Feb. 24th, 2017 10:31 am
hollymath: (Default)
Sinus infection.

The amount of standing around in the cold waiting for inadequate public transport last night probably couldn't have helped, though the scratchy throat was there before I left, when the last bus of the night left me stranded.

The visit was useful anyway, getting help from a friend for a job interview I've gotten sorta by accident which I felt totally out of my depth for. I'm feeling out of my depth in other ways now, but better aware of the things I should do and worry about if I'm going to this interview.

Someone's calling me in an hour who's doing research on LGBT migration and looking for people to talk to I guess. Other than that, so far me and the dog are staying in bed today. I've started reading "The Story of Your Life," which Arrival is based on. I loved the movie, and apparently the book is even better.
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Really like this. Keep being good about immigration, the Guardian!
Meanwhile, MPs from both major parties had the switch flipped in their heads that makes them link everything to immigration, causing their jaws to mechanically flap open and say: “Well, Nigel Farage is basically right about everything but you should still vote for us because $ERROR (Reason not found, please restart your political process).”
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This is so obvious but I don't think I've read about it anywhere.

It's pretty well understood in my circles, which involve a lot of disabled people and a lot of politics people, that disabled people get a lot of shit from the DWP.

Very few people realize how strikingly similar am experience immigrants can have in dealing with the Home Office.

There really are a lot of parallels. Look at this Guardian article I read today:

It starts right in the subhead.
the Home Office is driven not by reason but by keeping numbers down.
And it just goes on.
Not only is the Home Office understaffed and under-resourced as the result of public sector cuts, it is also under pressure to deliver whatever results the government needs to stand any chance of meeting its immigration targets
The guiding Home Office principle seems to be reject first, ask questions later, and in the meantime hope the applicant does not have the connections or resources to appeal. Immigration lawyers have told me that officials were at one point being incentivised, on the basis of how many applications they rejected, with Marks & Spencer vouchers.
the Home Office in particular, and the immigration system in general, has long made decisions not on the basis of merit or reason, but as a way of filtering out as many applicants as possible – either via exhaustion of resources or impossibly high barriers.
If the waiting or the rejections or the appeals don’t exhaust the anxious applicant, the costs involved in protecting themselves from the relentless machine surely will.
Already there are reports of EU citizens being questioned about their right to use the NHS, and concerns about poor and elderly people who may struggle to fortify themselves against whatever ultimate decision will be made about their status.
these deficiencies yield great consequences for ordinary people who suffer when a bureaucracy turns brutal. It has also revealed the extent to which immigration law is damaged by populist thinking and underfunding.
Having tried and mostly failed to get blood out of the stone that is the DWP, I don't relish dealing with another system that is similar in any way (and I heartily wish I'd been able to do this while Andrew still had a steady and quite healthy income, because I'm terrified of how expensive this could be... I know I Kickstarted the money for the application fee but, as this article alludes, anything that doesn't go perfectly smoothly will cost a lot more).

But now that Christmas is out of the way and I have a nice long stretch ahead of me where I don't expect to need my passport, it's time to put the final touches on my citizenship application and send it off.
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I also found this article on the unreadability of the internet interesting (partly because I actually think things like how many points of contrast there are between two colors is interesting...).
When you build a site and ignore what happens afterwards — when the values entered in code are translated into brightness and contrast depending on the settings of a physical screen — you’re avoiding the experience that you create. And when you design in perfect settings, with big, contrast-rich monitors, you blind yourself to users. To arbitrarily throw away contrast based on a fashion that “looks good on my perfect screen in my perfectly lit office” is abdicating designers’ responsibilities to the very people for whom they are designing.
Of course this is another time I was ahead of the curve; I've been using browser extensions for years to make web pages sufficiently readable for me. Here's what I said about them a while ago; I had reason to share this today and thought I might as well put it here too.
‎So my main browser is Firefox, and the extension I use for that is called Tranquility.

Chrome I don't use as much for browsing any more, but that still has the extension I used to use for Firefox, it's called Readability.

Both of these are really good for getting rid of all the ads and stuff too. You can set font and size too, and you just get one lovely column of black text on a white background. Like the old days of the internet!

