Well. Well, so back to Dreamwidth. What can I write about? Books and video/television viewing? Okay...
My reading took a huge dive - I abandoned both the books I was properly, attentively, reading, and will have to start them all over again. Mostly, I just read scraps of things picked up from what was around. Two such things were:
Sallust, Jugurtha and The Cataline Conspiracy, as translated for a Penguin Classic, I think - it was an oldish paperback, anyway. I read them because I was pleased to be learning even one name of an African king, even if he was a ratbag (according to Sallust), and also because I vaguely wondered if looking at pre-Caesar Roman evolutions might give me some ideas of how to look at how things are changing politically, now. But mainly just because the book was to hand.
I also read great chunks of the Iliad, in an online translation by Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University, in order to argue (amiably) with someone about whether Paris was a coward etc. (I would be delighted to discuss such stuff while it's fresh in my mind, if anyone's interested.)
I've watched three oldish British television renderings of PD James novels featuring the detective Adam Dalgliesh. The first one I saw was about the residents of a stately old abbey, stuffed with priceless art, facing the prospect of its shutting down. The second one was about the residents of a stately-home-turned-museum, facing the prospect of its shutting down. The third one was about the residents of a stately home, facing the prospect of... but I gave up on that one before we'd even got to the second murder, because I thought I was getting the drift.
I watched - now this is good! - parts of several episodes of an Australian six-part mystery, called Seven Types of Ambiguity - yes, of course the title's a steal, and that's not something I like, in general, but the Empson book is part of the plot, sort of. The acting and the writing is mostly very, very good, and the cinematography as well. I had to leave and so have missed the closing episodes, but what I saw was very good indeed, good enough to have conversations with strangers about. (What? I'm not sure if that's a sane measure of anything.)
I've been reading quite a bit, here and there -
- reading the book Nation by Terry Pratchett, and thinking (so far, three chapters in) that it's very good, but erratic and a bit patchy.
- have read the book Olive, by Mrs Craik, which interesting as a record of thinking on various matters (women's art being marginalised/suppressed, physical "deformity" cutting a woman out of the marriage market, race, religion) - but is not particularly worth much as a novel.
- reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, which sketches out much fascinating material, so far, but isn't really catching fire (bad metaphor, in the circumstances).
This was also a test-post on cross-posting to LJ; it seems to have worked fine.
Dark emu, black seed - Bruce Pascoe. ( Read more... )
Under Siege - Literary life in London, 1939-1945 - Robert Hewison. ( Read more... )
Fanny Price (Mansfield Park): I love how her strengths shine in adversity - the Portsmouth scenes are just brilliant, showing her coping wonderfully with a shamingly (and deeply disappointingly) rowdy, quarrelsome, slovenly family. And I like her steadiness when she's the more-or-less downtrodden nobody, too, and her clarity of vision. Oh, and I really like the genuine affection between her and her brother. I guess constancy and a kind of gallantry could be the words that come to mind. But in prosperity she loses some of her virtues, I think - she is never guilty of any charity to her cousin-sisters that I can see - and she and Edmund end up, after all, replicating the pettily smug life once led by the Norrises - safely ensconced in a family-held living, close to the big house - and profiting from plural benefices as well, despite the earlier high-minded talk about how only an on-the-spot clergyman can hope to do his duty adequately.
Friedrich Bhaer (Little Women series): Awfully worthy, of course, and I take the author's word for it about their long and happy marriage, but as a matter of fact, I can't really come at him, for Jo. I try hard to explain it as the lure of a great mind - I could see that all right, easily! Jo is just the sort of person whose mind could be set ablaze by great new ideas, brilliant intellectual debate, new worlds opening... except he doesn't ever actually show it. (He gets argued to a standstill in the one philosophical debate we see him undertake.) I wish the author had written him more compellingly intellectual, actually. I wish she'd written him as revolutionary, as political refugee. Ah well - he is what he is - lumbering, inelegant, beery, good-hearted, Jo's perpetual moral leader and guide (bleugh - I would like her to straighten him out, for once!) .
Falstaff (Shakespeare): The most terrifically multi-sided supporting character in the whole of Shakespeare. We see him roistering, cunning, cowardly, despicable, pitiable, using, used, rejected, despised, resilient - he's Blackadder and Baldrick both - and like them, suddenly inside-outs the comedy to end in grim death. Liking him, not liking him - doesn't apply. He blasts past like a windstorm.
