osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

”But you mustn’t say what you wished,” said Mr. Grant. “You don’t get it if you do.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Brandon. “What did
you wish?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Mr. Grant; and truly; for his incoherent and jumbled wish had been entirely a prayer to be allowed to die some violent and heroic death while saving Mrs. Brandon from something or somebody, to have her holding his chill hand, and perhaps letting her cheek rest for a moment against his as his gallant spirit fled, all with a kind of unspoken understanding that he should not be really hurt and should somehow go on living very comfortably in spite of being heroically dead.


Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons is a joy and a delight if you like 1930s British novels in the vein of D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book or Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood. It is perhaps less accessible than either of those two novels - I found myself stumbling repeatedly on who was who in the ever-growing cast of characters - but the passages about the exigencies of calf love, or the gruesome interest that people take in an impending death, are well-observed and very funny.

Two more books down in the Unread Book Club! I finished Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, which changes from a tale of historical fiction into a “surviving in the semi-wilderness” story like a darker “my whole family is dead” version of My Side of the Mountain. This is one of my favorite kinds of stories, so this caused a certain amount of seal-clapping. Yes, Sarah Bishop! You move into that cave and smoke fish for the winter and built your very own dugout canoe!

And also Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s The Night the Bells Rang, which is, eh. Pretty mediocre. I kept thinking of other books that did the same thing better: Nekomah Creek for growing up & dealing with bullies, Miracles of Maple Hill for sugaring-off in Vermont (and if we take Vermont out of it, Little House in the Big Woods has an excellent sugaring-off too), Rascal for the end of World War I in small-town America.

What I’m Reading Now

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is super dense. It’s so dense I’m not sure I’m going to read it, which is sad when I’ve had it on hold so long at the library, but it’s just exhausting.

I’ve also started Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I won as an honorable mention prize from Cricket Magazine in my youth and did not read because I was cranky about only being an honorable mention.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have begun the happy business of contemplating what I ought to take along to read on my road trip! My musings have grown so long that I am going to make them a separate post.

In the meantime, I am also musing about what book I ought to read for my next bedtime story, as I have just about exhausted my stock of Miss Read books. I meant to move on to James Herriot, but upon reflection that’s really too similar, both cozy English countryside quasi-memoirs, and perhaps I ought to read something quite different as a palate cleanser first. But what?

I’ve been contemplating a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Perhaps this is my chance.
osprey_archer: (books)
I looooooooved Dori Jones Yang's The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang with such an all-consuming long that when, seven or eight years after I read it, I came to create a livejournal, I worked an allusion to the main character into the subtitle: Gina's name is pronounced Jinna in Chinese.

Never mind that unlike Jinna I was not an elective mute or Chinese or an immigrant schoolchild; we both made up long unending stories in our heads, and that was enough for me to identify till the cows come home.

So of course when Netgalley had Yang's new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, I snapped it up. I didn't expect it to appeal to me in quite the same soul-grabbing way, and it doesn't; our hero Leon - this is the Anglicized version of his name Woo Ka-Leong - is far more interested in trains and baseball than making up stories.

But it's still fun - a peek at an interesting period of history. Leon and his brother Ka-Sun (Anglicized to Carson) are part of the Chinese Educational Mission, an actual historical occurrence when the Chinese government sent 120 boys to the US to learn about American technology. Leon and his love of trains are a godsend for the program.

His older brother, on the other hand, is kind of a nightmare. All he ever wanted was to be a classical Chinese scholar, at which he is brilliant; but instead he's sent to America, where he discovers that he's way less brilliant at learning English, and the one-two punch to his identity is too much and he plunges into a depressive homesick spiral that he mostly takes out on poor Leon.

Eventuallyspoiler )

This part of the book is rather dark. However, it's balanced well by Leon's growing love of baseball and his friendships with his teammates (particularly another member of the Chinese Educational Mission, who arrived in the country a couple years before Leon and helps him understand the peculiarities of Americans). And all the boys in the mission get to go the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia! How cool is that? Okay, maybe it's only super cool if you share my obsession with World's Fairs, but I thought it was the bee's knees.
osprey_archer: (books)
The 1987 Caldecott winner, Hey, Al, is a weird book. Al, a janitor, lives in a tiny gray apartment with his talking dog Eddie, who complains that the apartment is too small. (This is why it's actually a good thing that dogs don't talk. Would we love them half as much if they did? I doubt it. They'd be just as annoying as people all of a sudden.)

