books


Well, it looks like this winter’s going to be another nightmarish one here in Wisconsin. We’re suffering under the indignity of a third snow, and the winter solstice hasn’t even hit yet. Even so, my knitting quota’s gone way down, as has my energy to do much besides grad school apps, a not-very-successful stab at Nanowrimo, and vague wedding plans. Go me?

Oh, and the election. Which turned out fairly well.

Personally, I think my pioneer ancestors showed up here in Wisconsin sometime in mid-May, during the two weeks that the weather here isn’t miserably hot or miserably cold, and thought things were great. By the time they figured out the tornadoes and ice storms were rampant, it was too late. In all honesty, I know people who aren’t from the Midwest write about how much they hate the cold and think we all deal with it so well. Truth is, we who deal with cold regularly complain about it just as much and don’t deal with it properly at all. No one likes weather extremes, except for the crazies like my brother who revel in snowfall…because they don’t really have to shovel it.

I have been doing a little reading though, working my way through my third read of Ursula K. LeGuin’s epic Always Coming Home, after Liz Henry read it recently and blogged on the topic. I have to confess I’m a big sucker for worldbuilding. Either detail your world or detail a character, and I may just fall for your novel. Always Coming Home is so beautifully done that I can’t help but love it, and this time I feel that I might have picked up something more from it than I have before–reading it less as a story and more from a cultural perspective, which is perhaps the point.  I don’t really believe it’s an inappropriate appropriation of Native culture, but I’m not really the one to judge.

Am I allowed to say ‘inappropriate appropriation’, or is it bad English?

Anyhow, I should get back to the small amount of gifty knitting I’m up to. How do you deal with snow? Do you like snow? If you do, can I ship you ours?

I swear I have knit things and baked things and done things, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to blog about them. Mostly because I’m not really sure how much any of you all want to hear about cupcakes, which I didn’t even make entirely from scratch–though I did use a Newman’s Own chox bar in honor of that great man. Delicious.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t thrown myself into much of anything lately except grad school prep and following politics and the stock market (more on that shortly). I’m irritated with my old workhorse of a camera, which is nearly four years old; while it was a good little mule back at Christmas ’04, it’s definitely less than awesome today, considering blog photography is so focused on close shots and details. Uploading and processing in Photoshop to get anything remotely ready for the web takes ages even on my MacBook, and I’m entirely too familiar with the Smart Sharpen tool.

Unfortunately, even with my birthday and Christmas coming up, the economy’s far too messy for me to be putting a Canon SLR on my list, especially when I just bought myself a laptop five months ago. Oddly, despite the craziness on Wall Street, I feel an odd urge to Go Buy Things today, though. Just not a $600 camera.

Brief shoutout review: I’m reading the ’06 Year’s Best SF, and I have to say that Robert Charles Wilson needs to write more about the Dominion universe he’s created in Julian: A Christmas Story. Like, he needs to do it yesterday. The combination of 19th century mores and style with a post-apocalyptic setting that is not steampunk? I can totally get down with that.

ETA: If I had adequately Googled, I would have found that Wilson is in the process of expanding Julian into a full novel.  Ace!

I’m eagerly following the election, despite how painful it is to get slammed right and left with campaign ads–the blessing of living in a swing state, I suppose. I’ve watched all three debates, but I haven’t found the time to get over to the Obama campaign office and get a button and yard sign because I’m sure they’d make me call people or something. Trust me, Barack Obama does not want me calling people for him. And while I don’t care to go into politics too deeply at the moment, I was pretty much appalled at what I heard about some people at the McCain/Palin rally here yesterday. Apparently the MSM is lying about polling numbers, apparently Democrats are all socialists, and we are all doomed. I’m down with people being conservative. But I’m not down with people talking that level of crap about the media. Is the media biased? Definitely. But flat out lying? That’s just crazy talk.

Oh, and the WBC is here protesting gay rights, which is ridiculous. They don’t have anything better to do, clearly…not to mention that we started a GSA at my high school without any flap back in ’01. Clearly suburbia is not their target.

