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Joy has been going to pre-school twice a week for about 5 weeks now, which makes this the 3rd week that I've dropped her off rather than hanging out the entire time. I miss her rather dreadfully when she's gone; the mornings when I have appointments or errands or other busyness are fine, but the ones where I'm just taking time to myself are... weird. Nice, yes, but weird. She's gone through the normal gradual (but perhaps somewhat quicker than a lot of kids?) process of being really upset when I leave, to being briefly upset, to last Thursday where she made a face but then blew me a kiss, and then this week she told me "I walk you to the door" and walks me to the door, hugs me, and then goes back inside to sit in the little toddler-sized rocking chair they found for her and rock and hug her stuffed dog until she feels like playing.

We have this conversation every school morning: "Are you going to drop me off today?" "Yes, I am!" "I still don't like dropping off." "I know, but I think you'll have fun when you get there."

Today she actually rushed through eating breakfast, hand-washing etc and then went to the doorand said, "Mommy, let's GO. I'm ready!" This was new, and nice.

But I do miss her. I wish I didn't, quite so much; I am an introvert who is not good at being alone, and I know, believe me I really, really know that her role in this life is not to keep me company. My own mother did that to me and it was horrible. Missing her for herself is all well and good, but missing her because she makes me less-alone is something I'm going to have to get over. I think I'm working through it, with the attendant bad dreams about childhood, which is all to the good.

Today is also the first day I came back home instead of either running errands or hanging out at a coffee shop luxuriously reading or raiding a library outside my normal library system for their precious two new-to-me Stella Gibbons novels. I wish I lived in the UK; a lot of Gibbons backlist is available there PoD, but that does me no good. Publishing distribution rules are weird and annoying.

And now it is time to pick her up! A book post later, I think, about Planet Narnia.
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One of the books that probably had the biggest impact on my intellectual life was Rosemary Auchmuty's A World of Girls, which is a study of British girls school stories from the 1920s-1940s, focusing specifically on the works of Enid Blyton, Elinor Brent-Dyer, Elsie Oxingham and Dorita Fairlie Bruce. This is not because it is such an amazing groundbreaking book (although it is a pretty solid piece of scholarship as far as I can tell), but because it was the first piece of literary/cultural criticism I ever read, at the relatively tender age of 21. Before that I'd thought of literary criticism as this sort of boring thing you did in school, where you took a perfectly good book and then had to ignore everything that was exciting about it to talk about the themes or characterisation or setting. Realising that instead one could analyse a work of fiction and try to tease out what was going on in the culture when it was written -- wow. It didn't occur to me at 21 that this was something I could do, but it sparked a lot of reading and thought and attempts at writing that certainly ended up leading me to focusing on that kind of criticism when I finally did my BA in my early 30s, and if I can ever afford/justify going back to school to get a graduate degree in something that will make me no money, that's the sort of work I want to do. Honestly, it's the sort of work I want to be doing /all the time/.

One of the things I found tangentially fascinating about Auchmuty is that the books she was analysing weren't books I'd ever heard of, and that this didn't keep me from appreciating her work. I looked for the authors she mentioned, of course, but aside from a few Blyton novels found years later, these novels don't seem to show up in used bookstores in the US, except occasionally for vast sums of money. Nor do Angela Brazil and L. T. Meade, authors whose names Auchmuty mentions is passing as belonging to the previous generation of school stories.

But, patient reader, last week on Amazon I found something like 20-25 of Brazil's books available free for the Kindle! And so I downloaded them all, of course, just in case they might vanish again, and I have now read my first Brazil novel, Loyal to the School, featuring dreamy Celtic artist heroine Lesbia Farrars. And oh my, I loved it. It is ripe for cultural criticism, I'm sure, but to my surprise what I really want to do is to write fanfic about Lesbia going to the Slade & bobbing her hair & eventually ending up at the Omega Workshops, since it's clear from the work she does during high school that the Omega would be right up her alley. Never mind, of course, that the novel is written in 1921; it reads like pre-WWI to me, given the general prosperity and cleanliness and lack of missing men.

