Review: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

Liar and SpyLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have many librarian friends who raved endlessly about When You Reach Me, and then found Liar and Spy kind of a let-down afterwards. It was with this in mind that I decided I should read Liar and Spy first, to give it a chance NOT to disappoint me.

Boy, was I ever NOT disappointed.

In fact, I love this book with all my (admittedly shrivelled) heart. If When You Reach Me really is that much better… well, maybe I shouldn’t read it. Maybe it would make me give up writing in despair.

A little caveat first: this book is very quiet and small. Very quiet. Very small. If you’re not into quiet books, you can say to yourself, “Well, at least it’s small!” You can read it in an afternoon, even if you are an abysmally slow reader like myself.

Here’s where it’s awesome: theme. Everything fits and interweaves and interplays so beautifully. It’s like a Bach fugue — a really quiet one. Not that the pipe organ lends itself to quiet. Even the simple fact that Georges’s name has a silent “s” at the end resonates with the theme. It’s about the known and the unknown, the things we can and can’t, do and don’t perceive. The lies we tell and the things we refuse to see. Even the title plays into that.

My god it’s like a beautiful painting, and I could stare at it for hours. I am gnawing my own wrist with envy, which I realize is maybe not the cleverest thing I ever did.

Read it. Love it. I might not ever get around to When You Reach Me. I might not be able to handle it. We shall see.

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I’m just going to leave this here for now

Music and Color: the French Connection

A fascinating article about synaesthesia and a place where music and science history intersect. I don’t have time to comment  sensibly because I’m just walking out the door, but well worth a read.

Dogs Are People, Too

So sayeth an interesting NYT article about MRI scans of dogs’ brains. Of course, I suspect anyone who loves dogs could have told you dogs have emotions. I witnessed a display of unbridled canine joy just yesterday morning, when my husband returned from a week in Japan. It’s hard to doubt it once you’ve seen our whippet bounding around, running in circles, and frantically snuggling up to him the moment he sits down.

What’s more interesting to me in this article is the argument that emotions comprise personhood. In our household, we do believe Una is a person, but we would claim it’s because she has a “personality”. Emotional reactions are part of her personality, but not all of it by any means. The article, however, implies that emotion should make the difference between our treating animals as “things” and our treating them as “people”.

But should it? Are emotions the most important measure of personhood? I don’t mean to imply that I have the answer. This is something I think about a lot, however, and play with in my writing. I’ve created a species of dragon who do not experience emotions in their natural form, but are subject to emotions in human form, and find them profoundly disconcerting.

Are dragons in dragon form not “people”? I think they are. Is having emotions somehow superior? Some of my characters believe that, but I don’t. On the flip side, dragons sometimes don’t consider humans “people” – they’re too irrational!

The challenge and the goal, I think, is to accord respect – and a recognition of personhood – to minds that are different than our own. Even just among humans, there’s a lot of variation. Recognizing animal personhood may not be feasible until we can genuinely value all the different flavours of our own.