osprey_archer: (books)
I read a lot of books about tomboys when I was young. I don’t know how much this was a result of my reading preferences and how much it simply reflected the prevalence of tomboy books in the 1990s, but either way I came away from it with the impression that all proper heroines dislike women’s work in general and sewing in particular.

I didn’t exactly have a big a-ha! moment when I read Tamora Pierce’s Sandry’s Book, but reading about a heroine whose stitchery is literally magic did start putting the dominoes in place to knock out an epiphany eventually.

In fact, one of the things that the Circle of Magic books do really well is take a particular false dichotomy in feminist pop culture - women’s work sucks and all true heroines hate it OR women’s work is valuable and it’s actually more feminist to have a heroine who loves it (I think this one is often a defensive reaction to the plethora of tomboy books) - and basically explode it. Sandry has sewing magic (traditionally feminine); Daja has blacksmithing magic (traditionally masculine); and Tris has weather magic, which is not gendered on the grounds that it is generally beyond the ken of us mere mortals, and they’re all powerful mages with absolutely necessary skills.

In recent years I’ve become a very strong proponent of the importance of having multiple heroines, or at least multiple important female characters, because there’s only so much variety you can show with one character, you know? Especially if she has to be exemplary because she’s the only female character in the thing and therefore is supposed to somehow represent all women everywhere.

(This insight I think is also applicable to characters from other marginalized groups.)

Other fine qualities about Sandry’s Book in particular and the Circle of Magic quartet in general:

The found family vibes are top notch, A++.

Lark and Rosethorn. I totally didn’t get that they were a couple the first time I read the books (or the second, third, fourth…), but I doubt the book would have been published with any more explicit acknowledgment of that fact, and it blew my tiny mind when I heard about it years later.

The general existence of Tris. (Did the “Tris goes to Lightsbridge” book ever happen? I’m not as up on my recent Tamora Pierce books as I should be. I still haven’t read Battle Magic. Should I read Battle Magic?)
osprey_archer: (writing)
Does anyone have any experience with Carnation Books? They're an online publisher that works with fandom authors and I've been thinking about maybe submitting something to them - possibly Ashlin & Olivia (there's a scene where Ashlin calls Renaissance art "Bible fanart" and I feel this ought to endear the book to any publisher involved in fandom).

Or if I can't bear to let go of that much editorial control and/or to wait that long to get Ashlin & Olivia out there (I really ought to have published something to follow up Briarley sooner and I know it), I might write something shorter particularly to submit to them. In their 2019 call for submissions they ask for stories in the 5,000-20,000 range.

And if I write something and they don't take it then of course I can just publish it myself.

I'm kind of leaning toward door number 2. But I thought I would ask to make sure that no one has heard horror stories about Carnation Books or anything like that before I started down that route.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which has made me want to read his other books, of which there are many… because if there’s one thing I need, it’s a new author to follow, right?

I put off reading Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place because I got the impression somewhere that it was a self-righteous tract about how lying is always a sin, even if you’re lying to the Nazis to protect the Jews hidden in your attic. But now that I’ve read it I’m pretty sure this is actually just the way some Evangelical readers interpret the book, because Corrie had some relatives who followed this philosophy and it worked out for them, through either divine intervention or luck, depending on your view.

Corrie herself lies when necessary, although with pangs of conscience, because she had been raised in the belief system that lying is always wrong. But she doesn’t only lie when forced to it, but actually practices lying: the family shakes her awake at midnight to simulate a possible arrest by the Nazis, so she’ll have practice answering “We have no Jews here” rather than mumbling, groggy and disoriented, “Oh, they’re behind the false wall.”

Willa Cather’s My Antonia is another book I put off reading, in this case because I had the impression that Antonia gets raped at some point in the book, which also turns out to be incorrect. Maybe I should try to stop gathering impressions of books that I haven’t read, although probably it’s not entirely avoidable.

