Friday, May 7, 2010

griping is just one service we offer

Disappointing things: I found a cheap cookie press at the thriftshop, and at Christmas I made butter cookies (with butter) and squished them through the press. Conclusion: meh.
The press was annoying to use, fiddly, sometimes requiring the cookie to be pried off with a knife. Some of the shapes didn't work at all. Fell between drop cookies and roll cookies in speed of application.
The cookies? Meh. If I'm going to use that much butter in something, I want it to taste as rich as shortbread. These were dry and not very flavourful, even though I used the brown sugar recipe. I ended up giving most of them to a friend who loves butter cookies. She said they were great, but that may have been nostalgia.
On the favourable side, one of the cookies looks like Snowy from the Tintin comics.

Just for Terri, some books you don't need to add to your collection (in my opinion, anyways). I'm swiping my reviews from comments I made on the book forum, since I can't be bothered to write up whole new reviews for books I didn't enjoy.

The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson, Harper Teen 2007.

The opening is pretty rambly and unfocussed:

JJ hears something bad about his family history.
JJ changes his name.
JJ wishes he could give his mother more time.
JJ hears another version of the story.
JJ changes his name back.
JJ thinks about getting around to discussing the true story of his family history with his friend.
JJ gets around to looking into the time thing.
The new policeman wanders around.
This is not why he became a policeman.
Nope, not this neither.
Nor this.
People play music.
More music.
Farm chores.

Shuffle and re-deal.
I think I may have given up just as the plot was beginning - JJ hiding in a cart or something. But by then I didn't care what happened to him.

See, I can be quite happy with a story where not much is happening provided what is happening is interesting. William Mayne's books can be quite low-key, but there's these wonderful loopy allusive conversations and interactions.
Ho! Maybe that's it. The characters barely interacted. I mean, they don't seem to argue or get into fights or laugh or tease or ... Well, okay, they mope.

I just checked the Amazon reviews. One reviewer says the story gets moving after p.130.

Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter, Roc 2003
About a young woman in ancient China who practices origami magic and is hired out to protect a caravan. But her real aim is to do great deeds and earn a peach of immortality for the aunt who paid for her training. The story follows two timelines, alternating chapters between the caravan journey, where one of her fellow travellers is a goddess who charges her with a dangerous quest, and her childhood training, torn between her aunt's plans and her mother's plans to have her married off.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I love stories set in China, and Cutter seems to have done a lot of research (some of it not particularly well-digested, though). But Xiao-yen is so dreary, always fussing about being an outcast, about losing her luck or not deserving it when she has it, about whether she should do what her mother wants and get married, how much she misses her family (even though none of them are pleasant or trustworthy and she's been living apart from them since she was a small child), and on and on.
I think she's meant to be touchingly insecure, but there isn't enough joy in her to leaven the misery, and it became a chore to spend time with her - what happened to the spirited, mischievous little girl we met in the early chapters, before she began training?

Another thing that bothered me was the repetition (poor editing?): at least 5 characters, all male, are described as having eyes that greedily or hungrily suck everything in. Every dragon, whether real or represented, seems to have a hard belly (of pearl, or scale, or embroidery). The live dragons all breath fire, which I don't recall being a common feature of Chinese dragons, especially river dragons.

With the disclaimer that all my study of Chinese culture has been at the undergrad level or self-directed (with all the flaws that follow), I should add that Cutter's version of ancient China didn't work for me. Chinese culture was sexist, no denying, but the sexism in the book feels very 20th c. N. American, in the way everyone tells Xiao-yen that 'a girl can't be a mage'. Including the other paper-mage-students, and it bothered me that they were so unconcerned about questioning their master's judgement, since he had chosen Xiao-yen.
Similarly, Wang Tie-tie, the aunt, takes Xiao-yen from her mother and takes responsibility for her schooling--that's quite believable, since Tie-tie is the matriarch (and runs the finances) and that sort of adoption seems fairly common. But then Xiao-yen's mother keeps trying to marry her off, or set up meetings with a matchmaker for her. Why does she have the authority to do that (or the fee for the matchmaking) when Xiao-yen's fate has been decided by Wang Tie-tie?

Oh. Yeah. And there's no transliteration note, so it took me half the book to figure out that Cutter means Tie-tie to be Tai-tai, a title not a personal name. Because she uses the X for Hs in Xiao-yen, I thought she was using pinyin style, and kept mentally pronouncing it as Wang ch'ieh-ch'ieh. I wonder how many readers thought Xiao would be pronounced Zow instead of Hsiao?
If Cutter assumed they'd know how to pronounce the X, why pander by spelling Tai as Tie? Why not include a pronunciation chart, when you have space for a suggested reading list?


John Chu said...

Perhaps I'm just being cynical, but I suspect you've already put much more thought about transliteration than Leah Cutter had. I mean, it's just the written language of over a billion people. Why should she care about representing that correctly?

(Seriously, even when writers manage to limit themselves to only one transliteration scheme, I rarely see tone markings or proper spacing. Actually, by rarely, I think I mean never.)

Of course, I tend to sidestep the transliteration issue entirely by not doing so. That has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. I am very grateful for Unicode though.

(Also, it sounds like you need a new butter cookie recipe.)

batgirl said...

What did you think of Naomi Novik's Throne of Jade?

John Chu said...

My only experience with Naomi Novik so far is a short story I heard as a podcast. I'll have to put Throne of Jade on my list of books to read.

batgirl said...

Throne of Jade uses pinyin. The pov character is a Georgian-era gentleman who does not speak Chinese. I don't know why I found that particularly boggling - the setting predates Wade-Giles, and possibly any widely-known systematic attempt to represent Chinese speech phonetically.

The trouble with using the ideograms is that it represents what's seen, not what's heard (which we've talked about). Which makes me wonder how to represent people who spoke different Chinese dialects, and the difficulties they'd have in conversation?

Terri-Lynne said...

Thank you for NOT adding to my TBR pile. You are a good friend, my dear. :)

batgirl said...

Thank you for giving me an excuse to gripe!