Anyway, though I’m doing Nanowrimo in November (god help us) I’ll still be twittering like crazy. And probably knitting up a storm, now that the chill’s upon us and the frost is on the…well, no pumpkins at my place yet.

I’ve decided that at some point I need to turn my hand to YA fantasy fiction, because it seems like you can throw any compulsively readable crap at the wall and see if it sticks, these days.  Add fairies, vamps, or witches, a tense romance, and a not-actually-feminist-but-it-sounds-good ‘Girls can do anything!’–and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a bestseller and a script option!

I mean, srsly, this stuff makes Rowling look like Tolstoy.  And I’m not here to kill anybody’s buzz, because I realize it’s fun, but wow.  Just…wow.  Not to mention the messages this stuff sends.  Though if it’s either that or Rich Young Women In [Big City] Spending Money And Name Dropping, I’ll go with the lame urban fantasy novels any day.

Personal preference.  If you DO want to find good YA fantasy, check out Sharyn November’s stuff over at Firebird.

Off topic, you can now catch my Twitter at the top of my sidebar, or directly here.

Despite not being able to go to this year’s WisCon, I did pick up this year’s Tiptree Award winner (having been mortified by not reading last year’s winner, Half Life, beforehand and making a fool of myself in front of the author).  I had been pleasantly surprised both by Half Life and by Geoff Ryman’s Air two years back, so I figured hey.

So.  Sarah Hall’s Daughters of the North (UK title: The Carhullan Army) deserves this year’s Tiptree, by sheer meeting the criteria alone.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Daughters addresses gender issues better and more thoughtfully than any other novel US-side in ’07–it effectively proves that women can and do and will cross the line when pushed.  The horrors of the dystopian England pictured have come on believably, in slow steady inroads, which is much more chilling than a sudden catastrophe.  I don’t shy away from books that are depressing, for that matter, and though this one is dark, there are moments of beauty in it.  I also appreciated the fact that I’ve been to the setting of the Lake District, for a brief time, at about the time Hall was starting to write the book, early 2005. 

My problems here are two-fold:
– Unlike the last two winners, Daughters of the North, without a doubt, is not as original a concept as I would have liked.  It reads, for a good portion, like an updated Handmaid’s Tale with the stylistic form of Children of Men.  Part of the problem with this is that the main character/narrator is such an enigma.  I got no sense of her as a person besides entirely conflicted, and while she desperately tries to convince the reader that she is not manipulatable, that she sees all the options, she is instead a leaf on a greater wind.  It’s realistic, but it’s also sort of dull.
– There is effectively no climactic scene.  Hall skips the hard parts, the bloody parts, and the worst of the trauma, then tacks on an ending.  It would be less frustrating if not for the fact that almost all of the narrative up to this point has been so very descriptive and evocative of the lives of the women of Carhullan.  They build to a goal, and then that goal isn’t written in its fullest, only hinted at, and then we see a brief denouement that hints at what had happened.  It strikes me as a cop-out, to write all the process, then not actually follow through.  Either write up to the climax point and end it, or write through the whole thing.  Both would have broken my heart, but instead what happened just left me shrugging.

So, in essence, Daughters of the North is an excellent case study of the capabilities of average and not-so-average women.  It is beautifully written in terms of prose and fairly compulsively readable.  It just didn’t grip me, and while I realize that’s not the point of the Tiptree, it’s something I expect from the best feminist SF these days.  I’d say the Carhullan women themselves deserve better, but I just can’t bring myself to quite care.

In the time since my last post, the weather has progressively worsened, to the point where nearly everyone in the Great Lakes region has some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, manifesting in general crankiness.  So that’s my excuse for not writing: the weather has smushed me under its thumb and left me as a broken young woman on the slushy road of life.  Our hearts here are not filled with love for our fellow human, today or anytime soon…

Crap, I was totally going to crochet a bunch of wee red hearts this year.  Argh.

