alchimie: (Default)
2019-04-04 01:40 pm

Recent Reading, Thursday edition

Thank goodness there are books.

Recently Finished
A Gilded Vanity by Richard Dehan, who turns out to be a pseudonym for Clotilde Graves, a successful early 20th c playwright and novelist, and also a cousin of Robert Graves. I really enjoyed this; I loved the overwrought prose, ticking clockwork plot, and scores of secret/hidden/false marriages interspersed with long descriptions of furniture, jewelry, dresses, etc etc, and the Edwardian Moral Messaging about the evils of non-companionate marriage and the expectations of easy divorce made me giggle more often than not. I wonder if all her books are like this, or if this was particularly itself, and if that latter, was it magazine fiction? The pacing of the plot and the reiteration of plot points suggests so.

On the Go
I am halfway through The March North and continuing to find interesting things on every single page.

I am also halfway through What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan and still enjoying his detailed look at little aspects of Austen's novels.

Lisa & Co. (Jilly Cooper) is mostly horrifying worldbuilding; her dystopic view of gender relations is really something, as well as the weird ways that the characters focus on some particular physical feature (legs, collarbones) and obsess over whether or not theirs is up to the current fashionable design, only to discover at the end that their partner of choice actually prefers the physical feature as they embody it. I am enjoying this a great deal but I am sure it is not in the manner that the author intended.

Other books are on the go but it has been too busy for reading, really, so no progress has been made.


Leonard Cohen's poetry, more Jilly Cooper, some early Joan Aiken novels, about forty other things... I want to be less tired so that I can read more.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-04-04 01:16 pm

mixed city lights and foggy hills

Life is continuing apace with the usual things in it; I have dealt with another round of upset stomachs, organised and run another Girl Scout meeting, attended one child's concert, helped the other child finish her large project which is due tomorrow (and which she did admirably on both in planning and execution), and in the cracks between read a little and watched some American Idol. Sleep is still very lacking but spring break is next week, and I am not ill this time, so hopefully it will be a good mix of fun things with my children and getting to sleep later than usual because it is vacation and we do not have to be anywhere at specific times. Spouse is recovering by leaps and bounds and it is very pleasant seeing his playful side return as he feels better & better post-surgery.

Smol daughter and I did another farmer's market run on Sunday and acquired more grapefruit, some beautiful little cherry/plum tomatoes, fava beans for my spouse (they are one of his favourites), and five baby plants: a jalapeno, a farmer's eggplant, a Hungarian magyar pepper (suitable for drying and grinding for sweet paprika but I will doubtless just eat them raw), a Black Beauty tomato and a Haley's Purple Comet tomato -- this last one is smaller, the Black Beauty fairly large. When we got home we had lunch on a blanket in the backyard by smol son's request, then weeded our planter box and large pots and planted the various seedlings. I am hoping they do well.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-29 12:03 pm

various updates

My spouse had surgery yesterday and is, happily, already home and sitting in the bed next to me. It went very, very well, and the recovery is expected to be good and not too long, and once the effects of anesthesia and surgery have entirely worn off he will (I hope, I hope) have much more energy again and enjoy his life more than he has in the past six months of unbalanced hormone levels. Fingers crossed and all of that, but I am somewhat less stressed and tenatively hopeful for it all.

The weekend is relatively unplanned, although I have arranged a playdate for tomorrow morning with a family we are increasingly close to, which will make certain my children get out into the air and have some friend time unfettered by the usual school pressures, and which will give me a chance to sit and talk with my marvelous friend E. who despite various family health issues of her own has been making sure she is available in case our family needs anything over this week. It will be good to catch up with her.

Sunday smol daughter and I plan to go to the farmer's market to get more grapefruit, and perhaps more goat, although the shanks are as yet uncooked so we will see what comes of that.

I am very, very tired due to waking up too much to worry about everything, but perhaps tonight I will catch up? It seems not impossible and would be an excellent start to the weekend.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-27 01:25 pm

Wednesday Reading

Actually upon a Wednesday! Will wonders never cease?

Recently Finished
The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett -- There was a lot that I enjoyed about this, but in the end I found myself irritated that the heroine did not have any friends (so that the plot rotated entirely around the love interest), and even more irritated that there was a character with schizophrenia used as plot furniture, especially since I did not recognise Bennett's take on schizophrenia as accurate. I would still try another of hers, but grrr.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson -- A mostly successful modern middlebrow, although I would have liked to see an actual conversation between our middle-aged romantic leads (one of whom is of Pakistani descent) about the overt racism they are encountering in the course of their romance. On the other hand, Simonson clearly knows it is there and has the female lead speak to it, and a direct conversation about it would be out of character for both of them, so all in all I would say it is promising and I am looking forward to her second novel, although based solely on the title (The Summer Before the War) I think it must be historical rather than contemporary, so I am wondering if she will introduce period issues around race, gender and class, or will it be purely cosy?

