Oct 31, 2014

Halloween Shenanigans

Tam Lin, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynnes Jones, and The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert

Halloween Shenanigans
I’m at two places today: first, at The Emerald City Book Review with a post about discovering Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire & Hemlock (and the rest of her work shortly afterwards). That book was a game changer for me in terms of realising what I wanted from stories, and it was great to have an excuse to wander down memory lane. Lory was kind enough to invite me to open Witch Week, an entire week dedicated to Diana Wynne Jones — she has lots of great content lined up for it and you should definitely stop by. Also, Fire & Hemlock is a “Tam Lin” retelling of sorts, which makes it perfect for Halloween.

Secondly, I’m at Lady Business discussing Mary Rickert’s horror story “The Mothers of Voorhisville” with Jodie. The story didn’t quite work for either of us, but it was still really interesting to discuss it because it gave us a chance to dig into the kinds of stories we tend to see (and not see) about motherhood.

Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates it! I’ll soon be curling up with Joan Aiken’s wonderful Midnight is a Place and a bag of sweets.

Read More......

Oct 30, 2014

Reading Notes: October Edition

Reading Notes: October Edition

The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle
The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle: One of my seasonal picks, and one I had high hopes for after having given up on Lauren Owen’s The Quick at the start of the month. This one I did finish, but alas — I wish I’d liked it more. The premise of The Mysteries is promising and very much up my alley: there’s a private detective specialising in missing persons, several unresolved cases intersecting with the main storyline, plus “Tam Lin” and other Scottish and Irish folktales that revolve around the fairy folk. Unfortunately I was put off by the fact that the story’s voice felt too stereotypically male gazey for me (which is perfectly possible in a book written by a woman when we all grow up in a world with the same set of defaults, blah blah blah). The novel combines elements of mystery and fantasy, and I think it was probably going for a noir sort of feel. I can understand the intent, but sadly I can’t say it worked for me.

It wasn’t just the way the narrator, Private Investigator Ian Kennedy, described the female characters he encountered, though there was that, too; my main issue was with a scene (spoilers for the rest this paragraph) where the woman he was hired to find goes through a series of Tam Lin-like transformations. Like in the original ballad, he has to hold on to her through these to bring her back to the human world. One of the things she turns into is a naked young man who makes sexual advances on Kennedy, and despite some faint “I’m not homophobic, but” disclaimers, this was described mainly in terms of the revulsion it made him feel. I wouldn’t mind this if the emphasis had been on the unwanted nature of the advances, but it felt very much that the gender of the person making them and not the issue of consent was the key factor. I’ve already returned the book to the library, which means that unfortunately I can’t share the relevant passages, but the scene’s tinges of bodily revulsion of the eww-he-has-male-bits sort and associated homophobic undertones were strong and very much off-putting.

I’ve always wanted to read Tuttle’s The Silver Bough, but this has somewhat dissuaded me. The Mysteries isn’t terrible, mainly because the writing is competent and the atmosphere is spot on, but to be honest it just made me miss Tam Lin.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: …which is why I went on to reread it, and oh, it was immensely satisfying and the perfect October book. It’s a wonderful feeling to still love a book every bit as much as you remember. In addition to my great enjoyment of the atmosphere, what struck me the most this time around was how central to the narrative Janet’s intellectual interests are. I love Tam Lin’s nerdiness; I love the fact that this is a book that makes me miss being a student acutely. It’s a campus novel that focuses not only on its characters’ social lives, but on the everyday business of getting to know your own mind and making sense of the world, which a good education is very much about.

Janet’s love of Shakespeare and Keats, her discovery of Greek, her slow warm-up to Pope — they all put me in mind of slow, satisfying days spent at my university’s library developing what felt like a meaningful relationship with my assigned reading. I don’t know that I can describe this without sounding pretentious — these moments didn’t come along all the time, but it was wonderful when they did. I felt like I was making friends with what were previously only names on the curriculum, and as I did so all these Important Old Books became truly mine. Tam Lin captures that feeling perfectly: claiming things as your own, realising your horizons are expanding, feeling your understanding of the world shifting in small but crucial ways, and stopping for a moment to savour and take pleasure in this fact. Rather than bogging down the narrative, the academic details bring Tam Lin’s thematic core to life in ways the supernatural plot alone couldn’t.