Fantine (Les Miserables): I hate how much she loses and loses and loses, to the extent that it starts to seem wilful. She seems to go out of her way to have the most horrible time she can. Yes, devoted mother, but (sorry about this) stupid. I mean - when her looks are her one great asset, to sell her teeth?! So not bright, Fantine! The first betrayal is pretty intolerable, though - I mean that rich men's stunt at the restaurant. But come on, Fantine! Take a bit of control for a change!
Miss Flite (Bleak House): She's a most unsettling character. Her sudden, stabbing insights, and fluttering ways make her seem one of her own birds - her name's not accidental, I guess - and of course she's as caged as they are, fluttering against the bars, and will be freed, like them, when Judgement is delivered (ha!). A caged bird, or a captive blind prophetess, maybe - a Sibyl, who spells out dark truths in riddles, or Cassandra, dismissed as mad by those around her who cannot hear what she believes she is saying plainly. All of which makes her a tragic figure as well as an unsettling one. (But then I find the whole of Bleak House unsettling.)
If anyone would like to play, I'll gladly give them a letter!
(I'm abashed to see, on reviewing what I've written, that I'm not wholeheartedly admiring about any of them. Oops.)
This is also Narnia Fic Exchange time - twenty-three brand-new stories, all beautifully crafted to fit recipients' prompts, and being eagerly devoured as I write. as always, there's a terrific range of stories-wildly cracky, intricate histories, domestic vignettes,full-blown erotica... is there a detective story in there? I bet there is,somewhere! They range right through the Narnia canon, too, from pre-TMN to well post TLB. I've started reading, and will be having lots of fun catching up with all the stories in scattered bursts over the next few days. Recommended!
Otherwise, life for me is plunging into seasonal busy-ness.The rest of this month, and the two following will probably be pretty flat-out. (Shakespeare still to be shoe-horned in there somehow.) But pretty flat-out doesn't mean only work! Expect reports on concerts, - oh, and travel planned for next full moon! Which I've already arranged to be free for, to see rising! How's that for forethoughtfulness! :D
Late addition: I did see the moon, though not rising, and it was looking like the squashy balloons left after the party. The full moon we were celebrating was a calendar full moon, not an astronomical full moon! Real full moon, any day now!
So what can I post about, before the month finishes, and another two months begin? Well, in the comments on a post by asakiyume, the book Harding's Luck was mentioned, so here's a bit of a ramble about it, and its fellow-travelling book, The House of Arden.
( Read more, if the inclination strikes you. :) )
But I've been listening to literature, too, courtesy of Librivox - to Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company , with Sir Nigel Loring, the most chivalrous of all literary knights - at first I wondered if he was a model for Reepicheep. ( Cut because it rambles, rather. )
I've started reading The Edge of the World, by Michael Pye, about the influence of the North Sea traders in European history, but haven't got far yet, just to Frisians in the Dark Ages. More in a later post. (Has anyone else read it? Or know the period? - roughly 700-1350, I think.)
I've dipped into Maria Edgeworth, thanks to a post by blueinkedpalm on LJ, and found her much more fun than I'd expected - previously I'd only read Castle Rackrent, and hadn't much enjoyed it - they were such very unappealing characters, and I couldn't see or couldn't enjoy the social comedy. But blueinkedpalm gave a link to some easy-going didactic stories, intended as hints for parents on how to raise children - it included the Good Governess who took her charges to the Rational Toyshop (not nearly as horrible as it sounds). There was bucketloads of Lessons to be drawn throughout, but also wry and amusing social observation. Here's a basically decent young man, but vastly full of himself, mansplaining to a polite young woman:
Pow! Take that, all bumptious young men who have ever tediously and instructively wasted Maria Edgeworth's time when she could have been having fun at a party!
(What great days we're living in! Where so much is freely available on the internet.)
And then there was Shakespeare. I'd been playing with the idea of entering the StageofFools fic exchange - but when I came to consider which plays I knew anything like well enough to offer to write from... oh, then I had to scurry to the invaluable internet and find the plays and read them all again. Not them all, no, but to skim from one to another, (reading one for the first time; it was better than I'd thought - good work, Shakespeare! Keep it up.) until I thought I'd read enough to be able to get to the stage of offering some, and prompting some, and hoping for the best - which I now have, recklessly.
So that's the thinking about writing part - just thinking idly at this stage, because the prompts have yet to descend.
(Consumption of pulses, in honour of the Year, continues. Recently: falafel with hummous, and at another meal tofu with peanut sauce - quadruple score!)
