Books read in August

One of my projects for 2012 has been keeping a list of books I read each month.  At first I was just posting the list and a couple of thoughts if the books seemed to warrant it, but every month that post grows longer.

So, begging patience from anyone who already sees this on Dreamwidth, here are my books for August and corresponding thoughts:

VIII – H M Castor
Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia – Matthew Dennison
The Poisoner’s Handbook – Deborah Blum
Alchemy and Meggy Swann – Karen Cushman
The Colour of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa
I Want My MTV – Craig Marks
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Laurie R. King
A Letter of Mary – Laurie R. King
The Moor – Laurie R. King
O Jerusalem – Laurie R. King
Am I Black Enough For You? – Anita Heiss

The round-up:

VIII is a YA novel covering the life of Henry VIII. As such it breaks a bunch of sometimes-written rules of YA, in that the main character ages well past the target audience’s age bracket and does things they might not have direct experience with, like marriage, divorce, spousal murder, ruling England, declaring war on France and Spain, etc. I don’t think breaking that rule guideline was the reason why the book sort of floundered after Anne Boleyn died, though — it’s more that (as happens so often), the first two wives got all the characterisation, so after the beheading it felt more like a series of sketches about an increasingly unpleasant character. The first half, though, was really good.

I wanted to read Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia since I found it in Hill of Content back in 2010, but couldn’t bring myself to pay $50 for the hardback. LIBRARIES, MAN. It was a good, clear biography with an increasingly hilarious hate-on for Robert Graves and I, Claudius and the general historiographical hatchet job on Livia. It could have done with some closer editorial attention, though, with unintentionally hilarious sentences like, “Augustus himself had given birth only to Julia.” There’s also an irritating trend through the book of praising Livia by putting other prominent Roman women of her era down.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann: decent middle-grade fiction about a disabled girl who comes to live with her father, an alchemist, in Elizabethan London. I was really impressed with Cushman’s use of the slang and songs of the era, and the portrayal of Meggy’s physical limitations.

The Colour of Earth is the first part in a manhwa trilogy. (That’s the Korean graphic novel and comic form, I discovered when I went straight from Amazon to Wikipedia.) I was pretty mixed — the art is gorgeous, but I kind of finished it going, “And this is three whole books about a mother and daughter who have no existence beyond their romantic dreams?” And then there was an afterword explaining that it’s notable for its unusually feminist and layered portrayal of women. How to scare Liz off an entire genre in one easy move! (I did like the relationship between mother and daughter, I just kept waiting for them to have a conversation that wasn’t about men or romance or sex.)

I Want My MTV is an oral history of the network, with various employees and celebrities sharing their memories and experiences. Parts of it were quite interesting, lots of it made me want to throw things, and the repeated complaints that it’s all terrible now made me want to go and watch Pimp My Ride. Boomers v Gen X: no one wins, least of all Gen Y.

THEN, because I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself, and also because the book I wanted to read is unavailable in Australia, I started re-reading the Mary Russell novels. Which are only intermittently objectively good, but I love them. And I also love the way Sherlock fans on Tumblr express OUTRAGE that any character could be written as a match for Sherlock Holmes, LET ALONE A WOMAN. The misogyny wasn’t cute when it was coming from neckbeards; it’s downright ugly coming from women.

Finally, the month’s winner for book I liked most is Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss, which is part-memoir and part exploration of Aboriginal identity, expectations, stereotypes and more. (I especially enjoyed the chapter on Indigenous cultural expressions, copyright and cultural appropriation.) Heiss is an academic, writer, poet, activist and author of commercial women’s fiction. You know, chick-lit. In this case, chick-lit about educated young Koori women with jetsetting lifestyles and complex romantic lives. (I’ve been circling her novels for a while, torn between, “But I don’t really like chick-lit!” and “But if it had a different label you’d snap that up in an instant!”)

Heiss was also an applicant in the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case last year, for which I was part of the transcription team. (In fact, nearly a whole page of Am I Black Enough For You? is a quotation from transcript I did myself! SHUT UP, I WAS VERY PROUD OF OUR WORK THERE! There were fair amounts of research involved, and also it was 90% rage-typing!) I don’t think I’ve ever before had a chance to read about a case I worked on from a party’s point of view, and it was informative and interesting.

I was also interested that Heiss discusses race and racism in terms that the internet (okay, Tumblr) claims is unacceptable, which was a handy reminder that fandom’s attitude towards discussing race is strongly US-centric and not universal. (Not that I discuss race much, online or elsewhere, but I read a lot.) One of the problems Heiss discusses is identity policing from people, black and white, who say she is too educated, urban, middle-class, etc, to be “really” Koori. Given that a few months ago, fandom was being told Korra, a brown-skinned fictional character, is “really” white because she has … well, any privilege at all — that rang pretty strongly. That identity-erasure was at the heart of the entire lawsuit last year, so I was kind of fascinated and horrified to see the Andrew Bolt Approach being taken up by people who are ostensibly anti-racist.

From politics to cartoons, and I still managed to get one nail painted! Saturday morning accomplishment: ACHIEVED!

[ETA:  One thing I meant to say in this post, and forgot, that if you’re writing, or thinking of writing, anything involving Aboriginal people, cultural works, characters, etc, Am I Black Enough For You? also contains a wealth of information about authors, reports and guidelines to check out.  I mention this because a major supporting character in Le Novel, who will have the POV if I ever get to the sequel, is a twelve year old Koori girl, and I’m really glad to have all these resources for the avoidance of offence and stereotypes.]

And if, by chance, you want to look at earlier posts, check out my books tag on DW.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

One thought on “Books read in August”

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