Tranquility is sometimes annoying for also taking away images you do want (photos that are part of the news story, etc) but I still find it's ‎worth it. It's very easy to toggle between "readable" and "original" modes so you can look at the diagrams or photos if need be with, overall, still less hassle than trying to parse modern Web pages. :)

And Tranquility does have the advantage of keeping the URL the same so it's easy to copy/share the link (Readability changes the URL when it changes the webpage, which just means you have to remember to change it back before you copy the link or something).
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I really like this (except for the terrible headline, which I know isn't the writer's fault: we're partially sighted, not partially blind!).

My eye condition isn't degenerative like this person's is, but since I've still recently made the transition from "trying to pretend I'm a sighted person", about a year ago, reading all this was really powerful. I'm not used to seeing these experiences talked about. The recognition and identification feel really comforting.

I absolutely agree that not nearly enough is widely understood about who carries what cane and why, the huge variety of ways a person can have partial sight, and how best to interact with us. While my anxiety is a lot better when I'm using the cane because I'm not being held to a standard I can't reach, it is sometimes worse if I do anything that makes me seem "sighted," like reading or dodging an obstacle I couldn't find with my cane. I haven't had such negative experiences as I read about here, but I recognize them as something I have to be prepared for.

I spent all afternoon at the first meeting of the rebooted Visual Impairment Steering Group I'm now kinda leading, which was great but it was only supposed to last an hour and I'm exhausted now but it's only reaffirmed how much I want to teach sighted people how to be sighted.
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P.G. Wodehouse didn't invent the spelling of Gladys with a 'w', even though it sounds like the kind of thing he'd do.
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For my birthday present this year, [personal profile] magister bought my ticket to Haunted Studies: The Ghost Stories of M.R. James. We'd been along to the tail end of this last year, when [personal profile] sir_guinglain was interviewing Lawrence Gordon Clark before the showing of one of the things he directed, A Warning to the Curious. We had free wine and it was the first time I'd seen any of those "ghost stories for Christmas" kinds of things (heretical foreigner that I am; I got the box set last Christmas/birthday, though, so I shall catch up eventually and be ever-closer to a proper person, don't worry British friends), so I had a great night.

The venue added a lot to it, too: the conference was held at The Leeds Library...not a public library, a subscription library. It's small and picturesque, a great atmosphere for the kinds of people who go to M.R. James conferences -- be they academics like [personal profile] sir_guinglain and [ profile] strange_complex or not, like [personal profile] magister and me. The four of us went along this year, and had a great time.

The four of us all went along to the whole day conference this time, and really enjoyed it. First we heard from the chief exec of the Leeds Library, an unassuming guy who told us about the history of the place -- longest-surviving subscription library in the country, able to be so because it built itself above a couple of shops that it also built, from which it gets some income. As wonderful a thing as it was, I'm glad he didn't seem at all precious about it. "You won't find a white glove in the place," he said, and the books were clearly there to be used. I hate it when you see books on shelves behind glass or otherwise reduced to a decoration, a status symbol, or a way for some kinds of rooms to tell you what they are; it makes me sad to see the books denied their useful purpose. That was certainly not the case here; we even had drinks and lunch (sandwiches and fruit were catered for everyone) in admist all the books. And readers! The library was open its usual hours (just with signs saying the New Room was being used by the conference); people were reading newspapers and chatting and taking books out as we meandered about on our breaks and lunch. By the morning break, I think, [personal profile] magister was already talking about wanting to present a paper next year, and he had a couple of great ideas for one. Conversations about which, and the kind of company and environment I was in, woke up long-dormant English-major parts of my brain and made me probably over-enthusiastically offer to help.

[ profile] strange_complex seemed to know most of the people there, through the Dracula Society she belongs to, or I guess just living in Leeds and being the kind of person who'd like a conference about M.R. James...either way there were always friendly people to be introduced to and chat to during the breaks as well. There was also Art to look at, in the form of a work-in-progress Haunted Dollhouse (from the James story of the same name, natch) that lit up and everything, and a M.R. James-themed top-trumps card game called Monsters & Miscreants, which is even more beautiful in real life than the (somewhat-unfortunately-rendered, for me at least) website makes it look. I ended up buying a copy for [personal profile] magister (having to leave my cup of tea in a rush at the afternoon break, having heard that the guy'd almost sold out all that he'd brought with him), and the four of us ended up playing it in the pub (where I couldn't resist a pint of the Ghost ale due to the force of nominative rectitude, and very tasty it was too!)that evening before we had to catch a train back home.

