missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
2017-09-20 08:36 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing

What I've just finished reading

I've spent a decent chunk of time reading this week - I'm about three-quarters through The Sundial - but due to the way it's been split I haven't finished anything this week.

What I'm currently reading

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin. Like most children of my generation, I read "The Lottery" in school and was thoroughly traumatized by it. It's one of the few pieces I've found to be genuinely shocking, and all the more so because of the craft involved: you realize, looking it over, exactly how well all the pieces are put in place, how consistent the tone and character of the village, and how inevitable the ending is, even though your well-adjusted brain won't let you put the pieces together, except in retrospect. In a way, reading it is an act of complicity; you participate in the same self-delusion as the villagers, your observation of the ritualistic nature of the gathering fueling your assumption of people's fundamental decency and blinding you to the warning signs around you, until things are too far gone to stop. It's not a wonder the story generated more mail than almost any New Yorker fiction piece - people hated it, unless they were one of the minority who were certain this was an actual event and wanted to know where they could go to witness it.

All of which is to say, I've long had a great admiration for Jackson's writing; at her strongest, she has an uncanny ability to balance the best of human intentions with the darkest in human nature, and demonstrate how our fundamental insecurities cause our darker sides to manifest themselves. So when this biography came out, to some acclaim, I was very interested in it.

So far, I'm only a little way in, but Franklin makes an excellent case for the origins of Jackson's obsessions. Born a plain, awkward, introverted daughter to a beautiful California socialite, much of her childhood was spent alternately bowing to and fighting against her mother's criticisms of her dress, her ambitions, and her deportment. Her few friendships tended toward the tumultuous and her (prolific) letters and diaries suggest that she suffered from an onset of depression in her first year of college. She's just met her future husband, and it's not hard to see the attraction - he's witty, intelligent, and a great admirer of her mind and work, providing much of the affirmation her mother was unable to give. Of course, even only knowing the bare outlines of her life, there's more than a little foreshadowing of future dysfunction.

The Sundial, by Shirley Jackson. Having only read "The Lottery" and We Have Always Lived In The Castle, I figured it would be interesting to read another of Jackson's books while listening to her biography. This one, about an extended aristocratic household that lives on an estate set apart from the local village (large houses, usually haunted, feature in most of Jackson's books; Franklin points out that her great-grandfather was a celebrated architect Gilded Age San Francisco, although most of his buildings perished in the Great Fire) and becomes convinced that the world will end, sparing only those who live in the house. I don't think it's as strong as Castle; there's a little more emotional remove from the characters, who feel more like stand-ins than fully-developed human beings, and thus it's harder to sympathize with them. Still, the portrayal of complementary dysfunction is stark and believable - there's Aunt Fanny, the disempowered poor relative who finds new respect as the recipient of the Revelation; Mrs. Halloran, the tyrannical head of the family whose belief in the Revelation seems questionable but who is clearly enjoying the opportunities it gives her to manipulate those she lives with; Essex, the jack-of-all-trades being preyed upon by both Aunt Fanny and Mrs. Halloran who nonetheless finds the idea of himself as Father of Future Generations (as opposed to the unremarkable life he might have outside the enclave) too alluring to resist; and various other hangers-on with their own agendas. I'm tempted to say that people who are curious how cults get started should really give this a read.

What I plan to read next

Feeling pretty saturated book-wise recently, but you never know...
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
2017-09-06 01:36 pm

Wednesday book meme thing, time for some self-care edition

Hello, fellow book friends! CorePower is doing a 20-classes-in-30-days challenge, and looking at the charts I realized that I haven't been to class since the month started. I've been teaching a lot, but between work and social obligations and a bit of personal-life trouble I've been slacking off. I hit Sculpt this morning and I could really feel it - I had plenty of endurance (thank you, bicycling) but I was much stiffer than usual. I think it's going to be restorative yoga this afternoon - there's a class at Uptown that ends half an hour before I need to be there to teach. Convenient! Now to see if I can get back to a regular practice.

What I've just finished reading

Paper Girls vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. The breakneck pace of this story hasn't let up, and while initially that worked in its favor, it's starting to become a handicap. We're still getting bits and pieces of history and character development, but a few of the girls are still frustratingly interchangeable; additionally, there's a new character introduced whose perspective is radically different from our main characters' and who is potentially fascinating, but who gets far too little screen time to really explore any of that potential. To top it off, the girls and the audience are still incredibly fuzzy on what the rules are for this adventure; while this certainly helps to evoke the confusion and fear on their part in this unfamiliar time-traveling situation, it feels more than a little like narrative Calvinball. I hope the author slows down for a breath or two in the next volume; it doesn't have to be six issues of "so, Bob, this is how the rules work in this particular time-travel adventure", but a little more development of the ensemble and their situation would be helpful, as would giving them a chance to be proactive instead of just flailing desperately.

Appointment With Death, by Agatha Christie. I was all set to get started on one of my yoga texts, and then I realized I hadn't finished my Poirot omnibus I borrowed from my friend in Boston...priorities! Unfortunately, I can't say this was one of Christie's stronger efforts, even discounting the by-now-expected casual racism/sexism. I liked the depiction of the future victim as an emotionally dominating tyrant who kept her entire dysfunctional family in misery around her - I think we've all met people like that - but the actual solution felt like it came out of left field, and that's leaving out some very questionable depiction of mental illness. Still, like much of Christie, it was pretty compulsively readable, and at least now I can send the book back to my friend.

Special DNF Award: Joyful Desires: A Compendium of Twentieth Century Erotica, by a collection of pretty obvious pseudonyms. I found this in a Little Free Library up in Sauganash (one of the more suburb-y neighborhoods of Chicago), which tickled me. Unfortunately, it's turned out to be pretty mediocre stuff, better-edited but generally about on par quality-wise with the old Usenet-sourced shorts I used to read online as a teenager in the nineties. (The book was published in 1998, so that might account for the stylistic similarities as well.) I read about half of one story, half of another, and skimmed a few other bits; it's all very focused on the physical, with little to no character depth or emotional interplay...you know, the stuff that makes sex interesting. :P There are some pretty entertainingly bad bits, though, almost enough to make it worth reading further just for the comic value. My favorite from my quick skim: "Turning to one side, I let my head rest there, high on the creamy smoothness of her curved back while I slid my hands up under her torso to cup her dangling breasts through the slick gown. I hefted those litle pendants, sliding my palms up and over the silky fabric, curling my fingers around that wonderfully soft titty-flesh, clutching her hanging boobs and pumping them through the thin crinkling dress." Yeah, I just don't even know where to start with that, other than "laughing uncontrollably", which is what I did. I guess I'll drop this one off in one of my local Little Free Libraries and let it continue to circulate.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. The pace of this story might be best described as "leisurely", but I find myself caught up in it nonetheless - it's an engagingly-drawn portrait of the personalities and people in a particular group, their suspicions and fears and values and beliefs. Definitely recommended to anyone looking for insight into rural Mexican culture of the time, although perhaps not if one prefers a rip-roaring thriller. This is very much a tale from the Land of Mañana, where nothing gets done in a hurry but still, somehow, things get done, and lessons are learned.

What I plan to read next

Still eyeing the yoga books...but I think right now my priority might be something easier - I feel like I need a mental break as much as a physical one. We'll see.
missroserose: (Book Love)
2017-08-30 09:27 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing

What I just finished reading

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. I expected this story to be a fairly predictable fairy-tale mash-up - a hefty dose of Beauty and the Beast, a chunk of Cinderella, a dash of Rapunzel, plus bits and pieces of lesser-known tales. And I expected, in the way of these things, that Agnieszka would find herself thrust into a passive role at some point, despite the strength of her voice as narrator, because that's how fairy tales go - women are either innocents to be corrupted, damsels to be rescued, or evil stepmothers to be overcome. I certainly wasn't moved from this assessment by the near-immediate use of one of my least favorite gendered tropes (Agnieszka can't seem to get anything right because her magic doesn't work like the Dragon's! His is all intellectual and orderly like an architect's plan, but hers is intuitive and messy and grows everywhere like a forest! Just once I would like to see a young man demonstrate to a cranky old woman that not everything has to be done by the book, that you can build a spell using the strength of your heart as well as your mind. Grr).

And then, slowly, the story diverged from my expectations. Some of my assumptions were borne out, but in a more complex way than I'd predicted; and much to my delight, Agnieszka refused point-blank to be put in a passive role. This is her story through and through, and every time someone tries to shut her up or protect her or otherwise remove her agency, she just goes right around or through them - often learning some painful lessons in the process, but always accepting those lessons and figuring out ways to do better in the future. There were numerous times I wanted to cheer for her outright.

Just as impressive is the development of other players in this drama. Marek, the Handsome Prince, first seems like he's going to be the standard charismatic-cad-and-bounder, until his arc takes a turn that lends his entire character depth - he's still a cad and a bounder, but we see him exhibit sympathetic and even noble traits as well. Possibly my favorite characterization is that of The Dragon; I was despondently awaiting a Beauty and the Beast style magical transformation from distant, self-protecting hermit to warm and caring romantic hero, because Love Redeems Us All, doncha know. And instead I got an erratic, hardscrabble growth arc, done in fits and starts and often under duress, as much from necessity as from desire, with an ending that manages to be hopeful but still in character. Most of the main characters have similar layers; I haven't even gotten into how Agnieszka's friend Kasia gets to go from "brave and beautiful maiden" to "damsel in distress" to...well, I won't ruin her arc for you.

