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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: pirate saying "I need a convoluted narrative to really get off" (get off)
A couple of days ago @thefourthvine asked "what are the best books you read in the last year?"

When I gave her my list, I did not include A Seditious Affair. Probably this was partly internalized sexism-type reluctance to admit to loving a book in as stereotypically-middle-aged-woman (that's me! Hi, me) a genre as romance. I mean: let me admit, romance is legit a pretty limiting genre. The conventions of the form are strict and the premises are precisely, inflexibly, and, you know, kind of ridiculously bent. And if you don't like that sort of thing, it's not going to be the sort of thing you like.

But I cheerfully volunteered that one of the best books I read was Rat Queens, and that is a series in a genre where you literally have to have (1) mage, (1) thief, (1) cleric and (1) fighter. You know what genre that is, it is only for people who know it and love it, it relies entirely on those conventions, but within those parameters it is funny and fun and great. So, I admit to loving a book in a dumb boy genre, the dumb boy genre, c'est moi; I suppose I can repeat, once again, that the dumb girl genre is aussi moi. It's not like I'm hiding it. Not successfully, anyway.

But the other part of it is, even given the restrictions of its genre, I can't say that it was one of the best books I read last year. I can say that it was one of my favorites.

It's like this: the first aerial silks performance I ever saw was in a Cirque de Soleil show. It changed my whole concept of acrobatics. I'd never seen anything like it. It was so unprecedentedly beautiful. I was riveted. I couldn't stop trying to sketch the act all the way home.

And then, because I used to have free time and I spent it hanging out with jugglers and their ilk, I saw like 800,000 more silks acts, of varying quality. And I still like silks! But I'm not unable to, you know, tear my gaze away from the performance now. It's a cool act. I evaluate the performance. I roll my eyes a bit if I only see the same tricks I've seen a million times, and nothing new or daring.

But a while ago, I saw an amateur silks performance by a woman whose first performance in public it was. And maybe part of it was that I had a balcony seat, so I watched her climb up to me rather than being on the ground watching someone rise into the air like you normally do. But this woman, she was good: she didn't make any mistakes: she made all her tricks: but she was not good enough to make them look effortless. I remember watching her biceps bunch and release, bunch and release, as she hauled her weight up to the ceiling. A really good silks acrobat looks like she's floating on the fabric. This woman showed exactly just how goddamn hard and dangerous of a thing I was watching someone try to do. It was fascinating, it was the most I've enjoyed an acrobatic performance in years.

And similarly, I know there are books that seamlessly weave together plot, character, emotion, suspense, humor, history, social commentary, sex, family and poetry. Those are some great books, I like those books, I have read a lot of them because I have read a lot. I have consequently also read a lot of crap, of course. But this book was not quite either, this book was good enough to do a lot of the good stuff but it was not good enough to do it effortlessly. You could see the muscles pulling. And for some reason, seeing that happen was fascinating.

It is also relevant to my first source of hesitance that this series - this is the second book in a series, and the first one (A Fashionable Indulgence) is unfortunately not as good as the second one, but if you enjoy the second one you will want to have read the first one first because the second one thoroughly spoils the first one and also benefits from character development and setup from it, which is the perennial chicken fox and goat problem of the series reader - anyway, this series is explicitly about wanting things that you are not supposed to want, and how to deal with that. And Charles does not gloss over the fact that if what you want are things that are not respectable, you will not be respected. And not just in an inspirational poster "but only by people who don't matter!" way. You will not be respected in a personal way, maybe by people who are very important to you; and you may not be respected in a broader way, with consequences financial, social, maybe penal. The consequences are real.

But the things we want define us. Look, I hate to drag Ayn Rand in by the shoulders again, but she was right about this one: "My real soul, Peter? It’s only when it’s independent - you’ve discovered that, haven’t you? It’s real only when it chooses curtains and desserts – you’re right about that - curtains, desserts, religions, Peter, and the shapes of buildings." You define yourself when you choose, when you say this is for me and that is not, and also you expose yourself, and it's scary, Lord knows it's much safer, in both vague feeling and absolute immediate concrete ways, to look around you and see what other people are choosing and what choices are respected; but you have got to think about the fact that your soul may be embarrassing and inappropriate but it is the only one you have got. To what degree can you get along without it. Anyway, The Fountainhead this isn't, but it is in its own way a manifesto about letting your freak flag fly and paying the price for it. So: the dumb girly genre, c'est moi, and incidentally let me mention that unlike The Fountainhead, this book is also hot as the flames of hell. In case that is the sort of thing that your own personal soul is into, too.
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Hordes of people are freaking out about Tempest's suggestion not to read any books by straight cis white men for a whole year.

So, like; none of them ever had a year where they didn't read a single book by a Latina lesbian, and a trans black woman, and a Malaysian man, and so on, did they? They read something by every single combination of ethnicity and sexuality every single year?

