Archives: Am Reading

Update.

I had a breakdown when I was cleaning the stove about a week ago. I’d used bartender’s helper and they didn’t seem to be coming clean and I was working so hard at them and there was NOTHING TO SHOW for it.

It was apt: I spend a lot of time cleaning little fiddly bits (the lamp shades above the stove for example) that DON’T SHOW. Yes, I notice the clean shiny glass of them, but no one else would. The thing is, those little fiddly bits add up to making the house feel clean, and I know this. But in the moment, it was a full on temper tantrum.

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(on the left the glass is clean, on the right it’s HORRIBLE)

And then mid last week I just. Well, I had a hard week, and Thursday came and I decided it was time for a break. Four days without exercising, to do lists, no net nights. Four days where my only chores were walking the dog, giving him pills, and working. And on Sunday I felt so much better. Then yesterday I got up at 5 am and took a swim in the cool water and muggy air of Flax pond. I was all by myself (well, besides Baxter) and we swam peaceful laps and I stared at the sky a lot, at the birds crossing it, at the messages they seemed to be sending. And I came home and cleaned a bit and used technology almost not at all and to ensure a good night’s sleep took some unisom and slept for 10 hours.

I feel better. In some ways to-do lists keep me functioning, but I hadn’t taken a real break from them (a day here and there, wherein I felt guilty). And I even had to basically ask someone to tell me that it was ok to take a break.

In the meantime, I finished two hard books — Catch 22 which was as amazingly funny as I remembered and also much more heartbreaking. Turns out that when you read it as an adult with some pain behind you, it reads far harder than it does as a high school student with only a little pain. That last Rome chapter stole my breath with the brutality of it. Then I followed that up with Darkness at Noon, which is a book about Russia under Stalin (specifically one former party leader who has been imprisoned as a subversive); it’s oppressive and bleak and amazing. Towards the end, there’s this indictment of Communism (and possibly other political systems):

So the question now ran: Was such an operation justified? Obviously it was, if one spoke in the abstract of “Mankind”; but, applied to “man’ in the singular, to the cipher 2–4, the real human being of bone and flesh and blood and skin, the principle led to absurdity.

Easy to be cruel to be kind when those you are cruel to aren’t humanized in your mind (see the way we treat the poor and minorities here in the US) but tougher when you look at them as breathing people, people you face. That some people can still be so inhuman is horrifying: to look at the suffering you cause and think “that’s ok. it’ll be better in the long run.” No.

Anyway. Next up is The Just City by Jo Walton which I’m already halfway through. It’s a lighter read, but uncomfortable with issues of consent and history and freedom. She’s an amazing writer.

 

Reading, an update.

“I’ll read 50 more pages of this book,” I thought as I got into bed last night. “Just 50, and then I’ll have half the book left to read.”

Friends, I was up until I read the very last page. I consider this a two fold triumph: 1) my concentration has improved greatly. 2) I found a fantastic book.

Sadly, there’s also 3) I think I read it before.

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Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames was the book; it’s an odd mix of Wodehousian sensibility with a hero that’s a mix of Bertie Wooster and Woody Allen in every Woody Allen movie (FYI I hate Woody Allen movies, but somehow it worked) (also fyi I stole that combination from Goodreads reviews, but it seems a near universal description). It didn’t read like someone trying to write like the great P.G., more like someone who has absorbed so much Wooster that they start thinking like him. And to clarify, I don’t mean that the book is written like that, more that Alan ACTS like that. It’s pretty great.

I’ve read a lot of good books this spring & summer. I’ve started the Dark Tower series by Stephen King (on the recommendation of a coworker who has been lending me them. ‘If you can get through the first one, the rest are amazing!’ she promised, and she’s so right). I also read the first Wheel of Time book with the second in my to read pile. I liked it, but didn’t love it — it felt dry in a way I didn’t expect. There was some charm missing, somehow: it was dark and panicky and relentless. I was wishing for a few more visits to, say, a place like Rivendell. Even Bilbo had some peace now and then on his journey to Smaug.

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Where I am on my reading list: book 59 (there are some technical rereads tho)

Then there was A Wizard of Earthsea, which I remember trying to read as a kid and not liking. It’s YA, i guess, but even Le Guin says she thinks the distinction is a bit odd. It had the moments of peace I was missing in the Jordan.

