Feb. 8th, 2019

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Recently Finished

Census by Jesse Ball, which pleased me all the way to the end; it is another one that may generate good ToB discussion, although the discussion might be hampered by the fact that it was in the summer reading and so many ToB people have already talked about it. I liked that Ball did not feel the need to land it anywhere, he just let it be ambiguous to the end. It is a book that offers a wide variety of possible readings and I have some favourites, but I do not think any particular reading is definite, which is a delightful sort of book for me.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, a short novel about a woman named Korede, a nurse in Lagos whose younger sister's boyfriends keep ending up dead. It was really good, not at all what one might expect from the title; Braithwaite is so in charge of her craft, she illustrates and keeps a very light tone, letting the reader see everything from several angles without being too enmeshed. I liked looking and thinking and enjoying, and appreciated both the humour of the deadpan tone and the fact that there are real things being shown here, about growing up in a certain sort of family and what capacities that does (and does not) give a person.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, which is an sfnal thriller which did not have too much action-adventure for my tastes, despite the thriller nature. There was nothing particularly special, but it was a lot of fun.

On the Go

So many, and so many of them are not working, I foresee a great releasing books back into the wild in my future. But the ones that are working --

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Urrea, slowly but increasingly surely. I am about 1/3 through and finally starting to understand the shape of it and beginning to enjoy this sprawling, complicated family.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo had a 2007 Orange Prize nomination and I can see why -- it flows very smoothly and it is all centred in the head of the protagonist, a young Chinese woman navigating a year spent in London studying English. It reads quickly and I am curious about what happens next, but I cannot quite find where the weight of it falls.

There There by Tommy Orange -- This #OwnVoices story of urban Native American life has gotten a lot of buzz, so it was already on my TBR when the ToB shortlist came out -- but being on the shortlist means I am trying it sooner, and thus far I am glad that I am. It is very compelling thus far.

Up Next

The ToB starts on 6 March, so if I am going to read the remaining 10 books on the shortlist I need to focus -- and I am certain I will not make it through all of them, I always give up on a few, but I do like to try. So I think next will be Michael Ondaatje's Warlight (I have never read anythin of his, or even seen the famous movie) and The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Soprinka as it is the hardest to get from the library and thus if I am not quick on it I might lose my opportunity. After that, well, we will see.

The attentive reader may notice some books have vanished from this list entirely -- that is usually because they had to go back to the library and I haven't been able to get new copies yet, or because I am reading them still but so slowly that it does not seem worth mentioning it every week.

Now off to find my daughter's Girl Scout uniform so it is ready for tomorrow when she is selling cookies -- assuming her cold has not made a resurgence such that she is in bed again.
alchimie: (Default)
[personal profile] ursula very kindly asked me about:

1. Chinese historical dramas

When I first moved to California lo these many years ago, friends of mine were very much fans of Hong Kong action cinema, so about once a week I went with them and saw a double feature of whatever was playing with English subtitles at the local theatre -- films by John Woo, Ringo Lam, Wong Jing, Tsui Hark, and many other directors who were working in the 80s and early 90s. Having grown up in a small town (although large by local standards) in the Midwest, these movies were like absolutely nothing we had ever seen before in our lives, and I loved them and wanted more, and since more of exactly that was hard to come by, my interests quickly expanded into all sorts of (subtitled) Chinese-language visual media, such as music videos and television dramas.

Twenty-five years on, it is relatively easy to find Chinese-language TV shows available streaming, so I am spoilt for choice. I love the non-historical ones too (Nirvana in Fire! The Sweetness in the Salt!) but just now I am really enjoying very long (50+ episodes), very detailed historical costume dramas which play out (in very romanticised biased form, of course) some period of Chinese history. The first I saw was Qin Empire II: Alliance, which I finished just a few months back -- it is the middle of a trilogy about the power struggles of the Warring States period (5th century BCE to 221 BCE) and how one particular state (Qin) ended up in a position to briefly create a unified Chinese empire. (Alas, only this part of the trilogy is available on Netflix, but I keep hoping they'll get the rest.) Having finished that one, Netflix pointed me towards King's War, which is not directly related but a perfect follow-up, since it focuses on how the Qin empire failed and quickly fell apart and all the differing factions trying to bring it down and either a) restore something like the previous status quo of lots of different states in some sort of power balance or b) create their own unified empire with themselves on top. I am about 35 episodes into it and really enjoying it -- and I just realised this touches on a bonus interest as well, since the Chu-Han contention is what happened after the Qin empire collapsed and the two most powerful rebel leaders started fighting over who would actually be in charge.

2. gel pens

I do like gel pens, but should I have listed them as an interest? Perhaps not, as I do not have much to say about them; I like the Sakura Gelly Rolls, they have a good variety of colours and effects (metallic, glitter, shadow), and a lovely ink flow; there is a nice trick where one sketches a little something and then quickly dips a brush in and 'paints' with the ink to fill in the sketch. I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination but I do have fun with colours when time allows. And, all right, with more thought it occurs to me that I am easily tempted into buying gel pens collections, I have at least two more readily available... but still, am I interested in them? Hmmmn. I suppose the interests are really 'things I like enough that they are significant to me' so -- yes, gel pens. I like the colourful and sparkly and varied.

3. The Colours of Madeline

This is a middle grade (maybe YA but I would say middle grade) fantasy trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty which I loved dearly when I read it in 2016; I am terrified to reread it in case it does not hold up. It is portal fantasy, sort of -- letters are being exchanged between our world and a fantasy world -- and it is very, very funny in a snarky way, but what I loved most about it is the fantasy world is made up of literalisations of idioms of our world, so there are colour storms which cause huge physical & emotional effects, and the names of places read like a very well-read child playing pretend with a map -- there is a place called the Cat Walk where, yes, people go and watch cats walking -- and yet I never found it twee and frequently found it numinous. I know younger people in the system fell in love with it, so it is hard to say how the books would read to someone who is without that perspective, but for us they were magical.

If anyone would like me to ask them about some of theirs, please comment.
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One of the unforeseen pleasures of getting older is discovering that things I have loved for a long time are not only still around but thriving. Specifically, tonight I discovered that certain musicals of Stephen Sondheim are continuing to get vividly re-imagined new productions (the 2018 Company with a gender reversed Bobby/Bobbie) or in some cases simply getting the loving, attentive, rich modern production I have always felt they deserved (the 2017 National Theatre version of Follies, with Imelda Staunton (!) and Philip Quast (!)). Company has always had a certain cachet and seems to have been able to speak to people across the decades, but Follies... When I became a Sondheim fan in the mid-1990s Follies was rather an ugly duckling of the repertoire, so it was a huge pleasure when Spotify just now pointed out to me that there was this lovely new version -- not that the original is not marvelous, but it is such a very good show, it deserves to keep being re-discovered and performed with new casts of amazing older women.

Here, have Tracie Bennet performing "I'm Still Here," which is a tour-de-force piece about a showbiz career through the decades -- "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp / Then someone's mother / Then you're camp..."

April 2019

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