IN ANY CASE, one day a giant bird shows up in Al's bathroom window all, "Hey, Al! Come away with me!" And Al and Eddie take the bird up on it and let the bird carry them away to a magical bird island, where they can bask the days away in pools of water, until they wake up to discover that they have BEGUN TO TURN INTO BIRDS.

So they fly back home and decide that the tiny apartment isn't so bad after all because at least it is not TURNING THEM INTO BIRDS. And then Al begins to paint the gray walls yellow. Happy end!

I feel there is a not-very-sub-subtext here about how you should be happy with what you have, even if what you have is a minuscule apartment that is way too small for your poor dog, because Things Could Be Worse. Although actually, on the scale of one to Things Being Worse, turning into a bird actually has some perks to recommend it - being able to fly, for instance! - especially if you would be a talking bird who lives on a paradisiacal island surrounded by giant flowers and bird friends.

Stay on the island and become a bird, Al! That's way cooler than adding a lick of yellow paint to your walls.
osprey_archer: (books)
Although I enjoyed Nora Seligman Favorov’s translation of Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s City Folk and Country Folk, my strongest reaction to it was the desire to read something by Sofia’s sister Nadezhda, the more famous of the two literary sisters (yes, Favorov does draw the inevitable Bronte comparison). City Folk and Country Folk has some excellent moments, but it doesn’t really come together as a story; it ends abruptly with all the ends left flapping. I can see why it’s been largely forgotten.

But for all that, I enjoyed reading it. The plotting might leave something to be desired but the characterization is quite good. I particularly enjoyed Ovcharov, the pseudo-liberal semi-intellectual who practically invented mansplaining; he’s such a well-observed example of the type.

He grows infatuated with young Olenka, but he is so convinced of his own intellectual and monetary superiority that he can’t even imagine that’s what he’s feeling, and assumes that of course it must be Olenka who is in love with him. How could she help it, a country girl like that, meeting a truly sophisticated man of the world for the first time! He is filled with sentimental pity for her predicament and decides it is positively his duty to flirt with her, and thereby open new vistas of worldly experience to her.

In fact, Olenka finds him terrifically boring and sets him bodily on the other side of the carriage when he attempts to make advances. This is always enjoyable.

And in fact I quite enjoyed Olenka as a whole. Unlike many nineteenth century heroines, she has no pretensions to being a paragon of anything. She’s pretty enough for all ordinary purposes, not particularly patient when she feels that people are being silly (and she often feels people are being silly), not particularly fond of reading, capable of brewing an excellent kvass - young, exuberant, occasionally thoughtless, sometimes judgmental, truly fond of her mother beneath her impatience with her mother’s dithering. She felt very real and seventeen.
osprey_archer: (books)
Elizabeth Warren’s The Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class was just as difficult as I feared, emotionally speaking. It is infuriating to read about bankers swindling people left and right and then having the audacity to whine that the slap-on-the-wrist consequences they got were too much regulation - and just as infuriating to read about the Obama administration’s failure to stick any actual consequences to the banks. If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big to fucking exist! Bust some goddamn trusts, dude!

Which actually went some way to explaining to me one facet of Donald Trump’s appeal: the Democrats flubbed their chance to fix things back in 2008. Of course some people are going to turn hopefully to the Republicans, desperate to believe Trump as he blithely lies about his plans to “drain the swamp,” simply because the Republicans are the only other choice in American politics.

Emotional difficulties aside, it’s a good overview of everything that has gone wrong with the US, economically speaking, since the 1980s. And it’s not all grimness: Warren is deliciously sarcastic. Like this bit, describing politicians ignoring the signs of impending economic crash: “I guess it’s hard to hear when your ears are stuffed with money.”

Or this: “When we fail to invest in infrastructure, it’s as if everyone in America is joining hands and saying, ‘Let’s get poor together!’”

Or this - I think this might be my favorite - “Donald Trump is the President Most People Didn’t Want,” which I think is what we ought to call him from now on, not least because saves us from repeating his name ad nauseum and I think he gets a tiny flare of happiness every time it is uttered, no matter what the context.