Wait, they didn't? There was a year they didn't read anything by a gay Latina? THEN WHY THE FUCK IS IT A BIG DEAL IF THERE IS A YEAR IN WHICH SOMEONE DOESN'T READ ANYTHING BY A WHITE MAN.

Incidentally, I did this. One year right after college, I decided I was going to only read books by women, for one whole year. I highly recommend it. I read books I wouldn't ordinarily have read, that didn't at first appeal to me, simply because I had arbitrarily placed more familiar books temporarily off limits. I picked up books by authors who were labeled by their marketing as not FOR me; same reason, and it was great.

But more importantly, it reprogrammed my brain. It took white men out of their Center Of The Universe, Authority, Source And Validator Of Information status in my internal map of the world in a way that they have never fully recovered from; though I should do a refresher year sometime. You really, really, really cannot tell what the water you are swimming in is like till you step onto dry land sometime. Yes, there are tons of great books by white guys. I read them now! But it did me no harm and great good to spend a year leaving them to one side.
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Someone recently linked to Now You Have Dunnett, which is a great blog because I love Dorothy Dunnett and her language and her lightning-fast characterization but wow, do I not have the kind of intimate knowledge of Renaissance-era Scotland that you kind of need in order to keep track of what the fuck is going on. So when I read her first I want someone to help me remember who the Protector is and who are all these women named Mary and why the queen of Scotland is French and when someone says "Pinkie" the correct response is not "Pie" but "a shitload of people just died there" - or possibly "a shitload of people are about to die there", because I don't remember, and that's exactly the problem - and so on. And then I want someone to talk with about how great that shit was we just read, and the blogger is doing that as well, so that's fun too.

So it's got me rereading Game of Kings, perhaps a little more fruitfully this time because 1) I've read it before, and it's actually more fun when you know what's really going on, and 2) the blog and its helpful reminders. You know what's weird, though? I want fic I want about this book. This is quite unusual for me, normally I get into fic by finding writers I like, canon sort of optional, rather than by wanting fic for a particular canon. And I haven't been reading much fic lately - and I've basically been reading no sexy fic at all. And yet, I'm reading Game of Kings, and there are two fics that I kind of want to read now, and they're both sex scenes.

1) Agnes Herries' wedding night with John Maxwell
Eeeeh, starting off creepy unfortunately, because the poor girl was 14 when she got married. But the thing is, these are historical characters. Not, like, characters in Historical Ages where everyone knows girls got married as zygotes, and what everyone knows is usually wrong: actual people in history whose dates were recorded. So that's my excuse, and presumably Dunnett's. But I don't insist on sticking to the canon or the history; the age isn't the key, anyone could age her up if they liked, only to the point that she's still Dunnett's ugly, vital Agnes, with a strong personality of her own and a head full of romantic daydreams; not having quite reached the bitterness that she was on her way to developing.

What I'd like to see is fun, loud, dreamy, ugly Agnes, well intelligent enough to know that her land is what the men want, not her self - canonically, she has "a face like a pound of candles on a hot day" - going to her wedding night with a man who has, more or less, sent her extravagant poetry and brought her a perfect rose and praised all those characteristics of a heroine of romance that she knows, somewhere deep in her squirrely little heart, that she hasn't got. But that she wants to marry him for anyway.

And John, who Sybilla says, and if you can't believe Sybilla who can you believe, is "clever enough - and kind enough - to preserve the fantasy, or at least let her down pretty lightly." But who's not interested in playing up the fantasy as Francis might be: when Francis is writing his love letters for him, John warns him to "curb your mad, antic mind, I beg you. I've no heart to spend myself sustaining what you are creating for me."

So, what do they say to each other, what do they do with each other that night? A girl marrying a man dressed like a dream and a man in a poorly-fitting dream costume marrying a girl whom he believes will be "an excellent wife" if he treats her right - in addition to all her money? And there is evidence that they get it right. After the marriage, when Francis is captured, John visibly takes no hand in the matter, but it's pretty clear that he sends Agnes to help him escape; not something he would do unless he trusted her. And Agnes is "jubilant" to have accomplished her task; she seems happy and competent, well settled into her new life. Transformed, as Dunnett says, by "the dignities of happiness."

So it went well somehow. But how did it go?

2) Will Scott and Francis Crawford's third, non-canon visit to the Ostrich
Well, and this is the most obvious, the one everyone wants. Richard ships it! Everyone ships it! The second time Francis takes Will to the Ostrich, he allows Will to think that he's taking him to a room upstairs to fuck him. Will's reaction: "When Will Scott got to his feet, his heartbeats were behaving oddly, but he was not slow in following the Master…" Of course, when Will enters the room he discovers that Francis has actually brought him upstairs to meet the John Maxwell above mentioned, and has allowed Will to think otherwise, probably as part of a general policy of always keeping him off balance, and also for his own private amusement.

