Friday, July 13, 2018

What I'm Reading


I'm done with teaching until August 20, so I'm writing a ton. Also reading more fiction than usual. (Whaaat!)

Some of it is re-reading old favorites. I'm not going to list those. I'm also not going to list the books I've started and tossed aside after 10 or 20 pages. There were a number of these, by the way. I'm just not interested in reading another book about another rich straight white guy (rich straight white woman) who is bored with their life or marriage or having a midlife crisis or whatever and in which nothing happens except we hear about their feelings. Oh, and they have sex with people. Author-insert sex, usually. Author-insert-creepy sex.

This is why most new fiction in the Literary genre is so bad. Young writers have stopped using plot. When you get rid of plot, what's left? Just your characters, mooning about feeling moody about their dull lives. And it's not that their lives are inherently dull -- it's just that you left out the plot.

I mean, take two of the best books written in the past 20 years: Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Both of these are centered on mundane existence and on straight white people. Russo's Donald Sullivan is a 60 year old day-laborer in a small, dying town in upstate New York. Atkinson's Ursula Todd is the third child in an upper-middle-class family in pre-WWII and post-WWII England. Both books deal with the minutia of their lives. Both books are wonderful for two reasons: excellent writing, and a compelling plot.

Atkinson's plot is slightly speculative -- she imagines a world in which reincarnation is real, and then shows us Ursula's life, over and over (life after life). The plot bit is that it's the same life. That is, Ursula is always Ursula Todd, born on February 11, 1920, to this family, in this house, during this snowstorm. But after that, changes can and do occur. What happens when Ursula-the-soul begins to remember previous reincarnations? Especially with WWII hitting her and her family and her country square in the middle of her life?

Russo's plot is straight literary fiction. Sullivan is trying to make it through another year. He's damaged, both physically and psychically, and he's inflicted damage on those around him. But he lives in a community of people he cares about, and people who care about it. And we, the reader, come to care about him. We want him to make it through another year also. That's the plot. That's the entire plot. Can Sully make his life work? Can he help his son and grandson? Can the other main character, Miss Beryl, help Jane and Tina (shadow figures to Sully's son and grandson, the child and grandchild Sully won't claim)? Will the community of North Bath survive another year?

Just as George Eliot makes us care about Middlemarch and those who live in that community, Russo makes us care about North Bath and the fate of those who live in this community. That's his plot -- can they make it? We want to know, and so we read on.

I think this is why I like genre fiction more than what is being published in the genre called literary fiction these days. Those who write genre fiction know they're supposed to have a plot. Too many people writing "literary" fiction think they can just write "lush" or "intricate" prose and substitute that for plot. Bah.

Where was I?

Oh, right. What have I been reading?



Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars

I almost skipped this one because our library didn't have a copy and I'm trying not to buy books because we need to buy new tires for the car soon. But then Amazon had it cheap on Kindle, and I went for it.

Very much worth it! This is an alternative history in which an asteroid hits Earth in 1952, just off the coast of Maryland, obliterating Washington, D.C., where both Houses were in session, and President Dewey and most of his entire cabinet were present. The highest ranking survivor is the Secretary of Agriculture -- which turns out to be a good thing, since having a President who understands the effect of weather on crops and thus on humanity becomes key to the survival of humanity.

This is definitely genre fiction, and the plot is central: the asteroid strike creates a crisis, and our main character (a "computer" for NACA, this time-line's version of NASA) is central to solving that crisis. She and her husband and their community of colleagues and friends work desperately to get the space program kicked into high gear in time to save the human race from the disaster the asteroid strike has caused.

Lots of math in this one, and lots of science. Very readable, though! And the characters are great.



Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

Also definitely genre fiction, this one is fantasy. I don't usually like fantasy much, but the Kid gave me this one and ordered me to read it. And the Kid is right! It's really good. I'm going to try not to give spoilers.

It's told from the point of view of a child, Jude, whose mother was romanced off into the land of the Fae. Fast-forward 17 years. The child is now on the cusp of adulthood, and the kingdom of the Fairies is having political issues.

