A Memoir by Barbara Bush (1994, Scribners)
Credit her with this: by the time a reader reaches the end of this tome, they will have a solid grounding in the thinking of the former first lady. It’s thick, and it’s comprehensive through the time of its writing, and it is just about everything most people believe they want from an autobiography.
Bush’s love of books shines through the pages, and decades of keeping diaries allows her to present her perspective on past events both at the time they were happening and in retrospect. As the wife of a prominent politician in the 1970s, the Second Lady and then First Lady in the 1980s, and the First Lady for the opening of the 1990s as well, she was intimately familiar with the processes behind many critical decisions, while she doesn’t spill state secrets here, she does provide insight for those curious about recent history.
The problem with the book is that it’s simply too large. It’s like Barbara started showing slides from the family outings; at first, it’s utterly fascinating to get the inside glimpses of George, George W. and Jeb, not to mention the Reagans and many other recognized faces. After a while the novelty wears off but there remain entire carousels of slides yet to be seen.
By that time, the reader has an image of Barbara as someone with an iron core who is very aware of the luck and privilege which helped fuel her success. You’ve seen joy and you’ve seen terrible loss. You’ve seen patriotism, of the sort that is in all too short supply today. By owning her failures and appreciating her successes she is presented as someone you’d have wanted to know personally.
This is a great book for someone who reads a little every day. A bit before bed each night would be like having a chat with someone experienced, informative, and funny. Tackling it all in one sitting is not advised.
Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs (2010, Ace)
Some inside baseball: Patricia Briggs’ first novel, Masques, was published by Ace in 1993. By the time this novel had come around, she was a regular on the New York Times bestseller lists and Masques was getting a re-release. Under normal circumstances if an author has stayed with a single publisher and they have found wide-ranging success, all of the backlist for that author remains in print. Publishers need to make money, and authors with popular series help to cover the many chances they take with other titles.
Still, Masques was unavailable for more than a decade, and there was a reason: Briggs was re-writing it. Despite the fact that it had launched her career and it had been fairly well received, Briggs felt that her skills had grown since its publication and she didn’t want an inferior book on the market.
She was correct, and her skill is on display in this title.
Don’t misunderstand; it was never going to win awards. The book is very much a standard construct, designed to appeal to people who already enjoy the subgenre of suburban fantasy which features empowered heroines, new spins on classic monsters, supernatural forces to combat, mysteries, and romantic entanglements. The road which was paved in the 1980s and 1990s by Lee Killough, P.N. Elrod, Laurell K. Hamilton and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer has grown from a dirt path to a superhighway, with as many alternatives as there are attempted clones of George R.R. Martin.
It’s just that Briggs does everything exceedingly well. She sets a series of little mysteries and problems in the beginning of the book and pays them off by the end, parceling out revelations and resolutions along the way. Her dialogue rings true to the ear. Characters develop, and character development from previous books is used to drive the current narrative. Above all, she succeeds in the writer’s primary task: impelling the reader to want to move forward to the next line, the next paragraph, the next chapter.
If you don’t like this style of book, you’re not going to enjoy Silver Borne. It lacks the challenge to the reader that is often considered to be a key of literature. But if you enjoy this type of story and you haven’t yet tried Patricia Briggs, you’re missing out.