The Thief (1996) 304pp

“I can steal anything”, says Gen, the eponymous thief of Megan Whalen Turner’s excellent children’s adventure. He captured my imagination, against my inclination.  The title threatened an adorably disreputable ne’er-do-well character from the fantasy stockroom. Tricksters (see Joseph Campbell) make entertaining protagonists, but I’m wary of the stereotype. They are often too cute, lacking the dangerous unpredictability that a Raven, a Loki or a Monkey brings to myth (and thief heroes are rarely found in modern settings, where B&E appears less adorable). Turner’s thief avoids this problem through clever plotting, although I will complain that, like many literary thieves, he is almost magically talented in his thief skills. The world of The Thief is not heavily fantastical and has no magic or magical beasts. Turner elaborated on archaic Greek culture, inventing nations and pantheons of gods, and adding apocryphal technology, to produce a story something like myth, if myths were narrated in the personable voice of a boy hero.

The Queen of Attolia (2000) 368pp

The choice of first person point of view is the cleverest tactical decision of the author, and I will let you learn why for yourself- the plot of The Thief is highly vulnerable to spoilage. I read the series inside out and backwards, starting somewhere in the middle of The Queen of Attolia, then picking through The King of Attolia before starting over properly with The Thief, and so I knew of several important plot twists before the plot revealed them. Having deprived myself of the surprise and suspense, I still enjoyed novels so much I read them twice, but I was rather sorry to have missed out on the orderly progression of revelations. I recommend that innocent readers do not do as I did. Inside-out may allow you to appreciate Turner’s craft and style, but you can admire her clever construction on your second reading. Let Gen narrate The Thief at his own pace. Don’t even peek at the cover blurbs on the sequels!

The King of Attolia (2006) 432pp

As The Thief opens, Gen has been sitting in the king’s prison long enough to have lost track of the days and grown thin, weak and filthy. His bragging led to his conviction and imprisonment for stealing the king’s seal, and now leads the king’s scholar and advisor, the magus, to extract him. The magus needs a thief. A disposable thief. He wants to steal a legendary relic, once used to confer the sovereignty of the kings of the neighboring kingdom of Eddis. The magus would like to confer sovereignty of Eddis on his own king of Sounis. The relic may be hidden in yet another rival kingdom, Attolia. Adventure and intrigue ensue.

Embrace the opening exposition. If you are lazy like me you may have no patience for exposition without encouragement. I have a bad habit of skipping past opening chapters until I love the characters and story enough to catch them on the second pass. The exposition may be lyrical, it’s detail development essential, but coming at the very opening of a book, it has the problem of not having yet earned my interest. Genre novels tend to solve the problem of reader impatience by jumping straight into action, which does grab the attention, but may cost it later. Or maybe the problem is not a problem. I generally enjoy the story even after robbing myself of the proper framing. If the novel is wily and complicated, I am forced to go back and address the opening the author staged for me, and if it isn’t wily, then maybe it doesn’t need the exposition anyway.

Instead of Three Wishes: stories (2006) 160pp

Before I digress further and wander into spoiler territory, I want to comment on format. I borrowed the Thief series and Turner’s short story collection, Instead of Three Wishes, from the digital holdings of the Seattle Public Library. Downloading the files as I lounged on my couch, long after hours for the local library branch, had decided instant gratification appeal, but yoked me to my laptop until I finished. The Adobe ePub format has functional pagination and clickable table of contents, is searchable and bookmarkable, and looks good- but I admit, it is not as satisfying as holding the paper copy in my hand. Even the crappy paperbacks I bought (because the library copies totally sold me) with their cheap acid paper and smudged ink and bindings that are already ungluing. Rather sorry print quality for a Newberry Honor book, I think, although the cover art is very nice (but what is the appeal of the cut-off head look that is so very popular now?).

Spoiler-full discussion begins below the fold.

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An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New EnglandWelcome to October, Book Clubbers. The book of the month is Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, a book so book-clubby it has its own book club guide tucked into the back pages. It is also orange and fiery, which seems appropriate to the season.

