Posted by: Lizzie Ross | December 15, 2012

Time doesn’t just fly…

… it seems to go at the speed of light. Two months since my last post? Shocking.

I haven’t been slacking, I can assure you. I’ve read at least 20 novels since my last post, most of them YA, but some written for adults as well.

On my desk was a stack of books to post about here, but then I put them back in my shelf in a pre-NaNoWriMo cleaning binge. Now I can’t remember what they were. I suppose I could go through my shelves and try to recreate the stack, but that would be ridiculous.

262742I do remember re-reading Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, after hearing her daughter and some other writers speak in celebration of this great children’s author. My admiration for Dido and Is Twite was reaffirmed, and I found a new book in this series, The Whispering Mountain. Set in the counter-historical time of King James III of England, it puts Owen Hughes (whose father is sailing the 7 seas with Dido as passenger and unofficial factotum) in the midst of evil efforts to acquire a solid gold harp. There are magical beings who live underground, a villain to match some of Aiken’s most unrepentant evil-doers, and a village full of people speaking with Welsh accents that are almost — but not quite — caricatures.

If you don’t know Joan Aiken’s writing, this series is a great place to start. For sheer enjoyment, nothing beats Aiken’s plots and characters. See my earlier post for more on Dido and the Wolves Chronicles.

NB: I had started this year with a promise not to reread anything, and I kept that promise until Thanksgiving. Then, with winter and the holidays and end-of-term closing in, I wanted something comfortable. Aiken beckoned and satisfied. And now, with a new Middle Earth movie opening, I find myself once again immersed in Tolkien’s world. Ah well, good intentions.

open-city_medium_imageAs for a stand-out adult novel, I’d like to say something about Teju Cole’s Open City. This book has been in my to-read stack for a year, and I’ve started it at least 3 times. Finally, knowing it would be the only way to get me into it, I assigned for a class I was teaching and read it at the end of November. On page 6, I recognized the Sebaldian* technique. The narrator, a psychiatry intern named Julius, wanders through NYC’s post-9/11 streets, taking us on a journey that moves between personal encounters and meditations on history. Sometimes these overlap, as when Julius decides to have his shoes shined, and Pierre the boot-black’s autobiographical story time-warps to Haiti and New York City in the early 1800s, when slavery was still a legal institution.

Flâneur is an almost appropriate term for Julius, except that he is so detached from everything. There is no response to Pierre’s story of buying his wife out of slavery, nor to violence of which he is both victim and perpetrator. The irony of a psychiatrist being affectless, almost rootless, is heavy. But it’s the lack of roots and affect that make it possible for Julius to walk for miles with no sense of how far he has traveled, both physically and metaphorically. Much happens to him, yet he remains unchanged.

This isn’t an easy book for anyone who needs a plot. My students groaned about how hard it was to read, for it offers nothing on which to hook expectations. Anyone familiar with NYC might enjoy the detailed descriptions of neighborhoods. At one point, Julius describes walking along the street where I live, even mentioning the church opposite my apartment building. It would be easy to map, both geographically and otherwise, Julius’ path. He mentions art, music, historical figures, all easily found on the internet. My advice: if you do try this book, read it near your preferred online access point.

*After WG Sebald, author of Rings of SaturnAusterlitz, and other great works.


  1. Welcome back! Thanks for the suggestion. Will have to see if these are at the Boulder library.

    • Thanks! I expect your library won’t have the Aiken book, but it should have Open City!

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