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!

the book of books

I took a couple weeks off social media to have a baby. And it was a success! I now have a baby. As a result, I haven’t read or written anything new since his arrival, but I have watched five and a half seasons of Parks and Recreation and will finish it soon. The little victories??

I’m not intending to splash my baby around my public blog too much, and will probably continue referring to him as sputnik or just the baby. Rest assured, he is an adorable monster. He looks like a chipmunk and eats like a shark. Right now he sleeps in 2-4 hour cycles, and one day I won’t be glued to a breast pump for half my waking hours. Until that day I’m getting snatches of time to hop online and answer the occasional email.

I’ll have more thoughts on baby business in the coming weeks. I promise, newborn babies are just as grossly entertaining as the final stages of pregnancy! While that percolates, let’s get back to the book blog basics. It’s time to tell you about the Book of Books!

book of books

It is truly booktastic.

This thing is exactly what it sounds like: a notebook in which I list every book I’ve ever read. I’m pretty sure. Actually, I bet there are some elementary school books I missed, and I purposefully left off everything below a certain reading level. I have no idea what that reading level is numbered, but there are 233 books listed along the lines of Roald Dahl, Bruce Coville, Baby-Sitters Club, and so on.

Let’s start over.

When I was eight or nine years old I was struck by the notion that I might forget which books in the house I had already read, and therefore I should start some kind of record. A reasonable fear!! I was also jealous and fascinated by my mother’s Book-O-Dex, a box of index cards listing books she owned, because she kept accidentally re-buying things at the used bookstore. She could call home and say, “Do I have this book already?” and one of us could run to the Book-O-Dex and pull up the record by author.

I really don’t know why it took me 25 years to realize I should study library science.

Unfortunately (or rather FORTUNATELY) I’m the kind of person who has a really hard time quitting a project once it has begun. And that means I have been keeping this Book of Books for about twenty years, because if I ever stop keeping it, and then change my mind, it would be incredibly difficult to backtrack and fix that gap. Therefore I must keep it till my death. I have a post-it note affixed to the inside cover, on which I also keep a running tally of the number of books recorded within. When I hit one thousand books, I threw a Thousand Books Party complete with book cookies, a castle cake, and friendship.

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I’m not even lying.

I’m now at 1,175 books. As I’ve mentioned before, I try to average one book a week these days. It’s not a crazy goal compared to most readaholics (in my junior high days it was 2-3 books a week), but I’m balancing reading against other things. We’ll see how this year averages out with my January-February readathon versus these early months of baby care.

See you next week. And remember: ~~knowledge is power!~~

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… it’s Reading Rainbooooowww!

the pratchett

I’m adding my voice to the horde of online mourners this week. I’ve been meaning to write about Sir Pterry for the last few days, but kept stalling. A nice obituary at Tor has the details so I’ll just talk about my own relationship with his work– and suffice to say, those dang tweets made me cry. (Not to mention, two weeks after losing Leonard Nimoy? I don’t want to talk about it.)

pratchett

Yes the voice of a generation

I’ve read about 40 of his books, almost exclusively Discworld, and they have always been a genius blend of hilarious and thought-provoking. You’re laughing, then you’re thinking, and sometimes you’re crying. Like the dog episode of Futurama, you find yourself weeping, “But I thought this was comedy!!” Because that’s life and one of the most fantastical and entertaining set of fantasy books of our generation has always been rooted in real life.

There are only three Discworld books that I haven’t read, and I sort of want to finish them, but I also sort of don’t want to finish them, because if I don’t finish them there is always more Discworld to read. He has a whole pile of other novels and anthologies but… it’s not the same.

Sir Pterry has a place of honor at the top of my first fantasy bookcase, by the way.

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He is even guarded by The Librarian

The first book I read by Pratchett was actually Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. I grabbed it on a whim in seventh or eighth grade, during one of my Christmas book binges. (AKA mom said I had x dollars to spend for the holidays, so I ran around a bookstore and picked out x dollars worth of books. They were then wrapped and waiting for me under the tree. Best Christmas??)

This is probably still the funniest book I’ve ever read, though no doubt reading it in my formative years MADE it my model for written comedy, the same way that kids who grew up watching The Simpsons were molded for television comedy in a different way than kids who grew up watching Seinfeld. I love it so much that I had already put it in my baby delivery overnight bag weeks ago, and now I am double glad to take it with me for a few laughs while I’m laboring.