Fireflies

Jun. 15th, 2017 09:01 pm
osprey_archer: (nature)
The fireflies are out in force. I came back late from the bookstore the other night, and as I turned into my apartment complex, suddenly the dusk was full of tiny flitting lights.

Of course I went for a walk after to try to catch a few. They would not light up in my hands, but flew away and lit up in the grass.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, which continued just as delightful as it began. It falters slightly near the end, simply because this is the part where it begins to overlap with Austen’s novel which means that we-the-readers already know what happens, and how it happens - but nonetheless it’s a quite satisfying read overall.

What I’m Reading Now

Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, a historical fiction novel about a Loyalist girl in the Revolutionary War. This is the first Scott O’Dell novel I’ve actually enjoyed - perhaps I’ve finally grown into him? (He is supposedly an author for children. I did not like Island of the Blue Dolphins at all as a child. Here’s this title promising dolphins and instead there are hardly any dolphins at all.)

And at last I’ve begun Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons! Which is most charming. I foresee a long and only intermittently fruitful search for her work in the future.

What I Plan to Read Next

Two Are Better Than One by Carol Ryrie Brink (of Caddie Woodlawn fame), which is evidently about FRIENDSHIP. I have been eyeing it thoughtfully for a while and then someone mentioned they intended to nominate it for fic_corner so it seemed that now is the time.
osprey_archer: (books)
If you want to despair about something, then Robert A. Forde’s Bad (Forensic) Psychology: How Psychology Left Science Behind is definitely worth a look. This book is an indictment not just of psychology as practiced in the British prison system, but of every comforting lie you ever believed about the predictive abilities of experts (all experts, though Forde is talking specifically about psychologists for most of the book): “it turns out that professionals of all levels of training and experience predict about as well as lay people,” Forde informs us. “There is abundant and increasing evidence that psychologists’ judgments are subject to exactly the same weaknesses as everyone else’s.” His book is a methodical examination of just how weak human judgment often is.

Just look at the clusterfuck that passes for treatment in prisons. One-size-fits-all treatment plans got rolled out on a nationwide scale with little or no prior testing for efficacy, only for it to turn out - when these programs are tested with adequate sample sizes - that these treatments either have no effect on recidivism, or actually make it worse.

And this is what passes for mental health care in prisons. There’s very little attempt to get actual mental healthcare to prisoners with real mental health problems (substance abuse is the big one; Forde also notes that “violence rates amongst those suffering from depression are appreciably higher than in the general population,” although “the vast majority of people with mental disorders do not commit crimes of violence, or any other kind.”). The one-size-fits-all programs are genuinely seen as universally applicable and therefore are supposed to fix the problems underlying substance abuse, which is impulse control, apparently.

(I’m not sure if the proponents of this theory also believe that better impulse control will cure depression, or if depression just doesn’t fit into their understanding of How Crime Works and so they ignore it.)

And then there’s the tragicomedy of the parole board hearing. Did you know that parole boards are more likely to grant parole after lunch than right before? There are studies to this effect. The considered opinion of the parole board is affected just as much by whether the members splurged on a sandwich platter from the deli down the street as by anything in the case files.

In fact, human judgment in general just seems to mess up parole decisions. Statistics have a 70% success rate at predicting recidivism among released criminals. In an attempt to make this prediction more accurate, parole boards often ask prison psychologists for their clinical judgment, which seems reasonable enough - except that “Clinical judgment has long been known to predict reconviction at approximately the chance level, like tossing a coin.”

The question of course arises - if treatment programs (in their current form) and parole hearings are useless, why do they continue? It’s partly inertia - these things have all been set into motion and it’s hard to stop them. In the case of treatment programs, there’s also a profit motive: the people who created the popular treatment programs are making bank, and the people who run them have a vested interest in seeing that they continue to prosper. (This is, I should add, not evidence of a sinister conspiracy, but evidence of the fact that humans are consistently blind to how much our material interests influence our judgment.)

And there’s just the plain fact that we want to do something about crime. Having a parole board seems more proactive than making parole decisions by consulting an actuarial chart of recidivism risks. Treatment programs seem more humane than simply “waiting for prisoners to get older and less impulsive,” as a judge put it to Forde when discussing Forde’s views on parole hearings - even though that’s pretty much what prisons are: holding pens in which people get older and less impulsive until they have probably aged out of their desire to batten on the general public.

