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2017-06-26 10:42 pm
Entry tags:

two books, neither alike in dignity

It's book talking time!

Coincidentally, I have recently read two separate books about French spy-courtesans in the 1920s 19th century. One was Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night. The other - well, I call it a book, but it is an incomplete series, by Jo Graham, beginning with The General's Mistress and continuing in The Emperor's Agent and The Marshal's Lover.

Alexander Chee, award-winning author, is interviewed about TQOTN in Vogue and reviewed in the New York Times. Jo Graham is interviewed about her books in Amazing Stories and reviewed on, well, Goodreads. There is a great difference in the height at which your brow is meant to sit while reading these books.

Which just goes to show why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

The Queen of the Night is rapey-er than Game of Thrones, and you will not collect that from reading any of those interviews or reviews, but holy shit, it's grim and unrelenting. There is a lot of sex in this book - never let anyone tell you that Serious Authors don't write sex. What Serious Authors don't write is enjoyable sex, because that has the filthy female whiff of romance about it, and Chee will have nothing to do with that trap: enjoy 561 pages of bleak fucking, at best survival sex, at worst violent rape. But it's described like opera! So, you know: it's Art.

Whereas if on the other hand you like slumming, you could read a page-turner of a picaresque sex-and-war-and mysticism perspective on the Napoleonic Wars that is super, super interesting for someone who has tended to read about it from the English perspective! It reminds me very much of that Roger Ebert quote that's been floating around Twitter:
There's a learning process that moviegoers go through. They begin in childhood without sophistication or much taste, and for example, like "Gamera'' more than "Air Force One" because flying turtles are obviously more entertaining than United States presidents. Then they grow older and develop "taste,'' and prefer "Air Force One," which is better made and has big stars and a more plausible plot. (Isn't it more believable, after all, that a president could single-handedly wipe out a planeload of terrorists than that a giant turtle could spit gobs of flame?) Then, if they continue to grow older and wiser, they complete the circle and return to "Gamera'' again, realizing that while both movies are preposterous, the turtle movie has the charm of utter goofiness--and, in an age of flawless special effects, it is somehow more fun to watch flawed ones.
Both books are preposterous. But Jo Graham's books are cheerfully preposterous, with love at first sight being based on mystical reincarnation through the ages and a vow between Cleopatra's handmaidens or some such thing; and Alexander Chee's characters blankly drift through the ludicrous motions of a musicless opera plot because, as The Worst Bestsellers likes to say about characters in books like these, they are lizard people. Human motivations and actions are foreign to them! They hatched from eggs and now they are wearing human skin suits and that's why the author acts like their entirely, artificially plot-motivated behavior is normal and requires no explanation. It is normal, for lizards!

Whereas Jo Graham's books involve people having difficult but ultimately productive conversations about ambition and infidelity and polyamory - they don't have that vocabulary, but the ideas are definitely there - and people who aren't entirely good or bad, and an enby protagonist, and conflicted feelings about children, and the fear of aging and death, and politics that are rooted in the deep personal urge for freedom, and yes - magic, and sex, and fun! I got the third one as part of a StoryBundle, which was annoying as it spoiled the first two, obviously! But the moment I finished it I bought the other two anyway. Spoilers don't matter that much - they're not mystery novels, if you're writing about the Napoleonic Wars the interest of your story had better not depend on the reader not knowing how things turn out. The Queen of the Night I got from the library, and I tried to finish it, I really did. It just wasn't giving me anything to work with. It is the kind of book where spoilers matter - my loan of it ran out before I made it to the end, and I placed a hold on it to check it out again just because I did, honestly, want to know the answer to the mystery. But when my hold on it came due, I admitted that I did not want to know enough to drag myself through to the end of a very, very, very boring book, and I never checked it out the second time.

And, incidentally, between the grim, boring, rapey book, and the picaresque, sexy, fun book? The fun book is the one that's based on a real historical person. Maria Versfelt was a Dutch adventure star, as she is delightfully described in that Dutch website (thanks Google Translate), and her published memoirs are the basis for Graham's books. I think the reincarnation thing is invention, though.
metaphortunate: (Default)
2017-06-23 06:30 am
Entry tags:

fatalism o' the day

I am not good at political predictions. And I hope I'm wrong about this. But I don't see how we can keep the ACA.