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse -- I appreciate so much that Roanhorse is writing from her own cultural traditions, but this type of urban fantasy is not at all my genre. I am glad I finished it so that I may talk with people about it, but I do not think I will read the next.

On the Go
A Gilded Vanity by Richard Dehan -- The various rich people continue to scheme and marry for money and figure out how to compromise young titled Scotsmen so that rich marriages can occur and there's at least one secret marriage waiting until the woman reaches 21 so they can announce it to the world, and the various older women are as clueless as Emma in the titular film about who is actually involved with whom, and the prose continues to be so purple it is nearly ultraviolet. I am still enjoying it very much because I do not have to take a single word seriously.

The March North by Graydon Saunders -- This will be on the go for a while, I hope, because I am reading this two or three pages at a time each night before bed, and it is marvelous. It falls into the same category as Karr's At Amberleaf Fair despite being a different sort of book on most every axis, so now I am reconsidering what category that is -- I used to call it 'books in which nothing happens' but now I think it is 'books with something interesting on every page'. I foresee a post about this category sometime in my future.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan -- Mullan is asking small & deliberate questions of Austen's books, such as "which characters are seen and never allowed to speak?", and I am finding the results interesting. He does not have an overarching thesis, all of this is not done in support of a central goal, but that is part of what I am enjoying in it, because the individual questions yield their own small fruits.

Famous Last Words by Timothy Findley -- I finally started on this after having it about to go for months and am delighted to discover that it is (at least in part) about Wallis Simpson! I am only 100 pages in thus far but feeling enthusiastic about it; the combination of layered levels of story and historical fiction about the 1930s containing people I previously researched at length is wonderful, and Findley is a remarkable writer on the sentence level for me.

Lisa & Co. by Jilly Cooper is absolute cotton candy from the late 1960s and thus has bizarre gender and sexual assumptions on every page; I am reading it like speculative fiction, alternately intrigued and appalled by the world-building.

I have a few books of Leonard Cohen's poetry, from early in his career before he had settled into life as a songwriter, and I am looking forward to them.

Villain by Yoshida Shuuichi is a mystery translated from the Japanese and has also been on my TBR forever, so it is definitely coming next unless the stress takes such a turn that I cannot read any novels in which bad things happen to anyone.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie! Except it is going to be another 'something interesting on every page' book so I might wait until I finish the Saunders above, except when I do finish the Saunders I will want to read the second and third of them, so... I am not sure. I want to read this so that I can join in the conversation but also I want to savor it, decisions decisions.

There are any number of other possibilities but they will not coalesce until I move through some of the ones I am working on right now. How delightful it is to think I will never run out of books!
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-25 02:16 pm

very, very ordinary, perhaps even relentlessly mundane, and yet it is mine

Yesterday at the farmer's market my daughter and I picked up tamales, 5lbs of grapes, fresh-pressed apple juice (which will be gone in a few more weeks and then reappear in September or so, but while it is here it is delicious mixed with a very spicy ginger beer to cut the sweetness), and goat shanks. The previous week we had bought goat ribs and spouse roasted them on Saturday and they were divine; lightly salty and crunchy on the outside, rich and tender on the inside, everything I like in a meat. The shanks I am not certain what we will do with, they seem like they would braise well, and I have seen a few Greek recpes which braise them in tomato, but I might like to try something a little farther afield than that.

I did not make bread, I was tired and my shoulder very sore for no good reason, but spouse made dolma in the evening with smol daughter to everyone's delight, especially mine as now there are some in the 'fridge -- the rest went to work with him. I did do much folding of laundry, smol daughter made good progress on her project, and we even had a family trip to a nearby park (not the lake) although we missed most of the sun. In general a reasonable Sunday, although I stayed up far too late last night finishing a book (reading not writing, alas) and am thus paying the price in grogginess today. I suspect whether or not I do better tonight will depend upon external factors.

This morning after dropping off the children (very successfully, by which I mean the drama quotient was much lower than in the last few weeks) I went to Target and bought more snacks for the gymnastics bag, spicy ginger beer for use as above, school leggings for my smol son (who has worn holes in the knees of all his extant ones simultaneously), and two new soft blankets -- a large wine-coloured plush one for my bed, to replace the disintegrating blue one I bought on the eve of my wedding for a friend to use when he came to visit for said wedding, and a grey-and-white one (perfectly matched for the colours of my demanding cat) to put for my lap when I am using my laptop on my desk instead of on my bed. I have it on my legs now, it is warm and lovely.

Now I will grab something quick to eat and go fetch my children from school.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-23 05:06 pm

watching the ships that go sailing

Saturday, and I am a little sore and tired but on the whole well, and although it is brisk outside it is sunny, pleasant after some days of rain, and dry enough that my children are even now out back playing. A friend just had a birthday and is coming over tonight so we (mostly spouse) are making turkey chili and a diabetic-friendly chocolate cream pie for him, along with cake for other people and goat ribs because smol daughter and I have been doing weekly farmer's market trips on Sundays and last week we bought goat.