After devouring Good Omens (and foisting it on all of my friends at school, thus creating additional lifelong fans), I returned to the bookstore the next time I had funds. I needed MOAR. First I checked out the Neil Gaiman shelf, but I was perplexed at the fact that his books did not seem to be comedies. Disgruntled, I moved down the aisle to Pratchett and STRUCK GOLD. The next one I picked up was The Last Continent, which was the 22nd book published in that world, and one of the few that relied on a couple threads of continuity from previous books. I had no idea who these people were, and no idea why they were doing what they were doing, but oh man it was still so funny! An orangutan librarian? CLASSIC.

(And, as an addendum, I tried out Neil Gaiman in college and was suddenly aghast that I had passed him over so many years before, so in the end it was ALL GOLD.)

Anyway, I was hooked, and I’ve been picking them up ever since.

So I want to say thank you to Sir Pterry for the many years of entertainment behind us, and the very many years of entertainment in front of us, because there are so many readers who haven’t encountered him yet and will be just as thrilled as 13-year-old Sam when they do. Their eyes will light up when they find a stuffed orangutan in the toy store, and when the holidays roll around they’ll pretend it’s Hogfather coming, because kids our age know there’s no Santa… but maybe we can still have Hogfather?

2015 reading update – 1

I’ve been keeping track of all the books I have read since elementary school (I will tell you allllll about the Book of Books in another post), but only in the last few years have I also kept lists by year. If you’re curious, you can check out the annual lists on this site by selecting a year from the “Readings” category in the menu.

I figure every few months I’ll pop in and highlight some of my recent reads, in case anyone else is looking for a recommendation. (Note that not highlighting a book here doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it– this is just the nature of highlights).

This semi-annual blog topic will serve a secondary purpose as well: publicly shaming me into keeping up with my annual reading goal. It’s a modest goal: a minimum of 52 books per year. One new story/plot/world absorbed per week. I know folks who fly through several books a week, and I envy them, but I juggle this against several other life goals, so there you go.

Without further ado!

—–

Books Read So Far This Year: 15 (well on track!!)

Re-Reads:

I started off the year by completing a Harry Potter re-read, which I’ve already blogged about. It was my second time reading through the series, not having read them since they came out, and it was a very satisfying experience! I won’t repeat the same observations, so you can check out my notes here.

New Books by Authors I Already Read:

Clementine by Cherie Priest – I love the Clockwork Century novels, and this was the only one I was missing due to its limited original print run. It did not disappoint! Ex-Confederate spy Maria Boyd is embarking on her first assignment for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, while ex-slave and felonious airship captain Croggon Hainey is trying to hunt down the thieves who took his ship. What else should I say?

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente – I’m planning to devour everything written by this woman, so be prepared for more mentions in this year’s reading updates. The Fairyland series is supposedly for children, but don’t let that stop you. They are just as full of beautiful prose and touching observations as the rest of her work. Read it all!!

Books by New Authors:

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – Hurley had been on my wishlist for a while. I had vaguely heard of her books while drumming up recommendations for less traditional, less Euro-centric SF/F. Then I started reading her blog. Finally I grabbed book 1 of her first trilogy. Bug magic and bounty hunters in an Islamic scifi world ravaged by an endless holy war. I’ll definitely be picking up the other two (Infidel and Rapture) to see how things turn out.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – I read this for my book club and oh my gosh it was hilarious. It is the (mostly true) memoir of blogger Jenny Lawson, and now I’ll have to start following her blog. The book contains a series of anecdotes about her ridiculous taxidermy-infused childhood in rural Texas through an equally strange adulthood grappling with anxiety and OCD. I think this might be the first book (out of the 35 that we have read so far) that everyone in my club enjoyed. It was so funny that I immediately forced it on one of my sisters to read, and when she is done I’ll force it on another one.

childhood reading memories

From around age 8 through high school I read multiple books per week. Just DEVOURED them. In 3rd and 4th grade these were things like Goosebumps, The Baby-Sitters Club, Roald Dahl, and Bruce Coville. I was so enamored with Roald Dahl that I had planned to send him a letter asking for his autograph– and my 3rd grade teacher had to gently break the news to me that he was dead. DEAD!! I feel bad for her, I surely did not take it well.

