You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2016.

I really like lists. They’re just so SATISFYING. I had a little time on my hands each evening for the past few weeks, so I’ve been gradually going through our books and cataloging them in a Google Sheet. (Yes, I know there are apps for that, but for reasons of my own, this worked better.) It’s incredibly therapeutic. We have over 1300 books, not counting comic books (which I’ve been afraid to touch–that shelf is…daunting). Listing them has been really useful for discovering books we have waaay too many duplicates of (*cough* The Wizard of Oz *cough*) or books we really should get rid of. A pilgrimage to Ed McKay’s will shortly be in order, methinks.

I leave Tuesday for Virginia Beach to run another conference, which should be far more fun than usual since the Hubs is on fall break from teaching and gets to come with me! While I’m gone, check out these cool links:

I stayed up till the wee hours last night (this morning), finishing Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck. I expected to love it because Buck’s skill is matchless, and this book was no exception. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of Tzu Hsi, the last empress of China, a formidably intelligent and manipulative woman. She ruled for 47 years until 1908. Having just read Under Heaven, which takes place in the 8th century, I was struck by how similar Imperial life was in the 1800s. And that was Tzu Hsi’s main struggle: change was coming to a country that had seen little change in over a thousand years. Buck does an excellent job of humanizing a figure who could otherwise be seen as a power-mongering villain; the reader ends up rooting for Tzu Hsi throughout her lengthy and impressive life. This portion of Buck’s introduction sets an apt tone for the book:

Her people loved her–not all her people, for the revolutionary, the impatient, hated her heartily and she hated them. But the peasants and small-town people revered her. Decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. “Who will care for us now?” they cried?

This, perhaps, is the final judgment of a ruler.

You know what I love? A lanky schoolteacher with gorgeous eyes. But aside from my husband, here are some other things I’m in love with lately.

Stranger Things. Guys. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I am now FIRMLY ON THE BANDWAGON. I marathoned this little show (the first season is only eight episodes) in two days and am yearning for more. I haven’t watched a show this good (acting, music, story, characters, the whole shebang) in a frighteningly long time. Creepy, but not too scary, and hits all the right 80s nostalgia buttons. Season two will air in 2017, so catch up on the first season now.

Overdrive. Download the free app on your phone, enter your library card info, and you instantly get access to your library system’s ebooks and audio books on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can download the books directly to your device or stream them, and after two weeks, the books return themselves. I’m currently listening to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett during my commute. So cool!

Hasfit. The Hubs and I do three of the 20-minute workouts a week, mixing it up, and they’re pretty tough. We blithely kicked off with an intermediate workout when we first started and realized pretty quickly we’d bitten off more than we could comfortably chew. We’ve worked up to them now, and while I’m sure our downstairs neighbors don’t love us jumping around like lunatics, it’s a great way to stay in shape when it’s just too darned hot to run outside.

These links:

Goodreads. You know how the villain in cartoons lounges on a pile of cash? That’s me and books lately. I’ve been luxuriating in reading more like I’ve done in years past (as opposed to the aberration of the least couple insane years). As a result, I’ve been spending way more time on Goodreads too. They’ve changed a few things around recently and I’ve followed some new folks, and overall it’s just been tremendously enjoyable.

Granted, not everything I’ve read has been great. In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells was singularly disappointing. One can just barely call it science fiction (you could blink and basically miss the comet itself, contradictory to the implications of the title), although I didn’t have a Goodreads shelf for “preachy socialist claptrap” so I had to stick this book somewhere. The titular comet is merely a vehicle for Wells to rant endlessly about the evils of capitalist modern society and how abolishing the ownership of private property will solve everything. EVERYTHING. The comet’s gas trail somehow changes nitrogen to some other gas (?) that makes people nobler, wiser, happier (??) and initiates worldwide reform literally overnight (???). The comet gas makes people other than human, in other words. Very little of human nature remains, although we’re expected to believe that the comet gas just “cleared away” the trammels of old ways of thinking to enable people to be as they always were underneath. One wonders if Wells has ever actually met another human being; the naivete levels in this book astound. The book plays out the idea of the abolishment of individual ownership to a degree I wouldn’t have expected but which is obvious in retrospect: if nothing is yours, that would extend to romantic relationships as well, so your spouse isn’t really yours, and anything goes. But it’s okay because now everyone lives in communal utopias unfettered by such droll, inconsequential matters of respectability. The frame narrative around the story is nonsensical as well, but that was the least of my complaints after struggling through the whole book. The only reason I didn’t completely demote it to one star is because Wells’ language is beautiful in parts (when he’s not sermonizing), and his intelligence isn’t completely dampened by all of the dull preaching.

