Tuesday, January 25, 2005

What I'm reading these days…

Gentleman Spies: Intelligence Agents in the British Empire and Beyond, by John Fisher. The evolution of the British foreign intelligence bureau from before WW1. Not well-written, I'm afraid, but there's lots of interesting pieces of information in the jumbled-up writing. So I'm skipping around, reading a page here and there and skimming the rest.

Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevaliaere D'Eon by Charles D'Eon de Beaumont, Nina Ekstein (Translator), Roland A. Champagne (Translator)
This one is so complicated I'll just let you read the publisher's blurb…
"Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont was born in 1728. Raised as a boy, he was educated as a lawyer and entered the service of Louis XV as a diplomat. In 1756 he was sent to the Russian imperial court as a spy and was said to have dressed as a young woman to gain the confidence of the Empress Elizabeth. He later served in Russia (as a man) as secretary to the French ambassador. Returning to France in 1761, he was appointed a captain of the elite Dragoons and, after the Treaty of Paris in 1762, went to England as a diplomat and spy. During that time persistent rumors that he was in fact a woman arose, and he did nothing to dispel them. By 1777 he was officially recognized as female in both England and France. Recalled to France, he was reluctantly compelled by Louis XVI to give up his male attire. In 1785 he began to compose his autobiography, which presented much of his experience in religious terms, and he moved back to London. He lived there as a woman until his death in 1810, at which time his body was discovered to be unambiguously male." This volume includes the first English translations of d'Eon's autobiography (or "historical epistle") and other writings by d'Eon on his life, religious beliefs, and stories of women who concealed their sex to enter religious orders. As historian Gary Kates notes in the introduction, d'Eon's writing can be read on at least two levels: while it ostensibly tells the story of a woman who spent half her life as a man, it is in fact also the story of a man who spent half his life as a woman. As such it demonstrates both the construction and transgression of gender boundaries and historical narrative."

Whew. Complex - but interesting.

A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali. Sort of an adventure/romance novel, set in 1830's India. Good for light bedtime reading.

Elements of Fiction Writing Series: Scene and Structure, by Jack M Bickham. I like this whole series, it's very nuts-and-bolts, and while this one is almost - how shall I say, mathematical? - in it's approach, I got a lot out of it.

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum. I've just started nibbling at this one, a sort of cultural/historical look at the sweet stuff. It does tend to make one hungry.

God's Secretaries: The Making of The King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. Set a bit earlier than my favorite historical period, which is post-1750. But well-written and interesting just the same.

Mistress Ruby Ties it Together by Robin Shamburg. A short account of the author's experience as a pro dom in New York City. I'm unimpressed – she's not a bad writer, but her characters are one-dimensional and she's too eager to distance herself from the whole thing to really give us any insight into them, or herself. She's not really kinky, you see, she just did it for the money. As far as I'm concerned, that's an instant credibility-killer.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel: A Novel, by Susanna Clarke. Hmmn, what to say about this book? Aside from the fact that it's 800 pages and so big and bulky you could use it to club seals. The publisher says, "Susanna Clarke's ingenious first novel has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative."
It didn't remind me of Harry Potter – those books read quickly and easily, and this book is very densely written. It is interesting, in a slogging-through-waist-high-water sort of way. But rather tiring to read, and coming from a muscular reader like me, that's saying something.

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