There’s a lot of fantasy in the list and that’s on purpose: I need the escapism that fantasy gives. In my exhaustion and sorrow, I need to live in other worlds for a while.

In the current pile of to reads is a Dave Barry book because everyone needs some levity, the next Wheel of Time, an Agatha Christie and a Dorothy L. Sayers because a good british murder mystery is a fantastic palette cleanser, a Mercedes Lackey, Catch-22 which is a reread but is on my classics list, a Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy because I want to support Sam Maggs, the final book in the Magician’s Trilogy, Alexandra Petri’s book because I love her, Darkness at Noon which is also on my classics list, and the Just City by Jo Walton because I’m not brave enough to face the sorrow of My Real Children but I love her writing all the same. Basically, I have a lot of worlds to read — and I am so glad I’ve gotten myself to the point where I can focus in on them.
And the very best news of all is that Scarlett Thomas’ new book comes out on July 1st. God, I love her. She may be my favorite contemporary author (it would be a tight race between her and Terry Pratchett). In the past her books fell into my life at exactly at the right spot, like a puzzle piece. If I’m lucky, this one will too.

There’s so much world to see.

Reading & Playing

I want to write regularly again, but I have to ease myself into it, gently like.

When I finally had enough of an attention span to read again, the first book I picked up after my dad died was Ready Player One. I figured it would be a good palette cleanser — nothing too serious (in comparison to, say, The Sound and the Fury which is also on my desk) and probably comforting.

I mean, I’m years behind the curve on this one, but it speaks to my soul. And within ten minutes it made me want to put the book down and pick up a game — any game, but preferably something like an old final fantasy. There is SO much love for gaming in this book — everything from arcade cabinets to MMOs. And it reminded me of how much I love them, too.

When my sister left to go home and I was alone in the house, games were what distracted me. But because I was still hurting, I didn’t want to play multiplayer. I just wanted to get lost in worlds that weren’t this one. So I played silly games: Animal Crossing. The Sims. Harry Potter Lego. Now that I’m steadier (and I am steadier; yesterday was a speed bump, a punch in the gut, and today I woke up with a snarl on my lips and moved into being SO mad which feels better) I am playing a little again. Some Dragon Age last night (I picked up my level 6 mage because I wanted to make some different choices; that feels like cheating but man, you don’t get do overs in real life so I’ll take them wherever I can in virtual life). I have chore lists a mile high, but in between I’ll finish Shadows of Mordor, a replay of Windwaker, Dragon Age. I’ll play Mass Effect for the first time. I’ll replay the original Dragon Ages. I’ll play Limbo and Final Age and Tales From the Borderlands on my iPad. I’ll play EVERYTHING, in short.

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And I’ll read everything, too. I am a literary omnivore, not embarrassed to read Nora Roberts alongside “high fiction.” While I was on vacation I read a bizarre book called The Place of the Lion, written by a contemporary/fellow Inklings member of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I had a hankering for cozy fantasy, which isn’t a category that exists. Cozy mysteries, for those among you not trained to be mystery readers by your mothers, aunts and grandmothers as I was, are gently told mysteries taking place in small communities (usually English, although there are a lot of food cozy mysteries that are set in the US). Agatha Christie is my queen of cozy mysteries. I think of the Hobbit and to a lesser extent LotR as cozy fantasies, although neither really is (especially LotR — but honestly any book with that lovingly detailed descriptions of food counts). Harry Potter. Narnia. Redwall. Maybe this betrays me as a lover of young adult fantasy versus high/adult fantasy; I don’t care. Anyway, I picked up The Place of the Lion because of Charles Williams’ associations — and I guess to some extent it fit, but holy jesus there was so much PHILOSOPHY in it. My brain’s not up for that at the moment, and I read it on the plane until my eyes went cross eyed.

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(where I did all of my reading at Sar’s Ventura bungalow)

A better success for my vacation reading was At Home by Bill Bryson. I love Bill Bryson books. They’re cozy history/non fiction, ANOTHER category that doesn’t exist. Sure, he might be describing the appalling conditions suffered by the poor during Victorian times, but there’s so much humor and time buffering it that you feel ok about it all.

Another great success was Bridget Jones’ Diary, which is so different than the movie but also great. British chicklit has a special place in my heart since I devoured it in Ireland (along with Terry Pratchett books) and maybe some part of me also just finds british literature inherently more charming; small villages and sprawling London and quiz shows. Always the quiz shows.