So, yeah. A story that I thought would be light easy slightly-problematic-but-nonetheless-enjoyable reading actually turned out to have surprising depth and complexity, and to be even more engrossing than the potboiler I was originally expecting. I love it when that happens.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. I only got a little further into this before getting sidetracked into Uprooted, but I'm already sensing a theme about the shortcomings of machismo culture, and the toll it takes both on the men who grow up to be emotionally distant from their loved ones, and the women who have to bear the brunt of the emotional labor - and what happens when they crack under the strain. I'm curious to see if the story will offer any other options; delineating the faults of gender norms is all well and good, but without any alternate vision it tends to just be depressing.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon. I enjoyed the audiobook of this so much that I bought a paper copy, and have been reading it aloud to Brian. I'm actually glad I listened to the audiobook first, though; I feel like I have a much better sense for the rhythms of the language, which even though it's mostly English has a distinctly Yiddish cadence, if that makes sense. I'm still tripping over the Yiddish words a bit, but that's forgivable, I think; and it's well worth it to be able to savor Chabon's many entertaining turns of phrase and vivid descriptions.

What I plan to read next

I think I am going to start tackling some of my yoga books - as of this week, I'm teaching five permanent classes in three formats plus whatever subs I pick up, so I'm going to need some inspiration, haha. I have the book on sequencing, and a friend got me a book by B.K.S. Iyengar (sort of the original yoga guru in America), and I have a book on yin yoga another friend loaned me...let's do this!
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-08-23 08:58 am

Wednesday book meme thing

What I've just finished reading

The Spectred Isle, by K.J. Charles. I'm pleased to say that this one stuck the landing in a big way - it was exciting and moving and contained one of the most satisfying uses of the trans-redemptive symbol (if you don't want to read a Cracked article, that's the "item that symbolizes the character's burden becoming crucial to their redemption" trope) that I've ever come across. It definitely feels a little more "supernatural mystery" than "romance", at least as compared to some of Charles' other works, but I like the fusion - the twin plots play off each other nicely to keep the emotional stakes high.

Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski. I wrote a bit already about how the final chapter inspired my yoga theme for this week, as well as being well-timed for dealing with my personal life. On the whole, this is one of those books I suspect I'm going to be recommending a lot - well-researched, fascinating, accessibly written, and of great practical use to a good-sized chunk of the population. Even though its focus is on female sexuality, there's a lot here about our culture and psychology that I suspect would be of use to just about anybody.

DNF:  Meditations From the Mat, by Rolf Gates, and Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge.  I hate to leave books unfinished, but I've had to set a rule for myself that if I find myself halfway through a book and so unenthused that picking up the rest feels like a chore, I'm not going to worry about finishing them - I just don't have enough reading time in my life right now to slog through books that I'm not enjoying.  So I'm setting these aside for now; I may come back to them at a different point in my life (like I did with The Handmaid's Tale), or I may not.  We'll see.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. I'm not sure where I picked this up - probably on some Amazon sale or other, since I have it on my Kindle - but it purports to be a story about Mexico in the late 1800s, a culture I know very little about despite a visit for a church mission in my teens and my somewhat more recent years of proximity. Luckily it's clearly written for the gringo in mind; and in fact, much of the first few chapters is devoted to stage-setting. I particularly liked this passage, on the changing cultural identity of a formerly-strong indigenous nation now fractured under colonialist influence:

Only rich men, soldiers, and a few Indians had wandered far enough from home to learn the terrible truth: Mexico was too big. It had too many colors. It was noisier than anyone could have imagined, and the voice of the Atlantic was different from the voice of the Pacific. One was shrill, worried, and demanding. The other was boisterous, easy to rile into a frenzy. The rich men, soldiers, and Indians were the few who knew that the east was a swoon of green, a thick-aired smell of ripe fruit and flowers and dead pigs and salt and sweat and mud, while the west was a riot of purple. Pyramids rose between llanos of dust and among turgid jungles. Snakes as long as country roads swam tame beside canoes. Volcanoes wore hats of snow. Cactus forests grew taller than trees. Shamans ate mushrooms and flew. In the south, some tribes still went nearly naked, their women wearing red flowers in their hair and blue skirts, and their breasts hanging free. Men outside the great Mexico City ate tacos made of live winged ants that flew away if the men did not chew quickly enough. 

So what were they? Every Mexican was a diluted Indian, invaded by milk like the coffee in Cayetana’s cup. Afraid, after the Conquest and the Inquisition, of their own brown wrappers, they colored their faces with powder, covered their skins in perfumes and European silks and American habits. Yet for all their beaver hats and their lace veils, the fine citizens of the great cities knew they had nothing that would ever match the ancient feathers of the quetzal. No cacique stood atop any temple clad in jaguar skins. Crinolines, waistcoats. Operas, High Mass, café au lait in demitasse cups in sidewalk patisseries. They attempted to choke the gods with New York pantaloons, Parisian petticoats. But still the banished spirits whispered from corners and basements. In Mexico City, the great and fallen Tenochtitlán, among streets and buildings constructed with the stones of the Pyramid of the Sun, gentlemen walked with their heads slightly tilted, cocked as if listening to this puzzling murmur of wraiths.
 
 
I'm only about five chapters in, so I'm not completely sure where things are going, but I have a feeling it's going to be a vivid ride.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik.  This, on the other hand, is pure comfort reading; familiar fairy-tale elements arranged in a so-far-mostly-familiar way, although elevated somewhat by the main character's strength of voice.  Every ten years a wizard, referred to as the Dragon, takes the most promising girl from the local area; after the decade, they return, only to move on soon after, as they now have education and riches enough to pursue scholarship or marriage or business-running in a city.  The opening chapter is particularly poignant, as the narrator recounts this objectively-laudable tradition with sadness, made all the more immediate by the fact that she was born in a Dragon year and her best friend is clearly the one who will be chosen - beautiful and graceful and talented and kind.  (Clearly, that is, to everyone except the audience, since you don't get to be the narrator of a fairy tale if you're just going to watch your best friend disappear.)  I'm interested to see where this one goes too, although I expect it'll be rather more predictable.

Black Panther:  A Nation Under Our Feet, book 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I've enjoyed Coates' writing on racial issues and heard many good things about his turn writing the Black Panther character, but so far I'm having the same trouble I often do when trying to jump in to a Marvel or DC comic - I'm so unfamiliar with what's going on in the greater universe, with the history and context that have brought us here, that I have trouble following exactly what's going on.  Still, I'll at least finish out the volume - if nothing else, the artwork is pretty spectacular, and the ruminations on the nature of power, and especially necessity of mystique to an effective ruler ("Power lies not in what a king does, but in what his subjects believe he might do. {...} Every act of might diminished the king, for it diminished his mystique.  Might exposed the king's powers and thus his limits") are interesting.


What I plan to read next

I'm working out how to attack Mark Stephens' Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes.  It's going to be a good challenge for me; I'm historically pretty bad at reading textbooks if there isn't some kind of social expectation (i.e. a class or a study group) motivating me; but this book's been recommended by multiple excellent teachers.  It looks like the chapters run about 25-40 (illustrated) pages, so not too long; maybe I'll try assigning myself a chapter per week and a page in my journal in response, and see how long I can keep that up.
missroserose: (Book Love)
2017-08-17 07:44 am

Wednesday Book Meme Thing, delayed-due-to-recuperation edition

Yesterday was a recuperation day, physically and mentally. I wrote in my paper journal, went to Sculpt with a friend (and kicked ass at it, too - it's amazing what you can do when you reclaim your mental energy), did some laundry, had a nap, and burned my way through two-thirds of the new KJ Charles book. And completely fell down on cleaning the house or posting here, but sometimes that's how it goes when you're recuperating. Luckily I have today off as well, so I can take some time to catch up.


What I've just finished reading

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. Poirot does it again (not that there was really any doubt that he would). I liked the twist that his reputation has grown at this point to where the murderer has to account for his presence and alter plans accordingly; it seems like a lot of more modern mystery series will go on for books and books without the protagonist's string of successes having any apparent effect on their world. The solution to this one was fairly ingenious, too; it might have seemed slightly far-fetched, but Christie spent enough time establishing the characters to make it feel believable. Still not a fan of the casual sexism/racism - Christie appears to have an especial hate-on for charismatic and powerful women, although a chunk of that is probably cultural conditioning - but I still enjoyed the story.

What I'm currently reading

Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge. Contrary to my earlier surmises, the Ambrosii and their nephew the Rightful King have retaken the castle and the kingdom...after literal months spent hiding in the tunnels underneath it. Which...okay, it's at least reasonably believable, but living underground for long periods has distinct effects on the human psyche, and while the Ambrosii may not be entirely human, it seems like some of those effects might have established themselves in the poor young King's mind. But that's kind of how this whole book is turning out; it seems like a lot of things are happening that are rooted in human nature on a surface level, but don't really stand up to scrutiny. People are complicated beings, and dealing with them is complicated; the despot here could really have stood to read The Prince a few times before getting all torture-and-purge-happy. Not that that really separates him from many fantasy despots - or real-world ones, for that matter. I wonder if that's why Sand dan Glokta from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series remains one of my favorite characters, despite being an evil and twisted bastard; he might be a torturer by trade, but he understands the limitations of the tool, as well as how it fits into greater power machinations and when a carrot is going to be more effective than a stick.

The Spectred Isle, by KJ Charles. I'd been...not saving this one, exactly, but trying to resist devouring it within 24 hours of publication like I usually do with Charles' books. But even though I still have half of Ambrose to get through, I decided to break it out last night - a good romance and cracking supernatural mystery seemed like just the thing for a recuperation day after being dumped. And as it happens, it is - the story concerns two thirtysomething men who, between the devastating shock of the Great War, the stress of dealing with its aftereffects on the supernatural realm, and the repressive sexual mores of 1920s England, are wrapped up in as many layers of defensiveness and self-protection as any human being...and yet they still manage to untangle themselves enough to be vulnerable and open with each other. It's a slow-burn romance with some fascinating worldbuilding, and eminently satisfying.

What I plan to read next

In keeping with the theme of reclaiming my mental energy, I am going to finish Come As You Are this week. I haven't dropped it because it's not fascinating; I just have so many other books! But they can wait a week.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
2017-08-09 08:05 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday Reading Meme, busy week edition

What I've just finished reading

I hang my head here in shame, because between work, social engagements, and various minor disasters, I got almost no reading done this week. Clearly I deserve the chastisement of Meg Giry - Shame! Shame! Shame!

