wednesday reads 'n things

Jul. 26th, 2017 04:04 pm
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[personal profile] isis
What I've recently finished reading:

Text: Empowered: Agent (Empowered, #1) by Dale Ivan Smith, which so far is the best Instafreebie book I've tried (a rather low bar). The world-building is simple but fun; it's not just that Empowered people (that is, people with superhero-type powers) exist, but it's also an alternate history - one in which Richard Nixon prevented a nuclear war from escalating into global destruction "after Washington DC had been destroyed by a Soviet nuke fired from Cuba." (So I guess Kennedy didn't stop the Soviets...) This only shows up incidentally, at least in this book, but I am charmed by Nixon being considered a hero in this universe.

Mat is a good character, an interesting woman with a skill - manipulating growing plants - that is clearly much more useful (and lethal) than anyone gives her credit for. The Hero Council choice of "join us if we can use you, otherwise you must swear to never use your power" seems rather terrible to me, a bit of shoddy world-building but I guess it's needed for the plot. Her choices and actions are reasonable, especially as circumstances paint her into a corner. I like that she has a family she cares about, and I also like the lack of romance (though I suspect one is building).

The writing is okay, not great, though it's mostly free of typos and technically adequate. There are few obvious errors (such as a character being identified by name before Mat would actually know her name) but also few flashes of brilliance. Mostly it's just somewhat flat. I didn't feel particularly pulled along or emotionally invested, and this, plus uneven pacing toward the end, contributed to a general feeling of anticlimax.

Audio: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama, which was a SYNC offering, and surprisingly enjoyable and novel for dystopian YA. This is set in an alternate future in which the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 led to the need for split-shift staffing of hospitals, a day set and a night set of doctors and nurses, which in turn proved so efficient that the division between day workers and night workers was expanded to all parts of life, formalized and codified and enforced by law. But as daylight living is more natural and presumably more enjoyable, gradually the night people ("Smudges") became stereotyped as stupid, undesirable, lesser than the day people ("Rays") - and it took me until about 3/4 through the book to realize this was a civil rights allegory.

Yes, there is some suspension of disbelief required, but no more than, say, teenagers fighting to the death broadcast on television, or a society discarding all but a hundred selected novels, songs, and films. And what makes this an actually good book is that the plot is legitimately interesting and complex, and goes in unexpected (but foreshadowed) ways. There is a romance, which is somewhat cutesy and predictable, but at least it's not a love triangle - and, speaking of YA tropes, though this is in first person it is in PAST TENSE THANK GOD.

I liked the ending, which is not pat or universally happy, and which leaves a lot of things open-ended for a sequel (or for fanfiction). I would like to have seen a more explicitly "fight the system" plot, with Sol and the other characters actively working to bring the system down - maybe this will be in a subsequent book? Finally, I ship Sol/Gigi la la la and will be nominating this for Yuletide.

The audio version also includes "Noma Girl", a prequel short story which is also available free online. It was a nice fleshing-out of incidents only alluded to in the novel, but there's no new worldbuilding or anything unexpected here. I did like the more sympathetic view of Gigi. I don't think it will make sense if you haven't read the novel.

Webcomic: For some reason I followed a link (from Goodreads, maybe?) to The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E. K. Weaver, which I'd vaguely heard of through osmosis but really didn't know anything about (I didn't realize it was a comic, for one; for some reason I thought it had to do with lesbians) and devoured it over the course of four or five days. It's a gay (m/m, and has some nsfw) roadtrip story in which the title characters get to know each other and find themselves (well, sort of). If you haven't read it, I recommend it! There is a tiny fandom, and I believe the comic was originally posted on LJ as a WIP.

What I'm reading now: Cibola Burn, the fourth Expanse book. So far I'm about 25% in and enjoying it more than the previous book, Abaddon's Gate. Also, wow, apparently all minor characters are gay in this universe, or at least every throwaway line about people being married refers to a same-sex relationship.

What I'm reading next: Now that I'm recommitted to this book series, I've got the next two on my phone.

What I've just finished watching:

Movie: I finally watched Hidden Figures, and it was every bit as awesome as I'd hoped. ♥ My mother was a chemist for the FDA before and during this era, and I realized that at least she had the advantage of being white (though she had the disadvantage of being Jewish). I can't imagine what it must have been like to have both racism and sexism barriers looming so hugely in one's life.

TV: We have finished S2 of The Expanse! I am still a little weirded out by the timelines of book series and show being off from each other. I also thought the Ganymede plot was done better by the show, but the Avasarala and Bobbie plot was done better in the books.