It is not possible to pick a favorite. I was really excited to start buying these for my niece when she turned 7.

It is not possible to pick a favorite. I was really excited to start buying these for my niece when she turned 7.

By age 10 it was clear that kid’s books were not holding me anymore, and there were only so many installments of The Baby-Sitters Club to be found in local library used book sales, so the summer before fifth grade I skipped YA (did it even exist at the time?) and went straight to reading my mom’s books. So basically I have this 2-3 year period of formative childhood books.

Aside: There were 131 books in the main Baby-Sitters Club series, plus numerous spin-offs and special issues. Though now that I look it up on Wikipedia, Ann M. Martin only wrote the first 35 and the rest were ghost-written, mostly by some guy named Peter?? I FEEL SO BETRAYED. I also wrote for her autograph, which I received, but which in later years I realized was a mass-printed photo of her with signature included. A childhood of lies.

It must be noted that I was Team Claudia all the way. She was Japanese, and into art, and had fuuunky style, and ate tons of junk food. I even had this amazing Claudia doll with overalls, a puffy pirate shirt, and pink tights. Oh ho ho, that was so Claudia.

babysitters club

Blow a whistle in the phone, Claudia! That’ll stop those dang heavy breathers.

Even though I transitioned to adult books when I was 10, I didn’t entirely cut off the great authors of my youth. You don’t just STOP reading new Bruce Coville books! Unlike Ann M. Martin he actually WROTE all of his books. Wikipedia tells me that his previous jobs included toymaking and gravedigging, and that is all I need or care to know about the man. My Teacher is an Alien, Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, it was all gold.

So I had a few more years leading into junior high in which I was still reading R.L. Stine alongside Stephen King. Another series that has a fond place in my memory was the Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, which my brother first started reading and then got me into. In this series I was aaaalll about Tobias. That boy got his ass stuck as a bird like on DAY ONE of animorphing, and it was just so tragic.

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Dude what did they JUST tell you, there is a TIME LIMIT OR YOU GET STUCK

Second-best to Tobias was CLEARLY Cassie, who worked at a wildlife rehab clinic with her parents, and was a total pacifist but still had to suck it up and do battle with aliens for the sake of all humanity.

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Cassie I have no criticism for you, you are a natural at this.

I was so into the Animorphs that I wrote my own rip-off book about kids fighting aliens– except mine was in SPACE, which is clearly superior, and I don’t even remember who they were fighting but it was probably better than brain slugs. My book was called Fateful Encounters, Book One of The Galaxy Chronicles. It was about 180 pages and it was so melodramatic and awful but I wrote it in six frenzied days during summer vacation, and that’s got to count for something.

harry potter re-read

harry potter covers

The covers I grew up with

Oh Harry Potter! I got on the bandwagon a couple of books in, I believe because my brother and mother were reading them. From Book 4 or 5 through the end I was reading them as they came out. It was such a big deal when the last book came out! We were buying a single set for the home, naturally, which meant the four people in the house hooked on the series by then had to schedule different reading times to share it. I remember frantically reading through the end one afternoon, sniffling over some death scenes, and everybody around me yelling, “OH GOD, DON’T TELL US WHO DIES!”

I received a lovely box set of the series for Christmas, since I tragically never owned my own copies. Since then I’ve been rereading the series, basically for the first time since they were released.

The first four books were pretty much as expected, their general contents having been reinforced in my mind by the movies (don’t worry, I won’t be doing a book vs. movie blow-by-blow here). I lost interest in the later movies, though, so those books have been more of a trip.

Order of the Phoenix:

This was my least favorite of the series when I was in high school, and that impression still stands. The entire plot revolves around Harry acting like a shit to everyone and not doing what he’s told. Now, I fully acknowledge that this is valid character development for a teenager who has been through the traumas he had been through. That doesn’t make it a fun read, though.

My shift in focus: the death of Sirius was still sad, and I felt for Harry, but the character of Sirius wasn’t quite as sympathetic as when I was younger. This time around, the scene that actually made me cry was much earlier on: when Molly Weasley tries to get rid of a boggart at headquarters, and they find her hysterical because it’s taking on the form of her children all murdered? Ooh I wept.

