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Muccamukk

Muccamukk

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, read a lot of library books and e-books, still somehow never have enough room on my bookshelves.

Currently reading

The Radical King (King Legacy)
Martin Luther King Jr., Cornel West
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie

Wonderful fable that happend to push some of my buttons.

Redemption in Indigo - Karen Lord, Robin Miles

I loved the style of this story. It's very artificially told as a campfire tale, by an omnipotent narrator who keeps weaving all over the place. It's going for charming, and it hits it right now the nose. I think my favourite part was how little the narrator cared about a sense of place (people take long mule trips, then end up being late and hop on a bus), it's in no time and no country in the way a fairytale is, but more so because it's clearly told by a modern person, while at the same time it's clearly not about a real place, while at the same time, the sense of culture and place is incredibly strong. That was a lot of balls to have in the air on a first novel, and Lord caught them all, easily.

 

The story, without spoilers, is about god-like spirits quarrelling and involving humans as proxies, to some extent. It's more about the powerful manifestations of human qualities like opportunity and forbearance, in a somewhat metaphorical, and somewhat whimsical plea for both balance and compassion (I've been reading a lot of Le Guin, and this reminded me of the Taoism she employs). It's all very whimsical, and often surprisingly moving.

 

All that said, one of the sort of clown characters is someone with an eating disorder, and though the book noted that it was a mental health issue, it did so after it made him the butt of a lot of jokes for the first four or five chapters. It was... not my favourite part of the book.

Library Books, Updated

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines - Shohreh Aghdashloo The Boat People - Sharon Bala Northwest Garden Manifesto: Create, Restore, and Maintain a Sustainable Yard - John Albers, David F. Perry Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate - Zoe Quinn My Favorite Thing Is Monsters - Emil Ferris Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan, Carolyn Nowak

Checked Out

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines - Shohreh Aghdashloo (DUE 04-13-18)

The Boat People - Sharon Bala  (DUE 04-27-18)

Northwest Garden Manifesto: Create, Restore, and Maintain a Sustainable Yard - John Albers, David F. Perry (DUE 05-04-18)

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson  (DUE 05-10-18)

 

On Hold

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson   (In Transit)

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty   (1 of 1 holds)

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate - Zoe Quinn  (1 of 1 holds)

Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor  (1 of 1 holds) 

In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan,Carolyn Nowak  (1 of 1 holds)

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters - Emil Ferris   (2 of 2 holds)

March Reading

The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese, Tom Stechschulte The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer - Sandra Perron City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin Penric's Fox - Lois McMaster Bujold

Fourteen Books Read:

The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman 

Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly 

Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle 

Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters - Dick Winters, Cole C. Kingseed 

The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden 

Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer - Sandra Perron 

Place to Belong - Claire Boston 

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen 

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin (DNF)

Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals - Jeannelle M. Ferreira (DNF)

Penric's Fox - Lois McMaster Bujold  

 

Women Writers Bingo: 10/25

(Personal take: Finish 25 books by new-to-me female authors in 2018*)

Finished in March: Nicky Drayden, Sandra Perron, Claire Boston, Holly Tucker, Masha Gessen**

 

Gender Balance:

Fiction: 7 by women, 2 by men, 0 by non-binary

Non fiction: 3 by women, 2 by men, 0 by non-binary

 

Format:

Paper books that I own: 1

Paper books from library: 4

E-books that I own: 2

E-books from library: 1

Audiobooks that I own: 5

Audiobooks from the library: 1

 

March Goals:

Read two Hugo nominated novels and all of the short stories.

 

*Women Writers Bingo Bonus Points:

5 of those books in translation: 1/5

5 of those books are non-fiction: 4/5 (Warmth of other Suns, Out Standing in the Field, City of Light, Ester and Ruzya)

 

Bingo Companion Round:

5 books by non-binary authors: 0/5

 

**As per this essay, I'm not completely sure about listing Masha Gessen under female authors, but it seems at the moment the best option.

 

Previous months:

January Reading

February Reading

One of the best so far.

Penric's Fox - Lois McMaster Bujold

I must say I'm enjoying the books set mid-series more than the adventures of older Pen and Des. Pen here is still figuring so much out. He's excited about the world, working out how he fits in, and generally pretty happy with how things are going, except he keeps getting dragged away from fishing trips to solve murder mysteries.

 

The actual murder mystery element was straight forward, but I liked how it explored the world, and the interaction between shamanism and sorcery was well done. I'd be happy to read a dozen low-stakes stories like this.

DNF at 50% mark.