It was a fun game, and it's really beautiful as well. We ended up missing our first train so had time for another pint and a lot more laughing and me shouting things like "Guardian of the Treasure!" which I'm sure made everyone in Foleys think we're even weirder than we are.

My favorite speaker of the day was Jacqueline Simpson, who talked about folklore. She started out by saying that people always expect folklore to be some grand dame telling stories to a collection of children sitting on the floor in her little cottage -- that the best stories are always thought to be two generations in the past, to have happened to our grandparents -- and ended up making me and at least one other person I chatted to think that she should be that grand dame and we wanted to hear her stories. She's also the person who co-wrote The Folklore of Discworld, which I'd read part of a few years ago, the person about whom the story that'd stuck in my mind, from the book's prologue about how Terry met her when he was going through a time of asking everybody in book-signing queues how many rhymes about magpies they knew, got a pause from her and an answer I can't remember but somewhere in the high teens. She was very interesting on the subject of how James's stories fit or differed from Danish folklore, particularly -- the padlocks in "Count Magnus" and the post in "The Rose Garden" are the ones I particularly remember (I meant to write this up much sooner, before I'd forgotten quite so much, but life has not been friendly to me lately).

My favorite part of the day was watching [personal profile] magister wander around the books in the library during all the breaks, eventually inquiring how much membership cost and how it worked. It ended up being one of those things where you can pay an instalment each month....except for the first year, which they want all of up front. I well recognized the kind of problem this left him with -- basically another kind of Vimes's Economic Law of Boots: he could pay the monthly fee easily, but couldn't pay enough to get to the monthly payments in the first place. After I checked the logistics with Andrew, though, I was glad to be able to tell him we could help him out, and that he could pay us back one month at a time. So by the wine reception at the end of this year's conference (there was no director to interview or film to watch this time; there was some kind of video art installation but basically the evening finished a lot earlier this year than it had last), he was disappearing among the books with a much more note-taking air about him, clearly piling things up in his memory to be taken out, and with many hugs and thank-yous to me for helping make this possible.

It was more than worth it to see the look on his face -- plus he's brought me along as a guest twice already now. That I live an impractical distance from Leeds is the only reason I didn't keep the membership for myself; I am in love with that place almost as much as he is I swear. Both times I've been with him to look around, I've eventually had to stop and sit and wait for him because I feel buried under the sheer weight of books I really really want to read there!

Of course I know there are other libraries available -- one at the end of my road now, for which I've even managed to get a library card (not having had one of those since I frequented Withington Library, according to the details on the computer system), but that library's not as big, not as well-loved, and not even as staffed: as with so many things, there's starting to be a big difference when you go private! Which might be there's something of a resurgance in subscription libraries (there is a lovely picture of the room we had the conference in from Leeds Library in that article).

The whole thing had got me thinking there must be a subscription library closer than Leeds...and I should've known having seen the sign for it often enough when I'm in one of my very favorite pubs in the city centre, but it's The Portico Library, which also has public areas like a gallery and a café. I've often thought I should check it out but I haven't yet.

Anyway, [personal profile] magister was showing everyone his M.R. James Top Trumps the next day, he's taken at least his own weight in books out of the library in his many trips there so far, I've not only sped through The Folklore of Discworld (liking it all the more now that I'm able to imagine bits in both authors' voices) but I'm reading other stuff thanks to [ profile] FolkloreThurs and everything it links to... I think it's fair to say this day left a pretty big impression on us. I'm really glad we got to go.
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Andrew shared this review of a book, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, that neither of us have read yet but which both of us are probably more keen on getting around to now. Not just because it sounds like a good book -- it does, but there are so many good books. What makes this one stand out, according to this review, is that it's a nice book. It's not a grimdark dystopia. It's not about a bunch of assholes. It's not an epic series of wars and peril and high body counts. The worldbuilding isn't overbearing tedious entries from an RPG sourcebook but natural and on a human scale: about people's jobs, hobbies food, and so on. Difficulties and even death aren't absent, but they also aren't so common as to be numbing. As the reviewer says, "Numb, I’ve come to realize, is what most modern SF leaves me feeling."