What I'm currently reading

Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge. Admittedly, I'm still barely a quarter in, but something about this story isn't quite gelling for me. It's proceeded logically enough; we've had a coup, and a tyrant-in-waiting seize power, and a trial-by-combat, and a group of feared magicians trading on their fearsome family reputation scrambling frantically to...actually, that might be it. I'm really unclear on the endgame here. It looks like they're trying to rescue the twelve-year-old king from his tyrant-uncle's grip, but what comes after that? Exile? Retaking the throne somehow? There's been some mention of a second, deserted city, and a slightly clunky bit of exposition on the young king's part talking about how he's always kind of wanted to run off there, so I'm assuming that's where we're headed next, but there's been no real discussion of plans, which makes me feel like I've missed something. And it feels slightly inconsistent - the Ambrosii are supposed to be fearsome mages, an archetype whose strength is in planning (one of my favorite sayings - 90% of magic is simply knowing one extra fact); seeing them scramble to react to an unexpected situation is interesting, but I think it would work better if we'd spent some time establishing their power and reputation before turning everything topsy-turvy on them.

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. Yup, the charming-wealthy-independent heiress bit it - but not before falling in love and getting married to her best friend's fiancé, rendering her somewhat less sympathetic. To her credit, she doesn't give up all her agency - there's a scene where her financial agent wants her to sign papers, and she insists on carefully reading them before doing so, much to his discomfiture. (Presumably this was only included to give another person a motive for murder, but given that this is 1930s literature, I'll take what I can get.) The setting this time is a tour boat, which gives the entire affair a nicely claustrophobic hothouse atmosphere, a la The Cat's Meow; and since nearly all the characters are English (or American), the background racism has stuck to a fairly low level, thankfully. Now to watch Inspector Poirot unravel the tangled threads of this homicide...

What I plan to read next

I'll probably finish the Poirot omnibus, which means Appointment With Death is on the list. I also have a new KJ Charles romance (and the start of a new, paranormal romance series!) on my Kindle that I'm torn between devouring and saving for a special occasion...although at this rate, it'll probably be a special occasion before I get to it, haha.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
2017-08-01 11:23 pm

Wednesday book meme thing, business lady edition

Hello, book-folk! I seem to have started a Business Ladies Club. Yesterday, the delightful Erika Moen had a post up on her Patreon discussing how she and a few of her female colleagues regularly met to discuss their experiences in running a business, and it occurred to me that I knew a few self-employed women and that it might be super useful to have a monthly get-together to compare experiences and offer support. So I put up a Facebook post about the idea, got a couple of responses, thought "Sweet! Three people is a good start!", started a Facebook group, and went grocery shopping...and came back to find that one of them had added ten more people, several of whom were in the process of introducing themselves. Well! The first rule of improv (and God knows I'm improvising here) is "Yes, and...". And clearly there's a need here, heh. We'll see how the actual meetups go! (At the very least, thanks to one of my favorite local feminist artists, we have a name and badge already, haha.)

So, onto the books!


What I've just finished reading

She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Memoirs are tricky beasts. Humans are storytelling creatures, who recall episodes and fragments and improve the breadth and depth of those recollections by stringing them together into a narrative...and yet, those recollections are shaped by that narrative just as much as the narrative is shaped by our experiences, which makes it tricky to discern which came first.

Whether in service to the truth or to storytelling or both, Boylan takes the popular memoirist's tack of relating her memories in a series of vignettes, some comic, some tragic, many both (as her friend Richard Russo puts it, "You love that place between what's funny and what's terribly sad"). It's a tricky line to walk, keeping to the fundamental truth of events while also ensuring thematic coherence, but it's done admirably here, beautifully illustrating the evolution of Boylan's coming to terms with her gender dysphoria, as well as the rippling-outward effects her eventual transition had on her family. If I have any complaint, it's that the perspective occasionally feels more than a little emotionally removed; Boylan clearly (and for obvious reasons) has a strong ability to examine even extremely emotional events from a perspective of distance, and there are times when that works against the narrative's accessibility - she comes across as more calm and withdrawn than I suspect was actually the case in many of these situations. Still, as someone who deals with strong emotion through distance and analysis as well, it certainly felt familiar.

(This has little to do with the book, but deserves a link anyway: her solemnization of my friend's wedding was among the most heart-rendingly beautiful such pieces I've ever heard. I almost wish I could get married again just to have her do the service.)

Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie. The Heisenbergian nature of my reading choices strikes again - I have a weakness for well-read paperbacks that are maybe a little worse for the wear, and my friend's Boston Airbnb had a copy of Poirot in the Orient, an omnibus edition of three Poirot mysteries. This first one I had incredibly mixed feelings about; I can see why Christie remains so popular - her plot-construction remains second to none in the mystery genre, and she has a keen if cynical eye for human nature. But man oh man, some of her attitudes have not aged well. (I particularly cringed at the narrator's description of the Arab workers as funny-looking, with "their heads all tied up as if they had toothache." Cripes.) Of course, it's not precisely a secret that Christie held Particular Views, and they weren't really out of line with the culture of the time, but still...reading her makes me wonder what will stand out as equally cringe-worthy in our current popular writing, eighty years from now.


What I'm currently reading

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. I...may have slipped the paperback into my backpack to read on the plane. *shifty eyes* (Dear Boston Airbnb friend - if you read this, I promise to mail it back to you when I'm done.) I'm only a little way through this, and so far all the action's been in England so there's been a minimum of racism, but whoo boy is the cultural sexism in full force. It's sort of a shame, because the rich charming fashionable heiress who's ambivalent about getting married for fear of giving up her independence is a far more interesting and sympathetic character to me than any of the others, but it seems pretty clear she's only being set up to be murdered. Now that I think about it, Murder in Mesopotamia also was about the murder of a powerful and independent-minded woman, although her power mostly came about in a covert and manipulative way...sigh. Still, these wouldn't be bad studies in the toxicity of gender dynamics in 1930s England.


What I plan to read next

I need to finish Blood of Ambrose and Come As You Are, plus I've recently acquired a couple of yoga books in preparation for learning to teach C2 classes. Unfortunately, buying them and letting them sit on your coffee table doesn't really do a lot to help you absorb the information...maybe if I strap them to my skin and let them absorb through osmosis while I work today...?
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-07-26 12:59 pm
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme, pounding this out quickly edition

What I've just finished reading

Yes, Roya, by C. Spike Trotman and Emilee Denich. I picked this up after reading the review on Oh Joy Sex Toy (link NSFW, but then, so is the book, heh). And, whoa - it definitely lives up to Moen's praise. Frankly, it's as much romance as it is pornography, effectively engaging the emotions as well as the gonads; you really feel for poor Wylie, in thoroughly over his head and yet determined to prove his worth, professionally and sexually.

So, it works emotionally, it works physically (boy howdy, does it). Me being me, however, I of course have to think through the story and its implications, and that's where Yes, Roya's pornographic sensibilities become a liability. Pornography, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, is defined in part by its lack of consequences - no STDs, no babies, no traumatic experiences, no social repercussions. What's frustrating is that Yes, Roya is clearly trying to be more than that - there's some very intelligent examination of the social context of the 1960s, the limitations of gender and race in society, the repercussions of living an unconventional lifestyle, and the advantages of keeping one's true feelings and identity hidden while nonetheless subtly coding art to introduce unusual dynamics. But ultimately, I wanted more of that - more context of Wylie's life outside of his work and romantic interests, more about Joe and Roya's social life outside of Wylie (presumably they have likeminded or at least accepting friends?), more indicators of the social rules that our three protagonists are upending, and the consequences they must accept. I think this would have given the ending a little more dramatic punch; certainly it would have felt more honest.

Even with my complaints, however, this is a hell of a read - kinky, erotic, beautifully written and drawn, and crazy hot. Well worth checking out and admiring even if femdom threesomes aren't your thing.

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle. I read this once when I was much younger, and didn't like it as much as A Wrinkle in Time; I think I had trouble with the increasing level of abstraction, and Teachers like Blajeny and Louise-the-serpent weren't anywhere near as emotionally engaging as the tripartite-motherly Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs Which. Reading them as an adult, though, I think this is the stronger volume; the themes are better developed and Meg's grown up enough to be not quite so self-absorbed. In retrospect, I could have saved myself quite a bit of life frustration if I'd read more closely the bits about Charles Wallace having to adjust to life with a peer group at a very different level than he was, but I suppose that's never really been me, heh.


What I'm currently reading

Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge. This has won my scant reading time this week due to the sheer convenience of being on my Kindle. So far (all of maybe three chapters in) it's been pretty standard high-fantasy stuff; some palace intrigue, hints of a historical tragedy, a dash of trial-by-combat. I feel like the author read the advice of "start your story with an action piece" but fell into the very common trap of focusing on said action without having spent any effort getting to know the people involved, which makes it feel somewhat distant. Still, now that the setpiece is over and the characters are interacting, things are picking up a bit.


What I plan to read next

I suspect She's Not There will be my airplane reading, although I'd really like to finish Come As You Are first...we'll see how it goes!
missroserose: (Default)
2017-07-19 10:36 am

Wednesday book meme thing

What I've just finished reading

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. Those of you following along at home may have noticed that this book has generated an awful lot of drama for what feels like, in retrospect, a 200-odd-page blog entry. But such is the danger of high hopes. I'd almost given up on the book halfway through, but persevered through the end, which was bittersweet - Witt returns more to her analytic mode, and even shows some self-awareness about her privileged perspective. For instance:

No wonder people hate Burning Man, I thought, when I pictured it as a cynic might: rich people on vacation breaking rules that everyone else would suffer for if they didn't obey. The hypocrisy of the "creative autonomous zone" weighed on me. Many of these people would go back to their lives and back to work on the great farces of our age. They wouldn't argue for the decriminalization of the drugs they had used; they wouldn't want anyone to know about their time in the orgy dome.