But actually in this case the delay worked out well, because I don’t think I would have appreciated the book as much when I was younger. It’s a slow book, with a lot of description of the Nebraska prairies and the different immigrant groups settling the country and not a lot of action: the narrator, Jim Burden, is often an onlooker rather than a participant, a little bit in love with Antonia and some of her friends (also strong immigrant girls), but not so much that the book ever becomes a love story. Or rather, it’s about love of a time and a place rather than a person.

What I’m Reading Now

The very first chapter of Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women burnt up my hope that maybe the heroines would remain friends for the entire book, but it also got me all invested so I kept reading. All of See’s books seem to have this ur-scene where the heroines’ friendship shatters when they confront each other over some great betrayal - I don’t know why she feels the need to repeat it over and over, but I should probably just accept it and stop hoping for something else.

And although it does share this tic with See’s other work, this book is one of her best - perhaps not quite up there with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but then that is the first See book I read so it may have an unfair advantage. The Island of Sea Women is set on Jeju Island, where women deep sea divers are traditionally the main support for their families, and this portrayal of a traditional society where women have a lot more power and freedom than in many traditional societies is so interesting.

I’ve also been reading Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, which is an unexpectedly delightful look at office culture in interwar Britain. Lord Peter has taken a job as a copy writer for an advertising firm in order to investigate a murder, using his two middle names, Death Bredon, and yes Dorothy Sayers did in fact give her detective the name Death, Lord Peter is the Most Extra and I love it.

What I Plan to Read Next

[personal profile] evelyn_b, we had talked about maybe reading Kristin Lavransdattar in tandem. Are you still interested? I’ve acquired a copy, so we could start whenever is convenient for you.

I’ve also realized that Andrea Cheng’s The Year of the Book, which I read last year, is in fact the first book of a five-book series (although alas there will be no more after that: Cheng died a few years ago), so now I want to read them all.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Is anyone else watching the new She-Ra? If anyone else has been thinking about watching the new She-Ra but hasn't quite taken the plunge yet, I would like to offer these inducements:

1. You have probably heard that it is extremely gay but please believe me when I say that it is EVEN GAYER than you have been told

(Catra wears a tuxedo in episode 9, I am just saying. In fact the entire episode may have been constructed for the sole purpose of putting Catra in a tux)

2. I have never seen "BEST FRIENDS TURNED BITTER ENEMIES WHEN THEY END UP ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF A WAR BUT DEEP DOWN THEY STILL REALLY CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER JUST MAYBE IN A I HATE YOU SO MUCH THAT ONLY I AM ALLOWED TO KILL YOU KIND OF WAY" done with girls before and I am FEELING IT.

3. Episode 8 is 100% about Adora grappling with Shadow Weaver, her commanding officer/mother figure in the Horde who is doing her magical manipulative best to drag Adora back in, and the episode goes HARD in the best possible way.

Some spoilers through episode 9, which is where we stopped last night )
osprey_archer: (Default)
Spring is coming! We had a tiny two-day foretaste of seventy degree temperatures earlier this week, after which point the highs plummeted back to forty, but it was enough of a taste that I’ve begun to turn my thoughts to my garden.

The sage and thyme are perennials, so they should plump up again once the warm weather comes; they’ve haven’t entirely shriveled even now, but they do look a little limp after the rigors of winter. I’ll need a new basil, of course (if you can only grow one herb, it’s probably worthwhile to make it basil), and probably rosemary, and I’m thinking chives, because they’re supposed to be very easy to grow and if you sprinkle it on top of, for instance, little cheesy toasts, they instantly look classy. (It also adds a mild flavor boost, but it is very mild.)

The herbs will grow on the sunny spot alongside the brick wall. I’ve also got two raised beds, and I’m thinking one of them - the small sunny one, also close to the house - I might use for tomatoes. As for the big bed - I’m thinking I might branch out to flowers - one of my friends gave me a little round red flower bowl that I’ve put on the bookcase next to my desk, and what could be more Anne of Green Gables than filling it with my own flowers?

However, I’ve never grown flowers before, so we’ll see if this one goes through.

Stretch goals:

A compost heap, or a compost bin or whatever the cool kids use for compost these days. (It looks like expensive composters have become a sort of status symbol.) I like the idea of turning heaps of kitchen scraps into usable soil, although if I go this route obviously I’ll need to do some research on how precisely one goes about doing that.