All the things about this book that end up making it seem remarkable in this review say a lot more about what we expect from science fiction now than about this book itself.

It reminds me of something I realized a couple of weeks ago, while watching one of the Dalek episodes, and increasingly whenever I've thought about Doctor Who since. As well as the new Doctor Who, I subsist on a steady diet of Big Finish and old TV stuff too, and I think especially since I've been working my way through the Hornet's Nest stories again, which is Tom Baker at his handwavy, confident, frustrating best, I'm finding all this stuff on telly a bit weird. For one thin I'm sick of "this time the Doctor's gonna die, for real!" (Andrew and James and I happened to catch the last episode or two of Matt Smith's Doctor over the weekend, and all that was about him definitely being about to die forever too, and I just felt weighed down by it, and by how long this has been going on, how interchanageable it all seems, how quickly I get impatient with it because it's tedious and it's tedious because I know it isn't really going to happen that way, so I feel as if I'm always looking over the shoulders of the people earnestly trying to tell me these things, to see when the real story is going to come along.) And I think near the beginning of this series Missy tells the Doctor "You've always been running," i.e. since he left Gallifrey, and my brain just rebels at that idea. The Doctor I'm used to has adventures and gets in scrapes! He's not running away, he's bimbling along. I feel like this repeated assertion that he's always been on the run and he's always about to die are not only getting old real quick but are fundamentally trying to alter the character I recognize as the Doctor, and this is frustrating and, actually yes sometimes anxious-making for me. The Doctor is a unique character, and I fear this kind of thing will make him too much like everybody else. Everybody in this grimdark modern SF.

The genuinely poor effect this kind of thing can have on my mental health brings me to what I thought was the most powerful part of this review of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: where the reviewer says,
What depresses me–

And when I say “depresses” I don’t mean “I don’t want to think about this stuff,” I mean I’ve come to realize many novels I’ve tried to read have literally not been good for my mental health–
In my case, I think it's been true for more than novels. I think I first noticed this with I Claudius, actually. That was the first time I caught myself thinking this is just about horrible things happening to horrible people...

...and I don't have to keep going with it.
Like most epiphanies, it sounds dumb and obvious when reduced to language, but it was kind of a big deal for me. I'm exposed to a lot of knowledgeable, interesting commentary on movies, TV and books thanks to my friends. Moving to another country and my friendship circles just generally expanding expanding I get older has left me with a ton of things I'd like to understand better. But I've had to learn that some of it I just don't have the...well, the cliché would be to say "the stomach for," but my stomach's fine; I don't have the constitution for a lot of things.

Things like Game of Thrones, which sometimes left friends of mine in such a poor mental state I wished GoT were a person so I could punch it, which I saw strangers in cafés bonding over how harrowing they'd found the most recent episode, were about as appealing to me as setting my own hair on fire. High fantasy isn't really my thing anyway, but to be opting against it for reasons of self-preservation felt weird.

I worried it was just me. Inarticulate concerns that I might just be getting "timid" or "weak" in my old age also sound silly when I find words for them, but they felt real and worrisome. Seeing someone else say that stories they've tried to enjoy have actually been bad for them is...well, I'm sorry it's happened because it's no fun, but I'm glad to realize that I might not just be an increasingly-fragile human being, but that I am ageing into an era in which the genres often most looked-to for escapism -- SF and fantasy -- are instead making grimdark dystopias fashionable.

So this has been a terribly useful review to read, for me as a person, which is a lot more than I expect from a book review! And The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has shot up to a high priority for me to get around to reading!
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An overlapping but different (and seemingly more numerous) kind of nerdy person will tell you that today, May 25, is Towel Day.

Which is all well and good, but I find myself humming "how do they rise up..." instead.
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I was genuinely sad to see from this article that Mike Marquese died last week.

