Article: Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

(From The Washington Post, April 6, 2014)

Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This book is obviously an attempt to emulate the lengthy and intricately detailed novels of the Victorian era, like something Dickens would have written (Bleak House came to mind as I read it). Unfortunately, it falls far short of that mark, and instead was just overly wordy, repetitive, and slow-moving, without feeling like there was much substance.

The plot progressed very slowly, structured through constant flashbacks that awkwardly shifted from one character to another without furthering the plot very much at all. It often felt like felt like something that would have taken a minute in real life was drawn out of several pages, with much repetition. Conversations between two people would have them repeating the same phrase back and forth, or the inside thoughts of one character would be repeating and rehashing what was just detailed by the narrator or said by someone else.

Ultimately, the biggest problem was that all this detail felt like it was lacking proper substance to it. It was all just fluff, like being giving an airy ball of cotton candy when you’re hoping for a rich piece of dark chocolate to really bite into. Even if you try to savor the experience of wading through all those wordy passages, in the end, you don’t feel like you really got much out of it, despite all the effort.

I do appreciate what the author was trying to do, especially her efforts to make the language and style fit the time period. The book just didn’t quite work though, and it felt like I was reading the transcript of some sort of interactive, immersive video game, with rather heavy amounts of hand-holding, rather than a great work of historical fiction.

Book Review: To Let by John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy Maybe just a tiny bit less interesting than the previous book (which was a tiny bit interesting than the first), but still enough family drama to be intriguing and keep my reading.

Book Review: The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook The premise seemed interesting, but I didn’t feel as enthused once I got a few chapters in. I wasn’t always convinced of the time period, partly due to the language, and it felt like a lot of heavy-handed telling rather than showing right off the bat. After several tedious conversations, some clunky turns of phrase (“a tiara of sweat?” really?), and a liberal sprinkling of ten-dollar words throughout, I had to bail.

Book Review: Motherland by Maria Hummel

Motherland by Maria Hummel Blander than bland.

Book Review: In Chancery by John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy A continuation of the Forsyte Chronicles, I think I liked this one a little bit less than The Man of Property, but it was still enjoyable. I missed some of the characters from the previous book, but there was still plenty of drama to keep things interesting. I do wish there were more of Irene’s perspective, rather than treating her as a thing of beauty and not a whole person (which I think was one of Virginia Woolf’s criticisms of these books).

This series continues to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, as it’s a rather richly done — and engrossing — soap opera. The historical tidbits interspersed throughout make it more interesting and help make the time period more vivid.

Book Review: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk The book started off ok, but it got tiring and rather dull pretty quickly. Lots of very long, boring conversations that didn’t feel very realistic, and I lost interest in the characters fairly early on. Perhaps I would have liked it when I was younger, but it just wasn’t very interesting to me now.

Book Review: The Man of Property by John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, only having heard of it and the rest of the series very recently. It took me a little while to get a good sense of the various family members, given there were so many to keep track of. The family tree in the edition I had certainly helped, though it also included spoilers.

Eventually, I felt like I had to keep on reading, to see how things might unfold. What would happen with the engagement? What would happen to the house? What would happen to the marriage? Perhaps the family tree egged me on, knowing what might lie ahead in this or the later books.

My only complaint was the way new or previously glanced-at characters were sometimes presented. When it happened, it felt like the narrator was putting the story on pause, to then turn to you and give you lengthy summary of the new person, before turning back to start things up again. It felt a bit jarring, and sometimes went on for too long, making me want to skip ahead and get back to the story.

That said, I did enjoy the book, even if it seems like not a great deal happened. Things were left open at the end, so I do plan on reading the next book in the series, to see where things pick up from here.

Article: How true should historical fiction be?

How true should historical fiction be?

“From Hilary Mantel to Andrew Miller to Philippa Gregory, historical fiction is enjoying a boom. But novelists are storytellers, not history teachers, argues Stephanie Merritt”

(From The Guardian Books Blog, March 19, 2014)

Personally, I think historical fiction should aim to be as accurate as is reasonable within the format, and that authors writing in this genre should do some research into the era and/or people portrayed.

Obviously, I don’t expect a perfect representation of actual historical events, like an exact transcript, and I do expect some embellishment and poetic license. But making the setting, characters, and even language true to the time period help paint the picture and keep you in the story.

Link: San Francisco: The Literary City

San Francisco: The Literary City

(From San Francisco Chronicle, March 2014)

An interactive map of San Francisco Bay Area literary references, history, and places.

I wonder if there are similar maps for other major cities, like Chicago or New York or London. Though some of them might get a bit crowded, given all the possible content.