PLAY A GAME. It’s this game here if you want to play it for yourself.

Starting at 50:41: Recommendations! Next podcast is the second comics podcast, and we’ll be reading some Guardians of the Galaxy (a series on which I have yet to be sold). The next podcast after that will be a spooky Halloween podcast, on which we will review Donna Tartt’s new book The Goldfinch.

52:34: Closing remarks and outro

Credits
Photo credit: andreybl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.
The above links to books we’ve discussed are affiliate links. If you click on them and then buy a book from that website, I get a very small amount of money. This in no way influences my reviews.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.6: Defying Genre; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; and J. J. Abrams’s Book Trailer

We have returned once again to talk about more books! This week, we have a discussion about genre and how to make it better (spoiler alert: WHOLE TABLES OF BOARDING SCHOOL BOOKS), review Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), and answer a listener question about book trailers. Except we say “reader question” in the podcast. We have no idea why we keep saying that. We know you are listeners. We know that.

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We will appreciate it very very much).

If you want to skip around, here are the contents of the podcast:

Starting at 1:17 – We talk about genre distinctions, which we feel should be more specific in order to make us happy, although we do recognize that if there was a Boarding School Books section at the bookstore, Gin Jenny would never read anything else. Please tell us what your super-specific Netflix genres are! Edited to add: I found this interesting article about how Netflix collects data about what you watch and uses it to recommend more things.

4:46: It IS Bookish.com, and their recommendation feature is here. It has been refined since I last used it — now you can provide them with up to four books that you already like, and they’ll give you ever-carefuler recommendations. Of course it isn’t perfect. I asked it what books I would like if I liked Kage Baker’s Company series, and it thought I might enjoy a book about developing agility and quickness. But I asked what else I would like if I liked The Sparrow and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and it recommended me Octavia Butler and Sheri Tepper. So that seems pretty good.

Starting at 15:07: We review We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I really liked this one, and I recommend it highly.

34:04: I have an amazingly difficult time saying the word expedition and the name James Tiptree Jr. Not sure what’s up here. Usually my articulation is excellent.

Starting at 36:48 – We answer a listener question about book trailers. Mia asked us (thanks, Mia!) whether we had seen the new JJ Abrams trailer, and what we thought about that marketing strategy plus what we thought about book trailers generally. Here’s the one-minute Abrams teaser, plus a second trailer.

Starting at 43:33 – Whiskey Jenny recommends our book for next time! It’s The Virgins, by Pamela Erens, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

45:03 – Closing remarks and outro.

Credits
Photo credit: andreybl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

Review: Illyria, Elizabeth Hand

Two-thirds of the way through this book I wanted to buy it for everyone on my Christmas list. At the end of it, I no longer did. I felt sort of depressed and unfinished.

That right there is my untrammeled reaction. I am writing this post (responsibly far in advance!) on the evening of the second day of the hurricane. Very very unusually I am writing it only a few hours after finishing the book, so please forgive me if my thoughts on it seem a trifle unorganized.

Ana has sung the praises of Elizabeth Hand extensively, and although I do not like every book Ana likes, I tend to like the authors she likes. I tried Mortal Love a while ago and couldn’t get through it, and my plan has always been to find and read Illyria, which is short and in a genre I like (deniably magical fantasy books; see also Among Others) and features plot points I like (weird family dynamics, the Theater). And that plan was put into effect today, and I — still am not sure what to make of Elizabeth Hand. Hence my above remarks of “huh”.

Illyria is about two cousins, Maddie and Rogan, who belong to a large, strange family all descended from a famous actress, Madeline Armin Tierney. Rogan, who is beautiful and gifted, comes in for particular bullying and mockery by his family, lest he turn out “spoiled”. Rogan and Maddie are secretly in love (deal with it!) and semi-secretly interested in theater, and the family do not tend to respond with favor to any hints of such ideas. Only their aunt Kate appears to want to nurture their interest in the theater, taking them to see plays in New York and encouraging them — Maddie, especially — in their desire to explore their gifts as performers.

I’m making it sound lame which it is not. I mentioned Among Others advisedly: These are very different books, but they both have the same feeling that there is more magic floating about in the book’s atmosphere than you will necessarily be let in on. Maddie and Rogan discovered a hiding place to, yes, come to terms with it now, to have sex, a secret room that apparently belonged to their great-grandmother, and in it is a small replica theater that is lit, somehow, and gets snowed on, somehow. They never feel exactly sure of what they are seeing when they look at it, and the book lets us have the same uncertainty and sense of wonder that Maddie and Rogan experience.