Raspberry canes. I love raspberries, and if I put a lattice up along the fence the raspberries could grow up it without sacrificing any other garden space (although I would have to excavate from actual soil from beneath the current covering of big rocks). Fresh raspberries! Sun-warmed! I love picking berries too, so that’s a bonus.
osprey_archer: (food)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the holiday I broke out my favorite Irish cookbook, and made:

Sausage rolls, made from sausages wrapped in puff pastry. Not as delicious as the sausage rolls I remember from Great Britain; the grease from the sausages soaked through the puff pastry on the bottom, which detracted from the eating experience. I wonder if the problem may have been from my sausage choice, though? I used bangers from Trader Joe’s, on the grounds that they were Irish, but maybe they’re too greasy for this sort of thing.

Mashed potato pancakes, which I had originally intended to keep for a St. Patrick’s Day food, but I loved them so much that I’ve been making them all year. Mix two parts leftover mashed potatoes to one part flour and a little bit of salt; cook them on a medium-high griddle in butter, two minutes per side (or however long it takes to get them as golden brown and delicious as you like), top with sour cream, nom. They would be good with chives.

Guinness stew, which is delicious, and unlike potato pancakes fiddly enough that I might successfully save it for a once-a-year St. Patrick’s Day treat. I really like the idea of having special foods for holidays, although so far the only tradition I’ve successfully implemented is making & decorating sugar cookies at Christmas. But if it’s difficult that only makes it more glorious if I succeed, right?
osprey_archer: (kitty)
After I finished season 3 of Shetland I decided that I was going to stop watching the show, but then the library got season 4 and the flesh is weak and I watched it.

My original plan was a better plan. Season 4 of Shetland is a mess.

Things that happen in season 4 of Shetland )
osprey_archer: (Default)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Lee Israel’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, which I put on hold months ago (after I saw the movie) but leapt on with as much enthusiasm as if I’d only requested it yesterday. A great companion piece to the movie: the movie fleshes out Israel’s character a bit more, but the book has more salty literary gossip (some of it forged, of course, although Israel did try to make her forgeries accord with the their subjects’ known opinions).

Israel has a particular affinity for snarky gossip about celebrities - probably in part because this sells well to letter dealers, but also perhaps because she seems pretty snarky herself. I particularly enjoyed the joke about the the actress who married Cary Grant and then divorced him, because “she got tired of sleeping in the middle - with Randolph Scott on the other side.”

I also read Liudmilla Pertrushevskaya’s The Girl from the Metropole Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia more or less instantly upon learning of its existence. It’s a childhood memoir (already one of my favorite genres) about growing up in the Soviet Union during World War II as part of an Old Bolshevik family that had lost most of its status during the Great Purge of 1937, when many family members were arrested. She was born in the Metropole Hotel but within the first five years of her life descended to such poverty that she stole food out of the more prosperous neighbors’ trash, and one night remained mesmerized by the trash can at the sight of the neighbor girls’ carelessly discarded dolls.

This may make it sound like a grim morass of misery, but it isn’t at all. There’s a sort of fairy tale feel to the book that gives a sense of remove from the events; after all, Petrushevskaya is a writer of a fairy tales, and co-wrote the animated film Tale of Tales. Her memoir is a series of vignettes that dance lightly between bedbugs and attempted gang rapes and the magical night that she snuck into the opera and watched, spellbound, from the rafters.

I also finished Shirley Jackson’s Raising Demons, which has only made me want to read the recent Jackson biography more for purposes of comparison, but I really think I’ll get more out of it if I finish reading at least her novels first (I’m not holding out to finish all the short stories). I’ve still got The Road Through the Wall, The Bird’s Nest, and The Sundial.

