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This is for books and Western comics only; manga and manhwa get a separate post.

Thoughts about the year in books )

Amazingly, I managed to blog about every single book I read this year! I didn't link the full list, but you can always look in my tags or memories.

The below are my favorites out of all the books I read this year, not books published this year.

  1. Emily Bernard, Some of My Best Friends )

  2. Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch )

  3. Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices )

  4. Megan Lindholm, Harpy's Flight )

  5. Laurie J. Marks, Elemental Logic series )

  6. Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as We Knew It )

  7. Joann Sfar, The Rabbi's Cat )

  8. Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore )

  9. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens )

  10. Elizabeth E. Wein, The Sunbird )

Also recommended: Carl Chu, Chinese Food Finder: The Bay Area and San Francisco; Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool and Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era; Theodora Goss, In the Forest of Forgetting; Margo Rabb, Cures for Heartbreak; Madeleine E. Robins, Point of Honour; Joanna Russ, What Are We Fighting For?: Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism; Sarah Smith, The Vanished Child; Beverly Daniel Tatum, Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation; Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology; Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora Segunda; Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

Total read: 131 (6 rereads)

Complete list of books read in 2007 )
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I liked this more than I liked Gifts, though less than I liked Voices.

Gavir is a slave, though he's treated well. He's being trained to be the a teacher for the slave children and the children of the house. Life is pretty good, though there are some hints of unrest. Then, something awful happens, and Gav ends up wandering through several different societies, learning who he is and what he thinks of slavery, learning what to do with his powers of remembering (past and future).

As usual, this is a lousy plot summary. Part of it is because it's rather difficult to sum up the driving plot, because there really isn't one. I'm still not quite sure what the central conflict was -- some of it had to do with Gav deciding what to think of slavery, and some of it had to do with him coming to terms with his powers, but the problem was that the two narratives didn't seem to be very tied together.

I did enjoy the looks at the different societies Gav goes through, particularly the look at gender relationships in all of them. The variation in them was particularly interesting, although none of the societies seemed to be very pro-women. On the other hand, Gav notices this, so that was nice.

I think my problem with the book was that I couldn't quite figure out what it was about, in the end. Some of it is on Gav's powers, some of it is on slavery, but the two strands don't work together very well. I particularly wanted more of the ending; there's a sense that Gav has found the place he needs to be, but it wasn't a very satisfactory ending for me as a reader. I felt that he had finally found himself and wanted to see what he'd do with himself after that, but alas, that's where it ends.

- [livejournal.com profile] helen_keeble writes a much better review (spoilers)
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This is in the same series (possible trilogy?) as Gifts, though it's not necessary to read one before the other.

The country of Ansul has been conquered and occupied by the Alds for seventeen years. The Alds believe that the spoken word is holy, and as such, they have routinely destroyed all the books of Ansul over the years. Reading is an act of heresy and forbidden; the once great Library of Galvamand is desolate. Despite having grown up knowing little but the Ald occupation, Memer learns to read.

I LOVED this book. It was particularly good to read it because I've recently been craving girls of color kicking ass, and Memer is one. The world itself is somewhat influenced by the Middle East, but really, it's Le Guin's own creation, and all the people of Ansul have dark skin. And while the Alds have lighter skin, they have "sheep hair" (as Memer calls it). And the publisher or editor or whoever made the decision was wonderful enough to actually *gasp* have a non-white girl on the cover with the right hair. Person who made the cover and approved it, thank you so much!

Memer is not a sword-wielding ass-kicker, but she kicks ass just the same. We see the occupation through her eyes; she's angry as hell at the Alds, and so are we, but she is fair and thoughtful as well.

This is a really great book on colonization and post-colonization, on occupation and rebellion, and, more importantly, it's on rebuilding societies and governments, on recovering pride and liberty, on learning what happens in the insane mess after an occupation ends.

