Jun 11, 2013

A glimpse into my mind by way of bookish talk

Turn of the century handwritten journal
Photo Credit

Today I shall attempt to do justice to this blog’s “reading journal” subtitle: I don’t have any proper reviews to share, but I wanted to tell you that lately I’ve been more excited about my reading than I’d been in months, if not years. I finished my second ever Frances Hardinge, the amazing and disturbing Verdigris Deep; I started Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire and cried before I was even fifty pages in; I have Soonchild by Russell Hobban out from the library for a readalong with friends; and I also grabbed Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments just because I needed more of her words. I have no idea whether I’ll actually get to read it before it’s due back, but reclaiming this — giving myself permission participate in bookish culture though small gestures like bringing a library book home just because — has been really important to me.

Also, I’m ridiculously excited about the upcoming release of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He’s doing a talk and signing near me a few days before the official publication date, so hopefully I’ll get to read it this coming weekend — cue in excited squeeing. My local bookish partner in crime and I are planning a perfect geek’s day out: we’re going to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing before the event, and there’s also a big library sale going on that day. Needless to say, Saturday can’t come soon enough.

I’m also excited about a recent book order I placed: I got Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose for a readalong with Iris and Kelly (there haven’t been enough of those in my life lately); I finally got around to ordering Tanith Lee’s Disturbed by Her Song, and I got Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, for which I’m blaming Clare and Amy. I’ve been reading the Dear Sugar column archives online, and I often find myself going back to them when I need to be reminded not to make my life “smaller, stupider, squatter, sadder”. It’s funny how relevant something like, say, this essay feels to me, even though the situation Stayed is responding to is very different from anything I’ve ever experienced. But then again, that’s what good writing does, right? I may not worry about my health to the extent that it paralyses me, but I certainly have a very loud “invisible inner terrible someone” who will ruin my life if I let her.

Even though I’ve just ordered books, I’m very tempted to get even more: for example, surely I need Primates, by the author of the excellent Feynman, no? And even more excitingly, I recently found out about Katherine Angel’s Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell via this interview. The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I wanted to highlight an idea I keep coming back to:
What I find worse is that there’s a tendency to view women as more porous than men, if you like. So we tend to see male sexuality as a kind of simple, mechanistic given and that women are constantly prey to these cultural and social norms. The fact is, I think we’re all shaped by these cultural and social norms. There’s no such thing as an authentic sexuality that then gets encroached upon by powerful forces from the outside. Sexuality and our desires are things we kind of develop over time in response to this bewildering array of biological, individual, social, cultural cues. The challenge, then, for us as individuals, is to kind of work out what to do with that and what we want to resist and what we want to claim. It’s a profoundly feminist question, but I think the way the debate tends to unfold is that we worry about women as these passive, empty vessels that receive the influence of culture, and I think that’s something we need to make more subtle in the conversation.
This quote alone makes me want to read everything Angel has ever written: this is a problem I keep running into in certain attempts to make sense of how socialisation shapes us, and I’d never seen anyone word it quite like this. Of course there’s such a thing as harmful cultural influences, but culture and socialisation are not fake plasters that cover our “real” inner natures, and thinking of them in these terms is extremely unhelpful.

