Books read, June 2011

In which it will be obvious that I am now working on a novel.

Dreaming of Wolves: Adventures in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Alan E. Sparks. I don’t actually remember how much of this book I got through — not all of it, certainly — but whatever, we’ll count it as read. I picked it up for environmental detail on the aforementioned Carpathian Mountains, as it is the account of a man who went there as part of some wolf-studying project. It’s not very well executed, but I got what I needed from it, more or less.

The Land Beyond the Forest: facts, figures, and fancies from Transylvania, E. Gerard. More research, and again I didn’t read the whole thing; just the section on Romanians. This was written in the late nineteenth century, and wow, the racism. I have to quote:

Briefly to sum up the respective merits of these three races, it may be allowable to define them as representing manhood in the past, present, and future tenses. The Saxons [of that region; not of England] have been men, and right good men too, in their day; but that day has gone by, and they are now rapidly degenerating into mere fossil antiquities […] The Hungarians are men in the full sense of the word, perhaps all the more so that they are a nation of soldiers rather than men of science and letters. The Roumanians will be men a few generations hence, when they have had time to shake off the habits of slavery and have learned to recognize their own value.

Yeeeeeeeah. But, well, I’m writing a nineteenth-century-ish novel set in a Romania-like region, so I don’t regret picking this up from the library. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll be copying from it all that closely: there is merit to Isabella being obsessed with dragons and really quite careless of human notions like racial superiority.

Eight Days of Luke, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.

The Snow Queen’s Shadow, Jim C. Hines. If I’d gotten around to posting this sooner, I could have said, ha-ha, I have this book and you don’t, nyah nyah. But the book is out now, so I’ll skip that part and go straight to the bit where I say that Hines has done a remarkable job wrapping up this series. He’s said elsewhere that it took him a while to figure out that the fairy tale books have been about questioning and complicating the notion of “happily ever after,” and this delivers on that theme, in very excellent ways. (Also, to echo Mris: this series is now done. So if you’re one of those people who prefers to wait until you can get all the books, you’re now cleared for take-off.)

Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.

So far, July is shaping up to be the Month of Much Manga. (And comics, but that doesn’t alliterate, so.) But we’ll see how it goes.

0 Responses to “Books read, June 2011”

  1. Anonymous

    I lived for a year in Romania, which is where I met my wife, and I’ve spent plenty of time in the Carpathians. If you’re looking for any kind of personal description or have questions you can’t answer from books, feel free to hit me up.

    • Marie Brennan

      Hmmmm. The thing is, since the setting is Romanian-flavored rather than actually Romania, my questions are all very non-specific; I’m reading these books in order to get the little random details that will help make Vystrana (my setting) look like something other than England with foreign names pasted on. Architecture and food and clothing and little cultural quirks, that kind of thing. But if there are any books you would recommend to give me a vivid sense of rural mountain life there, please do share.

    • Marie Brennan

      Actually, I do have a couple of questions. I don’t know if you get notified of follow-up comments, using OpenID, but I can’t find an e-mail address on your blog; drop me a line (marie{dot}brennan{at}gmail{dot}com) if you get this.

  2. akashiver

    The “land beyond the forest” is the one that Stoker used as a source for Dracula, right?

    As for the racism… I wonder what type of 19C racist the author is.

    The line about the degeneration of the Saxons suggests that she might be a climate-racist, believing that different national climates dictated the character of the people who lived there. In which case, your heroine would be endangered by the climate of Romania, because OMG, travelling there might lead you to degenerate. On the other hand, it was published late enough to be working with a biological model of race, so the degeneration thing could be Darwin influenced. (Eek.)

    Other possibilities: the author might subscribe to stadial history, in which case going to Romania is like travelling back in time to see how your ancestors lived. If the book makes lots of comparisons between, say, NA Indians, Scottish Highlanders and Romanians, and keeps likening one group to the other, it’s probably working in that mode. The first line suggests she’s working with stadial history in some capacity. Stadial history folks were generally very upbeat about the progress of the races, though: everyone was going to end up civilized.

    I’m rather fond of the stadial folks, but travellers who subscribed to their philosophies were likely to get themselves into trouble by ignoring the differences between cultures — “I’m sure these Bushmen will react just the same as those Highlanders!” — and by assuming everyone was going to progress the same way.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, that’s the one. As for the author, I don’t know (based on the bit I’ve read) whether she’s operating from any kind of coherent theoretical framework or not; she may just be an armchair anthropologist. (Er, even more of an armchair anthropologist than the “professionals” of the day.)

  3. d_c_m

    And Transylvania was the first and only state to have Unitarianism as the state religion. This of course also meant there was much religious tolerance. 🙂

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