missroserose: (Book Love)
Hello, book friends! Last Friday I announced my intention to pursue music again and bought a piano, despite my historic ambivalence on the musical/performing front. And then while writing about that ambivalence here on DW, I hit a serious patch of Feels. Like, angry, ugly-crying, wanting-to-punch-something capital-F Feels. I don't get angry that often! It was disconcerting. Still, I had a good cry on Brian's shoulder and talked to a friend and wrote a lot of pages in my paper journal and felt better. I don't expect the path ahead to be smooth, but I'm hoping there'll be less resistance now, if that makes sense. Although I doubt that entry is going to ever see the light of day, haha.

Anyway, time for books!

What I've just finished reading

Nothing new this week - I'm working on finishing the good-size books I have going.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. I'm 80% through this tome, and some things have finally happened! Teresita has died and returned to life, is being venerated as a saint, and is preaching revolution to the Mexicans! These large-scale events are all interesting, but continue to be sketched entirely through small interpersonal vignettes that often seem to obfuscate as much as they illuminate (what exactly was Don Tomás' motivation in acknowledging her as his illegitimate daughter, pre-death? How is the rancho dealing with the sudden descent of thousands of pilgrims, and presumably the associated loss of much of their income? What precisely is it that the revolutionaries don't like about the current administration?). It feels more than a little bit like observing history through a single window - you see particular scenes in great and vivid detail, but any kind of broad-scale analysis is difficult if you don't already have the background knowledge of the time to give context. Which, given that I undertook this novel in the hopes of gaining some of that knowledge, is slightly frustrating. Still, the individual vignettes continue to be engaging; I particularly like how Teresita's relationship with her father (who's not previously been known for his respect for female intelligence) is evolving.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin. "The Lottery" might have put Jackson on the map as a storyteller, but with Life Among the Savages, her gently humorous account of domestic tribulations, she's become a bona fide bestseller - and not soon enough, given her large family's precarious financial and housing situation. While she anticipates this cushion giving her relief from her husband's constant henpecking about her work habits, I suspect his ambivalence in their relationship - enjoying and appreciating her financial success while feeling stymied and overshadowed in his own career, a particularly toxic combination for the mindset of the typically-socialized 1950s man - will only grow.

Ambivalence is definitely a theme in both their lives; Jackson enjoys cultivating an unusual and even outré image (decades before the Goth movement, she marketed herself as "the only currently publishing author who is also a practicing witch"), but the social penance she pays for her image is not small, especially in the tight-knit New England towns where she's already marked as an outsider. Having spent much of my school years in that same "I don't want to be part of your dumb ol' club anyway! (but it still hurts that I'm not)" space, I really feel her; we all have social needs, but what do you do when your immediate social environment is so hostile to your personal values? Perhaps it's not at all surprising that so many of her stories focus on socially alienated families in large houses, or that she and Stanley regularly hosted all-night parties with their New York writer friends (which only further aroused the curiousity and suspicions of their neighbors, in, the literary historian in me notes, a century-and-a-half-later echo of the suspicions of the local villagers of Byron and his crew). Perhaps Jackson's later somewhat infamous descent into agoraphobia is unsurprising, given the circumstances.

What I plan to read next

I'm determined to knock The Hummingbird's Daughter off this week, so I suspect that'll be a good chunk of my reading time. After that...hm. I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology metanarrative from my neighborhood bookstore that I'm looking forward to. We'll see!
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
Hello, book friends! Today I went to Sculpt for the first time since traveling and recovering from a cold. (I hit a class last Saturday but realized ten minutes in that I was not recovered, and ended up sitting a good chunk of it out.) I was pleased to discover I could make it all the way through with minimal modifications; it's definitely tougher than it was three weeks ago but getting back to where I was shouldn't be too difficult of a climb. For the moment, though, I'm rather glad I don't need to raise my arms over my head anytime in the next several hours.


What I've just finished reading

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer. Not a bad little trip, on the whole, although the criticisms about its sexist outlook are not without merit. Still, I learned a few things and laughed a few times, so on the whole I'll take it. I appreciated the picture sections with tapestries and manuscripts from the era; many of them I'd seen before, but it was cool to examine the fashions and art styles and whatnot just after reading about them.

