The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Those lazy days of summer

Posted on: July 5, 2007

My brain is in one of those periodic stages of low production. I just want to read and read. Paradise Lost is quickly overtaking everything, like a Caribbean octopus spreading out its tentacles, connected by thin spans of skin, effectively blocking any interference from other books. I started Alphabet of Thorns but…it is not going well. I am ticking off the cliches one by one, the orphan with a special, mysterious past, the Magical Artefact (a book with a naturally unassuming appearance), the ruler of kingdoms in peril, and there are mages (mages! I’ve never read a fantasy novel with one of those things before). McKillip’s writing style could have saved it but she’s turned it down in this one, so to speak, and it’s only during any romantic moments that there is any tension…otherwise it’s all humdrum.

Still, there are fascinating details. The heroine, Nepenthe, is a translator, and the peoples’ various languages, old and new, have letter systems largely based on elements of nature, fishes, for example, or thorns like the Magical Artefact. The way McKillip described the translating is a pleasure to read because it’s so imaginative. In this excerpt she’s helping a visiting scholar translate his discovered document.

They discussed the oval, finny letters with an eye here, a gill there at random. He told her his ideas; she puled down previous alphabets she had deciphered, one seemingly of twigs, another of bird-claw impressions in wax….She dreamed that night about fish, bright flashing schools of them whose whirls and darts and turnings this way and that meant something vital in a language of a fish. But what? She struggled with it, trying to persuade her unwieldy human body to move gracefully among the little butterfly fittings, until finally in her dream she swam with them, wheeling and shining, at ease in the water, speaking the invisible language of fish.

That’s not enough to save the story though. I fear I’m in for a very typical fantasy but I have not given up on McKillip yet. (She may drive me to re-read choice bits of Winter Rose though.)

Even when Paradise Lost is somewhat boring I’m not disenchanted. God is a defensive, demanding, self-absorbed creature in Book III and no amount of numerous praise and hosannas from Milton changes that. Jesus comes off as a goody two shoes. Theologically the heavenly scenes were disorienting — no Trinity ergo Christ becomes just a part of the celestial hierarchy, different ideas of what “grace” is and so on. The descriptions of the angels’ praises after Jesus offered himself to “satisfy for man” were pretty great but I sighed with relief once the view lowered and I got to hang with the Adversary again. I’ll do a proper post on Book III.

Really I started this post because I wanted to alert you Penguin’s new marketing idea to readers.

We’re creating a blog on which every single Penguin Classic is reviewed by ordinary readers and whether they love it or hate it, we’re publishing what they have to say. At the moment we’re recruiting readers to get involved – email us here and if you’re in the first batch, you’ll get a free book (randomly chosen so be prepared for anything from Austen to Xenophon) and time to read, digest and review.

I’ve signed up already. Isn’t it a splendid idea?  Update: Fran blogs about the potential pitfalls in Penguin’s scheme to get readers to do its dirty work for free.


11 Responses to "Those lazy days of summer"

…No, I don’t think that’s a good idea or a new one either, going on the little information released so far. I’ll explain why I think this at my place.

I meant “new” as in “new” for Penguin (“Penguin’s new”) not “original”. Unless Penguin did this with their classics line before and I missed it.

I wasn’t referring to your use of new–I didn’t even remember you’d used that word. I meant new in general and said that for a specific reason based in publishing. My other post will explain….

Yep, Satan is awesome in Paradise Lost…God/Jesus, not so much. It’s been years. I should really read it again.

Blood Meridian has taken over my life! (random, I know)

Paradise Lost is one of those “mean classics.” One I really SHOULD read and MEAN to read but will require a NECESSITY for me to do so (for example, I need to read it to finish my PhD or find a cure for the common cold). So I applaud you for taking it on: Applause, applause, applause! You almost make me want to read it….:)

Andi it’s a shame, really. They’re just fairly unexciting figures what with being in charge of everything with no chance of losing.

LK I have my own classics like that (Ulysses) so thanks for the applause. But *really* it’s so much fun, you should at least take a peek into it. 😉

I’ve read pieces of Paradise Lost but you’re making me want to read the whole thing!

Fran makes some good points on the Penguin thing, but I’m not sure how a free Penguin Classic and a blog post might hurt a paid writer since classics are rarely reviewed except if they are new translations. I do believe I will be signing up.

Ooohh-this new blog sounds like fun! I’ve read Fran’s objections to it, but I’m tending to side with Imani here. *shrug* I think any project that aims to get grassroots reader participation has some merit! And you do get a book in return for the review, so it’s not entirely something for nothing.

Stefanie yay! I’m all about getting people into what I’m reading. Yes, I think Fran has some good points but I don’t they’re the ones that have to do with how paid writers are missing out.

Eva oh yes, you’d be perfect for this sort of thing too. We’ll see how it goes. I’m assuming Penguin wouldn’t rope us into anything too horrible for fear of us leaping over to those (awful) new Random House classics.

Rosewater? I think it is incredible.

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