chalcedony_cat: fan from the v&a (Default)
I spent Wednesday having brunch and conversation with my friend C., and driving back and forth to same, and then of course the parenting etc -- thus, no time to post here.

Just Finished: The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip. Morgon is such a classic reluctant hero, spending the majority of the book trying to escape the plot. And if I was (re)reading this without the second and third volume to hand, I would have found the ending really annoying.

Currently Reading: Still The New Yorker, now down to only a week behind the current issue. It makes me hungry to travel, listen to new music, read different books, try many new things -- all in all a great good.

Heir of Sea and Fire, being the next McKillip. I think I applaud her for refusing to match genre expectations and making the scenic women into the main characters of the second novel, but ... it feels somewhat thin. A lot of talk about how beloved Morgon is, but it is unclear why he would be, except authorial fiat. Still, I like the language and I like the characters and I have no desire to put it down.

I had started on Game of Cages which is Harry Connolly's second novel about Ray Lilly, but then aforementioned friend C. gave me Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch and I couldn't resist starting it instead. It is the same genre, but Aaronovitch is funny; perhaps he can afford to be as I think his characters have script immunity and Connolly's clearly do not.

Up Next: I finally found my copy of Michael Holroyd's biography of Lytton Strachey (the updated 1994 version), but also Strachey's letters and Carrington's letters, and I am planning to sit down with all of these and read them all at the same time, to supplement the very annoying Gretchen Gerzina biography of Carrington that I mentioned last week.

I am astonished by just how many books about Bloomsbury I own, and how consistent my interest in these people have been (almost 20 years now) and also somewhat embarassed by how many of these books I have never yet got around to reading. Now is the time, I suppose.
chalcedony_cat: fan from the v&a (Default)
This goes a long way around through my kitchen and feminism but it gets to books eventually.

I was in the kitchen just now, making myself toast, considering the drudgery of being a housewife & stay-at-home-mother. Not mine in particular, which is remarkably minimal, but the general case of it -- I just started watching Mad Men a few weeks back -- and how it has and has not changed, and how even in my own exceptionally privileged case, the assumption is still that I am the person in the household who manages everyone's schedules and institutes the routines and sees that they are carried through. My partner may well take the children to school, but I am the one who reminds him to pack my daughter a lunch, and yes peanut butter is okay, and if I forget (as I did today) to remind him to send breakfast with my son, then my son is at preschool without breakfast.

So why is it that I am the one who must remember all these things? What are the vitally important matters on my partner's mind that keep him from tracking the fact that our son ought to eat breakfast every single day, and thus breakfast must go to preschool with him? This is snarky, yes, but I was also thinking about it seriously. He works full-time at a complex job managing complex things, which perhaps leaves no room in his mind to remember bananas. But then, I work as time permits trying to write novels, which is also a complex job -- so why is it so very obvious that, of the two of us, I'm the one who has the time & energy to keep track of the bananas, whereas he does not? Is it anything other than male privilege? Furthermore, isn't it very strange that by choosing to have these children (which I do not regret in the slightest), I have also signed up for years of buying shoes and remembering bananas, and my partner, somehow, has not?

Then I thought, how strange it would be, must have been, to be a man who takes it for granted that his wife will do all this enormous load of work, managing the household and children and so forth, and then suddenly she realises that she was signed up for a job she hated and that she could quit. Not that every woman can, of course, but some can, and do, often at enormous personal cost --

Spoilers for Jo Walton's _My Real Children_ within )

So now I know what it is that did not work for me, and knowing that, I am a little closer to having my own aesthetics of prose, which is important to me as I grow into my own writing. For a very long time I was unwilling to dislike the craft of things -- I might say I did not enjoy a novel, or that I disliked the ideology of it, but I could not say that I thought there were problems in how a work was put together; I both lacked the language and the courage. Now I have the latter, and I am developing the former in my own way, not entirely reinventing the wheel, but somewhat -- my degree in English Literature did not involve any classes in aesthetics, it was all cultural studies and the like, which I adored and am very glad for but does me no good at all in trying to understand why I experience some books as breathtakingly beautiful and others as dull. Or, really more importantly to me, some books as deeply true, and others as meretricious.


What, then, do I love in books? Truth and beauty, I suppose, ridiculously reductive, but that is what it comes down to. I find beauty in specificity of detail, and I find truth -- well, that one I am not sure of yet, but I think it is also about specificity, and what lives in the body. I want the books I read to be utterly real, even if they are fantastic.