So obviously, if Francis and Will ever went back to the Ostrich, during the offscreen time before the gang got disbanded, Will would be a little smarter this time, looking for the connection to be made, the guy to be met or captured, the contraband or message to be passed or intercepted or overheard. Francis would take him to an empty room and Will would be wisely expecting the message under the water pitcher, or the contact hiding outside on the windowsill, or something. He wouldn't believe the cover story was the only story until Francis pushed him down on the bed.

Better yet, what if there was sex and some kind of ridiculous triple-dealing spy business. You know there would be. Man, somebody write this.

metaphortunate: (fooled you again brain)
I had some kind of minor nervous breakdown this weekend, I guess? I just kind of lost my ability to, like…make plans.

Or eye contact.

The particularly good/bad timing is that my sister-in-law and her husband are visiting, which is bad because I like them and yet I spent all of Saturday blatantly, horribly ignoring them and staring at my phone, and good because they spent most of Saturday entertaining my children and so I was able to do that. I really did spend all day reading. I haven't done that since the Junebug was born. *sigh* It was wonderful.

I didn't read all of Tana French's books that one day, but that's what I read that day, and over this past while I have been mainlining them all. I resisted reading them despite [personal profile] jae's glowing recommendation because I checked out the summaries and decided I just wasn't into that much child harm these days - well, they are murder mysteries, you have to expect a certain amount of murder. But then every time I turned around someone was drooling over the latest one, so finally I decided to start with The Likeness, on account of how no kids are the victims in that one. And then of course I read all the rest of them in a row. She really is excellent. Her books are a perfect illustration of what China Mieville says about detective fiction:
that unreality function is one of my favorite things in crime fiction: I've said this before in various other venues, but I think the logic of crime novels is not really "realistic," but is a kind of dream-logic. I don't mean that as a criticism but praise—I love the oneiric feeling of logic that is logical but that is punctuated by certain elisions.

On a much more cheerful note, and another story to scarf down in great chunks, Sarah Rees Brennan has finished The Turn of the Story! God, she's going to hate me for describing it this way, but: imagine that someone took the three main characters from Harry Potter and stuck them in a blender. Hit "Frappe" a few times. All right, pour them out, and now the redheaded born sidekick is also the smartest witch in his year and also the neglected child in a cupboard under the stairs. Except that there's no witches, but you know what I mean. The born hero is now the one with a huge and lovely family, and Hermione is a stone killer and the most delightfully misandrist elf you'd ever care to see (think Legolas, not Dobby.) It's not fanfic but it is a riff on genre tropes. In a sense it's the opposite of Lev Grossman's Magician novels. If Grossman had felt like writing about a guy who was fun to read about instead of The Douchebag Who Walked The Earth Like A Man, Quentin Coldwater might be a little bit like Elliot Schafer. Also, I might be interested in reading more than ten pages of the Magician novels. Yeah, I know all the problems with demanding ~likeability~ in characters, whatever. I'm a grown person, there are plenty of reasons to read books with unlikeable characters. If you as an author GIVE me those reasons. If you don't, then reading an otherwise dreary, forgettable book entirely about assholes is just me choosing to spend a few hours of my really truly irreplaceably precious free time with assholes, and I just…I don't want to do that. I don't believe in Elliot Schafer. No teenage boy has ever been that consistently kind and smart and brave and funny. But I don't really give a shit, because sometimes, for fun, I like to spend time with people who are kind, and smart, and brave, and funny. Even if they're fictional. I find it enjoyable! Go figure. Also go read the story, it is a prequel but it is complete in itself, and the ending is not what I thought it was going to be, which is always nice. It does suffer a bit from Rees Brennan's strength-that-she-leans-on-until-it-turns-into-a-weakness, which is that she is a very funny writer, so she writes very funny characters, to the point where sometimes their voices are not as distinct from one another as they could be. But, as weaknesses in free, fun stories go, "characters are too witty" is one that I will take. If this month has you needing a unicorn chaser, this story has got that covered for you. Heh. On a number of levels.

Music: I am still working through [personal profile] norah's Femcees mix, so no comment on that yet, but other than that I keep going back to Angel Haze. Oh, also, if you ever wanted to hear what has got to be Strexcorp's theme song, it's fabulous.

Going back to the small nervous breakdown: I think I need to make fewer plans. There are a million things I want to do, and I love my friends, I want to see you all! This….may be something I need to try to slow down on. I think the overhead is starting to get to me. I really gotta work on getting some more alone time.

Ask A Man

Aug. 1st, 2014 11:38 am
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May I recommend to you Ask A Man. (A personal favorite, to start with.)

