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The February Reading List

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My younger son told me this morning that I only had to look around.  There were birds of all kinds near the windows, and geese honking away in the sky, and no need to keep the heat more than halfway up–obviously, it’s spring.

I am, I will admit, a little skeptical.

Historically–if you can call my tenure in this house a history–we’ve had our worst nor’easter of  the season in the first  week of March.

I know this because my sons’ school always had the parents’ performance of its musical the first week of March, and since Greg always had a part in it, and it was always held at night, I often found myself struggling home in the dark in really, really awful weather.

So we’ll see.  Maybe spring is here.  Maybe there will be a two foot fall on Tuesday.

I will admit that spring has to come sometime.  It’s more or less required.

At any rate, the February reading report.

Anyone who has read the January report will note that this one is a lot shorter.

That’s partly because February is a short month, but mostly because life has swung back into gear.  I had manuscript revisions, and teaching started again, and I’ve started the new Gregor.

There have also been issues that I admit I never considered before starting this.

Those of you who read this blog semi-regularly know what kind of a fight I had to put up to read the Francis Bacon book, a problem that resulted in my doing something I almost never do–I read another book in the middle of attempts to read the Bacon book.

I have no idea at all how to indicate something like that on a list, or even if I should indicate it.

But, for better or worse, here’s the list for books finished in February:

10) Robert A. Heinlein.  Starship Troopers.

11) Louise Penny.  A Trick of the Light.

12) Francis Bacon.  The Major Works including New Atlantis and the Essays.  Edited by Brian Vickers from Oxford University Press.

13) Alice Hoffman.  Seventh Heaven.

              d) Raymond Chandler.  “The Simple Art of Murder.”

14.  Randy Alcorn.  Prolife Answers to Prochoice Arguments.

I won’t go on about the Francis Bacon, since I’ve already gone about it, except to say this:

The bad design is, sincerely, a shame.  There is a lot that’s interesting about this book, including information on one of the most famous murder cases in the history of England–the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overby, for which case Bacon was himself the Crown prosecutor. 

For those who asked–the “usual places” to look for a short biography of the editor (Brian Vickers) are at the front of the book, the back of the book, and on the back cover of a paperback.

The very last selection in that book is Bacon’s New Atlantis,  his attempt at a perfect-world-scheme in the tradition of More’s Utopia. 

It is depressingly exactly what you would expect, except with a lot more scientific gadgets.  On that score it can be properly labeled science fiction in the old sense of the term–that is, fiction that tries to anticipate the science of the future.

The notes tell me that Bacon did a not half job of projection.

Alice Hoffman’s Seventh Heaven is a contemporary “literary” novel.  I read very few of those, but I like Hoffman’s work in general.  I’ve talked here about her Blue Diary, which is the story of a man who committed a crime and escaped to make a life for himself for twenty years, only to be caught out when his case aired on one of those catch-the-criminal shows.

Seventh Heaven is less easy to categorize.  It is the picture of what happens to the people living on a single street in a housing development that is pretty much Levittown, over the course of a single school year, starting in the fall of 1959 and going through the spring of 1960.

I know  that doesn’t sound like much, but when I first bought this book, over ten years ago, I read it obsessively–a dozen times at least in the space of four or five months.

I was a little surprised to find that, coming back to it after several years, I’m still as entranced by it. 

Part of it is that I have known all those characters, and even that particular street.  Those things are, in this novel, just what I perceived them to be when I was living them. 

Undoubtedly both my perceptions and Hoffman’s are skewed by being the kind of people we are–but then, everybody’s perceptions are skewed that way.  There’s nothing to be done about it.

This is not the novel I would give to those of you who are impatient with “literary” fiction–but this is the writer of Practical Magic.  Literary or not, her work has been generally popular.

And all of it–including Seventh Heaven–includes at least some magic or indications of the supernatural.

Prolife Answers to Prochoice Questions was given to me by a friend a couple of years ago.  The friend is prochoice.

The book is written by a pastor and published by a religious press.  The pastor–Randy Alcorn–is both a prolife activist and a popular novelist of Christian books.

And he tries–he really, really tries–to present arguments based only on logic and scientific evidence that will speak to secular readers.

It doesn’t quite work, and the result is a schizophrenic hybrid, where secular discussion will suddenly erupt in suggestions for activism for your church.

Even so, the book  has several things to recommend it.

If you want a concise exposition of what prolife arguments actually are–instead of the press reports of what they’re supposed to be–this is a good place to start.  It’s clear and well organized.

My biggest problem with the book is that Alcorn persistantly melds legal and moral arguments, and at several points states outright that laws should have a moral foundation.

That means that when  he deals with the only argument I think can be made for legally allowing abortion–and I’m grateful to the man for actually knowing the argument exists–

Anyway, when he gets around to providing an “answer” for that prochoice argument, he doesn’t.

Instead,  he provides a moral argument.

But I’ll grant him the moral argument.  It’s the legal argument that I find unassailable, and he doesn’t deal with that at all.

For what  it’s worth, I still think the best prolife book ever written in James T. Burchaell’s Rachel Weeping.

And, finally–Raymond Chandler.

The essay above, “The Simple Art of Murder,” was recommended to me several times by more than one person, and I put off reading it several times.

The fact is that I don’t like Chandler as a writer.  I find him overwrought and pretentious and the worst kind of snob, and I never did understand what so many people found to love about his “noir” detective novels.

Contrary to the claims by  just about everybody, including Chandler himself, the hardboiled detective novel is no  more “realistic” than anything Agatha Christie got herself famous for, and is often less.

“The Simple Art of Murder” is Chandler’s broadside against just such writers of just such fiction as the stuff put out by Christie and Sayers, both of whom he castigates by unmistakeable reference.

But the writing is wonderful, sharp, sardonic, sarcastic and hysterical.

If Chandler had written like this in his fiction, I’d have already read all of it.

And that’s the month.

At the moment the issue is  more about how much I’ve got to do today.

So I’d probably better go do it.

Written by janeh

March 1st, 2013 at 10:24 am

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One Response to 'The February Reading List'

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  1. “…science fiction in the old sense of the term–that is, fiction that tries to anticipate the science of the future.”

    I wouldn’t have said “old.” That’s just the definition of science fiction as story as opposed to science fiction as setting. But novelists were doing both, separately and in combination, before the English language had a term. It would be easier if we had a distinct word for each, of course. For one thing it would keep Margaret Atwood from claiming she hadn’t written science fiction because she had no spacecraft. (If she’d just said she hadn’t written GOOD science fiction, few would have argued the point.)

    Chandler. I have reasonably fond memories of his short stories and of THE LITTLE SISTER, but my copies are in storage. Whether I remember them correctly or not, though, “The Simple Art of Murder” does very well one of the things literary criticism ought to do: after you’ve read it, an entire sub-genre makes sense as a coherent whole. You understand what makes Hammett, Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Micky Spillane and Robert Parker a group, and sets them apart from Christie, Sayers, Heyer and Tey. (And, much as I prefer the latter group, when Chandler picks out individual examples for criticism, he’s generally exactly on target.)

    Pro-life/pro choice: I’m having troubles with your use of “legal” again. Surely something is legal or illegal based on whether or not a law is passed in due form and in accordance with the Constitution? The Supremes argument was that certain restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional, which is different. For myself, I think if laws have passed constitutional muster or gone unchallenged for a century, it’s too late to claim the government didn’t have the authority. It is, of course, never too late to decide the government shouldn’t exercise it and repeal the law, or that it shouldn’t have the authority and ammend the Constitution, but taking the shortcut instead tends to undermine respect for law and government.


    1 Mar 13 at 1:02 pm

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