Except, of course, I would have to do immense piles of research to translate Lesbia's genre snow globe into the real world of art school and Bloomsbury, and I still think I'd be likely to muck it up. I could just rub the serial numbers off the real places and have her go to a Slade-like art school with a different name, etc etc, but somehow that misses the fun for me, because there's something exciting about the idea of Lesbia breaking through the walls of her genre novel and going on to be a real person with a real, messy, complicated adult life that would (I hope) be more more satisfying mentally and emotionally and physically than anything Brazil could have imagined for her.

Will I be reading the other 20-something Brazil novels on my Kindle? Yes, yes I will.
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I've been thinking hard about Narnia since last week, and today I posted a very long comment on the blog post I linked to previously, which I am reposting in part here:

Going back to Nesbit, it's really occured to me on reflection -- and this may have come up in discussion of TLTW&TW -- that despite Lewis setting the first novel in WW2, the Pevensies are in no way children of the 1940s. I mean, they never talk about the cinema or wireless, there's no jazz, no magazines about popular mechanics or celebrities, no talk about the war. Edmund and Peter never angst about being too young to fight, or collect trivia about fighter planes; Susan isn't planning to go be a WREN or a VAD if the war lasts long enough. Even though they're sent away from home due to the Blitz, they think & act much more like children from right before WWI -- like the children Lewis might have known as a child. And this, I think, is a large part of what comes out as incredible weirdness when one tries to evaluate the text from a modern understanding of childhood. Lewis is writing in the late 1940s about children living in the early 1940s who act like children in 1905.

This is also, I think, one of the origins of the 'problem with Susan'. If this was 1905, like Lewis kind of wants it to be, Susan would still be a "little girl" at 12 -- even well into the 1930s older authors will call boys and girls in their early teens "little" in the way a person in 2012 talks about an elementary school kid. This makes Susan's position extremely odd, because if this was 1905 she'd be at school or being educated by a governess, and she'd know that somewhere in the far future might be 'finishing school' where she learns how to act in adult society and then has her London season and meets someone and gets married, or if her family isn't high enough social status for a real Season she still 'comes out' locally and meets all the local young men and starts going to dances and looking around for a good marriage. But for girls of Susan's class that didn't happen at 13 or 15; that happened at 18 or 19 or even later, depending on the family's finances and the daughter's personality and how 'ready' she was perceived as being.

In the 1940s, though, even middle class girls are starting to copy celebrities by wearing makeup and looking for 'boy friends' and generally acting the way we think of teenagers as acting today. And my impression is that Lewis was very vaguely aware of that, but saw it as a flaw in the girls -- they were frivolous and silly and all the other things he starts calling Susan later on. Wanting to act like an adult wasn't, I think, really considered normal teenage behaviour; it was "conceit" because you were still a little kid, acting vain and grown-up when you should be off playing with toys and taking care of your younger siblings and riding your bicycle.

I have not actually read enough non-fiction about the 1940s to support my assertions, so I'm just going off of the massive quantities of fiction I've read. But it's interesting to think about, even if I'm horribly wrong.
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[personal profile] green_knight linked to an awesome article about Narnia that brings up some things I hadn't thought about before -- and believe me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about Narnia. Namely, it brings up how the entire transportation to another world trope removes agency, and how bizarre the beginning of Prince Caspian is. The kids remember Narnia, but they don't seem to care about it very much, or remember it enough to react emotionally once they're back there, or feel any sense of responsibility to the country until much exposition has happened. Some of this makes emotional sense to me; I understand having experiences that are wonderful but so outside ordinary life that they get compartmentalised into another category and you can't really feel much about them, but I also see why this wouldn't ring true for people who haven't experienced that.

Thinking about Narnia really makes me want to reread The Magicians, which in some ways was a rather confused novel but Grossman really spent a lot of time chewing over Narnia to write it, and I appreciated the things it made me think about. I never did read the sequel, mostly because it wans't at the library and my friend who I borrow books from only had it on his iPad.
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[personal profile] thistleingrey wondered if one of the reasons I had trouble doing the stuff I want to do is because some of the things I have to do take up all my available time. And at first this seemed like an easy question to answer, but once I really started digging into it I realised that it's More Complicated.

Joy, of course, takes up all available time, but she does sleep, a lot, so while she's a huge factor in how much free time I have to do things I want, there are clear available windows. And my own sleep does sometimes expand to fill all available time, because in order to be functional (ie: to do things in a focused and successful manner) I need to be rested, and for me rested is at least 9 hours a night, which is hard to come by. I take some comfort in the thought that this is clearly genetic, as my father has it, and Joy has it, which is why I have a preschooler who still sleeps 14 hours a day more or less.

