May 9th, 2005

Vanitas desk

Two books

I browsed through the shelves of a Chicago airport bookstore with frustration. There were books I had already read, and plenty of books I specifically didn't want to read. The woman browsing the next set of shelves offered to switch places with me so we could continue our fruitless searches, and I looked up to see the charmingly flustered Latin professor of Saturday morning's session.

I proffered my thanks for her session, and we discussed Latin and the Toronto exam. She had already determined there was nothing in the bookstore at all that was worth reading, a conclusion I was well on my way to myself. Eventually she offered up the name of a satirist as someone she'd heard secondhand recommendations for, and went on her way after encouraging me to contact her if I wanted to discuss Latin further.

Another woman, equally frustrated, joined me in reading the backs of the satirist's books, but I was turned off by the coarseness of the descriptions on the backs. I was in no mood to read about tearing out the eyeballs of big game. I told her I didn't think I was in the mood for a mystery either.

But I need a book, you see, for I was nearly done with Jo Walton (papersky)'s The Prize in the Game and knew it wouldn't last me until Toronto. Eventually a Regency romance/mystery novel caught my eye. The prose at first glance seemed flat, but the concept was appealing.

The Prize in the Game almost left me in tears, and a bit frustrated. I liked quite a bit of the book, but left it feeling as if I really didn't know how the story had actually ended. Madeleine E. Robins's Point of Honour was a pleasant foil, far more engrossing and compelling than my superficial assessment had feared, the prose flat only in the sense that the style was inspired by Jane Austen and not a more modern style of prose. After the ending, I read through the acknowledgements at the back: to my surprise, there were thanks to Sherwood Smith (sartorias) and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, among others. Despite browsing the mystery section, my instincts led me to fantasy-influenced novels with connections I greatly respect despite a bookstore three of us judged devoid of much more than words at first pass.