Unwritten book review

There's no law that says I must write a book review of every book I read, right?
For the past 15 years I've been keeping track of what I read, in a Word document that is now 52 pages long. Sometimes I jot down some impressions, other times I just note the approximate date, the title and the author. Um, no, I don't write down the name of the translator because I've been reading mostly in the original language, basically English and Hebrew. Which reminds me I really must go back to that Book Reviews document and give credit where credit is due, namely to the inimitable Nili Mirsky as the translator of the Gogol stories, Constance Garnett and Avrahm Yarmolinsky as translators of the Chekhov stories, and the one-and-only Gaio Sciloni as the translator of Italo Calvino, in case I ever get back to his If on a Winter's Night a Traveller , (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore), which is still on my bookshelf since winter 1997, when my son's Lit teacher gave the class an excerpt to read (in the Hebrew translation)

But I digress.

My current complaint is that I have not been able to bring myself to write a brief review of the 540 page Terry Pratchett novel Unseen Academicals. It's lurking in the back of my mind, interfering with my enjoyment (if that's the right word) of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go.

Now, as I said, there's no law that says I must write about the books I read. Consulting my list I can see that, of the 48 Terry Pratchetts I read so far, I have only bothered to "review" around 28, so why let Unseen Academicals trouble me? I enjoyed its treatment of some subjects (supermodels, soccer fans, the Patrician), plodded through some ploddier bits, chuckled occasionally, and totally missed various allusions to British football culture. Doesn't mean I have to put it all down on paper/hard disk/the web.

Many of my earlier "reviews" of Terry Pratchett works were extremely short, others a bit more detailed. For example (and I quote, not "polishing" anything I wrote years ago):

Moving Pictures – Hollywood or Bust. Somewhat too obvious take-off on Hollywood.
Reaper Man – Terrific. DEATH as Beau Nidle, member of the Foreign Legion…
Small Gods – Scathing commentary on organized religion. Any religion.
Soul Music – Long live Rock 'n Roll…
Interesting Times – Whence originates the curse, "May you live in interesting times…" As Rincewind says, who wants interesting? Give me boring, boring, safe and boring….
Maskerade – A new twist on the Phantom of the Opera?
Carpe Jugulum – A bit morbid, ghoulish… I think I took it too seriously… Found the threat of the New Vampyres too convincing… But Granny Weatherwax wins the day – yet again! Long live the witches, and long live Terry Pratchett for giving us heroes and saviors who are female and not necessarily young, sexy, and/or gorgeous!

The Science of Discworld (with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen)
- In fact, a book on science. Peppered with chapters about the wizards as a palliative and comic relief. Very informative, explains complex concepts clearly, and has many an amusing and philosophical insight.

The Truth - Pratchett takes on the Press; what it's like to be a newspaper editor and a journalist by nature. Scenes with the two thugs – include direct quotes from Pulp Fiction.

The Science of Discworld II (with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen)
- Continues along the same lines as The Science of Discworld I, but so far seems more difficult scientifically. At the moment it deals with evolution. In any case, the writers’ approach and point view is refreshing, and they do their best not to offend religious believers while in no way compromising their own principles and beliefs, which is no mean feat. Slow going for someone who does most of her reading just before falling asleep.
At some point the science became more understandable, and the book more engrossing.

Only You Can Save Mankind
The first in the Johnny Maxwell series for kids/youth. Charming and – being Pratchett – includes pretty harsh yet funny social commentary, and anti-war sentiments, which I gather are further developed in depth for adults in his more recent books, Nightwatch, and later Thud.
Sample quotation:
"What is sexist?" [says the alien captain].
"What"? says Johnny.
"It was a word you used."
"Oh, that. It just means you should treat people as people, and, you know...
not just assume girls can't do stuff. We got a talk about it at school.
There's lots of stuff most girls can't do, but you've got to pretend they
can, so that more of them will. That's all of it, really."
"Presumably there's, uh, stuff boys can't do?" [asks the alien captain].
"Oh, yeah. But that's just girls' stuff," said Johnny. "Anyway, some girls
go and become engineers and things, so they can do proper stuff if they
want".