After ordering the BPAL imps last night I remembered that long ago a friend had given me a scent that had not particularly worked for her, so I went and found it in my drawers -- it is The Hanging Gardens, discontinued in 2012 which says something about how long I have had this vial of it, but it still smells good although I would guess it has changed and faded over the time? The internet tells me that it is "date palm, ebony, fir, pomegranate, plum, two pears, quince, fig, and grapevine with plumeria, three gardenias and dry rose." I cannot sort out any of these scents from it, which I would assume is due to my lack of experience; to me it is just floral, although not overpoweringly so. I put some on my wrist and it was fine, fading over the day, but nothing special; I may wear it again while I wait for my order to come but I would not be buying it were it available.

However! I put some on my smol son's wrist for him to try, and on him it blazes to life, suddenly going from a sort of blur of pleasant flowery smells to something vibrant, like a stained glass window with the sun behind it, lots of reds and greens -- yes, I know this is visual, my sensory system does what it will, and what it did here was absolutely beautiful bright colours winding together. I said in shock, "It smells so much better on you than it does on me!" and he said, "Don't say that, it makes me feel bad for you!" And I said that he did not need to feel bad, that is was exciting to learn something new, and we smelled it on my wrists and then on his and then went about the business of his bedtime, but goodness, that was something; it is one thing to read about scents changing on people due to body chemistry and another thing to experience it so directly.

Tomorrow will be the farmer's market, and perhaps a very simple bread -- I have made bread in the bread machine, and breads which do not require kneading, but I would like to try a simple kneaded loaf -- and I must help smol daughter get started on the large school project which is due in two weeks; all the pieces have been acquired so now it is just the crafting, which she will do herself but I provide encouragement and companionship and finding the craft glue and such. I am also hoping we might make it out to the park tomorrow en famille, but I am not certain what the weather will do.

I have written this on and off through the day and now it is time to clean the table off for dinner!
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-22 01:22 pm

making the wrong things right

There is a lot of stress, just now, and I am not enjoying it -- well, who would? Perhaps someone. But I am carving out time and space for good things, and I am much more interested in writing about them than the other.

Yesterday I drove some ways to the smaller town nearish by where my friend C. lives and spent time sitting in a lovely coffee shop talking about Kieron Gillen's new comic, DIE, and then we went to lunch at an Italian place where I feasted upon ravioli in lamb sauce and we talked more about the comic -- and about other things too, books and manga and anime and films and even a little bit about our lives, but it kept circling back around to the comic because it is so much in the sweet spot of our mutual interests, gaming (mostly his, we do not game any more although we did once), and portal fantasy (very much mine) and the imaginary becoming real -- my favourite sort of portal fantasy, like Pamela Dean's Secret Country trilogy, where part of the intensity of it is the characters being uncertain if they invented the world they are now living in and are thus somehow responsible for all the things happening, or if the world was speaking to them all along and if that latter, why? It was a very pleasant time, and the drive also, the hills are intensely riotously green green green right now, and to see him is up more into them than I usually go, so I could see all the folds and shapes of the landscape as I drove, although I had to be careful not to be too distracted by the pleasure of looking at the form of it all. And then back home for a lovely afternoon with my children.

Today, more stress, and I had a mild temper tantrum to which my patient spouse listened and provided comfort and affection, and then I got my hair cut so I feel more assembled and ready to deal with the world, and then I came home and was reading this evocative post about perfumes by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and was reminded of how much I wanted to try out Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab back in the 2000s but at the time it seemed too much money for an indulgence -- so I have ordered some imps (the same sizes) and I look forward to seeing if my nose can tell the difference between the various notes and if the scents change on my skin -- well, I am certain they will, but will I be able to tell?

It occurs to me that when I am stressed I tend to distract myself by attempting to learn new things, which seems not so bad, despite the constraints of time. Something to keep in mind, I think, as it is always easy to find something to learn.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-18 12:52 pm

Monday reading

Recently Finished

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen -- For ToB, mentioned previously, an autobiographical novel about a 30ish man going to Russia to take care of his ailing grandmother, or possibly to be manipulated by his capitalism-embracing older brother into selling her apartment. It was very funny and fairly dark about life in the current Russia, and it stuck the landing perfectly. I have since read a little of Gessen's online essays, and the voice is very similar, so anyone who likes Why Did I Teach My Son to Speak Russian? may well like the novel. (And searching for that I found Masha and Keith Gessen on Writing About Russia, which looks all sorts of fascinating -- I had known they were siblings, I had not known Masha is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I am curious to hear them talking to each other about their different feelings and approaches.)