Something I began to read: I saw on oursin 's blog a mention of The Last Man, a story by Mary Shelley set in 2073 (there's so much around that I've never heard of!) and dashed off to find it, because fascinating thought, the view of 2073, from1826. ( Read more... )
Something I won't get to see: I like the sound of this exhibition in Cambridge about illuminated manuscripts.
Something I did actually see: I saw another episode in the eighteenth season of <i>Doctor Who</i>! I'm seeing them in order, very slowly, as life permits. This was the one about Meglos, ( Read more... )
On Sunday, there were signs of great weariness from my laptop - it's been just about two years since I was told it could go at any minute. ( Not exciting, really... ) So - a happy ending. :)
The theatre wasn't really on the weekend - it was on Thursday night, but near enough, near enough - and it was terrific. Sombre in places, and theatre-of-ideas in places (difficult, because I don't have enough language to follow the debates) and romance in places (pah, humbug!) and obligatory funny bits in places (ummm) but still - exciting production, and I loved the sets and the acting, and the ideas, very much.
The lightning storm - how far away does lightning have to be, to be completely silent? It was amazing and beautiful, a huge storm around a whole quarter of the sky.
I started, and read most of, The Just City - which I'm enjoying, though not without niggles; it feels a bit two-bob-each-way between a novel and a fable, as if in all fairness (because it's a fable,a thought experiment) one shouldn't fret too much about characters or history or finicky pedantic points. (Not every number, Apollo! You mean every number up to twelve!) But it's fun watching the experiment work out (doomed to fail! - at least, it seems to me that it has been, but I see there's sequels, which suggests the experiment doesn't end in this volume, anyway) - and in general it's very enjoyable, and a huge step up from Hild. (I bought them both in the same bookshop swoop, last March.) It reminds me of how Martin Gardner used to wrap up his mathematical/logic problems in very appealing and amusing mini-stories.
The music was - still is - the Sydney Piano Competition, available via internet for a limited number of days - I think it's four weeks from when they were broadcast. Here's the first set of three finalists, in the 19th/20th Century concerto section, playing Saint-Saens (an odd choice for competition playing), Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. So there were swathes of music throughout the weekend.
and swimming for hours! This is a rare treat, and the opportunity was not wasted, not for a minute, in this hot weather! I say, swimming, but a good bit of the time - nearly all the time - was also just splashing about, or standing chatting in the watery shade. ahhhhh... :)
So, all up, a great weekend. :)
I don't have any great news stories to link to, but I enjoyed this metafilter discussion about who rules canon, or whose canon rules, beginning with Harry Potter, but taking off from there to discuss more widely.
In other non-news, it's Year of the Pulse! This weekend's celebratory pulse-focused meal at my place: Chickpea patties, served with yoghurt and the mango chutney I made a little while ago, and lettuce etc. Huge success. :)
More about W&P:
It's getting better and better! (Not to say it's flawless, though). ( Read more... )
I'm a little anxious about the coming election at home, especially about how the changes to the Senate voting will play out. (More than a little, actually.) But not to end on a morose note, here's a campaign ad (30-second youtube, not haranguing) put out by the classical music arm of our national broadcaster.
From the appallingly elitist (amongst other horrible things) Evelyn Waugh, in Scoop: .
"News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it."
From the ancient David C. Simon webcomic, Crimson Dark:
"I like watching the news; it's like a mystery series. There's so much fun to be had trying to figure out what's going on, piecing the clues together: comments taken out of context, hidden agendas, flat-out lies..."
and the stories? Well, I liked very much the news story about Tutankhamen's dagger being made of meteorite-iron.
The rock that fell burning from the heavens! Fell from the sky!! Of course it's magic metal, and of course if it could be made into a knife, it had to be for the king. Lovely!
and I liked the story about the oldest British dated document, too. Wonderful, wonderfully trivial records of day-to-day living in early Roman London. :)
(They're not exactly "news", are they? :D)
Still, I'd like to see it; it'll be the first big Aboriginal-led futureish dystopian fantasy action show (and heavy on the social commentary) on television. Though it's not true, as is asserted in this Guardian article, that this'll be the first Aboriginal superhero; I remember the AIDS-inspired Condoman - don't be shame, be game! - even if no-one else does.
If anyone sees it, I'd love to hear what you think.
Two cheerful pieces of environmental news - from the giant karri forests of Pemberton, WA, and
from the tiny wastewater treatment plant in Jamestown, SA.
One pleasant indicator of social change, perhaps: a clue in the Friday crossword this week was She classifies Chinese religion, not film.
