Books read: February 2008, part 1

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March 1, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

February reading: seven books. Two of the most interesting (this entry is getting long so I’ll save the third for later):

Christine Brennan, Inside Edge: A Revealing Journey into the Secret World of Figure Skating

Following on from last month’s Pledged (which also had ‘secret’ in its title – marketing departments, take note!), another behind-the-scenes look at a fascinating subculture: ice skating. The cast of characters – skaters, coaches, broadcasters, has-beens, and hangers-on – became overwhelming at times; when three people turned up yet again, all with last names ending in W, I just read on until I remembered vaguely who they all were. But everyone’s story was interesting enough that I didn’t mind flipping to the index once in a while.

My main gripe is that while Brennan does a good job of tracking these skaters’ real lives, both the big names and the young hopefuls, she doesn’t give much information about the nitty-gritty logistics. These $950 skating costumes; who makes them? How is an ice skate put together, that the blade can fall out between the time you jump off the ice and the moment you land? And what the heck are all these different jumps? Very late in the book, there are some references to which edge of the blade you take off from, but given that nearly every competition described in the book comes down to who can land a triple toe-triple-axel-double loop, I really wanted a paragraph setting out the difference between an axel and a salchow.

But that’s mostly me being picky, and anyway, Brennan explains the arcane scoring system. I found the book thoroughly entertaining, and its main problem is that it stops in 1995. Thankfully, there’s a 1998 follow-up, Edge of Glory.

Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y

The latest entry on the list of Books I Should Have Enjoyed More Than I Did. Though it only occasionally veered towards entry onto the list of Books I Gave Up In A Fit Of Pique. For the most part, it held my attention, and worked excellently well as a commuting book.

I have a low tolerance for pastiche Victoriana, having read more than my share of the real stuff, but the (sadly) little that’s done here is pretty enjoyable, and I could happily have read more of the book-within-a-book (though I think Thomas was smart not to overdo it).

One review called this ‘an exhilarating, breakneck narrative’ but it’s rather the opposite of breakneck, or rather it’s breakneck for a while and then crashes to a halt while we explain quantum physics, repeat. On the one hand, I felt as though I were reading a grown-up novel rather than – oh, it’s so pat to reference a certain book which begins with T and ends with E and in the middle is hedavincicod[/superfans], but I certainly appreciated that this book had far more depth than plot / plot / plot / car chase / discovery / pat explanation / murder attempt.

On the other hand, the repeated pauses make it all seem unbalanced. It starts as an academic novel…and isn’t…and briefly becomes one of those texts where The Character Is Reading A Text…but that soon ends…and about halfway through it veers straight into thriller territory…but that fizzles out. I’m sure there’s a nifty self-referential way to explain this plot arc through quantum physics, and I wish I understood it better. (Quantum physics, that is. I think I grasped the plot.)

The one segment that will firmly stay in my mind is towards the end, when (not giving the plot away) Ariel is attuned to the consciousness of generations of lab mice. In general, I found the writing about being in an animal’s mind far more evocative than the parts about being a human, as Ariel is definitely a character I really didn’t care about. Live, die, something in between, win the guy, complete the PhD? Meh. But the mouse in the humane trap, now, her I felt for.

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Photo credit: Rahima Subhan

Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.

Books

CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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