Feb. 22nd, 2017

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What I've just finished reading

--Seven Summer Nights, by Harper Fox. I've been on the lookout to try more gay romance authors (although K.J. Charles is still my favorite), and this came up on a recommendations list. Stylistically it's very different from Charles' spare-yet-articulate prose; if I had to come up with a descriptor, I think I'd pick "heightened". Everything is just a little too bright, a little too sharp, like a camera plate that's been slightly overexposed. But given that the story is about a shell-shocked WWII veteran coming home to England and falling in love, it doesn't feel out of place - to the contrary, it's efective both in portraying his sense of alienation and in getting across the sheer intensity of feeling new love brings. I'm not a big one for using my Kindle's "highlight" function, but these passages I had to save:

Archie's face had softened oddly, lust transforming in his eyes to a huge and loving comprehension

and

But Rufus couldn't find words to describe the state to which a come from Archie reduced him. Not even a reduction--a rebuild, more like, a miraculous redefinition of sex for him, so far from his lonely encounters with Henry and all the back-street strangers that he could hardly believe the act was the same.

It's the same feeling I try to convey when I write erotica; the power of sex combined with deep and pure love to connect us to each other, and to the world, even over our insecurities and fears and (at times) objections.

As a reviewer, I feel it incumbent upon me to point out that there's a lot that goes on in the plot that doesn't quite gel. At one point, a character says "Your manhood condemns you to seek the truth through reason," referring to the age-old trope of 'feminine' emotional intuition vs. 'masculine' rational logic, and I thought to myself "If my annoyance at the lack of organization in the plot is any indication, I'm just a man at heart." But in the end (and, again, in keeping with the Amor Vincit Omnia tone) the logical inconsistencies don't end up feeling all that important; and if the central MacGuffin doesn't have quite the same emotional weight as the central romance, well, one of the joys of falling in love is how it makes everything else seem tame and surmountable by comparison. All of which is to say, I think this might well be a favorite despite its flaws. I'll definitely be checking out other titles of Fox's.

--"A Private Miscellany", by K.J. Charles. An epilogue to the Society of Gentlemen series, which ties up some loose ends. Of absolutely no interest to anyone who hasn't read the series, but a delight for those who love the characters and want to spend just a little more time with them before they fade into the distance. I laughed aloud many times, and when Brian looked at me enquiringly, could only flap my hands and say "It's a long story." Three volumes and one scorchingly-hot short story long, in fact.


What I'm Reading Now

--An Unseen Attraction, by K.J. Charles. (Yes, this has been the week of All The Gay Romance.) Clem is a quiet sort of landlord, kindhearted and giving and agreeable to a fault, with a family he rarely talks about. Rowley is a solitary type with a very different family history, whose career choice of taxidermy tends to put people off; as one of Clem's lodgers and more recently his lover, he's happy - until his shop is burgled, and another of Clem's lodgers is murdered, and some kind of nefarious plot begins to tighten its snare around these two inoffensive paramours.

I really like how Charles is playing with the formula here. Typically, a romance (whether heterosexual or homosexual) has pretty predictable plot beats: the first half of the story sets the stage, the characters, and the potential obstacles to their getting together; the middle (usually the exact midpoint, I've noted on my Kindle more than once) is the Big Confession Of Love (and, in modern romances, the first sex scene); then the rest presents the challenges the lovers must overcome in order to stay together, and details how they do so. Here, the romance begins early and proceeds without much difficulty at all, or certainly not with any more than the usual amount of angst or argy-bargy that two people with lives and histories and insecurities bring to a new relationship; however, the horrific external events also shine a light on those insecurities, and seeing these two gentle souls work through their respective fears is genuinely pleasurable.

--Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates. I've been trying to pin down what it is that twigs me about this book's tone, and I think I'm getting closer. For instance, I found myself reacting strongly to this quote:

The fact that we spend more on defense than on education begs the question "What are we defending and why are we defending it?" Wrapped up in this ongoing political debate is the wisdom and the message of aparigraha. The energy we expend defending unhealthy attachments could be spent making the world a better place.

It may be that I was just recently reading an extended and quite intelligent (if, in my opinion, thoroughly wrongheaded) analysis of the United States' foreign policy decisions since WWII, which offers up several cogent answers to precisely that question, but this quote came off as ridiculously naïve and smug. Whether or not you feel the US's goals and achievements in the international sphere have been worth the gigantic outlays on national defense is another question entirely, but the book doesn't even attempt to address said question, instead presenting it as a given that of course it's a waste of resources, and here's a pat answer in the form of a yogic principle - if only our government all practiced this philosophy, how many problems we could solve! Never mind that "making the world a better place" is a frustratingly vague goal, or that many (not all, certainly) of the people perpetuating American military spending have done so out of a genuine belief that a strong military is crucial to keeping peace with our neighbors. Which I suspect most world citizens would agree makes the world a better place, as fights between nuclear powers are likely to affect the rest of the world pretty negatively.

I think what's most frustrating about the book is that I don't disagree with the philosophy at all - to the contrary, I think these are valuable principles that are worth considering, and some of the meditations offered are beautifully written on topics that we don't often speak of, culturally. But others are simplistic to the point of ridiculousness, and often exclusionary: to pick just one example, the author talks about how "we are a fortunate generation in a fortunate country, and most of us have been able to have our material wants gratified many times over". Again, I realize this book is written for a very specific audience, but even here in America the gap between the rich and the poor is growing starker by the day; when you factor in the fact that the eight wealthiest individuals currently own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world - of the entire world - the text starts to look shortsighted at best.

On a more personal level, I suspect my annoyance has partly to do with a sense of guilt for being firmly in the book's target audience - a demographic that holds a significant chunk of material wealth and power and seems frustratingly uninterested in examining the costs and responsibilities to the rest of the world that such a position entails. Given how yoga lovers are constantly going on about how it can be beneficial for everyone, maybe a book on yogic philosophy would be a great opportunity to introduce a little perspective?


What I'm planning to read next

I don't have anything in queue that I haven't already talked about. We'll see what happens - I have no shortage of books in my Kindle or Audible libraries, and yet new ones always seem to crop up...

([livejournal.com profile] alexmegami, you're up!)

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