Beeswing: Richard Thompson’s Memoir

Richard Thompson is my favorite musician. Between 1967 to 1975 he was involved with some of my all-time favorite music.

So I read his memoir, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975, as soon as it was published (on April 6, 2021). If you need a sample of RT’s work, you could do worse than the song “Beeswing” (which is set during and after “the summer of love”).

Beeswing the book was well worth reading, especially for the painful passages related to Fairport Convention. If you don’t find painful stuff worthwhile, then you’re probably not a fan of RT’s music, and won’t enjoy this book. One of those passages describes the 1969 road accident that took the life of Martin Lamble, Fairport’s drummer: an excerpt is available at Rolling Stone.

Other passages are wrenching without being deadly, such as the sacking of Sandy Denny, and Richard’s decision to leave Fairport.

RT’s book, like his music, made me laugh amidst the darkness. I loved the scene in which he and Nick Drake were on the same Tube platform. RT “had to strike up a conversation, or what would pass for one, between two socially inept introverts.”

I loved Beeswing because I love RT. I think I love it more than it deserves: towards the end, RT seems uncertain about what to include and how to cover it. Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles is in many ways a better account of the same scene. To use the Goodreads 5-star systems, White Bicycles is a 5, whereas Beeswing is “only” a 4. But I’m very glad to have bought it, and will re-read it at least once.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

Rights are being declared, death is being dealt with support raised by the rhetoric of rights. So it was in France and elsewhere in the late 1700s. There are many ways to make this time even more dramatic. One, of course, is to write a rap opera about Alexander Hamilton. Another is to write…

A novel that adds magic to the revolutionary mix. That’s H.G. Parry’s A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians. It features many different points of view (PoV) and places. We start with Fina, a girl of six, being taken from Africa to the Caribbean as a slave.

We soon move to England to join William Pitt, then a twenty-year old lawyer concerned with a case about magic use. “Even Commoners are allowed to use magic to defend themselves,” he points out to a senior colleague. Other PoVs include that of Robespierre, thus giving us a French revolutionary perspective. Multiple PoVs can be confusing, but they are not here: it probably helps that many of the PoV characters are famous from history.

This is a big book in terms of themes: rights, slavery, politics, loyalty,… and magic. Parry mixes the themes well. For example, what limits can and should be placed on magic? Is magic use a right for those who have magic powers? How, if at all, should governments curtail the use of magic?

It’s also a big book in terms of pages: there are over 500 of them. I might have enjoyed the book even more had there been fewer: in particular, there is a lot of conversation.

Parry set herself a big task, and achieved her ambition. She blends historical character and fact with a magic system. I’m looking forward to the sequel, which I gather will be very France-focused. I don’t think we’ll meet Alexander Hamilton–who was by the way consulted by the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. But perhaps a third volume might tell of the role of magic in the American Revolution?

Legendborn: Finished, Enjoyed; Sequel?

I finished Legendborn, Tracy Deonn’s debut novel, full of admiration for the way she brings into present-day southern USA black history and white legend. To be specific about the latter, she draws on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

So there’s magic, and Merlins. As we get in to the novel, there are other magics. Deonn is very good at combining opposing elements: different magics, past and present, black and white.

Legendborn doesn’t get a five-star review from me, although it has many five-star reviews on Goodreads. It is clunky at multiple points and in multiple ways. In my previous post, I remarked on an early scene that made me almost abandon Legendborn. Leaping to the end, I felt that the author was jumping up and down telling me that I should be frantic for the sequel.

That said, I think I’ll read the sequel. What about you?

Legendborn: Good February Read, Not Great Start

Legendborn is a book I almost did not finish (DNF, as we say on the bookweb), but am now enjoying greatly. Please let me tell you why I’m glad I got through the first fifty pages (of the US hardback edition, numbers may differ between editions).

Debut novelist Tracy Deonn tells Legendborn in the first person. Bree, the protagonist, describes herself as “Black” and “a smarty-pants”. Legendborn starts in February: Black History Month, and the month in which Bree’s mother was killed in a hit-and-run, crushed inside her car. Later the same year, Bree and her friend Alice move to Chapel Hill to start an early college program.

