June, 2007

29 Jun 2007, by


Rest in Peace, Simone my daughter, gone too soon.

And Kurt Vonnegut Jr., gone too recently.

And my grandfather, gone a long time now, but much on my mind of late, with his large hands and direct gaze.

The dead remain dead, and the rest of us keep breathing. Borges thought it was a great relief to have the certainty of one’s own end. He believed in nothing beyond this life, and treasured the inevitable cessation of existence. Safety. Rest. The Null. He has reached it now. It’s not a very Christian idea, but it appeals to me, and I don’t think belief in the hereafter is one of the make or break Christian doctrines. This is probably why I never told the living kid the dead one might be in heaven, resisting the pressure of those who would tack on a happy ending, try to soothe today’s hurt with a promise of a future none of us could know or even, perhaps, understand. Loss is loss, not hidden gain. I cannot stand to make it other than what it is: irrevocable, binding, final.

And yet, I’m still breathing. You’re still breathing. The essence of the numinous is breath.

The living kid has been up to some interesting endeavors lately, more of which can be read about here. She made her own flute, with her own hands, and the guidance of her father (another man of large hands and direct gaze). The sound of her flute, breath pushed through it, is like hearing the wind in the canopies, or in tall grasses of the prairie. The sound is small but strong, and she’s learning to add trills to the wispy notes, invoking birds and flight along with the free wind.

Let’s share a breath together again next year, if we can, and share the memory of our loved ones who breathe no longer.

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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. (22) [non-fiction, memoir]. I checked this out of the library, after having heard Levine interviewed on NPR (twice?). I was fascinated by the whole concept, and I loved the book which was engaging, well-written and funny. Still, I wished it had been less about the emotional trauma of alienation from consumer culture (I’m much less conflicted about not buying things from an identity viewpoint than most people, I guess) and more about the nuts and bolts of accomplishing it. In particular, she was fuzzy on the rules they followed. Only “necessities”, but those were vague and seemed to shift. The election derail, in particular, was irritating (giving money to Move On was a necessity? WTF?). Some fascinating stuff, though. Glad I read it. This would probably be impossible to do with kids, unless you could sew, and were willing to make clothes for them out of your own clothes. Oh, and were a cobbler. But then your kids would be barefoot, right? Don’t the cobbler’s kids…? Never mind. Finished 06/21/07.

Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin. (23) [mainstream fiction]. Borrowed from Chris Goodwin. Did you know this was mainstream fiction? Man, I was totally fooled by the Earthsea-like cover, though it tells you right there on the back that it’s not spec fic. This book was hard to get sucked into, but it had some amazing moments and was well worth reading. She writes so beautifully. I want to be Ursula K. Le Guin when I grow up. The tone, that sort of Dostoevsky hopelesness and hardship and beauty Eastern European tone, was perfect. I was blown away by that, by how she could duplicate that tone, even without being a native. It didn’t ever feel like appropriation when she did it. Finished 06/22/07.

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Yeah, there’s nothing like a puking kid to run one back to continuous dryer use, is there?

I seem to have made a number of mishaps and mistakes this week, culminating in chopping the DirectTV cable in half with the shears this morning. I’ve decided I’m not safe, and I will restrict myself to playing with my own toys, because if I break those no one will notice. Right this moment, I’m fiddling with the website as my chosen toy to break. I upgraded nucleus without making a backup. See? I live on the edge. Do not be surprised or alarmed if the whole tower of blocks comes tumbling down. (I have already fixed the comment bug, though…commenting no longer gives you an error!) Sorry about the general site ugliness. It was not my plan to roll out the new look until I had some help from professionals. Web design is not my strong suit. I recommend you subscribe to the rss feed and read it that way, and thus be freed from my ugly attempts at aesthetics!

Yeah, that’s not much of a post, so let me add an audience participation bit (and remember, unless I break yet another thing, commenting no longer gives you an error). I’m almost a week away from the next reading vacation (scheduled for summer instead of Thanksgiving or Christmas this year due to complicated personal circumstances which do not concern you, reader), and I haven’t even begun to think about which books to take. So here’s a partial list of what’s on my TBR shelf. Tell me what to take along and read!

  • Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones. Four stories set in the Chrestomanci world which I have never read before.
  • The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones. I got this for my birthday last year. It’s chunky, bound to be Arthurian, and has a dragon and a wizard on the cover.
  • Babel 17 by Samuel R. Delany. A secondhand bookstore find, when what I really wanted to pick up was Dhalgren. Oh well, I gotta start on my Delany somewhere, right? It says it won a nebula on the cover, so how bad can it be?
  • Latro in the Mist by Gene Wolfe. My husband read this and said it was good. He kept telling me things about it while he was reading it, so maybe now it’s my turn. It’s an omnibus of the seperately published novels Soldier in the Mist and Soldier of Arete.
  • UBIK by Philip K. Dick. I’ve read my share of PKD, but this is one I haven’t read yet.
  • Little, Big by John Crowley. Snurched this secondhand, after it was strongly recommended to me in the comments to this entry.
  • La Resistencia by Ernesto Sabato. My family brought me this from Argentina a while back when I vaguely said “bring me some good novels in Spanish”. I haven’t read any Sabato in a couple of decades, and never read this particular work. It’s probably about time.
  • The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco. I’ve had this book on the shelf for at least five years now. I always think it will be the next thing I read, and always pass it over for something else.
  • Basic 35 mm Photo Guide by Craig Alesse. Look! Non-fiction how-to. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
  • Author Unknown by Don Foster. This guy traces people by their writings. He worked on the unabomber case. I’ve been eager to read this book, and had it given to me off my wishlist a while back. Second (and last) entry in the non-fiction category.