[...] To protest these things in everyday life bore a huge social cost - one that only people like Lunar Fox were willing to grimly undertake - and maybe that's what the old Burners disliked about the new ones: the new ones upheld the idea of autonomous zones. The $400 ticket price was as much about the right to leave what happened at Burning Man behind as it was to enter in the first place.
 
I also really enjoyed her (lamentably short) chapter on birth control and reproduction, and how our entire social framework for childrearing remains stuck in 1950s norms despite technology having thrust us into an entirely different world:  

40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed parents. This happened because most people have separated their sex lives from marriage, but the thinking about the subject has yet to flip. When people cite the research about the advantages of raising a child in a two-parent home, it tends to be an argument for marriage, not for improving the experience of raising a child outside of it. And this has meant that many women, unmarried but also pragmatic about the challenges of single parenthood, feel the 'choice' they have made not to have a child is not much of a choice at all.
 
Indeed, she brings the subject of that disconnect home, in this particularly insightful bit:

I had always preferred success through recognized channels: getting good grades, going to the right college. I experienced satisfaction in obeying rules, and I had greater affirmation from my family when we acted as if I hadn't chosen to be alone, when we spoke as if I was simply waiting (maybe for decades) for the right person to come along. [...] I had now absorbed a powerful lesson about resistance to change: that it manifests less by institutional imposition and more by the subtle suggestions of the people who love you.
 
I feel like there's a really great book in here about social order versus social anarchy; about the way people who dislike or don't fit in to the majority norms instead seek out subcultures with their own norms and rulesets, because most humans function best with boundaries and limits and social reinforcement; about the price those people pay in terms of estrangement from the greater culture, and the varying ways (closeting, sociopolitical advocacy, withdrawal) in which they minimize or deal with that estrangement; and about the ways technology is enabling these subgroups, and whether this means our sexual culture is broadening or merely splintering into individual shards. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, these remarkably clear-eyed observations are clouded by the author's own unexamined prejudices and assumptions, especially once she starts getting into her own experiences. Ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity, but I nonetheless hope that it might start a conversation on these important topics.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. Buckles were swashed, adventures were had, supernatural solutions determined to come at too high a cost. The ending is satisfying; without going into details, our three heroes ultimately reject their proscribed social roles, running off to do...they're not sure exactly, but certainly to live their own lives as they choose, Monty and Percy as lovers, and Felicity quite possibly as a medic on a pirate ship. ("But girls can't be pirates!" "Haven't you heard of Grace O'Malley?")

That said, I'm personally a little torn on said ending. It's certainly appropriate enough for the story, and it's true to both the late-teenage perspective of the protagonists and the YA intended audience - it's a stage in life when most of us have little to tie us down and a great hunger for new experiences and the possibility of trying new identities. But the way it's handled feels...just a little bit facile, like the characters are playing dress-up rather than committing to a difficult life road. To a degree, this can be excused by their immaturity; they acknowledge that it's going to be a tough time but clearly don't understand exactly how tough it is to forge your own road, outside of the social ruleset you've been raised to follow. But the ending as written feels like it's supposed to be an unfettered triumph, rather than a "we've overcome this set of challenges, hurrah, but new ones are right on the horizon."

Maybe it's precisely that tonal dissonance that's not quite sitting right with me; as a fellow 19-year-old I would have been all "Yes! Screw the patriarchal social hierarchy! Go live on a tropical island with your beloved with no skills or visible means of financial support! Love is all you need!" whereas 34-year-old me, having had some small experience with the difficulties of moving to a new place with entirely different sets of rules (as well as having complicated moral feelings about piracy as a career in the 18th century), is somewhat more mixed on the prospect. But, difficult as it was, I eventually found my niche, and what I feel is a good balance between social approbation and forging my own path; perhaps they will too.


What I'm currently reading

So this is kind of awkward - technically I'm in the middle of a number of books, but I've done so little reading lately that I haven't made any progress in them this week. Clearly I need to fix this!


What I plan to read next

I have two primary candidates at the moment. One is James Enge's Blood of Ambrose, a birthday present from my delightful friend Claire (with the promise of the rest of the trilogy to come if I like it). Apparently it has an Ambrosia in it! However, my friend Olivia gifted me with Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders, which looks fascinating - and happens to be written by Olivia's aunt. I'm leaning towards that because she'll be officiating at Olivia's wedding later this month, and if I'm going to possibly have the opportunity to meet her I'd like to have read something of hers - I know very little about her other than that she's a writer. But I still have so many other books to finish! Sigh...
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-07-12 10:30 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme, new bicycle edition

Introducing Atalanta! So named because she's swift and sleek and virginal - I've never had a brand new bike as an adult. No word on whether she plans to join the Argonauts, but she gets me around town in style. Although there does seem to be something slightly inconsistent about double-locking a bike named after a woman most famous for refusing to marry because it would impinge on her freedoms, heh. My only complaint is that she didn't have much in the way of color choices; I wanted a purple bike, but my options for this model were "would you like black or silver?" Oh well. Time to go shopping for some stickers!

It's been a ridiculously busy week, so this update is going to be short:


What I've just finished reading

*hangs head* Nothing this week. Work and house cleaning and bike shopping and houseguest all ate my brain.


What I'm currently reading

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. Poor, poor Monty. A life of determinedly drinking, gambling, and seducing his way as far into his father's bad graces as he could short of being outright disinherited has ill prepared him for a cross-Continental high adventure, filled with mystery, personal revelation, self-awareness, and just maybe a dash of thoroughly undeserved but nonetheless beautiful romance.

I was a little afraid at the start that Monty would end up being a little *too* unsympathetic; he spends a good chunk of the first act feeling sorry for himself. Not that he doesn't have valid reasons - an emotionally and physically abusive father who consistently punishes his sexuality is rough no matter your class, and arguably harder when you're otherwise socially privileged (as his mixed-race best friend and educationally-stunted younger sister are keen to remind him). He gets a bit of a pass on pure charm as well as on his fierce, undying devotion to Percy, his best friend, but nonetheless he sits right on the knife edge of "selfish and useless" for a while...right up until Percy's illness becomes apparent, and suddenly he has a reason to Grow Up and Do Better. And boy, does he - not perfectly, not in any way out of character with his self and his history, but his sheer determination to find a cure and save his friend from a life in a sanatorium is heartening, as is his slow discovery of his own talents. His sister Felicity is, luckily, quite tolerant of him, and willing to lend her clever and resourceful brain to any task that will help; his growing respect for her is one of the best parts of the story.

Needless to say, I'm enjoying this greatly, although I'm curious how it'll end up, especially his relationship with Percy - there's a potentially-supernatural thread being introduced, but it's not constructed in a way that seems conducive to a deus ex machina, nor to a "everything must sadly revert to status quo" ending. So I suppose we'll see!


What I plan to read next

I swear to god I'm going to finish Future Sex, even if it is becoming increasingly annoying! Also, a friend of mine asked me to beta read a short story of hers, which I suppose counts, although I don't know anything about it...
missroserose: (After the Storm)
2017-07-05 10:32 am

Wednesday book meme thing, glowing evaluation edition

Happy Day After Loud Patriotic Noises day! On Monday I taught two classes at Sauganash, my usual 1:30 and the 6:15. What with the long holiday weekend, I had a huge crowd for the 1:30 class - 20 people (my usual count is between two and five) crammed into a relatively small studio. It turned out to be an awesome class, though; despite the fact that there was a whole range of skill levels, everyone meshed well and flowed together, and I felt like I had a good rapport with people. I got lots of positive feedback from folks afterward, too, which is always gratifying, and a teacher who took my class gave me a good tip on dealing with crowds. I was curious if the evening class was going to be similarly crowded, or if everyone was going to be drinking by then...as it happened, it was closer to the latter, with all of four people, one of them Breanne (the studio manager), taking my class so she could give me my internship evaluation. (As hinted at in the headline, it was almost completely positive; she said I was clearly already an excellent instructor, and she couldn't wait to see what I started doing with the more advanced classes. She also particularly mentioned my music and gave me possibly the best compliment I've ever had - "The choice of songs at the beginning and the way they fit with the timing made me feel like I was in a musical!" So many warm fuzzies.)

It's been a busy week, but luckily I managed to get some reading done, albeit mostly yesterday at the park. So on to the meme:


What I've just finished reading:

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, by A.C. Wise. A collection of short stories, many of them with some kind of queer romance theme. A lot of them feel like they could have been fleshed out a little more; the title story especially seemed incomplete, like it was really a novella rather than a short story. Still, there's a distinct sense of atmosphere throughout most of the stories; I found "The Final Girl Theory", about an archetypal 70s-esque slasher/mondo/gore horror film and the cult following that had sprung up around it, particularly chilling.

The Wicked + The Divine vol. 5: Imperial Phase pt. 1, by Kieron Gillen. The gods are in the second year of their supposed two-year lifespan. And, as an academic dryly notes in this volume, "There are very few stories of gods bathing in blood in the first year of their return." There's a lot to unpack here, about the effects of power on ungrounded human minds, about the ways in which various personalities deal with the stress caused by a sense of disempowerment, and about exactly how dangerous a powerful person who feels disempowered and victimized can be. (That last feels especially cogent for our times, on an individual and a group level.) Given all of that, the subplot about The Darkness - an as-yet-unexplained threat that the gods are so far the only ones equipped to deal with - feels almost like a red herring; far more interesting has been seeing how the embattled deities try to aggregate their own fecal matter, or (in the case of Sakhmet) don't even try.