What I'm watching next: Nothing for a while, because on Saturday we are headed out for a week of backpacking in the wilderness and so we might as well hold off on starting anything new. I'm trying to talk B into getting a short-term subscription to HBO Now via Amazon Prime so we can watch Game of Thrones. (His objections are that a, he hates WIPs even more than I do and wants to be able to watch every day or every other day rather than waiting a week between episodes, and b, he is sure they will make it hard for us to cancel after a month or two.)

In the meantime, [community profile] remixrevival has signups through Sunday, and [community profile] crossovering has extended signups through Sunday, so if either of these interest you, you have a few more days to join up!

Help me turn away from the awful?

Jul. 26th, 2017 04:58 pm
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[personal profile] kass
Ugh, y'all, I am having one of those days where just keeping my eyes open and witnessing the awfulness of my nation's government is making me feel bleak and wrung-out and helpless. And I keep opening FB and Twitter in adjacent tabs, and then after reading for a while realizing that reading them is not actually helping anyone or anything (me included) and closing them, and then a few minutes later opening them again without even thinking about it, which says something about my social media habits that I do not like. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I miss having a sense of active involvement in fandom. I have a few hours ahead of me with no kid to mind, and I obviously need to stop poking at social media (it's the emotional-intellectual equivalent of just eating endless bags of potato chips -- hours go by and then I feel sick to my stomach), and I know that once upon a time I would have seized on this time as an opportunity to make something for y'all, and I miss that. But I'm not embedded in any particular universes right now, and I feel tapped-out and devoid of ideas.

Read any good books lately, especially fiction or nonfiction that left you feeling lifted-up instead of dragged-down?

For those of you who are actively fannish, what are the things that are bringing you joy?

Very brief Reading/Media Wednesday

Jul. 26th, 2017 09:54 pm
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[personal profile] naye
In these dark times, a little joy can go a long way: The Toast is back for a one-day spectacular. (It's spectacular because they're back. And it's one day of posts just like in the old days, except without the comments...)

Things Read
Finally started Harbors of the Sun, the last Raksura novel, and I'm really enjoying the sweet interpersonal stuff and the fast-paced adventure that's the plot. Love Martha Wells' boundless imagination and fantastic world building.

Things Watched
We watched Kingsman this weekend, and it was the perfect movie for a Friday night with pizza and beer.

Just started Little Witch Academia which seems quite enjoyable - a show about girls! Without any boys at all! And so far a total of 0 panty shots?! Color me pleasantly surprised.

Twin Peaks: The Return blows my mind every single week and episode 11 was one of my favorites in a series that has been thoroughly outstanding.

Was home alone without Skuld for an evening, and checked out Saiyuki: Reload Blast, and it pretty much overwhelmed me with nostalgia. I have so many memories of the Saiyuki fandom both online and in Japan, and it's so bittersweet to have a new season now in 2017. (That's. Uh. ...14 years after I got in to it?)

Future Things
After I finish Harbors of the Sun there's other new releases to catch up on - like Megan Whalen Turner's Thick as Thieves. But I haven't settled on anything yet. The way the world is going, maybe I'll just re-read all of Yotsuba&! and Chi's Sweet Home. :/
musesfool: Reboot Uhura (never tell me the odds)
[personal profile] musesfool
So on Monday the realtor I've been working with sent me 10 listings to choose from and I said I liked five, and so I'm seeing 2 out of those five tomorrow evening (the two most expensive and also the two I was least interested in. funny how that works out. the one that was my fave accepted an offer yesterday and is thus off the market now. Sigh. eta: and there goes my second fave, with an accepted offer. but I'm seeing the last one on Saturday, so there's hope! I like each of these three, just not as much as I liked the other two and also they each have one drawback or another, I guess./eta). I'm trying to keep an open mind, but I'd really like to see the two I like more before I have to make any decisions.

How can it only be Wednesday? Yesterday felt like it was 8 days long in and of itself. Sigh.

What I've just finished
Nothing.

What I'm reading now
Still on Abaddon's Gate. I like it but not as much as the first two books so it's taking me longer to read (the fact that I haven't been getting a seat on the train hasn't helped). I feel like the new characters are not nearly as interesting as Avasarala and Bobbie, though I like Anna and Bull just fine. Melba, otoh... On the plus side, spoilers ) I'm about a hundred pages from the end so I'm guessing there's still some excitement to come.

What I'm reading next
Regardless, I did pick up the next book - Cibola Burn - because I do want to see what happens next. I just also wish we got the POV from the others on the Roci instead of all Holden all the time there.