Also in contention are books I want to re-read (when I want to re-read something I put it back on the TBR shelf):

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

I expect I’ll honor tradition and pick up a Bujold book at the bookstore next week to take with me, so if you have a particular favorite you think I ought to take, suggest it.

Remember, any and all algorithms for book-picking are allowed. Do not limit yourself merely to what you have loved, what you know I will like, what you have heard of. Pick as the spirit moves you. And remember, some books will be left behind. Only about half of these will tread as far as the suitcase. The book you do not vouch for may be the sad book that stays home on the shelf, waiting (perhaps years!) to be read.

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Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones. (8) [YA]. I own this. I liked it a lot, no surprise there. Read it on the way to Argentina (yes, I’m that far behind on reporting). Argentina was the voyage of series, as everything I took to read seemed to be a first part of a trilogy or tetralogy. I’ll definitely be reading the next one of these, soon as I get through the impulse book checking out I did at the library. Finished 03/22/07.

Getting Things Done by David Allen. (9) [non-fiction, self-improvement]. I am getting things done! If I can ever go through my backlog, I’ll be an amazing, productive, organized me! Also, paper may cease to be the bane of my existence. This book is really useful. I borrowed it from Stan, then bought my own copy when I got back from Argentina. So I didn’t own it when I read it, but I do now. I didn’t get through the other Allen book that Stan had me take down for him, so I don’t know whether it’s worth my time. Finished 03/24/07.

Frommer’s Buenos Aires by Michael Luongo. (10) [non-fiction, guidebook]. I bought this for the trip (and when we returned found the guidebook I’d bought last time around but couldn’t find before we left). This was a good guide, and had some things I didn’t know about, and the recommendations helped me choose to take Sophia to the children’s museum in the Abasto, which was amazing. Sophia loved it. I was a bit perplexed by its warning against going anywhere that subways didn’t go, because it’s not like the bus system is all that complicated, but I guess it can scare people.

Freedom’s Gate by Naomi Kritzer. (11) [specfic]. I own this. This was a real eye-opener for me, because it’s the first time I’ve ever read a book and could see the plot structure so plainly. It’s like all that thinking about plot has finally had an effect! I was like oh, here’s raise the stakes, look there’s reversal…and it all followed totally straightforwardly. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book any, because I really liked the world, but never has a plot seemed so obvious to me before, on a structural level…the reason why things happened as they did and what they were setting up. Finished on either 03/27/07 or 03/28/07.

You Got Nothing Coming by Jimmy Lerner. (12) [memoir]. This was the infiltrator book, the one that was loaned to me (by my brother) and that I hadn’t planned on reading. It’s a man’s recollection of his time in prison. It was really, really immersive and interesting. I finished it on 03/30/07.

Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear. (13) [specfic] I own this. I liked this a lot, though I have (as always) my quibbles. I’m less certain of Bear’s willingness to kill people off at the end of this, and I put great stock by what I believed to be her willingness to have characters pay a cost. I also felt like people were told to stand in their places until they were called on to make plot, resulting in some character actions that felt contradictory or at least needed a why now? explanation that was never given (or I didn’t pick up on it, perhaps). I got real tired of hearing about people’s heels clicking and their boots tapping and them turning on their heels and/or toes. The boot thing was definitely the author tic for this book (though hopefully not for the whole series). Still, for Arthuriana, it’s better than a lot of the places tread by such revisits. Finished on 04/03/07.

Girls will be girls by JoaAnn Deak. (14) [non-fiction, child-rearing]. I own this. I’m very glad I read this book, and in some ways, I wish I’d read it sooner. Valuable advice, especially in the area of the niceness pressure. Finished before 04/10/07.

La Primera Entrada by Alejandro Bedrossian. (15) [specfic, spanish]. I own this, it was a gift from the author. It’s sort of a Faust retelling. It was a good read, though slow in places, the way stories in Spanish are usually slow, by being somewhat indirect and circuituous. I was fascinated by the difference between the show/tell balance in this versus that in most English novels I read. Tell is much more acceptable in Spanish novels, for some reason. Finished sometime 04/07.

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. (16) [specfic]. I checked this out of the library. I really liked it a lot. Fascinating. Believe the hype, as they say. I know a book is good when I instantly start talking about it to people and trying to get them to read it. I’ve gotten at least one person to read this. I liked this much better than the short stories I’ve read/heard by her (2 on Escape Pod and one, “Shiva’s Shadow”, in a Year’s Best), though I didn’t hate those, they just didn’t fire me up and make me marvel quite the same way this novel did. This novel rocks. Finished sometime in 05/07.

