ursula: (sheep)
2017-09-06 08:09 pm
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reading Wednesday

What did you recently finish reading?

Sherman Alexie's memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. It's roughly half poetry, which I hadn't realized. He loops around, retelling family stories with different details and arguing about the interpretation, in a way that actual families do. I actually first encountered Sherman Alexie's writing through his columns for The Stranger about why Stranger readers ought to appreciate basketball. I haven't spent very much time in eastern Washington, where Alexie grew up, but reading his memoir made me miss the Northwest anyway.

I also read two short stories by friends of mine: Metal and Flesh by Marie Vibbert, and Hyddwen by Heather Rose Jones. Marie's short stories tend to be simultaneously cheerful and dire. This one delivers. Hyddwen captures the feel of Welsh legend. Our heroine approaches a typical fairy-tale task with a woman's traditional skills (baking, spinning) and without a host of forest creatures obliged to help. I really admired the way that skill at spinning flax is valorized, as skill with a sword might be in another story.

And I skimmed '"The Language of the Coast Tribes is Half Basque": A Basque-American Indian Pidgin in Use between Europeans and Native Americans in North America, ca. 1540-ca. 1640' by Peter Bakker, which makes a pretty good case for the language development described in its title, and definitely falls into the category of things I wish somebody had told me about years ago.

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading A.M. Dellamonica's Child of a Hidden Sea, which reminds me a little bit of Alis Rasmussen/ Kate Elliott's Labyrinth Gate, on my tablet in the evenings, and Elliott's new novel Buried Heart in snatches on my phone during lunch breaks.

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm hoping to get Choctaw Genesis, 1500-1700 from the university library. (I've encountered a couple of SCA people recently who were interested in Society personas reflecting their Choctaw heritage, so I'm poking around to see what academic resources exist.)
ursula: (Default)
2016-06-29 09:04 am
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books!


  • 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: (sheep)
2016-03-30 12:37 pm
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reading Wednesday

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.
ursula: (Default)
2013-08-28 09:08 pm
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'What are you reading?' Wednesday


  • 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: (icosahedron)
2013-01-16 08:19 pm
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'What are you reading?' Wednesday


  • What are you currently reading?

    Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith; [personal profile] sartorias mentioned yesterday that her book was on sale for $.99. It might be still, depending on when you read this! Thus far, it's entertainingly fluffy.

    I'm also reading bits and pieces of an abridged version of Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks, and Fanny Burney's Camilla. Best anecdote from Gregory of Tours thus far: the time when one of the Franks plotted to kill his brother by hiding a bunch of armed men behind a curtain, but the curtain was too short, so the men's feet were visible, and the brother was on guard. Eventually the schemer gave his brother a valuable silver dish to persuade him to go away. Thus far much of the plot of Camilla is driven by her Comically Illiterate Uncle; I tend to find him somewhere on the continuum from embarrassing to horrifying, rather than comic, which makes it slow going.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, and The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.

    The Edwardians was interesting but ultimately a little slight. I am generally astonished that the BBC has not made a miniseries of it. (Also, it's interesting to see attitudes that I'd associated with Heyer-being-historical showing up as upper-class Edwardian attitudes: complaints about the Dower House, for instance. Layers on layers!)

    I had avoided The Quantum Thief based on fears that it might be a bit too surreal for my tastes, but ultimately found it quite satisfying. The cover blurb is from Charles Stross, which makes sense, because Quantum Thief feels a bit like a less aggressively weird cousin of Singularity Sky. (Both involve a fusion of a late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century Revolutionary aesthetic with quantum-AI-super-science.)

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

    I have Thieftaker and Redshirts out from the library, so likely one of those.

ursula: (sheep)
2012-12-12 01:02 pm
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'What are you reading?' Wednesday

Meme from Book View Cafe.



  • What are you currently reading?

    I am bouncing back and forth between The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and 1610: A Sundial in the Grave by Mary Gentle. Both are historical fantasies which make many nods to old-fashioned swashbuckling Romance (I mean Romance as in roman, not Romance as in people falling in love, though that happens too). The Lions of al-Rassan is about a thinly disguised version of Moorish Spain, while 1610 is an alternate history which begins with our antihero inadvertently aiding in the assassination of Henri IV. I am finding both books rather slow going, which explains the bouncing.

    I have mixed feelings about Guy Gavriel Kay generally: I hated the Fionavar Tapestry in the way that one can only hate books lent by someone else, but liked his Sarantium books and Under Heaven, although I got tired of the hot-tempered hero with a heart of gold with whom everyone falls in love. I might be impatient with The Lions of al-Rassan because I know the period too well (I don't actually know that much about Moorish Spain specifically, but a semester of medieval Islamic history still unfits me for many fantasy novels). Really, though, I think I'm just tired of heavy-handed foreshadowing. I'm also mildly uneasy about religious and gender stereotypes. In particular, I wish Kay would refrain from inventing female characters who seem cool on paper, and then not letting them contribute to the plot. (Seriously, if your character is a skilled doctor who begins the book by vowing vengeance on a king, why do you let her boyfriend kill the king and her dad perform the impossible surgery?) I also find the small-r romance dull; Flowery and Epic is not really my thing.

    The small-r romance in 1610 is boring me, too, which is really too bad, since a cross-dressing woman with amazing rapier skill ought to suck me right in. Gentle goes in for obnoxious grit, though, and reading about sex from the point of view of someone who's mildly disgusted by it is not much fun. The actual plot is cool, though: scheming mathematician-astrologers try to change history!

  • What did you recently finish reading?

    Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (fluffy, slight, and also overtly sexist, classist, and anti-Semitic, if you're keeping score), and The Wrong Reflection by Gillian Bradshaw (as soon as you know it's science fiction, the plot is somewhat obvious; but I was surprised and pleased by our heroine's eventual romantic partner.)

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

    I just acquired Nate Silver's book from the library waitlist, so should probably read it quickly and return it.