What I’m Reading Now

Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which is less deliciously snarky the Carl Safina’s Beyond Words but just as chock full of wonderful anecdotes - not only about animal behavior, but about the major players in the animal intelligence debates in the twentieth century, many of whom de Waal knew personally. My favorite story so far is the part where B. F. Skinner and his colleagues try to take over a primate facility to make it into an operant conditioning laboratory, which involved cutting the chimpanzees’ food to starvation rations, only Skinner was foiled (rumor has it) because the staff kept feeding the chimpanzees on the sly at night because they felt so bad for them.

The more I read about B. F. Skinner the more disturbing he seems.

I’ve also begun Willa Cather’s My Antonia, although I’m not far enough in to have anything more in depth to say than that Cather is awfully good at describing prairies. I’m not usually much for lengthy nature description, but she makes it so clear that you can see it.

What I Plan to Read Next

One of my classmates from college published a book, The Far Field, and I thought it would be nice to read it because I knew her slightly… and then it occurred to me that the book would also fit my reading challenge for “a book outside your (genre) comfort zone,” so it’s happening.
osprey_archer: (Default)
We finished The Librarians! I had mixed feelings about the show all the way through, but they did such a bang-up job on the last two episodes that I felt more disappointed than I expected that it was over.

Spoilers, of course )

She-Ra

Mar. 11th, 2019 06:15 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Julie was the one who suggested that we should begin watching the new She-Ra, but four episodes in I think that I’m the one who has gotten more invested. But Catra literally sleeps at the foot of Adora’s bed, what was I supposed to do if not get hopelessly invested in their “two cadets in dystopia supporting each other in a super unsupportive environment” thing?

And then Adora gets out! And realizes that the Horde is actually evil! And she tries to convince Catra to defect with her, and Catra is like “You are only realizing this NOW?” and Adora’s like “You’ve known all along and you didn’t try to DO something?” and Catra is like “We’ll be in charge soon!”...

Oh Catra. Like Hordak is ever going to let anyone else have any actual power. As he reminds Shadow Weaver, she gets to keep her magic only as long as it’s convenient to him. (But rather than putting her in her place, that brutal smackdown may have turned Shadow Weaver against Hordak. I hope so. Internal bad guy politics are one of my favorite things.)

ALSO CREEPY FACE TOUCHING like basically every time Shadow Weaver is disappointed in Catra which is basically ALL THE TIME, so. And she’s setting Catra on a collision course to fight her erstwhile best friend Adora, and if the opening credits have not CRUELLY LIED TO ME then there’s going to be a big climactic best-friends-turned-bitter-enemies fight between Catra and Adora, a.k.a. MY FAVORITE THING EVER LET’S DO IT.

Although Catra will need to level waaaaay up before she can hold her own against She-Ra. I am looking forward to whatever deeply questionable life choices she makes in pursuit of that goal.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
The problem with reading a book about something you already know way too much about is that you will either love it or you will hate it. Carolyn Carpan's Sisters, Schoolgirls, and Sleuths: Girls' Series Books in America unfortunately fell in the "hate it" category for me, because I disagree with many of Carpan's choices about what to include in this book and also many of the conclusions that she draws.

1. American girls' series is such a broad topic - we're talking literally hundreds of series, many with dozens if not hundreds of books - that it may not be possible to discuss it all in one book, certainly not a book less than 150 pages long.

2. Carpan doesn't seem to realize that there are two kinds of girls' series: single-author girls' series with literary aspirations, like Elsie Dinsmore or the Little Colonel or Betsy-Tacy, and mass-produced girls' series cranked out by ghost writers, like Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley High or the Babysitters Club. She's more interested in the second, and the book probably would have been more successful if she had focused solely on the Stratemeyer syndicate or girls' mystery books, which take up the bulk of the book anyway.

But as it is, the book starts with a chapter on Elsie Dinsmore, which is unfortunate both because Carpan doesn't seem to understand Elsie, and because including Elsie makes it harder to justify excluding (or mentioning only briefly) many other popular and influential single-author girls' series. If you've set yourself up to survey everything then you need to hit EVERYTHING, you know?