What I'm currently reading:

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. A complete impulse buy, and I'm all of one chapter in (in truth, I burned through the last of The Kissing Booth Girl almost solely so I could get to this one - I was that charmed by the description), but this is shaping up to be a new favorite. Henry Montague, a brash and self-centered young 18th-century British lord, is off on a Grand Tour of Europe with his (sigh) younger sister and his best friend/confidante/longtime secret crush. Swashbuckling action, perhaps-requited pining, and encounters with historical figures have all been promised, and given the strength of the main character's voice in the first chapter, I'm already sold. I fully intend to savor every chapter.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. Despite being almost three-quarters done (and not a long book), this one's feeling more and more like a slog. I've been reading the chapter on polyamory, which I have something of a personal stake in, and find so many problematic aspects with her analysis, stemming in large part from the fact that her case studies come almost entirely from a single demographic (rich white Silicon Valley workers in San Francisco). While I realize most practitioners of poly come from a background with a certain level of privilege (it's hard to juggle multiple relationships when you're working three jobs just to survive), there's all sorts of unexamined assumptions here, especially in the couple privilege and unicorn-hunting fields. The entire tone is faux-supportive-while-actually-being-condescending - "Look at these adorably earnest young people and how dedicated they are to their alternate lifestyle that their parents already tried and failed at in the 70s! But they really think they can make it work!" It reminds me a lot of the New York Times article on polyamory that generated a lot of justifiable resentment from the community - it's at least a more nuanced perspective than the usual "blog post illustrated by stock photo of three pairs of feet sticking out from under the covers", but nonetheless feels written to reinforce the couple-centric monogamous norm rather than challenge it.

Now that I think about it, that's probably my biggest issue with the entire book; supposedly the author's writing about possible roadmaps to future ways humans might engage with each other sexually, thanks to technology and changing social mores, and yet the whole book is written with a sense of exoticism - "Look at this! Isn't it strange/disgusting/fascinating/novel?" - that's very much at odds with its purported mission, and only serves to reinforce the "othering" of those particular lifestyle choices. Bleh.
I'll probably finish it, if only because I'm pretty close to the end already, but for a book I had such high hopes for initially, it's been awfully disappointing.


What I plan to read next

I'm beginning to feel like my reading style is downright Heisenbergian, or perhaps Schrödingeresque - there are possibilities, and maybe even probabilities, but the fact is I just can't know until I'm there. So as usual...stay tuned!
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-06-29 07:48 am

Wednesday book meme thing, wait it's Thursday morning already? edition

Hello, book friends! As I posted on Facebook, coming back from vacation is almost as much work as getting ready to go. Since returning on Sunday I've dyed my hair blue, bought groceries, made a playlist, taught two classes (with two more upcoming), run numerous errands, sent a nastygram to Hertz over being charged half again what Expedia promised, hosted two private massage clients, had Dominika and her husband over for dinner, and (according to Strava) biked nearly 20 miles all over Chicago. Still to do: mail presents to my mum, finish unpacking, clean out the fridge and microwave (seriously, it's been like two years and they're getting disgusting), create a Facebook page/website to connect with more potential massage/yoga clients, prepare for teaching my first yin yoga class on Sunday, winnow out my clothing/shoes/movies/general possessions, catch up on spring cleaning that I missed because my massage bookings went through the roof in May...and that's not even half of it. Augh! One step at a time.

Still, I've managed to carve out some time for reading, albeit less than I'd like since returning from vacation...


What I've just finished reading

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin. I finally gave up on finding the time to read the paper copy of this I'd bought, and listened to the rest of the audiobook. It's good stuff, and thought-provoking, but I really don't think the format was right for me for this work; I've always been a faster and more thorough reader than listener (much to the frustration of my schoolteachers, heh), and audiobooks are frustratingly ephemeral when it comes to volumes that traffic in ideas - it's hard to consider and write about related experiences when the person just keeps talking. I do hope to reread on paper and consider more thoroughly, but as an overview of the ideas discussed it was definitely a good introduction.


What I'm currently reading

Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. This continues to be one of the most fascinating and (to borrow a term from the tech sector) disruptive books I've read on the subject of sexuality. The framework Nagoski presents is far more sexuality-positive, and particularly female-sexuality-positive, than the overall cultural narrative we all grew up with; I've noticed that Nagoski shares my fascination with personal and cultural storytelling, how it assigns meaning to our world, and how that meaning can be either beneficial or harmful to our sense of well-being. For instance, the hymen, possibly one of the most frequently misunderstood parts of feminine physiology, came to that point of misunderstanding largely due to patriarchal concerns over paternity, which led to a cultural narrative of female "purity" being perceived as desirable - despite the fact that the organ itself has little to do with a woman's sexual state.

I also particularly enjoyed the chapter on arousal nonconcordance, describing exactly what's going on when someone's genital behavior demonstrates arousal even when their brain is not sexually aroused. I was particularly interested in the correlation statistics; unsurprisingly, it's higher for men than for women. But even in men, it's only a 50% correlation; contrary to our cultural narrative, it's perfectly normal and in fact common for men to sport an erection without actually desiring sex. (This seems particularly significant given how often female-on-male rape is culturally dismissed, and likely hugely underreported, due to the supposed impossibility of it.) In women, nonconcordance is even higher - only about 10% of the time does increased bloodflow and lubrication correlate with actual sexual desire. Newsflash: our genitals are excellent at indicating sexually relevant scenarios (those where we perceive or expect to perceive sexual stimuli), but our brains are much, much pickier in terms of what actually turn us on.

As with the best sociological research, all of this seems fairly obvious in retrospect; the fact that few of us could have articulated it speaks to the power of cultural narrative (and the power of research to create better, more accurate narratives to displace them).

The Wicked and the Divine vol. 5: Imperial Phase Part I, by Kieron Gillen. The initial conspiracy arc having been (bloodily) resolved, the question for our various god-teenagers appears to now be, "What's next?" And, in the tradition of humans realizing sudden apparently-limitless power, the answer appears to be disturbingly close to, "Anything we want." For those of us familiar with the way such arcs usually go, the shape of the rest of the story is starting to be indicated; the hard limits may have been removed, but that seems most likely to have sealed our characters' fate. It's not difficult to imagine a bunch of teenagers given godlike powers self-destructing spectacularly, and well within the dictated two years' deadline; Baal in specific seems determined to avert that outcome, but it remains to be seen how successful he is. (The title indicates a couple of possibilities, neither of which bode well for regular humans.)

This collection begins with an award-winning issue, written in the style of a gossip magazine, where the authors had real-world writers "interview" the various gods (via chat roleplay) and write articles on them. It's a neat trick, adding surprising verisimilitude; the illustrations are spot-on for a fashion/gossip rag, and the writers add their own voices and reactions in a truly impressive way. For all that Satan remains the best character, and her interview is entertaining to say the least, my favorite is almost certainly feminist writer Laurie Penny going up against racist sexist man-child and self-proclaimed "shithead god" Woden. "And here the self-pity. It all comes out in a slosh of self-justifying red-pill logic that you really don't need me to describe. The biggest issue of all is Woden's specific limitation: unlike the other gods, he can only make magic for other people, which must be a bummer for a misanthrope." Reader, I about died laughing.


What I plan to read next

Still working on the currently-reading pile, heh. Seven books is a bit much, even for someone with my voracious appetites...
missroserose: (Book Love)
2017-06-07 10:41 am

Wednesday book meme thing, striking out on my own edition

Hello, fellow book-lovers! This morning I sent an email to the spa manager requesting a leave of absence. I've enjoyed working there and learned a lot, but it's pretty clear at this point that the job is requiring a far bigger investment of energy than I'm willing to give, especially with yoga teaching becoming more central in my life (and also providing an avenue for increased private bookings). It's a little scary, striking out on my own, and it may yet prove to be temporary, but it feels like the right thing to do. So here I go!

Meantime, in Booklandia...


What I've just finished reading

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. Oh man. I can see why some people regard this as her masterwork; it's a lovingly rendered and terrifyingly believable portrait of an incredibly dysfunctional family dynamic, told through the eyes of a person strongly invested in perpetrating it, who nonetheless manages to remain a sympathetic narrator. It's that last that really gets to me: seeing Constance and Merricat's world through the latter's eyes, you understand why she does the things she does and root for her, even though objectively the outcome is a terrible one. Which isn't to say it's entirely her fault; Jackson is unflinching in apportioning the blame to gossiping townsfolk, a gold-digging cousin, well-meaning friends, and Constance's own agoraphobia. But like the most impressive tragedies, in retrospect, there is simply no other way things could have played out; despite having been given the opportunity, the characters are fundamentally incapable of change. The fact that the narrator genuinely regards the outcome as a happy one simply makes the ending all the more chilling.


What I'm currently reading

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle. I'd forgotten that Mr. Jenkins comes along for the adventure this time! I love that Meg had to find something to love in such a pathetic person who had genuinely made her life (and was continuing to make her brother's life) difficult; such people are some of the most difficult to see as fundamentally human, and arguably some of the most important for precisely that reason.

An Unnatural Vice, by K.J. Charles. At this point I preorder all of Charles' books, and this was a happy surprise to find on my Kindle on a difficult day. I enjoy all of her romances, but I have a special fondness for the enemies-to-lovers trope - it's hard to do well, but when it's done well the inherent conflict and pent-up lust makes it absolutely scorchingly hot. This installment focuses on Nathaniel Roy, an attorney/journalist/general man of integrity who's been grieving his lover for some years, and who of course (given Victorian mores) must hide his grief from the greater world; naturally, he finds himself having to work with (and deeply, disturbingly attracted to) Justin Lazarus, a spiritualist/con man/general man of few morals.

As great as the chemistry is, one of the unexpected delights of this series has been the central mystery plot; not so much for its own sake, but because it gives the main characters reasons to interact, and they and their relationships are all so beautifully drawn. I particularly liked a conversation Nathaniel has with Mark, a one-armed war veteran friend of his:

As they turned together onto Greystoke Place, Mark took Nathaniel’s arm, pulling him to a stop. “Look, mate. I’d say I’m pretty able to handle myself, yes? You don’t go around telling me to stay out of fights, do you?”

Mark was perhaps the last man Nathaniel would have wished to brawl with. “Indeed not.”

“But even so, if I said I was going to take up bare-knuckle fighting, you’d maybe point out I come up a bit short in the matter of knuckles. Right?”

“I see where this inelegant metaphor is leading.”

“I’m missing a hand, so I need not to get into situations where that’s a problem. Well, I’m not the only one missing something, that’s all I’m saying.”

We can all only hope to have friends as good as Mark.


