Sunday Sum-Up: July 24, 2022

Last week was hot, and good riddance to it.

Although, the cold (relatively speaking) front that came through last night could have been a little less dramatic, as it caused the temperature to drop about twenty degrees Fahrenheit in about half an hour, as well as causing some nasty thunderstorms across the state.

But it also brought us some lovely cooler temperatures, and I am all about that.

Bring on the cooler temperatures for the rest of the summer.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Mina has been much more vocal this week than she usually is. I don’t know why. She’s never distressed or upset, but she will meow loudly if she suddenly realizes I’m not in the room and doesn’t know where I am. Once she finds me, she is perfectly content again.

And after a week or so of Mina not sleeping on the bed or nightstand like usual, she is back to sleeping next to me most of the night.

This kid is entirely too cute. I don’t know what to do about her.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Art of the English Murder details the origins of nonfiction’s true crime genre and the rise of the detective novel. Worsley details sensationalized crimes that took place in the late 1700s into the 1880s that helped spur public interest in the genre, and points out that society people were (as they are now) “scandalized” that women enjoy crime stories, and so put women as a whole down for liking them. Some things never change. As is usual for anything Worsley does, there’s a wry edge to her story, and I really wish she had been the one to narrate the book, as that edge would have been far more pronounced and given a different flavor to the stories. Still, it was a fascinating look at how murder and its portrayal have affected culture and the stories we’re fascinated by, and I recommend this one if you’re interested in either true crime or detective stories.

I may have a new favorite with The Secret History. Can I talk to much about how much I loved this book? On my day off, I took it downtown with me, and once I’d finished my errands I went to a local pizza place for a late lunch. I started reading it there (I was about 30% of the way through), and read it the entire time I was at the pizza place. Then I went home, plopped down on the floor with a pillow (as I often do while reading), and kept reading. And kept reading. For the next four hours until I finished the book because I simply had to know what happened next. I still can’t believe Donna Tartt was 28 when she published this because it is so expertly written at every turn. The plot and pacing are spot on, and the characters are so complex and so very human. You’ll go from hating them to worrying about them by turns, and you understand so clearly why they feel compelled to commit a murder, just as you understand the actions they take in the aftermath. In the first few chapters, I couldn’t stand any of the characters, but I still found them so compelling that I couldn’t look away. When I read this again, which I surely will, I’ll be looking for the clues I didn’t see beforehand, because Richard (the narrator) didn’t see them until it was too late, either.

And can I talk about the prose of The Secret History? It’s perfect for its setting; clean and clear, elegant without going purple. It conveys scene and character so well that I found it easy to get lost in the story and forget about the things around me. I don’t usually enjoy books where all the characters seem like such terrible people, but The Secret History is too good to make those terrible people one-sided. They’re fully fleshed out and, like a train wreck, you can’t look away from them.

I didn’t expect my inter-library loan of When I Find You Again, It Will Be in Mountains to come in so quickly, but there it was just a few days after I requested it. It is a collection of poetry by Chia Tao, a Chinese poet who lived from 779-843 CE, and primarily features his ‘farewell’ poems, which are a type of poetry in which the writer says farewell to someone or something– a friend who is leaving or who has died, or to summer or the like. They have a specific form with a certain number of syllables, and the translator, Mike O’Connor, has duplicated this form as best he can in the translations. The poem appears in the original Chinese on each page, so those who can speak the language can compare the original to the translation. I can’t speak Chinese, so I have to rely on O’Connor’s translations, which have the same sort of beauty and elegance that I have read in other poetry from China or Japan. I wish I could have a physical copy of this collection for my own, but I could only find used copies from India that were terribly expensive even before international shipping. Alas. I’ll just have to remember the experience of reading this elegant collection, and I recommend it if you’re interested in poetry.

I was in search of a short audiobook for this week when I happened across Sarah Moss’s novel, Summerwater. I’ve liked both of Moss’s books that I’ve already read (Names for the Sea and Ghost Wall), so I decided to download this from my library, as it was four hours long. It’s a mosaic novel featuring the perspectives of about twelve different people spending a rainy vacation on a Scottish loch. On an especially rainy day, they end up watching each other, pondering their own lives and imagining what their temporary neighbors are like as they go about their business throughout the day. Seemingly small events build until the evening comes around and these little things come to a sudden, tragic head. As in her other books, Sarah Moss’s grasp of characterization shines. Though each character’s section is fairly short, Moss creates fully rounded people who feel completely real, no matter their age or background. The audiobook is about four hours long, so if you’re looking for a short book about ordinary but compelling people, I recommend Summerwater.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I’m reading The Atlas Six because of a group reading adventure we put together in one of my Discord servers. We decided to get a physical copy of it, annotate it, and pass it along to the next person to annotate, and so on and so forth. I’m the first one to read and annotate it. So far, I kind of hate this story. The Secret History put me into the mood for Dark Academia (which The Atlas Six falls into), but unlike The Secret History, I feel no sympathy for the six awful characters in this book, as the are so poorly written and have no redeeming qualities. There is more than one character who casually uses their magic to violate people’s bodies or minds without their consent (which is a great way to make me never care about them in any way), the worldbuilding is shoddy at best. In this story, magic is a known thing, but instead of its use having altered the world, Blake just went, “The world is exactly the same, but there’s magic, too!” and declares that there are magical media empires, magical cosmetic empires, or magicians who help crops grow, which fine. Whatever. But there is zero sense that magic has really affected the world or its history. For example, what is transportation like when teleportation is a thing? Why are there TVs and movies if people can create illusions to tell their stories? I’m fine with stories set in our modern world where magic is a close-kept secret, but when it’s out in the open the way it is in The Atlas Six, there needs to be more than just a veneer of magic that would, in reality, have utterly changed the way the world is.

