youarefree: (misc: wheat field all you can do on this)
[personal profile] youarefree
I'm having a difficult time using a consistent rating system on Goodreads. I'm torn between two different ways of rating and I keep using them interchangeably and it's bothering me because then certain books have equal ratings that don't really have equal ratings in my mind. I will be less abstract so you can understand. Most of the time, I rate a book by how much I enjoyed reading it. Which seems like a good way to do things, at first glance. But sometimes I read a book which I think is really well-written, but that I don't enjoy as much as, say, a new book in a trashy vampire romance series that I've been following for years. This is mostly for emotional reasons. I know the characters well, and the book is silly and enjoyable even if it's not particularly well-written. But then it really bothers me that beautifully written books have the same rating as this trashy vampire romance simply because they didn't draw as much of an emotional reaction from me. This is all making me wish I could have two different ratings for each book on Goodreads: one for pure enjoyment and one for aesthetic admiration. How annoying.

Anyway, on to some actual book reviews. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. This is one of those situations where I greatly enjoy a book on an emotional level, and I also enjoy it on an aesthetic level for quality of writing, so I had no qualms giving it a 5/5 rating on Goodreads. The character depth was what I really loved about this book. Mr. Strange and Mr. Norrell both had wonderfully fleshed out characters. I couldn't hate them but I couldn't really love them either. You could see all of their devastating faults, but you could also see that they had the glimmer of a genuinely good person underneath all of these faults. The dynamic between them was wonderful and quite heartbreaking. The scene in which Strange leaves Norrell's tutelage for good even though Norrell begs him to stay was so sad. You could see that underneath all of Norrell's disagreeableness he was just a seriously lonely old man. It was even more heartbreaking because he had made himself that lonely by making sure he would be the only magician in England.

Strange was... strange. It upset me that he was so obsessed with his magic to the point of completely ignoring Arabella. At the same time I had a sort of admiration for his intense dedication to the pursuit of knowledge in the magical arena. I always have an admiration for the pursuit of knowledge. This admiration was strongest when he went to the lengths of making himself mad in order to understand fairies. Most of the time, though, he was so self-absorbed that I just wanted to punch his big nose.

Vinculus and Mr. Childermass were probably my favorites, with Childermass winning out over Vinculus in the end. I liked Childermass from the first time he was introduced, though I can't entirely explain why, and I continued to like him throughout the book. A lot of what I liked was how he managed to have so much power over Mr. Norrell even though he was his servant. Norrell greatly respected his opinion and Childermass seemed able to get away with almost anything. Vinculus was... hilarious. I'm always drawn to roguish, drunken good-for-nothing characters who turn out to be really good-for-something.

Stephen Black was also among my favorites. I was quite glad that he ended up bringing about the destruction of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, who was also an interesting character. I'm also glad that he ended up the king of Lost-hope. I do not think that ending could have been any better.

The world that Clarke created was amazing. I love slightly-alternate universes. Fictional footnotes always send me into paroxysms of joy. She did a wonderful job of making this universe seem like the most common thing ever. The use of footnotes to build-up the history made it feel even more real, I thought. In a lot of fantasy books, the history is simply explained in long paragraphs as something you're obviously not expected to know and you need to have explained to you. Using footnotes, Clarke made it seem like of course you probably already knew all of this history. After all, you were living in the world! She simply put the footnotes in as a little refresher. I liked that. It made the suspension of disbelief much easier, and it also made me feel like I'd fallen into this world.

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

This is actually the trashy vampire romance I was referring to in the dilemma I posed at the beginning of the post. I enjoyed reading it, because I like the characters and I like when Eric and Sookie have sex, etc. It was a fun, fast-paced plot. But it definitely wasn't a masterpiece or particularly well-written. I gave it a 3/5 on Goodreads because I did have a good time with it, but I also gave a 3/5 to books like Heart of Darkness which are amazingly well-written but which I didn't particularly enjoy for anything beyond their aesthetic qualities. This is making me so conflicted. I don't have anything else interesting to say about Dead and Gone, though, so I'll stop there.

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

Oh, Mr. Vonnegut! He's definitely one of my favorite authors. Such a hilarious man, and I love the way he goes about social commentary using science fiction. There were plenty of those types of stories in this collection, but there were also a lot of merely interesting and hilarious stories involving regular human beings in a completely un-sci-fi present. I enjoy these stories just as much as I enjoy the sci-fi stories. Vonnegut is very good at understanding human beings to their core and presenting seemingly normal people as incredibly interesting characters. My favorite stories were probably "All the King's Horses", "Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog", "The Hyannis Port Story", "Report on the Barnhouse Effect", "The Euphio Question", and "The Manned Missiles".

"All the King's Horses" was a great psychological thriller involving playing chess with human lives instead of inanimate pieces. "Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog" was a cute and uproariously hilarious little story. "The Hyannis Port Story" was just a really interesting description of an episode in a super-rich family living in Hyannis Port. "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" was one of the sci-fi stories in which a professor discovers how to use his mind as a weapon of mass destruction. "The Euphio Question" was another sci-fi type, in which an astronomer discovers these sounds in space which produce euphoria in anyone listening to them. Hilarious shenanigans ensue, with a strong moral message. "The Manned Missiles" was a really touching correspondence between a man from the USSR and a man from the US whose sons had killed each other in space for their respective armies. I really love how Vonnegut is able to write these hilarious and interesting stories with really strong ethical messages all in 10 or 15 pages. I think I am a Vonnengut fangirl. Anyway, it was a really great collection and I would definitely recommend it.
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