What I plan to read next

Given how little I've managed to read this week, I'm not going to speculate. So many possibilities! But we'll see.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
2017-05-31 03:30 pm
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing, I Feel Good Today edition

Hello, world! The weather has been glorious all week! I biked thirty miles on Saturday! I kicked ass at Sculpt yesterday! I might be just a little bit manic following recovery from that cold, but I Feel So Dang Good! So let's talk about books.

What I've just finished reading

A Talent For Trickery, by Alissa Johnson. So frustrating - I really liked the character setup here, but the plot felt overly contrived and kept the main character passive throughout, which led to the big emotional beats of the romance feeling hollow. Oh well.


What I'm currently reading

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. I continue to have mixed feelings about this book, and the primary split between excellent social analysis and no real self-observation on the part of the author is only becoming more blatant. The chapter on live webcams, and the industry and culture that's sprung up around them, for instance, is absolutely fascinating; after talking quite a bit about some of the more well-known members of the community Witt joined and relating bits from interviews with performers and customers alike, she talks about a couple of friends she made and how, with their help, she tried setting up a session herself - and then just stops. Cold. No description of what happened, or how it felt to her, or how it fit in to her sense of who she was and what she was looking for vis a vis sexual connection - just, a little more general analysis, and then the chapter was over. It seemed such an abrupt halt that I'm genuinely starting to wonder if the book's problem came about during editing. She might have initially written it to be much more personal and memoir-ish, but then decided it worked better as social analysis? Or perhaps she just wasn't comfortable sharing so much so publicly, which, okay, fine, but this is an odd topic to tackle and then suddenly play shy.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. I picked this up from Audible in preparation to listening to Jackson's biography, and whoa. I've known for a long time that she had a real talent for portraying the darker side of human social dynamics and the horrors that can arise from them (frankly, anyone who's read "The Lottery" could probably guess as much), but this is an elegantly simple and chillingly effective portrayal of insular family dysfunction caused in part by social ostracism, given an extra frisson of uncertainty by being told through the eyes of a narrator who is...likely not entirely reliable. I can see why it's considered a classic of the genre.

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle. When I started rereading these books, I was feeling very uncertain about the world and where it was headed, and part of what resonated with me was the way L'Engle's world acknowledges that uncertainty rather than denying it exists. I picked up this one last night, in the midst of an emotional high point, and strangely that still resonated - but even more was the certainty that, just as there are supernaturally powerful beings of chaos and darkness in the universe, there are also equally powerful beings of order and light that are fighting to preserve what's been built. Being the humanist that I am, I interpret this as allegory for the two sides of human nature (and, indeed, of the universe), but it's a potent message all the same, and I'm glad I'm rereading them now.

What I plan to read next

Hrm. I still have that copy of Jackson's The Sundial waiting for me...
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-05-24 11:18 am

Wednesday book meme thing, trailing end of a cold edition

Last Tuesday I had the sort of back-of-the-throat sinus pain that usually heralds an oncoming cold; however, given the option to believe it was allergies, which I've never had (in fairness, May is an especially terrible month for allergies in Chicago), or a cold, I inexplicably went with the former and did not adjust my activity schedule in the least. Three hours of massage, an hour of biking, two hours of yoga, and two days later, I was in full-blown no-energy knocked-on-my-butt cold territory, and missed two days' work at the spa as a result. Eugh. I'm nearly better, aside from a trailing cough, but it serves me right for not listening to my body.

But hey! Lots of reading time!


What I've just finished reading

Sunstone, vol. 5, by Stjepan Šejić. The writing in this lesbian BDSM love story has been a little uneven - though, in fairness, no more so than most romances - but the artwork. Whoa. (It's not explicit, though definitely NSFW.) Šejić has clearly cultivated the high-level comic creator's ability to visualize a scene in an unusual way that contributes to the telling of the story, and several of the story bits that might feel a little interminable in text are rendered in striking and imaginative ways that help communicate the narrator's state of mind. I particularly liked, in this volume, watching Lisa's somewhat fragmented mental waffling illustrated as the falling petals of a nearly universe-sized daisy - she loves me, she loves me not. (Because man, when you're in love and uncertain, it really can take up your whole universe.) And even with its somewhat fanfic-y feel, the character and major plot arcs are all resolved in an emotionally authentic way. I loved it.

All In the Timing, by David Ives. This was a gift from [personal profile] cyrano, and while I enjoyed reading it, it definitely illustrated to me why I don't spend a lot of time reading plays any longer - I haven't cultivated that sense of directorial vision, capable of considering multiple possible presentations simultaneously, and doing so is a lot more mental work than just reading a novel. Still, my benefactor asked for my thoughts, so here they are:

--The concepts behind "Sure Thing" (where two strangers navigate the tricky waters of a coffee-shop conversation on the way to genuine connection, with a gong helpfully sounding whenever one of them missteps) and "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread" (a musical number playing on the eponymous composer's stylistic quirks and nihilistic sensibility transposed into a completely banal setting) both made me smile, although I wonder how many people the latter would really play to outside of particular demographics - surely lots of theater-goers haven't seen Koyannisqatsi.

--"Words, Words, Words" (in which three monkeys with typewriters serve as a metaphor for the blind human push toward art-making) struck me as a little precious in its conceit, but could work with a good enough director/cast.

--"The Universal Language" (in which a con man sells lessons in his invented "Unamunda" language to a woman suffering from a stutter, only to find such joy in teaching it to her that he falls for his own con) surprised me in its earnestness; I'd thought that I had pegged the collection as rather more postmodern cynicism, but it was oddly touching all the same.

--"The Philadelphia" was more straightforward, didn't outstay its primary joke, and made me genuinely laugh. ("I've been in a Cleveland all week. It's like death, but without the advantages.")

--Weirdly, "Variations on the Death of Trostky", which seems to be the one most people remember from this collection, didn't do a lot for me as written; I think that may be the lack of directorial eye speaking. I felt like I was missing something, whether from the direction or political context or simple lack of familiarity with 1930s Russian socialist philosophy.

Still, on the whole, I enjoyed the collection, and would totally audition for the part of Dawn in "The Universal Language".

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole. Luckily this picked up some as the story progressed; most critically, Elle gained some depth of character. I appreciate that she's still prickly and judgmental (and justifiably so, given her history and contemporaneous context), but she gets to be a little more three-dimensionally human as things go on. And the Confederate vs. Union spy plot does a nice job moving things along, as well as giving the romance a sense of urgency sometimes lacking in the genre.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Hrmm. So many mixed feelings on this one. [personal profile] asakiyume brought up some very cogent points about how it feels like a very specific and limited dystopia - although there's some discussion of how it affects other groups (largely through deportation), the focus is by far on educated middle-and-upper-class white women, and reflects a very specific fear of their social worth (and, thus, their privilege) being reduced down to that of baby-making machines. Which seems almost quaint in retrospect - as she pointed out, if anything, what's kept women subservient (in our culture and in others) has been not a lack of fertility, but an abundance of it; higher education and social autonomy for women is linked strongly to access to birth control.

That's not to invalidate the underlying fear - given the persistent volume (if not necessarily numbers) of the conservative movement, and the high placement of some of its more extreme members, it's understandable that the Netflix series has become popular - but it does seem rather blind to how its dystopia would be received by women of different ethnic or social groups. (There's no mention as to what, if anything, has happened to black women, for instance. I pictured the narrator's friend Moira as a lighter-skinned black woman, although I don't think there's anything in the text to support that. Nor is there much differentiation in social class - would a poorer woman already used to being largely looked down on embrace her role as a Handmaid, given that it comes with a certain cachet?)

There are some touches here that ring true - I especially liked the portrayal of a culture that promises women freedom from predatory sexualization under patriarchal guardianship, only to have those same supposed guardians be the one doing the predating. But for every detail that felt "right", there were others that brought up far more questions - who, for instance, does this dictatorship even serve? How does it fit into global politics? Who are they fighting? How did they even get into power in the first place, absent some kind of major disaster? I realize that our narrator's limited viewpoint means some of these questions naturally would go unanswered, but I have a feeling [personal profile] osprey_archer's Society for Improved Dictatorship would have some choice words for these people.


What I'm currently reading

A Talent for Trickery, by Alissa Johnson. In a weird way, this is turning out to be the opposite of An Extraordinary Union. The female protagonist is charming and well-drawn from the outset, but both leads are getting bogged down in a lot of Feelings About the Past, which, while certainly a valid part of romance (especially between two thirtysomethings with a history), doesn't make for a particularly dynamic plot. Most of the actual plot developments have been fairly external to the characters, which isn't necessarily a problem, but here has had the result of making the female lead especially a passive reactor in her own story - something that's frustrating to her (given that she's a former con woman and not used to passivity) as much as me, the reader. I do like the theme of how people's lives and priorities can change over time, but I hope things pick up here as well.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. "Internet dating had evolved to present the world around us, the people in our immediate vicinity, and to fulfill the desires of a particular moment. At no point did it offer guidance in what to do with such a vast array of possibility. {...} It brought us people, but it did not tell us what to do with them." Even beyond Internet dating, this seems to be the thrust of the book so far - Witt writes about her desire for connection, but seems patently uninterested in forming any kind of actual personal connection with anyone she encounters. I think [personal profile] asakiyume hit the nail on the head last week when she pointed out that going into any kind of relationship simply looking to get your needs met is a recipe for failure, since a relationship should be about what you can do for the other person as much as what they can do for you; this definitely adds a pathetic (in the sense of "pathos" as well as the more common definition) dimension to her search. I'm waiting to see if Witt will show any insight on this point, although I admit my hopes are not high. Luckily it's not a terribly long book.


