Jun. 29th, 2016 09:04 am
ursula: (Default)

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    Listing back a little ways, since these books are thematically akin:

    Full Fathom Five and Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, Night Flower by Kate Elliott, The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar, and Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks.

    I read the first of Gladstone's Craft books, and found it interesting, but a little too aggressively weird for me to relate to any of the characters. Full Fathom Five, on the other hand, drew me in quite quickly. This could mean that I connect with hopelessly noble finance nerds, or that a postcolonial Polynesian setting is easier for me to deal with than a bunch of skeletons. The book starts out looking as if it's a thinly veiled meditation on the machinations that led to the Great Recession, and ends up being about faith. Recommended.

    Last First Snow is about, variously, war, gentrification, and choosing to be a parent. Heroic efforts mean that a doomed plan results in only about 95% of the expected carnage. Meditations on the nature of manhood & fatherhood aren't a theme that I connect with, particularly; if those themes matter to you, I suspect this book will be fascinating/ gripping/ horrifying. I read it in small increments while moving, and had to rush to finish the last ten percent before my library ebook expired.

    Night Flower continued the colonialism theme, and features another Kate Elliott heroine who is really good at selling fruit. Does not emphasize the horrors of war & its aftermath, which was a nice break.

    I read The Winged Histories in one sitting, on a flight to England. I associate Stranger in Olondria with sobbing in a hostel in Toronto; I didn't quite have tears running down my face on my intercontinental flight, but it was a near thing. My thumbnail description for Stranger in Olondria was 'if Ondaatje wrote fantasy novels'. At WisCon, I went to Samatar's talk on influence; she did indeed namecheck Ondaatje, and read excerpts from War and Peace. If you cross that book with The English Patient and then imagine the protagonist as a teenage girl with a sword, you will have some idea of what reading The Winged Histories feels like.

    I'm not entirely convinced The Winged Histories stuck the ending: it's an astonishingly beautiful doomed moment, but the book is complicated enough that I want to know about the messy things after the last page. I should note, also, that while meditations on fatherhood never quite draw me in, meditations on siblinghood always do. Still thinking about that strand, among many strands.

    Fire Logic felt rather a lot like the Steerswoman books in style; if you thought that that series would've been improved by more women kissing, this is definitely the book for you. Oddly, Karis reminded me of my maternal grandmother.

  • What are you currently reading?

    I started The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman, which like all Ryman books is fascinating, brilliant, and very, very weird. It's also an excruciatingly realistic portrayal of how awful it is to be a teenager. I am not quite ready for another amazing literary novel just now, and may put this aside until I'm ready to stop thinking about The Winged Histories.

  • What do you think you'll read next?

    The new Laundry Files book. I'd hoped to find this while at a conference in England, but was thwarted by the paucity of airport bookstores.

ursula: (icosahedron)
My university's student body president made national news this morning, which means it's time to make that essay I've been writing about tenure public:
ursula: (sheep)
Recently read: Nine Princes in Amber.
Currently reading: Guns of Avalon.
Up next: Next one in the series, probably.

I actually stumbled on A/N/N/A/R/C/H/I/V/E, read about half of the Amber Diceless RPG rules linked therein, and decided to go back & see what the Amber books looked like, from an adult perspective.

I read Nine Princes in Amber the first time on a rainy day in the library of the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon coast, when I was about thirteen. I remember wondering why nobody had told me these books existed. I was interested in the world-building, I think, and the propulsive effect of the plot. I don't remember caring about the characters, particularly.

Adult me is struck by how terrible (intentionally) the characters are, and the amount of unintentional privilege conveyed. The sexism is blatant, and the echoes of Earth's colonialist history are likely planned; the casual assumption that the realest people in all of many universes can be distinguished by their pale skin and blue or green eyes is in some ways weirder.

Thirteen-year-old me was irritated by large chunks of the prose. I retain the joke "Blue sky . . . Green sky . . . Dot dot dot . . ." Adult me is interested in the structure, though. There are tales within tales, which reminds me very much of eighteenth-century novels, and a little of medieval romance.


Jan. 19th, 2016 08:46 pm
ursula: (sheep)
[personal profile] thistleingrey asked, "Have you been knitting at all?"

My knitting productivity definitely fell after I became a tenure-track professor, but yes, I have been knitting, even if I haven't been tracking most of it.

A few pictures )

Right now I'm working on a brilliant teal pair of stockings with patterning inspired by this sixteenth-century boys' pair. These gilt-and-green stockings in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are part of the case for bright colors.
ursula: (Default)
[personal profile] pinesandmaples asked, "What recipes do you default to?"