The Ruin of a Rake, by Cat Sebastian. I've read a few of Sebastian's romances now, and unfortunately, all three have come up basically...not-quite. The dialogue feels not-quite-natural, the characters don't quite spring off the page, the chemistry never quite clicks. Which is a shame, because her setting and her plot both work beautifully. But especially with romance and especially-especially with sex, the interest is in how the characters get from civilized-and-guarded-with-defenses-firmly-in-place to primal-and-intimate-and-terrifyingly-open. And I don't think she's quite mastered that segue yet.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. I'm having an interesting relationship with this one. When I think about it objectively, I feel like not a lot is happening, so I end up drifting off to this or that new book...but then I finish that book, pick this one back up again, and am immediately absorbed in its colorful depiction of late-nineteenth-century Mexican life. So I can't say I'm not enjoying it, but I'm really wondering where it's all going, or if it's actually just a 528-page vignette.

What I plan to read next

I'm thinking it's time I pulled up Google Translate and Bara roligt i Bullerbyn - I got bogged down about 2/3rds through and never got around to finishing it. But man, it's hard to read in a second language - I'm so used to being able to look at a paragraph and pick up its meaning almost effortlessly, so having to work it out word by word is humbling. I know learning to read English was hard, because my mother tells me that I struggled with it, but I wanted to be able to read books for myself so badly that I was strongly motivated. But I don't remember any of that - I literally can't remember a time when I couldn't read. So the exercise in humility is probably good for me, heh.
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
I'm back from Alaska, and managed to meet my goal of making it through an entire visit with my mother without getting into a flaming row. Hooray for active listening!  Or perhaps we just got the row out of the way beforehand, heh.  On the less-good side, someone in my home state was kind enough to share a cold with me, which I'm still fighting off...and I have two classes to teach tonight. I suspect tonight's focus will be self-directed practice, heh.


What I've just finished reading

An Unsuitable Heir, by KJ Charles. What makes a long flight home with a cold bearable? Pseudoephedrine and a new KJ Charles romance. The former sort of tunnels my awareness, making me tend to hyper-focus on one thing rather than be aware of my surroundings, but in coach class that's not necessarily a bad thing (although I did almost miss the beverage cart a couple of times). And the story of Pen and Mark - a nonbinary Victorian era circus performer suddenly heir to an unwanted earldom, and a one-armed private investigator with a pragmatic outlook and catholic tastes - was a delightful thing to focus upon. The book also finishes the Sins of the Cities plot arc, which is pure Victorian serial melodrama, but elevated by Charles' usual excellent characterization, and given some interesting twists by Pen's nonstandard self-image. I also loved Pen's relationship with twin sister Greta; there are really too few supportive sibling relationships in the fiction I read.


What I'm currently reading

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer. This book continues to be a fascinating refinement of my perceptions of fourteenth-century England. There haven't been many outright revelations - I've read a fair amount of fiction set in the period, beginning with Karen Cushman's work in elementary school (Catherine, Called Birdy was always a favorite). But there are some minor details I hadn't realized - for instance, while personal cleanliness is more difficult prospect than it is now and standards for cleanliness are somewhat different (a healthy body odor is thought to be a sign of virility, at least among the lower classes), people still wash their hands and face when they get up in the morning, and handwashing is mandatory before and after meals. Most personal washing is done in basins, and thus somewhat more sporadically than we'd consider ideal (especially in the freezing winters), but especially among the more prosperous tradesmen and the nobility, it's considered bad form to go around stinking up the place, so people make do. Household cleanliness is made difficult both by the lack of good detergents and of labor-saving devices, but that doesn't mean it's neglected; cleanliness (or the appearance thereof) is closely linked to purity of spirit, and is thus highly valued in religious medieval England. So perhaps my grousing about how everyone in Galavant looks a little too clean is somewhat misguided.

Another point brought up that I found interesting was that of ignorance vs. misinformation, specifically as regards the medical profession of the time. Physicians were not ignorant; medieval medical texts were chock-full of 'knowledge' on treating illness. Unfortunately, since much of that knowledge came from flawed sources (astrology, humoral theory, superstition, hearsay, a little practical experience with no scientific method applied), it tended to be less-than-helpful at best. It does give you an idea of why Enlightenment principles had something of an uphill battle before them; it's much harder to convince people to change their outlook when there's already an established worldview.

Also, I'm quoting this passage in full, because it made me laugh. From the end of chapter 8, on the perils of taking hospitality in monasteries:

There is an old traveling minstrels' trick which you might want to keep up your sleeve. How guests are treated in a monastery is the decision of the almoner {man in charge of distributing alms}. If he treats you badly, or serves you the most miserly portions of food, or if you get given "a vile and hard bed", go to the abbot and praise him to the skies for the generosity of his house, and emphasize the large amount of money which the almoner must have laid out on your behalf.

My lord, I thank you and your worthy convent for the great cheer I have had here, and of the great cost I have taken of you; for your good liberal monk, your almoner, served me yester evening at my supper worthily, with many divers costly messes of fish, and I drank passing good wine.  And now I am going he has given me a new pair of boots, and a good pair of new knives, and a new belt.

The abbot will have little choice but to take such thanks at face value and bask in the fictitious glory.  But have no doubt:  the almoner will have a lot of explaining to do later.

 
As an aside, one of the interesting things about learning Swedish has been the ways in which the construction sometimes resembles medieval speech - the verb is nearly always placed second in the sentence (Hur mår du i kväll?, translates most directly to "How fare you this evening?"); and certain words such as passande (which translates to "suitable" or "appropriate") were used in nearly the same form in medieval English (such as here, in "passing good", which to modern ears sounds like "mediocre" but in fact means "quite excellent").  The language tree is passing fascinating!


What I plan to read next

I need to finish The Hummingbird's Daughter, even though Cat Sebastian's Ruin of a Rake is beckoning me on my Kindle - reformed bad-boy enemies-to-lovers gay Regency romance that won numerous awards?  Did somebody say "catnip"?

missroserose: (Book Love)
Hello, Anchorage! I'm visiting my home state again, and currently running on five hours of sleep, a 30-minute nap I managed to catch this afternoon, and enough coffee and tea to (luckily briefly) spike my blood pressure and kick my adrenals into overdrive. The crash is coming, oh yes, and it will be hard.

But first, before I run out of Wednesday - books!

What I just finished reading

The Sundial, by Shirley Jackson. I found the ending of this one almost anticlimactic. It certainly didn't feel like it added much to what I've already written about this book - things play out precisely as you would expect if you've been paying attention. But I'm beginning to suspect that's typical of Jackson's writing; she's fond of setting up the dominoes of personality and dysfunction and environment and outside circumstance and watching them tip against each other. I did like where the story ended, with our little cultist family right on the cusp of the supposed apocalypse - does the world actually end? Do the characters inherit the renewed earth as they've been promised? Does it turn out to be a metaphorical renewal rather than a literal one? Or, as the last scene hints, is it a literal renewal that turns out to be just as troubled by our cultists' inherent shortcomings and interpersonal dysfunction as the former world? It's left to the reader, and perhaps to the characters, to decide.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Holy Jesus, I loved this book. I had expected it to be something of an investment, if not an outright slog, to get into - I enjoy second-world fantasy and sci-fi, but find myself with less and less patience for the "And now I'm going to spend the next eighty pages describing exactly how magic works in this particular universe" style of worldbuilding these days - but I found it surprisingly engrossing; Leckie could teach a master class on "show, don't tell". I loved all the observed quirks about linguistics and translation, such as the way that the poetry/songs, even when explicitly described as rhyming, don't rhyme in transcription - because of course they wouldn't, we're reading them in English, not whatever language they're from. I loved the concept of a single consciousness split into multiple bodies, what can happen when things don't go as expected, and how that past perspective would inform a given single body cut off from the greater consciousness. (I have a whole page scribbled down in my journal on Justice as a parable for identity, and the importance of maintaining self-honesty and integrity in dealing with others so that we don't entrap them in our conflicting selves; I'm hoping to flesh it out into a blog post later, when I have more brains.) I loved the detail in the varying cultures and their respective sociology. I loved the character arcs - Breq and Seivarden, two very damaged and isolated people, both relearning who they are and where they might fit in the greater picture. I have so many thoughts and they're all kind of scattered, but I'm sure I'll write more about them - there's two more books, after all.

What I'm currently reading

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin. Having graduated and gotten married despite the protestations of their families and the greater culture (in 1940s America it was still unusual for a Jew and a non-Jew to marry), Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman are living in bohemian poverty in Grenwich Village, scraping by as they try to get their foot in the door of the literary scene. I particularly appreciate Franklin's unsparing assessment of their relationship - you can really see the ways in which they complement each other positively (Stanley's editorial eye for Shirley's work and his constant encouragement of her to try new things artistically, as well as his ability to challenge her intellect in a way few men can) and negatively (Shirley's deep and fundamental insecurity, in part due to her mother's constant rejection of her, that leaves her open to Stanley's criticism and constant philandering). Having read a number of pieces about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald claiming that Zelda ruined Scott's life or vice versa, I find myself wondering if this was what their relationship had been like two decades earlier - at its best, intensely creative and inspiring, and at its worst, hitting each other's complementary insecurities so hard as to be mutually destructive.

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer. I realize in retrospect that "just having finished a book" was maybe a rather vulnerable time to go visit one of my favorite used bookstores - I was looking for a specific book and also ended up picking this one off the shelf. In my defense, it's fascinating - an intentionally-accessibly-written history of England throughout the fifteenth century, written intentionally in present tense to give a sense of what it might have been like to live in that era. I'm only a little ways in, but so far I'm enjoying it - if nothing else, it'll give me specifics to carp about next time I'm at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Because everyone loves the period nitpicker, haha.

What I plan to read next

Ancillary Sword is high on the list for the next paper book. On the audiobook front, having read [personal profile] osprey_archer's glowing reviews of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, I was tickled to see My Brilliant Friend on Audible Daily Deal for $5. Sold!
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
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: (Kick Back & Read)
Posting late again - between Sculpt in the morning, errand-running all afternoon, and teaching class in the evening, my Wednesday filled up quickly. Today I'm much less busy, but one of the squat exercises from yesterday did a number on my right hamstring. Luckily I have today off, so I'll forego the biking and hope it's just a mild strain...cross your fingers for me?

What I just finished reading

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. I wanted something lighthearted and fluffy, and a story of romance and magical intrigues set in Regency England seemed likely to fit the bill. I absolutely adored Cho's novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, especially its matter-of-fact portrayal of life as an ethnic minority in 1920s England and its strongly-drawn protagonist.

I'm pleased that I got some of the same here; the two protagonists are both ethnic minorities, and the narrative explores the fraught history and circumstances thoroughly while managing not to fall into maudlin character-defined-by-their-hardships territory. Unfortunately, the greater narrative is somewhat less well-drawn; the middle act in particular, where much of the juicy intrigue happens, feels rather jumbled and unfocused, with many excellent opportunities for worldbuilding ignored and a general feeling of narrative Calvinball. This isn't precisely helped by Zacharias being a frustratingly passive main character; he keeps hearing about these various machinations being fomented against him, but he never seems to do anything about it. By midway through the book I was genuinely wondering at the source of his confidence, and whether he was a champion minimizer or in active denial.

Luckily, things pick up towards the end, and the denouement nicely ties up all the loose ends. My one other complaint is that the two main characters are both so emotionally closed-off that, while I could see thow they would admire each other, I wasn't really buying the romantic angle; they simply hadn't grown emotionally close enough for the sort of love they were professing. I feel like that might have been better saved for a sequel, when the two of them have spent some time together that isn't taken up with politicking or putting out magical brushfires. Still, I enjoyed the story on the whole, and I hope Zen Cho continues to write.

What I'm currently reading

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea. Still enjoying this trek, even if I'm not sure where it's all going. At one point, one of the characters talks about how he's reading Don Quixote, and that set off a ping of recognition in my brain - I've never read the whole thing, but I seem to remember that it's written in much the same style, a string of anecdotes that combine to (in theory) produce a greater narrative. The atmosphere here continues to be all-encompassing; I swear there are times reading it when I can feel myself in the Sonoran desert again.

What I plan to read next

So many options! I'm leaning towards a genre trilogy of some sort; I've been hearing from all sides that Leckie's Ancillary books are amazing, but [personal profile] ivy recommends Jemisin's The Broken Earth series. I may do the latter in audiobook form and the former on paper (the Ancillary audiobooks are notoriously awful); I'd taken a break from audiobooks while I was mainlining The Adventure Zone, but I've listened through their entire first campaign. (How did a podcast of three nerds and their dad playing Dungeons & Dragons make me cry. How.) So, as usual, we'll see!
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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: (Balloons and Ocean)
Hello, fellow book nerds! Last Wednesday was a bit nuts; Brian and I were scrambling about trying to get all the last-minute preparations done for our trip to Washington state, only to discover that our pleasant evening flight had been delayed into an overnight flight thanks to thunderstorms shutting down O'Hare. (Thanks a lot, Chicago weather!) We made it eventually, although we had to shell out no small amount for Lyfts as transit wasn't running that late/early...ah well. The past week has been full of robot fights and gigantic waterfalls and a quick visit with the goddaughter and walks with my mother-in-law and driving. So much driving. And more later today. Washington state, why do you have to be so huge. >.>

And, of course, there has been reading!

What I've just finished reading

The Heiress Effect, by Courtney Milan. Incredibly generic covers aside, I've found this series to be one of my favorite period romances. It does suffer somewhat from the common "Regency romance that's basically modern people living in the trappings of the period" problem, but the characters are so well-drawn and likable that I enjoy them anyway, even if they're ultimately a little forgettable (except, perhaps, for Free and her Suffragettes! in book 4).


What I'm currently reading

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Emily Nagowski, Ph.D. (Yeah, I'm reading roughly a million other books right now, but I bought this intending to read it right away...almost exactly two years ago, if the receipt is to be believed. :P In any case, I finally picked it up off my nightstand and brought it along for the trip.) If you're interested in sociology and sexuality, this is a fascinating book - far more interesting than Future Sex, for all that it's more science-based than memoir. Nagowski's big reveal (er, spoilers? She talks about it in literally the first chapter) is the accelerator/brakes model of sexual arousal, where rather than an on/off switch, eroticism is mostly a matter of context. So we react sexually when there are enough turn-ons present in the environment (say, presence of an attractive partner, sounds/sights of other people having sex, relaxed and receptive mood) and relatively few turn-offs (say, crying children, an unappreciative audience, history of sexual trauma, general life stress); ergo what we think of as "sex drive" is really as much a question of what's going on in the person's immediate surroundings and in their life.

I have a lot of thoughts on this theory. Primarily, Nagowski seems to think it's mostly applicable to women, because their sexuality is socialized in a more complex way; that may be true, but I strongly suspect it's true for a lot of men too, if perhaps to a lesser degree. Similarly, I don't think it's only sex that utilizes this mechanism; laughter, say, is heavily context-dependent, as articulated in the benign violation theory of humor. And the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system works in a similar way to generate a whole host of responses to a range of different situations. So I'll be interested to see where she takes it.

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, by AC Wise. I picked this up as part of the LGBTQ Humble Bundle (it doesn't count as buying new books if it's supporting a good cause, right??), and basically opened it up knowing nothing about it. It seems to be lyrical sci-fi stories with a queer bent; the worldbuilding's been a little scanty in the stories I've read so far, but the sheer human longing at the center of each has been strong and well-rendered enough to easily drive the plots forward.


What I plan to read next

Given that I currently have something like eight books on my currently-reading list, I think I'm going to be best served by finishing some of them before I start to plan more, haha.
missroserose: (Book Love)
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)
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...

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