In contrast, I enjoyed The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes far more than I expected, and found myself devouring it late at night at a frightful pace. I’ve not had great success with books by two authors in the past (they always seem to be plagued by inconsistent characters and general sloppiness), so I assumed three authors would be even worse. Pleasantly, in this case, not so! The story’s premise is basically Beowulf in space, which sounded deliciously pulpy to me. It ended up being a more sophisticated and nuanced book than I anticipated. The characters are all ridiculously flawed people and quite unlikeable, but by the end I found myself surprisingly attached in spite of it. Still not brilliant literature, and the characters’ obsession with sex (while understandable in the context of a colony trying to perpetuate itself in the face of low numbers) felt downright juvenile, but I’d give it up to a 3.5-star rating. There’s a sequel or two that I may check out one day.

At last, I read The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. I read Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy eons ago and had been meaning to read her other incredibly well-known book since I was 12 years old or so. Only took 17ish years! I wish I’d read it when I *was* 12–I would’ve loved it. It’s a blink-and-it’s-over read; I got through it in an hour or two. The book is an un-sugarcoated look at medieval village life for a young girl without any prospects, but it’s not consumed by bleakness at any point. Excellent YA historical fiction!

Wow, folks. Homemade beef jerky is the best. We’ve been using our dehydrator like crazy, and I pretty much only stopped munching because my teeth were starting to hurt from gnawing on dried meat. Guess I wouldn’t have made a great cavewoman.

I spent a lovely Labor Day with a great friend, and we grabbed lunch at Neomonde to take to the JC Ralston Arboretum. Catching up was excellent and much-needed, and we got to see one of the new pieces of artwork, this brilliant mirror tree:

We were joined by my friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old, who, having grown up on a farm, is possibly more self-sufficient than I am, and eminently more fashionable. My friend says he already knows what death is (impossible to hide on a farm, really), and I look gleefully forward to him traumatizing his playmates with honest answers about the world and where food comes from. The beef for that jerky didn’t just materialize at the grocery store…

Links:

Today I’m off to another friend’s housewarming party in a bit, but first let me tell you about two amazing books I finished recently!

Books:
My husband had picked up Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson years ago on a whim but hadn’t read it. I’m enjoying going through our combined shelves now, reading new-to-me books that I’ve inherited by marriage. I’m used to knowing my shelves very thoroughly, so it’s exciting to stumble upon intriguing tales I didn’t know were in the house.

What a gem I stumbled upon here! This book is lovely, both visually and in terms of the storytelling. The artwork is done by the incomparable Alan Lee of Lord of the Rings fame, and they’re beautiful.

The stories are even more so. This book is labeled YA for some reason (perhaps because it’s illustrated), but the depth of the stories is impressive, and I think adults might appreciate their subtlety even more. Not a dud amongst the collection, all of which are loosely bound together by the theme of Merlin’s dreams. Arthurian fans will be in heaven, but you could read and fall in love with this book even if you’d never heard of King Arthur.

I love the author Robin McKinley, and Peter Dickinson was her husband. He passed away last year, and I can’t help but think how sad it would be to love and lose the creator of such beautifully spun tales.

I finished Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay last week too. “Exquisite” is frequently the word that comes to mind when attempting to describe Kay’s works. Unsurprisingly, I loved this book, as I’ve loved everything by Kay that I’ve read (I still haven’t read two or three of his works). His research is meticulous, his command of language positively poetic, and his characters utterly fascinating. The setting is utterly different from other Kay books: the equivalent of 8th century China during the Tang dynasty.

Linhtalintinh’s review of the book already does an exceptional job of tracing the connections between events/individuals and their historical counterparts, so I won’t attempt that here–but do read her insightful comments.

I will say, though: Under Heaven is more flawed than most of Kay’s works, which surprised me. Character development is Kay’s strong suit–so strong, in fact, that if anyone else had written this story, I still would’ve been fairly impressed–but he set his own bar too high with previous works. The characters here do not breathe realism in quite the same way, nor are their choices ultimately consistent with the personalities we’ve come to expect from them. Pacing was downright sluggish at times, which I also don’t associate with Kay. And there was a certain authorial self-awareness bordering on pretentiousness in the language that rubbed me the wrong way.

It’s still gorgeous. Go read the book.

I was ludicrously behind on reviews for books for the last year or so, and I finally, finally got all caught up! I’ll spare you the massive string of copy-pastes here, but you can check all of my reviews out (if you’re so inclined) here on Goodreads. Just scroll down on that page for reviews. I’m currently reading Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay and losing my mind over how good it is, per usual with Kay’s books.

Life has been quietly enjoyable lately, but I’ve realized that doesn’t make for very enjoyable stories. Reading more, working out more, eating better, and enjoying more quiet time is better for living but boring for blogging!

So here are some fun things from the internet instead.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling