Reading Diary: Mar. 12-Mar. 18

35436043Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, by Temi Oh: A novel set in a sort of parallel-universe Britain where, by 2012, humanity is sending a small group of carefully selected astronauts to colonize a planet just like Earth, found on the other side of Alpha Centauri. The six teenagers chosen for the mission have trained for years and won’t set foot on the planet, nicknamed Terra-Two, until they’re in their forties. Oh narrates her novel through the eyes of each teenager, a number of viewpoints that feels unnecessary and somewhat garbled. Although Oh has things to say about the weight of leadership and the emotional disadvantages of privilege, Do You Dream…‘s interest in romance and melodrama feels distinctly YA.

91ank2bxbxclThe Runaways, by Fatima Bhutto: Bhutto’s debut novel deals with Islamist radicalization through three characters: Monty, a rich boy from Karachi; Anita Rose, the lowly daughter of a masseuse; and Sunny, a disenfranchised, closeted gay boy from Portsmouth. Of these three, Sunny is the most convincingly and tragically drawn: Bhutto, despite being a child of privilege herself, seems able to fully inhabit and understand the mind of a second-generation teenager living a dead-end life in twenty-first century Britain, neither fully accepted by his white peers nor able to connect fully with other BBCDs (British-Born Confused Desis). She’s excellent on the role of social media in radicalization, the way it offers an illusory form of validation. Monty’s love story and Anita’s trajectory are both less convincing, but the way all three characters come together is breathtaking.

imageNorth and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell: Some amusing soul on Goodreads has described this as “Pride and Prejudice for socialists”, which isn’t too far off base. The story of Margaret Hale, daughter of a Devonshire vicar whose crisis of faith makes him move his small family to Milton, a Northern manufacturing town, and John Thornton, one of the mill owners there, is all about misconceptions, preconceptions, and class snobbery. Unlike Austen’s novels, though–and understand that I love them, so this isn’t a dig at the divine Jane–Gaskell’s writing feels distinctly modern and political in its sensibilities, from the unusual directness of her characters’ dialogue to the frank acknowledgment of class struggle. I’m thrilled to have read this and to have a copy of Wives and Daughters to start soon.

611xe-cdrll._sx316_bo1204203200_Death of an Eye, by Dana Stabenow: Gulped down nearly in one go (five chapters in bed last night, and the rest on the bus this morning), this delightful historical crime novel was just what I needed to reset. Cleopatra VII’s Alexandria is more stable than it’s been for centuries, but that’s not saying much, and when a shipment of new currency is stolen, and the Queen’s Eye is murdered, there’s only one woman trusted to investigate: Cleopatra’s childhood friend Tetisheri, now a partner in her uncle’s business. Sheri’s past–a terrible marriage, a stillbirth, a divorce–is dealt with lightly, but Stabenow never lets us forget that her heroine was forged in adversity. There’s a sweet romance subplot with the sexy ex-soldier Apollodorus, and although the theft/murder resolution is stymied by politics, Stabenow’s grasp of Alexandrian court dynamics is brilliant.

Currently reading: Actually, I’m trying to decide. There are plenty of things on my immediate TBR at home; next up on my work TBR would be The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages, by Francois-Xavier Fauvelle.

17 thoughts on “Reading Diary: Mar. 12-Mar. 18

  1. I’ve enjoyed all four Gaskells I’ve read, in a low-key sort of way. I studied North & South at undergrad and Mary Barton and The Life of Charlotte Bronte at Master’s level. Cranford I just read for fun after the TV series came out. Wives and Daughters and Sylvia’s Lovers I still have and mean to read.

  2. I’m a big fan of Gaskell. I think Wives and Daughters is my favourite, so enjoy, but I also loved North and South and (to my surprise, given the soapy blurb) Sylvia’s Lovers. Ruth is especially ahead of its time and I often use it in my teaching.

    1. (BTW, the 2004 North and South BBC adaptation is REALLY good, though I need to remember not to assume my students have seen it as most of them were very small children when it came out…)

      1. Apparently it’s on Netflix! Also, it has Richard Armitage in it, and he is one of my favourites. So that’s my next weekend’s viewing sorted then.

    2. I’ve sent Ruth to a few customers who wanted less obvious classics; it seems like Gaskell was pretty socially aware. I really enjoy the clarity of her writing.

  3. I’m not familiar with Gaskell’s novels, but you’ve sold me on her work! Thanks for the introduction. The Golden Rhinoceros sounds wonderful as well, just scanned the intro online and the outline seems interesting.

  4. Not a propos of much, but just wanted to say that i think these punchier reading diaries have been a success. You’ve even persuaded me to buy a Literary Fiction book, of all things…

    Now good luck resisting the inevitable impulse toward paragraph-inflation… (which I continually fail to stave off…)

    1. Now I want to know which book you’ve been convinced to buy! (Paragraph inflation is a permanent hazard. I mostly deal with it by refusing to go more than two lines below each cover image, which I’ve set at 160w.)

      1. “The Wolf Border”.
        It may be a while before I get to it, however.

        Ah, having an actual plan to make sure you stick to your intentions! Not sure why I never think of that…

      2. The Wolf Border is very good (and also, in the faintest of ways, speculative) – whenever you get to it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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