3. Carpan asserts that "the compliant Elsie Dinsmore...is the model heroine for the hundreds of other girls' series protagonists that followed her" (7), which is QUITE A STRETCH. The only piece of evidence Carpan offers in support of it is that Nancy Drew, like Elsie, lives in a single-parent household with her indulgent father... except Elsie's father, unlike Nancy's, is so un-indulgent that he forbids Elsie to eat that dangerous luxury jam, so actually I think this is a case where an accidental similarity (single fathers) shows how very different the two series are.

It's possible that Elsie has a successor in some specifically Christian series, but the overarching theme in the Elsie books - the importance of daughters' instant, implicit, cheerful obedience to their fathers, except when the father's commands go against the word of God - is as far as I know sui generis among secular girls' series.

In fact, I can't think of any other girls' series where the parent-child relationship is the most important theme of the story. Even in the Little House books (another series Carpan leaves out entirely!), where Ma and Pa are important characters, Laura's coming of age and her relationship with her sister Mary (and to a lesser extent Carrie) are just as important.

4. Also, insofar as there is one "model heroine for the hundreds of other girls' series protagonists," it's obviously Jo March, because she's the ur-heroine of American girls' books in general and because Little Women is the first book in a series of either three or four books, depending whether you count Little Women and Good Wives separately.

5. Chapters 3 to 8 move chronologically through books from the 1920s to the 1980s. The analysis seems stronger - I got the sense that these are the books Carpan really cares about, not the ones she had to read to try to make her survey complete - but it could also just be that her analysis seems stronger to me because I'm not familiar with most of the books she writes about, so I can't knowledgeably disagree.

6. I SUPER disagreed with a lot of Carpan's choices once she reached the 1990s, not least of which is the fact that somewhere around the sixties and seventies she seems to have narrowed her focus from "books for girls" to "books for teenage girls" without quite seeming to notice. How else could you possibly justify the fact that she devotes one paragraph to the incredibly popular Babysitters Club series?

(Also, she dings BSC because "by promoting babysitting the series may encourage preteen and teen readers to focus on mothering as their primary goal in life" (123), which I think shows a complete failure to actually engage with the series, which is about entrepreneurship and friendship and developing your own individual strengths and talents as much as it is about babysitting, and also shows the shallowness of Carpan's intellectual framework for this book, which might without oversimplification be described as Marriage and Motherhood Bad, Sports and Careers Good.)

But then, Meg Cabot gets only a paragraph as well, and her series are definitely aimed at teenage girls, so who knows what's up with that.

There's also no mention at all of horse series (Heartland and Thoroughbred ought to fall in the teen-girl purview, even if Saddle Club and Pony Pals are too young), only brief mention of magic-themed series - Carpan mentions Cate Tiernan's Sweep but not Daughters of the Moon or Circle of Three - and for some reason a whole section devoted to Goosebumps and Fear Street, which insofar as they were gendered were marketed at boys.
osprey_archer: (Default)
Rayna Zehtachi’s Period. End of Sentence won an Oscar this year in the Short Documentary category, so when it showed up on Netflix, I decided that I had to watch it.

It is indeed a short documentary, less than half an hour long, but it’s interesting nonetheless: it’s about a group of women in India who start a small factory (really just one room with a press) to make and sell high-quality, low-cost sanitary pads in a community in India where girls sometimes leave school through a combination of shame over menstruation and insufficient hygiene resources.

I feel like there has to be more to say about documentaries than “This will interest you if that topic is the sort of thing that interests you,” but I haven’t found it yet.

If the documentary has one flaw, it’s that it is perhaps too short: I would have been particularly interested to learn more about the young woman who was using her earnings from the pad factory to fund her training to become a police officer in Delhi. But that would have dissipated the documentary’s focus, which instead remains tightly focused on menstrual hygiene, and perhaps remaining focused is for the best.
osprey_archer: (books)
I’ve hit book fifty on 100 Books that Influenced Me, which means I’m halfway through! So I thought I’d better pick a particularly important book to celebrate, which of course means Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling, although every time I try to write about this book I’m always afraid that I’m going to fail to do it justice.

