• What are you reading?
Notes from a Feminist Killjoy, by Erin Wunker. It's a bits-and-pieces book, but all the bits are in conversation with other writers, and with reality; even its bittyness recalls how Tillie Olsen would carry a sentence in her mind, polishing it in scraps of time between interruptions, through a day of women's work, a day of no peace, no privacy, no silence, no solitude.
When I started this book, I wanted to write something unimpeachable. Something so clear and objective, it could be a little dictionary or translation phrase book for how to speak a feminist language and live a feminist life. I wanted what many other writers -- the many-gendered mothers of my heart -- had already written. I wanted A Room of One's Own, Sister Outsider, Willful Subjects, Islands of Decolonial Love. I wanted Feminism is for Everybody and The Dream of a Common Language. I wanted No Language is Neutral.
I wanted books that had already been written by people whose experiences of moving through the world are different -- often radically so -- from mine.
I got stuck.
I read some more.
I remembered that I tell my students that reading and writing are attempts at joining conversations, making new ones, and, sometimes, shifting the direction of discourse.
I sat down at my typewriter again.
• What did you recently finish reading?
George & Lizzie, by Nancy Pearl.
Lizzie agreed. "I remember reading a novel in which one of the characters, a college professor, was writing a book on the influence of Emily Dickinson on Shakespeare and how his colleagues always misheard it and thought it was the other way around. I wish I could remember the title, because talking about it now makes me want to read it again. It's so interesting to think about. Do you think we read Shakespeare differently because of Dickinson's poems?"
I remember reading that too! It was by David Lodge, I think Changing Places? I read it about the same age Lizzie did. Not at the same time: I'm maybe ten years older than Lizzie. But, like Lizzie, I grew up in Michigan and went to UM and struggled with depression most of my life and, as a young woman, tried to claim my sexuality in ways that were bad for me and for the people I interacted with. Lizzie feels real to me, is what I'm saying, and I'm okay with the fact that the people around her are kind of one-note because the problem this book is about is: if you can't stop being sad about your shitty childhood even though your life is no longer shitty, if you can't stop punishing yourself for bad choices that you made long ago, if you can't stop trying to change something that happened long ago and wasn't in your control even then. . . then how do you stop?
[Lizzie says] "They're your thoughts, right? How can you not think them?"
Marla struggled to answer. "I don't know, but people do it. I think I let go of things, or at least try to. You have to, really, otherwise you're weighted down with all those cumulative bad memories. James and I used to talk about that baby missing from our lives, whether it was a boy or a girl, whether we could find out who adopted it, whether we'd ever forgive our parents, why we didn't just say 'Screw you' to them back then and get married after I got pregnant. I mean, you know, it was so present. It was always there in our lives. But if we kept that up there'd be no place for anything else. And now we just acknowledge all that awful stuff happened, that maybe we made the wrong decision, that we were just kids. We were just kids. You have to forgive yourself eventually, right?"
Lizzie's husband George got famous by explaining that, while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, but his explanation doesn't work for Lizzie. George doesn't seem to understand that, for some people, that's liberating, but for others, it says that your suffering was your choice and therefore your fault. I'd offer Lizzie Season of Mists, because "you don't have to stay anywhere forever" worked for me, but how a story works depends as much on the reader as on the story.
Which is not to say that we shouldn't do our best to write good stories. This one has a stupid editing oversight that dumped me right out:
[Marla:]"I love you Lizzie, and always will. And I will always, always, keep your secrets. But this, what this means to you and George, is an important secret. It's not the equivalent of a little white lie. It'd be like me not telling James about the abortion."
[Lizzie:]"But James knew about the abortion, he was with you when you had it."
"Don't be deliberately naive, it doesn't become you. You know what I mean: some other James I was involved with."
What abortion, I wondered? Was there an abortion as well as a baby given up for adoption? When?
No, it must have been changed from an abortion to an adoption at some point. Which was a good change: it's believable that Marla would find it harder to move on with her life after carrying the baby for nine months, while knowing that there was a person out there that she felt responsible for but had no ability to protect. But leaving evidence of the change in the story made me notice how flat all the other characters are, how they are the way they are in order to serve Lizzie's story.
• What do you think you’ll read next?
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, narrated by Caroline Lee
Very enjoyable mystery/gothic history novel largely set in the 1920s. (I feel like Julien Fallows probably owes Morton money). I liked how the storylines intertwined and how each person's interest in the history changed how they saw it. The love triangle at the centre was probably the least interesting aspect, and I wish the story had had more focus on Grace, as the sections without her dragged a bit. Will read more by this author, in any case.