The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals - Jeannelle M. Ferreira

All my friends are going nuts over this book, and while I can see why, I finally decided that it's just not my thing. I really liked the reseach into historical detail and the wonderful dialogue and banter, and of course I'm in favour of crossdressing lesbians on a general principle, but the book itself left me cold.

 

I found the style overly spare and lacking in feeling. I often love books where a lot of the emotion and characterisation is between the lines, but for some reason this one left me completely cold. I often felt that the big emotional scenes were skipped over and then discussed in aftermath, and things sometimes seemed to happen out of order, but I really couldn't tell what the timeline was, so who knows. I wanted more feelings from both the main characters, and more consideration of why they acted as they did (why did Harry change her mind after the Big Plot Twist around the half way mark, for example). I just never got enough of a feel about either of these women to care what happened to them, or if they got together or not.

 

Which is too bad, because my standards for liking a book about crossdressing lesbians in Regency England are not super high. This should have sailed over them. I just... didn't like it.

Very meta.

Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

But a translator’s yearning to identify with the text cannot be repressed. This is what urged me to take some scenes, some hints, some foreshadowings from the epic and make them into a novel—a translation into a different form—partial, marginal, but, in intent at least, faithful. More than anything else, my story is an act of gratitude to the poet, a love offering.

 

This is a book that is more about Le Guin's relationship with Vergil’s Aeneid than it is a work of fiction in and of itself. I have not read the Aeneid (I'm working forward from the Greeks, and am only up to Antigone) but I'm reasonably familiar with the plot and the discussion around it, especially in regards to Aeneas's character development and the ending. This book is probably at its strongest on the meta level of a character in a story who is on some level aware that they are in a story, and what that means in terms of identity and choice. I love the way Le Guin blended the different ideas of religion (Lavinia's, Aenaes', Virgil's) all together, and made them conflict and harmonise. I love how Le Guin can make even a meta reflection on a two-thousand-year-old poem about empire feel like a real world full of real people.

 

I am a little in love with Aeneas himself here, and even though the characterisation is often very spare, it comes through beautifully. Lavinia herself often feels a little distant, without an outside point of view on her as she has on Aeneas. She's a classic Le Guin interior-focused character who watches a lot and says little, and a lot of her feelings are told to us by her, rather than shown. She is haunted by Virgil and visions of empire and war to come, and knows how the story will end, but is still trying to make the best of it. I came to love her, too, in the end, and to wish that the book had been longer. The writing itself, of course, was gorgeous.

 

I've been told that people who are more familiar with the poem find the central section that covers the final six books somewhat repetitive. I would think that going in with no knowledge whatsoever would render the whole thing incomprehensible, but I can't say that for sure.

"I remember Aeneas’ words as I remember the poet’s words. I remember every word because they are the fabric of my life, the warp I am woven on. All my life since Aeneas’ death might seem a weaving torn out of the loom unfinished, a shapeless tangle of threads making nothing, but it is not so; for my mind returns as the shuttle returns always to the starting place, finding the pattern, going on with it. I was a spinner, not a weaver, but I have learned to weave."
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Page 101.

"Aeneas is not in any of the pictures, and nothing the poet told me about the siege and fall of his city, or his wanderings before he came to Latium, is recognisable on the shield. “Are these scenes of Troy?” I ask him, and he shakes his head.

“I do not know what they are,” he says. “They may be scenes of what is yet to come.”

“What is yet to come is mostly war, then,” I say, looking among them for some that aren’t battles, for an unhelmeted face. I see a mass rape, women screaming and fighting as they are dragged off by warriors. I see great, beautiful ships with banks of oars, but the ships are all at war, some are burning. Fire and smoke rise up over the water."
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Page 22.

DNF at 30% mark.

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

I think I should have just read a biography of either or both of these women, because they led extremely interesting lives which the book managed to make fairly dull. I wanted way more about actually making movies, and less angsting about boys, and a lot of the writing felt overwrought and melodramatic. It kept skipping over actually making the movies and what that was like into other issues.

 

The author backed herself into this weird smarm corner of saying the main character was completely fine with gay people, and then immediately insisting that she didn't get lesbians at all because who doesn't like cock, amirite? By the way, the character really likes cock, and isn't gay at all. Look, I don't mind stories about two women having a friendship rather than a romance, but the notgaynotgaynotgay(but not homophobic!) dance got old a long time ago. I felt like I'd fallen into Xena gen fic from the '90s. At the same time, the author had the same characters not blinking at the racism in the industry in general and Birth of a Nation in particular. So I'm not sure why period-typical racism was okay, but period-typical homophobia was not?

