Reading Diary, Jan. 22-28

isbn9781787470453The Night Tiger, by Yansze Choo: Set in 1930s Malaya (now Malaysia) and dealing with the folklore of weretigers, through the perspectives of Ji Lin, a bright girl working in a dance hall to pay off her mother’s mahjong debts, and Ren, a young houseboy whose white master, Dr. MacFarlane, has just died. Choo slides into cliché sometimes, particularly when she’s writing about Ji Lin’s attraction to her stepbrother Shin, and the solution to the mystery is robbed of being completely satisfying because the characterization of the malefactor(s) is too thin. Ji Lin’s and Ren’s voices are both charming, though.

9781526602077To the Lions, by Holly Watt: A forthcoming (February) thriller by, and about, an investigative journalist, illustrating the way in which British political and business interests exploit volatile countries—in this case, Libya. The protagonist, Casey, is something too much of a Cool Girl (she’s effortlessly beautiful, a lone wolf and a risk-taker, more afraid to tell a man she loves him than of being executed in the desert), but Watt’s brilliant on the fizzing energy of the newsroom, the dialogue made me laugh out loud more than once, and the plot is a genuine, morally complex page-turner.

41c8al52l8l._sx331_bo1204203200_Selected Poems: 1950-2012, by Adrienne Rich: On every page, practically, there is a line that reaches into my chest. I choose to love this time for once/With all my intelligence: that one I knew already, thanks to Cheryl Strayed, but what about this: What happens between us/has happened for centuries/we know it from literature//still it happens […] there are books that describe all this/and they are useless. Or this: The woman who cherished/her suffering is dead […] I want to go on from here with you/fighting the temptation to make a career of pain. She wants so much to live responsibly, love responsibly. Probably my new favourite poet.

611phcl47gl._sx323_bo1204203200_The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon: An epic stand-alone high fantasy novel from the author of The Bone Season; this is the first of her books I’ve read. Shannon emphatically but subtly foregrounds women in her fantasy world – rulers, knights-errant, pirates, merchants, etc., are more often female than not – and the whole book is casually gay in a way that effectively challenges Western paternalist fantasy tropes. The story itself is fairly standard (dragons, an ancient evil, some business involving a sword and some jewels) but it rips along and Shannon’s writing is excellent: often funny, always genuinely moving.

Currently reading: A Time To Keep Silence, by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

19 thoughts on “Reading Diary, Jan. 22-28

  1. Ah, so pleased you are discovering Adrienne Rich. She is rather wonderful, isn’t she? In the similar but not same vein, I would also recommend Anne Carson, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye and A. E. Stallings.

    1. I already know Carson and Olds, and am very fond of both of them. Naomi Shihab Nye, weirdly enough, entered my consciousness about a week ago for completely unrelated reasons! How serendipitous. And I’m vaguely familiar with Stallings, though I’ve never read a collection of hers.

      1. Stallings has a lot of poetry related to Ancient Greece, but her latest collection (which I haven’t read yet) is more domestic and personal.

      2. It must have been one of her Greek-ish collections that I heard about – a new translation, perhaps? It would’ve been about five years ago, so no wonder I’ve forgotten…

    1. Of the two, To the Lions is better constructed, I think, and the writing is slightly more assured. (But then, they’re quite different books!)

  2. I used to be a great fantasy reader, but lately not so much. Consequently, although I’ve seen Shannon’s books around and heard them highly praised, I’ve not read her. A stand-alone sounds like a good idea, not so much investment as the usual trilogy.

  3. The cover art of The Night Tiger and the Selected Poems really catch the eye, don’t they? Glad Rich’s poetry resonated so well with you – her range as a poet was amazing.

    1. Genuinely, it’s extraordinary—this is an especially good selection, I think, because it lets you map her evolution really clearly, from that ordered New Criticism type of poetry to an increased fragmentation and decentralization.

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