Bearista by Zoe Chant
Does what it says on the tin, though I could have used more coffeeshop UST, as those scenes were a highlight. However the main couple had great chemistry, and I liked how the heroine was strong, interesting and useful in a fight without being an action girl. Zoe is really good at heroines that feel real.
(I hope there's a sequel about Keegan and maybe a carpenter lady.)
A Long Day in Lychford (Lychford #3) by Paul Cornell
I really liked the emotion in this book, and how the characters were at odds for good reason. The feelings were very well conveyed, especially Lizzie's inability to connect with the other two. However, it felt a bit short to deal with all the themes it was trying to get in, and a lot of plot threads didn't feel resolved at all. Presumably they will be in the next one, but I wasn't left feeling like I'd read a whole story as I was with the first two. (Unless the fragmentation was itself a meta point.)
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky
I mean, it's a book in which the main character (and most of the other characters) dies repeatedly and often horribly, but it's just really pretty okay! I don't know what to say past wow, shiny about the writing and the structure and the themes, and it's just really meaningful! I want to learn German so I can read it in German.
What I'm Reading Now
Audio: In the middle of a Station Eleven reread, as I've been thinking about it recently. Still really good!
Paper: Theoretically, Beren and Lúthien, practically, not much.
What I'm Reading Next
Library book, probably Black Apple as it's due next.
Sometimes, when it was late and they were both languid and tipsy, he could get the sort of answers out of her that she would never have surrendered under other circumstances. Hawke was funny like that — you had to come at her sideways, with care, because she'd spook and bolt if you approached her head-on. It was like all the wariness, all the fear that she didn't ever exhibit in the thick of battle was saved up and brought out only when she was faced with a personal conversation. She'd be quite happy to let you think she never felt any emotions other than amusement, curiosity, and self-gratification. The rareness of it made her anger truly terrible to behold, and her grief even more terrible.
Which didn't explain how Varric had stumbled into this conversation.
It was late enough that the Herald's Rest was empty. Even Cabot had retired for the night, although not without a firm admonishment to the remaining pair still drinking by the fire. Most of the lanterns had been doused, making it seem like the only light came from the low red bank of the fire. Varric and Hawke both sat in chairs positioned before the hearth — bottle between them, legs stretched towards the heat — although Hawke's legs stretched considerably further than Varric's.
"Surely you're joking," said Hawke.
( Read more... )
Anyway, after watching the epis, I slid right back into bed and willed myself back to sleep. ::thanks brain:: I woke up at 1:11 and found out I'd missed a phone call from the admin of my meals provider. Later, I'll return her call. But first I needed to finally eat my brekkie. By the time I got to my eyedrops, it was already 4:00!!! Only then did I call her to acknowledge I can help her with a writing project. Just not tomorrow. I'll do it on Friday.
I'm very slowly getting ready for my fancy night out tomorrow. Retrieved my red French purse with matching wallet. Then I found my ticket and put it in the purse. Woo-hoo. I'm being so organized. So far just one problem. I want to wear my Frank Lloyd Wright jewellery (pin and earrings) but will have to actually hunt for them. Yeah, the blind lady in the dark. Sigh. Maybe if I'm really thorough and patient? We'll see.
Watch the usual evening TV along with my game shows. The current champ who'd bet strategically yesterday and won by $1 blew it today. He was greedy and ended up losing. He was WAY too greedy!
Sent SuM an e-mail about our Muslim Museum visit on Saturday. I think I'm trying to raise her blood pressure. I said I wanted to drop in the gift shop after because I've got my eye on a $25,000 gold necklace. Yeah, of course I was just kidding. Sheesh. Anyway, time to skedaddle off to bed. Nighty-night.
She left around 6, and I went to the SCA meeting. I was the first one there, and it was dark and locked up. Sooner or later (like half an hour later) people started to show up, and opened the room, and we had a business meeting about Castle Wars, and then just chatted for a while.
We went to Imperial afterwards, but they were out of my sandwich so I got falafel which might have even been better.
I am sitting under my aircon, it's on the 'dry' function which I like to imagine as a big set of squeezy rollers.
Also, it's only October but I already feel I've been overdoing things a bit go me and my list of things.
I need a few days of nothing.
Unfortunately I also feel a strong need to socialise more.