The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin -- I am not sorry I read it, but for me as it went on it began to seem weird to no purpose. I still think it will make for good in-person discussion, but I am in no hurry to read more Sorokin.

At Amberleaf Fair by Phyllis Ann Karr -- This was one of my favourite books in junior high and rereading it I see precisely why; it is charming and soothing and cosy, my favourite sort of fantasy in which nothing happens but the world is so beautifully textured and the characters so engaging that I wish there were thousands more pages of them just going about their lives. Although come to think of it, this was not so much my speed in junior high, in which I preferred things to be dripping with emotional drama, so perhaps it was just a pointer toward my adult tastes? Regardless, I am happy [personal profile] rachelmanija read it in November, as that is what informed me that it is available as an ebook and spurred me to reread it. I am going to try to put together an entire post on it.

On the Go
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo -- This has already washed out of the ToB, but I am enjoying it and going to finish it -- it is about Filipino immmigrants in a town very close to where I live, and the main character looks to be some variety of queer, and it is very immersive, language is not translated but allowed to be understood from context. It is not light, but it does not feel heavy for the sake of being heavy, just real and interesting.

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett -- YA romance set in San Francisco with an interesting, realistic protagonist and (thus far) romantic development which is actually engaging.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson -- This is pure middlebrow goodness, a cosy village novel that uncosies itself by dealing with racism around a Pakistani family in the village, but then cosies itself again because our middle-aged old-school protagonist is so clearly going to come down on the side of goodness and justice and probably end up falling in love. I will be shocked if this does not end with a wedding.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse -- I am mixed about this because I just do not like this genre enough, but I am reading it anyway and trying to keep an open mind, mostly because a friend of mine enjoyed it and it would be good to talk with her about it. There are definitely parts that I like, and now that I am getting some of the protagonist's backstory she makes more sense to me.

A Gilded Vanity by Richard Dehan -- 1916, there is definitely no Great War occuring, upper class people are marrying for money, the shock of it all, and everyone is very cynical and hardbitten and the hero has gone off to be someone diplomatic in Persia and the heroine is about to make continual wrong decisions in her belief that riches is more important than happiness. It is incredibly overwritten, every noun has some adjectives, and I am enjoying it like anything.

The March North by Graydon Saunders -- I had been sort of grazing on this one for quite a while, but having finished the Karr it is my next focused speculative read, and I ended up going back to the beginning and rereading the first five chapters straight through now that I have the rhythm of the world. I enjoyed it the first time, lost as I was, but even more rereading it with some grounding, and now I feel well and truly launched.

No Longer On the Go
I gave up on both The Mars Room and The Golden State -- the former because it began to feel like misery tourism, the latter because the depiction of being an isolated mother of a toddler brought back my emotions from those days so intensely -- particularly the mix of 'I will die if I miss a second of my child's amazing life which is already passing tooo fast' clashing with 'I will die if I do not get to sit quietly for several days' -- I felt on the verge of being overwhelmed; I think I might go back to it at a different time in my life.

Milkman eventually, but I will wait for the Castillo novel to finish first.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan, as some lighter literary criticism is always a pleasure.

The astute reader will notice that I am, in fact, reading any number of quicker, lighter novels, as I mentioned was my plan the last time I wrote about my reading. It is a joy, and will likely continue until the amount of ambient stress in my life decreases.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-18 12:06 pm

sufficiently warm irons for striking

I lost the impetus to write here a bit during another round of mildly ill children -- nothing worrisome, but enough that they were home from school -- and then the details around spouse's upcoming surgery, the exact timing of which is still shrouded in mystery so I do not know if I need to arrange childcare etc. We should know for certain Wednesday, I hope. I dislike the constant wear of it all, and my own up-and-down sleep, but eventually it will be done, and for just now I have found some urge to write here again, so that is something.

I have been enjoying the ToB very much, commenting enthusiastically on most days even though I have not read all the books, and I have been working in fits and starts upon my fiction project, which right now I believe will someday be something other people can read, although that belief is very ephemereal. Elderly catten has still not made it to the vet (I had to reschedule, and then to cancel, due to smol son being ill, and I have not yet rescheduled again because of all the other things) and there are a lot of emails I need to be sending that I am ignoring, but ah well, all the work will still be here in the days to come, I have faith.

The weather here is briefly beautiful; sunshine and a little breeze and warm tending almost to hot. On Saturday spouse and I took the children to the nearby 'lake' which is really just a large pond, but large enough that for them to ride their scooters halfway around and back again was an adventure for my smol son, and before the riding they played extensively on the playground and spouse and I sat in the sun and looked at the ducks and Canada geese and other water birds and listened to their discussions -- so much quacking and honking and splashing, to what end I do not know. It was lovely and I am glad to have had it. Yesterday was harder; spouse was exhausted and depressed and there were chores to be done, but we made it through and everyone has clean laundry in their drawers, and now it is Monday noon and I am sitting in the sun that comes through my bedroom window drinking decaf coffee and contemplating what task to attack next.