This varies by season. Right now I'm in the middle of a month of travel (holidays followed by conferences), so I'm not cooking much. On a slightly wider timescale, my defaults have been changing because I'm avoiding cheese and [personal profile] glasseye wants lots of protein.

My improvisation-for-lunch standards involve a lot of eggs: frittata with whatever vegetables are around, soy sauce eggs from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East (boil eggs briefly, peel them and cut slashes in them, cook smashed garlic in oil, add soy sauce and brown or palm sugar, simmer the eggs in the sauce until brown), fried rice with a scrambled egg or two, fried egg with rice and stir-fried spinach or mushrooms with lots of hot pepper, maybe scrambled-egg tacos. This quinoa gratin makes a nice template, though I like it more with greens and something savory like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, or bacon than with the rather plain zucchini and cheese in the base recipe. If I've got smoked trout-- there's very nice smoked trout available in Wisconsin-- I'll make something inspired by kedgeree, with leftover rice, a splash of fish sauce, and a bit of almond milk.

Last winter, I bought lots of frozen spinach and peas, canned tomatoes, potatoes and carrots, cucumbers, celery, and the occasional expensive bell pepper or avocado. The regular rotation included soy sauce eggs or egg curry, Madhur Jaffrey's ground lamb with peas (I've been skipping the yoghurt), ginger chicken (dreamwidth locked recipe/ lj locked), "Send the rice down" ground beef with celery (scaled up in quantity, because Fuchsia Dunlop's accounting assumes the number of dishes is the number of people plus one), and the Pok Pok Thai salad with canned tuna, which you can easily make more substantial by adding another can of tuna and whatever crunchy vegetables you've got handy.

This sounds a bit more carnivorous than I actually am, but the vegetarian dinners tend to be prompted more by things like finding some nice fennel in the market, so they don't get repeated as often. Lately I've been excited about chickpea soup with lots of parsley and lemon or preserved lemon, and about wild rice with spinach.


Dec. 31st, 2015 10:39 am
ursula: (sheep)
Suggest some topics, and I'll post about them in January?


Dec. 18th, 2015 09:02 pm
ursula: (bear)
Let's take the Chaucer Hath Blog gift quiz, in the spirit of livejournal of yesteryear.


1. Which element dost thou prefer: fyre, air, earth, watir?

Earth and air. (Careful high-school analysis suggests that I appear to be an earth sort of person, but am actually 100% air. This is probably still reliable.)

2. Ovid or Virgil? The Beatles or the The Stones? Seinfelde or Friendes?

Ovid; the Beatles; let's not.

3. Which humour doth dominate thy disposicioun: yellow bile, black bile, blood, phlegm?


4. What type of rabbit ys best?

My sister's pet rabbits. Careful perusal of Wikipedia suggests that the Havana rabbit is pretty adorable, though.
ursula: (bear)
My translation of the portion of the statutes of the sixteenth-century French Ordre du Saint-Esprit concerning the initiation of a new member. In comparison to fifteenth-century ceremonies, this shows a much greater emphasis on the power of the Sovereign. As one might expect from a kingdom embroiled in religious wars, there is also a far greater emphasis on the role of the Church.

Those who will have been received to enter into said Order . . . )


Jan. 15th, 2015 09:42 pm
ursula: (bear)
I bought early period shoes at An Tir Twelfth Night. I try for sixth century when I'm doing early period stuff, which is a hard time period to buy shoes for: due to market forces, people sell Roman-era shoes and Viking-era shoes, but not much in between. Thus, when I saw comparatively inexpensive, plausibly at least fifth-century shoes, I jumped at the chance.

Of course, afterward I discovered that since I had last checked, there had been a new reconstruction of the sixth-century Queen Arnegunde's shoes, which suggests I really should be looking for something more slipper-like. It's still a better silhouette than my fancy leather Birkenstocks, though!
ursula: (Default)
It's January! I have illusions of unscheduled time! Give me topics to post about.
ursula: (Default)

  • [ profile] aelfgyfu is running a Kickstarter for a new glass furnace:

    Rewards include hand-blown medieval drinking glasses and Dalek ornaments.

  • [ profile] reasie has a story, Jupiter Wrestlerama, up in Lightspeed. She writes, "The core of the story had always been small-town life, and I made it a story about that." If you like stories about economics, hard choices, and the outer reaches of the solar system, you will like this story.

