The ideas of this novel are outstanding -- the world-building is precise and rich, the mixture of scifi and fantasy is wonderful, and the exploration...moreThe ideas of this novel are outstanding -- the world-building is precise and rich, the mixture of scifi and fantasy is wonderful, and the exploration of how human means of keeping history omit and distort is delightfully central to the plot. But the characters are very thinly developed, and the prose itself is written in a pseudo-archaic style that I don't have much use for. I *would* say I'm judging a novel of the past against standards of the present, but then I think of a number of novels I've that were written during the same time period, and I can only shake my head. McCaffrey made some choices, craft-wise, that made the novel a bit of a slog for me at points. I read on despite a certain level of alienation and disappointment. I am, of course, reading on in the series, but I find myself hoping her future prose reflects Sir Walter Scott less and Ursula Le Guin more.(less)
I almost can't talk about this novel, it has affected me so powerfully. I finished it two days ago, and it continues to reverberate through me. I read...moreI almost can't talk about this novel, it has affected me so powerfully. I finished it two days ago, and it continues to reverberate through me. I read it in one sitting on a plane across the country, and when I landed, I'd finished the book, but it wasn't finished with me. At the start of the novel, I found myself doing some purely superficial nitpicking on a craft level, but now I refuse to even specify those little misqueues. Quite simply, it does the least simple of things: the novel refuses to deny any of its characters a complicated humanity. It refuses to deny the repercussions of empathy, at the same time as it indicts those who put their empathy aside for reasons social and political. It uses time travel as a metaphor for how history echoes through us all, how it captures us in whole or in part, unwillingly, unconsentingly, and how we must scramble to account for it, to counter it, to both accommodate and refuse to accommodate it. Basically, the novel is this: a wildly well-applied central idea, impeccable research, graceful prose, a solid narrative structure, and emotional complexity for days. I'm pretty sure this should be required reading for -- I was going to say, anyone living in the US, but I'm going to go with anyone anywhere. It's just that brilliantly reflective of painful, necessary human truth.(less)
I could probably have done with a few more traditional signposts of plot and structure in this novel, but there's no denying the rich, sensual gorgeou...moreI could probably have done with a few more traditional signposts of plot and structure in this novel, but there's no denying the rich, sensual gorgeousness of the prose or the deftness with which the story mixes the real with the supremely magical. (Also, I recommend the 20th anniversary edition, with its excellent Afterward by Larissa Lai. As she describes the experience of teaching the novel since its original publication, she captures the shift in racial politics in academia and North American culture with a precision I haven't read elsewhere. It is the best kind of intellectual work, and it enriches the reading experience incredibly.) (less)
Love the world Westerfeld imagines -- how could I not? Darwinists v. Clankers? fantastical beasts AND elaborate mechanicals? -- but I found the charac...moreLove the world Westerfeld imagines -- how could I not? Darwinists v. Clankers? fantastical beasts AND elaborate mechanicals? -- but I found the characters to be a bit flat and the pacing to be a bit slow. Still, an intriguing enough world that I will definitely read the next in the series.(less)
One of those collections that makes you repeatedly slap down your hand and say, "Yes! Why aren't more stories like this?" Rich, textured, fresh, real....moreOne of those collections that makes you repeatedly slap down your hand and say, "Yes! Why aren't more stories like this?" Rich, textured, fresh, real. Yes!(less)
If I'd been reviewing this the first time I read it, nearly 20 years ago, I would be giving it 5 stars, no question. A solid ghost story with some sem...moreIf I'd been reviewing this the first time I read it, nearly 20 years ago, I would be giving it 5 stars, no question. A solid ghost story with some semblance of character development, set in the Washington DC of the late 1960s (original pub date: 1968). I remember tearing through it in suspense, staying up late to read it, because I had to know how Things. Turned. Out. This time through, I read more slowly, watching to see how it ticks. And I definitely saw more seams this time -- I could do with slightly fewer hairpin turns of decision by the characters -- but overall, still the kind of horror story I love.(less)
