The Books Of January


Artemis — Anthony Weir

From the guy who brought you The Martian, one of the finest sci-fi adven­tures of the last 20 years, Artemis is anoth­er adven­ture in space. This time on the moon with lots of sci­ence: lunar shel­ters and man­u­fac­tur­ing in zero G and more than most of us need to know about weld­ing. It’s com­pe­tent and amus­ing, but in the end not near­ly as sat­is­fy­ing as The Martian was. In large part because I don’t buy the voice of the nar­ra­tor. She’s one dimen­sion­al, a stereo­typ­i­cal rebel­lious too smart, smart mouthed ear­ly 20-something char­ac­ter at odds with the Man. (Or in this case Woman.) At first I couldn’t fig­ure out what was both­er­ing me about her but then some­one point­ed out she has the sense of humor of a 12 year-old boy. Any woman that smart and that far out of on the edges of soci­ety should have a sharp­er, more sophis­ti­cat­ed sense of humor. The “ho ho I just made a sex joke” thing gets real­ly old, real­ly fast.
I hear that there were some very good short sto­ries released while this book was in the works. I’ll go find them.

* I don’t like girls who sound like they are just boys with dif­fer­ent plumbing *

Fresh Complaint — Jeffery Eugenides

Short sto­ries by the author of the won­der­ful MiddleSex. But these… well many of them don’t hold my atten­tion. In fact I had to go back and look at a sum­ma­ry of the sto­ries to be remind­ed of which ones were here. They are most­ly old­er sto­ries and the lack of mas­tery that Eugenides showed in Middlesex is evident.
Am I just being cranky or did these real­ly not meet expec­ta­tions? I am in ret­ro­spect unset­tled by the misog­y­ny of sev­er­al of the sto­ries. Nothing bla­tant just the feel­ing that the women in the sto­ries are not only not val­ued by the male char­ac­ters but also not val­ued by the author. And the last sto­ry in the bunch about a girl who “ruins” her­self and an inno­cent man to avoid an arranged mar­riage is just plain creepy because the girl sim­ply gets away with it and feels not a moment of remorse. I sup­pose you are meant to feel sym­pa­thy for the man ruined but all you feel a great deal of antipa­thy for the girl.

* this col­lec­tion should have stayed uncollected *

Charming Billy — Alice McDermott

The Charming Billy of the title is a dead guy whose wake is the set­ting for the reveal­ing tale of his life and loves. The tragedy of the “death” of his first love and his sub­se­quent mar­riage to a woman who devot­ed her life to him — drunk as he was. Like all McDermott the Irish Americans and plain old Irish shine out. You even like Billy who objec­tive­ly was more than a lit­tle bit of an ass­hole. Various points of view add up to an entire story.

* more Irish-American loves, laugh­ter, and tragedy *


Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir — Amy Tan

A mem­oir, writer’s guide, and extend­ed philo­soph­i­cal mus­ing on what it means to be a daugh­ter. Through mem­o­ry and memen­tos Amy Tan exam­ines the truths and fic­tions of her child­hood and rela­tion­ship with her fam­i­ly, all with the under­stand­ing that these things are what makes her the writer that she is. Some episodes here are frankly ter­ri­fy­ing and many oth­ers will make you smile or chuck­le in recog­ni­tion. In many ways fam­i­lies are all alike. They cre­ate their sto­ries with the often unclear moti­va­tions of pol­ish­ing things up. But the unpol­ished ver­sion are always there under­neath direct­ing the fam­i­ly in its way. And that con­trast is what allows us to cre­ate our fic­tions and realities.

* a love­ly blend of mem­oir and mus­ings on the muse *

Jane Austen at Home — Lucy Worsley

I rarely read biog­ra­phy — pre­fer­ring to learn about a per­son though their cre­ative output.
Austen’s work’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the need to find a home — in par­tic­u­lar to make a good mar­riage is the lens used here to relate her life. Austen’s grad­ual falling down from the bois­ter­ous, com­fort­able home of her youth to the cramped and stingy home of her lat­er life is shown in  oppo­si­tion of the hap­py end­ings that she gives her heroines.
Maybe I’m just not good at read­ing biog­ra­phy. But I remain uncon­vinced that I have learned much about Jane Austen but instead heard a sto­ry that her biog­ra­ph­er wants to tell. Though real­ly — can there be biog­ra­phy with­out the fin­ger­prints of the biographer?

* rec­om­mend­ed to for those with a taste for fem­i­nist indignation *