Thursday, July 20, 2017

2017 #7: St. Mungo's Robin (McIntosh)

St Mungo's Robin (Gil Cunningham, #4)St Mungo's Robin by Pat McIntosh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, if you like to read about people standing in a room talking to each other in a variety of dialects, this book is for you! If, however, you feel mysteries should have a modicum of suspense and intrigue, this book may disappoint. I understand that this is the fourth book in the series, so there is clearly an audience for it. The character development is minimal, although I'm willing to grant that I may be feeling the distance as I haven't read the first three books in the series. Alys seems like a smart woman and a far more interesting human being than Gil Cunningham (the protagonist), yet she is given a ridiculous subplot (which I will not spoil for you here). I was torn in giving this two stars, as the last 20% of the book did seem more interesting both in terms of narrative and character development, but that isn't enough to give it three stars. I love medieval mysteries (e.g. Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma mysteries, Eco's The Name of the Rose), and was looking forward to investing in medieval Glasgow, but I'm afraid this book really didn't give me that glimpse into history.

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 #6: Lost Worlds (Bywater)

Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost & Where Did it Go?Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost & Where Did it Go? by Michael Bywater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a real love/hate relationship with this book, which is why it took me a year and a half to finish it. There are times when the author seems so completely self-involved and enamored of his own intellect that he forgets there is a reader at the other end. There are more instances, however, of sardonic humor and moments that remind us that nostalgia is indeed the rust of memory, not its steel. This isn't a book to read cover-to-cover in one sitting, but instead to be taken in small doses. The cross-referenced "entries" are a plus, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the idea that this would ever really be a reference book.

In some ways, it is true--we are defined by what we have lost. And lest you think this a frivolous book, the last three entries solidify its street cred as a philosophical examination of our existence.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 #5: Experiences in Translation (Eco)

Experiences in TranslationExperiences in Translation by Umberto Eco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In truth this was the first book I read this year, not the fifth, but it took me awhile to digest it enough to write a passable paragraph.

This is a fascinating read for anyone who reads books in translation. Eco's explanation of translation vs. interpretation is central for any thoughtful reader, and it actually should trigger a re-read of some of his classic works (e.g. The Name of the Rose). While heavy in linguistic theory, the book is in keeping with Eco's advocacy for cultural literacy. He notes, "...translating is not only connected with linguistic competence but with intertextual, psychological, and narrative competence" (page 13). One might say the same of reading.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017 #4: While I Was Gone (Miller)

While I Was GoneWhile I Was Gone by Sue Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a bit to decide that I liked this book. I almost never read the "Q & A with the author" at the back of the book, but in this case, I'm glad I did. I was happy to read that Miller had trouble warming up to her own protagonist, and it never occurred to me that it is actually an essential part of the book. It is also a frustration--not with the narrative, but because I think most of us can recognize the places in ourselves that we don't love. In some ways it is a tough book to read, but the slow "wisdom" that "creeps up" on the characters (as one reviewer put it), is perhaps more real than your typical fictional arc.