 

I did like some of the discussion about being a woman in a male-dominated field, which mostly managed to stick to period language and not sounding like it was cut from modern day. But so much of it was telling not showing, as we very rarely see the dynamics on set, or the sets at all, just hear about them after the fact. I looked at some reviews to see if it picked up, but apparently the middle is even more draggy and about boys, so I bailed.

Reading progress update: I've read 120 out of 448 pages.

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

Long section about how much both characters love and admire D.W. Griffith's Klansmen, or Birth of a Nation, which is mostly about its technical breakthroughs, and it's true, but I just got a lot about how awesome frigging Birth of a Nation is without mentioning you know, the whole thing. Which I guess is fair, because I'm pretty sure my main characters wouldn't have cared that it was really, really immensely racist due to being white women in 1915. And yet, I'm still not over it being Birth of a Nation!

 

Also way too much worrying about guys. I want to hear about making movies!

"Out beyond that, on the dim sea I saw ships—a line of great, black ships, coming up from the south and wheeling and heading in to the river mouth. On each side of each ship a long rank of oars lifted and beat like the beat of wings in the twilight."
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Pg 6.

Absolutely tore through this.

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen

It's pretty rare for me to chew through non-fiction this fast, but I couldn't put this one down.

 

The storyline follows the lives of the author's grandmothers, both Jewish one from Moscow, one from Poland, from their birth through to the present day, with a focus on how they survived WWII and Stalinist Russia. The book illuminates their careers, their loves, their children. It shows better than anything else I've read what living in Russia int eh '40s and '50s felt like, and at its heart it's about choices.

 

At the very centre of the book, in terms of page count, are a set of potentially conflicting accounts of the actions of Gessen's great grandfather, who was an elder in a Nazi-run ghetto in Poland. The information is unclear, possibly contradictory. Was he a hero or a collaborator? What choices did he make? What choices did he have? How did he die? Each option is explored, conclusions are implied.

 

The ghetto story a microscale of the rest of the book, in which his daughter and the woman who will eventually be her best friend, the mother of the girl his grandson will marry, make those choices their whole lives. What is folding to the state, compromising your ethics, protecting your family, staying alive? Do you turn away a job for the secret police if that job will keep your baby from starving? If you do, what then? If you don't, what then?

 

I'm making this sound unrelentingly grim, and certainly bad things happen in it and the central characters suffer, but both of these women lived and even thrived in a hostile state, built careers and families, and have children and grandchildren who did the same. Maybe at it's heart it's also about growing potatoes on Mars: survival against all odds.

 

The writing itself is gorgeous and compelling. I hadn't run into Gessen before, aside from an essay that pointed me to this book, but I will be reading them again.

But totally not one of those lesbians!

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

I have this on audiobook, so not bothering with the exact quote, but MC is at a party in 1914, and there's some dudes making out in the shadows, and she goes out of her way to say she's 100% A-OK with that, and with ladies making out, don't mind those lesbians, not at all, but she personally really misses her ex husband in her bed.

 

In a book about close bonds between women in the film industry, in a period notorious for its permissiveness, this feels like it's laying on the no homo a little thick.

I feel like a book about mass poisonings, satanism and an inquisition should have been more exciting.

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker

Maybe it just lacked focus? Maybe it was taking on a topic that in the end was too broad and too murky?

 

The basic storyline follows the investigations of a police chief into an escalating and expanding series of poisonings, plots, satanism, and possible human sacrifice (the last never completely confirmed). I think the problem comes from how unconnected a lot of the suspects were, and how the implications to high politics were always vague at best.

 

Thus we end up spending chapters on one noble woman methodically assassinating the majority of her family, whose plot is only to prime the later panic, but doesn't really have much else to do with the book. We also spend chapters and chapters on everyone Louis XIV was sleeping with, which was a lot of people, man, only two of whom were actually relevant to the whole poisoning/satanism issue.

 

I'm all for setting up background, but it seemed to be a lot of background to actual investigation ratio going on in this book. Which might of been a good thing, because the investigation involved very little gumshoe shenanigans and a heck of a lot of torturing the fuck out of people. Which was graphically described. So.

 

The writing itself was fairly good; a lot of the slice of life period detail was interesting, and I always like Kate Reading's narration. I dunno, Vive la révolution, I guess.

"Like any place that has been lost, Bialystock was heaven on Earth. Or the centre of the universe."
Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen

page 13.

When do you post reviews?

If i have strong feelings, I tend to write a review almost immediately on finishing a book. If I'm ambivalent on a book, I wait a couple hours so I've had time to think about it. If I don't really have a strong opinion, I may wait until next time I'm on booklikes anyway and just do a short note.

 

I'm curious what everyone else does.