  • [ profile] hrj wrote a book called Daughter of Mystery which I have been pressing on all of my friends who might appreciate a swashbuckling lesbian romance. The magic system is also very interesting. At some point I wrote a list of 'characters who have stuck with me', which divided neatly into independent, imaginative women and absent-minded male scientists. In Daughter of Mystery, women get to be independent, imaginative, and scientifically minded, which, alas, is all too rare. Specifically, the magic in this story is susceptible to careful intellectual (especially linguistic) analysis-- it doesn't just depend on the intensity of characters' emotions, or the power of their specialness-- which I found refreshing.
ursula: (icosahedron)
Justice Calling, an urban fantasy novella by Annie Bellet. This is new-style urban fantasy, with shapeshifters and hot guys (albeit, in this case, not much of an urb: it's set in a fictional small town in Idaho). The sensibility is television-istic: fast pace, witty banter, tragic backstories, and a general tendency to prioritize things that look cool over things that make sense.

An innovative conceit sets this story apart from others in its genre: the heroine uses modern fantasy and science fiction, particularly Dungeons and Dragons, as a frame for understanding her innate magical powers. This is an excuse for lots of nerdy references-- Annie's an old friend, and at times I felt like we were kicking back and reminiscing about campaigns gone by-- but it also makes a lot of sense. Why would someone resort to paging through old tomes, when there are so many ideas about magic readily available?

The conceit makes for some interesting problem-solving on the heroine's part (a Dune reference plays a crucial role in the big showdown, for example). It also offers endless opportunities for readerly metagaming (why hasn't Jade heard of Locate Person?) I want this book to have a fandom so I can argue about it.
ursula: (bear)
This is a Latin scroll text for a new member of the Order of the Laurel with an Italian persona. ([personal profile] zarhooie made the scroll and asked me for text.) It is adapted from a fourteenth-century invitation to the Order of the Knot; you can find a translation in Boulton's book The Knights of the Crown.


Magnifica femina, et fidelis dilecta Sofonisba Vespasiana Gabrielli. Nostra Societas fecit ordinem quemdam Laureae vocabulo insignitum in nobilibus et parilibus quibusdam Capitulis comprahensum, ad quem per nos assumpti sunt, et successive tantummodo assumuntur, quorum sit nobis nota in artibus et scientiis sollertia, et eadem sine discrepantia in quolibet operatione voluntas, inter quos, et de quorum numero te conditionis praemissae feminam connumerandam decrevit nostrae electionis Judicium, et facta Nobis nosceris fidelis socia. LAUREA igitur sub cuius denominatione ORDO ipse sumpsit vocabulum, ecce tibi insigne donamus, et a te recipimus Juramentum in nostris manibus. Suscipiens itaque LAUREAM ipsam, qui sicut frondes laureae figuraliter virescunt in perpetuum, sic Professores illius in scientia crescunt, ita ad multiplicandum tuam sollertiam, et ad tuum vigorandum de virtute in virtutem processum in opere incumbens tibi exhinde coronam laureae portes, quod potioris laudis consequaris augmentum, Sociis praesertim imitabiliter per exemplum, et in ipsis assignandis tibi ex parte nostra Capitulis contineri videbis. Data feria Bellatorum Dominorumque Belli acta baronibus Nordskogensibus et Jararvellensibus die 12 Julii anno Domini 2014 et anno Societatis 49.


Magnificent woman and beloved subject Sofonisba Vespasiana Gabrielli: Our Society made a certain order, distinguished by the name of the Laurel, comprehended under certain noble and peerly Statutes, into which there have been and shall successively be admitted by us those whose skill in the arts and sciences and faithful willingness without discrepancy in any activity is known to us. Among these and of their number the choice of our Judgment has selected you as a woman possessed of the aforesaid qualities: know that you are made by us a faithful companion. Thus the LAUREL, under which denomination the ORDER itself takes its name, behold we give you its badge, and receive from you the Oath in our hands. Therefore, taking up the LAUREL itself, which just as the laurel leaves figuratively grow green forever, just so the professors of the Laurel grow in knowledge, thus for the multiplication of your skill, and to your strengthening, proceeding from virtue to virtue in work incumbent upon you, henceforth may you bear the wreath of laurel, and may you pursue that worthy sign of praise through imitation of the example of your Companions, and through our assignment of these same Statutes to you, you will see how to persevere. Given at the fair of Warriors and Lords of War run by the Nordskogen and Jararvellir barons on the 12th day of July in the year of our Lord 2014 and in the year of the Society 49.
ursula: (Default)
[personal profile] wild_irises wrote, Tell me about a personal event that is a treasured or meaningful memory.

I thought this prompt was interesting for the meta-journal reason that it initially seemed impossible, due to some combination of the attitude that ideas are more interesting to write about than events, and a superstitious feeling that if I'm going around treasuring past events too often, there is probably something wrong with the present.