I mean, this is why Republicans have been swallowing Trump's shit, right? For the Supreme Court seats and the right to pass this enormous tax cut? Isn't this what they sold the republic for? If they don't pass it now, wouldn't that require them to decide to have given it all up for nothing? Wouldn't they be taking a huge personal hit to their own opinion of themselves, not to mention their own taxes, and their own donors, for no other reason than to help millions of people they've never personally met and would probably not like if they did meet? Humans are not super good at doing that kind of thing; the richer the worse, the more powerful the worse, and I just don't really see how I can expect these particular rich old powerful motherfuckers to transcend the limitations of their species at this moment in time.
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2017-02-28 02:02 pm

Roonil Wazlib rides again

ME: Hey Junebug, take a look at this card. Can you read what it says?

JUNEBUG: C-oh-n-gr- grat- grat-you-l-ah- lah-tee- oh- ens?

ME: Yeah, good! It says "Congratulations!" Do you remember Teacher Bruce? He was your teacher from daycare?

JUNEBUG: Yeah.

ME: You know he's Rocket's teacher now. Anyway, we just found out he got married, so I got him this card, and I want you to sign your name. We'll all sign our names. Teachers love to know that their old students remember them.

JUNEBUG: Okay.
JUNEBUG: I'll write my nickname.

ME: Sure.

JUNEBUG: [carefully writes 'P', 'O', 'O']

ME: If you are writing "poop", I am about to be very angry.

JUNEBUG: [stops writing and visibly considers]
JUNEBUG: [carefully goes back and adds a curve to the bottom of the first capital 'P', turning it into a capital 'B']
JUNEBUG: My nickname is "Boop."

ME: Go to your room.
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2017-01-16 04:59 pm

you want it cheaper

In "Steer Your Way", the second to last song on Leonard Cohen's last album You Want It Darker, Cohen (the Jewish king of Christian allusions, always reminding me of Asher Lev) sings "As he died to make men holy/ let us die to make things cheap". Which, yes, irony, This Modern World, etc., but I also think about this statement which has been floating unattributed, yes I looked, around the internet:
If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.
In my experience, the only real way to make things accessible to other than elites is to make them cheap. I'm not here to say that people should die to make things cheap, I find myself unqualified to say what people should die for, this is not a pro-Foxconn post, but it does seem to me that making the good things in life cheap is, in itself, a good thing. Worth pursuing, anyway.

Incidentally, I'd been worried that I had been losing some of my enjoyment in music, I'm sick of everything I've heard recently, and then I thought to pull up You Want It Darker on Spotify. It's wonderful. It's all I've wanted to listen to recently. The Junebug made me turn it off in the car because "It's too scary for me!"
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2016-12-03 04:02 pm

the other thing about Moana

And the other thing about Moana is, it paints this, like, eye-wateringly idyllic picture of a pre-industrial society, just SO beautiful with those swelling chords and Lin-Manuel Miranda's catchy-ass lyrics dragging you headlong into it, and then casually, about two-thirds of the way through, oh yeah, infanticide is totally a thing, too.  o.O
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2016-11-27 04:36 pm

Moana's grandmother

What I need now is fic about Moana’s grandmother.
Cut for spoilers... )
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2016-11-16 09:57 pm

Rocket's favorite songs


You may recall that the Junebug at this age stayed on brand with a very strong message of MAMA DON'T SING. Rocket, however, is my little music lover. We have had to put our foot down and stand firm on ONE song every night before going to sleep.

For a long time every single night's request was "the diamond ring song" (Hush Little Baby).

This has recently been broken up by frequent requests for "millions of degrees" (Why Does the Sun Shine?).

A strong third is "Roy G. Bivot" (Roy G. Biv).

And, because I have been on a folk song kick lately, his latest obsession is "ladies fly home" (The Seventh Girl).

My understanding is that Mr. E gets other requests sometimes, but I don't know what they are.

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2016-11-10 10:35 pm

the teind to hell

In case you don’t know: [personal profile] tam_nonlinear is dead.
 
The last tumblr post she made, very characteristically, was an effort to make sure her cats were taken care of. The second to last was a request for someone to take over Tam Lin Balladry, the website she had maintained for as long as I’ve known her. I believe both cats and website are being cared for. Elizabeth Bear and Seanan McGuire are - were - friends of hers and seem to be taking care of it, which…thank you. There will also be a memorial gathering in Boston. I wish I were on the right coast to go.
 
This was one of those internet friendships that are hard to describe when people at work ask you if you’re okay. I never met Abigail. I never heard her voice. I hadn’t heard as much from her since the slow attrition of LiveJournal. But we were online friends for probably a decade. She was one of the most singular people I ever met. Well - we all know that online lives are curated. I’m sure there are hundreds of facets of her personality that I never knew. But I want to tell you about the Abigail that I knew online.
 