Guilty Pleasures: Indulgences, Addictions, Obsessions by Susan K. Caba, Jane Holwerda, Cathy Luh, and Holly Silva. (17) [non-fiction, essays]. I was given this, but I’m going to offload it as soon as I can, as I know I don’t want to read it more than once. It’s a St. Louis writer’s group set of essays. Some of the essays were really good, but they varied wildly in quality and some were really lame. None of them told me anything I didn’t already know. Finished sometime 05/07.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. (18) [specfic, anthology]. I got this book out of the library. I liked most of the stories, though I spared myself a re-read of “The Problem of Susan” since we already know I don’t like that one. I enjoyed most of the re-reads (the Sunbird one, and “October in the Chair” particularly). My favorite one was probably the Cthulhu Lovecraft one, which I own, since I have (but have not yet read) Shadows Over Baker Street. Finished on 06/06/08.

Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones. (19) [specfic, YA]. I got this book out of the library, though it’s clear I’m going to have to own it. Jones is a geeeeeeenius. I don’t know why she’s not more widely read. So we revisit the wonderful world(s) of the Chrestomanci books, this time seeing Christopher Chant as an adolescent. You know it’s a Diana Wynne Jones book if there’s an evil uncle, don’t you? This one has two. An ongoing theme in her books, a theme which interests me, is children full of magical power who are ignorant of what they can do, because they have no training and no practice. This usually results in their powers being used against them. Finished 06/08/07.

Blindsight by Peter Watts. (20) [specfic]. I got this book out of the library. Vampires in space + first contact! It was really, really good, and I’m currently campaigning to make my husband read this (and I also tried to convince A whole can of plot to look at it). Interesting dealing of the free-will question which continues to make me ponder. I was surprised by how much I liked it and how much it has made me think. Finished 06/13/07

From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. (21) [YA]. I checked this book out of the library. Elaine recommended it to me sometime back. It was wonderful, I loved it. It’s the story of a girl who runs away from home, takes her most frugal (and most wealthy) brother with her, and lives for a week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Finished 06/15/07.

I seem to have somehow slipped into reading multiple books at once, which I don’t usually do. Then again, I just deleted seven books and two short stories from my written desiderata, so that’s progress (though there’s over a hundred books on there still, not to mention my physical to read bookshelf which has another hundred).

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Five random things, as they say:

  1. The cats love to sleep in my daughter’s room, but only when she’s gone. They’re both in there right now, one on the chair and one on the bed.
  2. I found a tomato plant growing out of a slit in the side of my composter bin. I have no idea how that happened. I tried gently wresting it free and planting it in the herb garden yesterday, but it’s looking droopy and sad, so I don’t think it’s going to make it.
  3. My iBook died (so did my iPod, but that’s another random thing). It’s almost time for me to buy a new computer (scheduled for the end of the summer), but apparently Apple stopped making the iBooks, and now they make something called MacBook which I distrust. I’m wondering if I should try to buy a refurb iBook, if I should wait for Leopard to come out, if I really ought to get a MacBook pro instead.
  4. I did an experiment where I didn’t use the dryer at all for weekly laundry about three weeks ago. I discovered that the only thing I hate having line dried is towels (they get all stiff). I’m not going to completely stop using my dryer of course, but I’m pretty pleased about using it less.
  5. Today I will make the first pesto of the season and mix it with fresh pasta, new potatoes and green beans for dinner. This is a staple warm weather meal at our house (like yoghurt soup or brats + corn on the grill). I love pesto.

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I know that a lot people will consider the peach or the watermelon to be the fruits that epitomize summer, and I’ve got nothing against a crisp, sweet slice of watermelon or a golden, juicy peach, but to me the fruit that says lazy days and nothing but time and outdoors and sunshine and shade is cherries. I love cherries.

Today at the fruit stand I hovered around the cherries, and said,”Those look good.” The market owner, whom I didn’t realize was right at my shoulder said, “Yeah, they do, don’t they?” No one else in my family eats them, so it’s a luxury, a decadence, for me to spend our grocery money on them. I bought some.

I’ve just eaten a handful, while sitting out on the back deck. It must be summer.

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11 Jun 2007, by

Paris Hilton.

My husband asks,”So have you heard about Paris Hilton?”

“No, I listen to NPR, they don’t cover dumb celebrity stuff.”

My husband opens his mouth. In it is the story of Paris Hilton, waiting to come out.

“Nor do I want to,” I interrupt,”I find my life sufficiently full and wondrous without any news whatsoever on Paris Hilton.”

My husband thankfully leaves me ignorant. However, today, catching up on Making Light, I become slightly more informed (some outrage circus about prison time, I think). Oh well. You think you’re safe, but that dumb celebrity info is just waiting to attach itself to your brain, leechlike, when you least expect it. I spent about twenty seconds trying to generate interest, failed, and moved on to this post. Because, you know, it’s been too long.

I like the world in which I don’t have to keep up with famous people, especially the ones who are just famous for having money. I also like the world in which they aren’t keeping up with me, either.

Some people might call my attitude willful ignorance. I call it filtering.

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