But still, after Joy and after sleep, there is time. Little bits of time. And thus after thought I think the problem is that the tasks I want to do are too big and diffuse and unfocused, and the sort of brainwork which is necessary for breaking them down into tiny little bits is something I'm not very good at. I can do it, but it takes a lot of effort.

Why are tasks so unfocused? Well... for instance, I'd like to work on my languages -- I am partially functional in French and Japanese both, and it'd be really nice to actually be literate in French (fluent doesn't interest me as much; I want to be able to read French novels of the 19th century, not speak it today) and to improve my Japanese. Both of these might just be impossible in the time I have, but perhaps if I picked one and broke it down and stuff, I could do it... but that would be hard... so instead I read blogs I don't really care about.

Or, a concrete example: Sirens! I just discovered Sirens 10 minutes ago. In theory, I get to go to a con this year for my own entertainment, without family, because my husband does this every year and last year I inadvertently did it with WorldCon (we all went, but he volunteered to watch Joy the entire time, so I got to go to tons of programming and it was So Good) and realised it was something I wanted. But there hadn't been anything that really appealed to me until I saw Sirens, which might fit into our complex schedule, and is just my thing... and attendees can run programming! So now of course I want to come up with my own panel or something, because I always want to present at cons and never have, but that would mean doing a lot of research and stuff in an enormous hurry because the deadline is Sunday, which would mean prioritising this over everything else, and I do this all the time. I find cool things and dig into them and spend hours and hours on them only to discover I am not really going to follow through.

So -- I think I need to both rein myself in (it's fine to look into going to Sirens, but let's not leap on the creating programming bandwagon the very first year) and decide which of the things I want to do are important enough that I'm willing to break them into little tasks and focus on them. Maybe that'll be a start. I'm tired of being as old as I am and still not doing (some of) the things I want to do. ('Some of' is important; I have wanted to have & raise children since I was about 13, and it is turning out to be as rewarding as I dreamed, which is kind of surprising because my dreams were pretty big.)


May. 2nd, 2012 02:41 pm
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It is very very very hard, unbelievably hard, epic levels of hard, to make time for the things that matter to me.

Why is that?

I'm glad Joy makes the time by existing. I rarely worry that I am neglecting her.


Nov. 1st, 2011 03:29 pm
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I am doing NaNoWriMo. I mean, not really, I never managed 50k words in 30 days before I had a child, so why on earth should I now? But 10k in 30 days I think I can manage. Especially 10k of backstory that doesn't have to go into the actual novel. And it's getting me writing again.

And of course, since I'm doing NaNoWriMo, I find myself suddenly wanting to write here, because the writing I am supposed to be doing is never ever as intriguing as the writing I'm not supposed to be doing.

I love Joy profoundly and completely, but a lot of the time I am rather lost in her. It's a choice I make, and one that's slowly changing, and will keep changing as she gets older and we become two people interacting instead of mommy-and-baby. She's already starting to realise that I am not her, and she is not me, and that we can be apart and together and apart and it makes the world better. I am mostly patient.

But sometimes I rediscover myself and it's a moment of such -- clarity -- that it makes me laugh. The fact that I still find that I desire whatever it is I'm not meant to be doing -- just like I always wanted to write online when I had long final papers to write for my literature classes -- is so familiar. "Oh," I say. "There I am. That's me. Writing in my journal instead of working on my Nano. I recognise that!"

I wish I could figure out how to say what I really think about books.
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I am up too late!

Hugo Reading: All the short stories are read, as is the ridiculously long Connie Willis novel, which I devoured rapidly only to find that I had the mental equivalent of a stomachache. (Which is not, for some reason, a headache.) There is some sort of ranty review pending, I think; I need to dig into the thought in my previous entry about her genre construction being not very genre-y.

I have started Newsflesh (written by Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, whose music I love), and am enjoying it much to my surprise. I am utterly uninterested in zombies and I hate horror, and yet the book is funny and so when I read the first page at the library I then read the next and the next and ended up bringing it home.

