IFOA round-up and other bookish thoughts

I recently had the pleasure of watching China Mieville flex his over-large mental muscles at the International Festival of Authors. He informed me (not just me–I was in a room with a couple hundred others) that when bloggers apologize for not posting more frequently, he couldn’t give a shit–so I won’t apologize now. I’m not actually bothered by Mieville’s crankiness on this front as he was otherwise so alternately nice and thoughtful and brilliant on the one hand, and so appropriately focused in his other instances of dismissiveness on the other. (Of Cory Doctorow, for example.)

The event was a Cory Doctorow/China Mieville double bill. Both read from recent works. Mieville read from an unpublished short story that was amazing and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Doctorow read from his latest novel about teens being cool and revolutionary and awesome because they watch movies and think a lot about having sex. (In other words, the writing was as crushingly unappealing in the segment of Pirate Cinema he read as it was in the whole of Little Brother.)

I think Mieville spent some significant time making fun of Doctorow to his face, but I’m not sure Doctorow realized it. Or maybe he did and knew he didn’t have it in him to engage in wordy battle with someone that smart. (Because Mieville is a bloody genius, if a not always gentle one.) Doctorow on the other hand, is very clever but not thoughtful enough by half; also, he’s sleek and self-satisfied, and that’s a combination of traits that’s only attractive in cats and babies.

Did I mention I’ve completed The Scar? My gawd. That man’s brain!! There’s just no way The Scar won’t be a gargantuan classic of fantasy and sci-fi for the rest of the world’s book-producing and -reading days. It’s brilliant–complex, extraordinarily well-written, utterly unique. It’s also refreshingly (yes, that’s the word I mean, really) unrelenting in its insistence upon its characters paying the consequences for what they do and for what others do. The Scar may be one of the best sci-fi/fantasy romps ever written, but it also boasts a nauseating commitment to realism–actually, that’s a large part of why it’s so good. Reading it didn’t make me feel like I’d stolen some YA novel from a zitty 14-year old boy.

Mieville rejects the adolescent ethos that infuses and defines so much fantasy; or, to put it another way, the fantasy he envisions isn’t one in which anybody ever gets away with screwing up; there is no deus ex machina to come and clean up messes neatly and in timely fashion. He writes the adult’s view of fantastical worlds and peoples. To which I say, thank feck. And, more please.


But not just yet. I’ve just finished reading the 18th (!!) chronicle of Brother Cadfael, The Summer of the Danes. Only three remain to me now…I’m getting pre-depressed about it. They’re not “great books” but they’re damned good books–compelling and comforting together, like peanut butter toast. (Which I just finished eating. Delicious.) A person on the Twitter suggested I check out Susanna Gregory’s series of medieval whodunnits…and I probably will. But I admit to being a little nervous. I have sent a request for information to my source in the mystery reading world for her opinion on Gregory and will base my decision on her verdict. She did, after all, introduce me to Dorothy Sayers, so I have good reason to trust her.

Now back to the IFOA

I think I mentioned once that I’m better at tangents than at the main points that give rise to tangents…at the very least, I’m easily distracted. I’m actually not done with my IFOA round-up. I saw Doctorow and Mieville on Friday; on Sunday, I went to a session on Japanese literature in translation; Hiromi Ito, Hiromi Kawakami, Ted Goosen, and Motoyuki Shibata were the participants.

The crowd was almost dishearteningly small. It might have been the pre-Superstorm Sandy rain, or it might have been that many North Americans know only one Japanese writer and he wasn’t there that day. It went well anyway, for two important reasons: 1) The crowd was really into it. 2) The participants were energetic and hilarious. Hiromi Ito, especially. I love how rough and silly and brash she was; not at all the cliched image of an Earnest Poet. Hiromi Kawakami was also hilarious (and very thoughtful) although more reserved, mostly I think because her English wasn’t very strong–but she’s done remarkably well spending ten minutes a day for a year learning English by watching some show on Japanese television! I would actually consider watching tv if I knew I could learn Japanese the same way.

I didn’t love The Briefcase but I went out on a $20 limb and bought Kawakami’s Manazuru because Goosen and Shibata made it sound so compelling–in part, I’ll admit, because unlike The Briefcase, it was translated by a widely respected and well established translator (Michael Emmerich). I’ll let you know when I get to it (2015?).

A non-sequiter and a promise of sugary proportions

Now, I’ve just realized something terrible. I’ve not blogged about delicious foods in far too long. This is certainly not because I haven’t been eating delicious foods, oh no. But rest assured I will remedy this horrible lack soon because in just over a week’s time…I will be hosting my second pie-luck!! Photos and recipes, as appropriate, will follow. Mmmm, pie.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Going to have to venture into China Mieville soon, hear too many good things from readers I really respect.

  2. Stefanie says:

    Your assessment of Doctorow made me laugh, especially the sleek and self-satisfied bit! I read my first Mieville during the summer, The City & The City, and loved it. I still think about it. I am gearing up for another Mieville maybe in January.

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