2018 – the halfway point

Emily, Countess of Kildare

It’s a few weeks late, but the end of June seems like a good point to review my reading so far this year. I read 39 books in the first half of 2018, but the overall number isn’t really what matters to me. How am I doing on my reading goals?

Of those 39, I’ve read 13 books by men, 24 by women and two by multiple authors. 12 have been works in translation – two per month, my best rate yet! Six of those were translated from Japanese, so the holiday clearly had a good influence. Our next holiday will be in Italy, so you may see some Italian translations added to that list before long.

Continue reading “2018 – the halfway point”

Late summer reads in brief

As well as the proper serious books that I’ve read and reviewed lately, I’ve also been powering my way through lots of comics – and a kids’ classic. Tim keeps finding new comic series he thinks I’ll like – and he’s generally right – as he makes his way through the Marvel NOW relaunch. Which means my comic reading is almost exclusively Marvel at the moment. If anyone has any non-Marvel comic recommendations, please do send them my way! I’ve been reading single issues for the most part online, but I did splash out and buy the trade paperback volumes of Ms Marvel because it is awesome.

fantasticfour_nowFantastic Four issues 1–8
by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley

I came to this reboot of the Fantastic Four – genius Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic, his wife Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, her brother Johnny Storm/the Human Torch and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm/the Thing – with my only pre-existing knowledge of the group being the 2005 film starring Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba. Which is not a lot of knowledge. But Fraction does a pretty great job of summarising the current state of things before changing everything up. Essentially, Reed Richards and Sue Storm run a sort of school, the Future Foundation, for gifted children of all alien/non-human species as well as the odd human, including their own two children Franklin and Valeria. But the Fantastic Four are always off fighting evil away from the kids. And on their last adventure Reed discovered that his body is breaking down in some mysterious way that can’t be fixed with Earth technology. So he decides to kill two birds with one stone and suggests the Fantastic Four take Franklin and Valeria on an educational adventure across space and time. He doesn’t tell anyone that he is secretly searching for a cure that they may all desperately need. Matt Fraction’s stamp on this series is very clear, with gentle humour and genuine emotional complexity rolled in along with romping spacetime adventures. It’s a lot of fun.

Continue reading “Late summer reads in brief”

Sunday Salon: Should we judge older books by today’s standards?

The Sunday Salon

This year I joined the Classics Club, with the aim of reading a list of 50 classics in five years. Some of my list are modern classics (okay, a lot) but about half were written before 1930 and, well, those times they were quite different. I’ve only read one book off my list so far (review to follow soon), but I’ve read enough older books in the past to know that the same problem raises its ugly head time and again: the different moral and social standards of earlier times can be upsetting and affect my opinion of the book. Is it wrong of me to let that happen?

The thing is, while in, say, 1860, language (and indeed actions) that were sexist, racist, homophobic and all sorts of other discriminatory were common throughout society, does that really mean that all people then didn’t know those derogatory terms were wrong?

Now, you could argue that, right or wrong, if discriminatory language was common, then a novelist writing a realistic story has a right, or even a duty, to reflect that language in their work. But equally you could argue that a novelist has a duty to make it clear that such language is not morally defensible.

Moralising, however, is another of those things that older books tend to do that can put me right off. Which I know sounds a bit hypocritical after all the above. But it is tedious, right, when you can see a message being driven home from a mile off?

What about you? Do you judge older books by today’s standards? Are there any other things that put you off a book?