Next on my list, on arriving home, was A Brave New World, which I’m reading now. I am almost positive I read it in high school, but I don’t remember it — there’s not a single twinge of recognition (I got to the description of incubator nurses as “lupus colored” with purple skin and coral lips,due to the lighting, and felt SURE I would have remembered that). It’s not a tough read, engrossing, but my brain is definitely struggling to focus. So I’m breaking my no re-reads rule with a favorite Nora Roberts because I’m craving popcorn lit.

Basically, I’m not trying to live in denial, but sometimes it’s nice to escape. And is there a nicer escape than books and video games? No. No there is not.

 

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

I consider the state of sleep to be delicate. I am a deep sleeper, but I suffer from occasional insomnia, and when more than one night passes with poor sleep I start getting worried that its about to flare up again.

She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.

One of my secret weapons in the fight for sleep is audiobooks. And one of my favorites is Terry Pratchett books. They’re perfect. They’re funny and familiar and kind and smart and point on satire. And I’ve read the series so many times that I can recite along with them till I fall asleep, comforted by Nobby Nobb’s lack of humanity or Granny Weatherwax’s excess of it.

Granny was an old-fashioned witch. She didn’t do good for people, she did right by them.

And now Terry’s gone, and I have tears in my eyes. Those books are an overwhelmingly detailed world, full of PEOPLE. Carrot comes the closest to being a perfect hero — but that doesn’t make him the most likable. I love Carrot, with his steady, simple outlook: arresting the head of the thieves guild for stealing, putting the city ahead of the woman he loves with the note that

Personal is not the same as important.

But given the choice between him and Vimes, I think Vimes is the better choice a thousand percent of the time. Carrot may be the perfect hero, but there are a lot of flawed ones. Moist Von Lipwig, an conman to his soul, rises up. Even Rincewind, eternal coward, is often threatened, bullied and manipulated by fate into being a hero. In Discworld, anyone can rise above.

And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.

I mean, take Vimes. Sam Vimes is passed out in a gutter when he first appears. He’s depressed and alcoholic and stripped of all real power or authority because he won’t stop speaking his mind. The Night Watch is comprised of the dregs of humanity. And yet by the final books of the series (final — god, my heart) — he’s risen to Commander of the Watch and a Lordship. Part of that is his marriage to a very rich and powerful woman, but part of that is because of him. He rises because of who he is, despite myriad circumstances that won’t to pull him down.

Down there – he said – are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any inequity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no.

And that’s the beauty of Discworld for me. There are HUMANS who are amazing and complicated and who COULD BE ME. I can be more like Granny Weatherwax, or Tiffany Aching, or Polly Perks. There’s such beauty and good will in these books, such a love for the madness that is being human (or dwarf, or troll — take your pick). And, such an understanding of what it is to be a person.

Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.

It’s satire that’s full of heart.

The enemy isn’t men, or women, it’s bloody stupid people and no one has the right to be stupid.

And mine is broken, because it’s the end.

Ice upon the water.

My dog has cabin fever. For a long time he was getting two walks a day and then winter came and it dropped down to one walk a day and then the snow came and it dropped down to zero walks a day because how can you take a walk when snow is waist high? I couldn’t even park where we normally walk.

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Yesterday was relatively mild and although it was spitting snow it was nothing to be concerned about. My boss let me go home early so I threw on snowboots, said a quick prayer to the winter gods and went to the Indian Lands. That place hops year round so I was hoping that enough fellow cabin fevered folks had trodden a path and so they did! It was deceptive. The path was hard and frozen and then all of a sudden you’d sink to your knees and remember how deep the snow was, exactly.

IMG_1559I mean, that looks like just an inch of snow, but in fact there’s a bench there buried. BURIED.

IMG_1571Poor Baxter kept forgetting that the snow was deep and he’d go off track and suddenly tip over. He’s not graceful at the best of times.

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It’s been cold. The river (tidal) froze mid wave. I feel uncomfortable thinking about that — a sudden realization at just how big the world is brought home by the freezing of a wave, mid curl.

 

I finished Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man last weekend and it made me feel uncomfortable too. The language was lovely because it’s Joyce.

But the Christmas vacation was very far away: but one time it would come because the earth moved round always.

-child logic.

He gave them ear only for a time but he was happy only when he was far from them, beyond their call, alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades.

-yes.