I have also started The Dervish House, thanks to my kindle, and am finding it heavy going; the POV jumps around so much and I don't like any of the characters yet, but it's still early. I would like to like this book, I'm fascinated by it being set it Istanbul, but goodness I hope there are some people whose heads I want to be in.
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Since I'm going to Worldcon I can vote for the Hugos for the first time in a dozen years, which is exciting, especially since due to the wonderful electronic packets they now provide I actually for the first time ever have access to most everything that was nominated. And I can read them on my Kindle, which is awesome! (Although I think some of the novels I might need to get library copies of, because the fonts are awfully tiny.)

I've read all the short stories except for one which seems to have a broken .mobi file so I'm going to load the PDF and try again. And I'm reading the Connie Willis novel, almost in spite of myself, because it is just like Every Other novel of hers I have ever read but somehow it is compulsively readable anyway. Is it just me, or does she write sf like someone who isn't actually a genre writer, despite being a genre writer? This thought interests and troubles me, because when I look at my WIP I can't help but think that it is going to read to lots of people like urban fantasy written by someone who doesn't read urban fantasy... which it is! So maybe I shouldn't worry about that.

I am completely sleep deprived and incomprehensible, but still excited about Worldcon.
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One last post while the parsnip pancake & two sausages heat up!

I've been reading a lot these last few months, but I haven't been spending any time writing about what I'm reading. It seems to break down as so:

1. Comfort fiction: D. E. Stevenson (some of which I don't like enough to finish, but some of which is very comforting indeed), Miss Read's Thrush Green novels (all of which is very comforting and there is something meaningful to be written about how these 50s middlebrow novels contrast with interwar middlebrown novels), G. K. Chesterton (everything, even the ones I find annoying), random Edwardian novels on my Kindle.

2. Fiction that makes me want to write: Ross Thomas (surprisingly enjoyable but not quite emotionally engaged enough), Richard Stark (a failure; it is just too violent and male), Nicholas Blake (even the bad ones are really interesting).

3. Research books on topics such as: curanderismo, the 1930s in England, the 1930s in Wales, San Francisco in the early 80s, fashion magazines from 1983-1984, 1930s poetry (especially Auden), 1930s authors, especially working class authors.

4. Manga: Because sometimes even comfort reading isn't comfortable enough. Plus, my awesome friend loans me manga and it is good to be able to give it back to him.

The biggest surprise out of all of this so far is that I read a collection of essays about Orwell that make me actually want to read 1984 and Animal Farm as an adult, two books which I swore I would never, ever read again.

Now I will go read something, or maybe watch the NCAA gymnastics championships, while I eat my dinner. Then I will go to bed!
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I really ought to go eat dinner, because it is getting close to my absurdly early bedtime.

Normally I would have already eaten, but my husband is at a gaming con for almost all of his waking hours this weekend, and so I am solo parenting and having to remember to feed myself and well enjoying getting to sit around reading Teh Internets instead of doing any of the things I ought to be doing. And being maybe a little envious and resentful that I am at home with the baby needing to get up at 6am while he is out having fun BUT --

Then I remember that we are going to Worldcon, all 3 of us. Even though it is his birthday and he does not much like SF Cons. And he has intimated that he will do most of the heavy baby-lifting (er, the childcare, you know, although she is pretty heavy to lift now, she's about 22lbs but OTOH she doesn't need as much lifting because she walks, runs, and climbs everything she can get near) so I can go listen to Tricky Pixie perform as much as possible and attend panels and meet cool people and maybe go to dinner with them and stuff.

So woo-hoo, I say! I'm going to Worldcon!
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Among Others has turned out to be a watershed book for me, not so much for what it is itself (although I think it-in-itself is some very good things), but for what it gave me permission to do in my own mind & work.

I've always really enjoyed & admired Jo Walton's writing, starting in the mid-90s on Usenet when I was in my early 20s and struggling to figure out who I wanted to be. I'd learned very deep as I was growing up not to have my own opinions, but only to reflect those of people with power, and that combined with a lack of analytical language to make me a very inarticulate reader. I read a lot (although not nearly as much as I do now), and I loved some of the things I read passionately, but I had no way to think about why, much less try to share the why with others. Reading Walton (& some others, like Pamela Dean & Grayson) on rec.arts.sf.written gave me a huge toolbox for thinking & talking about my love of literature, which contributed heavily to my decision 10 years later to go back to college as an English Literature major. But of course when I was 21 & reading the Usenet posts, I didn't know what I was learning or why it was important to me; all I knew was that here were some people who I really, really, really wanted to be like.