Next up: Monday reading, because to wait for Wednesday is sheer folly.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-07 02:19 pm

little wind and some rain

I thought I was going to write here yesterday in the interstices of putting together Girl Scout lesson plans (for our girls to use to teach younger girls), but that ended up being all-consuming. And surprisingly fun, although I could have done with more than a few hours to throw it all together. There is a conversation to be had with the other involved adults about timing and planning and committing to things without a real sense of the effort/work involved... but let us be entirely honest, I felt something like a rock star getting it all well done in short order and then delivering it successfully such that the girls seemed enthused and engaged. But still, let us be sensible rather than adrenalised, really.

Now, today, Thursday, the Tournament of Books is underway, and I have spent the day deliberately lying in bed enjoying the ToB commentariat and then starting to catch up reading journals here. I had thought I might write today, I seem to have found the shape of a project that has been simmering a long time, but the lying in bed commenting on other people's books is much more enjoyable, and after this extremely busy week I am glad to rest. Tomorrow will have a vet visit for the elderly cat (this was scheduled for yesterday but had to be bumped due to writing lesson plans) and possibly brunch with a friend -- if the cat goes well and the brunch does not come off, perhaps I will write then, but the to-do list still looms rather large, and the weekends are not much for sending volunteer coordination sorts of emails and the other things which constitute my non-homemaking work.

Time now to go fetch my children and begin the latter half of the day. I am glad I rested.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-03-04 11:58 am

monday life update

Today is the first day in a very long time that I have felt reasonably like my normal self in terms of energy and ability to breathe deeply without coughing or sneezing. I am not certain it will last for the entire day, but for the moment I will take it.

This being so, it is also time to begin catching up on the truly enormous piles of things I am behind on in every area of my life. I have booked a vet appointment for my elderly catten who has kidney issues, and I have done some banking things. (Also I have cuddled the non-elderly cat extensively, although not enough for his liking; he is lying in my lap as I type this, grabbing me with his paws to indicate where I am supposed to be petting.) Next on the list is an agenda for the upcoming Girl Scout meeting and some overdue scheduling emails with friends; I had not wanted to commit to seeing people until I was fairly certain I could follow-through, but things are now looking rosier in that regard.

There is still much more stress in my life than I would like; spouse continues to have medical issues, knowable and treatable ones but they are impacting his quality of life and thus the family, plus I love him and thus mind a lot that he is frequently exhausted and unhappy. I am hoping to get a timeframe for his (fairly straightforward, we hope) surgery today, so I can plan all the other things around it and pull out if necessary from other committments. But I am engaging in self-care in various forms; I realised that trying to finish my ToB list by the deadline was feeling unpleasant, so I have let that go, and thus over the last few days I watched a lot of AKB0048 rather than intensively reading literary fiction, plus there was a very nice trip to the farmer's market with smol daughter (no berries, but handmade tamales, fresh apple cider, beautiful sweet grapefruit, and a treat of kettle corn for her and cheese corn for me), and she and I watched a bit of The Voice together -- she was theoretically interested in the fall but the music did not really hold her attention, whereas over this past weekend she was quite intrigued and had many comments on the songs and delivery.

The ToB starts Wednesday, and when it starts I might suddenly have a surge of energy to want to tackle some of the books I have abandoned, but if not I am going to put together a fun reading list of speculative fiction and dive into that over the next few weeks, and also I hope really tackle the (enjoyable) work of figuring out how to write about books here, assuming no rising creeks etc.

Now it is time for lunch.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-02-26 01:22 pm

march approaches at high velocity

Today after dropping off the children I went directly to the vet's to pick up perscription food for our elderly cat; it is not a very long drive (15 minutes each way), but a direction I do not usually go, closer to the dark-green hills that separate our valleys from the ocean, and it was a hazy, misty day, the hills covered with fog, very gray with just hints of glow in the sky to indicate where the sun was hiding -- and then one moment when I turned and saw a faint rainbow like a watercolour wash, incredibly wide bands of very pale colours spread across the gray sky. It was absolutely lovely.

Now I have been home for a while, and have eaten and had my antibiotics and caught up on a large pile of paper mail (bills and such things) and sent email explaining why I am not volunteering today and taken painkillers for sinus pressure and read a little bit and now I ought to eat something more and then get the gymnastics bag ready for after school activities.

I am much more tired than yesterday which has largely been the pattern with this infection, every good day is followed by a day of exhaustion. I hope the antibiotics turn it around soon.
alchimie: (Default)
2019-02-25 01:45 pm

Wednesday appears on a Monday due to illness

Mostly I played soothing iPad games, but I try to avoid screens before bed, so I did in fact make more progress on my ToB reading, as well as a few other things.