I'm not often really affected by the deaths of famous people, and I knew next to nothing about this one. All I know is that that he wrote Anyone But England and what that book taught me about him: namely that he's an American socialist who likes cricket.

It was, I think, the first book [personal profile] magister lent me, and it was perfect for me as my vague fondness for the game clarified itself into the understanding and knowledge and affection I have gained for it since.

Books about cricket, as Mark Steel says here, "were supposed to depict glorious summers and splendid figures and never stoop to ask grubby questions such as why the MCC supported apartheid, or why the odd England captain admired Hitler, because this was cricket." Much as I like a little waxing rhapsodic about glorious summers and splendid figures, I can get that better from baseball. So I quickly tire of the stories English men tell themselves about cricket. (The other book, besides Anyone But England, I recommended to an American friend who said he might like to understand the game (Pundits from Pakistan) was also not written by an Englishman, and I do not think this is coincidence.)

My experience of Marquese being so limited (I've read one other book by him so far, War Minus the Shooting), I'm delighted to learn from Mark Steel's obituary that he really does seem to have remarkable.
In 2007 he was told he had multiple myeloma, a cancer diagnosis that created a new subject for enquiry. Amongst the articles he wrote on his illness was one called The Bedrock of Autonomy, describing the multitude of characters that led to his treatment being possible, written while on an IV drip. It includes “all who contribute to the intricate ballet of a functioning hospital, the Irish physician Frances Rynd who invented the hollow needle, those who built and sustained the NHS… the drip flowing into my vein is drawn from a river with innumerable tributaries.”
Certainly his work has affected a multitude of other characters, of which I am glad to be one.
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The story I was enthusing about here is the start of a novel that's now available.
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It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.
I do try to thoughtfully compliment people as often as I can. Sometimes I worry about being the effusive American, about embarrassing people. (But, I now realize, I worry less than I used to!)

And, thinking about the rest of that article, I do think I fall in love easily. Mostly I've led a life safe enough that I could stay pretty vulnerable most of the time. Spending an evening like that described here sounds like lots of fun to me!

When I first read it as a teenager, I was intrigued by Heinlein's "The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just." He's wrong about so, so much but I still think he might be right about this.

But, having no particular time or energy for things like falling into any more love just now, though, I still like the idea of handing out thoughtful compliments all the time.


Jan. 10th, 2015 12:33 pm
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"The Empathy Exams" is an essay I remember first hearing about almost a year ago. And I heard a lot about it, and everything I heard was good.

But somehow, those were the very traits that kept me from reading it myself. The weight of its quality seemed to press down on me. Sometimes I'm just contrary, and don't see a means by which I can like something if too many other people got there first. I think too much about empathy as it is, anyway; I tell people I suffer from a deplorable excess of empathy, and it's why I can't watch many movies any more. Anyway, "The Empathy Exams" sounds like something I could've written and why don't I get to have a book of essays (except for the trifling excuse that I don't write essays)?

But anyway. I finally read the essay and it really is as good as everybody says. I definitely want to read it again, after I've had a little time to digest it, and I might even want to read the book it's in.
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Paul Magrs's David Bowie song in the style of Alan Bennett caused much delight on a little corner of the internet today. Andrew tells me I'd like it a lot more if I liked Bowie and thus knew how well it captures the song.

I was happy to read it as a story whose ending surprised me, though; I never heat enough about old northern women and I already like this author talking about them. (Some new Brenda and Effie stories have been done as audiobooks, read by Anne Reid which delights me because I loved her in Last Tango in Halifax, where of course she plays an old northern lady.)

Anyway, seeing conversation going on about this on Facebook, and having nothing to add to this particularly because I'm a philistine when it comes to David Bowie, I could only echo the "please write more if this!" and (marveling at how odd it is to be able to so directly speak to someone I know primarily as a teller of stories that bring me joy; living in the future has its upsides!) I threw in a "can we have more Mrs. Hudson on the Utopia too?"