Here is the part that gets complicated to write, and much more personal.

cut for space and a vague sense of privacy )

It is kind of embarassing to me that my brain seeks out models this way, but it is also really awesome.
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I am been utterly silent here because I'm using all of my ability to construct coherent sentences in order to write fiction.

Is that not unbelievably amazing?

I have about 15,000 words of a novel, although many of those words are meta-words, in that they are descriptions of scenes which need to be written rather than the actual scenes themselves. This seems to be my process; it's very familiar from when I wrote academic papers and it works well for my fiction, too. I was afraid that meta-writing would steal the desire to actually write, but it seems to intensify it.

I am a pretty slow writer when it comes to the non-meta writing; I don't have to get it perfect but I do have to get it to some level of truth/rightness before I can move on or it distorts the shape of the rest of the book. I read somewhere (maybe in an interview?) that Jo Walton does the same thing, which means that I will stick out my tongue at anyone who says I ought to be doing things differently.

I've had my first experience of writing an entire scene (about 3k words), being unhappy with it, and then realising that it was entirely wrong plotwise and figuring out how to replace it. It was awesome. I've always had such problems with plot, with -- I want to say shape, or form. But this book has a shape (even though it has a HUGE hole in the middle which will need to be dealt with eventually), so I could tell that the scene was wrong and after some pondering realised why and how to fix it.

I should go do writing now, since this is the first time since last Monday that I've had time & not been too tired.
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I'd planned to write here after lunch today, but I forgot I had therapy-via-phone, and by the time that was done and I'd eaten my lunch I was not at all in the mood to write. So I played a little bit of the historical China sim game instead, and now my brain seems to have come back to me, although my legs are completely numb from the cat sleeping in my lap.

However, I know that any second now Joy is going to wake up, so I am feeling far too jumpy and anxious to settle down and write. Neuroses are annoying, especially ones left over from childhood, extra especially when I know exactly where it comes from and yet cannot figure out how to untangle it.

Things I will write when I have time: my review of Among Others which I mostly loved but a little bit didn't. My thoughts about Cryoburn and how it fits into the post-Memory Miles books. Some kind of summing up of my January reading in general. My in-process thoughts about Ellen Middleton which seems a lot like a proto-sensation novel to me, but none of the books I read about sensation novels when I was working on them mentioned it at all. (I'm only about 2/3 through it, not quite done with the 2nd volume, so not only the thoughts but the book itself is in-process.)

Probably I'll write about things which aren't reading too, but maybe not. I can talk to everyone in my real life about my real life, but the things I think about books... it's usually hard to find people to listen to that -- well, people listen but they rarely find it interesting, and here if nobody finds it interesting it's still useful for me to write it down.

What terrible, terrible sentences. I think I'll go back to trying to bribe the southern Chinese into trading me jade.
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Oh, I hate that thing that happens where I am (for instance) driving along to do some rather dull but quite necessary errand with Joy, and then suddenly into my head comes streams of narrative and I suddenly understand the POV of my 19-yr-old male college student who has gotten involved in dubious magic, and if I only could start writing _right that second_ it would be lovely. (Perhaps not well-written, but the ideas are all there, and I could get them down to be written well later.) But I am driving! And Joy is awake! So I attempt to package it up into a parcel I can unwrap later, and go about my life, and when I do finally get to sit down in front of the computer the parcel is absolutely nowhere to be found.

Jane Austen's brain must have been much more disciplined than mine.

Also, I will be glad when Joy no longer has a cold. Both for her own sake and for my own.
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I've just noticed that a lot of people in my circle do one long post per book, which seems fantastically organised but goodness I'd have to have a lot of free time to manage to write three or four coherent paragraphs per book. I mean, I often have that many paragraphs of thought about it, but to string them all together in a way that flows... I think that will have to wait until Joy and her potential younger sibling are in school or something. Or at least until I'm caught up on sleep.

Another format for writing about reading that I've noticed is sensibly making a sort of list, with one book per paragraph. This would probably be easier to comprehend than my haphazard stream-of-consciousness method, so I am going to give it a try as I attempt to organise my thoughts about the manga & comics I've been reading.