What I plan to read next

I'm going to need a new audiobook to replace The Handmaid's Tale. I'm eyeing Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, although I want to read a bit more of her work before I tackle the biography - I've read a bunch of her domestic-humor writing (which is notable in how it's been dismissed as trivial, despite the very real thread of psychological horror and fear in losing one's personhood to 1950s domesticity...or maybe that's just my interpretation), but little of her outright horror other than "The Lottery". I have a copy of The Sundial I ordered more than a year ago (!) that I've been meaning to read...or maybe I'll use one of my Audible credits to nab The Haunting of Hill House or another of her works. Suggestions?
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-05-17 11:13 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing, not-quite-gelling edition

What I've just finished reading

Last week was the big "finish all the things" push, so this week's been more about starting new books! Interestingly, I've started three, and despite being somewhat disparate in genre, they all have a similar issue:

What I'm currently reading

An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole. This book came highly recommended by the Smart Bitches, and I liked the premise - a black woman with an eidetic memory who works as a spy for the Union during the Civil War - but so far the execution is kind of meh. Some of it's probably stylistic - there's a certain amount of tell-don't-show happening, and the dialogue between the characters doesn't really mesh - but honestly, I think the biggest problem is that I just don't care about the protagonist. She's certainly smart and driven, but doesn't seem to have much actual personality past her work. That's really showing now that she's met the main character - their interactions to this point have been either neutral or hostile, but suddenly they're bantering, and I don't have any real sense of how her emotions got from point A to point B. Realizing you're both spies working on the same side might explain some of it, but all of her other feelings that we've seen have been curmudgeonly at best, so enh. I'll probably read a bit more and see if it picks up, but so far this is showing a high likelihood of DNF.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I picked this up off a library giveaway cart ages ago - I think I was nineteen or twenty at the time - and I couldn't get into it at all. At the time I didn't have the historical or sociopolitical knowledge to give it context; now that I'm perhaps somewhat painfully informed on those fronts, I thought I'd give it another go - especially since Audible has a nicely-produced special edition they've just released to promote/capitalize on the series. And...it's not bad. I definitely have a better appreciation now for the worldbuilding and the social commentary. But I'm not really grooving on this one, either. I think there might be some of the same issues going on - I'm about a third of the way through and so far, Offred hasn't really been a character in her own right so much as a means to view her world, which feels doubly strange given that we're clearly supposed to feel shock and horror at how this world treats her as a thing to be used. The craftsmanship is higher-level, though, so I'll probably keep listening - it helps that I can do housework or whatever at the same time.

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. This was an unintended purchase from the local feminist bookstore. (Brian, seeing me engrossed: "I was going to buy that for you but I would've sworn you already had it." Me: "I do not, would you buy it for me?" Brian: "Sure, but why don't you buy it?" Me: "Because I'm trying to stick to my moratorium on book-buying.") So far it appears to be half girl-dating-in-the-city memoir (a la I Don't Care About Your Band) and half history-and-analysis-of-nontraditional-relationship-options. She opens the book talking about how her expectation (like most women in our culture) had always been that she would date for a while before eventually meeting and marrying Mr. Right; this book is supposedly a chronicle of what happened when she turned 30 and, not having met him, decided to challenge the cultural narrative and try different models for meeting her sexual needs, from the relatively banal (Internet dating, webcams) to the more outré (polyamory, attending Burning Man) to the avant-garde (orgasmic meditation). And a lot of the analysis is solid; I particularly liked this passage, on both how much and how little has changed for women in this arena:

In theory, I could behave as I wished.  Without breaking any laws I could dress as a nun and get spanked by a person dressed as the pope.  I could watch a porn starlet hula-hoop on my computer while I had sex with a battery-operated prosthetic.  I could contact a stranger on the Internet, tell him to meet me at the north entrance of the Woolworth building, tell him I would make myself known only if he arrived carrying three Mylar balloons referencing Disney animated classics, and then, if he fulfilled my wishes, go to his place for sex.  I could do all these things without having to wear a scarlet letter, get thrown in jail, or be stoned in public.

I did not do any of these things.  My timidity not only concerned ideas of sexual "safety" (especially since most such ideas were ruses that gave women a false sense of control in an unpredictably violent world).  My avoidance of sex also had a lot to do with an equation, a relationship of exchange around which I organized my ideas.  {...}  Being sexually cautious meant I was looking for "something serious".  Having sex with more people meant I privileged the wims of the instant over transcendent higher-order commitments that developed over long stretches of time.  {...}  The arbitrary nature of these correlations had not occurred to me.

I appreciate her ability to articulate the cultural assumptions that so many of us never examine, and for that reason I'll likely keep reading.  However, I've noticed that she's somewhat less solid on examining her own reactions.  For an author who's supposedly interested in exploring alternative forms of sexual expression, she seems to come at them from an extremely judgmental standpoint.  I get that some of that is probably because she's operating outside of her comfort zone, but a lot of the time she comes off as perpetrating exactly the sort of social moralizing that she supposedly has rejected.

I wonder if part of the problem is that she doesn't seem to have differentiated between sexual needs and emotional needs.  She talks about them as separate, so clearly she understands that they're not the same thing, but in describing her experiences she often appears to conflate the two, expressing disappointment when an encounter (even one specifically acknowledged to be solely sexual in nature) leaves her emotionally unfulfilled.  It's a strange blind spot from an otherwise quite articulate writer.  

What I'm going to read next

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin.  My paperback copy arrived and is staring at me sternly from the coffee table.  I'll get to you soon, Notes!  I promise!

missroserose: (Default)
2017-05-10 02:25 pm
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing

What I've just finished reading

Radiance, by Catherynne M Valente. I haven't written anything about this previously, because I've been reading it out loud to Brian, and between our respective schedules and hobbies our reading time has been far more intermittent than I'd like - it took us well over a year to finish this. That said, a book like this, told in snippets, and where any given passage is about the language and imagery as it is any real advancement of plot, works surprisingly well in that format. I'm not entirely certain how well the various themes - of the search for oneself at the heart of the parallel journeys of moviemaking and interstellar travel, of the carelessness and lack of understanding with which humans appropriate their environment, of the story told by the camera by omission as much as by projected images, of the effects of observation on stories, and on people, and on the stories those people create - hold together, but clearly they stuck in my mind even when the details had faded. I want to go back at some point and reread this in one chunk, but given the size of my to-read list, I'm not certain when that might be.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. My enthusiasm for this one waned toward the end - Marguerite spends the entire final act doing little more than being an observer for the audience, which puts her in some slightly beyond-the-suspension-of-disbelief scenarios solely so she can over hear so-and-so's plans. I'm put in mind of more than one piece of writing advice that discourages both first-person and third-person-limited viewpoints for precisely this reason; personally, I feel that it depends strongly on the type of story you're telling - if our heroine had had more of an emotional arc in the second half of the book, this might have worked far better. Alas, for most of the ending the story feels unnecessarily chained to its passive protagonist. I did enjoy the final plot twist, predictable as it was; still, I think I'll stick to the miniseries the next time I want to experience the story - Marguerite is much more interesting in that one, and it skips the pretty blatant anti-Semitism.

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L'Engle. I'd forgotten exactly how gosh-darn quickly everything happens in this story. Reading it as an adult, the breathless pacing lends extra pathos to Meg's protestations that she and Calvin and Charles Wallace haven't been prepared for any of this - they haven't. But I wonder how much of that feels extra identifiable to young adults, who are often thrust into new situations (that may well feel life-and-death) with little to no advance preparation. Ditto to the three W's constantly telling them "we can't tell you what to do, you have to figure it out for yourself" - that reads as frustratingly condescending to me as an adult, but to an eleven year old sorting out how to navigate tricky social situations, that's basically just Saturday.

I was surprised at how much I disliked Meg, especially towards the end - it felt like she spent darn near the entirety of the book whining about the unfairness of whatever situation she was in. But whoa, did I see myself in her big moment of character development:

At last she turned to her father. "I'm--I'm sorry, Father."

He took both her hands in his, bent down to her with his short-sighted eyes. "Sorry for what, Megatron?"

Tears almost came into her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname. "I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple...So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault...because I was scared, and I didn't want to have to do anything myself--"

"But I wanted to do it for you," Mr. Murry said. "That's what every parent wants."
 

I've been pondering a lot about my relationship with my mother, and why it's felt so rocky lately.  I'm not quite sure exactly how this maps to my experience, but my gut tells me it's at least part of it.

What The F, by Benjamin K. Bergen.  The last couple of chapters deal with the legal censorship of profanity, in the context of the research that's been done to back up the claims of harm that it perpetuates - which is frustratingly limited and contradictory in its conclusions.  The author's ultimate conclusion seems to be "we need more research, but what we have indicates that moral panic over profanity actually makes the problem worse", which I generally agree with - but there are so many nuances here that aren't addressed. Profanity! )

What I'm currently reading

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin.  This came recommended by a friend when I moved to Chicago, so I picked up the audiobook awhile back.  The other day, I pulled it up on a whim - and within ten minutes I was wanting to cheer aloud, while simultaneously feeling frustrated that this was a book written in 1955 and so much of what it talks about still feels so immediately relevant.  That said, I ordered the paperback almost immediately after returning home (it doesn't count as a new book if you already had it in a different format, right?); there was so much going by so quickly, and I know I'm going to want to dissect it properly for discussion here.

What I plan to read next

L'Engle's A Wind in the Door is next in the series, although Notes may displace it as my current-paper-book of choice.  (I tend to read a lot of books at once, but I try to limit myself to one in any given format.)  Other than that, who knows?
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-05-03 11:13 am

Wednesday book meme thing, recuperation edition

It's amazing how much "I just finished three weeks with all of two days off and no relaxation days in any of them" feels like "I'm fighting off a cold", except without the sniffles and coughing. Not that I'm complaining, but I suspect I've learned my lesson about scheduling downtime, heh. At least until the next time I have a busy period following a long quiet one.

What I've just finished reading

Yesterday was my first SOMA day in three weeks, so while I've gotten some reading in here and there I haven't finished anything. I'm nearly done with a couple of books, though!