This is a young adult (YA) fantasy novel: Bree is 16; we encounter fantastic elements, including memory manipulation and monsters, from the start of the book. I tend to like YA fantasy, although I am hardly young.

I particularly enjoy fantasy when it draws on myths and legends. Legendborn, as the title suggests, does just that. Some of the students at Chapel Hill are descendants of knights of the round table, one a descendant of King Arthur Pendragon himself.

I love the way that Deonn intertwines two strands of Bree’s experience: present-day Black, and ancient Arthurian. There are actually more than two strands, but combining these two is impressive enough. Arthurian legend is the palest lore this side of Snow White. Bree’s entry into the Arthurian white kids’ club presents a challenge for Bree and for the author. Deonn writes it superbly.

And yet I almost gave up on Legendborn. Why? Early on, the writing annoyed me. There is excessive use of italics. There are some very. Short sentences. Some of which don’t have a. Verb. Then there is… well, let me provide an extended quote by linking to a photo of page 17 (again, page number may differ in your edition, but it’s the scene in which Bree meets Selwyn Kane). I shuddered so much that I almost DNF’d right there. The next 200 or so pages have rewarded my perseverance.

I’ll post again about Legendborn when I finish it, which I will do in the next few days: so in the first half of this Black History Month. In the meantime, what do you think of Legendborn, based on your own reading, on this post, or on opinions expressed elsewhere. By the way, thanks to the booktubers whose enthusiasm for Legendborn got me past the DNF stage.

Some YouTuber ELKs are LEAKY

I appreciate YouTubers who are ELK: Enthusiastic, Likeable, Knowledgeable.

My first ELK of 2021 is Daniel Greene. He’s a successful YouTuber: I believe he’s full-time now; he recently hit a quarter million subscribers. That’s not bad for someone who has been described as a disheveled goblin host, and now describes himself as such.

He is one of several YouTubers I consider not only Enthusiastic, Likeable, Knowledgeable, but also Young and Attractive. That suggests the acronym LEAKY, but I don’t think that’s a good way of describing people I like. So I’ll make sure that my next ELK will not be young; that ELK is not a BookTuber either.

Back to Daniel, the young attractive goblin ELK. I should recommend a specific video. That’s tough, since he covers a lot of ground, and posts a lot of videos. I’ll go with his video on how to start with Stephen King. If you’re familiar with King’s work, you’ll be we able to assess Daniel’s analysis, and decide whether his channel is for you. If you’re not, then Daniel can help.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Daniel, ELK’s etc.

2021: Books

What’s good about 2021? It’s not 2020.

What’s there to look forward to? Books and music, among other things.

To start with music… I hope to go to at least one live music show in 2021. As for recorded music, my favorite musician does not have a new album due out in 2021, as far as I know. But he does have a book due out.

Richard Thompson’s memoir Beeswing covers the years (1967-1975) during which he and some friends founded Fairport Convention, the band made some great albums, he left, he made his first solo album, he married Linda, and the two of them made my favorite album: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. I hope that it is only the first of several memoirs.

The link from Beeswing in the previous paragraph goes to Bookstore.org. I think I’m done with Amazon links. Unfortunately, Bookstore doesn’t yet have entries for two of the books I’m most looking forward to in 2021 (so I’ll link to Goodreads, despite reservations). Each in the concluding volume in a fantasy series.

Jade Legacy concludes the trilogy that Fonda Lee wrote by mashing together martial arts, Godfather-esque conflict between families/gangs, and other things she loves.

The Fall of Babel is the fourth and last book in the wonderfully strange series that started with Senlin Ascends. I posted about this series about three years ago, and my enthusiasm for it has only grown since. I’ll probably re-read the first three in the month before The Fall of Babel comes out.

What are you looking forward to reading in 2021? What else are you looking forward to in 2021?

ELKs on YouTube

What makes you want to follow a particular YouTuber? My best answer is that they must be ELK: Enthusiastic, Likeable, Knowledgeable.