I love books with political issues.

Jude wants to be a knight, which is something mortals can be but usually aren't. Her Faerie father can make this happen, if he wants to. He gives Jude ambiguous answers. Meanwhile, Jude and her two sisters (one is half-fae, the other mortal like Jude) are having trouble with their fae coevals, most of whom are royalty.

Plot abounds. Who is to be trusted and who is not? It's like a Tudor drama. Very much worth reading. But fair warning -- this is the first of a trilogy, and the next isn't out until January. Also, just as with Tudor England, we've got blood and abuse and intrigue everywhere in this one, so if you like your books without violence, maybe skip this one.


Ian Mortimer, The Time-Traveler's Guide to Restoration England 
Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

I blogged about one of these already. They're both really good. Both of them I'm reading for research on this one tiny story I'm writing. But worth reading if you're interested in the period even if you're not writing a story about trickster time-travelers! Mortimer is good for his period details -- he's written several of these books -- and Gordon's analysis is excellent.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dreams


So I had this terrible nightmare last night in which I'd had two children and I had both forgotten to love them and lost them.

These were very real children. I could draw you their pictures now, and in the dream they had names, though I can't remember their names now. I was very upset in the dream because I didn't love them -- I'd forgotten the part of parenting where I was supposed to bond with and fall in love with my children.

And then I realized I had no idea where they were. I couldn't remember if they were at a friend's house, or at school, or if they were visiting their grandparents, or what I had done with them.

Then I woke up in sheer terror and lay there for maybe a full minute, trying to remember where my children were, before I remembered I had one kid,who was in the very next room, sound asleep.

I think this is my new version of my anxiety dream. I used to have anxiety dreams in which I'd forgotten to attend a class all semester, and now it was time for the final, and once I became a professor, for awhile I was having dreams in which I'd forgotten to teach a class all semester and now it was time for the final. Now that the kid's 20, apparently I'm going to have dreams in which I've forgotten to raise kids all their lives and now it's time for the final.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Dinner


...by the way, was chicken piccata, a broccoli and cheese casserole, French bread, and a nice Sauvignon blanc.

No pics today, sadly.

Conversation at the delagar Household


Me: Hey, dadzo is making dinner tonight

The Kid: He better.

Me: Yeah, I told him how sad you were he didn't last night.

The Kid: Yeah.

Me: He's gonna make that broccoli cheese casserole.

The Kid: Oh, worm?

Me: ... ... ...

The Kid: You know what that means, right? Oh, worm?

Me: Yeah, no.

The Kid: (Big sigh)


We need a Duolingo for 21st Century English, y'all.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Reading for Research


For some time I've been thinking up a story about a family of time-travelers, and last week I finally started to write it. For reasons I won't get into here, part of the story involves an encounter with Mary Wollstonecraft.

When I reached that point in the story, I realized I needed to know more specifics about Wollstonecraft's life -- details, facts, how she would react to things my characters said.

No problem, I said. The library has a biography, and look here, Amazon has another that is cheap on Kindle. Couple of hours of quick reading, and back to work.

Three days later, I'm still reading. This is not so much because I need to learn more as because Wollstonecraft is fascinating. Also, one of the books, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon, is excellent. I knew a little about Mary Shelley and her life with Percy; and I knew a very little about Wollstonecraft's life (that she had written Vindication of the Rights of Women, and that she had died giving birth to Mary Shelley); but this book is a revelation.

What Gordon does is, via alternating chapters, contrast Wollstonecraft's life and writing careers with that of her daughter's, detailing the events that shape them, and how they react to and resist these events.

This is a long but excellent book. Unless you're an English professor, or interested in the Romantics or feminism, it might not be for you. If that's your jam, though, snap this one up.



Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy 4th


Happy 4th from mine to yours:



From left to right, the Kid, me, and Uncle Charger. Not pictured: Dr. Skull, who is taking the photograph.