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents - Supposedly, a children’s book, or at least a book for young people. To me, it was a thriller, albeit one with a social/moral message, or issues, as a basis.
It was a gripping page-turner, and a mystery, and scary. Reminded me somewhat of Watership Down.
Yes, it has humor, supplied mostly by Malicia Grim whose entire outlook on life is based on stories. And by the main(?) character, the would-be cynical Maurice; and, come to think of it, some scenes with the rats, and some scenes with the schlimazel rat-catchers, and so on. But on the whole, it is more action-suspense than comedy.
The fact that it takes place on Discworld and makes some references to “familiar” locations and characters such as Unseen University, the wizards, the Watch – makes it feel more “like home”; it’s good to know I’m on familiar territory, I more-or-less know the rules along which Discworld operates. And, since it’s Terry Pratchett, the plot and the characters and the conflicts have significance and values.

Going Postal - Ha! Ha ha ha!!! Reading and chuckling, really chuckling aloud – that’s something that few writers can cause me to do. Moist von Lipwig. Really! How can he give a hero such a drippy name. Anyway, the plot is thickening, the bad guy will get his comeuppance, and Moist will get his ashtray girl. I assume.
Yes, Moist gets his girl. The plot seems a bit more conventional or straightforward, less convoluted, than some of his other novels. But definitely not too simple. The Patrician is finely etched and comes shining through as an admirable, dispassionate, cunning and capable administrator. The social criticism is as scathing as ever. Adora Bell Dearheart, known as Killer to her friends, is a typically atypical female protagonist. In that sense, Terry Pratchett does a lot more for womankind than the cerebral, academically highfalutin Carolyn G. Heilbrun.
A couple of choice quotations:
“What a place! What a situation! What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.”
“She grabbed him by the ears and gave him a big kiss on the mouth. It was like being kissed by an ashtray, but in a good way.”
Pity I didn’t write “ha!” in pencil in the margins in other places, as I used to in my university days.

Johnny and the Bomb - Whimsical and engrossing. The comments on the weirdness of time and time travel fit in very well with what I recently read about time in Brian Greene’s book.
As usual, has a strong feminine figure, though less likeable than some, because she’s such a smart-ass, smarty-pants and looks down on everyone else. She does come down a notch at the end.
----------------
I'll stop here, since I think I've made my point. If you want to read more of my book reviews, just say the word, I'll be delighted.

Anyway: I have finally made my peace with the fact that I am not writing a review of Unseen Academicals. If you want to know what it's all about, there's always Amazon.

Phew. That's a relief.
Back to Never Let Me Go. Yes, I know they've just made a movie of it. Not sure I'll want to see it. And if I get too depressed reading it, there's always a good Terry Pratchett to fall back on.

3 comments:

Karen said...

Hi
I attended your lecture at last year's ITA conference. It was very helpful - thanks! I have a question for you. I have been wondering about something for a while - maybe you can help me.

In this post, you use the phrase: "which is still on my bookshelf since winter 1997". I am British (translator, living in Israel), and to me that sounds wrong. It is similar to when I hear Americans (I've never heard a Brit say it) say "I am here 8 years" or "I am here since 1994" (instead of "I have been here..."). I would say something like "which has been on my bookshelf since winter 1997" or "which is still on my bookshelf since I bought it in winter 1997". I guess my question is: Is this a UK v US thing, or is this usage also wrong in US English?
(Please don't take this as criticism, by the way, I'm just interested in this usage.)
Thanks in advance for any insights you have on this.
Kind regards
Karen Gilbert

Nina R. Davis said...

Karen,
Both your suggestions are better than the phrase I used.
Naturally, I edit what I write before posting. But still, this is a blog, not an academic paper, and the occasional sloppy construction does creep in.
Glad you enjoyed my talk at last year's ITA conference; any ideas for a talk I could give this year?
Best,
Nina

Karen said...

Thanks for your prompt reply - I'm all in for sloppy constructions in blogs - I like blogs to be chatty! I really wasn't trying to be critical - my question was whether it is actually sloppy in US English or whether it's OK. So I guess the answer is that it's not OK but just colloquial...
As for conference ideas, nothing springs to mind, but if anything crop up I'll send an email.Thanks
Karen

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