This same uncertain sense of otherworldliness — manifest this time in Rogan’s odd, beautiful, chilling singing voice — overlays the high school production of Twelfth Night in which Maddie and Rogan are cast. (This play is, roughly, the central event of this small book.) Elizabeth Hand describes the putting together of the play extremely well — how the play comes alive in response to Rogan’s voice, as well as the way that Maddie tries to make herself into the kind of performer she wants to be. The description of the play itself was a little more awkward, which is okay, I suppose; it is tricky to describe a play in a way that’s interesting and doesn’t lag. Mostly this part was very lovely.

In the end, though, I felt a smidge unsatisfied. Elizabeth Hand makes a point of certain small moments of ambiguity, questions Maddie has about her family and their history, and doesn’t resolve any of them. There’s an extent to which this was okay — I’ve said before that I like a book that can leave questions open — but I think what bothered me is that nobody said Hey this is weird. Nobody ever said that even though a lot of stuff was obviously weird. Aunt Kate occasionally seemed to make a tacit acknowledgement of the weirdness, but nobody else does even though, I say again, everything is obviously weird. I mean that the book was set in the real world (1970s New York), but the people in it didn’t behave like real world people.

The verdict, then, is this: Lovely writing, beautifully atmospheric. Would have benefited by a small amount of lampshade-hanging.

How do y’all feel about letting weirdness just sit there unacknowledged in a book? Good or not good? Creates an atmosphere or stops you suspending disbelief?

Other reviews here.

Programming note: I am off to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones. Americans have a wonderful Thanksgiving; non-Americans have a wonderful week; and we’ll talk again soon at which point it will be OFFICIALLY CHRISTMAS SEASON YESSSSSSSS.

Thoughts about Blue Angel, Francine Prose

(I haven’t called this a review because it isn’t one. I have some thoughts, but mostly I want to know what y’all think about some stuff.)

Says a Boston Review review of Blue Angel: “If Francine Prose’s latest [it was her latest then but is not her latest now] novel, Blue Angel, were written by a man, its author would surely be called a sexist.”

Boy it sure would. I only finished it because I wanted to talk to y’all about stereotypes and satire. Francine Prose, set off I guess by a friend of hers getting suspended without pay for two years because he was talking about students’ breasts, has written a book about a creative writing professor who lives in terror that he will accidentally sexually harass a student and get fired forever. Cf. this. Then he has sex with a student and gets fired. But you can still sympathize with him because the student is a calculating vixen who’s just using him to gain access to his publisher and have her own novel published.

Our hero Swenson has written two novels in his career, the second of which was a wild success. But that was many years ago, and now he is floundering, trying to finish a third novel (alas! to no avail!) whilst he teaches a creative writing class at a small liberal arts college in Vermont. The college is very concerned about sexual harassment, and Swenson — whose students perpetually turn in stories about giving blow jobs and sex with chickens and incest — is concerned about it too. When he meets a young, gifted writer called Angela who I swear to God is writing a novel about having sex with her teacher, he simply cannot resist the sexytimes temptation anymore. Matters unfold from there.

Because people I like are Francine Prose fans, I am giving her the following benefit of the doubt: I was not paying attention to the mid-1990s zeitgeist she is satirizing. At that period in my life I was big into this game I used to play with Social Sister and her best friend where I was the mother bird and they were the baby birds and I would hatch them and then teach them the ropes of being a bird, such as how to escape from cats (the cats were Legal Sister, if she could be convinced to play with us) and how to take shelter during storms. It is perfectly possible that everybody was having kittens about sexual harassment in 1995, and all the college girls were possessed of a Crucible-esque (GOD that was an annoying article) fervor for destroying the lives of innocent men; and I just didn’t know about it because I was playing this awesome bird game. And maybe if I had been politically and socially aware at the time I’d have been giggling helplessly at stuff like, for instance, this:

Just as Swenson suspected from the inverted bowl of gray hair and the tense, aggrieved shoulders, it’s Lauren Healy, the English Department’s expert in the feminist misreading of literature and acting head of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance. Swenson and Lauren always fake a chilly collegiality, but for reasons he can’t fathom — a testosterone allergy, he guesses — Lauren wants him dead.

And this:

Deconstructionist Jamie shoots daggers at harmless, ga-ga Ruth, while Lauren Healy glares at Jamie, protecting the older woman from his patronizing, oppressive maleness.

Maybe in another time I would have found it hilarious.

