Summer Reading

As I'm on vacation this week (yay!), I thought it would be a good time to highlight a few of the books I've been enjoying lately.

After Hanna passed along her copy of The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar, I couldn't resist his latest novel Lonely Werewolf Girl which -- in the simplest sense -- tells the story of a lonely, laudanum-addicted teenage werewolf named Kalix who runs away from the family castle in Scotland and finds herself living with two uni students, Daniel and Moonglow, in a London flat. There are also fashion designers, fire elementals, bloody family feuds, a punk band called Yum Yum Sugary Snacks, and various other entertaining elements. I'm you're a fan of long, wandering crazy-ass plots and snappy dialog, it's an entertaining read. I recommend trying Good Fairies first since it's the tighter of the two and gives you a good taste of Millar's style.
Moonglow picked up a packet from the floor. She read the label. "You take diazepam?"
Kalix became angry. "Stop looking at everything!"
"Well it's just a bit weird you know," said Moonglow. "Werewolf anti-depressants"
"Aren't you focussing on the wrong thing here?" said Daniel. "Remember the terrible violence."
In keeping with the science-fiction/fantasy theme of the summer -- which seems to be where my brain seems to have taken refuge at the end of term -- I am finally getting around to reading Terry Pratchett's novels about the fictitious universe of Discworld. Having taken advice from Hanna, I began with Wee Free Men and his other YA novels about the young witch Tiffany Aching. For the airplane flight to Michigan, I packed Wyrd Sisters, which is about adult witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat, along with a king, a fool, a ghost, and a group of traveling players.
Magrat sat down at the other end of the log.
"There's other witches," she said. "There's lots of witches further up the Ramtops. Maybe they can help."
The other two looked at her in pained surprise.
"I don't think we need to go that far," sniffed Granny. "Asking for help."
"Very bad practice," nodded Nanny Ogg.
"But you asked a demon to help you," said Magrat.
"No we didn't," said Granny.
"Right. We didn't."
"We ordered it to assist."
For the book-on-tape (or rather book-on-mp3) selection, I have the recently-released sequel to Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, which continues the tale of the Penderwick sisters Rosalind, Jane, Skye, and Batty and their plans to rescue their father from their aunt's firm nudging into the dating realm. Most importantly, how could I resist a book that made mention of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Five Children and It, Half Magic, Swallows and Amazons, and last but not least Scuppers the Sailor Dog in the first half-dozen chapters?

And despite the fact that summers are for frittering, I've managed to sneak in a few politically-minded and possibly historically relevant reads, the latest being historian of sexuality Dagmar Herzog's Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics. It was a quick read, and disappointingly superficial in its survey of the Religious Right's political manipulation of cultural messages about sexuality in the past twenty years. She suggests in an early chapter, for example, that the "new revolution" in American sexuality since the early 1990s -- particularly the increased focus successful sexual performance -- can be attributed to the development and marketing of Viagra and the availability of internet pornography, which seems like a bizarrely narrow focus. I was much happier when she dropped this line of argument later on and turned to on the more diffuse anxieties about heterosexuality that the Religious Right and self-help industry have fostered. In this new sexual paradigm, in which sex outside of heterosexual marriage is seen as fraught with danger and all sexual relationships are under pressure to be the best (and anything less-than blamed on the participants), "experience is no longer seen as a resource," but as a physically damaging, soul-sapping threat from which individuals must protect themselves by retreating into the purity of virginity or celibacy (outside of marriage) or a highly scripted heterosexual marriage relationship. Herzog is at her strongest when she turns away from trying to document recent American history (her own academic field being twentieth-century European history) and toward an impassioned call for Americans to reclaim human sexuality as a pleasurable, healthy part of life for all people:
What remains missing from the general mix [in American political discourse] is a defense of sexual rights that does not privilege those who match the norm over those who do not, that does not lie about the complexities of human desire, that does not need to pretend that sex is perfect every time (if only you follow the rules and/or buy this product), and that does not root sexual rights only in the negative imperative to reject sexual victimization but also affirms humans' rights to sexual expression, sexual pleasure, and the freely chosen formation of intimate relationships.
I'm not sure what's going to be next on the menu, in the few short weeks before the fall semester beings (September 3rd); I have more Terry Pratchett for the return flight to Boston, and Hanna has promised me a history of the Mitford family, if I'm so inclined to a bit of English aristocratic history. If I want some true fluff of an irritating sort, I can pick up the latest Twilight novel (Breaking Dawn), and there's always the backlog of books purchased and waiting to be read (I still have a few--oh, the shame!--left from Christmas break . . .).

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