Gals! by Fujii Mihona is shoujo manga aimed at relatively young readers (it was published in Ribon, so about 8-12 year olds?), and my feelings about it are mixed. I was expecting it to be cute, and I'm not finding it so because of the relentless focus on consumerism; the main characters are Gals and (according to them & even more according to the mangaka in her sidebars) a key component of being a Gal is buying and wearing the appropriate clothes. The protagonist, Ran, is constantly scheming how to get some money so she can go buy shoes or jewelry or whatever, and it really got on my nerves. I hadn't realised that my feelings about the evils of consumerism were so strong! I also had trouble with Ran's devil-may-care attitude towards her friends attempts to plan for the future, but I do see how refreshing that might be to kids in a really achievement-oriented society, so I was more able to ignore it. And the manga does have a lot of good stuff; Ran is very strong and independent and unafraid of authority, and she defends people who are being mistreated even at considerable risk to herself. By the end of the 10 volumes there had even been some character growth, although not as much as I really would have liked.

Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio is an ongoing webcomic which I just read all in one enormous frenzy in a few days. Steampunk does pretty much nothing for me, but despite some visual similarities the Foglios description of their work as "Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!" is really a more accurate than steampunk. This is science as wild magic, uncontrolled and dangerous and incredibly addictive, and the characters running around their lavish setting are three-dimensional and exciting. Apparently they've just had a novel published that's based on the comic, and I hope it brings their work to a much wider audience.

Ōoku by Fumi Yoshinaga is Serious Depressing Alt-History Manga of a kind that I am not enjoying at all, but it is so very very good that I couldn't stop reading and devoured all five translated volumes (loaned to me by a kind friend) in one go. The translation is terrible, but the world-building is so amazing it is worthwhile; the nutshell is that this is Japanese history with the genders reversed, but the ways in which Yoshinaga-sensei makes it work are fascinating. I do not like the characters, mostly, and the world is horrible because really, the past was mostly a terrible time to be female or have children, but it is satisfying to see the logic and precision and real care that have gone into constructing this history and it works in a beautiful clockwork way that is lovely. Also, I can't help thinking about how it turns the typcal male-harem manga fantasy (a la Ouran High School Host Club and its ilk) on its head by having the men act in ways that seemed realistic and profoundly unattractive.

Joy just woke up after a wonderful long nap, so I am going to go kiss her many many times and tell her how good of a sleeper she is! She will most likely respond by nodding seriously and then snuggling.
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It is the middle of January, and after being sick for most of December my husband and I have colds again, which is not really conducive to much of anything except for sulking, although we do both try really hard not to sulk.

I have, however, been reading stories as I planned, and am deriving much joy from it. Miss Read's Thrush Green was as nice as I'd hoped, and actually even nicer because it didn't just celebrate idyllic English village life, but also the more modern (as of the 1950s) aspects of it, like travelling carnivals with neon lights and glass jewelry. It very powerfully brought back to me the feeling of playing ski-ball as a kid, trying hard to win enough tickets so that I could get one of the beautiful glittery glass-and-plastic rings, and how mysterious and wonderful those rings were -- or the excitement of having a quarter to put into one of those machines at the grocery store that had the little toys in plastic bubbles inside, and hoping to get a pretty piece of fake jewelry or something else shiny and wonderful. I'd almost forgotten what that felt like, so to have those feelings evoked along with all my typical (unrealistic, I know) passion for village greens and teashops and old gardens meant that it was very much my sort of book. And there were romances -- two of them! -- carefully class-separated, of course. And village lesbians! So I think I'll have to read more of Miss Read's work.

I started rereading The Provincial Lady in Wartime and am enjoying it, but suddenly I realised that I own The Provincial Lady in America and hadn't ever reread it, so paused and did so. It was good, very funny in some parts (especially towards the end), and made me want to go back and reread the first two, but I think I'll finish Wartime first, since I'm half through it.

I'm working on Three Kingdoms, but very slowly, and I did give up on Madensky Square because Ibbotson's adult women in Vienna just didn't ring true to me; as I said elsewhere, the way they thought & felt about things seemed like something an adult might make up while playing with a child instead of like something a real person might think & feel.

