2017 reading update!

Last time I had a baby I powered through a ton of books during my maternity leave. Breastfeeding: it’s constant and it’s kinda boring!. This time around I prepped my TBR pile in advance, greedily envisioning the months of fiction absorption ahead of me. Remember the Christmas haul?

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sweet, sweeeeet Christmas haul

I’ve made progress! But not anything like last time! Granted, I’m only 2.5 weeks into these early baby months, but I can already tell that my time isn’t going to be spent in nearly the same way as it was before. That’s partly due to the presence of my toddler, who proooobably won’t tolerate me reading and dozing in a rocking chair for an hour at a time once his dad goes back to work. It’s partly due to my inability to stop buying new books (but… book club! new releases! all those damn recommendations from the Barnes & Noble scifi blog!). As of right now I’m up to number 27 on my Reading 2017 list and way too many of those titles are not from the Christmas haul.

But there is another, far more exhilarating factor, and it is this:

My brain. It isn’t 100% mush.

!!!!

Last time I power-watched the entirety of Parks and Recreation plus a bunch of Netflix shows (Daredevil! Sense8! Orange is the New Black! The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!) and still read a ton of books. Baby was asleep? I was vegging in front of a show. Baby woke up? I was reading while breastfeeding. My brain couldn’t handle anything more.

This time around the newborn transition hasn’t been nearly so debilitating. I’ve already adjusted my daily life around having a kid, so there’s no culture shock to my routine. And I’ve already been sleeping in cruddy, non-consecutive increments for the last two years, so I’m as tired as I ever was, but now I have two years of coping mechanisms in place!

[Ask me again how those coping mechanisms are working in a couple weeks, when my husband goes back to work. This could very well be the delirious optimism of a woman who gets to take mid-morning naps.]

All of which is a long way to say: I’m not just reading and watching TV this time. I’m actually writing again already. Not a mind-boggling amount, but I’m editing the book I finished this spring, and submitting some short stories, and brainstorming some new ideas (though lord knows when I’ll have time to work on them). I’m feeling really good! Except between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m., when this baby likes to groan continuously in her sleep, and the cats start fighting, and the sun rises way too early and perks me up…

This post was supposed to be a reading update, so let’s move along with the recommendations now.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A very humorously written prose retelling of some core Norse myths. I read the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda in college and loved them. They’re some of my favorite bizarre pre-modern stories. My only caveat would be that Gaiman captures the humor of Norse myth but not the fatalism. For me, part of the allure of Norse storytelling is its humor in the face of pending doom–Ragnarok is coming, nobody can stop it, and they’re all going to die. But hey in the meantime let’s laugh at Loki for getting impregnated by a horse.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: A book club pick. It was a little dry but very detailed, and I love reading about civil rights and people carving out spaces for themselves against the status quo, especially not in the 1960s. The 1960s had a lot going on, but according to Hollywood everything was perfectly stable through 1959 and then all of a sudden out of nowhere everything changed in the 1960s. That isn’t how history works! This stuff was brewing for decades! So anyway, you can imagine my discontent when the movie adaptation rearranged everything and shoehorned the women’s stories into the 1960s. And then made it seem like their coworkers were all racist assholes. Like, you’re actively denying these women recognition for earning the respect of their colleagues in the 1940s and 1950s, ignoring the legacy of WWII on the civil service workforce, and failing to give the scientific community credit for being more progressive than the society surrounding it, just to tell the same civil rights story you’ve told in a hundred other movies…

Moving on.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah: Another book club pick. Apparently, I didn’t know nearly as much about apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa as I thought I did! Also, it was really funny! Also, it made me cry! Also, I’m a sucker for stories about people who love their mothers!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: The final volume of the Divine Cities trilogy. It was just as good as the first two (City of Stairs and City of Blades). The end made me very sad. Anyway, that’s a terrible blurb but trust me, go read them.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells: The first novella of The Murderbot Diaries. I’m suddenly reading and loving novellas, after long considering them a weird useless length in between short story and novel. This one was very entertaining. A security bot has become self-aware but keeps going about its normal duties so as not to frighten the people on the science team it works for. Oh and other people are trying to kill them.

Grunt and Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: Extremely entertaining non-fiction by a popular science writer. The first is the science of warfare (everything but weaponry) and the second looks at the incredibly detailed planning of the space program. I was absolutely convinced I had read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and loved it, so I put these on my wishlist. Anyway, it’s a good thing these were great, because it turns out I never read Stiff! I read a different humorous book about death and cadavers: The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson, also highly recommended. Anyway I guess now I’ve got to buy Stiff.

The last two Fairyland books, The Refrigerator Monologues, and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: Just read everything by Catherynne M. Valente.

reading highlight: silence

silence

I don’t remember where I heard about this thirteenth century French romance, but I am so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s an Arthurian tale, though the only classic cast member to appear is Merlin. The thrust of the plot is that the king of England, Evan, decrees that women will no longer be allowed to inherit. A count and countess (whose love story makes up the first third of the work) decide to raise their daughter as a boy so she can inherit their estate.

Hijinks, of course, ensue. The child, named Silence, runs away with minstrels and becomes a famous entertainer. He (and the original French text is very careful to use masculine pronouns for the duration of his life as a man) eventually becomes a valued knight in Evan’s court. Unfortunately, the queen becomes infatuated with Silence, and when Silence rejects her she goes on a vengeful rampage, first accusing him of rape, then sending him off to France to be murdered, then having him sent off on a fool’s quest to capture the wizard Merlin. Hijinks!

What made the story even more entertaining was the narrator’s asides. We get frequent mutterings about how nowadays the nobility is cheap and won’t pay artists what they deserve. There are random digs at the crazy Irish. And Silence’s genderbending story inspires arguments between the allegorical figures of Nature and Nurture, who fight to determine whether the child will be Silentius or Silentia. Oh, and because this is a medieval romance, everybody has the Most Emotional Emotions Ever to Emote! People fainting left and right, unnecessarily elongated lovers’ misunderstandings, it’s all gold.

It’s a quick read and well worth a look. Here are some gems from the translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi.

After hearing arguments from both Nature and Nurture, Silence decides to continue life as a man:

Then he began to consider
the pastimes of a woman’s chamber–
which he had often heard about–
and weighed in his heart of hearts
all female customs against his current way of life,
and saw, in short, that a man’s life
was much better than that of a woman.
“Indeed,” he said, “it would be too bad
to step down when I’m on top.
If I’m on top, why should I step down?”

The count and countess find out that Silence has disappeared with the minstrels, and are… extremely distraught:

their hearts were filled with such anguish
that no one could possibly describe it;
no, not even one one-hundredth of it.
Their hearts were nearly breaking;
they were very close to death.
They kept on fainting and being revived,
and the nobles who came to their assistance
were scarcely able to keep from fainting themselves.

But these people did not dare mourn openly
for fear of killing the countess,
who was barely breathing,
and the count, who was suffering terribly,
because the slightest bit of noise
might have killed them both.

There’s much more fainting where that came from. Check it out!