From the description:
Stephen Shaughnessy is a Certified Man who lives in England in 1882. He answers questions on tumblr through the strangest of black magics, which he does not choose to explain here.
But Stephen Shaughnessy first saw the light of day as a helpful guy in the pages of The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney Milan, currently $3.99 on Amazon Kindle:
It has come to the attention of the editorial staff that our newspaper, with its determination to be "by women, about women, and for women," cannot possibly impress anyone as we lack the imprimatur of a man to validate our thoughts. To that end, we have procured an Actual Man to answer questions. Please address all inquiries to Man, care of Women's Free Press, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. - F.M.
I know people who scoff at the idea of comfort reading. Which is fine: you don't have to like all the things I like. Though I will note by the way that a number of you have sources of comfort in basically all of your reading that not all of us have. Representation, of course; and the characters who represent you not having mysteriously gone llama. The subtle reinforcement of the social pyramid is a nearly unnoticeable source of comfort to those of us on top! But, you know, that's cool, like I said, you don't have to like romance novels or anything like that, and it's not like Milan is immune to it in her own ways. If you're not into femme stuff, or fluff, peace out now; I want to talk about Courtney Milan, and her books are romance, and fluff, and they are the best fluff ever and if you like this sort of thing you need to read these. NOW.

Here is the key to the joy of Courtney Milan, helpfully summed up in the title of one of her very own novellas:
The Lady Always Wins
Remember when I wrote about Georgette Heyer?
Hugo wants Anthea and Anthea wants Hugo, that is a fact. But in the way their conflict is set up - the classic way that courtship is set up - if Hugo is cleverer than Anthea, Hugo and Anthea get each other, and if Anthea is cleverer than Hugo, neither of them gets to be happy. What's Anthea's motivation to be clever, or funny, or effective, or wise, when doing it gets her punished instead of rewarded?
Oh my God, Heyer is funny and fun, but all of her heroines (but Sophy! Go, Sophy) have to accept their proposals in tears, reposing on the manly bosoms of men who have masculinely rescued them and corrected them and sorted out their lives, because God knows the women were making a dog's breakfast of them. Elizabeth is so very Wrong about Darcy and Wickham (Darcy needs to be less of a dickhead, but he's not Wrong about Elizabeth's family being jerks, because: jerks.) Marianne is Wrong about, uh, everything, and needs to nearly die and admit that she is just so goddamn emotional and wrong before "by general consent" she can become the reward of everyone's obligations to Colonel Brandon. Jo is Wrong about wanting to be a boy and a writer and not marry and she needs to stop writing all that awful trash that they put in newspapers! where kids can read it! and marry a much older man (all covered in crumbs, obviously) and start a Boys' School where she can teach Boys and have Boys because Boooooooooys, fuck it.

(In these days of the 50 Shades trailer coming out and everyone falling all over themselves to go on about how awful it is that women just keep throwing their wallets at that crap, I'd like to take a moment to say that I haven't read 50 Shades, but I have read Twilight now, and I saw the movie, and my understanding of the rest of them is that it kind of boils down to this:

Bella: Damn, you are hot.
Edward: You are also hot and fascinating, and I would like to spend eternity hearing about your favorite bands, but I can never be with you because I am too sexy and powerful and dangerous!
Bella: Wow, really? I would like to have a sexy powerful dangerous boyfriend who thinks I am hot and fascinating. Incidentally, I would also like to MYSELF be this sexy powerful dangerous thing.
Edward: No, I can't! It's too dangerous!
Bella: And sexy and powerful?
Edward: Maybe.
Plot: [Occurs.]
Bella: [Gets every single thing she wants.]
Bella: Huh, this is what I used to want, and what I tried to get, and now that I have it…I'm really happy and pleased with my undeath choices. Plus we even have a magical daughter who was sleeping through the night 30 minutes after she was born. Let's make out!
[makeouts] [interrupted by wrestling mountain lions and punching a dude who used to kiss her without permission]


Anyway, Courtney Milan, back to her: it's like a romance novel, with the focus on women, and the comfort reading style, and the sexy parts, but without the bit where the women are doing everything Wrong and the men swoop in and correct them. Instead, the women are doing various other things! Sometimes they are not daring to let themselves be great and they need someone to encourage them to be great. Sometimes they are in a tough situation but they meet someone else who is in a tough situation and they find ways that they can help each other. Sometimes they are in a tough situation but they meet someone who needs help and that gives them an idea for a way in which they can help the other person and also themselves. Sometimes they meet someone who is Wrong and just needs his ass kicked. Sometimes, although in minor parts, they are lesbians. They're pretty cute about it!

And the lady. Always. Wins.