Le Menu: smoked lamb, chicken cacciatore, grilled asparagus, peach ice cream, and French bread with butter or sauce. Choice of Ginger ale or regular ale. Peach ice cream with homemade Maraschino cherries (bottled with last year's cherry crop) for dessert.


Also!


The Year's Best Science Fiction: 35th Annual Collection is now available, with a certain story from our favorite author in the TOC.

(You can Look Inside to see me. I'm on page iv of the TOC.)

ETA: Watch out, apparently there's a glitch when you try to buy the Kindle version. You get the 5th Annual Collection instead. Maybe wait a few days?

Links for Your 4th





If you haven't seen this, you HAVE to see this



Grandmothers matter

Ortberg translates Sappho

Stonekettle

Fact v Opinion (I scored 100%, but then I better have)

It me

I know we're sick of Jordan Peterson, but...

Yes, we do have alternatives

D'aw:


Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Guilty Secret


I know I'm an English professor, but the minute I read in a review that someone's prose is "lush" or "ornate," I roll my eyes and cross that sucker off my list forever.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Cats Love Fault Lines


Cats love Fault Lines.

H/T to Heebie-Jeebie


Also to File 770, where Cats Sleep on SFF is a Thing.

This, on the other hand...


I don't even know what to say about this



UNACCOMPANIED:  Alone in America from Linda Freedman on Vimeo.


Something to Cheer Us Up


This is pretty wonderful:


(H/t https://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/ )

This Happens Literally All The Time


And it happened again today.

It usually happens on social media, but sometimes IRL as well.

We'll be talking, some man and I. It is (almost*) always a man, and always a white man, and always a straight white man. Not always a conservative man, either. Often enough, this is a progressive man, or at least he calls himself progressive.

We'll disagree about something.

Now according to the rules, you see, the rules of how woman and men discuss things, I am allowed to disagree with him. But I should tinkle with deferential laughter and cringe and duck my head and hedge everything I say with sweet little girl phrases like "don't you think" and "well, maybe" and "I don't know, I just wonder if" and "I'm just a ignorant little nuffin, but don't you think" and essentially make him feel like a big strong man who is graciously allowing me to be in this big boy intellectual conversation at all.

I stopped doing that particular dance when I was about 25, when I became a feminist. Now I just say what I mean, backing up what I mean with facts and evidence, as if I were a human being in the same way he is a human being.

Not all men by any means, but some men* interpret this as an attack.

These men interpret it as an attack on their manhood. "You're not doing your cause any favors by being such a bitch," one of them said.

Or, "It's women like you who cause men to hate feminists," another said.

I've always blogged under delagar, as all y'all know, and for years many people thought "delagar" was a man. Some people still do. Interestingly, I never got (and never get) reactions like this on those occasions.

I didn't used to believe in fragile masculinity. But these guys have been making such a case for it, it's hard to not to these days.






*Some women interpret it as an attack as well. These are women who think any sort of discussion is "arguing." They also think everything is an "opinion." So when someone points out that what they're saying is factually incorrect, well, that's me imposing my "opinion" over their "opinion" which is just rude.  How dare I claim that Trump has put children in cages? Their opinion is that he has not! My "opinion" that he has is no more valid than theirs! It's rude to say they're wrong!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Hot and Horrible


It's been miserably hot here over the past week -- close to 100 degrees every day, with a heat index of 107 or 108 each day -- and also I picked up some virus at school. Vomiting and aching while being hot and cranky is not a good mix.

The virus is gone, at least, though the heat is not. Weather guy says temperatures will stay near 100 for the foreseeable future. Bah.

Plus the political news continues awful. It's almost funny, in the bleakest, most horrific way, how one horrific thing after the next happens.

It's like slapstick disaster theater, if you see what I mean.

Or, you know, it would be funny, if it weren't happening to the country I live in and want to be proud of.

As it is, sweet Jesus. No wonder I projectile vomited for 12 hours straight. The wonder is we aren't all doing so.