Books, May 2017

I wrote a 35 page academic paper not in my field, a 15 page thing also not in my field, and finished a 25 page academic paper in my field this month. Because you know what I do when I have free time? Find things to use up my free time.

Scene of the Climb and Slayed on the Slopes, Kate Dyer-Seeley

It’s hard to write about mysteries without completely blowing the entire point of them. But there is a real-life mystery attached to this one! The author is in fact the same as my absolute faves, the Ashland mysteries. She uses a pseudonym but her picture is the same as both personas and she makes no bones about being the same person (so I am not taking away Clark Kent’s glasses here), but I’d guess to maintain separate identities for her otherwise pretty similar series, she assigns them to different “people.” Instead of a baker, this one is a fresh college grad who snags a job at an extreme sports magazine despite the fact she’s apparently never gone outside. While I enjoyed these first two (out of currently four, #3 in progress) they just didn’t grab me the way the Ashland mysteries did. Perhaps it’s because I am the very definition of indoorsy, and avoid at all costs the extreme sports scenarios our heroine finds herself in? My childhood sleeping bags, while occasionally pressed into service on school camping trips, were designed for sleepovers, and they and I fared poorly in outdoor temperatures. My girl scout troop “camped” at an Embassy Suites. The last time I was on a beach I gave myself a displaced fracture of my pinkie toe. Did you know that was even possible? Because the barely-a-doctor I saw didn’t. I love the natural beauty of the northwest, but I mainly prefer to enjoy it from a window seat with a hot drink and a book. Anyway, this was the epitome of the modern pulp mystery – quick, fun, easy read, with a clear niche market (Pacific northwesterners, people who either love extreme sports or are terrified of them) but wouldn’t be something to phone home about (or wouldn’t be, if I weren’t reading them with my mom!).

Genre: mystery. Format: novels. Rating: 2/3 both, but I am definitely keeping up with them as they come out

Authority, Jeff Vandermeer

The story continues from last month’s Annihilation, and with it, my complete inability to write anything substantive about sequels without blowing too much of the plot of the earlier books. I am usually a sucker for series where the perspective changes book to book – from the biologist on an expedition to Area X to the new director of the organization that sent her there – I found the new narrator much less engrossing as the delightfully atypical biologist. But I can’t tell you anything about him, not even why he is the new director of the expedition-mounting organization or what its goal is, because that would entirely blow the ending of the prior book. And because of the magic of nonlinear storytelling – which should really get used more often these days, it’s a technique literally older than dirt and I love it – if I say too much I might also spoil the final book of the trilogy! So I shall take the cheater’s way out and say nothing at all, as I have done for the last 176 words.

Genre: horror, mystery. Format: novel. Rating: 2/3, the middle child of the trilogy always suffers

Walking Dead Psychology, ed. Travis Langley

I went into this expecting it to be about post-zombie apocalypse psychology generally, and that they were just linking it to the immense popularity of the Walking Dead tv show for marketing’s sake. Nope, it was all about the show and its plots and characters specifically. Which is cool and all, except that I’ve never seen it, but my pop culture osmosis is pretty darn solid so I was able to follow the vast majority of it anyway. Because I’m not very familiar with the show, I can’t comment on how accurate the essayists’ interpretations of the characters’ behavior was, but I did notice that not once did any of them point out inconsistencies or oddities. They observe character development, so they’re not ignoring all change as time passes in the show (as many shows, especially animated shows, are wont to do). No show’s writing is perfect or perfectly consistent, and given the demands of writing scripts in large teams, who didn’t necessarily write (or even see) all the prior episodes, and who have immense time and organizational pressures, variation is normal. (Some shows, of course, fare better than others in consistency. Lookin’ at you, Doctor Who.) Every single essayist seemed to just completely ignore the inevitable and completely normal inconsistencies in characters’ behavior. I get that this was a book about psychology and not TV writing, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to say “instead of doing X, it would have been more likely for them to do Y given their mental state and history of doing Z” or “this person used to be like P and now they are like Q, but in real life the progression would probably have proceeded to R instead.” Otherwise it seems like the authors aren’t aware of the inconsistencies – which they surely are – or are ignoring them.

Genre: psychology, media studies. Format: collected essays, multiple authors. Rating: 2/3, solid but I doubt it would have been higher even if I’d watched the show

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