Books 7/18/05

Playing catch up, playing catch up.

Retreat from Love by Nancy Mitford: Nancy Mitford is one of my idols. This novel is hilarious, much in the same way that Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh is. The characters are just a touch beyond believable, but enjoyable for exactly that reason, and the madcap adventures were a treat. I need to find a copy for myself, as the one I read was from the library, and I don’t think they’d appreciate me keeping it.

Come to Me by Amy Bloom: This is a collection of some of the most heartbreaking, perfect short stories I’ve ever read. The theme is relationships/fidelity, and she does it brilliantly.

Namedropper by Emma Forrest: I flew down to San Diego for Comic-Con and needed something to read on the plane that didn’t come from the library, so I grabbed Namedropper- a book I raved about back in my first posts. It was as good this time, like being set free in a candy store. (Speaking of which- I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it was FANTASTIC!)

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale: At Comic-Con, Orson Scott Card gave a panel about his work (which I missed since I was working, but I heard all about it, and apparently it was awesome), and in it, he mentioned this was his favorite book of late. This is suprising in that its a YA book, but I needed a book for the flight home, so I picked it up. Orson Scott Card is a smart man.

This book is perfect. It had me close to tears, laughing with delight, on the edge of my seat with worry; for the 300 or so pages of the book I was completely in the world of the book and loving every moment.

It’s about a young girl named Miri, who lives in a mountain town. The town centers around the quarry, which provides the livelihoods for everyone in the town. Miri, who is unusually small, isn’t allowed to work in the quarry by her father, and because of this she feels burdensome and unwanted. News comes to the town that the wizardy folks have divined that the girl who will marry the prince will come from this small town, and therefore all of the mountain girls have to go to a “Princess Academy”, where they will learn the ways of the court in hopes that the prince will pick them as his wife.

While this sounds like a sappy idea (and it would be in another book), Hale takes it in an unexpected direction. Before this point, the Princess Academies have been mostly for show- girls from the nobility getting together for a couple of parties before the prince comes to meet them. But in this case, the prophesy comes as a suprise, as there are no nobility in the town. In fact, the mountain people are considered the lowest of the low class. A real Princess Academy has to be created, and the girls have to be whipped into shape with very little time. The Academy ends up being makeshift and quite tortuous- more like boot camp than canopy beds and pretty clothes. The rules and punishments are unfair and the girls only stay because if they don’t their fathers will get carted off to jail.

Of course as it goes on Miri makes good, but not in the saccarine sappy way that most “girl” books would do it. As all of the girls start to learn about life outside of their secluded village, (reading, history, commerce, diplomacy) they develop and grow in different directions, and are able to take their newly acquired knowledge back to help their town progress. The reactions of the girls to their surroundings and to each other is genuine and thoroughly believable- none of the girls are stereotypes, which is refreshing. I won’t say any more so as not to ruin it, but it really is a fantastic book.

I should also mention the book I’ve been pushing all week at Comic-Con, the best graphic novel I’ve read all year, Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee. I’m passionate about this book, and I’ll be giving it to everyone I know. It’s the story of Truman Capote going to Kansas to write In Cold Blood, and it looks at how the process of writing it changed him as a person. Meditative rather than overbearing, it presents vignettes and snapshots of a very talented man becoming a better writer, and more importantly, a better human being. Its a reminder that struggling to understand someone isn’t synonymous with condoning their actions, and that empathy is infinitely more difficult than hate and judgement. It taps into my deepest held beliefs about the redemptive power of literature (although In Cold Blood was non-fiction, it still applies), and it is a truly beautiful book.

I get the new Harry Potter tomorrow, and can. not. wait!

Current total:50
Just Finished: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Currently reading: The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

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