The heart of the story is Martha and Ivy’s friendship, which begins when they’re in second grade. Martha Abbott - or Mouse, as her family calls her, because she’s shy and timid and tear-prone in a family of hearty extroverted overachievers - meets Ivy when Ivy shows up in class one day, and soon after they become friends when they discover that they both love imaginative games. Snyder has books with real magic and books with perhaps-magic and books, like this one, which are in the workaday non-magical world but full of imaginative games, but all three variations feel magical to me because she’s so good - probably the best children’s writer that I know - at writing imaginative games.

(Although if you have other favorites I am happy to hear about them, because I’m always looking for other authors who do this well.)

One of the games they play a bit later in the book, Green-sky, is about a land where people live in the treetops, so captured Snyder’s own imagination that she wrote a whole Green Sky Trilogy, although the story is rather different than Martha and Ivy’s. They play it in Bent Oaks Grove, which is full of climbing trees with twisted branches, and a cave and a rock that they use for an altar.

But there’s one problem: Ivy is a Carson, one of the younger members of a family of ne’er-do-wells who live in a crumbling old house on the edge of town. Martha doesn’t mind at all: Ivy has explained to her that she’s not really a Carson at all, but a changeling, a magical creature switched at birth for a human baby. Her Aunt Evaline told her about changelings, when Ivy lived with her in Harley’s Crossing, which is where Ivy learned about all sorts of interesting magical things that play into their games.

But Martha’s family looks on the friendship with restrained disapproval. The Abbotts are sturdy, respectable people (Martha’s father is a corporate lawyer) while the Carsons are in and out of jail. But Ivy is after all a very small Carson, and the Abbotts are perhaps hoping the friendship will run its course before she becomes a big one.

But as Martha and Ivy get older, it becomes harder for them to blot out the wider world with games. The social divide between them is powerful enough to disrupt their friendship even though they remain loyal to each other. Imagination runs into reality and loses.

There is a subset of children’s books that revolve around the theme “Reality trumps imagination,” possibly a reaction against children’s books where “imagination is magic!” and solves problems with suspicious ease. Janet Taylor Lisle’s Afternoon of the Elves is a particularly clear example of the genre: imagination shatters upon contact with reality and then the book ends, with the wreckage.

The Changeling is different because, after breaking things, it puts it all back together again. Imagination is not literally magic and you can’t live in a fantasy forever, but that doesn’t mean imagination is powerless. At its best, imagination creates: it builds things, not just cloud castles but things that are real and solid for all that they are incorporeal, like Martha and Ivy’s friendship, and that friendship is ultimately stronger than the social forces that nearly rip it apart.
osprey_archer: (writing)
Friends! Romans! Countrymen! There is now a paperback edition of Briarley available for sale on Amazon if that is a thing that you want in your life.

***

Current projects in the works: I’m cracking away on rewrites for Ashlin & Olivia, hopefully for a May release, although we’ll see, of course. Hopefully this time I’ll be able to release the ebook & the paperback at the same time - not least because it would be nice to have paper copies to take the Pride, although who knows if they’ll sell. If I take paper copies of Briarley, I might print out Courtney Milan’s rec to display with it… that ought to bring the romance readers to the yard, don’t you think?

I’ve begun contemplating future projects. The Little Red Riding Hood retelling with the occult Russian revolutionaries is still on the table. I also have the beginning of an idea, which came about as the confluence of three influences:

1. Those Tumblr posts about how all queer people (or possibly all Millennials) want to platonically live in a house and/or a communal farm with all their friends. This is totally true. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with my friends on this theme.

2. I threw a Galentine’s Day party in late February and fifteen minutes before the party was scheduled the electricity went out, and I stood there at my electric stove gazing at my half-cooked bacon and contemplating whether there was any way to save things if the electricity didn’t come back on. (Fortunately, it returned before the bacon stopped sizzling.)

Now, we of the electric stove would have been screwed if the power stayed off, but a fictional character with a gas stove and perhaps a gas fireplace could have totally had that party, by candlelight, and it would have been a totally amazing party and all of their friends would have talked about it for years.