I admit I picked this up for the memoir, and assumed I'd be skipping the recipes, because I'm not someone who cooks. I have a friend who prides hersel...moreI admit I picked this up for the memoir, and assumed I'd be skipping the recipes, because I'm not someone who cooks. I have a friend who prides herself on being the motivation behind my buying the first real spice of my adult kitchen, cumin, to include in a recipe of hers that was simple enough even for me. So, the first thing that surprised me as I read was that I found myself reading through the recipes and enjoying it. You know you can write a good recipe when someone reads it for the pleasure of your prose, no? The second thing that surprised me was that I actually made some of them (with heavy assistance by my much more talented cook of a husband). In particular, I found myself in awe of the alchemy that was the red cabbage salad. I call it alchemy because I could list the simple ingredients here, cabbage, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and they are far too plain to represent the subtle flavor that resulted. What the heck? I guess that's something people who do cook have always known? Whatever, I'm astounded. And I feel similarly about the memoir portion. Wizenberg's is a simple voice, and the stories she tells are straightforward and honest and charming. But they add up to so much more than that. I responded (as I tend to do) to the realism of how she writes about the grief of losing her father -- "The Mottling" is as hard and beautiful a chapter as you'll find -- but what I didn't know I needed, what I wouldn't have been able to tell you I needed to read before I started, was the depiction of two couples -- her mother and father, then herself and her husband -- sharing time in the kitchen. As I read, I realized it was a model I didn't have in my head, even as a rabid feminist. My mother cooked alone in the kitchen; my father came up from his basement office when it was done and ate with us. And here I am, newly-married myself, to a man who loves to cook, who wants me in the kitchen with him, who wants me to learn it as a life skill and love it as a ongoing art. And I honestly didn't have that picture in my head -- two people, in the kitchen, sharing, taking turns, working together. And now I do. I joked to my friend the cumin-inspirer that this book might have saved my marriage. But I wasn't really joking. (less)
Short version: This book is wholly full of wisdom about the natural rhythms and flows of a creative life, buttressing its solid psychological analysis...moreShort version: This book is wholly full of wisdom about the natural rhythms and flows of a creative life, buttressing its solid psychological analysis with poignant, insightful words from writers themselves. It encourages self-compassion like all get-out, and for that I love it.
Long version: Which is more of a testimonial than a review. So stop here if you're not in the mood for personal biography.
I just re-read this book for the first time in 20 years, and it turns out, it pretty much explains my entire life. Or at least explains how I managed to stay somewhat sane while caged with my writerly self for the last two decades.
I am one of those people whose formative years sucked SO HARD on a number of levels that it seemed the only thing I had in the world was the ability to put word after word down in a way that pleased. It was all I had. It was the boat, it was the paddle, it was the bucket I used to bail.
I went to college, hoping to be saved by other things and other people, and I wasn't. Instead, the worst thing happened. The writing STOPPED. I had enrolled in a writing workshop with a local playwright I admired the heck out of -- and she was even more awesome live and in person, so my artistic crush stopped little short of hero worship. I got good comments back on the first couple of assignments I'd done, so I didn't want to see disappointment on her face -- or in her handwritten notes. And all at once, I was sitting in front of a computer, staring at it. Just staring. While the whirlpool of self-hate span wildly in my head, sloshing against the sides: "It has to be good enough. It has to be good enough. There's no way it'll ever be good enough."
It made me really, really want to take up alcohol as a hobby.
I can't remember now whether it was my mother who pointed "On Writer's Block" out to me -- or whether it was she who actually put it in my hands. But it was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. It literally saved me. It helped me see writing as something you have your whole life to do -- which is a damned good thing because the creative process is an organic process, with ebbs and flows, with seasons -- and it's a psychological process in which you push and fall back and push and fall back further. It is not neatly separated from the growth of life AT ALL, and so it stays messy, even when you've acquired a certain set of skills, even if you're lucky enough to have a certain aptitude. It just is a mess.
And so for the last twenty years, I've carried this book with me from place to place, and the sight of it has made me feel calm -- but until this re-reading, I didn't realize how much of its wisdom infiltrated everything I think about my own writing, how much I internalized that message that resistance to writing means something -- not just laziness, not just random fear or self-hate. There's something there you have to figure out, and there aren't shortcuts to that, other than living through it. Silence is a part of writing; not-writing is a part of writing.
