As predicted, I fell way behind on my reading goals in April. This was because I spent way more time watching television than I did in books. I’ve sold an option on the television rights for “The New Mother” to Plan B Entertainment, and since then have been giving myself a crash course in narrative tools that work on the screen, on the off chance I get to do some TV writing. Good news for me, bad news for my new year’s resolution. Perhaps I can catch back up over the months to come, though balancing writing time and reading time is a zero-sum game.

  1. Persona by Genevieve Valentine – Whereas her last novel was a fairytale retelling, Genevieve’s newest is a psychological action thriller about fashion, expectation, and international politics. Reading this, it occurred to me that Geneveive is sort of reclaiming the Heinleinian Competent Man archetype. She is writing Competent Women, whose superhuman adroitness isn’t grounded in the technical, but the interpersonal. The national Faces of Persona are people–mostly women–who can size up situations instantly, piece out the hidden motives behind every smile, and spin intricate strategy on the fly. Within their areas of expertise, these people are basically Batman. Persona made me even more excited to eventually read Genevieve’s ongoing run on Catwoman, and I look forward to the sequel that the end of this novel strongly implies.
  2. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – When I realized how badly I was going to fall behind schedule this month I decided to solicit a list of people’s favorite short books by women. I have no shortage of volumes of all different lengths by men on my shelves, but my selection of women’s work is narrower. (Hence the gender parity project.) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was the most widely recommended book I didn’t already own. I thought it very good, but perhaps enjoyed it less than some of those who recommended it to me. Many of the folks I’ve told I was reading this have exclaimed, “Oh, I love The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie!” I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was psychologically incisive and structurally clever, using repetition in a manner similar to Catch-22, where scenes and exchanges recur verbatim but with ramifying meaning each time. But it is still my impression that it didn’t touch me as deeply as it has many. Do you love this book? I’d like to know what you love about it.
  3. Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan –A slim collection that I nonetheless took a long time to finish. My favorite story in here was “Monkey’s Paternoster,” a tale from the point of view of a monkey at an Indian temple as the group’s patriarch dies and is violently replaced. I also liked “Forever Upward,” in which a young girl rediscovers the techniques for speaking to old gods, gods that have been displaced by those of a colonizing group. Many of the others, though, I thought forgettable. Lanagan writes dark-toned, thick-voiced tales that explore their speculative premises from deeply embedded point of view. When all the elements are working the result is unforgettable–stories like “Singing my Sister Down” and “An Honest Day’s Work.” But other times her stories strike me more as B-sides or exercises. Never bad, but not memorably compelling. This collection had more of the latter than the former.
  4. The Lagoon by Lilli Carré –A lyric graphic novel with thick black art that reminded me at times of a less photorealistic Charles Burns. Three generations of a family live next to a lagoon where a creature lives and sings haunting songs. All three have vague relationships of sorts with the creature. Symbols and images stack atop one another, but don’t seem to add up to much. If there is a coherent metaphorical framework under this narrative, it was too deeply buried for me to find it. If someone wanted to propose a reading of what this story meant I’m sure I could be persuaded that they were right. But I enjoyed this only as a gnomic dreamscape, and my feeling is that finding coherent meaning in The Lagoon would take more effort than can be reasonably asked of a reader.