While reading some of these things I planned on reading, I was quietly ambushed by Diana Wynne Jones. Joy nurses &/or is read to in a comfortable padded rocking chair in her bedroom, which is also the library, and thus I spend a lot of my time curled up in this chair surrounded by six bookcases mostly containing fiction, and periodically I pick up something and look at it while Joy is climbing up onto the footstool, flinging stuffed animals into her crib, and then climbing down again & applauding. Thus it was that I picked up Charmed Life by DWJ, which I hadn't read in many years, and got drawn in -- and then I found The Lives of Christopher Chant which I also hadn't reread in a long time, and then I realised that I owned Witch Week but had never read it. Eventually amidst all this glorious rereading it occured to me that Diana Wynne Jones was most likely still writing books, and now I have a truly enormous stack of books from the library, plus all the other books of hers that I own but haven't read in ages, and I'm really enjoying the process. A friend warned me that her most recent work is not as good as her earlier stuff, but we'll see when I come to it; I think the next book on the stack is Conrad's Fate since I might as well read all the Chrestomanci books before dipping back into her other loosely connected series. It's interesting to me how often the villains in her novels are women, and cannot help but connect this to vague memories of her talking about how awful her mother is, but that may well be the Biographical Fallacy I was warned against in school.

Joy wakes! I should go to her, and doubtless she'll want to curl up in the comfy chair with me & nurse & read until her energy takes over and she's ready to zoom around helping me put away vegetables in the kitchen.
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I seem to have moved into a new phase of parenthood, a phase in which suddenly I'm in contact with lots of other parents who want to do this or that -- one is hoping to trade babysitting with me so she can go exercise in the mornings, another wants our families to get together on the weekend, still others are inviting us to birthday parties or similar events. It's exciting and... overwhelming, I guess. I think of myself as such an extrovert, but it occured to me today that this is because most of my friends are really really really introverts; I am only an extrovert by comparison. I do think it will be wonderful for Joy to interact more with other children, especially one on one over time, which the babysitting exchange in particular will lead to.. but oh, I'm so nervous about it all. Being a mom already takes so much of my energy, and having to be social with strangers and try to figure out their expectations about small talk and not say anything about what's really going on in my head because that's too much for casual conversation while watching kids --

Of course, right now I'm in a more internal mood, where I'd really just like to sit here with this warm cat on my lap and read Girl Genius and drink hot tea. On another day I might look forward to the socialising and the excitement of meeting new people, but even so I'd still be nervous.
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I wasn't going to make a New Year's resolution, but then one suddenly sprang out at me and wrapped itself around my ankles, so: this year I am going to partake of more stories. My reading often tends towards non-fiction, because there is very little chance of a nice dry academic history giving me nightmares. I like cultural studies stuff too, and literary criticism, and cookbooks, and more personal non-fiction like essays and memoirs, although I prefer older essays & memoirs because modern ones can end up in places that I find too upsetting or infuriating. Also... I think I just like the way people used to write about books more than the way (most) people write about books now --

No, that's not true, exactly. I like the real chewy criticism being written now immensely, it isn't like anything else and it gives my brain new ideas and it is wonderful. But when it comes to people's personal responses and passions towards books, a lot of modern essayists seem to get all caught up in questions about the canon and dead white men and the death of the author and post-modern angst, and that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for someone saying 'OMG Milton is awesome let me tell you why.' Old essays often do that, and a lot of other enjoyable stuff too. Probably there are new essays that do that also, but aside from Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris none are springing to mind right now.

Anyway, my reading tends heavily towards this sort of thing, because it is (terrible but vital word) safe. There's a lot to be said for safe, but I think I need more stories, even if sometimes they hurt.

So what stories will i enjoy this january?

Sweetness in the Salt, which is an excellent Chinese TV show that a friend of mine lent me on DVD; my husband & I watched the first two episodes and I am completely hooked, not least by its deployment of one of my favourite tropes -- the advantage of masculinity given to the male lead by the setting is somewhat balanced out by him being physically ill, while the female lead does kung fu. The scene where she runs off to avenge her parents and he can't stop her because she's stronger and faster than him was great.

Ellen Middleton an early Victorian novel which I am almost done with.

Thrush Green by Miss Read, because I am sure it will be nice.

Catherine Storr's Thursday, which I read once many years ago and didn't appreciate. I suspect I'll really like it now, but we'll see.

