John Fowles’ The Collector is a novel of the 1960s about a man who wins the lottery and then kidnaps a young woman, keeping her in a dungeon in the British countryside. It’s an unsettling book, even in our age of antiheroes, but what’s great about it is the structure. (I am such a sucker for an interestingly constructed novel.)
See, the first half of the book is the story from the collector’s point of view. We’re in his head and we see his reasons for everything he’s doing, and because he doesn’t rape the young woman immediately there’s this dread that builds and builds. The hassles and frustrations of buying a house and building a dungeon in it are all treated in a very matter of fact way and it lulls you into this weird headspace. It never has you rooting for him, but you can find yourself feeling sorry for him.
Then for the second half of the book we see everything through the victim’s eyes, including her preoccupation with an affair she was having with an older artist. It’s kind of amazing. I love that we don’t alternate points of view on things as they happen (or even on a chapter by chapter basis). Since we know the incidents that will happen from how the collector experienced them, it builds even more dread in the second half, not about what will happen, but about how will she feel when that thing we know is coming happens?
The conclusion isn’t anything special (I was kind of hoping for something amazing like in Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman) but this was his first novel, so I’ll forgive that. The whole book is quite restrained, and makes something like The Silence of the Lambs (just to pick a kidnapping story) seem really crass and obvious.
Larry Brown’s Father and Son is a novel about a small town in the american south in the ’60s. A man comes back from serving three years for running over a little boy while drunk driving. His mother died while he was in prison. He gets stopped by the sheriff coming into town and warned to be good. He kills some people and rapes some more.
Also in the story is the sheriff, who is the killer rapist’s half brother. He wants to make a life with this woman who works at the diner, but who said she’d wait for the killer rapist to get out of jail to be with his kid.
The sheriff and killer rapist’s father lives in a shack and takes his illegitimate grandson fishing some times. He can’t walk so well and life is hard.
All of that makes up the novel, but the art to the thing is in the sentence by sentence construction. Brown is good at describing this terrible claustrophobic ominous little place I would never ever want to live anywhere near as a place where someone could try and be happy. It definitely reminded me of No Country for Old Men, but even more strongly of the X-Files episode Home.
It makes perfect sense to read in the afterword of 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights that one of the big influences on Ryu Mitsuse (the author) was Stanislaw Lem. The story is about Plato and Siddhartha and Jesus of Nazareth (one of the three is the villain) dealing with Titans and Orichalcum, the death of all humanity, colliding galaxies and the existence of entities beyond infinity. It is fucking marvellous.
At first I thought it would be more like The Years of Rice and Salt, but 10 Billion Days is not nearly so grounded in the life of people being reincarnated. It’s the kind of book that you can sort of float through because the plot isn’t grabby, but then you shake out of yourself and ask what happened and you realize you’re somewhere distant and cosmic. I don’t know how much of that distancing comes because this is a translation, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a book about cyborgs looking for god and I liked it a lot.
Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze isn’t the kind of YA book I normally read. It’s a story of a 13-year-old southern girl named Sophie in the 1960s who goes out to her grandmother’s manor for the summer. Her mom is all about Sophie behaving like a proper white lady. Then she travels back in time 100 years (through the intercession of a Creature in the maze) and is taken in as a slave on the sugar plantation. The plantation owners think she’s the misbegotten daughter of their dissolute New Orleans brother.
The story is about Sophie learning to be a slave. She starts off in the house but gets framed for stealing and has to do much crappier work. She makes friends and comes of age and doesn’t get to go home when what she thinks was a fine adventure is done.
It was a pretty good story, and it was easy to be mad at the characters you were supposed to dislike, including Sophie’s bitch of a mother. It didn’t feel preachy though. I was a little bored, but I’m not a huge slice of life historical fiction person in the first place. It felt well-researched, and I was very happy that Sophie’s physical changes from living six months in the span of twenty minutes weren’t taken back, Narnia-style.
John Stanley’s comic, Melvin Monster is about a little monster who does good things, which makes him a hugely annoying person in the monster world, where you’re supposed to do bad things. His parents are called Mummy (a mummy) and Baddy (a frankensteinian monster) and they have an alligator in the house that is constantly trying to eat Melvin. They’re fun comics (and John Stanley is the guy who created Little Lulu if you need an idea of the art style) that should still mostly work for kids today, especially ones with a good grounding in classic Warner Brothers cartoons.
One of the things about books you remember reading as a kid is that a lot of them are super short now. I remember Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time being a huge epic story, but rereading it for my SF class I learned how short and straight-forward a story it is, even if the entire first third wastes a lot of time introducing characters.
Meg is awkward and has a 4 year old brother who acts like no four year old. Their father is off somewhere and the family gets a lot of flak about it. Then these three witches kidnap her, her brother and a random vaguely nerdy boy from their school and they go off gallivanting around planets to learn the importance of being an individual and how efficiency can be terrible.
One of the things I’m finding a lot in these books is how un-nuanced a fashion evil can be portrayed in. They can see the evil cloud of darkness that’s so evil and so shadowy. What it did really well (apart from popularize the idea of a tesseract and its explanation) is really show how finding an adult to solve all your problems doesn’t really work. You can’t devolve responsibility for your life to some authority, and how that’s actually a kind of terrifying idea.
I liked it, but was kind of disappointed at how simplistic the whole thing was. There are some attitudes that’d seem really weird to modern kids I think, though I don’t remember noticing them when I was reading this as a kid (not in the 1960s). There are some very old-style gender roles but Meg’s mom is a scientist, which is cool. And Meg’s a sciencey heroine, which is good.
We’re down to our last week of classes for my first semester of my MLIS. I had planned to do more posts about the stuff I was reading as we went along, but that fell away as I was doing homework. The way our school is set up, this first semester is the core that gets people up to speed. Despite some people’s complaints about the teaching abilities of some of our profs I do feel like this term has given our cohort a common vocabulary, which’ll be useful going forward. I’m glad I’ll be getting into more details though. A bunch of our classes this term have basically been extended advertorials: “If you think this is interesting, take this class.”
In class yesterday we were discussing the professional images of librarians and the whole thing seemed like just so much jerking off. I don’t really see the point in worrying about professionalism, professional identities, professional associations and the like. One of the things I read for that class was about librarianism going from occupation to a profession, and how that’s not just about snobbery (it was written in 1961 if that makes a difference). It feels to me like it is. If you’re good at your job isn’t that way more important than worrying about the image of the profession? I’d rather represent myself according to my standards than represent “my profession” well, or get prestige from my profession being well-regarded. I mean, that’s why I try to write interesting things instead of bullshit PR flackery, right? I’m me more than I’m a member of any organization.
Anyway, I bring up this professional image stuff because in that discussion the idea of “professional acculturation” came up, which is more what school has been about so far. I haven’t learned a whole tonne that I wouldn’t be able to learn on the job. There are some resources I wasn’t aware of, and my vocabulary has become a bit more specialized and in tune with how library people write about things. On the whole though, I haven’t been really disabused of my notion that I’m a librarian already, just one without the paper that’ll let me get a job. Hence a librarianaut. Maybe in January.
But before January I’m heading to China for the month of December. I leave next week as soon as classes are done. Supposedly my girlfriend knows a woman who works at the public library in Nanchong, so hopefully I’ll get to talk about this stuff with her.