Half-Blood Prince

My main memory from my first time reading this book was, “The one with all the snogging?” This time around it didn’t seem so prevalent or overbearing. Harry wasn’t such a dick to all his friends, so kudos there. I still don’t buy Ron and Hermione’s relationship. And of course: Dumbledore nooooo. Dumbledore you had all year to give Harry a rundown about this stuff, why did you pace it ouuuuut.

Deathly Hallows

I’m only partway in, so I probably jumped the gun a bit writing this post. For now I’ll just say: Hedwig noooooo.

ETA:
Ahhh I finished Deathly Hallows and it was a great re-read. I’m glad I went through the series again. I definitely spot some of the plot crutches now (Harry conveniently overhears a LOT of crucial information in increasingly unlikely circumstances, culminating in him accidentally stumbling across Griphook in the middle of freakin nowhere in the woods). But it’s still a wild ride, and I got emotional at the end anyway.

I love that everyone gets their moment. It’s such a big cast, the ending is a 200-page rollercoaster that has a lot to wrap up. But you still get Neville v. Nagini, and Molly Weasley kicking Bellatrix’s ass with one of the badass mom lines of all literature: “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Ungh yes. That right there makes me want to write a blog about Ellen Ripley, my favorite movie character of all time, which I’m sure I will do at one point. I just have to gear up to it and really do her justice.

in which I resolve nothing

I’m not going to jinx myself with resolutions I surely won’t keep. I do have some expectations for the year, however. It is going to be a bit of a wild ride, with a baby on the way and some of the most epic party planning of my party planning life.

I tentatively resumed blogging in October, and the once-a-week format has been serving me well. I ought to write more about what I’ve been reading, since this is supposed to be an equally ‘life’ and ‘book’ related forum. So I’ll aim for that.

On that note: I read 44 books in 2014 (listed at the link in the menu bar!). That’s not even a book a week. What kind of writer/reader am I?? I could make excuses about the nine months I spent in a workaholic abyss, but plenty of folks make time around their day jobs. If it’s important, you fit it in.

And following that further, the more I read the more I feel energized to write. It is very easy to fall into passive media habits. TV, movies, social media. I love them but they don’t engage me the way books do. They don’t give me wackadoodle dreams from which I fumble awake thinking, “Should I write this down? No, it’s stupid. But it’s so vivid.”

In 2012 I published three short stories. In 2013 I set aside shorts and planned, planned, planned novels. In 2014 I finished a novel in three months and then did absolutely nothing for nine. I would like to not, you know, wait another year to be productive. Time to rip everything to shreds and rebuild.

So there you go. I won’t pin myself to numbers, because I know better than that. I won’t even bother talking about my body, my job, travel, social life, or any of the other usual New Year’s aspirations. I’m intending to keep doing what I’m doing… but do it significantly better!

amelia peabody, my hero!

Crocodile-on-the-Sandbank

The first adventure of many!

I grew up reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and by that I mean I devoured everything my mom placed in my hands between ages 10 and 18. Since she was a mystery/thriller buff, so was I.

One of the series I adored was Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody adventures. (A close second to Peabody: the Vicky Bliss books). The first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, came out in 1975. My introduction to the series was the ninth book, however, Seeing a Large Cat, which came out in 1997. My mom picked it up through one of those mail-order book clubs. You know, the kind where you can get a dozen books practically free as long as you buy a book a month for a few months. You know, causing you to join the club, buy the minimum number of books, quit the club, and then join again to start the process over, cackling into the sunset with all your cheap loot.

Didn’t everybody do this??

Anyway, Seeing a Large Cat. I read it because there was an Egyptian cat on the cover. I was promptly very confused about the ongoing character relationships and footnoted references to past adventures. In particular, I thought Amelia’s husband Emerson shouted too much and I didn’t understand why they were together.

So I went back to the beginning of the series and fell in love with everybody and everything. These are turn-of-the-century Egyptology-themed mysteries, headed by an eminently practical protagonist. The series spans the years 1884 through 1923, Amelia from age 32 through 71. There is something I absolutely adore about practical, middle-aged heroines. She gets love without the angst. She solves problems using her head– as opposed to the usual methodology of fictional female investigators, aka being kidnapped by the villain. Amelia goes into blackout rages to protect her trouble-making son, foils the antics of a master antiquities thief, and carries around a steel-tipped parasol– just in case. Oh, and Egyptology.