The narrator, Sam, made himself infamous at 18 when he burned down the Emily Dickinson House, by accident he says, with two people in it. Ten years in prison were not enough to appease the poetry lovers of Amherst, (although amongst the scholarly diatribes are a number of requests from New Englanders for Sam to burn down their own historic writer’s houses) and the hate is heavy. His humiliated, literary parents wish he would go away and not come back. So Sam goes to college, where he studies packaging science and meets a nice girl, and somehow fails to inform her of the felony thing and the deaths and the prison term (apparently she is not a curious person). They marry and have a child, and Sam hides from his sordid past in a ticky-tacky suburb called Camelot. But his bland, prepackaged existence rips when the son of his victims makes a visit. And someone else is burning writers’ homes in New England.

So I’ll see you all back here on Halloween. By commenting below, you agree to read! In the meantime, someone appoint yourself as Dictator for the month of November.

Religion + Carnies

September 30, 2009

While perusing the books at my local library, I came across Holy Fools by Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat.

Although I haven’t read Chocolat (yet), I figured that anything written by the same author would at least be interesting…And I was right!

Set in 17th-century France, Holy Fools follows Juliette, a carnie girl-cum-acrobat turned nun. (No joke.)

After living the wild life with various traveling circus groups, Juliette, pregnant and single, turns to a nunnery to raise her little girl. When the Abbess dies, a strict new Abbess and her mysterious Confessor take charge of the lax nuns.

Chaos ensues!

There is plenty of mayhem – including illicit sex, kidnapping, suicide, and ghostly figures.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop there.

Let me know if you read it! I’d love to hear what you guys think.

-B

J. C. Penney has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren’t quite up to Canal Street’s illegal standards. It was never “get the look for less” so much as “get something vaguely shaped like the designer thing you want, but cut much more conservatively, made in all-petroleum materials, and with a too-similar wannabe logo that announces your inferiority to evil classmates as surely as if you were cursed to be followed around by a tuba section.”
Cintra Wilson, Critical Shopper: Playing to the Middle. NYTimes, 11 Aug 2009

This isn’t, may I remind you, The Daily Mail. It’s the New York Times, the alleged Paper of Record. Is this an attempt to be relevant? To draw on the snark of the blogosphere that the kids are supposedly so crazy about? Well, let me give you a little internet home-brew: FAIL. EPIC FAIL, even. I could add “compassion fail” and “humanity fail,” if I so chose. I’d say “journalism fail,” but if you keep this up, I won’t need to.
Times Writer Finds J.C. Penney’s Focus On Fat People Clever, Amusing. Jezebel Online Mag, 14 Aug 2009

Dear Clark Hoyt and Angry New York Times Readers, Read the rest of this entry »

People get ready

August 21, 2009

fremontfairDear Friends,

As many of us scatter to the wilderness and exotic locations (Socorro? Pullman?) I thought we might keep in touch here, at the center of the universe.  The topic of Book Club has come up several times, with many of us making bold claims to want to participate in such a organization. So, I am organizing! And, in my copious free hours, I have been thinking!

I need to consult with you on a few things, namely, how this club will meet, virtually, and without the usual bribes of food and booze. I imagine the virtual discussion could extend over several days, but it will be more fun if we all read the book at approximately the same time, don’t you think?  I also think it best if each book has a Discussion Leader (DL) who will be responsible for prodding the rest of the club into conversation. I leave the methods of peer pressure and leadership style to the individual DL. You may post a book review,  a letter to the author, chapter-by-chapter commentary, bullet-pointed discussion questions, reader’s poll, inspired or inspirational poetry, interpretive art, interpretive LOL[CAT]s, video reenactment,  or whatever you like. You may meet with fellow members in your geographic location for an in vivo mini-meeting (perhaps with food and booze- because gustatory enticements always work. I learned that in graduate school.) and write your post collaboratively. We love freedom here at the center of the universe. HOWEVER: we do need to determine how we will select books, and how often to “meet”. I have compiled some governmental categories to facilitate discussion.

Rotating dictatorship: DL’s choice, everyone gets a turn.

Rotating chairmanship: open nominations for books with selection by vote. Members pressed into service as DL on a rotating basis.

Representative democracy: anonymous nominations; selection by vote; nominator becomes DL.

Mob rule: any member may post a nomination and, through superior rhetoric, attempt to attract the commitment of other members. Participation non-mandatory.

Creative socialism: some combination of the above. Or other.

I’m leaning toward representative democracy with a side of mob rule. Discuss. Commentate.

Love, LL.