Half-arsed Sunday: Books and Bechdel

Cover art for the UK edition of the first novel of Temeraire, by Naomi NovikHaving loaded up my birthday Kindle with masses of words, I thoroughly enjoyed catching up on reading while on hols. I read the second and third books in Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander trilogy, and the first of the Temeraire books, plus revisiting Jane Austen and discovering some new SF anthologies (the short story is still my favourite form in SF). I’ll probably download the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel for my next reading session.

Speaking to my sister this week, she’s not long finished reading about Lisbeth Salander also, and is now finding herself at somewhat of a loss as to what to read next. She’s worried that the next novel she starts won’t quite stack up to Larsson’s efforts, and she’s not especially into SFF (although I believe she could like Temeraire). I’m not sure where to point her with respect to new mystery/thriller fiction, although I’ve just realised that I don’t know whether she’s tried Val McDiarmid yet.

So what’s everybody else been reading? What have you found especially well written, or at least well plotted? What’s particularly Bechdel-Wallacious? What, if anything, has been both?

Categories: arts & entertainment

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25 replies

  1. I’ve been reading a bunch of Daphne du Maurier, of late – I picked up a bunch of her stuff for $5 each a few years ago, and I read Rebecca in high school and loved it in this really weird way, and still do. Frenchman’s Creek is one of my other favourites at the moment, which I finished recently. Rather un-Bechdel, though Rebecca passes somewhat, Frenchman’s Creek just scrapes by on a couple of the protagonist’s very brief chats with her childrens’ nanny
    Also recently finished Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name, which is an autobiographical account of her childhood through to early adulthood, and is amazing. So many amazing women.

  2. I have a new Kindle 🙂
    I’ve been re-reading John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series which I started because my re-reading of Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga ran into a hitch when I couldn’t find my copy of Mirror Dance.

    • @mimbles, yay for new Kindles! My only cavils on the Kindle are
      1. that I’m not game to use it for reading in the bath, which I do very much enjoy once in a blue moon.
      2. I can’t load up my Kindle buys in the shopping trolley and pay just one foreign-currency transaction fee for a group of downloads. Which means I’m probably going to invest in a US dollar Visa debit card just for buying e-books.
      I have a Scalzi-sized gap in my reading history, which I must rectify since I enjoy his blogging.
      @blue milk, I loved Primary Colors too. Probably time for a re-read. @Jennifer, ditto on the du Maurier, and the Audre Lorde sounds compelling.
      @Julie, that’s a whole bunch of new names for me to check out. Thanks!

  3. I just finished Primary Colors by Anonymous. I had seen the movie years ago but a young guy from work insisted I read the book, and he was right, it is an absolute treat. For political junkies like ourselves I can’t recommend it enough.

  4. I enjoy reading many authors, but one of my go-to authors is Janet Evanovich. I just recently (yesterday, in fact) reread Motor Mouth, which is about Alex Barnaby, and her adventures which involve being chased by hitmen and getting involved in dangerous stuff (which claims adjusters do not normally have to worry about), all of this being the fault of her brother who left a worrying phone message on her phone at stupid o’clock. There is a man, and he is amusing, but Alex has many conversations with other feisty women, many revolving around the adventure, and people trying to kill them. And a few about how all men are diseased. 😛 It’s an awesome mis-adventure.
    I also love supernatural stuff. Patricia Briggs is my favourite for werewolf fiction (I love her characters) her first book in the series is Moon Called. Mercedes the VW mechanic is a coyote and lives next to an alpha werewolf. And more recently, Chloe Neill for my vampire stuff, Merit did not want to be a vampire, but she is making the best of a bad lot.
    I just realised, looking back at my three books that all of them have strong female leads 😛
    But it’s fun! 😀

  5. Ah, yes, I was wondering about that transaction fee question. Might have to look into a USD card myself.

  6. Soon after your Pratchett post of a few weeks/months back i got a lurgy and retired to read Making Money. several weeks later and i’ve read nearly a dozen of them in fairly random order, had to raid the boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked after our last move, four and a half years and counting. had a lot of fun.
    the takkers are loving Thirst Flowers, by Tony Wilson and Julie Knoblock. and the Hbomb, now four, is alternating between Enid Blyton and a bunch of Dahl books as bed time reading.

  7. For those who are fond of supernatural stuff, a few of my recent favourites in the YA space (which I’ve found to be great for compelling characters and interesting development), are the Modern Faerie trilogy by Holly Black Tithe, Ironside and Valiant, and I can’t recommend Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey enough for Maori-myth inspired urban fantasy set in New Zealand (disclaimer: Karen is a good friend of mine, but her book is amazing and I would recommend it even if she were not so). Karen has done really well with a diverse cast of characters and good use of cultural consultants in relation to how she’s portrayed Maori culture and myth in the story, which is something I love to see authors doing.

  8. @ TT – has your sister read Wolf Hall? I’m guessing she probably has, but if not I’d recommend it. Also the Time Travellers Wife is good. I second Janet Evanovich, especially the Stephanie Plum stuff. If she hasn’t already get her reading Sue Turnbull’s ABC series – A is for Alibi etc. Kinsey Milhone kicks butt in a time before mobile phones. It is currently up to U I think.
    At the moment I’m reading Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels. There are a few ‘ewww’ moments where some of the earlier books make snide asides about feminism but the Inspector Banks character seems to be evolving in the later books and the female characters are getting stronger so I’m not sure whether it is character or author evolution, but good gritty crime dramas.
    If she likes vampire chick lit – Mary Janice Davidson in the Undead and … series. Very light and fluffy but I enjoy them. If she doesn’t get driven to distraction by bad writing and lots of sex then she may enjoy Laurel K Hamilton’s Vampire and Faery series respectively. I’d suggest starting at the start for both, as they aren’t really stand alone novels.
    Can’t say that any of the above are particularly Bedchelicious, or any of the other tests. Except for Evanovich. I think she passes the test.