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson, because I have it from the library and it is set in pre-WWI Vienna, although the first few chapters feel awfully plastic-fake to me... but I see from a brief websearch that she was mostly a children's author, which might explain it. Even though the story is for adults, the tone seems like it would be a lot more appropriate in a slightly old-fashioned kids book.

I'm going to reread The Provincial Lady in Wartime, but it's an edge case; something about the diary format doesn't make it feel like a story, even though I know that it's fiction. I'm also going to read Mrs Tim of the Regiment -- see, I have this bad habit of hoarding books which I'm trying to overcome -- but it's also in diary form so might or might not count. But at least this way I can tell the friend who gave the books to me that I read them, which will be satisfying.

Finally, last night I started The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the huge 2-volume Moss Roberts translation. There is no way I'm going to finish this in January, not unless I become obsessed and read all 900 pages without sleeping which would be a really disastrous idea, but I'm glad to have started it.

It'll be interesting to look back on this in a month and see what has come of it all.
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I discovered Pat McIntosh through a short story in one of Lin Carter's Year's Best Fantasy collections -- the first one, I think, from 1975. I no longer remember the story, but I liked it enough that I went and looked up her name and was pleased to see that after 25 years without any published writing she'd written a few historical mysteries which seemed to be doing reasonably well. There are 7 of the Gil Cunningham mysteries now, set in late 15th century Glasgow and sometimes other parts of Scotland, and there's an 8th coming out in June of 2011. I've just reread the first four and then read the remaining three for the first time.

Historical mysteries seem like a very tricky thing to me; the author has to walk a very fine line to create something which is both a mystery novel and a creditable piece of historical fiction. Too much focus on writing a mystery and one ends up with a police procedural in fancy dress -- I'm fond of the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters, but they always strike me that way, with forensic details and organised gathering of evidence and characters thinking more like mid-20th-century people than like 12th century monks. On the other hand, if the author doesn't give her detectives some ability to detect you get a novel in which the mystery happens to & around characters who are powerless to act upon it. McIntosh does a pretty good job of walking this line, but definitely leans a little more towards the historical than the mystery; Gil Cunningham and his associates don't really have a methodology for detecting, so they do a lot of wandering around talking to people, and often completely fail to put clues together in a way that leaves me a little frustrated. I can think of few other mysteries in which I've been able to figure out the solution ahead of the characters (almost) every single time.

But what I love about these books is the way in which McIntosh uses Gil's wanderings and questionings to show the reader a lot of facets of medieval life in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland, and that is what makes me really, really enjoy these books. Each book after the first has a definite focus: The Nicholas Feast examines the life of a medieval university; The Merchant's Mark looks at medieval trade; St. Mungo's Robin at institutionalised religious charity; The Rough Collier at mining and other 'rough' occupations (salt-boilers, peat-diggers); The Stolen Voice examines some of the differences of highland Scottish culture and also looks at professional church singers. The most recent, A Pig of Cold Poison is focused around apothecaries in Glasgow, and I was particularly fascinated by the ways in which different members of the same profession sort themselves out by class. After reading this series I wanted to immerse myself in reading all sorts of Scottish history, both the big-picture stuff so I would understand Gil's political troubles as a Cunningham, and social/domestic history so I could learn more about how a medieval town actually fit together.

Other things I like: her characters have the prickly roundedness of real people, with little bits of odd knowledge that float to the surface in very realistic ways, like medical advice (pigeon dung!) or quoting Scots poetry, or arguing about recipes. I like that her characters are all religious, both devoutly turning to prayer when troubled or confused, but also reflexively crossing themselves or invoking saints without thinking about it. I think she is probably far too modern in her portrayal of women, but on the other hand the most recent novel had some things about pregnancy and childbirth that seemed period appropriate to me, and I loved that Gil wants to be Best Friends with a woman and listen to her fears whereas she and her female friends and his male friends are all advising him to let it alone because it's just not going to help her if he pushes her to explain what's going on. That felt dead on to me, that resistance to the man poking into the women's world, where in a modern novel it'd be taken for granted as a form of equality and companionship.

I'm sure that these books have many mistakes and flaws in them that a historian of the period would be driven crazy by, but I like them a lot. Sometimes I wish McIntosh would give up on the mysteries and just write straight out historical domestic fiction, sort of like Jane Duncan or the good Angela Thirkell but set in medieval Scotland.
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