The Fell Gard Codices

Reading, Second Half of October

November 1st, 2013

I read a total of eighteen books in the back half of October, which along with the twenty-two in the first half makes a total of forty. So I’ll see if I can’t keep that going on through the next two months, maintaining a pace of a book a day to reach an even hundred by the end of the year.

What I read:

S.T. Coleridge: Collected Works 16 — Poetical Works: Poems (Reading Text) 1.2 / by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by J.C.C. Mays: Let me begin by explicating the title. This is the sixteenth volume of an incredible work of scholarship, a gathering of Coleridge’s complete works (that’s the ‘16’). This volume is the second volume of poems, to be followed by a collection of Coleridge’s plays (so ‘1.2’). And it’s a ‘reading text’ because some of these poems had multiple drafts or multiple versions; a later volume is filled with variants. Both the series and this volume are brilliantly done: Mays has gathered poems of all kinds, finding them in notebooks, letters, and old newspapers, then written brief introductions for each one, situating them in the context of Coleridge’s life. Stunning, impressive work, and it does reveal Coleridge in a different way — the casualness of much of his verse, and how in some ways he really was an 18th century poet (in the way he used satire, I think, and particularly toward the end of his life, the way allegorical figures crept back into his verse).

The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa: Volume 5 — Bhishma Parva / translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli: This book features Bhishma Parva, which includes the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna gives the heroic Arjuna a memorable pep talk, and then the start of the Kurukshetra War. And by ‘start’ I  mean ‘about 100 000 words of.’ It may be the longest fight scene I’ve ever read, and it doesn’t even go to the end the war, only to the death of the heroic-but-fighting-on-the-wrong-side Bhishma. It’s not like the Iliad because there are extended scenes in that poem where the characters do something other than fight, like ‘talk’ or ‘sulk in a tent.’ This is pretty much straight fighting, clouds of arrows, rakshasas versus war elephants, semi-divine heroes turning back hordes of foes, and so on.You read this and you wonder why India didn’t invent heavy metal. Anyway, it’s fascinating to read structurally; Bhishma’s death is set up very well, and very inventively, and Arjuna’s role after the aforementioned memorable pep talk is unexpected but narratively effective.

Queens Consort / by Lisa Hilton: A series of biographies of England’s medieval queens, from the Norman conquest to the clusterfuck generally known as the War of the Roses. It’s not bad, but I think I preferred Castor’s She-Wolves (which I talked about last time out). To an extent Castor had the easier road of it — she was dealing with rulers, people who tended to leave more of a record in history. Hilton spends a lot of time not talking about some of the queens, or guessing about what they felt at given points. She tends to compress material, too, which is a problem when the politics she’s compressing get complex. And make no mistake, medieval European politics were every bit as complex as ours, involving marriages and family trees and wars across the whole of the continent and beyond. One of the valuable points of the book is the way it illuminates those politics, and the importance of marriage ties. It’s a different way of thinking about alliances and international relations. So, a good book, but occasionally one that requires much work from the reader.

Epiphany of the Long Sun (containing Caldé of the Long Sun and Exodus of the Long Sun) / by Gene Wolfe: I’ll go on about this next time, I think.

Clive Barker’s Books of Blood: 1 / by Clive Barker: I’ve never read much Barker before. I was neither impressed nor actively unimpressed. He has some interesting images in his language, but not much variety in his prose rhythm (or at least not much subtlety). His sense of character is almost non-existent. But there is a real kind of mythopoeic feel at work, a knack for producing memorable images. Sometimes that verges on self-parody, as in “Pig Blood Blues,” a Wicker Man knockoff with a less credible villain. But sometimes it goes genuinely unexpected places, as in “The Midnight Meat Train.” So, some good moments, some dull prose, overall short enough to be unexceptionable.

House of Leaves / by Mark Z. Danielewski: Of all the spooky-for-Hallowe’en books I read this year, this was clearly both best and spookiest. It’s a tremendous book, playing with form as it tells several nested narratives. It’s complex in just about every way a novel can be complex, and at the same time still has a definite plot (several, actually) and emotionally accessible characters. Brilliant, brilliant work.

The King in Yellow / by Robert W. Chambers: I looked at this for Black Gate.

War in Heaven

Many Dimensions

The Place of the Lion

The Greater Trumps

Shadows of Ecstasy

Descent Into Hell

All Hallows’ Eve / by Charles Williams: Again, considered for Black Gate.

Palimpsest / by Cathrynne M. Valente: Well, I did not care for this one. I halfway expected that; it’s about a magical city that people can only reach by having sex with each other, and as an asexual that sounded like emotional territory beyond my ability to empathise with. But I am surprised nevertheless, in that the sexual element actually seemed relatively underplayed (and the emotions around the sex highly unrealistic verging on the cartoony) and yet I still didn’t care for the book. Valente’s got an eye for imagery, but the imagery didn’t really cohere to my eye. The characters felt flat, and for a book about cities, there was (to me) little sense of place, of history, or of any understanding of the nature of cities. There’s talent here, but to me it didn’t add up.

The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares / by Joyce Carol Oates: Two books of horror-inflected, but non-supernatural, short stories. They’re not bad, to say the least, but didn’t strike me as being as powerful as Oates’ novels (of which I’ve admittedly only read half a dozen). In general, the longer tales seemed the best, as Oates was able to layer ambiguities and build character with greater complexity; though there were some short-shorts that were impressive as well. Overall, decent books, but I’m much more interested in exploring Oates’ novels further before returning to her short fiction.

Br-r-r / edited by Groff Conklin: A anthology of ten moderately horrific stories from 1959. There’s a preface in which the editor wonders why people read ‘irrational’ horror stories, which is in retrospect not a good sign. There are some nice names in the table of contents (Theodore Sturgeon, Algernon Blackwood), but the selections are not perhaps their best work.

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Fell Gard Codices. All rights reserved.