Hearing me champion this is going to tick off everyone I know who thinks I don't write enough. My apologies, guys. But I know this book is magic, because it understands writers as whole people, not just as a set of fingers and an ego and a deadline. I know this because the writing hasn't really stopped since I took that idea really in. And to be honest, that's what I really need. I just need it not to stop ever again. And that's good enough for me.(less)
Having attended Kimber's yoga classes, I came into this book expecting a certain level of wisdom. What I didn't expect, though I really should have, w...moreHaving attended Kimber's yoga classes, I came into this book expecting a certain level of wisdom. What I didn't expect, though I really should have, was the beauty. There is so much good solid poetry in her prose, so much lucidity, that when I try to come up with a metaphor, my head fills with the image of a gorgeous sunlit afternoon lighting up the San Francisco Bay. Which is quite an unanticipated image to be left with, for a book that also tackles the hardship and pain of hating your body in very concrete, vivid terms. Since we're of similar ages, there was something horribly familiar about the particular flavor of body hatred Kimber's teenage self experienced -- I too fidgeted to burn calories thanks to what is probably the same damn article in "Seventeen" magazine -- and I recognize all too well the unrelenting cycles of self-criticism, of self-alienation, which too many of us dutifully apply to not just our bodies, but every single act, every single gesture, every single word. That is one of the challenging parts of the book: at times, Kimber does an almost too-good job of capturing that isolating inner experience, and I had to watch myself carefully for my reactions, to make sure that I didn't linger, that I paid attention when the text turned from faithful reproduction to compassionate observation to careful analysis -- that I made sure to go with her as things shifted. Because as they shift, ah, it's a beautiful thing. This book shows you just how beautiful. (I'd also like to thank Kimber for putting just enough Mom-related material in: if that epilogue hadn't been there, my main comment would have been pretty much, "OMG CAN WE PLS TALK ABOUT UR MOTHER?!" So, you know, thumbs up on that writerly judgment call.)(less)
I might not be the ideal audience for this book. I'm in no way able to assess the accuracy of the experience described, and even as I acknowledge it's...moreI might not be the ideal audience for this book. I'm in no way able to assess the accuracy of the experience described, and even as I acknowledge it's damned amazing that as a text it exists, I found the prose itself to be frustratingly simplistic (and add to that the flattening of translation). My main takeaway -- as it so often is, reading first-hand accounts of conditions allegedly marked as "Other" -- is that, though it has its own particular demands and expressions, autism is clearly part of the entire human spectrum. It is a version of the common human experience, not alien to it. And if folks can't see that, they're the ones with whom the empathy deficit lies; not those who live through autism's prism. I just kept thinking, as I read the author's painstaking descriptions of states that are not that far removed from common ones: "Do people just not get that life is hard when you're at the mercy of wonky neural wiring? Jerks." The larger questions as to how we build a society in which people of varying abilities and difficulties can contribute and participate -- that affects us all.(less)
If you can get past all the fangirl wish-fulfillment that is the character of Mary Russell, the prose is solid (the attempts to capture a Victorian to...moreIf you can get past all the fangirl wish-fulfillment that is the character of Mary Russell, the prose is solid (the attempts to capture a Victorian tone are not obnoxiously precious), and the plot was enticing. I do find myself wishing that the author had been a little less worshipful of the Holmes myth and let her own character stand on her own. But I suppose that's the hook, isn't it? Holmes's unlikely apprentice. When she is, in fact, interesting enough all on her own. Sigh. (less)
The thing Gaiman does so well is keenly capture the terror of being a vulnerable child, powerless against the people and forces that hurt us. It's a t...moreThe thing Gaiman does so well is keenly capture the terror of being a vulnerable child, powerless against the people and forces that hurt us. It's a terror that never stops even when we're adults, unless we conveniently forget. All the rules we don't know, all the distorted logic that's presented to us so authoritatively, all those consequences for things we didn't mean to do. Gaiman's prose is simple, but lands true again and again. I didn't perceive any of the narrative posturing that I would fault "American Gods" for. The storytelling is just so clean and straight and true -- allowing the story to be terrifying and inexplicable, heavy and light, pierced with loss and reward.(less)
I knew this one was going to be better when there was no sex scene until 120 pages in. Also, the return of Edward and Olaf? Yes, please. Hamilton seem...moreI knew this one was going to be better when there was no sex scene until 120 pages in. Also, the return of Edward and Olaf? Yes, please. Hamilton seems to be regaining her focus on her strength: the monsters. Phew!(less)