Lastly, I want to get my hands on Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience thanks to this excerpt:
Neuroimaging is a young science, barely out of its infancy, really. In such a fledgling enterprise, the half-life of facts can be especially brief. To regard research findings as settled wisdom is folly, especially when they emanate from a technology whose implications are still poorly understood. As any good scientist knows, there will always be questions to hone, theories to refine, and techniques to perfect. Nonetheless, scientific humility can readily give way to exuberance. When it does, the media often seem to have a ringside seat at the spectacle.
Pop neuroscience makes an easy target, we know. Yet we invoke it because these studies garner a disproportionate amount of media coverage and shape public perception of what brain imaging can tell us. Skilled science journalists cringe when they read accounts claiming that scans can capture the mind itself in action. Serious science writers take pains to describe quality neuroscience research accurately. Indeed, an eddy of discontent is already forming. “Neuromania,” “neurohubris,” and “neurohype”—“neurobollocks,” if you’re a Brit—are just some of the labels that have been brandished, sometimes by frustrated neuroscientists themselves. But in a world where university press releases elbow one another for media attention, it’s often the study with a buzzy storyline (“Men See Bikini-Clad Women as Objects, Psychologists Say”) that gets picked up and dumbed down.
It seems like this book might be a good companion to Marlene Zuk’s Paleofantasy, which I’m currently reading and really enjoying. However, the final few paragraphs of the Salon piece gave me pause: on the one hand, the “it’s instinct, he can’t help it” narrative that is often used in, say, rape trials is horrifying and extremely harmful; on the other hand, sometimes “personal responsibility” is a codeword used by people who like to pretend that sociology has no place in our understanding of criminality, and that things like racial profiling and inequality shouldn’t be taken into account. I’d have to read the book to see which way it’s going — possibly one to get from the library?

So there you have it: a glimpse into my current preoccupations by way of bookish talk. Add this brilliant essay by Molly Crabapple and this Unemployment Stories series (which I’ve only just discovered and which brings back a lot of memories) and you get 80% of what I’ve been thinking about these past few days.

What about you? What has you excited, and what’s keeping you up at night?


  1. I just got the new Gaiman book yesterday and I did a little happy dance when I opened it.

  2. I've been exceptionally immersed in all things bookish lately, myself. Isn't it exciting and fun? And I hope you enjoy Soonchild. I didn't know what I thought of it at first, but I think I really enjoyed it! :)

  3. This post = :D :D :D

    So much awesomeness. That essay you linked to--ummmm, thanks. Oh how I needed to read that. In fact, I may need to read that on a daily basis. That "invisible inner terrible someone" seriously has the upper hand these days, and well, this was just what I needed to hear right now.

    Plus there's the fact that you literally made me just go order two books (Primates--wow! how did I not know about this book? and Paleofantasy). I'm pretending they're for Rich for Father's Day...but inside I know the selfish truth. Since I know he will love them both, I'm okay with the selfishness. :P Btw, after reading a blurb about Paleofantasy, I'm guessing she talks a bit about punctuated equilibria? It will likely not surprise you to hear that Rich had a bumper sticker that said "Honk if you understand punctuated equilibria," along with his flying spaghetti monster one. Aren't science geeks fun? :)

  4. PS - I hope Rich doesn't read the comments.

    PSS - I started Fingersmith. :D

  5. You are going to love Tiny Beautiful Things, especially since you already love the column. I am happy to be co-blamed for it.

  6. I can't wait to read the new Neil Gaiman book and I really want to see Much Ado About Nothing. Sounds like a great day!!! Have fun.

  7. Oh, I just received an ARC of the Gaiman and can't wait to sink into it. It seems so long since I've had the pleasure of doing so, but I also find that I've been experiencing a return to reading. It's been a long, hard year, and it's only fitting that summer reading should reawaken that love.

  8. I've organized to go and see Neil Gaiman speak when he's in New York -- hooray! It's a bit expensive, but the book is included in the cost of admission, and I'd be buying the book anyway. So, money well spent!

    Brainwashed sounds amazing. Please get your hands on it and report back.

    What has me excited is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (which I am reading now) and Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (which my friend got for me from the publisher, and which I am reading next).

  9. If you liked 'Vertigis Deep' you should read 'A Face Like Glass' by Frances Hardinge (unless you've already read it!) I finished it recently and LOVED it.

  10. I'm looking forward to reading the latest Neil Gaiman book along with Primates too. While I'm waiting for my library to buy Primates, I'm rereading Ottaviani's Feynman. Feynman was such an interesting person.What has me excited is that it's summer and I can read whatever I want to. :-)

  11. I love your bookish geek's day out plan (although the pedant in me wants to say that it's not truly geekish until you bite the head off a live chicken)

  12. I just got the Gaiman book! I think I shall be starting it today. I think he'd get me back in the mood to read :-) OR I may read The Influencing Machine. Decisions, decisions. I won't be posting on either of those any time soon, though, based on my schedule this next week and my TRIP TO PERU!! :-)

  13. Kathy: Lucky! Two more days to wait for me. I need to finish Rose Under Fire until then so I'm ready to start it right away on Saturday.