And Milan is seriously just getting better and better. Like she says: don't start with the Carhart series - unless, going back to representation, you would cry with gratitude to read a happy ending romance novel about a good person who happens to be struggling with what looks like bipolar, in which case you want Trial by Desire. But every book she has published is better than the one before. Last year I was raving about The Countess Conspiracy, because Ms. Milan knows what unspeakable desire really lurks in the hearts of women: a powerful, sexy man who is devoted to the dream of getting his beloved her rightful principal investigator status on her published scientific discoveries and then becoming a faculty husband.

But The Suffragette Scandal is even better.

So read it.

If you like that sort of thing.
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Thursday when I was home sick I decided to start watching Orphan Black, since I hear so many good things about it. And then I was totally unable to because Netflix doesn’t stream it. (Which is just infuriating, because I can stream something Mr. E isn’t interested in watching, but if I get a DVD Mr. E isn’t interested in watching, then I’m blocking him from getting any more DVDs until I watch it, which in the case of a whole 6 episode disc could be a year at this point, which is an unreasonable length of time to prevent Mr. E from getting another DVD.) Anyway, I wasted some time being frustrated about that, and then I decided to watch some more Orange is the New Black. I got up to episode 3 season 1. (I know everyone else is up to season 2. That’s how fast I watch TV shows.) It’s really good! Looking forward to getting the chance to watch ep 4.

Anyway, I paused between episodes to make some tea, and I was idly thinking, “Wait…I meant to watch Orphan Black, why did I change my mind?” And I answered myself, “Oh right, cause I’m not feeling great, I think I thought a comedy might be easier to WAIT THAT’S NOT TRUE AT ALL IT WASN’T STREAMING.”

I didn’t change my mind.

But I got to see my brain confabulate what I had intended and what actually happened and come up with a rationale about how I changed my mind.

(Where your eyes don't go a filthy scarecrow waves its broomstick arms/ And does a parody of each unconscious thing you do/ When you turn around to look it's gone behind you/ On its face it's wearing your confused expression/ Where your eyes don't go)

Speaking of the silent monster(s) who share your identity, I recently read Ancillary Justice, and it is just as good as everyone has been saying it is.

I know not everyone is pleased with Leckie’s approach to rendering a agendered language, but the use of feminine pronouns throughout gave the whole universe an enjoyably retro 70s lesbian/feminist-separatist sci fi feel for me, so I dug it.

I wish I’d known that it was the first part of a trilogy. Actually I wish it hadn’t been the first part of a trilogy, because fuck trilogies, can people please write some more just one goddamn book? But I am pleased there’s a chance we’ll learn more about how the ships absorb their ancillaries - the glimpse we saw of Justice of Toren getting a new body brought online was fascinating. I will be picking up the sequel, which of course makes me part of the problem.

(Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of)

I find the question of free will vs. fate in the sense of causality, physical law, etc., so boring at this point that I am reluctant to give it even as much space as I have in this sentence. But the not only multi-bodied but multi-minded beings of Ancillary Justice provide an excellent allegory with which to look at the much more interesting question of how free our will is when it is limited, not by fate, but by our own minds. Anaander Mianaai’s technically internal conflict illustrates it most dramatically, of course, but I ask you: how many times have you firmly decided that you would do something, and then, simply not done it? Let me tell you how many times I have logically and rationally decided that I am not hungry and I do not need to snack and those pastries aren’t good for me anyway and then quietly gone over and gotten myself a donut. Or let me wonder - because I can’t tell you - how many times some wordless part of me has taken an action or made a decision, and then what I with somewhat black humor call my consciousness fills in the backstory of an explanation, as I did on Thursday, about OITNB - only so slowly and clumsily, because of my illness, that for once I actually caught myself doing it. Someone in here is doing their will, but I am damn sure that it is often not what I think of as me.

In our world, of course, one body to one person; no matter how many conflicting impulses or personality parts or what have you within one body, I must treat it as one unitary being; and so I personally must come to the darkly amusing conclusion that everyone but me has free will. Because from my point of view, you are one voice saying one thing, and you say what you like. But with my panoramic view of the inside of my own skull, I am locked in here with a huge, silent, invisible, and only dimly deduced presence that can’t be reasoned with, can’t be questioned, and very often, can’t be moved from its choices by all the will that I can bring to bear.

(Though I note one more thing. I myself am not good at getting myself to do what I have decided to do. That is partly because I do not practice it. Conscious will, I do know, is a thing that gets easier with practice. I don’t practice it, deliberately, because I know a thing or two about myself. And one thing I know by now is that this consciousness of mine, the wordy part, you know, is the part of me most easily swayed. It’s the part of me that can be convinced to starve myself. To hate myself. It’s the part that goes on diets. It’s the part that divides all my days up into duties on the calendar. And the part that I can’t reach - I know, after all these years of living with it, that’s the part that won’t let me starve us, whether of food or of fun. I could get better at weakening it. I don’t dare.)
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I've been thinking about Allison's iconic line from The Breakfast Club:
When you grow up, your heart dies.
I mean. There's some truth to it, isn't there?