Merphy Napier is my first ELK. Merphy is a booktuber: she posts videos about books and authors, mainly in the genre of fantasy fiction. Here’s the video she posted earlier today, about her favorite authors as of late 2020.

If you watch the video, you’ll certainly see that she is Enthusiastic. I think you’ll find her Likeable, but that is of course very subjective. As someone whose reading overlaps with hers, I can testify that she is Knowledgeable about the genres she reads.

In future posts, I’ll post about other ELKs. Some, but not all, will be booktubers.

In the meantime, you are your favorite ELK YouTubers? Or what are your criteria for YouTube excellence?

DNF’d, Then Did Finish: Strange?

Strange the Dreamer caught my attention due to positive reviews and sounding like my kind of book. I enjoyed the early chapters, in which Lazlo Strange talks his way onto the Godslayer’s expedition to the lost city of Weep.

I found less interesting the chapters in which we meet the other main characters, the Godspawn. I DNF’d after about 200 pages (or what would be about 200 paper pages: I have the ebook).

The book takes off just after that point, in Chapter 26 (of 67). The main Godspawn character sees Lazlo, then meets him in a very interesting and superbly-written way. I found this out when I decided to give Strange the Dreamer another try.

I enjoyed most of the rest of the book. Looking back, this surprises me, since a rather hastily-developed romance dominates. The city of Weep is explosively changed during the climax.

Then, we have one of those endings that isn’t a resolution, but a lead-in to the sequel. I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

I’m glad I went back to, and finished, Strange the Dreamer. I see what people like about it: the worldbuilding, the writing, the characters. But I can’t heartily recommend a book that takes so long to get going, and doesn’t really conclude.

Fastest DNF So Far

I just DNF’d (Did Not Finish, and will not finish) a well-regarded novel after five pages. The novel in question is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which currently has a rating of 4.32 on Goodreads.

I was suffering from adjective fatigue. For example, a character “gestures toward an orange chair on the opposite side of her lucite desk”.

Every other sentence seemed to start with “Suffice to say”, “But unfortunately”, or some such phrase. This, like the adjective load, may actually be good writing by the author, Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The writing may be giving us insights into the first-person narrator: Monique, a journalist. But the thought of spending another 300+ pages reading Monique’s prose made me shudder and put the book down.

I returned it to the library the next day. I think that there’s a wait list for it. I hope that the people after me on the list like it more than I did. I expect that they will, given the many glowing reviews.

What’s your fastest DNF?

Books: 2020 Wishlist

This post, like many of my favorite books, has a twist at the end. But let me say at the start: here, in no particular order, are the three books I most fervently wish for as we enter the year 2020.

The Thorn of Emberlain is the fourth book in the series that Scott Lynch started with The Lies of Locke Lamora. The friendship between Locke and Jean, the cons they pull, and the world in which they pull them are all excellently drawn. It’s been 14 years since The Lies, and 7 years since the third and most recent book, so I’m not holding my breath, but I am looking forward.

The Iron Season is the sequel to The Golem and the Jinni, in which Helene Wecker portrayed one of my favorite fictional relationships. Goodreads tells us to expect publication in 2021, and I’d be happy with that, given that The Iron Season has been on my to-read list since 2016.

The third and last book on my list is the fourth and last of The Books of Babel. I’ve posted before about this series by Josiah Bancroft. Since then Josiah has added a third excellent volume about Thomas Semlin and the Tower of Babel. He’s been working the the fourth, but recently posted that it won’t be published until next year.

Josiah’s post about the delay, although unwelcome, is excellent. He takes full responsibility, and understands that “a minority of readers are somewhat cynical about publication delays.”

You may by now have worked out the twist in the tail. None of the books I’m most looking forward to as 2020 starts will be published in 2020. That’s not important in the grand scheme of things, or even in my thoughts about the three wonderful authors.

I’d like to say to each of these authors: live the best life you can; write the best books you can; publish when you’re ready; thank you for your writing.

I’d like to say to you, dear reader: thank you for reading; which books that will actually be published in 2020 would you recommend to me?