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October 23, 2006

Reading Update

When animals get stressed out, they stop grooming. When I get stressed out, yes, I stop grooming too (TMI, y'all) but I also stop reading. I guess that makes me human.

It's taking me, like, two weeks to get through Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings, which is weird, because that means not that I'm reading slowly (I can't read slowly, only jerkily) but that I'm reading only small amounts at a time.

Normally what this means is that I'm kinda bored with a book and I'll eventually grind to a halt. Normally, really good books are like pringles: once I pop, I can't stop. But with Kushner, I find that I can't take too much, but I keep coming back, day after day, for small but necessary doses. I wonder what this means? Am I ... maturing? Am I learning how to eke out the pringles two ducks' bills at a time?

Or is it Kushner herself? Is she such a unique entity, the writer who can make you want more but also make you stop when enough is enough? The fudge of writers?

Let me just say this now (and I will come back to it when I've finished The Fall of the Kings): Kushner is either the best middling writer, or the most flawed brilliant writer that I've ever read. I'm absolutely enthralled by what is going on in her books and by my responses to them. Yes, I will come back to this.

In other news:

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; long-anticipated. Gene is one of the Bay Area Asian American comix posse (most of whom seem to have won a Xeric Grant) who showed up year after year to sell their wares at APAture and make the tables a lively place. Pretty much every year I made a sweep of the tables and picked up what my favorites had done the preceding year: Jason Shiga, Lark Pien, Thien Pham, Derek Kirk Kim, et al. And I managed to get three photocopied issues (bound in colored cardstock!) of Gene's terrific comic about a Chinese American boy from SF Chinatown who moves to a white suburb and suffers from racism, culture shock, magic realism, and bad sitcoms. Plus, Monkey King!

I never got the final issue/s, though, probably because I stopped attending APAture regularly after I stopped being responsible for it. Gene's moved up in the world since then. He did, indeed, get a Xeric Grant, and used it to publish Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Then he published American Born Chinese, just this year, as a proper graphic novel, hardcover, softcover, and all! I went to APAture three weeks ago, sick as a dog, and paid 8 bucks to get in, just to pick this sucker up, although I could've gotten it on amazon. Like you could.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: I don't wanna hear it. I loooove this movie. I don't wanna hear it.

So I figured the book would be even better, right? But no. It wasn't. It was sex in the suburbs fiction masquerading as magic, so the magical bits not only sounded tinny and untruthful, but I could actually see the seams. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't ... magical. And yes, the movie was magical and I. don't. want. to. hear. it.

Gifts by Ursula! Damn. I love her, I really do. But she's not holding up. She's still good---damned good at times. But I haven't really fallen for a novel of hers since ... I dunno. Since I read all the good ones after college. Her short stories sometimes really kick ass, but her novels just don't have that urgency and energy anymore.

Gifts feels one draft short of a novel. It's actually just an extended revisioning of the short story "Darkrose and Diamond" from Tales of Earthsea, a latter day collection of unconnected stories from the Earthsea world. Only, "Darkrose and Diamond" is better. Let me put it this way: I made my high school students read "Darkrose and Diamond", thinking it would be a treat for them---you know, bildungsgeschichte-cum-love-story with wizards and magic and Dads Who Just Don't Understand.

They hated it. It was the one story I made them read that they were united in hating. After much discussion I finally figured out why. It was because Diamond, the hero, who is gifted in both magic and music, ends up deciding (SPOILER ALERT!) to pass on the magic and become a lowly itinerant musician instead. They were furious. This was a fantasy story about the education of a fucken wizard! How dare he refuse to become a wizard! What had really jazzed me about the story---aside from the crystalline writing---i.e., LeGuin's twisting of expectations, was exactly what had turned them off. Too clever by half.

So the novel, Gifts, is not as perfectly written, and it doesn't lead your hopes and dreams in one direction while secretly nurturing a whole different fate for its protag. The sudden decision (SPOILER ALERT!) at the end to leave home and wander the earth isn't set up, so it doesn't provide any satisfaction. I'd recommend the short story over the book.

Anyhoo, enough with the judgments. Onward!


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