What I'm currently reading

What the F, by Benjamin K. Bergen. I'm not sure if the repetitive style is easing off in later chapters or I'm just growing used to it, but it's bothering me less as we go on. Some of this might be due to the proportion of new information I'm encountering - I found the section on profanity as parts of speech, and the unusual rules it follows, particularly fascinating. Cut for profanity, duh. ) Being a giant nerd who loves overarching patterns and rules, but loves finding exceptions to those patterns and rules even more, this kind of thing is absolutely delightful to me.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Oh noes! Marguerite, having betrayed the titular hero of legend to the representative of the corrupt French government in order to save her brother, has finally realized that he was, in fact, her seemingly-brainless fop of a husband all along! (Er, spoilers? I mean, the book's over a century old at this point...) Now he, on a mission to save another Comte, races headlong into a trap! Can she get there in time to save him - or, if all goes wrong, at least find him in time to apologize and accompany him to the gallows? I think the modern critics who've compared this to superhero stories aren't far off - the level of subtlety and nuance in the writing is about on par with earlier comic books, haha. Still, it's good clean melodramatic fun - sometimes you just want to cheer the beautiful maiden on against the evil and corrupt government, especially when one's own government seems determined to fulfill that same role.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle. I read this one roughly a bazillion times as a kid but haven't touched it in more than a decade, and I'm surprised at how accurate my memories are of some of the lines - lots of other books in that category I find I've misremembered. Something that jumps out at me a lot more as an adult is how trusting Charles Wallace is of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which - and even more so, how trusting Calvin is of all of them and the Murry family, despite having barely interacted with them prior to being invited to dinner. And yet, I totally feel his exultant joy in having found a clan of people with whom he fits in; combined with the more adventurous/less risk-averse mindset of a teenager, I can completely understand how he'd be down for a cross-universe adventure on the strength of a gut feeling of belonging. Still, the part of my brain that's all "Informed consent! That's important!" is shaking its head more than a little, and thinking it's lucky that the three W's were ancient beings fighting for the good of the universe, and not (say) representatives of the Sea Org.

What I plan to read next

Totally up in the air at the moment, but I strongly suspect it'll be from my shelves/Kindle storage - I've already broken my "no new books" rule once recently, haha. (I read them when I was a kid! That makes them old books, right??)
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
2017-04-19 11:05 am

Wednesday book meme thing, three-rounds-with-a-Mack-truck edition

A sure sign that I've been overdoing it physically is waking up feeling like I've been flattened by an 18 wheeler in my sleep. It's not unusual for this time of year - I'm biking more (including more than an hour to and from Sauganash on Monday), running a lot of errands, doing spring cleaning here and there, plus teaching yoga as well as maintaining my own practice. But man, am I exhausted today. Given that my activity levels aren't likely to decrease anytime soon, I think I'm going to start making a regular practice of SOMA (short for Sit On My Ass) days. And luckily, today is a good candidate. All I have to do is teach a class at 6:00; other than that, I can rest and read and maybe take a nice hot bath with Epsom salts.

And what a perfect sort of day to write up a weekly book meme!

What I've just finished reading

all about love, by bell hooks. While eight months is not the longest time I've taken reading a book, it's on the high end, especially for one this relatively slender. You know the old joke, "Where do you hide a book? --In a library"? Also true of my bedroom and its multiple bookshelves with books stacked multiple layers deep. I set this one down halfway through, it got whisked onto a shelf in a frenzied cleaning bout, and I couldn't find it for months - and then when I found it again, it took me several weeks to get back to it amidst everything else I was reading. I'm glad I finished it when I did, though; having taken up the book meme, it gave me a chance to experience the text on a more interactive level, since I was writing about it on a regular basis rather than just in summary at the end.

I have a bunch of highlighted passages, but the one that I think best summarizes the thrust of the book, from the final chapter: "...the journey towards self-actualization and spiritual growth is an arduous one, full of challenges. Usually it is downright difficult. Many of us believe that our difficulties will end when we find a soul mate. Love does not lead to an end to difficulties; it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our spiritual growth." (Emphasis mine.) I don't have much to add to that, other than simply to say that it aligns with my experience, and I feel it's a distinction that many folks in our culture would benefit from reflecting on.

Interacting with the text (especially at the same time as Meditations from the Mat) also helped me articulate my mixed feelings about philosophy/self-help books. One of the things I really liked about all about love is that it feels, in many ways, like a meta-analysis of its subject - hooks draws from numerous books, studies, interviews, and popular sources for her conclusions, and while she does use personal anecdotes to illustrate points that speak to her experience, she doesn't (usually) attempt to generalize those stories as representative of universal experience. Many, many other philosophy books fall into precisely that trap, which becomes increasingly problematic as you move farther away from the author's nationality/income level/culture/other demographics; it remains my single biggest pet peeve with popular philosophy...probably, as with most pet peeves, because it reflects a similar tendency in myself that I'm not proud of.


What I'm reading now

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, by Benjamin K. Bergen. Cut for profanity - it's hard to talk about a book about profanity without using profanity! )

Meditations from the Mat
, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. I took a break from this one for a couple of weeks, but have returned to reading an essay or two each evening before bed; it's helped that there's been less anecdotal generalization and more abstract philosophy. I particularly like Gates' definition of tapas, the yogic principle of 'burning zeal', i.e. the discipline required to make positive change in one's life and spiritual practice. He talks about karma as the trajectory we're set on by the circumstances of our birth, gender, social class, family, and experiences; and he defines tapas as "the generation of internal momentum to counteract the momentum of karma". This dovetails nicely with my reflections on the differences between comedy and tragedy, which are in turn reflective of my longtime thoughts on nature and nurture, predestination and self-determination, order and chaos. I'm not sure I have the spoons to articulate it all today, but the interplay between karma and tapas seems a good place to start. It's a complicated universe we live in that often seems immutable, and yet by the very laws of gravity, to quote British quantum physicist Paul Dirac, "Pick a flower on Earth, and you move the farthest star." As in so much of our universe, I suspect the answer is not one or the other, but both - even when that seems to create a paradox.

The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Dumas has found himself in possibly the biggest nightmare a man of his ambition, talents and determined physical agency could encounter: at the mercy of a hostile foreign power, trapped within a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of diplomatic and military affairs, and now struck with some kind of mysterious ailment that may or may not be an attempt by the aforementioned hostile foreign power to rid themselves of a politically inconvenient 'guest'. I admit that I didn't foresee this particular twist; while his imprisonment was mentioned at the beginning as part of his story, given his constant friction with Napoleon, I had assumed it would come at the latter's behest once the man had consolidated his power. Given that Dumas was nearly as famous and respected, however, as well as far more physically impressive, I find myself speculating whether Napoleon's recasting himself as military dictator would have gone quite so smoothly had Dumas, and his strong belief in the principles of the Revolution, been present to object. The book hasn't (so far) presented the question, and from its presentation of the General's canny political instinct as well as the political structure of the time, it feels unlikely, but so far I have only the one source to go on.


What I plan to read next

I've noticed that I tend to select books the same way I do hair colors - there are general rules that I (usually) follow, but the actual selection depends largely on my gut feeling at the time. So in other words - stay tuned!
missroserose: (Book Love)
2017-04-12 09:12 am
Entry tags:

Wednesday book meme thing

What I just finished reading

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. As I think I mentioned before, the characters really made this book for me. Regardless of his own personal lack of faith, Landsman doggedly pursues his case and his own personal demons to a remarkably satisfying finish. Berko, Landsman's half-Jewish partner and friend (another favorite quote: "But to look at, he's pure Tlingit. Tartar eyes, dense black hair, broad face built for joy but trained in the craft of sorrow."), finds some peace in his identity. If the book passes the Bechdel test, it's only by a squeak, and I didn't get a sense that any of the female characters got distinct arcs; however, there are at least two well-drawn female characters of determined agency; especially Bina, Landsman's boss/ex-wife/longtime soulmate, who treats him with an eminently believable mixture of love and caring balanced by sick-of-his-shit boot-to-the-ass exasperation.

But really, I think it was the timing that made this book one of my favorites. Sometimes you read a book and realize you would have enjoyed it a lot more in the past; other times you pick up a book you've had on your radar for ages and realize you appreciate it a lot more than you would have if you'd read it when it came out. The atmosphere of melancholy and apprehension that pervades the story nicely mirrors the recent zeitgeist of my social circle. But it was really this bit from the end that launched it into "personal favorite" territory:

 
For days Landsman has been thinking that he missed his chance with Mendel Shpilman, that in their exile at the Hotel Zamenhof, without even realizing, he blew his one shot at something like redemption.  But there is no Messiah of Sitka.  Landsman has no home, no future, no fate but Bina.  The land that he and she were promised was bounded only by the fringes of their wedding canopy, by the dog-eared corners of their cards of membership in an international fraternity whose members carry their patrimony in a tote bag, their world on the tip of the tongue.

 
Given how much of my anxiety of late has been tied directly into that sense of rootlessness, the fear that all the work I've put into building my life will be lost - that everything humanity has created, all the knowledge we've gained, will be lost - it's good to be reminded that life is resilient.  If whole cultures have existed for centuries without even the foundation of a country of their own, who's to say I won't survive whatever uprooting forces are coming?  And if I don't, others will; and if we don't, some other species will come along, and discover the remains of our species, and wonder.  I find this an oddly comforting thought.

What I'm currently reading

all about love, by bell hooks.  I read a few chapters this week:  on romantic love, on loving through loss, and on mutuality - the latter being called "the heart of love".  I particularly like how she calls out patriarchal culture for creating a world where women are socialized to be emotionally fluent and available to their partners, but men are not; thus, women generally are good at meeting their partners' needs, but men are not.  Given that having your emotional needs (for acknowledgment, for support, for acceptance) met is an important part of mental health, this then feeds into the narrative that men are inherently superior, more even-keeled, and better able to govern themselves and others.  It's an insidious dynamic, and one that I'm glad is getting some attention through discussions of emotional labor.  

What I plan to read next

So many options!  I just picked up an audiobook on Audible Daily Deal titled What the F:  What Swearing Reveals About Our Langauge, Our Brains, and Ourselves, which I suspect is going to be high on the candidacy list - language and biology and sociology, three of my favorite things!  But we'll see.