The factions consist of the more radical revolutionaries of Ansul, as well as the more radical faction of the Alds, along with the moderates and others trying to work toward compromise. I would say this is a somewhat ideal look at the process, but I think Le Guin knows that and chose that. It's ideal not because it's been prettified, but because the people in charge manage to have enough of the right mindset to not having everything disintegrate into war; even having the right people in the right place, this is still not a book of easy solutions, which is why I admire and like it so much.

I also felt so much for Memer; her hate of the Alds is never glossed over. Le Guin doesn't make the process easy for Memer, and she understands that the anger of people who have been enslaved and occupied for a generation shouldn't be mended quickly, because they have more than enough cause for anger. I particularly loved the moments between Memer and Simme, an Ald boy; it's not the standard "Look! They are understanding and crossing cultural gaps!" There's too much of a power differential for them to be real friends, which is something that Memer understands but Simme cannot.

I'm also happy because the book gives so many ways to be re-empowered; Memer's way is not the Waylord's is not Orrec's, and the book understands that for decolonization and deoccupation to be successful, both the occupiers and those who were occupied must change and that the change of relinquishing power and re-taking power is a difficult and fraught process.

And last but definitely not least, I loved the characters so very much. Orrec and Gry from Gifts show up, this time full grown, but the story remains Memer's the entire way through. And! It is a story about books and knowledge and regaining what conquerors have taken away, much like Tigana and Song of the Basilisk.

Anyway, if you couldn't tell, I really loved this, and it is highly recommended, and I could probably babble on for pages and pages about occupation and post-occupation rebuilding, on re-empowerment and forming coalitions, on books and reading and how they all intertwine.

- [livejournal.com profile] helen_keeble compares Voices and Gifts
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Orrec and Gry live in the Uplands, where every clan has a gift. Gry's gift is calling animals, while Orrec's is to wreak havoc on anything he lays his eyes on. But even though the power balance of their society centers around the gifts, which keeps various clans in check, neither Orrec nor Gry really want to use their gifts the way everyone else wants them to.

I feel like I should have been much more touched by this than I was. This is a very quiet book; I knew that, and yet, for some reason, I kept expecting big, flashy moments. And part of me was glad that the big flashy moments never came, or if they did, that they were undercut. The other part of me has been feeling blah for a while and was probably not in the right mood to read this book.

That said, I did like how Le Guin portrayed Orrec's care with regard to his highly destructive gift, the doubt and the discomfort that it causes him. I also very much liked the friendship between him and Gry, how solid and dependable and non-flashy it was. And I liked the way Le Guin handled Orrec and Gry's decisions to not use their gifts the way everyone thought they should, how it wasn't couched as teenage rebellion or as anything large. It's instead a personal decision on both their parts.

I think I should have been much more affected by this book than I was, because I totally admire the craft in the story and how it went. I just never quite emotionally connected to it for some reason.
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I got this at the airport because several people mentioned it in the airport post. I got quite a few kicks out of reading it at the airport and on the airplane because I am very easily amused.

The book is more a collection of short stories centered around the conceit that Sita Dulip has found a method of travelling between planes of existence while at the airport (ergo the title), and each story is about a particular planar society that the author has visited. I'm not quite sure if we're supposed to think of it as Le Guin herself visiting each plane or some other unnamed POV character, but the consistent first-person narrative throughout the short stories is interesting.

I didn't like it so much as a storybook, but as a travel guide, it's terrific. Ace has the label "fantasy" on the back, but it feels much more like sci-fi to me, mostly because of the tone. There is no real narrative structure to the book; instead, Le Guin focuses on aspects of each society and writes like an anthropologist.

My favorite societies included Gy, in which some people sprout often life-threatening wings; the Island of the Immortals, which is chilling and perfectly fits in the way good sci-fi does; the plane of the Hennebet, which has an interesting concept of self and identity; and the plane of the Ansarac, who migrate.