One of the biggest parts of growing up, for me, has been slowly trying to grind it into my head that the world doesn't give a single solitary shit about my heart. The world cares about my hands. And what I do with them. That's the only thing that makes a difference to the world. My heart can contain oceans of feeling and it makes not a single difference to anyone outside my head unless I do the hard grinding work of doing something about it.

And I don't know about you, but my heart is kind of stupid? I find that if I care too much, it actually makes it harder to get up and do things. Also, I'm lazy. My heart wants to daydream. My heart wants things to just work out. My heart wants the Junebug to love it when I hug and kiss him as much as I love it; my heart doesn't want to do the hard work of figuring out how he likes to get attention and affection and express it that way instead. My heart doesn't want to do annoying repetitive research and organization at work, that over weeks and months and years accumulates into experience and understanding. The other day the Junebug was crying that he didn't WANT to do something and I told him I understood, I was going to do things I didn't want to do every single minute of the whole day. I tell my heart to shut up a lot. I tell it that I don't have to like the things I do, I just have to do them.

Do that for a few decades and yeah. Maybe your heart dies.

Because I think, all respect to Ms. Bujold, but I think Miles was wrong. I think that I am in fact buying my heart's desire with my heart. I spend all day ignoring my desires and doing things I don't want to do so that I can have the life I want - not, like, at some mythical point in the future, but right now - and that doesn't make any sense at all BUT IT'S TRUE. Moment to moment, my life is really annoying. On the occasion I get to take a step back and a deep breath, I love it. How - why - what?


As part of the stupid week of stupidity I had fifteen minutes to kill in a bookstore and I accidentally bought a book we already own, because it was that kind of week. Having bought it, though, I went ahead and reread it. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin, classic of the genre obviously. Really good book. But, two things I noticed, which I did not notice the previous time I had read it:

1) Though it's not explicitly about gender in the same way as The Left Hand of Darkness, or anything, there's a lot of gender in it. But just like Left Hand and its male pronouns, you can see the bits where LeGuin was explicitly thinking about gender, and you can also see where the patriarchy sneaks in around the corners. If you tell me that in your utopian society sex is totally egalitarian and free of weird fucked up power or ownership themes, but you show me that your sweet sympathetic hero tries to rape a woman the first time he gets drunk and never gives the slightest thought afterwards to how she might be feeling or tries to apologize or wonders about his actions or anything, you have depicted a different society that I think you meant to depict; one much more like our own.

2) Deliberately depicted, though, was the way that gender ties into the book's huge theme that survival depends on cooperation. LeGuin hammers it home that Shevek could not do his work without colleagues, people to bounce ideas off of, people to support him, people even to try to tear him down. He couldn't find them on Anarres so he had to go to Urras. And she also makes it very clear that a female physicist could not have found what Shevek found on Urras. A female physicist could not have developed the ansible because she might have been as bright and as motivated but she would have been stopped by the hard limits of what one person can do all alone.
metaphortunate: (Junebug)
Every time I read Mr. Tickle it gets more and more fucking depressing.

Same with Curious George. We really need to get the ones where he gets the hell out of the zoo. Also, another one in the fine tradition of artistic works where you do a bit of reading and discover that the thing was done by a man and a woman but only the man's name was ever put on it for some reason.

Mr. E, in a delightful display of foresight, got on a kids' costumes swapping thread before Rocket was even born and organized the kids' costumes for this Halloween. Rocket was a peapod. The Junebug was Elmo. Let me tell you something. If you go out dressed as Elmo on Halloween, you are dressed as baby Jesus. Not the baby Jesus: Jesus to babies. All the other little kids whispered "Elmooo" and reached out to try to touch him. Except one. Slightly older kid whose parents yelped "Elmo! Son! Look! It's Elmo!" Kid looked at the Junebug, looked at his parents, said nothing. Except his face, which eloquently said "Bitch, that is not Elmo. I know Elmo. Elmo doesn't get all fucked up on Kit Kats and nod out in his stroller in a pile of wrappers."

Now I've seen all the mommy drive-bys. Last one I saw was someone harshing on other moms for the little mittens you put on newborns so they don't claw their own eyes out. On the grounds that it was mean to deprive them of hands.

I would say we were doing fantastic with a toddler and a newborn if only I didn't need to sleep. The days are long and demanding but if we could put the kids to bed and get our well deserved etc. to be ready bright and early the next morning, it would all be fine. The problem is that the nights are just as long and demanding.

FOGcon 2013

Feb. 4th, 2013 08:22 pm
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Got my FOGcon assignment!