But actually, 2013 was eventful, perhaps excessively so! I have only glancingly mentioned the fact that I spent four weeks at research workshops this fall, in Toronto, England, and France. This was both fortuitous and overwhelming. The French workshop was Women in Numbers-Europe, so named for its excellent acronym. It was held at CIRM, which is in the hills above Marseille. Adriana and I had a free day in the city after the workshop ended. We decided to take the ferry to the Chateau d'If, which is the fortress in the Count of Monte Cristo. It's a big, white, squarish castle, set on its own island in the middle of the bay. I took an informational pamphlet in French, and Adriana took one in English. The French pamphlet, and only the French one, explained that Francis I was inspired to order the castle's construction when he visited Marseille to see a rhinoceros, which was stopping in the city on its way to the Pope. I bought a T-shirt with the rhinoceros for [personal profile] glasseye.

2013-10-19 14.00.46

On the ferry trip back, we sat on the front deck. We were surrounded by a raucous group of French middle-school girls, who were singing folk songs and hip-hop in loud voices, and trying to dodge the spray. When they discovered we lived in America, they conducted a bilingual interview with us (their English was about as bad as our French). The results were as follows:

  • Do you like hamburgers? (Sometimes.)
  • Do you like fish? (Yes.)
  • Which do you like better, Marseille or Paris? (I have never been to Paris.)
  • Are you in love? (Yes, I have a husband.)
  • What is his name? (Brian.)
  • Have you been to New York? (Yes, my sister lives there.)
  • Have you been to California? (Yes, I used to live there.)
  • Have you met a movie star? (No, but I have friends who work in Hollywood.)
ursula: (Default)
Suggest a topic, and I'll post about it in January? (You can suggest a day if you like; otherwise I'll just use topics until they're gone.)
ursula: (Default)

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar. If you are interested in fantasy novels about cultures and gods that are not alternate-medieval-European cultures and gods, surely you are also reading this book? In many ways it feels like a late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth century novel, with its layers of stories within the story, but it is self-consciously structured and the prose is self-consciously lush in a way that feels more like the modernist writers. Also, it made me cry.

    More slowly, I read The Seljuks of Anatolia, which is a collection of essays about the Turks who were in Turkey before the Ottomans. There's some very interesting historiography here, about Turkish construction of identity and the information you can glean when faced with a dearth of "traditional" sources. I was particularly interested in an essay on the fluid religious identities of the Anatolian Seljuks (some seem to have been professed both Islam and Christianity depending on context). I was also interested in the titles the Seljuks used, and the way they showed a standard pattern of titles used for less and less important people over time: for instance, 'malik', which I'm used to translating as 'king', clearly means something more like 'prince' in the Seljuk context.

  • What are you currently reading?

    Servant of the Underworld, by Aliette de Bodard. This is a fantasy mystery novel about the Aztecs; it's part of my haul from Bakka Phoenix, an excellent science fiction & fantasy bookstore in Toronto. Before I went there, I started Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope, which is unusual among nineteenth-century novels (and perhaps contemporary ones!) in that its heroine is in her mid-thirties.

  • What do you think you'll read next?

    I also bought a couple of spy novels with fantasy overtones; hypothetically one of these is earmarked for [personal profile] glasseye, so that means The Rook ought to be first.

ursula: (Default)
Ginger raspberry fool

Here's a summer dessert I invented. It's a fool, which means custard and berries, though the very oldest fools may just have been custard.

I used the mango parfait recipe at Global Table Adventures for some of the quantities.


1 1/2 tsp packed fresh grated ginger (or a small knob of peeled ginger)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
About 3 pints mixed berries (I used raspberries from our garden and blueberries from the farmers' market)


Whisk the ginger, eggs, and milk with 1 cup cream and 1/3 cup sugar. (I used homemade vanilla sugar, with beans from

Heat the mixture in a small pot over a low flame. Stir frequently with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the pot each time. Don't let the mixture boil! After a while, the custard will begin to thicken. Keep stirring, and don't let the bottom curdle. When the custard is thick but still pourable, pour it into a bowl and chill it. (If you're worried about curdling, strain through a sieve before chilling.)

Rinse the berries and toss them with about a tablespoon of sugar.

As the ginger custard chills, it will thicken. When the custard is chilled, or your impatience triumphs, whip the remaining cream to stiff peaks with the remaining spoonful of sugar and the vanilla. Fold the ginger custard into the whipped cream until they are mixed. Layer the berries and the ginger cream in a serving dish (use a glass trifle dish if you've got one!) Chill again, or serve immediately.
ursula: (bear)
2013-04-28 21.43.01

On Saturday, [personal profile] glasseye and I went to Bardic Madness, a Northshield event which features a series of themed challenges.