I sort of doubt it, though, and here’s why. The plot “Vixen uses her womanly wiles to bring about a good man’s downfall” is a plot that can happen. But if you are going to use that trope as the basis of your book, it behooves you to be exceptionally careful in how you play it out. For one thing it’s been done a trillion times so it does run the risk of coming off (as it does in Blue Angel) predictable. In more important concerns, it is a trope that has been trotted out as an excuse to oppress women since before the days of Moses, and the world has not yet scooted itself out from under the burden of that history. The story of men being victimized by lady sex fiends is not the actual story of the world, but it’s a story that has had and continues to have remarkable staying power. It has been told so often and to the detriment of so many people that if you’re going to tell it again, I think you have to have something new and interesting to say about it. I mean that you have some responsibility — in a way that you don’t necessarily have with other types of stories — to explain why you are retreading this ground.

I do not think — Francine Prose fans, if you are going to fuss at me, don’t let it be for this! I have already disclaimed it! — that Francine Prose is a sexist bastard. She has, however, written a slightly sexist bastard book. It satirizes a historically disenfranchised group (young women) by employing one of the stereotypes that has historically disenfranchised them. And not even really subverting it, but playing it straight all the way through. That is rather ick.

Anyway. I did not wade through this entire irritating book just to hear myself talk. I want to know what y’all think about this. What elements have to be present in a book or a book’s author for it to be okay that the book employs historically oppressive stereotypes to make the plot go? Should an author have to worry about the history of a trope s/he is using in his/her own personal book?

And another question that came to mind while I was reading this book, and to which I have no good answer: How do you feel about satirizing historically disenfranchised groups? I don’t feel great about it, and I was definitely having a reaction while reading Blue Angel of like, Really, Francine Prose? You’re going to satirize college girls for complaining about sexual harassment? There’s nobody else you could satirize who deserves it more? I was a bit surprised at myself for reacting that way, so tell me what y’all think. Is it cool to satirize anyone, any time? Or is satire only good when directed at the powerful? If you think that satirizing a relatively unpowerful group is less like satire and more like kicking someone when they’re down, what differentiates the former from the latter?

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow, Robin Wasserman

I have a weird, specific pet peeve which is that Latin should sound like Latin. There is a way that translated Latin sounds, and if you’re writing something that’s supposed to be an English translation of a Latin manuscript, it should sound like it was Latin before it was English. I get antsy reading something that’s supposed to be a translation of Latin, and thinking, Wait, how would that go in Latin? Wouldn’t there sometimes be some ablative absolutes? Wouldn’t a lot of those words have been left out because that would all get conveyed by the way the nouns are declined?

These are real questions and you should feel free to see in them my deep regret that I stopped taking Latin after high school. I loved Latin! I have no idea why I was so hell-bent on getting a degree in English when I could have gotten one in classical studies and taken cooler classes and hung out with cooler people. (This is not a referendum on English majors or classics programs everywhere. I’m talking about my university only.) And then I could have said with authority that a protagonist in flight from the terror behind would just translate it as “Philosophers and mathematicians ask how the universe is arranged” because that’s what the straight translation would be and she would be much too frightened to start getting cute with appositives.

(Sometimes when I wasn’t crazy about a book I take a really long time to start talking about it in the blog post I am writing about it. I know that’s a thing I do.)

The Book of Blood and Shadow is about a girl called Nora who’s working on a translation project with her best friend Chris and her boyfriend Max, and it turns out the book they’re translating is of The Greatest Significance to History, so much so that people would kill for it. So one day Nora comes over to Chris’s and finds him dead and his girlfriend in a state of catatonia, and Max has vanished and is under suspicion of murder. Nora knows that he did not do it and embarks on a journey across Europe to clear his name by translating important letters that uncover a conspiracy stretching across space and time.

I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to rehearse the manifold sillinesses of a book like this. It’s a Dan Browny sort of thing where religion and history are involved, and everyone wants to find a MacGuffin and destroy it or release it upon the world. Nora could go to the police but she never does because they wouldn’t believe her (of course), and she thinks that her getting more involved in the MacGuffin hunt will convince the crazed killers to leave her alone. She has information they will kill to get their hands on/destroy, but she does not Xerox her original manuscript copy of the information and distribute it on street corners so that her possessing it will cease to be of specific interest to the crazed killers. There are so many things a sensible person would do that Nora does not do! Once she and her friends get to Prague they are always splitting up (despite the ongoing threat of crazed killers) and I felt like that part in Cabin in the Woods where they suggest splitting up and the stoner guy is like, “…Really?”

What I’m doing right now is complaining about the silly aspects of a book I read because I wanted to read something silly and fast-paced. I can do that. I am capricious that way. Besides, there are fast-paced books in this world where the protagonists at least try to go to the police. Or at least where they do not withhold from the police key pieces of evidence and send each other cryptic coded graveyard messages when it would be much much easier to get a burner phone and call from that.

Many other reviews exist. I was not early to this party.