In short: this is a wonder of a novel, and I expect I’ll be returning to it again and again.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger: I picked up Carriger’s Finishing School series entirely due to her comments at LonCon about wanting to write “vastly networked protagonists” whose stories were nothing like the traditional lonely hero’s journey. Being a big believer in collaboration, I loved Carriger’s rejection of the one man’s quest to save the world, and that predisposed me to like these books from the very start.

I did like them, but in the end I felt much like I did about Soulless: I found them fun but ultimately forgettable. This probably sounds harsher than I intend it to — I did love the main character, Sophronia; I greatly enjoyed watching her make friends; I was often delighted by Carriger’s humour and by the novels’ subversive streak; and I found them compelling enough that I read them in a few days. But with so much stuff out there demanding my attention, I’m undecided as to whether I want to invest more time in this series. I suppose that’s an answer in itself.

Read More......

Oct 28, 2014

Links, New Books, and Baby Goats

Links, New Books, and Baby Goats

  • I’m sad I missed Ada Lovelace Day this year. I was aware of it, but for the first time in ages I didn’t do anything blogging-wise to mark the occasion. But I wanted to say belatedly that this book is still awesome and I still want to read all of these.

  • Sarah McCarry has been sharing excerpts of her upcoming novel About a Girl on her tumblr. It sounds amazing and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  • This is an excellent response to all the handwringing about children’s literature we’ve seen in op-ed pieces this year:
    This isn’t a theory at this point, it has been affirmed by decades of research. To ask “What if a positive reading experience totally ruins reading?” is as ridiculous at this point as asking if vaccines cause autism: not because the question itself has never been worth asking, but because it’s been answered exhaustively and to keep asking it shows a dogged incuriosity in the facts.

    I don’t especially care for Percy Jackson myself (I’m more of a Cronus Chronicles fan), but this isn’t about my taste. Of all the challenges kids becoming lifelong readers — no access to books, no access to books about kids like themselves, socialized negative attitudes about reading, a lack of positive role models who read — one thing absolutely not on the list is a beloved series that has millions of kids reading. That is the solution, not the problem.

  • Cory Doctorow’s summary of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century was a fascinating read.

  • Two excellent posts on reading and diversity appeared on my Feedly in recent times — one by Kendra James at Racialicious and the other by Aarti at Booklust. They use different points of departure to arrive at pretty much the same conclusion: all the stories, please. Here’s James:
    The world needs YA literature about Japanese Internment during the Second World War, but they shouldn’t be the only books Japanese-American children get to see themselves reflected in. This isn’t to encourage the erasure or minimalisation of the realities that people of colour have historically faced, but rather a desire for authors and publishers to realise that all of us existed in America outside the times of our most publicised oppressions. And that, even during the most difficult times, we still had lives that didn’t necessarily completely revolve around the overhead political themes of the day.
    And here’s Aarti:
    NO ONE gets to decide what is authentic and what is not. One story being true does not negate another. But there is always more than just one story.

  • I also really enjoyed “Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did”, especially in light of my recent reading experiences with March and the works of Rita Williams-Garcia.

  • I bought some books recently. Here they are:
    Pile of books (titles listed below)
    Signed copy of Blue Lily, Lily Blue
    • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (which came with a signed bookplate :D)
    • Once Upon a Time by Marina Warner
    • The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
    • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
    • Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz
    • Stray by Elissa Sussman
    • Greenglass House by Kate Milford

    Yay, books. They make me happy.

    Having said that, I’m considering embarking on a serious book buying ban next year — not only to save money and make sure I don’t run out of shelf space, but because I think actively focusing on my TBR pile for a while would make for some very satisfying reading times. The books I buy are generally ones I’m excited to read, so it’s in my best interest to make sure they don’t linger on half-forgotten piles for years.