Although only probably. We will never be able to predict recidivism rates with 100% accuracy. In fact, 70% seems about as high as it will go, barring some great new statistical discovery. We will have to let go of our hope for a controllable world and accept our own comparative powerlessness.
osprey_archer: (books)
I read Chris Guillebeau's book Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days in the hopes that reading about other people making money on the side from their regular job would inspire me to get to work on my novellas again, and indeed it seems to have worked - at any rate I'm working again on a book that I set aside... a while ago... probably best not to compute exactly how long.

(I've actually got a number - again, probably best not to compute exactly how many - of novellas that I abandoned around 10,000 words. Which is a lot of words! I'm a third of the way to complete novella-dom already! Just think how much I could accomplish if I set myself to finishing them.)

Although honestly all these abandoned projects show mostly that I'm not quite the target audience for this book, which seems to be aimed at go-getters with boundless energy who can not only think of money-making ideas but follow them through the fruition. I have a couple of friends who fit this description (one of them is already running a side business, in fact) and would definitely consider giving them a copy of this book for any useful hints & tips they might glean out of it, but for the less go-getting among us, it's a slightly exhausting read. How do these people find the energy?
osprey_archer: (books)
I have reluctantly concluded that actual diaries, unlike fictionalized diaries, tend to be boring and I ought to stop reading them unless I have some absolutely urgent need to read a primary source about that thing. Case in point: I finally finished slogging through An English Governess in the Great War: The Secret Brussels Diary of Mary Thorp, which is about an English governess’s experience working in Brussels during the German occupation in World War I, and as such sounds like it ought to be fascinatin.

And there are certainly interesting nuggets of information and if one wants to learn about life in occupied Belgium, this is probably a good source. (I bookmarked a few bits for a story I’ve been tinkering at in my head, set just after the end of World War I.) But just reading through it with no particular aim - gosh, it’s so repetitive. And I don’t think this is particularly Thorp’s fault, either, I think diary keepers just tend to be repetitive, and certainly they rarely seem to have vibrant character sketches or ongoing story arcs like novels-in-the-form-of-a-diary too.

Although Anne Frank’s diary does rather, so perhaps after all some of the blame ought to be laid at Thorp’s feet. Maybe she is just a boring diarist. But then the boring ones do seem to outnumber the ones who write intense thoughtful character sketches, so my resolve to mostly steer clear of diaries still ought to hold me in good stead.
osprey_archer: (writing)
I posted a fic on AO3 before I left for Miami, & then forgot to post a link over here! Although in general I've gotten out of the loop of posting links to my fics here. Must correct this.

Title: Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Fandom: Agents of SHIELD/MCU
Pairings: a bit of Bucky/Daisy but not much
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Bucky runs into another super-powered fugitive from justice with a yen for black leather jackets: Skye a.k.a. Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. He figures he's got to have something in common with someone who's got that many names.

This is the last of the fics-for-ACLU donations that have been requested so far, so if you were hoping to get in on that, the deck is cleared! Now is the time! I have raised $465 so far and would really like to make it up to $500. $10 donation minimum! Send me your donation receipt and let the games begin!

I can write for many, many fandoms, including Agents of SHIELD, Captain America, Agent Carter, various American Girl books, various Rosemary Sutcliff books (although if you want one of the more obscure ones, best to check if I've read it), Tortall, many other things for I am a fannish butterfly who flits from flower to flower. Happy to discuss fic specifics with you!
osprey_archer: (books)
Just about the only good thing about Francis O’Gorman’s Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia is that it reminded me of Svend Brinkmann’s Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, which I then reread with much pleasure and profit. I even highlighted a quote from Brinkmann that I think sums up what O’Gorman wanted to say in his own book: “The accelerating culture is at one and the same time preoccupied by the moment and the future, but it is definitely not particularly bothered about the past.”

Unfortunately O’Gorman never does say it as clearly or succinctly as that. He is often irritatingly non-specific, particularly when he’s being nostalgic. He thinks we ought to have more respect for the past, and eventually it emerges that what he means is that we ought to look at the past as a potential source of value and inspiration - as the ancient Greeks and Romans looked at Homeric epic, evidently, which may well be true but I find it hard to trust O’Gorman - rather than seeing the past as a cesspool of pure misery and approaching historical analysis as “a search for what are classified as another person’s hidden assumptions that are not ethically acceptable.”