  9. *ahem – Bechdelicious-ahem*

  10. *coughs* Although Motor Mouth is an excellent book by Janet Evanovich, I actually was reading the first novel in the series, Metro Girl. (Although Alex is still awesome in book 2 Motor Mouth, and most of the very awesome female characters return in that book)

    I suppose this is what I get for posting late at night 😛

  11. I must be the onlyperson in the worldwho didn’t like “the girl…” trilogy. I think I like my fioction a bit more ‘realistic’ – and a bit better written, too. I kept tripping over awkward phrasing. But I’d second Wolf Hall – absolutely marvellous, compelling stuff. And also AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book. It could be summed up by Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do.” But much more – family life in Europe before WWI, suffragettes, socialists, fabians, artists, writers, falling in love, polygamy… Some of the explanatory bits are rather didactic and boring, but you can skip them without too much trouble.

    • @M-H, I wondered about the occasional infelicitous phrase and whether it was just an artefact of translation or not, and gave it the benefit of the doubt. Apparently the original titles were somewhat less twee as well, which is one of the many sources of friction between Larsson’s brother and father (who inherited and administer his estate including his literary output) and Larsson’s partner of 30 years (who inherited nothing because they weren’t married and he died intestate).

  12. I also enjoyed Wolf Hall. Much more than the Philippa Gregory books covering the same period of history. I used to enjoy Gregory’s style of writing, but after the 5th or 6th book it’s all too same-same.
    I’ve just begun reading Lian Hearn’s new book set in Japan, Blossoms and Shadows. She wrote the Otori books, and appears to be continuing her habit of writing a strong lead female character. And wonderfully descriptive passages about the sights and sounds of 19th century Japan.

  13. I’ve just read Having Cried Wolf, by Gretchen Schirm, which was sent to me by the publisher. I feel I should be reviewing it but that it’s under false pretences, being, you know, not a reviewer. I’ll certainly have a stab. For now, (1) Enjoyed it and would buy it if I was on the sort of income where I bought books regularly, and (2) if you enjoyed TC’s Black Dust Dancing it reminded me a little of that, also a bit of Tim Winton in there, maybe.
    Read Communion by bell hooks for bell hooks week, too slow to get it even half read in time, but bowled over by her writing style; it’s so lucid and enjoyable, and nodding all the way through at her insights. I don’t usually read relationship books, but this was so much more. Defies classification, really.

  14. Thanks for linking to my site Mindy.
    At the moment I’m reading, or have just started reading, The Children’s Book by AS Byatt and I’m really liking it so far. There was a passage I just finished when they’re all sitting around a whole bunch of families and they start asking the kids what they want to do when they grow up. One of the women says it’s surprising in such progressive crowd no-one’s asked the girls yet, but the next question is to another boy before someone asks the eldest girl. I was struck by this engrained notion of a “pecking order” that puts boy-children above girl-children, and in order of age. Although, I can’t say whether it passes Bechdel having only read a few chapters.
    Thanks for this, I love booky posts!

  15. m-H, you are not alone. I couldn’t stand the Dragon Tattoo and I wouldn’t read the others for hard cash. It was the way the narrator followed the main character (who was so boring I can’t even remember his name, so why on earth do all the ladies keep begging him for sex?) up and down the street and into the chemist to buy contact lens fluid and dear god the SANDWICHES THE ENDLESS SANDWICHES
    (deep breath)
    Tove Jansson. The Summer Book. A girl and her grandmother spend summers together on an island and it’s written so vividly you can smell it. It fails the reverse Bechdel test, I think.

  16. Anyone who was attracted to the aura of the Girl series and was disappointed, might I recommend Peter Hoeg – Smilla’s feeling for Snow and The Quiet Girl. They are so COMPLEX, I’d have to sit and think for a while as to whether they pass the Bechdel test, but I can tell you that Smilla is a female protagonist you won’t forget in a hurry.

  17. On the vampire chick lit front I heartily recommend Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

  18. Thanks Helen! I will give Smilla a go.

  19. I was discussing this with my sister, and she was wondering about specific recommendations for YA readers such as our respective daughters. My girl likes fantasy with dragons and wolves, my niece doesn’t – she prefers people coping with real-life, contemporary situations.
    Are there any websites slanted particularly towards teen readers, with a nice variety of content reviewed and/or discussed? I suspect that the fantasy genre end of things might be a bit over-represented online.

  20. tigtog: Inside a Dog (http://www.insideadog.com.au) is a fantastic site for YA readers of all styles, including plenty of teen-written reviews. It’s run by the fabulous people at the Centre for Youth Literature at the Victoria State Library. I highly recommend it to teen readers and everyone else into YA.

  21. tigtog: there’s a book review blog I read called books and other thoughts -http://www.booksandotherthoughts.com/ – Darla likes YA fiction and is a librarian so there are a fair few YA reviews.

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