Recently Finished
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo -- I enjoyed this while I was reading it; it has a very strong female voice and an interesting trajectory, but a few weeks later and I have almost forgotten that I read it, which is not a strong recommendation. I do wish to read more by Guo, I am curious to see what sort of variety she has in her writing.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Urrea -- This took forever but I am glad I stuck with it, because eventually I found my rhythm with it and fell in love with the complicated, sprawling Mexican-American family that is the centre of this book. I usually do not like books with shifting POVs, or men contemplating the sexual charms of women at length, or flashbacks, but this one did all of those things and did them well and with good reason. Urrea treats his characters with such love and generosity that I felt challenged to do the same with people in my life, especially those I might hastily judge on surfaces -- a wonderful thing for a book to do. I might have started this without the ToB, but I do not think I would have stuck with it.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje -- This is another one I am very grateful to the ToB for, because I had tried an Ondaatje some years ago (Anil's Ghost) and did not get anywhere with it and had him slotted in my mind as an author I did not like -- but this was absolutely lovely, a hazy recollection of adolescence in post-WW2 London, told so beautifully that it evoked for me the actual workings of memory, how particular objects stick with me when the events surrounding them fragment and fail, and how the most personal moments of a life still connect to the fabric of the times -- the protagonist is both disconnected from the just-ended war and profoundly affected by it from many angles of approach. This may be my favourite book of this year's list so far, although I still have quite a few to go.

On the Go
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner -- I am finding it hard to talk about this book, because it is so bleak and painful and yet I cannot quit reading it. At 1/3 of the way through it is largely focused on Romy, who is on her way to life in a women's prison, and the narrative voice is unsparing in all the details, the petty humiliations and infinite absurdities of the prison system, the life events that led Romy to this place and where her regrets do and do not fall. It is very good so far, but I have to take it in small doses because I know it is reflecting a very unpleasant reality about what the criminal justice system does to so many human beings.

A Terribe Country by Keith Gessen -- Andrei emigrated from Russia to the US when he was a child, but now he's an adult with a graduate degree in Russian studies who cannot find a job, and his grandmother back in Russia needs someone to stay with her as her health declines -- so off he goes, back to that "terrible country" his parents were so eager to get away from. I am about halfway through this one and really enjoying it; it does not have the weight that a lot of the others have, but it is very interesting and clearly a book about life right now. I hope it sticks the landing.

The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin -- This is a very, very weird book that starts off like a Chekovian short story -- there's a doctor and he's trying to get to where the epidemic is but there's a blizzard so nobody in the small village wants to try to drive him, plus there are no horses... except then it turns into magical realism, or possibly an absurdist fairy tale, or something other than a realist Russian novel, so I am reading eagerly to figure it out with occasional pauses to take it in. This is the March book for an in-person book group I am trying out, and seems like it is going to lead to excellent discussion.

Milkman by Anna Burns -- This won the Booker last year and I think I can see why. I have read the first 15 pages and it is told in a sort of stream-of-consciousness that really does feel like riding on water, I dive in and then as long as I just keep reading I am fine and it all makes sense, but when I pause I realise I am out of breath. It is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I think, and I have no idea where it is going to take me.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling -- There is a woman unhappy in her job and she takes her child and drives to the mobile home she inherited from her grandparents, located in an imaginary state somewhere where actual Wyoming or Montana is, and I have been assured that this is not a book about Imperilled Children so I am still reading it but it has not hooked me yet.

10 days until the ToB starts! I am not going to make it through the entire shortlist this year, there is simply not enough time, but I think I will finish everything I have mentioned here, and perhaps break into one or two more. I rather stalled out on There There that I mentioned last time -- it turned out to be a book that shifted PoV every chapter and I am so impatient with that, but I ought to give it one more try because it has a good chance of taking the entire tournament by storm and I will be frustrated if I have not read it.

I think once the ToB is underway and I am done reading for it I will dive into my lovely pile of speculative fiction that has been accumulating over the last few months, because it is sadly neglected and I am ready for something different.
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2019-02-25 11:07 am

a quiet return

I have been sick for about five weeks now -- three weeks of low-level congestion and coughing, and then suddenly a proper cold with all the symptoms (sneezing, serious congestion, headache, sore throat, etc etc) and then it started to go away and came back with a vengeance for 10 more days of discomfort and interrupted sleep and severe exhaustion -- so today I went to the doctor and now there are antibiotics waiting for me at the nearby pharmacy, and I will go get them after a shower and starting some laundry. I am looking forward to feeling better; the actual infection symptoms are mostly mild but the exhaustion is extreme, and much of my smol children's lovely week of break was lost to me lying in bed only moving when I absolutely had to feed & care for them, rather than the fun trips to the beach and the trampoline park and frozen yogurt that were planned. I did host a sleepover, however, and manage to send my daughter to another sleepover and a playdate and some Girl Scout cookie selling, so it was not a total loss, but both the children are rather grumpy and with good reason.