Mrs. Hudson on the Utopia is another little story in one of Paul Magrs's blog posts. This one features the aforementioned Mrs. Hudson -- Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper (more old women!) -- and...well, to tell you what other familiar character appears would give away too much, but suffice it to say the story was great fun and I was only sorry there wasn't more of it.
They were avid for details of what it must have been like, keeping house for “the Great Man himself”, as they styled him. Well, I could have told them a tale or two about the messy and dirty circumstances in which that Great Man liked to languish, given half a chance. I could have told them about gunshots and smashed windows in the early watches of the night. But I thought – why bother? I don’t need the friendship of this gaggle of nosey parkers. I am on this trip to find a new life. Not to dwell upon the vicissitudes of the old.
And, through the magic of facebook, I got a speedy reply to my cheeky demand: "Holly, that's the start of a novel. It's all done. Watch this space." Hooray!

So I'm telling you all now to read the little stories, and if you like those I think you'll like the Brenda and Effie stories, and maybe by then you'll be as excited as me about this new novel.


Jan. 6th, 2015 12:46 pm
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This is an absolutely lovely story.
A few moments later, by their time, they emerged.  They had just walked out of a moonlit night; now they emerged into a morning flooded with low sunlight. The tree was younger and smaller now, less grave and angry-looking, but just as skeletal.   It was still winter, but a winter 113 years earlier than the one through which they'd just walked.  Snow from 1962 fell from their boots into the snow of 1849.  When the warmer weather came, it would all melt into the same puddles and then sink into the same earth.  When the Doctor and her friends travel, water and dust and seeds and air will travel with them.  The future and the past mingle and melt into each other, and cross-fertilise.
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I couldn't think of ten books that influenced me, so I was relieved to be the only person left on the internet who hadn't been tagged by their friends to do this meme, but then I got asked on Facebook. I came up with a list but I wanted to talk about them each a little, and that's easier to do here than there.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This book made me want to be an imaginative child. I thought myself nothing like the talkative, tangential Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be.

Then once I remember being in the car, going somewhere with my family, and seeing an old bus out the window as we passed it. "It looks like a tree," I said, pointing it out, "because it's brown on the bottom half and green on the top."

"Only you would think of these things, Holly," my mom said, and I thought my heart would burst with delight and pride. Especially because I hadn't even been trying to be particularly whimsical just then.

Of course only in retrospect do I realize I had, and have, no trouble being the imaginative chatterbox that Anne was.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Basically this one just means "I grew up on a farm." I was fascinated by a world so different, and yet recognizably similar. I mention the first book in the series here not just because it's first but because it was most like my own life, in the Upper Midwest with family all around to visit, before her life became houses built by her dad.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
I didn't realize it at the time, but this book got me started on science fiction. And of course I loved the movie. But this book I read to pieces; I remember falling asleep over it when I was babysitting, sneaking a look at it in my seventh-grade Life Science class when the boys sitting behind me where debating Star Trek vs. Star Wars (a debate which then as now held no interest for me) just seemed to be everywhere with me for a while.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Taught by the legendary Mr. Nordlie, the English teacher everyone either loved or hated. He read this to us, a bit each day in class. He made us put all our pencils and books and everything under the desks, so we wouldn't be distracted while we listened, and I certainly wasn't. He showed us the movie after he'd read it, saying he does a better voice for Lenny than the movie, and he was right. We read another book by Steinbeck in sophomore English, The Pearl, and the two of those left me absolutely enamored with Steinbeck. I read everything of his I could get my hands on after that.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
This is when I thought I started reading science fiction, a few years after I had, so it's important for that. Also this and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (where we find out Lazarus Long's mom is from the same town as my mom!), with a little help from LiveJournal, introduced me to the concept of polyamory, which has proven to be rather essential to my life ever since.

Contact by Carl Sagan
This book revived my childish desire to be an astronomer. It also cemented my conviction (though I'd have never articulated it this way at the time) that the gulf between science and the humanities is an illusion: here is a proper scientist talking proper science but also writing in a beautiful style that really stayed with me (and introduced me to some lovely poems he used as epigrams, particularly "Brotherhood" by Octavio Paz). This also got me thinking a lot about what it was like to be a woman with "male" interests, even though it's written by a man of course.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The first Pratchett book I read, on a whim, lent to my best friend by her brother. I can't remember if she read it but I did and adored it. And the idea that the stories we tell have such power would resonate for me many years into the future in ways I couldn't have expected then.