This series is the reason I named my first cat Bastet, and the reason I will have to resist naming my own son Ramses. Last week I was nervously re-reading the book after having talked my book club into it. Nervous because I hadn’t read it in about 15 years, and I have had very mixed results re-reading books I loved in junior high and high school. What a relief, then, to still adore it!

I never quite finished the series. The later books dealt more with the younger, but now grown-up, cast members, and some of the love-stricken angst had crept in that I was so pleased to see absent with Amelia and Emerson. Now I’m back on the horse though, and I’m considering working my way back through the series. I at least have to re-read the third book, The Mummy Case, which was by such great means my favorite I think I even read the whole thing out loud to my brother.

wardrobe reboot

I finally caved in to my changing silhouette and bought some new clothing. My pants and button-up shirts have been steadily shifting to the “these will fit again in 6 months I hope” side of the closet. My work wardrobe in particular has been growing slimmer as I grow rounder.

This is going to be the winter of warm dresses and skirts, and I’m pretty stoked about it.  I’ve finally gone from vaguely pudgy to cute potbelly and I may as well take advantage of it.

TO GET TO A POINT. One of my dresses is TOTALLY a Slytherin dress in green, gray, and black stripes. And as my sister and I began to joke about pregnant teens at Hogwarts we wondered… which house would produce the most teen pregnancies? Slytherin are so ambitious, I can’t see the girls in particular willing to give up their life goals to risk dallying with the boys. Likewise, Ravenclaw are all overachievers on the college scholarship track. They are probably messing around like mad to relieve the studying stress, but they are being smart about it.

That leaves Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff are hardworking, friendly, loyal, and honest.  Now, does that equal a bunch of romantics who don’t mind the notion of settling down into the lower or lower-middle class with their high school sweetheart and surprise baby? Maybe, maybe. Gryffindor, on the other hand, are full of daring, nerve, and chivalry. And as the books indicate, they can be bullheaded and maybe make dumb decisions out of confidence/idealism. Daring behavior plus rash decisions? And then sticking with those decisions due to a sense of chivalry?

Oh yeah, I’m definitely leaning toward Gryffindor here.  All them babies wearing red and gold. I can also see Hufflepuff girls being wooed by Gryffindor or Slytherin boys– the former would stick by her, the latter wiggle his way out of the mess, insisting he can’t possibly be the father and slamming her reputation around school.

And Professor McGonagall teaching sex ed, all dry wit and embarrassing the shit out of all the kids with her detailed descriptions of anatomy. Oh yeah, what the Harry Potter series really needed was sex ed class.

my new library *_*

I spent this weekend fetching the last of my books from storage (thank you loyal seestrah!). I’ve had a storage unit for about four years. At first it was just for excess furniture, holiday decorations, and childhood memorabilia, but it has grown considerably since I acquired it. In the last couple of years, I developed a habit of visiting my mom, picking up boxes of books she no longer wanted (but which I spent my childhood reading!) and then dropping them off directly into the storage unit on the way home. As a result, I’m not sure my husband knew exactly how many books I had acquired until I fetched them to our new place…

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They had been haunting my dreams! Trapped, TRAPPED in storage.

Well, short answer: 24 boxes worth! That includes books I stole from my mom and books I had to pack away during our multiple attempts to move this year. My shelves had already been half-full from the books that came directly from our old home, so I was a little nervous about the unpack.

It wound up taking several hours of backbreaking labor as I hemmed and hawed and fiddled with the arrangement to get things where I wanted, with room to spare in the genres I’m reading the most. But voila, 900 books made it onto my shelves with wiggle room to grow!

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The funk of forty thousand years.

I wound up with seven boxes that I’m going to donate– books I didn’t care for, books I got for free but I’m never going to read, some school textbooks and art books that I’ll never reference again, etc. I also have a couple boxes of children’s books tucked away in my closet for future baby. So I’m pretty happy to have a library that I can almost universally recommend (there are a lot of lingering classics that I feel obliged to keep even though I wouldn’t thrust them at my friends… note the 60-volume Great Books series at the top, which I assure you I have not gone through, but which I just can’t let go).

There is also an entire bookcase worth of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice, three authors I devoured mercilessly in junior and high school, and which I cannot part with even though my tastes have shifted to a more current wave of fantasy. I really blame my mom’s love of hardcovers– I fit way more per shelf in the other sections. X(

I will now collapse into bed… with a book!

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Have a kitty shot for good measure.