I had a high and lofty goal of writing about everything I read this year, even if only a sentence, at the beginning of the year. I’ve failed at that, but here are a few thoughts on books I have read and think are worth talking about this year so far.
Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer
I loved these books. I went on a work trip to London and had to stay overnight back in February and I managed to read Cinder and Scarlet back-to-back on the evening (in between a trip to Forbidden Planet and a curry for dinner). I didn’t sleep much, needless to say, but I loved them. I got completely and totally absorbed in Cinder’s world. By a small stretch of time I managed to wait to read Cress - about a month – but my resistance wore down absurdly quickly and I devoured that one, too, although so far I think Cinder is my favorite. And now I have to wait all the way until 2015 for Winter, which seems pretty unendurable whenever I think about it!
It’s difficult to pin down why I loved them so very much. I really liked the way they reflected fairy tales, how they’re burdened by expectations and each girl has to make her own way, and because each book has a great romance going on (although I think Cress’s is probably the weakest) without being just about that romance. There is so much packed into each book, so much emotion and story. I even like how they reflect a wider scope of the world within fantasy and each girl comes from a different place and different walk of life. I so hope Winter is just as good as the first three books in this series.
Germania, Simon Winder
I didn’t really love Germania, but I appreciated it a lot, and it reminded me of why Germany is so interesting. Winder basically goes off on a long, rambling, nostalgic and affectionate rant about Germany and takes his readers along for the ride. So while it isn’t an organized history of much of anything, it has a whole lot of charm. Just the subject of Germany is complicated now, still, in the shadow of both World Wars. They fundamentally changed the way that Germany was perceived by the rest of the world, especially Europe, and Germany’s reputation hasn’t recovered in the way. Anecdotally, I’ve never met anyone obsessed with German culture, like people so frequently are with France or Italy, and German friends I have had do say that there is still shame pervading Germany because of what happened. But Germany was regarded completely differently before those wars in ways that it’s now difficult to imagine.
Winder agrees with this interpretation. Germany is kind of disregarded now, certainly compared to its European neighbors, but it’s an enchanting country with a bizarre history, so fractured into tiny little pieces that still hold on to their own eclectic pasts. I felt a fragment of this when I went to Munich almost two years ago; I had never really heard of any of the people or places around Munich, but there are royal palaces and paintings and little bits of history all over the place. I wanted to know more, but it feels like learning more about Germany is unravelling a massive swath of history that has the potential to be overwhelming. I’ve picked up little bits and pieces, like in Vanished Kingdoms and Noble Endeavours and I have Christopher Clark’s history of Prussia for when I get some time, but this book in part reminded me how much I don’t know and how much I’d like to find out. It also made me really, really want to visit Germany again. I haven’t been anywhere else where history smacked me in the face quite so vividly in so many different ways. That history is complicated and has a traumatic relationship with the rest of the world, but it’s important to remember the good right along with the bad.
Anyway, if you are at all interested in Germany, I would recommend picking this up. Like I’ve said, it isn’t a straight history and didn’t really satisfy my cravings to know more, but if anything it made those cravings much stronger.
A Dance with Dragons: Dreams and Dust, George R.R. Martin
I’ve been re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire for months mostly so I could get to book five finally (and so I could know what was going to happen on the show, as I’d forgotten a lot). Unfortunately, I remember A Feast for Crows as a disappointment, and I was pretty bummed that I didn’t much like this first installment of A Dance with Dragons, either. In the UK, they split it into these two books, and the first half just didn’t grab me although I slogged through. I guess I’d forgotten in my head how sexist, brutal, and depressing Martin’s world is. I was primarily disturbed by the excessive and unnecessary sexism, in this particular book; it just felt relentless and I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book as much as I thought I would. Plus, I think at this point, the series is just too long. A new minor character seems to pop up every other page, distracting me from the characters who are actually interesting to read about, but everything just gets worse for them too, with no actual break. It’s too dark, too long, too frustrating to read. I used to like this a whole lot more than I do now and discovering that has been disappointing. I haven’t been in a rush to pick up the second half and I’m not sure when I will.