Between that and the presidential primary next week, they’ve got plenty to talk about on the news, so the whole rest of the world could be under attack from a pretentious giant sea monster and all we’d know about was the WGA strike being over.  Which, though I supported the strikers, is a good thing.  Reality television of the throw-a-bunch-of-people-together-for-money genre makes me want to cry; my mental image of purgatory is being the poor sap that has to edit that.

Haven’t done much (read: any) cooking lately, but I have read Nigella Lawson’s latest, Nigella Express.  It’s beautifully photographed, as usual, and also a decent read.  I can’t quite figure out what I like so much about Nigella, to be honest, save maybe that her writing seems to be frank and domestic without being excessively cute, and considers American food availability* without much disdain.  She also has a fine appreciation of alcohol.

There need to be more knitting books in the Nigella vein, I think–images, technique, and a slice of life.  Mason Dixon Knitting is pretty close, and The Yarn Harlot is like it without the pikturs, but other than that, I can’t really think of anything recent.  Admittedly, knitting is far more of a niche market than cooking.  There’s not a Fiber Arts Network, and yarn consumption isn’t something that must be done regularly for every human’s survival.

By the way, I’m sort of appalled that Julie and Julia is becoming a movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.  Not that I don’t wish Julie Powell the best, but Hollywood’s really mining every last book they can, aren’t they?

WisCon con report shall be forthcoming. I promise. I had a fantastic time and met some really fascinating and fun people, as well as did the fangirl thing and got several books signed. If I can make one quick comment, Go Read The Tiptree Winners. Particularly Half Life, by Shelley Jackson, which is surreal and funny and makes my American Studies student self smile. It’s very interstitial, in the sense that it isn’t science fiction of the strictest sense, but it’s in that not-real real that is magical realism.

Wow, that made less sense on the screen than it did in my head. Sorry. While you’re at it, might as well hit up the honor list for Mindscape, by my former prof Andrea Hairston. It’s really well-crafted and just…well, boggles the mind.

The weather here in Wisconsin has been terribly sporadic lately. My mother is of the opinion that Thou Shalt Not Start The AC Until Thou Art Miserable, and that’s a bit problematic in that turning on the oven or range makes the AC a slightly moot point. Not to mention that we try to keep energy down (less because of environmental concerns and more because of bills).

So it’s really been too hot to cook, except for the past day or so–it went from about 85 this weekend to 60 or so right now, and damp. In a way, though, it was really good timing, as I had promised to make something for a potluck this evening. Namely, the rum cake I had made before and that everyone had really enjoyed. Probably because it is rather booze-laden and we’re all in Wisconsin.

It’s also tremendously easy (and the recipe isn’t mine, it’s my aunt’s, incidentally). You basically make a yellow pudding cake with rum replacing half of the water, bake it in a Bundt or tube pan, cool and poke holes in it, then put this butter rum glaze over the top. The glaze…well, the rum’s not cooked with the glaze, partially for fire hazard reasons and partially because it’s better this way. I’ll have to let you know what the people thought, though last time they were very enthusiastic. If you want the exact recipe, drop me a comment.

Incidentally, while I’m talking pans and recommending books, the history of the Bundt pan is documented really well in Cookoff, by Amy Sutherland. The rest of the book is great too, and reads something like a Food Network special with even more human drama and behind the scenes. A whole world of competition that I only vaguely knew existed is some people’s life’s work.

By the way, I see from my stats that a lot of people read the feed.  Just curious as to how you’re getting here–drop me a line?

The concept is fascinating: the last refuge of humanity, bred to forget and to live under a religion that proscribes technology, in order to hide from those who would destroy them. The tough heroine is the only one who remembers the past and can stop this experiment gone horribly wrong. And the book’s compulsively readable despite being military SF, which I’m not always keen on.

So why am I saying that David Weber’s Off Armageddon Reef is so bloody flawed?

(more…)

Next Page »