Sunday, June 04, 2023

What I'm Reading Now

Jon Spence, Becoming Jane Austen

This is non-fiction, a kind of mixed historical and biography of Austen's family, her time, and her literary development. I love Austen, so I don't know how I missed this one. It was published in 2003 and apparently they've made a movie of it, though I can't see how. (Google tells me it's only about one specific year of Austen's life.) Anyway, it's very well written and a wonderful read for any of you, like me, who's a sucker for anything Austen. Spence's sources are the Austen family letters and papers, as well as some standard reference books.  

Jane, Aline Brosh McKenna and Ramon K. Perez

Not about Jane Austen! This is a graphic novel which retells Jane Eyre, moving it to contemporary New York City. It leaves out much of the novel, as it would have to, and recasts the rest. The center of the story is the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester. The wife in the attic is made more benign, and the racism is eliminated. The art is beautiful. I liked it, but if you want Jane Eyre, read Jane Eyre.

Hayao Miyazaki, Shuna's Journey

Miyazaki you will already know, as the founder of Studio Ghibli and the genius behind such works as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. This is, I think, his first manga. It has his trademark mythic nature, and lovely art. Shuna is the prince of a remote city, deep in a mountain canyon, where there is not quite enough food for his people and their work animals to survive. When he rescues a dying man lost in the mountains, the man tells him of a golden grain (barley, as it turns out) which will grow and feed everyone. Shuna sets out to find this grain, traveling through a depopulated world filled with wonders and monsters, war and slavers. This is aimed, I think, at young adolescents, but I enjoyed it.

Susanna Moore, The Lost Wife

This is a very short novel about a woman, Sarah, who runs away from an abusive husband and ends up married to a doctor in Minnesota, before and during the Sioux uprising there. If you're not familiar with the uprising, the Sioux people made peace with the US just before the Civil War, and were given a small reservation to live on. They were also promised a yearly payment, with which they could buy food and clothing. In 1862, with so much of the US budget going to fight the war against traitors defending slavery, the US did not make this payment. There had been a bad winter, and overhunting by settlers, so that at this point the Sioux were starving. They asked the paymaster to give them food from his stores on credit, and he told them to eat shit if they were hungry. Some of the young men rose up and began slaughtering settlers and raiding their farms. The US government, which could not pay the annuities due to the starving Sioux and Dakota peoples, could and did send an army to put them down. 2000 Sioux were captured, 303 were condemned to death, and 38 were actually executed -- the largest mass execution in US history.

This novel gives us the uprising from the point of view of Sarah, a white woman, who is sympathetic to the Sioux, many of whom she has befriended; but also terrified for herself and her two children. The novel is well written, though possibly misfocused? About half of it dwells on Sarah's early life and her escape from the abusive husband, and it's a really short novel. The uprising and its events overpower the first half of the book. I liked it, but I would have liked it better if it had all been about Sarah's life with her doctor husband after she moves with him to the reservation and what happens during the uprising.

Roger Zelazny, Doorways in the Sand

This is a re-read. A perpetual student (he's been left a generous endowment from an uncle, but only so long as he remains a full-time student, so he's been an undergraduate for 13 years) runs into trouble when a friend of his steals what he thinks is a copy of an intergalactic artifact, only to have to turn out to be the real thing. 

I first read this when I was about fifteen, and re-read it a couple of times after that. So it's been decades since I read it. It holds up okay, though the sexism is pretty appalling. I still love the aliens who disguise themselves as kangaroos and wombats, and the alien that looks like an artifact but is actually a virus. Zelazny likes to get poetic, but the writing is generally good nonetheless. Read this one only if you like 1970s era science fiction.


Anonymous said...

Typo alert: the American Civil War was long over by 1962.

delagar said...

Whoops! Fixed. Thanks for the catch!