Unfortunately he lent us another Pratchett I couldn't get into at all -- it was an early Rincewind one, and I didn't get enough of the jokes to even understand that they were supposed to be jokes -- so I thought Pratchett was a dud for a few years until I met Andrew, who got me to read Thief of Time, which I loved particularly because by that time I thought it was awfully Discordian, because I'd read...

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Andrew introduced me to this, of course. It was via a couple of Discordian mailing-list friends of his that we found each other on LJ, perhaps a fitting start for a relationship that's infused with so much chaos and inexplicability. I liked the idea that things might matter as much as it feels like they do sometimes, that humor was a valid way to investigate and evaluate the universe (it's only been a few weeks since I told someone "it's not true unless it makes you laugh, and you don't believe it until it makes you cry", which is not as true as it is clever but it is still something I keep finding useful).

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
I don't even remember how I ended up with the audiobook of this. I remember the book itself had been recommended to me long before by Andrew's uncle. It sounded crazy: who'd want to read a whole book about such a thing? How could there be enough to say? But it's utterly fascinating, especially because the audiobook is read by someone with a good voice for it, who I like listening to. This one book kicked off a trend of me reading non-fiction almost exclusively and of my increasing love for and dependence on audiobooks. It's one I still have on my computer, and which I'll play a bit of, especially if I'm migrainey or stressed or otherwise in need of soothing.

The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross
This too was an early audiobook I acquired (probably from eMusic? Ah, those were the days...) and which is a great marriage of book and reader. It taught me an absolute ton about twentieth-century music, and is another one that I keep going back to because I find it so comforting. I've been playing early chapters to help me sleep lately.
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It's lovely seeing a lot of my friends do this "ten influential books" meme, because I start to notice a lot of overlaps. Everyone seems to have a Terry Pratchett book. A lot have 1984, or Catch-22, or Narnia, or Robert Heinlein...and I'm delightedly surprised to see how often Steinbeck crops up.

I haven't been able to think of a good list for myself, but it'd certainly feature several of those things. No surprise, I suppose. But it's interesting to see the patterns.


Aug. 28th, 2014 12:23 am
hollymath: (Default)
While I was searching for the internet (or rather, the thing that made the internet into wi-fi so I could spend time with my mom while actually typing frantically to sympathetic friends on my phone) I finally found where Mom had packed away all the books that used to be on my huge, sturdy bookcase.

That my mom saw fit to replace all my books with knick-knacks and stuffed animals says a lot about our relative priorities.

I sorted through the four boxes of books, finding about one box worth of stuff I'm at all interested in.

Some that made me absolutely beam to see them again: the Garrison Keillor-edited Good Poems, which I've missed a lot, Anne of Green Gables -- I got the whole set in a box when I was very small; heaven knows what happened to the rest, but it's nice to have the original and I suppose by now I can get the others as e-books if I want to read them again -- the huge Norton anthology of poetry that was so important to me in college, even my Norton Shakespeare, which I was so immersed in the semester I took a class on him when we had to read a play a week.

Having been left so long, there were a lot that mystified me. How did I end up with the German fairy tale? (It's a kid's book, in German.) I remember it, someone actually got it for me in Europe if not Germany (maybe Sarah, when she was studying in France? maybe Seth got it somewhere?). At the time I knew just about enough German to read it, but I no longer do, adding to its mystery.

Mostly I don't think about the life that I abandoned so sharply when I got married. I was very unhappy by the time I ended the era where I had and read all these books. I don't really keep in touch with the people I knew then, or even with a lot of the things I cared about then. A lot of it I don't miss, but I did leave behind some good things along with all the bad. And even ten years later, it's weird and hard, but also exciting and good, to go back and try to sift what I still want, what's still me, what's still worth having around. Andrew's comment to my last entry asserts that I am still in many recognizable ways the person I was ten years ago, which is of course inevitable I suppose but also unsettling to me.

These books are from the first time in my life I really failed at anything, the first time I was depressed though it'd be several more years before diagnosis or treatment. They're from the last time I had a brother.