I ought to be an easy sell on this argument: I quit grad school in part because I found this sort of analysis so annoying. If you’ve already decided what you’re going to find once you’ve unpacked all your sources (moral depravity and dehumanizing assumptions usually), why bother spending all that time analyzing it?

And I still can’t believe that so many extremely smart people can spend so much of their time dissecting the flaws in historical reform movements - spoiler alert: they always seem to reify the status quo somehow - without ever stopping to think “Gosh, do you think my reform-minded work might inadvertently reify the status quo too?”

But O’Gorman is remarkably coy about what valuable lessons he thinks we ought to learn from the past. Brinkmann wrote a whole book about valuable lessons we could learn from the ancient Stoics; surely O’Gorman ought to be able to pony up with at least one insight. But no, it’s all unmoored theorizing about the Value of the Past, the sort of word fog that slips out of your head almost as soon as you read it. Truly an aptly named book.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Unread Book Club update: Last Wednesday I finished Gildaen, as I didn’t want to leave it hanging when I went away to Miami. If you looking for a fun magical cod-medieval adventure starring a rabbit, I quite recommend it.

While I was in Miami I read A LOT because there were a couple of days when we were more or less trapped inside by thunderstorms, but most of it was NetGalley books which I like to give their own separate post (I finished… five…) and also When Marnie Was There which I also want to give its own separate post because I liked it so much, AND ALSO I still need to review Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves which I read before the trip and - say it with me now - wanted to give its own post because I enjoyed it so much…

Oh, but I did read E. W. Hornung’s Mr. Justice Raffles on the trip! Which is the fourth and final Raffles book, a novel rather than a set of short stories like the others, which I thought might be why it often gets shunted to the side in Raffles discussions - perhaps Hornung just wasn’t good at novels?

But actually he does perfectly fine at novels; Bunny and Raffles are in as fine a fettle as ever, and there’s also a totally badass girl who engages in plucky pre-dawn canoeing. But the villain is a Jewish moneylender, and while he does not reach Svengali levels of anti-Semitic caricature, there’s definitely enough of that about his characterization to justify the fact that the book is generally shunted aside.

What I’m Reading Now

Sherwood Smith’s Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, which is the story of a side character from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and quite charming. I really like all of Smith’s Regency romances: her pastiche is good, and you can tell that she knows the period really well because she wears her research so lightly - especially impressive in a book like this, which is stuffed chock full of characters in the navy and could easily bog down in infodumps about naval terminology.

I’ve also started reading Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class (for my reading challenge: “a book of any genre that addresses current events”), which is good so far but also sort of a bummer to read because I know that as long as Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress we’re not going to make progress toward any of these goals; we will at best be fighting a holding action, if we can manage that.

What I Plan to Read Next

Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons. If only I’d taken it to Miami with me! Oh well.
osprey_archer: (friends)
I am off to Miami for a wedding + a vacation + a visit to the Everglades! I shall be back next Wednesday and I will not be taking my computer with me so probably I will be AWOL until then. Have a nice weekend, everyone!

May movies

Jun. 1st, 2017 08:46 am
osprey_archer: (Default)
I need to start my May movies post with a movie I watched in April and then forgot to write about, even though it was one of my favorites: The Painting, a French animated film about the figures in a half-finished painting, who decide they must set out on a journey to find the painter and convince him to finish it, because the fully-finished figures are (what else?) oppressing the partly-finished ones and the “sketchies,” who exist as little more than rough stick figures.

This makes the story sound heavy-handed, which it isn’t really; the characters slip out of their painting and explore the painter’s studio, traveling from painting to painting, and it’s all totally charming. And the animation is simply gorgeous.

Onward to the movies actually watched in May!

The Fox and the Child, also a French movie, strange and slow-paced and not quite like anything else I’ve ever seen, and enchanting, once you get over expecting it to have a plot like a normal movie.