But I felt unsettled. I’m still happy. But unsettled. The new moon is under my skin or the dripping icicles are messing with my rhythm or the piled snow stripped away my comfort in stark white. I don’t know.

Sunday updates, the long dark teatime of the soul.

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Even though Sunday is technically the start of my weekend, it’s never lost the solemn air Sundays always have — the day I grew up going to church on, the day before the start of a new week, the day of fires and newspapers and donuts. I LIKE Sundays, usually, although I agree with Douglas Adams about some Sunday afternoons:

 

“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

But I’m more than an hour away from 2:55 and the candle is jumping in its holder, the rain is falling, and I have a dog snoring next to me. In a few minutes I’ll dive back into Dragon Age and I have so much to say about Sera who I can’t have in my party but whom I adore.

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It’s the kind of day I wish I was reading a cozy mystery — I am reading a mystery (the Silkworm) which is very page turning but not quite the same. I wish I was reading Sherlock Holmes for the first time, or that I hadn’t read every Agatha Christie ever already. (Holly, in Red Dwarf, agrees with me — he has Dave erase the memory of Christie books from his database to help pass endless space time, and I’m sensing a theme here). Ditto, actually, with Wodehouse which is often set in summer and rarely has a mystery but very neatly fits the cozy side of things.

IMG_1507Anyway. A check in before the start of next week. It’s been a nice one — I love winter, the cold light (and the cold air) and the big snow moons and even the grey rain. I love it for its very bleakness, because it hones your attention and your work and your thoughts. I love the way candles seem warmer and any sunlight seems like a gift and the way that I try to catch its reflection everywhere. I love the piles of blankets on my bed and curling around a book and everything about this season except for the fact that I can’t give the dog daily walks after work. But soon. If the snow melts enough to let me into the woods, that is.

 

Housekeeping: Have Read/Am Reading

Now for a bit of housekeeping, so I can get back into the swing of things.

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I kept a list of books I’d read last year with a vague goal of 50 books in mind. That felt like a modest number, something I would exceed without even trying. I was kind of sorrowful to discover I didn’t even come close. Well, I say didn’t come close — I was at 42. I thought about it some and realized there were a few things that made me fall flat; one was the fact that I reread too much. Bored? Didn’t feel like being challenged? Well, let’s read every Terry Pratchett book in order (again!).

Also, classics. A year that included Ulysses and Crime and Punishment and The Adventures of Augie Marsh was never going to beat any blockbuster totals.

And then there was the whole concentration thing. I did a lot of reading on my iPad and it was far too easy to close the book and open twitter, or glance at emails, or chat with friends, or mindlessly press links on the web.

I’ve started off strong this year, though. No more re-reads allowed. So my list for January:

The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots — Jasper Fforde’s cheerfully insane mysteries featuring an entire world ruled by and created by books.

Something More than Night – Ian Tregillis. A noir (kind of) fantasy about fallen angels and overlapping worlds and the sensation of being played from start to finish. Very fun.

The Last Dragonslayer — Jasper Fforde, again, because I’d read the next book in the Thursday Next series and I don’t remember it well, so I couldn’t skip and couldn’t reread but needed a palette cleanser from:

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov. This book was amazing. I got lost in the language, always the sign of something remarkable. But, I couldn’t shake the shivers it gave me, that skin crawling feeling of slime. Humbert Humbert is SO unlikable as a narrator, I don’t understand how anyone can read this book and see tenderness in his feelings towards Lolita, see anything sweet or touching here. But the book itself was clearly a masterpiece.

The Oversight (Oversight Trilogy) — Charlie Fletcher. I’ve wanted to read more fantasy again, I’ve missed it and it was such a part of my reading life as a kid and a teen. This one got added to my to read list from Boing Boing, I think. I like it quite a lot.

 

In the to read pile:

Wings, Diggers, Truckers — the Terry Pratchett books I’ve not read as they aren’t part of Discworld.

The Silkworm, because I actually found the first JK Rowling mystery readable and entertaining.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ok, this is a reread for probably the fifth time but I don’t think rereading classics counts against my utterly arbitrary rule. And I actually quite like this classic. It feels dark and full of corners and secrets and I remember reading it my first week abroad, listening to rain drip from my window with its view of a concrete carpark about three feet from the glass, listening to my new roommates discuss my arrival (“She seems normal; I was hoping for someone completely mad!”), listening to the feeling of being completely free for the first time in months.

 

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