And also to fix that bathtub garden which is now home to several million mozzies in spite of both a water pump and fish. Once my homecarer has gone I'm going outside with a bucket. I'll be pulling the plug and catching goldfish as they appear. Then I'll be hosing out the whole thing and refilling.
However you took part in #otwdonate, thank you for getting us started on our next 10 years! We've got some numbers for you about how this membership drive turned out: https://goo.gl/SMZamk
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The thing about the English Civil War and everything that surrounds it is that it's remarkably difficult to pick a team, from the modern perspective. On the one side, you've got Puritans and repressive morality and NO PLAYS OR GOOD TIMES FOR ANYONE, but also democracy and egalitarianism and a rejection of the divine right of kings and the aristocracy! On the other side, you've got GLORY IN THE DIVINELY ORDAINED KING AND THE PERFECTION OF THE ESTABLISHED SOCIAL ORDER, but also people can have a good time every once in a while and make sex jokes if they feel like it.
Anyway, one fact that seems pretty certain about Aphra Behn is that she grew up during the Interregnum and wrote during the Restoration, and was very much on Team Divine Kings Are Great. Would Puritans let a woman write saucy plays for the stage? NO SIRREE, NOT AT ALL, three cheers for the monarchy and the dissolute aristocracy!
There aren't all that many facts that are certain about Aphra Behn, especially her early years -- the first several chapters of this book involve a lot of posed hypotheticals about who she might have been, how she might have got her start, and who might have recruited her into the spying business. It does seem fairly certain she was a spy: code name Astrea, Agent 160. (Me, to aamcnamara, after seeing Or last month: "I don't know that I buy all that Agent 160 business, there's no way that was something they did in the 1660s!" I apologize for doubting you, Liz Duffy Adams.)
Admittedly she was the kind of spy who spent most of her spy mission stuck in a hotel in Antwerp writing irritated letters back to King Charles' intelligence bureaucracy, explaining that she would happily continue with her spying mission and do all the things they wished her to do if only they would send her enough money to PAY HER DANG HOTEL BILL. (They did not.)
Besides her unpaid expense reports, most of what is known about Aphra Behn comes from her context and her publications, and the things she wrote in them -- only some of which can absolutely definitively be traced to her at all; several of her short stories and novellas are disputed, including one of the ones I found most interesting, "Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister." This early three-volume novel is extremely thinly-veiled RPF about a wildly trashy historical trial involving King Charles' illegitimate son, his best friend, the best friend's wife, and the best friend's sister-in-law. All of these people then went on to be involved in a major rebellion, which the second and third volume of "Love-Letters" cheerfully fictionalizes basically as it was happening, in the real world.
One of the first English novels ever written by a woman [if it was indeed written by Aphra Behn], and arguably the first novel written EVER, and it's basically one of Chuck Tingle's political satires. This is kind of amazing to me.
OK, but back to things we think we're fairly sure we do know about Aphra Behn! She wrote a lot about herself talking, and about men judging her for how much she talked; she wrote a lot of things that were extremely homoerotic; she also wrote a lot about impotence; she was often short on money; she cheerfully stole other people's plots, then got mad when people accused her of stealing other people's plots; she rarely wrote anything that was traditionally romantic, and most of her work seems to have an extremely wicked bite to it. She did not read Latin, which did not stop her from contributing to volumes of translations of things from Latin. She was almost certainly not a member of the nobility, but she believed in divine right, and divine order, and divine King Charles, even though it seems likely from her writing that she did not believe personally in religion, or God, and the King probably never did pay her bills. An extremely interesting and contradictory person, living in an interesting and contradictory time.
And now I think I need to go find a good biography of Nell Gwyn - she's barely relevant to this biography (Aphra Behn dedicated a play to her, but there's no other information available about their relationship) and yet Janet Todd cannot resist throwing in a couple of her favorite historical Nell Gwyn one-liners and they're all SO GOOD.
What I read
Ingested two David Wishart Corvinus mysteries, Trade Secrets (2016) and Foreign Bodies (2016) - Severn House having finally decided, it seems, to come down at some point to a price for their ebooks that is more or less comparable with mass market paperbacks rather than hardcover. These were pretty much the mixture as usual - combination of what seems to me pretty solid knowledge of what Rome and its Empire was like at the period, with upper-crust Roman sleuth cracking wise and somewhat anachronistic as the bodies pile up. There is probably a rule with extended series like this that if you haven't given up somewhere along the line, you will as a matter of habit pick up succeeding episodes as they come along.