Exhaustion meant the thought of writing here or anywhere -- really any kind of communication with other people -- felt impossible; it may have been exacerbated by a lack of sunlight, so last night I uncovered the window by my bed, meaning that I woke up earlier (not good for the amount of sleep I get) but I woke up to natural light, and it seems to have helped my mood and energy levels -- and thus, here I am, writing away rather than doing what I need to do to go get my antibiotics, so I will attend to the necessaries and then, I hope, write again later and also start catching up on my reading list. I am looking forward to it.
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2019-02-08 11:04 pm

getting older...

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..."

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2019-02-08 01:34 pm

Interests Meme

[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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2019-02-08 12:36 pm

Friday is busily making up for Wednesday's sick day

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.
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2019-02-06 10:19 am

all walls are great if the roof doesn't fall

There have been some lazy weekend days, some busy volunteer days, and here in the centre of the week both my children are home sick with colds -- not entirely to my surprise, they have had various symptoms over the last days, but always at a level they could ignore, no fevers or other reasons to keep them home, but this morning seeing them so exhausted and both coughing I decided enough was enough. I almost always feel a little guilt when I keep them home without fevers or upset stomachs, since there is certainly an aspect of my own pleasure in it -- I enjoy them, I enjoy being home with them, I enjoy lazy days when we are all in our pajamas keeping our own schedules -- but I think in the case of today it is well justified, and hopefully the day of rest will strengthen them to get back to school tomorrow and finish out their week.

The weather here has been strange and beautiful; we had enough cold along with rain to have snow on our hills, both the inland hills where I have once or twice in the last twenty-four years of living here seen snow, but also on the hills (small mountains?) between here and the ocean, where I have never seen it before. The inland hills turn shades of brown and gold by May or June or so, but when the rains come each year (if they do) they become brilliant bright green that makes me think of photographs of Ireland, and yesterday they were this green with crowns of white that almost looked like low clouds until the sun broke through and made them glow. I took picture after picture standing outside my house looking out at them, but I do not think any did them justice; if any did I will perhaps upload them here, later on. As for the ocean hills, they are covered in trees, redwoods and many others, and are all times of year a beautiful dark green/blue/black, but yesterday they shifted to grays about halfway up, trees heavy with the snow, and the actual mountain we can see from our home (it has a name so I suppose it is a mountain rather than just a hill) snow-covered, all its bones limned by the white. These I could not get pictures of, I only saw them driving, so I hold it in my mind, the utter strangeness of seeing the hills pale gray instead of dark.

I like where I live very much, despite the strange seasons where the green is winter and the brown is summer and there is hardly any autumn until November and then never enough for me, and I feel lucky that the house I am in which I hope will eventually belong to my children -- a generation home, I think it is called -- is here on the edge of things, such that all the amenities of a sprawling city are nearby, shopping and restaurants I can walk to just a few blocks away, and yet turn the opposite direction and it is all hills and parks and sky. I drove south on Monday evening to meet new people (a post in itself, it was nerve-wracking and strange and largely enjoyable) and took a surface street instead of the freeway and had a breath-taking moment as I drove where the streetlights and strip malls and little lights of houses faded out and I went up a hill and was suddenly driving through what, in my childhood, we called "the country" -- it was night and lightly raining and there was nothing to be seen, no lights, not even the shapes of trees or buildings, just darkness and the road and no other cars for a few miles. If I drive it again it will be a little more familiar, or there will be traffic and thus the lights of cars, or a clear sky and moonlight -- but that first time it was pure adventure, just myself as the car and trying to keep the shape of the road and trusting that eventually it would come out into town again so I could go to the house where I was trying to go. I am feeling strongly just now how much rhythm and routine my life has, that a drive on a new road at night is of such notice, but I think I am more pleased than not; I like to be able to see and feel the small things.
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2019-01-31 10:50 am

2018 Year in Review: Books

Inspired by [personal profile] enemyofperfect who is a constant source of inspiration and delight.

Top 5 Books of 2018
  1. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, tr. Megan McDowell -- this was a pick for the 2018 Tournament of Books and I did not mean to read it, because the one-sentence description I had heard was everything I do not read (children in peril), but then I looked at the first page, and next thing I knew I was racing through it. It is an amazing, amazing book, and I was delighted that it won last year's ToB. I recommend it highly, but I would read it in a well-lit room on a strong day; it is definitely horror, even if not the sort of horror I was previously familiar with.

  2. The Idiot by Elif Batuman -- a big sprawling extremely funny novel in which nothing really happens and that is, for me, very much the point. I have never identified so much with a protagonist as I have with Selin, the Turkish-American young woman whose freshman year in college is the centre of this novel. My favourite sentence: "It felt amazing to eat anything without having to listen, nod, smile, or do anything with my eyebrows" -- this is exactly how I feel when I come home from dropping off my children and am able to sit down and just be by myself without having to make certain my face is animated and conveying my emotions to onlookers -- and for me the entire book was full of those moments where I was like, yes, that is just the words for how I feel about it. This was another ToB book, pleasantly enough; I think 2018 was the only year I got two favourites off of the shortlist, not that I have been following it for very long.