I am a better parent for having known her, and the way she wrote, so simply and beautifully, all about the slow, painstaking, patient work of loving wild things. I never knew anyone else whose love was so strongly given to the nonhuman world. To trees. To her garden. To wrens. To ferns. She noticed these tiny birds, these tiny leaves. Tiny changes in the park she took her walks in. And of course how she loved her cats. They were all ferals. It takes a lot of time and work and patience to earn the trust of a feral cat. It elevates respecting boundaries to an art form. I’ll never be as good at it as she was, but I’m better at it for having spent years reading regular updates on how patient, respectful, undemanding, constantly offered kindness opens up a space for trust and love. And about the responsibility that you take on when you get a wild thing to trust you. I remember when she had to take Portia to the vet to be put down. After years of slowly developing a relationship. The last gift she could give her was an easy death. And how she missed that cat. A cat that would rarely even come inside her house. She knew that Portia would never be able to come to her; so she went to Portia, she built their friendship on Portia’s turf. She held her so lightly. She knew how to love wild things. I often wondered how she learned it.
 
You know me, my view of life as a phenomenon is more or less that it’s a way for matter to have found a way to experience fear and suffering. Not a super great idea, in other words. But sometimes - I remember being in a planetarium once, and watching a show about all the different things in the galaxy, and all the galaxies in the universe, and how there is no life anywhere there, and it made me so sad, that there is so much beauty in the universe that will never be seen, by anyone. I wish it could be seen by someone like her. Someone who had the gift of really seeing. Someone who was a way for the universe to see itself, and know that it was beautiful.
 
And do you know what else she did? She did abortion clinic escorting. She fed possums, and she cared for wild cats, and she went to protests and Black Lives Matter rallies, and regularly, she went out and put herself between vulnerable women and people who want to scare and hurt them. She helped people. I admired her so much. I think I told her that. I hope I did.
 
She got laid off a couple of years ago, and she never was able to get another similar job after that. She was unemployed for a long time, and she had some retail and other part-time work, but I’m pretty sure it was nothing with insurance. And she had some serious long-term health issues. And then the election.
 
And she killed herself. I can’t even deal right now with people saying that we will survive Trump because ABBY IS ALREADY DEAD.
 
Tam Lin Balladry is her website of research, analysis, variations, and music for the ballad of Tam Lin. She maintained it for almost twenty years. It’s a complicated little story, that you can’t smooth a simple message out of. You have to contend with the rapey bit. There are so many ways to look at Janet. Is it a story about a girl looking for adventure? about women competing? Beauty and the Beast? making the best of what you’ve got? I’ve thought it about far more than I ever would have if I hadn’t known Abigail, and I’ll never know what exactly it was about that story that called to her so much, and motivated her to put so much work and care into it. But tonight I’m thinking about how hellishly seductive the idea is that we can save the things we love if we just hold on to them hard enough. I know it’s just a fairy tale, Abby. I will never blame you for letting go.
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2016-11-03 12:24 am

Portrait of the artist as a young Nader voter



Oh man! Remember me? I used to be around here sometimes.
(crosspost)

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2016-07-19 01:27 pm

you take the high road

In an effort to get our goldbricking, foot-dragging children to haul their butts up the stairs after dinner without whining every step of the way or demanding a horsey ride every single night, we have instituted a game called "Tickle on the Landing". The rules of this game are that, if you are on the ground floor, either of the two stair landings, or the upper floor outside of the bathroom, you are fair game for tickling.
 
This works well for both children. 
 
But differently. The Junebug will levitate over the landing and up the next flight of stairs to avoid tickling. Rocket will fling himself down on the landing and demand "Tickle me!" until he is told that he has used up all the tickle on that landing, upon which he will pound up the stairs on all fours in pursuit of his next tickle.
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2016-07-17 12:40 pm

enter Kevin

One thing about Ghostbusters’ Kevin: my friend C pointed out, Kevin is not a feminine character being played by a man, at all. All his obnoxiousnesses are masculine forms of obnoxiousness. He’s so comfortable in his own skin, he’s completely uninterested in any inconvenience his weird spaciness may be causing his female employers! He’s got total confidence in his graphic design skills! And he’s got no doubts that he’s qualified to be on the team and be a real Ghostbuster! He was born to be a Ghostbuster, and being born is all it takes!
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2016-07-16 12:52 pm

who you gonna call?

Ghostbusters 2016: go see it, but don’t wear mascara. I cried with laughter. Like, I remember the first movie started with kind of a slow build? The first scene is a ghost scaring someone in a library, and then we cut to Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman creeping on an undergrad? :/ The remake opens on a tour of a haunted house. Fifteen seconds in, the docent explains that this was the most elegant house in New York City of its time, with every modern convenience, including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence. So began the theme of the next two hours, which was me wishing that we could all laugh more quietly because I’m pretty sure I missed like a third of the jokes because I was still laughing from the previous ones.
 