I love Candas Jane Dorsey's Black Wine and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and Nicola Griffith's Hild and Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria and Jill Paton Walsh's Lapsing because in each of those books there are true things being said, and they are being said in part by the description of what it is like to see patterns of light moving on the wall in a strange room, or feel a flutter in your stomach that seems like fear but might be something else, or to smell the spices in the market of the country you have spent your entire life yearning to visit, or to feel the pine needles under your body as you wait to see if you are going to live through the next few minutes. Not every moment is described, but enough are, and when things are told rather than felt (I am thinking of the Dorsey in particular here), they hit with doubled force, because the author makes the reader complicit in the knowing of that moment, she suggests that it does not have to be described, we already know.

I am sure there are many more books out there which combine these things. I hope that I can find them. More, I hope that I can write my own.
chalcedony_cat: fan from the v&a (Default)
I am astonished I am remembering to do this on the appropriate day of the week.

Currently Reading: As always, I am reading a dozen books with various levels of attention. The most compelling right now is my first reread since 2002 of The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip. I am enjoying it, although not with the same white-hot passion as when I was younger; it is too simple for that, too much the unlayered straight line of plot despite the lovely things adorning it. Reading it now, I wonder if it was inspired by Earthsea? Regardless, it feels very much of its time (1976) in the way that there is a map and Morgon must go to almost each place on it so that the reader may tour the world. (In this it reminds me also of Nancy Springer, although in many other ways they do not seem alike -- but perhaps it was just the shape of some type of 1970s fantasy? And if so, where did this go in the 1980s?) McKillip writes it well and I do not mind the tour, but I am curious to see how she shapes the plot in the second and third books; I remember how much I loved them but very little else.

On my ipad I am constantly reading The New Yorker, always about three weeks behind the current issue; I enjoy almost all of it very much, and the occasional article that is too annoying I blithely skip. I also dip into the archives occasionally, reading through the early issues from 1925, finding little gems like comedy columns from Julius H. Marx and the occasional poem that stays with me. I am curious to see how the magazine changes over time, although if I tried to read every issue that has ever been published it would take me about twenty years at my current rate -- perhaps much longer, the early issues are so short. But I am enough of a completist that the idea appeals, even though it is a little ridiculous.

Finally, I am partly through a biography of Carrington by Gretchen Gerzina -- not very well done, I think, but I have not read many biographies, and it is the only one that exists, so I keep reading. I like it when it quotes her letters, but when she talks about how at nineteen Carrington was just like any other teenager -- is teenager not a social construct which did not exist yet in 1910? I might be wrong, but there are so many such moments that I end up not trusting the flow of the book.

Just Finished: Child of Fire by Harry Connolly, the first of the Twenty Palaces books. It has so much good in it, but I am just not the target audience for these books. They seem to me like an exceptionally good example of their genre (paranormal noir), Connolly neither pulls punches nor lingers over the grotesque, the protagonist is very realistic both in his willingness to do violence and his intense discomfort with it afterwards -- and yet, I end up skimming over pages and pages of action scenes, not caring about the details of who hides where and shoots with what, or how clever our hero/anti-hero is with the use of objects, or anything like that. But if you like that genre, by all means read these, because Connolly is masterful in his use of incluing and he does not care a whit if the reader is somewhat confused; his protagonist is confused as well, those with power are not sharing much information, and there is a large backstory shared only in the smallest bits and pieces.

(I am reminded by [personal profile] rachelmanija that these books do contain bad things happening to children, although not in my mind gratuitously or done as misery tourism. But mileage, of course, varies.)

Up Next: The rest of the McKillip trilogy, once I finish the first one. I have the other two Twenty Palaces books also, and in a way I want to read them because I liked Ray Lilly and I found the world fascinating, but will I just end up skipping a lot of pages of action again? And if so, is that any reason not to read them in the way that I will find the most satisfactory? I always feel vaguely guilty, the author put those words there for a reason, and yet -- my time is so finite.

I have Jane Hirshfield's third collection of poems, The October Palace, waiting for me at home, but in order to read poetry I really must be alone and quiet, so it keeps getting put aside. Tonight, perhaps, if I am lucky. I love to read poetry but it is like the richest chocolate, one or two at a time and then a long time to digest, which is sometimes frustrating when there is so much poetry in the world. An embarassment of riches, I suppose.

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