Also, I hate the prose. Blake’s prose veers from feeling like this book is a rough draft that hasn’t even been run through Grammarly, to feeling like a pretentious mess where Blake is trying to show off the fact that she knows big words and how to write complicated sentences. Readers, there is nothing wrong with long, complex sentences. But there is a problem when those sentences are convoluted and require being read three times before a reader can make sense of it thanks to poor wording or a lack of sensible punctuation.

I will finish this book because of the group project, but wow. It’s heading toward being the worst of the year.

What I Plan to Start Reading Next Week:

Girl in a Green Gown was another inter-library loan request that came in far sooner than I expected it to. It’s a history of Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini portrait, which is notable for the lavish green gown the woman in the painting wears. I’ve been meaning to start it over the past couple of days, and I just haven’t. I will remedy that today.

I need to get to Babel soon, as I like to have my ARC reviews ready a couple of weeks before the book is due to be published. I’m glad I’ve finished The Secret History and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as Kuang has described Babel as “a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell“. Now I’ll be able to see for myself if this is an accurate depiction of Babel or not.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

  • Malevolent
    Written and Performed by Harlan Guthrie

I found out about this eldritch horror/ARG podcast via the Rusty Quill website after devouring The Magnus Archives and wanting more horror audio dramas. Rusty Quill has a growing collection of audio dramas– most of which are horror or horror-adjacent– so I’ve been trying them out one by one. After episode two or so, I was completely hooked.

In this story, private investigator Arthur Lester wakes up blind and terrified, having lost a chunk of his memory and his eyesight. He finds that he is being partially possessed by a malevolent spirit who has control of his eyes. This spirit has also lost a large portion of its memory. Arthur and the presence find themselves wanted by the police before being hunted by eldritch horrors who are drawn to them for mysterious and horrifying reasons. To solve the riddle of their new state of existence, Arthur and the spirit must find a way to work together to find answers.

Until now, I hadn’t really been drawn to eldritch horror, but Arthur’s story is so fascinating and tragic, and the overall plot is so intriguing that I couldn’t stop listening until I’d caught up with it. There are clear Lovecraftian influences, but much of the metaplot is drawn from The King in Yellow, a collection of horror stories written by Richard W. Chambers and published in 1895. To say more about the book might spoil the plot of Malevolent, so I’ll stop there. But if you enjoy horror stories and/or audio dramas, definitely give Malevolent a try. It’s hard to believe that every part is performed by Harlan Guthrie (thanks to a series of excellent accents), but his voice work for each character is distinct and convincing, and the music and sound design of the entire series are incredible. There are sections I will revisit, simply so I can pay more attention to the sound itself.

The most recent episode, ‘Part 23: The Past’ ended on a massive cliffhanger, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the next episode, which will hopefully be available next weekend.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: July 24, 2022

  1. Glad to hear you’re getting some cooler weather. I’m hoping we might also. I just added The Secret History to my audiobook wishlist. Looks like with that and then The Atlas Six you’ve found perhaps a best of and worst of in a very short period of time. Reading about the poetry of Chia Tao reminded me of recent comments about Basho. I’ve yet to pick up his Narrow Road but I did find an ebook of his poetry on sale and picked that up (Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times).

  2. Lovely Mina photo, as always! Interesting to read your response to The Secret History. I read it ages ago, and had a very strong dislike for it — but I wonder if I should give it another try at some point. I picked up a copy of Summerwater recently, and look forward to reading it. Wishing you a great week!

  3. I have a copy of Atlas Six that a friend bought for me, but the more I hear about it, the less I think I’ll like it/want to read it.

  4. I’ve been having a lousy time with it. Still pushing through for now. I’m about 150 pages in. It’s pretty frustrating, because the concept is intriguing, but I have NOT been enjoying the execution.

  5. I didn’t like The Secret History for the first few chapters– I couldn’t stand the characters. But the narration was so compelling that I kept going. I never really liked any of them, but I could understand their motives for their actions.

  6. It was in the 70s today and rainy! I opened the windows for the first time in weeks, and Mina is loving it. She’s been sitting on the sill all evening, watching the world go by. I should see about picking up Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times, because I thoroughly enjoyed Narrow Road. When I Find You Again is available as an ebook, though I didn’t look at the pricing. I just prefer having a physical copy of my poetry.

  7. The Secret History is so good! You just have to know going into it that the characters aren’t particularly likable, but that your sympathies for them may change radically as the story progresses. I’m going to go for a walk in a bit, so I’ll definitely be enjoying the cooler weather!

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