It is not a beat-by-beat remake, which thank God, because what even is the point. It retains the basic plot of the most American movie ever, but why would you want to see the same thing done exactly the same way? You’re here to see the movie you loved done bigger and badder - check - and funnier - I know this is sacrilege but honestly, maybe, check? - and sexier - hella check - and cameos by all the original actors, which the whole theatre applauds when check. And delightfully retro special effects. And plenty of ectoplasm.
 
The casting of the Ghostbusters as women is more than a simple one-to-one switch. E pointed out that the new Ghostbusters are more everything than the originals: more successful, more sincere, more intelligent and committed and amped-up. And that’s part of the bigger and badder remake effect; but there’s another aspect. Venkman can be a fraud and a loser for his whole life and we still believe that he can take a breakthrough and ride it to success. But women don’t fail up like that. Venkman’s counterpart, Erin Gilbert, is an MIT grad physicist at Columbia who begins the movie by realizing with horror that despite all that, her name on a book taking ghosts seriously can scuttle her reputation and her chance at tenure in a snap. The scene where she mourns “I worked so hard! I kissed so many kinds of asses!” - Gilbert has to work more than twice as hard as Venkman to be just as much of a loser, and it feels so real.
 
God, I don’t want to spoil you, but it’s a movie that is extremely aware of the nerdboy hate it faces and having so much fun with it. That said: it was directed by Paul Feig, written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, and produced by Ivan Reitman, Amy Pascal, and Dan Ackroyd.  What I am trying to say here is, it was not created by the founders of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Chris Hemworth’s receptionist role is much bigger and funnier than anything the 1984 Ghostbusters let Annie Potts do. Like, he seriously walks away with every goddamn scene he’s in. Also, I feel the need to note that before the movie started, we watched four previews in a row:
  1. A movie about a boy who discovers that he belongs at a school for kids with magic powers, featuring a pretty girl who tells him that he is the one who has the special power to save them all
  2. A movie about a young man who comes home traumatized from the war in Iraq, featuring a pretty girl who tells him how strong and amazing he is
  3. A movie about the man who put the airplane down in the Hudson River, featuring a woman who tells him how amazing and brave he was to save all those people
  4. A movie about the smartest professor in the world, featuring a pretty younger woman who is there to tell him that he is the only one who can solve the puzzle and avert the apocalypse
  5. A movie about a traumatized boy who discovers the ability to summon a monster, featuring a pretty young woman who tells him he is important and deserves to break things if he wants to break them (no, seriously)
  6. Also, to be fair, Bridget Jones’ Baby, which looked cute
At no point did Hemsworth’s Kevin, or any other dude, ever tell our female Ghostbusters how special and important they were, so let me be clear that this movie is in no way a straight Hollywood role reversal.
 
I do want to tell you that somehow, in almost two hours of straight jokes, they managed to avoid making even a single fat joke about Melissa McCarthy. Amazing, but true. Also, prior to seeing the movie, I heard criticism that Leslie Jones, who is black, had to play the non-scientist streetwise character; but I did not realize that in this case “streetwise” meant “New York City history buff, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the actual streets.” 
 
I feel like I’ve just told you all the ways in which the movie doesn’t suck and I haven’t managed to explain how purely joyous Holtzmann is, and how funny McCarthy makes her Abby Yates, and how much I howled when I realized that instead of climbing a tower for the final battle, they had to dive into a basement. Seriously, the theme carries through. And I’m not even going to spoil the best bit for you. Go see the thing.
 

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2016-05-09 10:58 pm

call no man happy

This day, man. This fucking day.

Fucked up at work.
Fought with my mom.
Realized just how little headway I've been making against my student loans.
Bit the bullet and raised my monthly payment by…more than I want to.
Up too late figuring all that shit out.
Had a Personal Blood Issue, and that's all the detail you need.
Rocket had the crappiest day, poor sweetheart.

On the other hand…

Have cookies.
Went to a yoga class.
Took the kids to the library.
Had delicious Indian food for dinner.
Got a new jacket last week and I love it.
Mom has been making my favorite childhood foods.
Work has been fascinating and there is an exciting new project coming up.
The Junebug finally decided he wanted a haircut.

Actually that last one demands its own detail. He had this gorgeous long hair! I loved it! I loved that he was missing out on a lot of random boy gender role reinforcement! I loved that he wanted to have long hair! I am sad that he no longer has his gorgeous long hair and I can't put cute little braids in it anymore!