One of the challenges asked entrants to memorialize another entry in the style of a sixteenth century broadsheet. I decided that this sounded fun, and went poking through English broadsheets at Early English Books Online (I have access through my university library). I found this fanciful "Callophisus" tourney challenge by Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel. Conveniently, another Bardic Madness challenge asked entrants to create a boast for a fighter.

Next, I needed a fighter. I talked to my friend Anpliça, and learned that Theodweard l'Archier planned to fight for her in Fall Crown; they gave me permission to boast extravagantly on their behalf. Theodweard's heraldry has an oak tree as the main charge. Elizabethan tournaments took themes from Greco-Roman mythology, as well as chivalric romance. I decided to reference the Oracle at Dodona, which was known for its rustling oaks.

With Dodona in mind, I wrote my text, and ordered some fake oak leaves from a milliner on Etsy to make a wreath. I don't own much in the way of sixteenth-century garb, but I remembered the pink dress that [ profile] pandorasbox had given me.

I typeset my text the cheater way, in Word. I used the JSL Ancient and Blackletter fonts. This is a sixteenth-century style font which includes special characters such as the long 's' and a blackletter 'r' without the upright stroke. I tweaked some of my spellings to sixteenth-century spellings, using the "Callophisus" text and the Oxford English Dictionary. I didn't do a full OED check on my text, but I did change 'citizenry' to 'citizens' after learning the former word is out of period. My text as it looked before printing is here.

For the initial letter 'W', I made a two-inch by two-inch linoleum block print. I found some initial 'W's in the EEBO broadsheet collection for models; it turns out that "Whereas" is a common first word, so there were plenty to choose from. I tried to make the floral decoration look a little bit like the flower in Anpliça's arms. Unfortunately, when it came time to print my block print, I discovered that I'd discarded the thinner I had for oil-based ink in one of my recent moves. I had to use water-based ink instead, which is serviceable but doesn't print as cleanly.
ursula: (bear)
Here are some notes on buying a horse for [ profile] ornerie, from The Book Containing the Treatises of Hawking, Hunting, Coat-armour, Fishing, and Blasing of Arms.

A good horse sholde have xv proprytees and condycions.

That is to wyte, thre of a man, thre of a woman, thre of a foxe, thre of an hare: and thre of an asse.

Of a man: bolde: prowde: and hardy.

Of a woman: fayr brested: fayr of heere: & easy to lippe upon.

Of a foxe: a fayr taylle: shorte eeres wyth a good trotte.

Of an haare: a grete eye: a drye heed: and well rennynge.

Of an asse: a bygge chynn: a flatte legge: & a good hove.

Well travelyd wymen nor well travelid horse were never gode.
ursula: (Default)
The tagline for The Twelfth Enchantment is "Jane Austen with magic". Most writers who combine Jane Austen and magic do so because they like Regency romance and fantasy; David Liss usually writes noir-ish detective novels with historical settings, so his take on the premise is non-standard. (I note that many of the Amazon reviews of Twelfth Enchantment boil down to "I'm a big fan of David Liss, but this book has magic and girl cooties, so I don't like it.")

I personally like historical fantasy, but am a bit suspicious of direct Jane Austen tributes. Austen had both an incredible knack for characterization and an intense moral sense, and it's hard for a modern imitator to match either one of those traits, let alone both. Liss's heroine, Lucy, at least notices when she is engaged in ripping giant holes in her reputation about half the time, for which I give her & her creator credit.

Several of the major characters in The Twelfth Enchantment are lifted directly from Jane Austen-- the villain is Lady Catherine de Bourgh by another name, for instance-- and several others are well-known historical figures. Liss's own approach to characterization is more in the mystery tradition, where everyone has a secret motive and might suddenly turn out to have been evil (or good) all along. Lucy spends a lot of time changing her mind about whom to trust and rushing from place to place.

To my mind, The Twelfth Enchantment's closest literary cousins are not Austen at all, but rather Charlotte Brontë's Shirley, with its themes of industrial unrest and Romanticism, together with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The magic in The Twelfth Enchantment, like the magic in Jonathan Strange is a mix of British fairy legends and alchemical lore. Twelfth Enchantment has a genuinely spooky sequence involving a changeling baby, a hilarious bit with a possessed tortoise, and some interesting musings on the ethics of charms. Although the problem is not as carefully worked through as in Jonathan Strange, I think Twelfth Enchantment is making a similar argument about intelligent men who screw things up because their prejudices prevent them from communicating with other people.

June 2016

262728 2930  


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags