Gratitudes

Apr. 24th, 2019 11:40 am[personal profile] kass
kass: chartreuse new leaves (spring)
1. Connecting with a cousin who is dying. We had a beautiful chat on FB messenger. I'm grieving her departure from this life (timeline unknown, as usual), and am also feeling grateful for the connection.

2. I walked 10,000 steps at my standing desk today. Five miles, y'all. Haven't done that in... probably years? It's already worth every penny I spent on the wall-mounted monitor omg.

3. I refilled the bird feeder -- I've seen glorious yellow goldfinches there today, and also female cardinals with their wash of red. I put a little sock full of goldfinch seed in the burning bush, also, and we'll see if it attracts more.

4. Now I have a warm purring cat on my lap, gnawing happily on my belt loops as is his wont. Oh wait, he went to go sit by a window and watch birdfeeder tv instead. But he was on my lap for a minute, and it was cozy.

5. Today when I go to lunch with [personal profile] woobat I will carry a chartreuse-green purse that was my mom's. It matches the baby leaves on the trees.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


C. S. Lewis wrote this novel in 1938 after a conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien. They lamented how little fiction was available to their liking, and Lewis agreed to write a space-travel story. He’d written little fiction so far, but as he says in a note preceding the story, he’d enjoyed H.G. Wells’s “fantasies” and owed them a debt.

The resulting novel, more science fantasy than science fiction, contains many pages of imaginative worldbuilding and thoughtful philosophizing. At times, though, the plot slows and thins, as does characterization. Unlike The Screwtape Letters, which I enjoyed and recommend, it offers little humor or stylish writing.

Readers making their first forays into science fiction and fantasy might enjoy more recent books better – the writing here is a little too dated and unsophisticated. However, readers who are trying to grasp the history of science fiction should read this as a milestone in the development of the genre and Lewis’s career. In addition, patient readers might enjoy the intriguing questions it raises about spirituality and ethics.

Although it’s part of a trilogy, this novel reaches a satisfactory stand-alone ending. When our protagonist, having wandered the solar system, finally returns to Earth, his first act is to find a bar and order a pint of bitter.

-- Sue Burke


View all my reviews

Gratitudes

Apr. 23rd, 2019 03:54 pm[personal profile] kass
kass: lilacs, "zen fen" (zen lilac)
1. It finally feels like spring. The trees are popping with leaves. Bits of stunning chartreuse and early red.

2. Tonight I'm going to try making karaage (Japanese fried chicken), which is marinated in soy and ginger and sake and then coated with cornstarch and shichimi togarashi, so it's naturally glutenfree and KFP (by my lights; those who don't eat cornstarch during Pesach would obviously disagree; it can also be made with potato starch, if you prefer.)

3. I'm not yet tired of matzah snacking. This morning I had matzah with labneh and zata'ar for breakfast, which does not suck. :-) It will still be nice to return to bread next weekend, but I am not minding the matzah.

4. I did a bunch of work at my walking desk this morning, and now I'm on my mirpesset with a laptop -- still getting work done, but in the fresh air, hooray.

5. Did I mention that it's spring at last?
mrissa: (Default)

Review copy provided by the publisher. I also have the privilege to know the author a bit socially.





We've now had several decades--all of my lifetime, in fact--with fairy tale variations, reconceptions, recreations as a major subgenre. So the question about a collection like this can sometimes be: is there anything new to say here? Is it possible to fracture a fairy tale in a way that is not in itself a predictable part of canon at this point?





Happily the answer here is not just yes, but "yes and I will even show you a little of how it's done behind the scenes." I was pleasantly surprised to reach the end of the collection and find not only notes on each story but a poem to go with each--sometimes very directly, sometimes with glancing notes on the same theme. Many of these stories are from previous decades, and Yolen takes time in the notes to talk about how she thought of them then--particularly interesting when they span a cultural shift of awareness around who gets to retell tales from whom.





I'd come upon some of these stories before in other collections of Jane's, but I'm never sorry to see "Granny Rumple" reprinted--it changed my world when I first read it, and I think it can do the same for writers and readers who encounter it for the first time now. Jane's warmth and humor permeate these tales, and breaking familiar stories like Snow White and Cinderella in more than one way in one collection gives us even more perspective on what these tales can still do.


Amnesty, by Lara Elena Donnelly

Apr. 21st, 2019 09:47 pm[personal profile] mrissa
mrissa: (Default)

Review copy provided by the publisher.





This is the last in a trilogy, and it is all about consequences. Regular readers know what a sucker I am for consequences.





Years have passed since the events of Amberlough and Armistice. The world is not perfect--there are still war zones--but people have started to get through the very basics of rationing and rebuilding and into questions of who should be honored and who demonized in their recent turbulent history. For teenagers like Lillian and Jinadh's son Stephen, the war and occupation are increasingly dim and distant memories, an obsession of adults. For the adults, it's still all too close and all too real--especially when parts of the past don't stay hidden in the jungle where they previously were.





Frankly, most of these characters are exhausted. Their old coping mechanisms are imperfectly adjusted to their new circumstances, which keep shifting anyway. None of them seem to have had even five minutes to put their feet up, breathe, and look at some nice trees or a sunset or something. Their world is relentless. That makes Amnesty a completely appropriate book for right now--and also sometimes a difficult one. There's solace here, but it's circumscribed, constrained; there are ways forward, but none of them without cost. There is hope, but not for the things the characters used to hope for. And there are people trying to do better. Always, always, amidst rubble and chaos and machination, there are people trying to do better.


Gratitudes

Apr. 21st, 2019 11:42 am[personal profile] kass
kass: A glass of iced coffee with milk. (coffee)
1. Two sedarim -- one with family, one with the shul. So many melodies and words, songs and flavors, that connect me -- in to myself, up to my Source, through to the generations.

2. My kid's glee at whacking [personal profile] sanj and me with a scallion last night at the second seder.

3. Matzah brei for breakfast. I am firmly in the savory camp (this is matzah chilaquiles, basically, not French toast) and mmm, so peppery and good.

4. Iced coffee on my mirpesset. And I put the screens back in four of the downstairs windows and have opened them! because it feels like spring today!

5. A few precious hours of post-seder downtime before the workweek begins, hallelujah.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)

In front of Spain's National Library in Madrid, a statue of Miguel de Cervantes stands with one foot resting on a pair of books. One of them is spine-out, and we can read its title: Amadís de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul).

That book tells the story of Amadis, from the fictional kingdom of Gaul, who was the greatest knight in the world. This Spanish novel of chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and published in 1508, became Europe's first best-seller. It was reprinted nineteen times, translated into seven languages, spawned forty-four direct sequels in several languages, and fueled an entire genre that lasted a century. (I also translated it into English.) Most notably, around 1600, it inspired Don Quixote of La Mancha. The second half of Don Quixote was published 400 years ago in 1615.

In many ways, Cervantes satirizes (or pays homage to) that tale, including a characteristic element of novels of chivalry that began with Amadis of Gaul. An earlier version of Amadis had existed since the 1300s in the form of a three-book novel, but Montalvo's edition was different, as he explains in his prologue:

“I corrected these three books of Amadis, such as they could be read, due to poor writers or very corrupt and dissolute scribes, and I translated and added a fourth book and a sequel, Exploits of Esplandián, which until now no one has seen. By great good fortune, a manuscript was discovered in a stone tomb beneath a hermitage near Constantinople, and it was brought by a Hungarian merchant to eastern Spain in such ancient script and old parchment that it could only be read with much difficulty by those who knew the language.”

Of course, Montalvo himself wrote the fourth book and Exploits de Esplandián (Sergas de Esplandián). Why lie about it? Because, as he himself put it, the novel “had been considered rank fiction rather than chronicles.” By proclaiming it an ancient story and perhaps even forgotten history rather than fiction, it could obtain the status of works by Homer and Cicero.

He doesn’t seem to have fooled anyone, but he did set a pattern. Supposedly, the manuscript for the sequel Lisuarte de Grecia (Lisuarte of Greece) by Juan Díaz (1514) had been written in Greek in Constantinople and taken to Rhodes when the city fell to the Ottomans. Amadis de Grecia (Amadis of Greece) by Feliciano de Silva (1530) had been found in a wooden box behind a wall in a cave in Spain, hidden during the Moslem invasion in 711. Silves de la Selva (Silves of the Jungle) by Pedro de Luján (1546) was encountered in the magical sepulcher of Amadis himself, written in Arabic.

And so on. Manuscripts were discovered in distant castles and during voyages to far-off lands. Some were written in Hungarian, Latin, Tuscan, German, Chaldean, and "Indian" (Sanskrit, perhaps). A few were even supposedly written by characters from earlier novels.

Among the many jokes in Don Quixote whose punchline we have forgotten today is the one in Chapter IX. It recounts how, in a market in Toledo, a boy was selling some old paper to be reused. Cervantes looked at one of the pieces of paper, a pamphlet, and it turned out to be part of the History of Don Quixote of La Mancha, written in Arabic by Cide Hamete Benengeli. He purchased a translation of the pamphlets for two pecks of raisins and two bushels of wheat. This discovered manuscript, Cervantes claimed, became the basis of the rest of the first part of his novel.

Rather than being found in some exotic place after a search filled with drama, difficulty, and great cost, Don Quixote was rescued from the garbage and translated on the cheap.

Besides that satire in Quixote, there's another joke based on one of Montalvo's books that we’ve forgotten to laugh at. An imaginary island described in Exploits of Esplandian overflowed with gold and was ruled by a califa. Spanish conquistadors had read many novels of chivalry and sometimes compared the wonders of the New World to the marvels in those books, but when they sailed up the western coast of what we now call Mexico, they found a place that offered little besides rocks and condors. To entertain themselves, they started calling that barren land after the fabulously rich island in the book: “California.”

— Sue Burke

This article was also published in the Fall 2015 issue (pdf) of The Source, a quarterly publication of the American Translators Association Literary Division.

Books read, early April

Apr. 17th, 2019 11:12 am[personal profile] mrissa
mrissa: (Default)

Claire Eliza Bartlett, We Rule the Night. Discussed elsewhere.





Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls. Reread. It was interesting to revisit this middle-aged coming-of-age tale after it's had more than a decade to influence the rest of the field. I still love the worldbuilding and the characters, but it was important to keep in mind how much of an influence it's been--that it looks a little less groundbreaking in retrospect than it actually is because other people have used that soil. Such a fun book, such a good book--and I'm so glad we've been thinking and writing about it since.





Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills. Reread. One of my favorite books ever, and basically I will use any excuse to reread it. The way the worldbuilding and the characterization intertwine always makes me think...and then I always get pulled into the story. Go read this book. Go read this book again.





Emilie Demant Hatt, By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends. Discussed elsewhere.





Nicola Griffith, Hild. Reread. This is so immersive for me and so lovely and all the details and...it's just so easy to slide into this cultural mindset. I hope that Griffith meant it that she's writing more of St. Hilda's story because I want that so much.





Barbara Hambly, Cold Bayou. The latest Benjamin January mystery. This is a perfectly serviceable entry in the series but not one of the standouts, and it's a terrible place to start because it relies so much on you already knowing and caring about the characters. There's not even a murder until halfway through the book, so if you don't already want to spend time with these characters, go a bit further back in the series and try there. If you do--it further elaborates on some key relationships, particularly with January's mother.





Larry Hammer, trans., Ice Melts in the Wind: The Seasonal Poems of the Kokinshu. Discussed elsewhere.





Beth Hilgartner, A Murder for Her Majesty. Reread. After so many years. My friend Ginger happened to mention this in passing, and I almost certainly lit up visibly, because I loved it as a child and did not remember the title. (My booklog only goes back to age 23 or 24 reliably. This is a source of sorrow sometimes.) There is a girl who disguises herself as a boy to run from murderers and does not do the sword fighting! No! She sings in a cathedral choir! There is Elizabethan roughhousing! There are Latin mottos iced onto cookies! There is music theory! I loved this book so much, and now I know which one it is, hurrah. Also...it is pretty anachronistic, now that I have somewhat more extensive knowledge of the Elizabethan era than I did when I was 8. So one must be braced. Still. Eeeee.





Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower. Extensive thoughts about what it's like to be a god in a rock! Cholera or dysentery or similar disease! Despite being based on a very famous story whose parallels become very obvious as you read, this is not like anything else. I'm thrilled to see Ann doing something completely different and can't wait to see what she does next, but in the meantime I sure enjoyed this.





Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems. This is very much a late-life collection, with thoughts about aging and death coming to the fore. I found it touching and valuable.





James E. Montgomery, Loss Sings. A slim chapbook about grief and translation. I would have liked for him to connect a few dots about different kinds of translation--to have some thoughts about translating for people who have or have not had a personal experience, or between those two groups--but what he had was interesting and did not outstay its welcome.





Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems Volume One. I wish there was a Collected Works out, but right now I'm approximating as best I can with this. I just keep having the urge to immerse myself. I know I'm going to return to several of these poems at important life moments, and also at random, just because.





Suzanne Palmer, Finder. Discussed elsewhere.





Kate Quinn, The Alice Network. This is a female-centered spy novel that spans two world wars and an important bit thereafter. The things it's doing and saying about spying illuminate other works in the genre by contrast. I found it interesting, exciting, worthwhile. Will definitely look for more of Quinn's work.





Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Issue 27. Kindle. I had an essay in this, and I don't review work I'm in.





Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. This is still one of my favorite domestic fantasies, and I love the worldbuilding that is interwoven with everything and yet not...centered in a traditionally questy fantasy novel way. I love that the shape of this book is a character shape and yet the worldbuilding is not neglected.





Fran Wilde, Riverland. Oh good heavens this book. I picked it up one Sunday afternoon and basically did not put it down until it's gone. It has so many things I love, glass and rivers and family relationships, and it is breathtaking in its handling of incredibly difficult things happening to its young protagonists. The way that the heroine both internalizes and fights the bad things that are happening in her life is so human and so real and cuts like broken glass. Highly recommended, but with care to pick your day so that you can handle the intensity of this book.


un homage au Notre Dame

Apr. 16th, 2019 06:20 am[personal profile] dichroic
dichroic: (Default)

Do you know the story about the man who wandered around a cathedral being built, asking each person what they were doing? The stone masons told him about cutting rocks to fit togehter so perfectly that they formed arches and flying buttresses; the scultors told about modeling allegories and saints; glassworkers spoke of telling stories in beautiful images that would teach churchgoers the stories they didn’t know how to read, and the woodworkers spoke of walls and screens, roofs and spires. Lastly he put the same question to an old woman sweeping away the dust and shavings of the day. “What am I doing?” she replied, leaning on her broom. “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God”

That’s the faith it needs to build a cathedral that takes hundreds of years, but I don’t think it even matters whether you believe in God, only whether you are a good, decent and sane person. (You see, I am completely biasing my argument by ignoring those whose God is in their own cruel image, no better than a demon to punish those of whom they disapprove.) If you believe, then a God formed the universe whose workings and laws resulted in humanity, and it’s fitting to express our gratitude by creating whatever beauty we can muster in Their honor. If you don’t believe, then humans striving for goodness created the image of a God to reflect the best that they could find or imagine within themselves, and a cathedral is the physical expression of that striving.

(Again, I am simply omitting the Puritans and those who want a God only to be someone stronger and meaner than themselves who can punish their enemies. I don’t believe that kind of thinking can build a cathedral.)

There was and is beauty and truth in Notre Dame, even if the truth you find depends on which side you examine it from. It’s pure horror to see the spire fall, even if the bell towers were saved. I trust it will be rebuilt once again.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

mrissa: (Default)
Translated by Barbara Sjoholm. Review copy obtained through a long chain too strange to get into.
This is the translation of a 1922 work by a Danish woman who traveled extensively in the Norden collecting stories. She also made some woodcuts related to the stories, which are reproduced here--one of the places where black-and-white reproduction absolutely does a great job for the material.

It matters that Demant Hatt was a woman in this field. It matters a lot. Because the people she had access to hear stories from, the stories she got to hear, were much more evenly balanced between men and women both as tellers and as characters. Compared to other compilations of Saami [both spellings are used, this is the one I favor, both are fine though] tales, this is a far more accurate representation of range.

And it's got so many great things. It's got girls with agency to spare; it's got feisty old ladies; it's got reindeer and murder and weird northern birds. It's got origin stories. It's got "we don't know anyone from OUR band who would do this but we HEARD of a girl who did this" stories. I was so excited when I heard this book existed, and it did not in any way disappoint. If you're interested in Arctic peoples, or even if you just like folklore, this is a must-have.

Oops?

Apr. 13th, 2019 10:07 pm[personal profile] kass
kass: kitten face (Default)
I bought myself a bicycle!

I didn't entirely mean to. I mean, I intended to buy a bike, I just didn't mean to do it right away. But I found one that I like, and it's used, and it was on sale, and I nabbed it. Oops? :-D

I've been thinking idly for a while that this summer I should find a decent used bike, so that I can go to the bike trail with my kid and ride with him. (The bike trail is flat and paved and beautiful; roads around here are often beautiful but also very hilly, and my kid is afraid of going fast down hills and does not enjoy working hard to go up hills, and honestly I cannot blame him for either of those things.)

Anyway: today it was about 70 (F) and it was beautiful out and I drove past the local bike shop and they had tons of bicycles outside, and a big sign proclaiming SALE, and I thought, what the hell, I'll check in and see what they have.

I haven't owned a bike since I was probably 14, and I've ridden one exactly once in the last few decades. I admitted this. They asked a few questions about what I'm likely to use it for, and where I'm likely to ride, and then showed me a few different options. We narrowed options down to one new one, and one used one. I tried both of them out, riding around the parking lot a few times. I read some online reviews. And I chose the used one. Their mechanic gave it a once-over and confirmed that all is well.

I am now the proud owner of a black Biria Easy 7 bike. There's an attachable top bar that facilitates putting the bike on a rack (relatedly, there is now a bike rack on my car that will hold two bikes as needed), but the bar removes easily for general use, which also means the bike is easy to mount.

Once I got home, I rode the bike around the condo complex, just for the sake of practice. I am a rank beginner, which puts me basically right where my kid is. I'm hopeful that we'll do a bunch of riding together once the weather gets good. (Predictably tomorrow it's supposed to be 20 degrees cooler and also possibly rainy.)

Anyway. I own a bicycle. Far out.
mrissa: (Default)

This is the latest in a recurring series! For more about the series, please read the original post on Marta Randall, or subsequent posts on Dorothy Heydt, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sherwood Smith, Nisi Shawl, Pamela Dean, Gwyneth Jones , and Caroline Stevermer.





I swear I'm not going to shift to making this series all about people I'm personally friends with...but neither am I going to neglect people whose work fits the series concept just because they happen to be good company for lunch.





The size and variety of Pat's oeuvre gives lots of room for variety, and obviously some works will stand out as more favorite than others. My obscure faves are the stories in the shared Liavek worlds, handled deftly and now available in Points of Departure along with Pamela Dean's stories in the same world. The handling of wry humor, family dynamics, and worldbuilding in these stories charmed me from the first one I encountered, but they're even better as a set.





I recently reread a better-known favorite, Dealing With Dragons, which reminded me of some of the things I love about Pat's work--the wry tone, as above, perhaps obviously. But also the way that women have a wide variety of relationships with each other. The first page made me think, oh, I don't remember this very well, is it going to be one of those books where golden-haired girls who like embroidery are Bad and you have to be Not Like Them to protag? And I should have remembered that it was Pat, she was not going to do that, and sure enough there's room for a wide range of skills and interests--and for a wide range of reactions to and interactions with each other. This was ground-breaking for so many "why don't you ever see a heroine who" conversations, and it holds up so very well.





Just rereading one made me want to go back and reread the entire series. And also Sorcery and Cecelia. And also Snow White and Rose Red. It's like quicksand. But in a good way. It's like very complimentary quicksand that knows how to play the beats on a widely varied set of tropes...so percussionist quicksand...look, this is a good thing, I promise, let's get back to the dragons.


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