A ten-year-old girl lives with her parents (whom we never meet; in fact the girl is the only human we ever see) in a mountain wilderness, where she ever so slowly befriends a wild fox. The fox and the girl are both fun, but the mountains are the real star of the show: the leaves turning, the snow falling, the flowers blooming again in the spring, the clear blue sky and the dramatic mountainsides. Wikipedia tells me these are the Jura Mountains in France, and they are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (the 1982 version with Anthony Andrews, who also played Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited) is a swashbuckling hoot and I highly recommend it if you need a fun adventure movie with enormous capes and even larger hair.

Dinotopia, which I think is actually a miniseries? Except they put it on the DVD without any episode breaks even though it’s like four hours long, WHO DOES THAT. In any case, it’s aggressively mediocre. I supposed Dinotopia would be a difficult book to adapt in any case - it’s short on plot and long on gorgeous drawings of the world - in fact it aggravates me that the miniseries makers, who had essentially a book of the most gorgeous possible concept art for their show, ended up with something so visually incoherent. It’s like they raided the costume department for everything faintly weird looking without ever realizing that they would have to harmonize this to some overall aesthetic.

Jackie, which is a total bummer, although honestly I should have expected that from a movie that is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy focusing mostly on the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Unfortunately, on top of being a bummer, I just didn’t find it that compelling. The movie hops around in time a lot, to the extent that it obscures the emotional arc, which is especially frustrating because I see little reason why they couldn’t have just told the darn story in chronological order and done away with the talking-to-a-newspaper-reporter frame story entirely, because it seems to exist mostly so the filmmakers can spell out their point just in case any of us are being a bit slow about it.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Esperanza Rising just in time to count it for this month’s book challenge (“an immigrant story”), although I must say the book felt mechanical, in a way: it never surprised me, never deviated from the expected emotional beats that the premise suggested. So that was a bit disappointing.

Unread Book Club progress: I finished Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters, a memoir about MacLeod quitting her job, moving to Paris, falling for a Polish butcher (in Paris) and settling down there and supporting herself by selling illustrated letters from Paris on Etsy. The watercolor illustrated letters are gorgeous and filled me with the desire to paint letters myself, although like my youthful desire to illustrate my diary I suspect that this is a desire that will die stillborn. Painting is beautiful but writing is so much faster.

What I’m Reading Now

Emilie Buchwald’s Gildaen: The Heroic Adventures of a Most Unusual Rabbit, from the Unread Book Club. A brave rabbit in medieval times meets a shapeshifting magical person and sets out on adventures together! They have met the banished huntsman of the boy king who is being slowly corrupted by one of his advisors, and have set off to the palace to try to save the king and kingdom from this villainy.

What I Plan to Read Next

MY ENGLISH PENPAL SENT ME WHEN MARNIE WAS HERE!!! Naturally I shall take it with Miami with me and read it on the beach, which is not exactly the right kind of beach for When Marnie Was Here, but still the proximity of saltwater ought to be enough, don’t you think?
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday! The Polar Express! We owned this book when I was a child, although it was only one of piles and piles of Christmas-themed picture books and not as bright or redolently red and green as some of the others, so I only read it occasionally.

I did quite like it, though - especially the description of the food on the train, "candies with nougat centers as white as snow" and "hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars." Gosh. That makes me want a cup of cocoa right now, never mind it's really too hot for it. In fact the whole train ride, the train slicing ghost-like through the dark woods at night, ever northward toward a city rimmed in lights...

As a child I also loved the bit about the bell that only rings as long as you believe in Santa - so magical - but I feel a bit more jaundiced about it now - the entire cultural obsession with teaching children to believe in Santa, and mourning it as a tragic end of innocence when they cease to believe, as inevitably they must? Is it kind of like getting a kid a pet so they will learn an Important Lesson about Death when it dies? Except in order to teach an Important Lesson about Disillusionment instead, and possibly an Important Lesson about Being Gullible if they keep believing long after the other children.

Possibly I'm just a curmudgeon.

I have never seen the movie version of this book. Should I remedy this? Or is the train ride north far less mystically beautiful in the movie than in my head?
osprey_archer: (books)
I was under the impression that the world, or at least the Bloomsbury Group corner of it, broke in two on or about some date in 1910 (and there is something extremely Bloomsbury about the willingness to generalize from a break with social mores in one's tiny social group to a sea change in the ENTIRE WORLD) - but either I am misremembering utterly, or Bill Goldstein is riffing off this quote in the title of his book The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature. Which is about 1922.