(The answer was taxonomist; the X was part of a larger pan-crossword clue.)
True, as a clue it's not especially exciting, but what I thought was pleasant was to see "she" used to mean "ordinary human", and not meaning something different from the default male.
War & Peace is back - I'm pushing determinedly for the end now, since the friend I was reading it with most unfairly gallopped ahead while I was away doing other things. I've just finished about the battle of Borodino, ( Read more... )
First up, Hild by Nicola Griffiths, which is a fictional life of Hilda of Whitby. This is one of those books I bought with high hopes in Sydney, after reading (where? the recommendations seem to have all vanished like the snows) breathlessly ardent praise for it on the internet. It was a total turkey. ( Read more... )
Then I picked up something claiming to be a funny novel, witty, enchanting. (I was feeling I needed funny.) This was Cat Out of Hell, by Lynn Truss, and I suppose it was called funny because one of the main characters is a talking cat.
Yes, okay, a talking cat, yes, and a suave, sophisticated blatantly Tobermory-style cat, but involved in horrors and mystery and dealings with the Devil, which I can see had the potential for some dark comedy, but the jokes just weren't good enough. And for me, the murders took it right out of comedy, anyway, dark or not - especially ( cut because spoiler and also because it's horrible ) There was one joke, somewhere towards the end of the book, which I recognised as mildly funny, and the writing was competent, but that's all. Saki did it better.
Then, to get the taste of that out of my brain, I bought the latest compilation by Helen Garner - Everywhere I look - essays, rambles, a review or two. Nothing wrong with it; nothing much memorable in it. But at least she is alive to what truth is, what tragedy is - it was the bland putting aside of these concepts, by reviewers as much as writers, which stunned and depressed me in the first two books.
And last of all Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh, which I'd never read; this one was also pressed on me as being funny. I didn't exactly find it that, but it was very worth reading, in umpteen ways - for starters, it's the best writing of the four, easily. :)
It's fascinating as an artefact both of the times - the brink of WW2 - and of the author, with his own racism and glinting-eyed cynicism well to the fore. It's a truly galloping satire - starting rather lumpishly, perhaps, but getting wonderfully zestful as it runs - of European rivalries, and colonialism, and of course of the whole journalistic enterprise - oh, very biting indeed. Or, when not biting, blunt:
"News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it." Pow!
So. That's four books I've read in the past while (or mostly read, I gave up on Hild at about page 250). (I saw some movies, too, but in unideal circs - on the planes.)
With some relief, it'll be back to the Count for the next while - who for all his faults is as far beyond EWaugh as EWaugh is beyond LTruss. :)
He's just spinning out in public thoughts that have been implicit all along, or at least since Prince-andrei-looks-into-the-sky in Volume One, but now he's really hitting stride with them and they are - well, arresting, to say the least! (This doesn't mean I let him off the hook for the totally dismissive way he writes women.) It's the Big Thoughts - in the midst of which he sketches out, just lightly in passing, the whole Great Man school of history, then skrunches it up and tosses it away as hopelessly naive.
and having done that he launches straight into several recreations of Great Man historical happenings, beginning with the scene when the Tsar learned that Napoleon had breached Russia's borders (I don't count that as a spoiler) but throwing in as well the thinking of one minor, fictional, prince, which acts as a sidenote on the aforesaid meditation, i.e. showing at ground level one tiny fragment of the process he'd just zoomed over at a great height. This was, as far as I know at this point, a totally unimportant fragment - minuscule, microscopic - but depressingly real, and crushingly illustrating the opening meditation.
Two questions for the collective wisdom out there:
- Is Tolstoy the first person to actually put his finger on the Great Man school of thought in history?
- Is Tolstoy the first person to point out explicitly that all it would have taken*, in those pre-drone days, for wars to stop was for every single soldier to refuse to fight?
I think he was, in both cases, but what do I know?
*(all it would have taken :( "he that will not when he could-a, will find he cannot when he would-a", as I read in a children's book long ago - probably written by a Tolstoy fan, now I come to think of it.)
(Tiny side-note: Hello, there marmota_b! I note your country's new name. :) are you pleased or doubtful?)
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism - Karima Bennoune.
This was recommended by the_emu on LJ - thanks! I got it because I felt in myself an unease at the apparent lack of Muslim voices against Muslim extremism, and wanted to address that (in myself) before it tipped into blaming Muslims-in-general for the actions of those few who use the name of Islam as a cover for sickening things - so a crash course in just what's happening where seemed like a good way to go - and it was.