***
sholio: Text: "Age shall not weary her, nor custom stale her infinite squee" (Infinite Squee)
[personal profile] sholio
I was inviting people to ask me questions on Tumblr last night, and one of the things I ended up talking about is what makes me fall for things (books, movies, TV shows) in a fandom kind of way. I decided to post that here as well, because it took me a long time to figure it out but I did eventually figure it out, and I thought it was interesting. There are always a few outliers that don't quite fit this, or fit it in unusual ways, but for the most part, this is what makes the difference for me between something I merely like, and something I write fanfic for and can't stop talking about to anyone who'll hold still long enough.

Cut to keep from clogging your reading page )
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[personal profile] selenak
Having now read three of the four books the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom are based on, I find my original suspicion that Bernard Cornwell novels benefit from adaptions into other media because these take you out of the main character's head justified, though not always quite in the way I assumed. Because the novels are narrated by an older Uthred looking back, his narrating self can sometimes point out things his younger self did not yet see or realise, for example, that he wronged his first wife Mildrith, or that he underestimated Alfred early on because a chronically sick non-warrior valueing learning and feeling guilty about sex could not possibly be a strong leader in his young eyes. Otoh, older, wiser Uthred narrating still doesn't change the fact most female characters come across as more dimensional and fleshed out in the tv adaption than they do in the novels (Brida and Mildrith in the first, Hild and Aelswith in the second season - Iseult, alas, is a cliché in both versions).

The tv show cut or compressed various characters and slimmed down events, and given that they do two books per season so far, that's not surprising. But even if they took a longer time, I think some of the changes and cuts were to the narrative's benefit. For example: Cornwell has to come up with some pretty convoluted circumstances and far-stretched plots to have a teenage Uthred who is still with the Danes secretly present when Prince (not yet King) Alfred confesses about his carnal lapses to Beocca. In the book, he needs to be because he's the narrator and neither Alfred nor Beocca would have told him about this. The tv show dispenses with said circumstances and just has the scene between Alfred and Beocca, without Uthred secretly listening in, because he doesn't need to be in order for the audience to get this information about the young Alfred.

Mind you, dispensing with the first two times Uthred meets Alfred and letting their first encounter not happen until after Ragnar the Elder's death creates one important difference between book and show relationship that's worth mentioning. Book Uthred lies to Alfred (and Beocca) these first two times and point blank spies on them for the Danes, so the later "why do you keep distrusting me?" indignation rings a little hollow in this regard. Show Uthred does no such thing, so Alfred is accordingly less justified in his lingering ambiguity.

Another cut that somewhat shifts perception: the first novel has Uthred participating in a few Danish raids led by Ragnar, including one on Aelswith's hometown (though she doesn't know he took part). Now, in the show we go from Uthred the child to adult Uthred directly and adult Uthred is solely seen at Ragnar's home, with the deaths of Ragnar & Co. impending, but given adult Uthred later is shown to be already a skilled fighter, it stands to reason he practiced these skills. But I suspect the show avoided showing Uthred fighting against Saxon civilians this early on deliberately. Both show and books have Uthred loving the Danes but staying with the Saxons post Ragnar's death because various circumstances (and then Alfred's machinations) make it impossible for him to do otherwise. Only the book, though, spells out that Uthred doesn't start to feel any kind of identification/emotional connection to the Saxons until he sees them winning a battle (until then, narrator Uthred says, he hadn't thought Danes could lose, which makes sense given that throughout Uthred's childhood and adolescence, they were winning), when before he regarded them as weak and didn't want to think of himself as belonging to them. Which makes sense given Uthred is raised in a warrior culture and is a young, arrogant adolescent at the time, but again, I suspect the tv version avoids spelling this out in order not to make him off putting early on when establishing the character.

Otoh, the scenes the tv show adds in the two seasons where Uthred isn't present all serve to flesh out the characters in question more and work to their benefit, whether it's Alfred, Hild, Aelswith or Beocca. The notable exception is Guthred in s2, whose additional scenes make him look worse, not better than the novel does. Possibly, too, because in the novel Guthred is described having an easy charm that makes Book!Uthred forgive him even the truly terrible thing Guthred does to Uthred, and the actor playing Guthred on the show doesn't have that at all, and instead comes across as nothing but fearful, easily influenced and weak. (And show!Uthred while coming to terms with him doesn't forgive him.) I have to say, lack of actorly charm aside, given that Guthred does something spoilery to Uthred ), I find the tv version more realistic.