I am not sure that this book wholly lives up to its title; most of these authors neither published nor completed anything particularly stunning in 1922. In fact, now that I think about it, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is the only one that really counts. Woolf & Lawrence had their best work ahead and E. M. Forster - I actually don't know the critical opinions of E. M. Forster's work; is A Passage to India considered his best? In any case he didn't finish it till 1923.

So don't read this book for the supposed thesis, because it's bunk. 1922 is not a sea change in literature, just a convenient way to arrange an otherwise unwieldy amount of material about four quite disparate people.

However, the book doesn't lean much on this supposed thesis - it really does seem more like a convenient organizational tool than anything else - so it might be worth reading if you're interested in any of the four writers aforementioned.

Or if you just want to read a book that could be entitled Moderate Neurosis: A Writer's Life, this is the book for you. Nervous breakdowns all over the place! Lots of gazing into space while sitting at a desk before a half-completed manuscript! T. S. Eliot spends six months not getting the manuscript of The Waste Land typed, even though publishers are literally begging for it (even though none of them have read it yet! Because it's still in manuscript! WHAT IF IT WAS TERRIBLE, YOU GUYS?) and that is the only thing standing between him and publication, acclaim, and a much-needed infusion of cash.

Admittedly at the time Eliot was in the process of getting his own magazine off the ground and perhaps having second thoughts about having his poem published at a magazine that would be a rival, which leads one to suspect that his dilatoriness was at least as much a business strategy as neurosis.

His publishers are so heroically patient with him, too. When he finally gets them the poem - still handwritten! - they rush it into print in the autumn issue and give him a big fancy prize for it, never mind that this will give his magazine (which is a rival to their magazine) an enormous boost in prestige.

Actually I get this feeling about a lot of publishers of yesteryear: they're often heroically patient with their authors, even when said authors don't sell that well. (Lawrence's sales aren't good at all, but his publisher puts out book after book. Someday he will find his public!) It was a different time.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
My roommate and I decided to watch the latest Gilmore Girls four-parter, A Year in the Life, which mostly I enjoyed very much: Stars Hollow is as charming as ever, I loooooved getting cameos from so many beloved characters (I never watched Gilmore Girls regularly, so it's kind of alarming how many characters I remembered and what strong feelings I have about them all), and just generally Gilmore Girls is always a good time.

But we got to the ending and...

Spoilers )

I also would have liked to see a bit more Paris, because the show leaves her hanging at a terrible place and then we never see her again, and - fair enough - there's a lot of other characters and storylines they had to fit in (SOOKIE'S RETURN!!!! AAAAAHHHHHH I LOVED THAT), but still. THERAPY FOR PARIS. Although honestly she will probably benefit from it no more than Emily Gilmore and for exactly the same reason: being vulnerable for someone who is basically a stranger, PAH, that is not within their code.

...Also seeing Guardians of the Galaxy 2 while in the midst of a Gilmore Girls rewatch was totally hilarious, because the guy who plays Kirk is a minion in GotG2 and he is basically exactly what Kirk the Space Minion would be. SPACE MINION KIRK.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Marie Brennan’s In the Sanctuary of Wings. What a wild ride this book - this whole series! - has been. A+++ do recommend, with the caveat that the first book is alas a bit of a slog, but unfortunately it’s a slog that’s vitally important set-up so you can’t skip it. But the four books after that are all wonderful! Each one better than the last!

What I really love about these books - aside from the worldbuilding, which I do quite enjoy, although in general I feel dubious about worldbuilding that draws so heavily on the real world - is that they’re plotted around the pleasures of research, of discovery, of learning something new that no one else knows. It’s a bit of the same pleasure as reading A. S. Byatt’s Possession, except without the protagonists’ sad personal lives to get you down; Isabella’s personal life is many things, and one of them is occasionally “tragic,” but sad or pathetic never.

And I’ve given up on Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. Life is simply too short for 700 page biographies that aren’t grabbing me!

What I’m Reading Now

Well, I was reading No Holly for Miss Quinn, but then I took it along with me and forgot it at my parents’ house, so that’s on hiatus for now. I am reading Village Centennial instead.

What I Plan to Read Next

Esperanza Rising, which I’d better get on if I intend to finish it by the end of May for my reading challenge.

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