The author (herself a US-based Muslim from algeria) travelled to many places, mostly in the Islamic world, and gives many, many accounts of meetings with Muslims who have struggled against the various manifestations of this evil, people of amazing courage and tenacity. Surprisingly, she didn't travel to Indonesia - the world's most populous Islamic nation - which was a big gap, but that's my only gripe; what she does provide all builds to a sobering and very challenging montage. I'm glad I read it.
That's the only one of the new purchases that I've actually read, so far, apart from Hyperbole and a half - allie Brosh, most of which I'd read in blog form. I bought that one because I'd read her blog so much, and shared some of its entries so often, that I felt I owed her that much.
If you don't know her already, here's a sample.
Waiting in line, unread, are:
So that's all waiting. Meanwhile, in other reading news:
I've decided that there's just too much coming in on the New Scientist LJ feed, so I've reluctantly cut it out. It was great, but overwhelming.
But coincidentally, the South China Morning Post (scmp.com) has dropped its paywall! - so now I have another solid news source to check from time to time, and one which opens the world for me a little beyond Europe, North america or australia. (Particularly useful since the Guardian seems to be getting less and less useful as a place to read analysis. :( )
The SF classic which I was reading very late indeed was The Dispossessed, Ursula LeGuin,1974. I was rivetted partly by the boldness of the concept, partly by the thinking, partly by the truly engaging characters/relationships, but also very much kept enthralled just marvelling at her artistry - how on earth did she manage to keep the reader (this reader!) interested, with such a thin, dry thread of story spun around such vast ideas?
However she did it, it worked. I was interested, or more than interested - things got so razor's-edge at one point that I had to stop reading, because I could see so clearly that disaster was about to break, and I couldn't take the tension of it all. (I started again, after a break. :) ) Definitely recommended, with the proviso that it's on the dryish side - more politics than pizazz.
and I've bought a heap of books, and have been reading most variously, but time in the work-day presses, so I'll post the rest of this reading update tomorrow. :)
In terms of writing, I came back to find a sudden flurry ( a small flurry, but very welcome!) of reviews and kudos on AO3, especially for The Ivory Merchants, but also for one or two others - this was beautifully cheering to find! and I hope will help me restart writing before the year gets too old.
There's been quite a bit of tough stuff happening, but good things have happened, too, while I was travelling. One was lots of good reading, viz.:
- I'm now about half-way through War and Peace (which means I can start to read moon_custafer 's posts on W&P, too!) and
- one day I made a lightning raid on Abbey's Bookshop in Sydney, to snatch as many books as I could of my Books I'd Like To Read list - eight, in total, I think, and
- as has happened before, while staying in other people's houses I read great things from their bookshelves, including a SF Classic that everyone but me read years ago. :)
Meantime, here's from Australia, about the glorious night sky, and the dark constellation which is now riding high in the south.
Peter Dickinson: King and Joker
( Read more... )
Celia Blay: Margaret Bisset: Maiden of Bradley 1158-1242
( Read more... )
Nevil Shute: Pied Piper
( Read more... )
and the one I've just this past hour finished reading
Christopher Duggan: The Force of Destiny: a history of Italy since 1796
( more; warning for violent death. )
Mid-December, and Christmas is approaching rapidly - I've posted everything that needs to be posted - or I hope I have. Whether they get to the recipients by Christmas… well, I hope they do. Or the parcels, anyway, and most of the cards; the two cards I posted yesterday probably won't, but it's too late to fret about that. I plan to make a gingerbread house again, but have no other cooking plans at all (as yet); it'll be a quiet Christmas.
For Star Wars fans - the story of one fan of the old, un-Special Edition version, and his quest to save them from George Lucas's second thoughts.
It's a story that raises interesting questions. Of course artists have the right to redo earlier works (da Vinci made at least two attempts at painting Madonna of the Rocks, for example) or change them significantly (there are so many examples of authorial rewrites!) or even to attempt to obliterate them (Nathaniel Hawthorne tried hard to make his first novel disappear). Works can be revamped or withdrawn after publication, no question. But it does feel queasily unfair to digitally obliterate actors who were in the first version - or come to that, to remove from public access the work of the pre-CGI special effects artists.The year's end is approaching, too - and I'm being forced to concede in reviewing the year's reading that I probably never will finish Capital in the Twenty-First Century. On the other hand, I did finally read the Silmarillion and Les Misérables, so that's something. What big book should I read next year, people? Classic or new, fiction or not - I was pondering something about Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad, if I can find it in a bookshop before this year's end. Does that sound good?