3. I love writing about friendship.

So I’m imagining a book or a series of books about a bunch of friends, I’m thinking four or five, who share a house (possibly by a lake?) and they throw silly but delightful parties, and also they have some friends who live elsewhere and swoop in and out of the story at intervals.

Basically it would be like the The Babysitters Club except less baby-sitting and also the heroines are dealing with life problems appropriate to their age bracket (I’m thinking mainly 25-35, although I’m all in favor of intergenerational friendship so there should def. be older and younger people in the extended friend group) rather than the early-teenage focus of BSC. Some romances as sideplots, but not the main focus. Possibly recipes? Someone obviously knits.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Ben MacIntyre’s The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. I intended to get some other things done on Sunday, but instead I spent the afternoon reading this book and eating cookies and it was a good life choice. MacIntyre is one of those nonfiction writers with an irresistibly readable style, augmented in his case by an irresistibly readable choice of subject matter: spies!

In this book, MacIntyre is telling the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB man who became a spy for MI6 out of genuine ideological conversion (always a more interesting story than someone who becomes a spy for money, like Aldrich Ames, who becomes a subplot in this book because his story intersected with Gordievsky’s).

I was particularly fascinated by the internal KGB politics - in particular, by the way the whole agency became infected with the paranoid conviction that the US was going to launch a nuclear first strike any day now once the paranoiac-in-chief, Andropov (first leader of the KGB and then of the Soviet Union in general), became obsessed with the idea. It’s kind of hilarious - all these big tough guys quaking in their boots over literally nothing! - but also sort of sad, and perhaps Gordievsky’s greatest accomplishment was to convince Reagan and Thatcher that no, this wasn’t just bluster, the KGB truly feared a first strike, and both of them became less belligerent toward the USSR in response.

On a whim I read Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies, because it was on a list of books about female friendship and I needed a new book on Overdrive. It’s a YA novel, structured around the emails that two future roommates exchange the summer before they go to college. I didn’t think it would have space to do all the plotlines justice: both girls have their best-friend-from-high-school plotlines, boyfriend plotlines, and family plotlines, and there’s the getting-to-know-your-potential-roommate plotline that ties them together - but actually I thought the book did most of them justice, although I wanted a little bit more from EB’s difficult relationship with her mom: it turns around a little too fast for me in the end.

And I finished the final Billabong book, Billabong Riders, and it feels like the end of an era: [personal profile] littlerhymes and I have been reading these books for over two years now. What shall we doooo now that it’s over? (Actually we’ve already discussed reading the Anne of Green Gables series next, so I think we shall be fine.)

In some ways it doesn’t feel like the last book in the series - there’s no big series-ending event (Norah’s already gotten married and had her first child, both of which books often use as convenient stopping points) and no particular push to get in at least a cameo appearance from all the best-beloved side characters. But on the other hand it is a very typical Billabong book, with all the old gang (plus Tommy) going off on a cattle-herding adventure, so in that way it’s a satisfying cap to the series.

What I’m Reading Now

Shirley Jackson’s Raising Demons goes along at a fairly even domestic family memoir keel until you get to the part where Jackson writes about Bennington College - and then even the restraints of the genre can’t hold back her rage: fury positively smokes out of her as she writes about the life of the faculty wife and the adoring students who crowd around her husband.

What I Plan to Read Next

The newest Lisa See book, The Island of Sea Women! There are very few contemporary authors whose work I keep up with, but I do snap up new Lisa See books, because I like that she writes about women’s friendships and I have not yet given up hope that eventually she’ll write a book where the friends remain friends for the whole story.
osprey_archer: (Agent Carter)
I have watched Ant-Man and the Wasp! Which means… I am not actually caught up with the MCU, because I haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War or Spiderman: Homecoming or Dr. Strange... okay, it may be time to admit to myself that I’m no longer even trying to keep up with the MCU. There’s too much of it. I just can’t see “and then Thanos turned a bunch of people into drifting piles of ash” as anything but a colossally disappointing plot twist.

BUT ANYWAY, setting all that aside for a moment, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pleasant popcorn movie: lots of fun action sequences, plenty of things shrinking or enlarging to hilarious effect, an underdeveloped romance (par for the course in this sort of movie), an engagingly sympathetic villain.

