October’s Books

Posted: November 8, 2018 in fiction
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

I love this book so much. It’s about a competition between two magic teachers – they each train a student, then bind them together in a magical fight to the death. Of course the two fall in love. The first time I saw that much, but this time I saw just how important everyone else is, the clockmaker, the contortionist who survived the last challenge, the fortuneteller who uses Temperance to keep them balanced, the teenager who teaches the magician about stories, the woman who sees behind the scenes and runs mad, the boy who falls in love with the circus and saves it. Of course I love the circus as well, all the magical tents that don’t seem to match what I remember of circuses – The Wishing Tree, The Pool of Tears, The Ice Garden… It’s beautiful and emotional, and not at all outsized or self-conscious the way I picture circuses. I want Morgenstern to write more books.


The Poisoned Island (Lloyd Shepherd)

This book starts with a rape, and rubs the symbolism in as it continues to tell the story of English botanists raiding Tahiti. It’s marketed as literary fiction, but don’t be fooled: this is a dark Regency-era murder mystery with a strong social-justice message. It’s also the second in a series, which didn’t become clear until I got curious about all the references to the characters’ shared history and checked Amazon, and sure enough, the major characters are mentioned by name in the description of Shepherd’s previous novel, The English Monster. So read them in order. I’m not saying it’s poorly written, because I think it’s a good book – I use ‘literary fiction’ as a genre rather than as a description of quality. But seriously, the body count gets up to nine or ten, and the protagonist takes a really paternalistic attitude toward his wife, who seems like a brilliant scientist if men would stop hampering her activities.


The Earthsea Trilogy (Ursula K. Le Guin)

I thought this would be a good way to slow down the way I’m burning through my book collection, reading a three-in-one, but it didn’t work. It went so fast. Three titles: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. In some form, all three books are about the human conflict with death. Le Guin points out that death is to be respected, but not sought after, not worshipped, not feared. The protagonist of the first one turns into a guide in the other two, but while it makes sense, it’s a little sad – the first book makes it clear that he has dark skin, as do most of the people in Earthsea, but the next two books have white protagonists, and Ged becomes another magical Negro spirit guide. There are important things here about who we are and what it means to be human, but the racial stuff did make me sad. There are more books now, so maybe the people of color come back to the center in Tehanu, but I don’t know yet.


The Lightning-Struck Heart (T. J. Klune)

I loved this book so much. Again, it’s sort of thick so it should have taken me a while, but I went through it so fast and loved it all. Highly recommended for anyone who thinks that bitchy twinks who make sex jokes in a fantasy landscape can be hilarious. Fantasy/gay rom-com, completely genre-appropriate. Sam is a wizard’s apprentice whose best friends are an angry glittery unicorn and a half-giant. He’s in love with Knight Delicious Face, engaged to Prince Justin – the prince gets kidnapped by a sexually aggressive dragon who has been deified by a local town with mind-control corn, so the baby wizard and the knight go on a quest. I am super excited about the fact that there are three more that I can put on my list.


Oh, and by the way, today is my seven-year anniversary on WordPress. You’ve come a long way, Angry Ricky, but you’re still yourself, even though you thought you might lose yourself along the way.

  1. cathcarter says:

    You said the L word (LeGuin), so you get what you get. 😉

    1) There are three more Earthsea books out there for you, and they totally re-vise, as in re-see, the first three, thirty years later. First there’s Tehanu (90’s), then Tales of Earthsea (short stories about other folks, but there’s a Ged cameo, plus the introduction of a character, Irian, who becomes important again in The Other Wind), and finally The Other Wind, the one that’s about death and yet totally undoes and redoes The Farthest Shore. Students tend not to like them as much, and certainly the first three are kind of icons in my heart, but the next ones are EVEN SMARTER and EVEN COOLER and EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL (in my informed opinion, that is.) 😉

    2) Take heart: it’s not always obvious, but all the people of the Archipelago are dark-skinned–Arren as well as Ged, Vetch as well as Ged, those raft-people as well as Ged. Gontish folks are red-brown, Vetch’s island tends toward black-brown, and I expect there are other variants as well. The Kargs, Tenar’s people, are white, but the whole thing’s a big reversal–the white folks are the weird, barbaric outsiders in the Archipelago’s constructions. Le Guin’s subtle about it, but you can hear her enjoying it; and she was some kind of pissed when that god-awful TV mini-series made everyone but Ogion white. She wrote about it on her blog and in several essays. The only white people in that first trilogy are Arha/Tenar and the folks she lives with in the tombs. However, an additional white woman turns up in The Other Wind, and it turns into some fairly impressive commentary about certain here-and-now societies which are repressive of women.

    That’s a lot of commentary, and some nit-picking, but the bottom line is I AM SO HAPPY YOU ARE READING LE GUIN. When I start getting too deep into despair about this world, I go into one of her worlds for a while. She’s a kind of beacon of what another scholar, in another field, called “non-stupid optimism”, which is, perhaps, AKA hope. She talks about the awful stuff and yet still finds hope. My favorite of all is probably Always Coming Home, but I also really loved The Telling and her last one, Lavinia, which you might call fanfic of The Aeneid…or might not.

    • theoccasionalman says:

      I was hoping you’d engage with this. 🙂
      1) I look forward to reading more. I realized suddenly this afternoon that almost all of her books that I’ve read were written before I was born, yet she continued writing for rather a long time after that.
      2) You have a lot more experience with this series than I do, but I got the impression that Arren was from a lighter-skinned people, just not as aggressively colonial as the Kargish lands to the east. I’m willing to be wrong on that subject.
      3) I’m happy to be reading her as well. At some point I’ll write more in depth, for example about the way that Atuan caused a shift in my own belief system. My favorite is probably The Word for World is Forest, though The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Always Coming Home are also close to my heart. ACH has my favorite love poem, the initiation song from the Finder’s Lodge. “Return with us,/return to us,/be always coming home.” I get weepy just thinking of it.

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