I kept a lot more poetry from college than I remembered: Yeats, Adrienne Rich, Beowulf (don't need that now; I've got the Seamus Heaney translation I prefer), Anna Akhmatova... and something called Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, which I distinctly remember loving thanks to the high school English teacher who changed my life...but I can't remember the poems I loved or even how I ended up with the book, which made for a really spooky petites-madeleines moment. I am both excited to open it and rediscover it, and also savoring the fleeting experience of remembering loving something without remembering why. It must be almost fifteen years since I saw or thought about the book, almost half my life, and isn't it strange that things so important can vanish so completely?
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I enjoyed the hell out of Paul Magrs' Never the Bride.

From reading his blog (Andrew kept sharing entries from his blog that I liked, and it turns out he's one of three Big Finish writers whose stuff I consistently like despite never paying any attention to who writes what, and he lives round the corner and his partner apparently helped organize the most recent in what will surely be an infinite number of campaigns to save Levenshulme's swimming baths and library, all of which on aggregate I figured was enough to start reading his blog) I know he has a lot more interest in fluffy chick-lit kinda stuff than I do. So I read descriptions of the seaside and afternoon tea and interior design a bit as if they were in a foreign language, but found myself really enjoying them. When nothing in my life feels beautiful or simple, it's nice to read stories that are.

Of course they aren't really simple, for Brenda the eccentric B&B owner has to keep her past and her real identity hidden from her guests and her new friends. She can't tell them anything about her life before she settled in Whitby.

And then, strange things start happening in the town... Scary and awful and grim goings-on, and Brenda soon learns she's not the only person with a strange past she's trying to hide.

Magrs seems to have such a talent for describing horror's stereotypical monsters in very human terms, without it ending up like a "Gothic lit meets chick lit" gimmick such a thing could so easily have been reduced to. His clear affection for all the kinds of fiction -- sci-fi, horror, and what Andrew calls "feelings in the kitchen" -- that he's mixing together here seem to help him meld plot-driven genre fiction and character-driven "mainstream" fiction in a really satisfying way.

The only complaint I have with the book is that it ended so abruptly -- I wondered at first if there was something wrong with my ebook copy and the end of it was missing (which, like "there's a glare on the page" and "I can't read because the battery's dead," is not a problem I used to have with books!). But I figured this meant there had to be sequels, and sure enough, I think there are six stories in the series now. I'm looking forward to reading the next one!
hollymath: (Default)
This is for Andrew, who often gets very upset, stressed and frustrated at bad reviews of his books on Amazon (not least because they're often factually incorrect or say nothing but that the viewer has totally missed the point of the book).

The masses are asses, as my American politics teacher used to say. It's always a bad idea to put your self-esteem in the hands of these people.

I can't decide what I like the best.

There's the irate grandmother who thinks that the Narnia books are "nothing more than advertisements for “Turkish Delight,” a candy popular in the U.K. The whole point of buying books for my grandkids was to give them a break from advertising, and here (throughout) are ads for this “Turkish Delight”! How much money is this Mr. Lewis getting from the Cadbury’s chocolate company anyway? This man must be laughing to the bank."

There's a couple I actually agree with (“The book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs” about Lord of the Rings, and one that really isn't very nice at all about Virginia Woolf, who I feel bad for disliking so because I think it's just due to a terrible English professor I had, but I haven't been able to bring myself to try reading again since.)

There's two Andrew agrees with, “So many other good books…don’t waste your time on this one. J.D. Salinger went into hiding because he was embarrassed” and he actually applauded after I read the one for On the Road.

“It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops” is a very good point, actually.

The person who wrote sentences like "The distinction is entirely illusory" but still thinks no book is any better than another and Harry Potter's better than 1984 baffles me.

I think Steinbeck wouldn't necessarily have minded a review like “While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

“I’m a Steely Dan fan so naturally I wanted to read the book they thought compelling enough to name their band after an element of” made us both laugh until I thought I might be sick.

And though I haven't read The Sound and the Fury, I have read a lot of books for which “This book is like an ungrateful girlfriend. You do your best to understand her and get nothing back in return” would seem an apt description.


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