Le Guin also has a biting description of airports that is so very, very true.
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Collection of LeGuin's essays and speeches and reviews over the late seventies and eighties, I think. The ones I found most interesting were (unsurprisingly) on gender and feminism and on reading. I am rather embarrassed, but I skipped over a lot of the travel ones or the ones with poetry or too much scholarship. I find that while I appreciate poetry, I do not always enjoy it. It's not a fast read for me (ironic, considering the general length) because I feel I have to concentrate on all of it, to figure it out. Too much lit class. Fiction I just devour.

I found some of the earlier ones in particular to subscribe to closely to some sort of gender essentialism, almost, in which the female somehow has some sort of mysterious, earthy connection to the unknown world, in direct contrast to the structured, logical world of the male. I did, however, like her post on gender and lack thereof ("Is Gender Necessary? Redux") in her The Left Hand of Darkness. The first one I pretty much disagreed with (although I haven't read the novel). Well, not most of it, but there was this one point in the essay in which she comments that using "he" as the default for the non-gendered alien beings was gender-neutral. I disagreed with that. Luckily, LeGuin also changed her mind -- the best part was reading the italicized comments, which were added later on, as a sort of commentary on beliefs she no longer believed in (ergo, the redux).

I was also particularly fond of "The Carrier Bag of Fiction." Is that where [livejournal.com profile] melymbrosia got the carrier bag theory of blogging? Or is there some original carrier bag theory that both are taking off on? I liked it because it talked about fiction not having to be about action, about fiction that could be about everyday things and such. There are many more thoughts I could be having, but my brain is on a bit of a hiatus right now.

You know, while I liked the original Earthsea trilogy, I was always resentful from the start that only guys could practice magic. Then I was even more resentful when the wise, male Ged gets to rescue Arha/Tenar from darkness... and despite Tenar's coolness as a character, Ged gets to go off and have more grand adventures because he's a mage, while Tenar stays behind and gets married. This is why I liked Tehanu so much, the overturning of the entire male hierarchy of Earthsea, etc.

Job, day 2

Sat, Aug. 30th, 2003 10:03 pm
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So far I have organized the corporate history and the Chinese language section. Well, Chinese fiction at least. I like doing this so far. I like how I'm not sitting at a desk every day staring at the computer screen, which is funny because in my free time, that's pretty much all I do. So my legs are sore from all the sitting on the floor and getting up and hauling books, and my shoulders ache, and my arms kind of hurt because I was lugging some encyclopedias around, but my eyes are ok. They used to hurt like mad all the time at Merrill, and I hated it because when my eyes hurt, I can't do anything that entertains me -- no reading, no internet, no TV or movies, not even cross-stitching. I rather like this not being in one place all the time, although I suspect it will be much more like a desk job when I go to San Jose. Next week, though, I'll be in Mountain View because one of the owners will be on a small vacation. I read all the dust jackets for the corporate history section so I could organize them, and wow! Just, lots and lots of books out there on every possible subject. I love it.

And it's nice... I get to decide when I want to lunch break, as long as there's someone to take over, and since the store is downtown (it's a small downtown), I'm just a block or two away from the civic center/public library. Today I brought lunch from home (leftover pasta, yum) and sat on a park bench in front of the library -- it's lovely. It was sunny, and the grass was green and there were trees everywhere, and it just felt so nice to be out in the sun for an hour. I hated the Merrill office, which apparently reserved windows for executives only. Poor cubicle workers didn't get a view at all (although when I did get to see the view, it was awesome -- 17th floor looking right at the Bank of China building and HK harbor). I also dropped by the library for a few minutes and picked up some more Connie Brockway and Tad William's Otherland book 1. Also left my extra Rose Daughter copy at the local cafe for BookCrossings, which also made me happy.