On the other hand…

No more hair in the food! No more hair in the eyes! No more trying to keep him from brushing his hair out of his eyes while he's in the middle of wiping his butt! No more having to condition his hair! No more wrestling with him to let me comb it and braid it on the train! Less beautiful, but more cute! Less striking, but MUCH less messy! Adorable cowlick! And - it has forced us to see him with new eyes. He looks like an entirely different person, and I'm looking at this little boy, and he is GREAT. I think I was kind of still annoyed with him for things that….he really doesn't do anymore? This has gotten me to really take a harder look at what he's like now, not a month ago! And I'm SO HAPPY with the way he is now.

You win some, you lose some. Or actually maybe sometimes you win AND lose the same ones?
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2016-05-06 12:44 pm

benediction

What's the opposite of a pet peeve? Something that affects you all out of proportion to its real importance, but it makes you happy instead of annoying you? 

Was reminded today that one of mine is people who tell you "Have a blessed day!" except they pronounce it "blest", because they don't mean it like a Special God Word that has a special è in it, they just mean it like an ordinary word that is part of their ordinary vocabulary, because wishing good things on people, maybe even just people that they happened to share a crappy overcrowded train ride with while all trying together not to step on someone's dog, is part of their ordinary life. 
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2016-05-03 12:54 pm

I am kinkshaming your weatherproofing supplies

You may remember that I made some pathetic efforts to silicone caulk around the back door recently, and the Junebug was fascinated; therefore, he easily identified what the handyman we saw out the train window this morning was doing.

"LOOKIT!" he announced loudly, to the entire train car. "HE HAS A CAULK GUN! MAMA, LOOKIT ALL THAT PINK CAULK!"

It was indeed, for some reason, possibly only for the amusement of those around small children, bright pink caulk.
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2016-04-04 03:29 pm

question for my fangirls

Has a/b/o replaced Directed!verse?

(if you don't know what this means, please do not worry about it. If you choose to worry about it, the results are your own responsibility and none of my own.)
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2016-03-31 12:41 pm

day and night

When Kid 1 is like: "No kisses. No hugs. No nose boops. Bye, don't touch me. I'm gonna shoot a cannon at you."

and Kid 2 is like: "Mama come here, I need to smooch you before you go. Are you sad? Do you want huggies?"

goddammit, I feel like an awful parent, but it is HARD not to have a favorite.

...that being said, there is something kind of nicely unworrying about a kid of whom you say to teachers, "Yes, he is irrepressible. We've tried to repress him, but it just doesn't take." Whereas with Kid 2, it's more like "please be careful of our extremely sensitive flower."
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2016-03-21 06:28 am

kids make you lonely

You know, mostly people did tell me that it was going to be exactly this hard. I can't pretend I wasn't warned. But there's just one thing that I don't think anybody mentioned? I constantly have that "all my friends are out having fun without me" feeling. And the reason is because y'all ARE. You post pictures about it! And I see these pictures and go "oh…they were here and they didn't invite me…and if they had, what day was that, that was…yeah, no way I could have gone…they probably guessed that…I can't really argue."

Or, you know, you DO ask me, and I can't go, and then you go out and have fun without me, and then I do the sad puppy eyes when looking at your pictures later.

Argh, it's not that I am not socializing enough! I have as much social time as I can handle and maybe just a bit more. I just have a lot of great friends who do really fun things, okay? I wish I got to see you more, it's just that I would need a time turner.
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2016-03-19 01:07 pm

I figured out what it is

Fic authors I have all the time in the world for: the ones who take your standard rigidly gendered canon and subvert the shit out of it.

Fic authors who can get in the fucking sea: the ones who keep the eighty-five male characters from their male-dominated canon male and turn the one and only female character genderqueer.

Oh, speaking of fic, not especially queered but wonderful anyway: I'll write you harmony in c by magneticwave. Because Mary Bennet was a woman tragically born out of her right time.
metaphortunate: (ambition)
2016-02-25 11:03 pm

yay part II

  1. I have a work event tomorrow for which I will need business cards.
  2. I did plan ahead and bring extra cards with me, hurrah!
  3. But I have lost my business card holder.
  4. I will not contribute to the Flawlessly Competent Design Professional impression I hope to make by digging dog-eared business cards out of an overstuffed Harley Quinn wallet that won't even close.
  5. I have no way of getting a new business card holder before 8:30 am tomorrow.
  6. YOUTUBE TO THE RESCUE.


I do love the internet sometimes.