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Book Notes, February–March 2021

April 14, 2021

Wayne writes: Not in any particular order, here are books I read during February and March, heavier on fiction than usual:

The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo. Scribner, 2020. I was attracted to this short novel (‘novel’ is much too generous to describe its length, even ‘novella’ would be excessive) which takes as its potentially interesting premise that digital technology has suddenly, inexplicably failed. Planes crash, computers don’t work, electronic communication is dead. What would people do without all of this, who have come to rely on it? Apparently they would not really know what to do if they couldn’t watch the Super Bowl on television. Conversation would be dull and tedious. They would not be inventive and resilient. DeLillo wrote this before Covid-19 became a thing, but it was published when its readers were in the midst of a pandemic, and for the most part coping – if with even greater reliance on technology than ever before. One could pan this slight work in so many ways, and many of Amazon’s reviewers have done so.

Ed Kluz illustration for John Fowles The Tree dust jacketThe Tree by John Fowles. Little Toller, 2016. A largely autobiographical essay by novelist Fowles, first published in 1979. A bit rambling, but with some interesting points about trees and nature. To be honest, I bought this for its stunning cover by Ed Kluz.

Ernest Gimson: Arts & Crafts Designer and Architect by Annette Carruthers, Mary Greensted, and Barley Roscoe. Yale University Press, 2019. The publisher’s blurb calls Gimson ‘a central figure in the British Arts & Crafts Movement’. I had never heard of him, but that’s my ignorance, now corrected. Christina and I have a good Arts and Crafts Movement library, to which this is an interesting addition though the text is repetitive.

We Are Not Amused: Victorian Views on Pronunciation as Told in the Pages of Punch by David Crystal. Bodleian Library, 2017. Rather more of language expert Crystal (not a bad thing) and less of Punch cartoons than I expected.

Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection by Ben Aaronovitch. JABberwocky Literary Agency, 2020. I’ve enjoyed Aaronovitch’s series since 2011, when the first novel, Rivers of London, introduced Metropolitan Police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant. Since then the books have become more complex and have branched out with new characters. Tales from the Folly (the Folly is the headquarters of the London ‘magic police’) fills in some of the gaps between and around the novels (or novellas).

What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. Gollancz, 2021. Speaking of Aaronovitch’s novellas, this one features teenager Abigail Kamara, junior apprentice wizard and fox-whisperer, who was introduced in the third novel, Whispers under Ground. The story fills a gap between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree. I like Abigail, and Aaronovitch clearly does too.

Wild Cards I cover by Michael KomarckWild Cards I, edited by George R.R. Martin. Tor, 2010 (I got the ‘mini-hardcover’, 2017). There was a short piece about this in a recent Locus which convinced me to give it a try. I had known about the series for some time and was intrigued by the concept (just after World War II, an alien virus mutates random survivors, giving some of them superpowers) but was reluctant to start, with more than two dozen ‘Wild Card’ volumes and counting. I don’t think I’ll continue with it. Since it’s a ‘shared universe’ with multiple authors contributing interconnected stories, the quality naturally varies, with some parts more exciting, or more tedious, than others. Of course, readers of genre fiction will think of fictional antecedents: Airboy comics, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the Justice Society appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, etc.

Designing English: Early Literature on the Page by Daniel Wakelin. Bodleian Library, 2018. Despite having worked with rare books for more than forty years, I learned a lot from Wakelin, and from his book’s many illustrations from the Bodleian’s superb collection of early English manuscripts. If I had to criticize this it would be for its design: long lines of text in a small size, and often very long paragraphs, all of which is wearying to the eye.

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre by Ransom Riggs. Dutton Books, 2021. The sixth and apparently last novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, unless Riggs goes for a third trilogy. This has been an inventive series, and like all stories with interesting characters one wants to read more of them, but the fiction has often seemed forced when Riggs invents incidents or traits to suit the strange antique photographs with which he illustrates his books, and it became overblown in the fifth novel, if not the fourth. The last has some blatant dei ex machina and ends on a pleasing but perhaps too sentimental note.

Later by Stephen King. Hard Case Crime, 2021. A semi-supernatural mystery – Jamie Conklin can speak with the dead – Later moves quickly. Although interesting, as King always tells a good story, I found it less satisfying than much longer books by him, such as The Stand.

Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth beyond the Middle Ages by Holly Ordway. Word on Fire, 2021. Christina and I were sent a copy of this by the publisher, and have a separate review coming up in our blog.

One Comment
  1. Onthe trail permalink
    May 18, 2021 6:26 pm

    Hi Christina and Wayne, I am leaving this here in the most recent post just for visibilty.

    Could I make a request, if it does not cause you both any more work. When you post your updates and corrections for the 2017 Companion and Guide (a massive thanks as always for that, it is a joy to see these entries grow and come closer and closer to Tolkien’s life and works), would it be possible to date entries to the supplemetary biblios, and the preface, index, backmatter and such sections as you do with the two main updates? I update my digital edition for personal use and it would make it easier to exclude the previously updated entries in the list. Many thanks as always.


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