It's strange how different I feel now that I have a job, something I've been worried about for about a year. It's like this great weight off my shoulders, or kind of like the niggling thing at the back of my head constantly has finally shut up. I was bored out of my mind doing nothing all summer, and I rather like this. It's nice going home after a day of work. It's also nice being able to think, yes, perhaps I have a future after all and don't have to be stuck doing finance or accounting or whatnot -- hated the thought of that. I know my mom wants me to get a graduate degree sometime, so will think about that, eventually. Maybe will take courses on small businesses or something, who knows?

Bookwise: Just finished reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Tehanu. And while it took me longer than it took for me to read The Farthest Shore and The Tombs of Atuan combined, I think I like it best. I loved Tenar when I met her in Tombs, and I still love her. I also love the sense of calmness about the book, of rediscovering the self, of finding childhood loves again. Going back to [livejournal.com profile] aliera9916's question about age for heroines, I find I tend to like older heroines more. I like knowing my characters have a past, that they've experienced things. I like having a sense of history to books, which is why I loved Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches. Generations of history packed in there! For that matter, I also love tortured heroines, much, much more than tortured heroes (esp. in romances). I'm rather averse to the innocent virginal girls who show up in romances and who don't know anything. I like it when they've been hurt a little, had their hearts broken maybe once or twice, have been tempered so they're not all fiery and spirited (which often means they are Too Stupid Too Live because they get in dumb situations due to their feistiness). I like the role reveresal of the tortured heroine and a loving, steadfast hero who tries to win her over. I think this may have started with LotR, now that I think of it, and the Eowyn/Faramir dynamic. Hrm, interesting. Makes it more obvious to me why the S5-6 Spike and Buffy dynamic affected me lots more than the S7 one.
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Woohoo! I'm home! I'm in the Taipei apartment right now sweating profusely. I always forget how hot and humid Taiwan is. It feels like one is actually wading through the air. Personally, I think air should be one of those things people don't really think about. When I have to think about air, it's almost always a bad thing: asthma attacks, coughing, itchy throats, or profoundly humid air. Yuck.

I've had a great deal of fun with books lately. I finally read parts of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series (Tomb of Atuan and Farthest Shores) and now must get my hands on Tehanu and Wizard of Earthsea. I loved them very much, although they scared me deeply, especially The Farthest Shores' pondering on death and immortality. And the utter darkness in Tomb of Atuan. I have no idea how I managed to pick up Wizard of Earthsea numerous times back in high school and never finish it!

I also read Douglas Adams' Long Dark Teatime of the Soul because I saw Sarah reading it a while back. And Douglas Adams. Nuff said. And it made me rather sad and vaguely nostalgic, not because of the book, but because I remember giggling with Sarah on the steps of Charter about large orange monsters that hide behind molecules. And I wanted to read certain lines out loud to Sarah or Todd or the boy or Timmy and make them laugh. Sigh.

Then I bought Juliet Marillier's Child of the Prophecy and Diana Wynne Jones' Tales of the Chrestomanci part one, because hey, it's two books in one! How can you go wrong? I got them at Books Inc., a very cute little independent bookstore in Stanford Mall. And while I was sitting there reading League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen (Mina Murray is awesome), I watched these two clerks try to advise this very well-read girl on what fantasy novels she should buy to hold her through her weeklong trip. And I just kept craning my neck over and desperately tried to overhear the conversation to get a load of new book recs. I also desperately wanted to just casually walk over and recommend some things to the girl, but I felt so awkward, like I might have been intruding or something. But I also really just wanted to talk good fantasy. In the end, I wimped out and didn't for fear that everyone would think I was weird for being some complete stranger and wandering in on the conversation. But now I also desperately want to work at that bookstore. Hrm.

Spoilers ahead for the above two books:

Read all of Charmed Life and the Lives of Christopher Chant, the books in Tales of the Chrestomanci and absolutely adored them. So now I'm beating myself over the head for not getting the next two books in the series, because now I have to wait for an entire three weeks!! I liked Christopher Chant much better than Charmed Life. I'm not quite sure why. I think maybe Christopher is a much more dynamic character than Cat, who mostly gets acted upon in the book. And there's Christopher's Anywheres and the Goddess. And it was lovely reading it after Charmed Life, because there were very many Aha! moments. My favorite was finding out that Chrestomanci's wife Millie was in fact the Goddess, because that was so absolutely perfect. And I also wanted to run around and make people who like Harry Potter to read these books, because they're awesome.