I hope we’ll see more of Ghost in future movies. Her backstory has only strengthened my belief that SHIELD is the true big bad of the MCU and probably ultimately a destructive force despite the fact that they clearly want to be protective. The road to hell etc. etc.

As sad as I was when Agent Carter got canceled, it’s probably just as well that they didn’t have enough seasons to attempt a SHIELD-founding plotline, because there’s no way that would have been anything but monumentally disappointing. How could they make the story of SHIELD’s founding seem like anything but a tragedy when it has so many problems? It was infiltrated by Hydra almost from day one. It pretends to destroy alien tech and then hoards it. It imprisons people with powers or uses them as assassins, as per Ghost, whom they controlled with the promise that they might eventually cure her incredibly painful condition.

Either Agent Carter would have had to sweep it all under the rug, which is disappointing on the face of it, or they would have tried to grapple with it all - and maybe argue that SHIELD wasn’t so bad at the start, that the worst abuses came later on, after Howard died & Peggy retired? I think that’s the only approach that could have worked. But still it’s probably better that they didn’t try.
osprey_archer: (Default)
I’ve never like the idea of making a bucket list - the built-in reminder of one’s looming mortality just put me off - but one of the blogs I follow recently suggested the idea of a dreams list, which has no implied (and depressingly literal) deadline, and I’ve taken to it like a duck to water. It turns out that it’s very useful to have a place to write down things like “Have brunch at Milktooth” (I for one want to try to sourdough sweet potato doughnuts with the cranberry curd), because otherwise the idea will simply recur to me fleetingly at times, generally when there’s nothing to be done about it

The list has also alerted me to a hitherto-unrecognized brunch obsession, because I keep sticking brunch places on it. What can I say? Everyone loves breakfast food, it’s cheaper than dinner, often there are salmon eggs benedicts, and I still dream of finding a place to buy the perfect cinnamon roll.

Although I could always add “learn to bake cinnamon rolls” to the list. Baking bread is already on there, and I’ve been waffling about whether to add pastry.
osprey_archer: (writing)
Greetings, writer! I have never seen a hurt/comfort exchange before but the instant I saw it I knew that I had to sign up, because hurt comfort is one of my favorite things in the world. I am so easy for almost anything to do with this trope, my God.

Things I Like

Hurt/comfort (obviously!)

In particular, a few of my favorite varieties of hurt comfort are:
Sickfic! Ranging from “a small cold” to “raving delirium”
Hypothermia
In fact, anything that leads to snuggling for warmth
Forced proximity/forced dependency leads to emotional bonding
Situations where the hurt and the comfort become intermingled - like Stockholm syndrome; the character doing the comforting caused the hurt in the first place
Emotional hurt/comfort! The hurt is not physical but emotional: an abandonment, a betrayal
Or guilt: the hurting character is suffering from guilt because they believe they hurt someone else (possibly the comforting character)

In general, I like stories about loyalty and ride-or-die friendships - but also stories where the characters have an unequal investment in the relationship; unrequited love, or love where one party feels it much more strongly.


Things I don’t like
Character death

The fandoms!

Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD, Raffles, The Spy Who Dumped Me )
osprey_archer: (art)
In the days of yore, I used to post poems occasionally, and I think I ought to do it again, at least occasionally. Everyone’s day is better for a little poetry in it, right?

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
By A. E. Housman

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

La Papierre

Mar. 1st, 2019 08:36 am
osprey_archer: (writing)
I don't know if there are any fellow stationary aficionados reading this, but if there are, my favorite stationary store La Papierre is having a half-price sale (the owners are moving and want to clear out stock first), which means that you can get twelve sheets of adorable stationary for three dollars - no shipping in the US or Canada.

What I particularly like about this shop is the range of their stationary: you can get ones that are cute and cartoony (like this girl reading with a cat), but there are also more subtle and elegant choices (like these golden roses), or soft and mystical (snowstorm). Treat yourself!

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osprey_archer

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