I'll be on A Great Read with Lisa Eckstein, @sairaforreal, and two more awesome people whom I see now (oops, sorry guys) are listed as "anonymous" so I won't mention them unless they say to but seriously they are friends of mine and SWEEEET. I am especially looking forward to this because we will be talking about:
Slow River, by Nicola Griffith
which is an excellent lesbian cyberpunk book about street crime, corporate crime, and sewage. And it is also pretty interesting to contrast it with Solitaire, written by Ms. Griffith's partner Kelley Eskridge, which is also a lesbian cyberpunk book; but which is less about sewage and more about being an introvert and getting lost in your own head. So to speak. Together they are the best fiction that I know of ever written about project management. Solitaire isn't officially part of the panel, but I know that at least two of us loved it, so it may come up.

Incidentally, Slow River won the Nebula award in 1996, beating out Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age; and apparently this so incensed John Scalzi's fundraising troll that 17 years later he needs to run for president of SFWA. Or something. Anyway, if you want to see what the fuss is about, pick up a copy of Slow River and come see our panel! Saturday March 9, 10:30 am.

A brief quote on the book by Ms. Griffith:
Not long after I sent the Slow River outline to my agent, she called:

"This is not a selling outline."

"Why not?"

"Well," she said, "in Ammonite Marghe had a girlfriend because she had no choice, poor thing. But why does Lore like girls?"

"Because she's a dyke, Fran," and I fired her.
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What I ended up reading was The Brides of Rollrock Island (alternate title: Sea Hearts.) You know that story that was being forwarded around last year, about that little Greek town where people live forever? If you read that and thought romantically that it sounded kind of nice, a small old-fashioned community where people actually know their neighbors and have some kind of connection to their place, go ahead and read the first hundred pages or so of Rollrock Island. Think about what it could be like like to live in a small community where everyone knows everyone and no one likes you. Think about an old-fashioned community where there are strict roles, and it feels like you don't fit into any of them, until slowly you realize that unpaid drudge, burden on your family is a role, and every day your family and neighbors crush it in tighter around you.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is, among other things, a feminist fable about various traditional roles that women are supposed to fill - seductive vision, good mother, mystery, locus of desire, yin nature, nagging wife, lunatic, witch - and how those roles poison and destroy the lives of fucking everyone they touch. Even the women who are good at them. Even, to some degree, the men. I mean, the book isn't just a parable, it's not Animal Farm for ladies instead of Communism. Not that Animal Farm isn't a great book, but Rollrock Island is slipperier. It has layers. It's a harsh examination of love and desire and entitlement. It's poetry. I mean really beautiful poetry.

This is my favorite review of it. There are other good ones.

A number of reviewers say that they are not quite sure what Ms. Lanagan was trying to say. But I think I know. You don't know until you get to the very end, though, and you find out Spoilers, for real. Don't click if you think the book sounds interesting. You'll enjoy it more that way. But come back when you're done, and tell me if you agree. )

And the bleakest part is the clear implication that this had happened before, that Misskaella is the descendant, the remnant of the last witch's work. That the oldest women on the island, and maybe the men too, feebly try to prevent it from happening again. And it doesn't work. And perhaps Daniel Mallett's great-granddaughter will be born ugly and grumpy and with an affinity for seals, and everyone on land and sea will get ready to suffer again.


ETA: To clarify, Rollrock Island is not about Ikaria! The NY Times article is about how healthful and nice it can be to live in a small, tight-knit community, and the book is about how nightmarish it can be to live in such a community. But they are not about the same community.
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Oh, bookstores. We've had some good times together, you and I, haven't we? Half Price Books in Houston, I remember so many long afternoons spent hidden in your stacks reading and rereading your strangely complete Dykes To Watch Out For collection. I apologize for never buying a one of them, but I was still living at home; books about lesbians were not really something I could have owned back then. God knows I bought plenty of other books from you, though. Stars Our Destination in Chicago, how I remember the long ride up to the north side of the city to go to my first Friends of Lulu meeting in you. I remember musing on the message of the change Alice Bentley had made to the title of Bester's book. Dear bookstores. I will miss you when you go. Stars Our Destination is gone already. Dreamhaven is barely open. Alan Beatts of Borderlands sees the writing on the wall.

But I know you are going, dear bookstores, because no one loves you more than me, and even for me, the one and only reason at this point why I ever shell out extra cash and storage space for a physical book over an e-book is the Junebug.

The Junebug is why I sometimes grit my teeth and close my Kindle window and resign myself to not reading a book until that day maybe weeks or months from now until I find the time to get by a bookstore - if the bookstore even has the book I want, which it probably won't, and Amazon temptingly always does, literally 90 seconds away. See, I grew up in a forest of books. My parents' books surrounded me on all sides. There were the books I picked out from the library, sure, and occasionally even from bookstores, but there were also the ones that I never, ever would have chosen for myself, yet I read them and read them and learned so much because they were right there, in my bedroom, whenever I was bored. Ralph Waldo Emerson. The complete works of Lewis Carroll and the collected stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. The complete works of Oscar Wilde. David Copperfield. John Holt. 500 old copies of National Geographic. I never would have chosen them for myself. If I had had to ask my parents to borrow them, I probably wouldn't have: how could I have justified it? I didn't have a reason, I didn't really know what I was reading, if god forbid there were any SEX in the book and my parents had asked me why I was reading it I would have died of modesty. But there was no barrier to entry for these books, none at all. And so I was rich.