I reread Child of the Prophecy yesterday, which caused me to promptly get over jet lag and stay up to my usual bedtime of 2 in the morning. Reading books before bed is a horrible idea, especially for me, because I always tell myself that I'll read "just one more chapter," which naturally turns out to be half the book. Then it's, Oh, look, only one more hour and I can finish! And I sleep at another ungodly hour of the morning. Anyway, Child of the Prophecy is the third book in Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy (Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows), and I love them all. But I especially love this one, even though the first two were very very good as well. The first one is an Irish retelling of the Seven Swans fairy tale that brings in the Sidhe/Tuatha de Danan and druids. And the romantic elements are quite strong in all three books, which satisfies the romance reader in me. I love the growing relationship between Sorcha and Hugh in the first book and most of all Darragh and Fainne in the third one. For some reason, Liadan and Bran didn't quite do it for me. I think it was because it felt almost too stereotypically romantic, the good girl rebelling and falling for the misunderstood bad boy and bringing him to the light despite strong family pressure. Hugh and Darragh's quietness worked much better for me, especially Hugh's inability to express emotion well and Marillier's beautiful telling of Hugh and Sorcha's day at the beach and the story of Tobie and the selkie wife. Come to think of it, that story is also echoed in Child of the Prophecy. Anyhow, I seem to be doing very poorly in writing about how these books make me feel. Probably because the romance is blended into the overall plot, I find them much more effective and touching than romances in romance novels. I also love Fainne because unlike Sorcha, who's pretty much good in and out, Fainne has no idea what she's doing, she's horribly misguided at times, and as such, speaks more to me. And Darragh's friendship and the very quiet, very steady nature of how he loves her always gets to me, especially at the very last bits. The ends of Child of the Prophecy and Daughter of the Forest always make me cry actual tears, instead of just tearing up, as I usually do.

Then I found that my sister's friend had borrowed my copy of Rose Daughter (now I have two!) and returned it and a book of Patricia C. Wrede's short stories. And I always seem to forget how much I used to love Patricia C. Wrede. Still do. The Enchanted Forest series is just so much fun, with its mockery of fairy tales. I remember back in high school I kind of got sick of them for a bit because Cimorene is occasionally too Mary Sue-ish -- she always knows what to do, she's eminently practical, beautiful, brave and collected. But after the first book Wrede introduces Mendanbar, who I very much adore. Then Cimorene can't save the day in the third book, and we all wait for Daystar and the fourth book. And I truly love that book. Daystar is so incredibly clueless and absolutely polite. He's not quite as self-conscious as Cimorene and Mendanbar can be, which makes him a great deal more fun to be around. And there's a small exchange between Morwen and Telemain regarding the pointy end of a sword that never fails to crack me up. I was suddently reminded of this because the final story in the anthology is an Enchanted Forest one with these set of characters and the Frying Pan of Doom.


Sorry, just the name Frying Pan of Doom always gets me going. Anyway, everyone should read that story ("Utensile Strengths") because Frying Pan of Doom! How could it not be good?

Now I have to hunt up the Enchanted Forest series and read them all again. I love rereading books. It's like finding old friends again and having a nice, long heart to heart.

I'm also contemplating with great joy how many of my books in Taiwan I can finally transport to California, where hopefully I will not move every year and can thus finally really start building my book collection again. It really sucks having half of them here and half of them in the States. Maybe I will just buy some new copies over Amazon too, since many have not been treated very well by Taiwan humidity. And on that happy thought, I will go catch up more on LJ business. I miss you LJ people so much!


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