The push-pull relationship between Uthred and Alfred is there in both versions, but in the tv show, it comes across as more central. As my local library has it, I also read "Death of Kings", the novel in which, Alfred dies, not without manipulating Uthred one last time into doing what he wants him to do, and Uthred's thoughts on the man later, summing him up, are Cornwell's prose at its best:

I stood beside Alfred's coffin and thought how life slipped by, and how, for nearly all my life, Alfred had been there like a great landmark. I had not liked him. I had struggled against him, despised him and admired him. I hated his religion and its cold disapproving gaze, its malevolence that cloaked itself in pretended kindness, and its allegiance to a god who would drain the joy from the world by naming it sin, but Alfred's religion had made him a good man and a good king.
And Alfred's joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandson and their children's children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him. He was my king and all that I now have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all started with Alfred, who hated me at times, loved me at times, and was generous with me. He was a gold-giver.


Last Yuletide I added a Last Kingdom request at the last minute because I'd seen it had been nominated, and accordingly it was short, but this Yuletide I think I'll also offer, and will request in more detail and more characters. While the other historical tv shows I consumed during the last year were entertaining in various degrees, this was the only one which was also good.
[syndicated profile] velveteenrabbi_feed

Posted by rbarenblat@gmail.com (Velveteen Rabbi)

9781250064943Somewhere in my first year or two of parenthood, it dawned on me -- through the haze of fatigue, laundry, diapers, and tantrums (Yonatan's and mine both) -- that I actually had access to a treasure trove of wisdom that could help me do the exhausting, frustrating, challenging work of loving and raising my kid. It took me a while to realize it, though, because how I was changing as a mom seemed to be taking me away from my tradition's ideas about what spiritual practice is supposed to be. It had been panic-inducing for some time there, honestly, feeling like I was on a boat that was drifting, slowly, from the island on which I'd made my home for almost fifteen years.

And yet, when I looked more closely, I realized that the treasures that had sustained me for so long could nourish me through this new, hard, bewildering thing. In fact, the Jewish tradition (as well as other religious traditions that I'd studied, even if I didn't live as intimately with them) can actually illuminate the work of parenting -- the love, the drudgery, the exasperation, all of it.

That's from the first chapter of Nurture the Wow by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, and it is as good an encapsulation of this beautiful, thoughtful, necessary book as any review I could write. (You'll also find a good encapsulation in the subtitle: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting.)

From what I just quoted, R' Danya continues:

This fact isn't necessarily intuitive, though, because, let's face it, for thousands of years, books on Jewish law and lore were written by men, mostly talking to other men. These guys were, by and large, not engaged in the intimate care of small children. Somewhere else, far from the house of study, other people -- women, mothers -- were wrangling tantrumy toddlers and explaining to six-year-olds that they really did have to eat what was on their plate. At least, I assume that was what was happening -- again, for most of history, the people who were raising children weren't writing books, so we don't totally know.

This means a few things. This means that a lot of the dazzling ideas found in our sacred texts about how to be a person -- how to fully experience awe and wonder; how to navigate hard, painful feelings; how service to others fits into the larger, transcendent picture -- was never really explicitly connected to the work of parenting. It just didn't occur to the guys building, say, entire theological worldviews around love and relationships to extend their ideas to the kinder -- probably because the work of raising children just wasn't on their radar screen.

Oh, holy wow, do I wish this book had existed when my son was born seven and a half years ago!

Those of y'all who were reading my blog during my early years of parenthood may remember my struggles with exactly these issues. At the very beginning I was too caught-up in postpartum depression (which I eventually wrote about for Zeek). But as the months went on and my PPD was treated, I still chafed against the sense that my beloved religious system seemed to presume that someone else was taking care of the baby so that the (male) person with a spiritual life could adequately pray (see Privilege, prayer, parenthood.) 

R' Danya gets all of that -- intimately, and on every level -- because like me, she was an ardent and engaged Jew before she became a mom. Like me, she had a strong Jewish identity and strong Jewish practice that was rooted in her pre-child life. And then everything turned upside-down, and she did the impossibly hard work of wrestling with the dual angels of parenthood and religious tradition to figure out how to wrest a blessing not from one or the other but from both of them together.

Reading this book, I kept grabbing my pen to underline and make exclamation points in the margins.  It's clear to the reader that R' Danya has a deep love of Jewish tradition and spiritual practice, and she also loves her children and the ways in which being a mom has expanded her capacity for growth and care, and she is not willing to cede either one of those loves. Instead she insists not only that they can inform each other, but that they must -- and that when they do, the rewards are rich and profound.