  • Lastly, have some baby goats.
  • Read More......

    Oct 27, 2014

    Playing With Words

    As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit quiet around these parts. This is for no particular reason other than perhaps inertia: I find it hard to recover motivation and get back into the habit of writing once I lose it, especially as potential blogging topics begin to pile up.

    And yet I miss it, in a complicated sort of way.

    Rohan Maitzen’s recent post, On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl, really resonated with me, even though my circumstances couldn’t be more different than Rohan’s. I’m not an academic, nor do I have a demanding career. I wouldn’t even say I have a career in the strictest sense of the word — I have a job I enjoy and find meaningful, which is certainly not nothing, but due to circumstances too difficult to explain here I’m not currently able to envision any sort of progression for myself. And yet there was something familiar about what Rohan said: I too put aside vast expanses of time for writing on this small blog, and recently I’ve been wavering when it comes to how I justify this to myself.

    For example, I feel slightly claustrophobic when I give any serious consideration to, say, trying for a chartership or pursuing job opportunities that would involve a long commute, largely because that would “cut into my writing time”. But what does that mean, exactly, and why should it matter so much in the context of my life? Why do I sacrifice things with more tangible benefits in the name of whatever it is I do here with barely any hesitation? I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what, exactly, is the nature of my business with words. I’ve played with them for as long as I can remember, but I think that if there ever was to be a time when they’d become central to my life in more than this casual, haphazard way it would have happened by now. And yet the urge to prioritise what I do here, however small it is, somehow persists.

    About a year ago I told a friend that I couldn’t make sense of my tendency to demand justifications of myself for writing in a way I don’t ever seem to when it comes to my other hobbies; that remains true to this day. I’m not about to become a Pulitzer-winning photographer, yet I don’t take myself to task for enjoying well-composed snapshots or devoting whole days to editing RAW files to my satisfaction. I’m certainly never going to win a cookery competition and go on to become a world-renowned chef, yet I enjoy trying new recipes and take pleasure in planning them. I don’t know why writing is different, or why the very obvious and sensible advice to just stop fretting and blog only when/if I feel like it, with no obligations or inner pressure doesn’t seem to work, but there you go. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that words feel essential, that I haven’t achieved enough with them to justify this feeling to myself, and that when I try to envision a life where I devote this amount of time and energy to more tangible endeavours instead I feel I can no longer recognise myself. (Dramatic, I know, but true nonetheless.)

    Rohan says in her post that the only way forward is to do the best you can, but also that “it’s just hard to feel motivated to do this writing sometimes, when the rewards are so equivocal” — two sentiments I relate to and must somehow try to balance. To end on a less mopey note, here’s a list of things I will hopefully make myself sit down and write about soon to get myself out of this rut:
    • Orange is the New Black
    • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
    • Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
    • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
    • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (book and author event)
    • Fair Play by Tove Jansson
    • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
    • The Likeness by Tana French
    Also, I wanted to use this quick post as an opportunity to touch base. So hi — I’ve missed you and I hope you’re all doing well.

    Read More......

    Oct 20, 2014

    The Raven Cycle Discussion

    Covers for The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue

    Raven Cycle Discussion
    Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the long-awaited third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, is published tomorrow. To mark the occasion, I invited some blogging friends — Aarti, Jenny, Memory and Teresa — to join me at Lady Business to discuss the series and speculate wildly about all the ways in which the third book is going to break our hearts.

    Because the one thing that makes bookish excitement even better is sharing it, I’d love nothing better than for other fellow Raven Cycle fans to join us in comments with their own hopes and dreams and fears for the rest of the series. As you can probably guess, our post is full of spoilers for The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, but it was written before any of us got our hands on Blue Lily, Lily Blue, so rest assured that there are no spoilers for that.

    Has anyone read Blue Lily, Lily Blue yet? I’ve been gnashing my teeth over my delayed pre-order and fighting the temptation to just look for it in bookshops on my lunch break in case any have it out early.

    Read More......