Tremontaine Series 3, Episode 1. Interested to see where this is going to go.
Discovered by entire chance that there is an ebook of short stories about Rosemary Edghill's Bast, Failure of Moonlight: The Collected Bast Shorter Works (2012), which I had not known about and gulped down. This led me to a binge re-read of the 3 Bast mysteries - set in the world of contemporary Wicca/Paganism of the 1990s - :Speak Daggers to Her (1995), Book of Moons (1995) and The Bowl of Night (1996). I thought these held up pretty well, though possibly more for their evocation of a particular time, place and subculture, and Bast's own moral ambivalence, than for the mystery plots. In an essay appended to the shorter works she wonders if these will be what she is remembered for, eventually: she's written quite a lot in various genres under various names. I see that when I reread the space-opera trilogy Butterfly and Hellflower, written as eluki bes shahar, I felt it had rather lost its shiny. There were also, I think, some rather generic fantasy works and collaborations with Mercedes Lackey which have pretty much faded from memory, and I'm not sure I ever read any of her romances.
On the go
Only Sexual Forensics which got a bit back-burnered lately.
The next episode of Tremontaine Season 3. Maybe Ruthanne Emrys, Winter Tide, which I have heard good things about, and is at present very briefly a giveaway from Tor. Also, have received some more v srs books from An Academic Publisher for reviewing a proposal (when offered this, I specifically look for books which are hideously expensive destined for university library editions that I would not buy for myself).
- Ella Enchanted - Very pretty reworking of some of the fairy tale tropes, especially focused on the fickleness of fairy gifts and human nature. There are some cringy scenes, and I really really struggle with the pushing of the agenda finding a perfect ever after partner is a thing that teenage girls/young women should be looking for (and yes, a little bit there is that for the young man, but he seemed that bit older). I'm dithering on giving this one away, or whether I would watch it again (will check with youngest). 7/10
- Finding Neverland - Aii, movies that make me cranky. There is 'based on a true story', and then there is 'killing someone off at the wrong point in history so that you can make a scandal where there wouldn't have been one'. Supposedly about JM Barrie, his friendship with the Llewellyn-Davies family, and the writing of Peter Pan. I'm not intending to ever watch this one again, because shouting at the screen is not actually one of my hobbies, regardless of how much I indulge in it. 3/10
- Hinterland, S1E1 "Devil's Bridge". Billed as a "Welsh Noir Crime Thriller", it wasn't surprising that this was on the dark side, and that the crime aspects opened with quite the nasty crime scene. There are a lot of dark elements in this story, and in some ways it isn't the opening murder that is the darkest part. I'm hoping that some of these will continue into the other episodes of the season, because there are historical crimes/events referenced that haven't been dealt with. I'm not going to specifically reference them here, because learning about them is an important part of the story, and wouldn't want to spoiler people who might be inclined to watch it.
- ICO: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe. Novelisation of the computer game of the same name. Very pretty story, lush language and detailed set pieces. Pacing is a bit wonky, probably reflecting said origins as a computer game. Some fascinating world-building, but no idea how true it might be to the original game. 8/10
- The Traitor and the Tunnel by Y S Lee. In this, the third of the four existing Mary Quinn mysteries, author Y S Lee has upped the ante, sending Mary in to the royal household to investigate a sequence of petty thefts. The story feels even more convoluted than the previous one that I read, which is quite the challenge. Characterisation is detailed and considered, the world-building and sense of place descriptive and evocative (although more so at the visual level than the tactile or olfactory), while the story thunders on at a great rate. An enjoyable read. 8/10
- The Wicked and the Divine: Imperial Phase Part 1 by Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson/Cowles (Vol 5 of the trade paper back collections of the comics; issues 23-28). The conspiracy elements are ramping up, the remaining avatars are splitting in to camps, and the woman who might have been able to explain what was going on shared tidbits of information unevenly amongst her favourites before her death (in a previous volume) so no-one really has any idea of how bad things are going to get. The plot line of the coming Great Darkness gets a lot of attention, and the morality of the gods gets delved into. 9/10
I'll note that I'm not being particularly critical in my reading, or it might just be that these three really were all of a level. I enjoyed them, I'd probably be willing to reread them, but I'm not really feeling like recommending them all over the place. Except maybe the Lee, because actually that one has a lot of really interesting details that I don't see elsewhere (the graphic novels have a new conceit, but there are two many complex conspiracy theory comics out there for me to point to this one as special).