  3. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler -- There is a sort of contemporary novel that I love which seems to get heavily panned by many readers because it is neither deep and serious enough, nor light and frothy enough, and Sweetbitter is a fine example of it. It's about Tess, a young woman working at a restaurant in New York, learning the world in a fragmented, inaccurate way which felt very real to me, and it was intensely pleasurable all through. I loved how Danler wrote about food and cooking and the pleasures of the body, and also how she wrote about the protagonist's infatuation with the lives of others; the prose is overwrought and emotional and perfect for evoking that time in my own life, when working was an adventure and older people were potential models and also potential threats -- there is actually a perfect Carrie Fisher quote about this: "Back then I was always looking ahead to who I wanted to be versus who I didn’t realize I already was, and the wished-for me was most likely based on who other people seemed to be and the desire to have the same effect on others that they had on me." That was absolutely me in my late teens and through my twenties, and that is Tess as well, and Danler illustrates it perfectly without coming down in judgement on any of it.

  4. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee ([personal profile] yhlee) -- I love books that just dive in to their worldbuilding as though all the foreign concepts were already familiar to the reader; I am sure there is a lot of craft going on to make it so that the reader can piece it together, but the feel of it in the moment is that I am reading a text from the world in question -- obviously everyone already knows what calendrical heresy and formation instinct are, why would the narrator spend time explaining? I loved this entire trilogy, but the first one had both a fantastic story, a flavour of multiplicity in one of the plot elements that made me feel represented even though I doubt that was in the author's mind, and that brain-stretching worldbuilding that I adore. I am tempted to reread it but I am giving it more time to settle first; some books I reread so often that I use them up and I would hate for that to happen with this one.

  5. The Man Who Lived by SebastianL (felix_atticus) -- I have already mentioned this amazing 250,000 word Draco/Harry fanfic that made me fall in love with the entire notion of fanfic, the entire notion of rewriting Harry Potter to talk about how cult-like the wizarding world is, and several other things besides. It absolutely deserves to be on this list; it has not only very good & recognisable canon characters but a cast of original characters that I ended up caring deeply about. It was exactly what I needed when it came my way, and I am so grateful that it exists and has given me new ways to think about myself and my past and the world at large.

Honourable Mentions: Circe by Madeline Miller, Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey.

I had planned to do the other four categories in this same post, but I ended up writing so much about books I think I will break them off into their own so that it is not too long of a page. Looking back over my last year of reading and thinking about what I loved was delightful and made me very exicted to dive back into my current TBR in case any of them turn out to be treasures.
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2019-01-31 10:17 am

a mingled measure

I have been feeling very meh as of late, for unknown reasons which may involve continuing local stressors (spouse is having round three of medical testing to figure out why various bloodwork numbers are so atypical), or may be due to long-ago trauma anniversaries, or may just be sleep deprivation/not enough sunlight/lack of vitamins or most likely some combination of all three. Today, however, for whatever equally unknown reason, I am feeling pleased with the world and desirous of talking to others, which is a lovely change of pace.

Last night spouse had gamers over, as is the Wednesday routine, and the particular gamer who provided dinner brought Oaxacan food from a local restaurant I hadn't known about before. I had enchiladas with mole negro, which is a long-standing favourite that I had not had in many years, and was very pleased with this version -- very rich mole sauce, soft tortillas, chicken flavourful rather than dry, and the beans and rice on the side were exactly to my taste -- I have a hard time with beans but these were very, very good. And then for appetisers, at my request he got chapulines, which are fried grasshoppers; I'd never had them before but I was very curious to try them, and I knew smol daughter would probably be likewise curious -- she ate crickets a few years back at a school event and enjoyed them a lot. As it turned out, the chapulines were absolutely delicious -- buttery, smoky, spicy, with lime juice to squeeze on, and surprisingly umami and satisfying. I did have a moment of difficulty when we first opened the container because they just do not look like food (yet), but I am glad I overcame it because I enjoyed them much more than I could have imagined and would certainly eat them again. Smol daughter enjoyed them too, and took them as a component of her lunchbox today, which may make for interesting stories to hear at pick-up time.

Tonight spouse is going to dinner and a museum with a friend, which means that once the children are in bed I can loll about watching Netflix -- I am almost done with the most recent season of The Great British Bake-Off, and I am wanting to pick up Terrace House again; I am still early in the most recent series, but already I have become very attached to two of the residents and am hoping they are successful in their goals and keep enjoying each other's company.

I am in a writing mood today, so almost certainly more to come.