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Post-Script: The Best and Worst Books of May

I_should_have_stayed_home_cover2Are the months getting faster? Am I getting older? Who are you people?

This month's reading came from a few very specific places:

  • DGLA finalists
  • The stack of Gold Medals purchased in April
  • Stuff found at random on Archive.org

In means that, in a fairly non-frontlist year, this may be least frontlist-y month yet. In my challenge buckets - old (1920 or earlier), oldish (1921-1999) and new (2000+), May broke down: 2/16/7. And of the 'new' ones - most were, as mentioned, DGLA reads, and only one was a frontlist SF/F title (Will McIntosh's Defenders). As always, I have no idea what this means, but numbers make me feel important.

The month's reading was also slightly, and this is a pejorative word, pedestrian. Nothing that was 'bad' and very few that felt spectacular. In fact, my favourite book of the month was a re-read, which feels a bit, I don't know... boring?

First, the 'worst' of the month - and really, for May, the key word is 'disappointing':

J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy (2012) isn't bad. As noted in my review, it shows off some of the author's clear and immense talent. I suppose my reaction to it is due to unfair expectations. I saw this as Rowling + Small Town Politics + Black Comedy. And what I got was 'kitchen sink grimdark' (grimsink?): middle class people being mean. Not my thing, and it made me sad.

Anna Godbersen's Rumors (2008) is the second in the Luxe series - the latest in my quest to find my post-Gossip Girl addiction. With The Luxe, I was almost sure I had it: it was cheeky and sleazy and charmingly anachronistic and filled with all sort of enjoyable misbehaviour. But Rumors is... actually kind of dull. I only likde one character - Diana - and was sad to see that both Elizabeth and Lina hadn't been 'written out' after the first book (they had conclusions to their story! Let them go!). Rumors was  a struggle to read, which is exactly what I don't want in my trashy YA. I'll give the third book a go, but I'm still feeling slightly let down. (Right now, the front-runner for my post-GG series is Kate Brian's Private series - the first was a hoot.)

Theodore Pratt's "Hohokam Dig" (1956) - a lengthy short story  (novelette?) found via Project Gutenberg. Pratt's a Gold Medal author  (The Tormented, Tropical Disturbance, Handsome, Without Consent) and a Floridian (basically, JDM - but not quite as high in my estimation). "Hohokam Dig" suckered me in to thinking it was a Western, but it turned out to be a silly time travel piece about archaeologists and Native Americans. Not funny enough to a comedy, not meaningful enough to be drama: just mediocre magazine filler material. Shame.

On the other end of the spectrum, the three books I enjoyed most in May:

Sara Gran's Dope (2006)... will be reviewed later, I think. 

John Kendrick Bangs' A House-boat on the Styx (1895) was a random find on Archive.org - how could I resist this title? I had no idea what to expect, although since apparently this was a best-seller when it came out, I did assume it was some kind of worthy. I was totally wrong. The first chapter begins with Charon being confused by the presence of a second, rather ungainly, boat appearing on the river. He's a little upset about his monopoly coming to an end, and, upon investigating the luxurious interior, is ready to throw in the towel. It turns out the new boat - the houseboat, of course - is a gentleman's club: a place for all the more exclusive dead souls to hang out and swap stories. Charon is asked to join as support staff, and, upon learning that the houseboat can't even move without him to tow it, he cheerfully charges them an exorbitant rate. Everyone wins!

The chapters are all short stories - vignettes from club life. And they're hilarious. Boswell and Johnson are the stars of the show - Boswell keeps embarrassing Johnson by revealing that the latter prepares his quips in advance. Shakespeare's also a hoot: there's a running joke that he didn't write any of his plays, but refuses to admit it. There's no real arc to the collection, but the individual 'episodes' are all charming and occasionally even laugh out loud funny. The debate over what to do with all the damn(ed) poets is particularly entertaining. 

And the best of the month...

Horace McCoy's I Should Have Stayed Home (1938) is a re-read, and, boy, I'm glad I re-read it. McCoy's one of my favourite noir writers. He doesn't seem to have the stature of Woolrich, Goodis or Thompson, but McCoy's no less talented (or bleak). His best work isn't even about crime - I Should Have Stayed Home and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - are both about Hollywood, fame, poverty and obsession. I Should is depressing as all hell: a pair of struggling actors deal with the misery that is their lives - balancing their self-esteem and (rapidly declining) morals against their fading chances at reaching success. The film industry is the villain of the piece, a note that McCoy pounds home particularly effectively when he has one character place 'fan magazines' into the hands of a suicide victim.