She writes beautifully about coping mechanisms and chosen family. ("Sometimes it's just about feeling like you're not stranded on an island, but rather sitting at the edge of a beach full of love and laughter and people who are a regular part of your life and adore your kid nearly as much as you do.") She writes beautifully about the covenant we as parents make with our children, and how easy it is to see the Biblical children of Israel as overtired toddlers who need a nap. (I wrote that in a d'var Torah once.)

She writes beautifully about how parenthood can teach us the importance of sacred play... ("Entering into play requires giving ourselves permission...for the game not to be played perfectly and for the money piles to get messed up, permission to be a fool, permission to let it be OK if we get to the bath a few minutes later today.") ... and about what we do spiritually with the inevitable boredom of parenting, because how we work with that boredom impacts the kind of parents or caregivers we aim to be. 

For me the most powerful parts of the book are where R' Danya is writing explicitly about the tensions between parenthood and spiritual practice as defined by normative (male) Jewish tradition, and where she's writing explicitly about the challenges of being a female parent in particular and navigating parenthood alongside what society tells us about who and how women are supposed to be. Citing Luce Irigaray (whose work I remember reading for the first time as a religion major some 25 years ago), R' Danya writes:

When Irigaray said, "The path of renunciation described by certain mystics is women's daily lot," she was being sarcastic. Male mystics made a fuss about giving up freedoms and serving humbly because, for them, it was a countercultural move that produced radical effects. For women, it was just business as usual.

So where does that leave those of us who parent while female? Where does that leave our ego, our sense of selfhood, our real, actual love for our kids, our perhaps sometimes desperate desire to get out there in the world and, you know, do taxes or something, anything to reclaim our sense of being someone other than Mommy? What does it mean for our ego -- and our spiritual potential -- when we enter the crucible of self-sacrifice that is motherhood?

R' Danya's answer is deep, and radical, and resonates with me powerfully: that as some of us who are mothers discover, "our acts of selflessness can actually bolster the self, in a deep authentic way." The Jewish mystical tradition talks about bittul ha-yesh, often translated as "annihilating the self," though Reb Zalman z"l preferred the translation "becoming transparent." That's the kind of bittul I understand R' Danya to mean. Sometimes parenthood can teach us to become transparent conduits for a light and a love that comes from beyond us but also enlivens us and makes us more deeply who we really are. 

And she goes on to say the following, about being truly seen: 

I don't know about you, but there are a few people in particular in my life... who I feel really, actually see me. And when I'm with one or more of these people, I feel able to be the best, brightest, shiniest version of myself. And at the same time, these are the people who kick my butt, both explicitly and not, to be better than I am... Giving just feels different when it's offered from a rooted place of selfhood and connection.

And with my kids, well, more than anyone else they force me to really see myself.

I know what she means about those people in my life who really, actually see me. I know what it's like to feel pulled and pushed and inspired into being the best me I can be, because in their eyes I am already that person (or at least I have the capacity to be that person), and being seen as my best self helps me to live into what those loving eyes see in me. And when I apply that frame to the way I think about relating to my kid, and the way my kid sees me, my whole sense of myself comes into a different kind of focus. 

Toward the end of the book, she writes:

Our growth in this spiritual practice of loving and caring for our children isn't always linear. It's most certainly a "practice" in the true sense of the word -- something we try, again and again and again, sometimes hitting the right notes and sometimes not quite getting there. 

Yes indeed. But the great thing about a practice is that the more one does it, the deeper one can go, and the more thoroughly the practice and the experience of the practice can transform the one who is doing the practicing.

I'm grateful to R' Danya for writing this book, and I recommend it highly to anyone who's interested in parenthood or caregiving and in the life of the spirit, whatever form your spiritual life takes. 

yes, the truth

Jul. 26th, 2017 09:52 pm
copracat: Radek gesturing as in a lecture with text 'Vera is a very common Czech name' (atlantis vera)
[personal profile] copracat
13.One of your favourite 70's songs: Every 1's a Winner - Hot Chocolate


music meme topics )

shakespeare screwed up, son

Jul. 26th, 2017 12:00 am
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July 26th, 2017next

July 26th, 2017: San Diego Comic Con was AMAZING: I met so many great and interesting readers, got to meet some people that I really admire, and won two (TWO!) Eisner Awards, for my work on Squirrel Girl and Jughead! IT WAS PRETTY AMAZING!!

– Ryan

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