    Andi: I'm a couple of chapters in and really enjoying it so far! Normally I'd read faster, but Rose Under Fire keeps distracting me :P

    Debi: Hahaha. Yes, let's hope he doesn't :P I was going to e-mail you about Paleofantasy soon, because I keep thinking of Rich when I read it. Also, yay, Fingersmith :D :D :D

    Clare: It arrived two days ago and I'm already two thirds done. It's exactly the book I needed right now <3

    Mari: Thank you! I'm sure I will :D

    Gricel: Everyone has it already but me *sob* :P I know just what you mean by "a return to reading", btw. It's a lovely feeling to have this much to look forward to.

    Jenny: It was the same here - not the cheapest event, but the book's included, so definitely worthwhile. I hope you have a great time! And yay, I'm excited that you're reading Americanah.

    Rachel: I will! I definitely plan to read everything she's written.

    Vasilly: Sadly I don't think Primates is one that will ever make its way into my library, so I caved and ordered it :P

    Jeanne: I'm afraid that one went over my head :P

    Aarti: Trip to Peru! I'm so excited for you :D Oh, The Influencing Machine is so so good! You have some excellent reading ahead of you. Maybe make one of them your flight read?

  14. I'm so glad to hear you have got your reading mojo back! I'm currently being kept up by a collection of Daphne du Maurier's short stories I discovered in a charity shop!

  15. So glad you've got your mojo back too and a plan to fit both Much Ado & Gaiman into one day. Desperately excited about his new book and very sad I've not got a copy to read Right Now.

  16. Ah what a great feeling to re-discover something you love right? Sounds like you've got some great books waiting for you so hope you enjoy them all!

  17. I've actually been really excited about reading again too :D Mostly because I've decided to just give myself permission to read FOR FUN and to blog about books FOR FUN! Which this is all about, right? But somewhere along the line, I happen to lose track of that every now and then :/ But inspired by the post Amy wrote recently and inspired by the posts that you always write (in particular posts like these) I'm reminded of how fucking much I love this community and how it IS still here. Yes, there have been layers added to it, but we're still all here. Ok..we've lost some really good friends along the way :( But what it boils down to….we still love to read, we still love to share those experiences with others, we've made some really amazing connections with each other, and those are things I will always cherish :) And I won't lose those things.

    Oh right…back to books :p I'm in the middle of Soonchild right now and it's so very different than anything else I've read and I'm really enjoying it :) As usual, I'm in the middle of other books too :p Namely, Relish by Lucy Kinglsey which is aweseome and This is What Happy Feels like which is also aweosme and This is Our Prom So Deal With it by Julie Anne Peters and since it's by Peters, it's awesome by default :p But it really is awesome. And I CANNOT WAIT FOR GAIMAN'S BOOK TO ARRIVE!!! Holy crap I'm so excited!!!!!

  18. Some wonderful links there that I'm exploring. I seem to have totally missed 'Dear Sugar', for instance, and can immediately see that I have been missing something that really speaks to me (notably, "I have to cut the crazy lady to the quick rather often."). Thank you!

  19. Isn't it great when there are so many books to get excited about? You've reminded me that I really need to read more things by Tanith Lee. And that I must start on Diana Wynne Jones (I know, it's scandalous that I haven't read anything by her yet!) Love your post, Ana!

  20. So it's two weeks since you wrote this, and I'm only now coming out of my quiet place. I am so excited about being able to blog again! And come see you and everyone!

    As for books - All the books my husband brought from England yesterday for me, the Sylvia Plath bio Mad Woman's Love song, and Natalie Goldberg's The True Secret of Writing.

    It's good to be excited about bookish things, isn't it?


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