April 11th, 2011


April Books 15) Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness

This turns out to be the third in a trilogy, the two previous books being The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, neither of which I had read: it's a huge long young adult book about conflict between humans and indigenous inhabitants on a planet where telepathic projections ('Noise') are common but not universal, both among the locals and among their Earthling invaders. It's an unusual comment to make about a book, but the typography is startling - not just a different font for each viewpoint character, but also letters jumping around the page for dramatic effect. My copy came with a transparent dust jacket with more jumbled words on it. The writing is dense but also gripping - very tight first-person POV from the teenage couple who are the centre of the story, and from the alien forces acting upon them; the plot veers from conflict to deadly threat to negotiation to assassination, a real roller-coaster. I do wish I had started with the first book, especially if it's as good as this (and it won the Tiptree award so cannot be completely devoid of quality).

April Books 16) On The Subjection of Women, by John Stuart Mill

It's a slight cheat to blog this separately from Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, because they are bound between the same covers of my Everyman edition. But they are definitely different books, written decades apart, so there you go.

Mill's argument here is in favour of political equality between the sexes, in particular that woman should be allowed to vote, a proposition to which he gently demolishes all the opposing arguments. He is less passionate than Wollstonecraft but has better one-liners:
Women who read, much more women who write, are, in the existing constitution of things, a contradiction and a disturbing element...
...laws and institutions require to be adapted, not to good men, but to bad.
If no one could vote for a Member of Parliament who was not [themselves] a fit candidate, the government would be a narrow oligarchy indeed.
I was also struck by his invocation of women rulers throughout history, in particular:
The Emperor Charles the Fifth, the most politic prince of his time, who had as great a number of able men in his service as a ruler ever had, and was one of the least likely of all sovereigns to sacrifice his interest to personal feelings, made two princesses of his family successively Governors of the Netherlands, and kept one or other of them in that post during his whole life (they were afterwards succeeded by a third). Both ruled very successfully, and one of them, Margaret of Austria, as one of the ablest politicians of the age.
To divert onto another topic entirely, this made me realise how little I still know about Belgian/Dutch history. The princesses in question are Charles V's aunt Margaret of Austria, his sister Mary of Austria, and his daughter Margaret of Parma. Must read up that period some time.

April Books 17) In The Heart of the Desert, by John Chryssavgis

Several years ago I read the collected sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers); this is an introduction to their spirituality by an Australian theologian, who at least I suppose has some insight into deserts. I must say I have been spoiled for this sort of thing by my recent reading of Rūmī, who was able to develop profound philosophical insights while living his daily life without fleeing from society or concerning himself too much with mortification of the flesh. Again I observed that there is a certain amount of eremitical one-upmanship here, and while there are many reflections on how to set one's soul right within oneself and with God, there's not a lot about other people, who are usually an important part of whatever problems one may have. So I fear that the Desert fathers may not be for me.