2005-03-12

Brief book reviews

Out, Natsuo Kirino

I've been accused of being misogynist more than once, which is silly. I don't like all instances of anything. Why should women escape Sturgeon's Law?

Good women writers, though, do seem to be very thin on the ground. I don't count books written by women that other women think are okay. I mean fiction that interests or engages me, the only arbiter of literary merit who matters to me.

George Eliot worked. I cried reading Gaskell's Ruth, but unlike with Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, there were reasons for that other than the quality of the writing.

"Out", though, was truly great. Interesting and believable female characters, and plausible male characters too. Something female writers way back to Austen have been embarrassingly bad at.

I won't spoil the story; the blurb does a good job of telling you too much. Technically, I liked the way that, if the story was going too fast, the author would go back and tell a relatively large chunk again from a different viewpoint. I didn't think that would work as well as the more common use of little chunks and/or non-chronological ordering, but it did.

This may be the first modern Japanese story (including cinema) that I've both enjoyed and fully understood. I hope Stephen Snyder translates more of this woman's books.

And anyone who wasn't rooting for Masako by the end — that would be a misogynist.

The Contortionist's Handbook, Craig Clevenger

Amazon told me that if I liked Chuck, I'd like this. They were right.

I like a book with an obvious ending that you've been given all the clues for, but which I don't guess. This was such a book.

The Cheese Monkeys, Chip Kidd

Clever, funny, and pretty... If only it were a woman.

I've never felt closer to arts students than while reading this book. The guy who believes any argument he hears, but would like to escape that. The girl who's clever and doesn't like the one teacher who's obviously better than she is, perhaps because she doesn't want to find that she can't get any sharper. And the mean teacher, who's the best thing to happen to them.

I bought this because I liked the title, which I noticed because it stood out in yellow on blue. How apt for a book about a course on graphic design.

The Virginian, Owen Wister

The first Western. It's so archetypal that I can't help but wonder if this is just the first work based on a particular reality, or just extensively imitated.

If you need a long book that it will be no problem to read to the end, but which you can easily put down and continue later, this is ideal. You can count the shots fired on the fingers of one hand; it's a love story, though I'm not sure whether it's for a woman, a time, or a country. Or a particular kind of man.

The cover painting on the edition I read is Jasper Francis Cropsey's Autumn on the Hudson River. An odd choice for a book set in Wyoming, even if the love interest came from the east coast.

Hope in Hard Times: New Deal Photographs of Montana, 1936-1942, Mary Murphy.

Non-fiction. Many of the pictures are interesting, though some are simply pretty. Maybe that balance is necessary.

I was annoyed by the coyness in places. I'd have liked to have seen a toilet. I'd have liked to see sex workers. I don't know they took those pictures, but I would have taken them, and I hope they had the foresight to do so.

There was a picture showing how they castrated sheep in 1942: make a small incision in the scrotum with a knife, suck, and bite.

I sincerely hope never to need that knowledge.