How can I make that happen for the Junebug with e-books? I need a way. ("Never buy anything with DRM on it" is not a realistic way.)
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I just finished Red Plenty. I'm honestly not 100% sure why I was reading it; I mean, Soviet Russia isn't a big one of my interests. Not that it's not an interesting subject, but just not something I've been drawn to so far.

On the other hand: 1) it seems to be in the zeitgeist somehow, like Code Name Verity* was six months ago, and it's always kind of appealing to be able to participate in the big fannish conversation; 2) I like to make sure I'm reading some nonfiction or at least semi-nonfiction regularly, because I think it is just as temptingly easy and just as bad for me to feed my mind nothing but junk food as it is to feed my body that; 3) however I am shallow and lazy and the truth is I like spending time with history better if it's squeezed itself into a showy dress and stuffed a couple handfuls of plot into its bra. I know, shameful. Still, one must be honest with oneself, if one doesn't want a bunch of virtuously begun and never finished books lying about cluttering the bedroom or the hard drive.

Red Plenty, however, did not provide enough plot or characters or anything to make me like that aspect of it, and yet is fictional enough that I feel dumb now for having read it to scratch the learning itch. It is one of those books where you read it and then wish you had read the books listed in its bibliography instead. Also I feel dumb about the fact that it's the first book about Russia I've read in years and it was written by an English dude who doesn't speak Russian.

So I was thinking that I have never read any Solzhenitzyn, and maybe I would pick up Cancer Ward. But I have two arguments against that. The first is, as I have maybe mentioned earlier, that my general level of anxiety these days is such that I can't bear to look at cute animal pictures on the internet. They make me think of how animals are mostly treated, and how most of those animals are going extinct. God forbid I see a picture of a baby animal doing something cute because I either can't help thinking of its mother panicking just outside the frame, or else that it's being held by a human because it's been abandoned by its mother, because it's being raised in a zoo because its habitat is gone and all her instincts are all fucked up and the baby has been abandoned, and… yeah, I have to close the tab and compose myself. Can't really deal with cute animal pictures right now. So it seems to me like maybe it's not the right time to read Cancer Ward.

The other reason is that I tend to avoid Famous Important Narratives of Resistance by Oppressed Dudes because in my experience they tend to explore the depths of human nature and the cruelty and resilience and cowardice and anger and nobility in all people except for women, who get dragged in occasionally for real people to have sex with. (Elie Wiesel, Malcolm X, I'm talking to you.)

So now I'm not sure what to read next.


*Have you read Code Name Verity? Go read Code Name Verity right fucking now. If you're local, I can loan it to you. Seriously. So good.

hi guys!

Nov. 1st, 2012 10:25 pm
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Umm, long time no talk. What's been going on….

I have had almost one whole glass of wine so I am pretty drunk! It is sad as shit what being pregnant for nine months and then nursing for sixteen months will do to your alcohol tolerance.

Incidentally, 13 or 14 months was about when I stopped being comfortable nursing in public in terms of feeling judged for nursing a kid that old. Not sure why. Maybe because he's started walking.

Before I had a kid I had Opinions on how old was too old to be nursing. Like, I thought, if the kid was old enough to speak up and ask to nurse, it was too old. Now my educated, considered, and strongly held opinion is that it's none of my god damned business how or whether anybody else's kid nurses. They know what's going on with them; I don't. I have enough to do just figuring out what my own kid needs.

Speaking of which, I stayed up too late last night reading Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More, which I got because of a recommendation from The Fat Nutritionist on Twitter. It's theoretically aimed at adoptive parents, but has a lot to say that is relevant to anyone who's feeding a kid. Perhaps especially anyone who has food issues of their own, although, do I know any adults who don't have food issues of their own? Anyway, I found it a can't-put-it-down page-turner.

I have been thinking a lot lately about letting go of things I can't control. My baby goes to daycare. He's come home making signs that I don't know. He's learning things that we haven't taught him. It's weird. Really weird. I have to let it go. He's going to learn things I don't teach him, maybe even things I don't want him to know, or not to know at a given time - biting, for example, which we have already gotten a note about an incident of - and that's probably even a good thing. No parent, not even the best-intentioned, should be in complete control of everything their kid learns. I have to let it go.

There are people I really like whom I am coming to terms with the fact that they just don't like me as much as I like them. Not that they don't like me, I think? But you know how it is. There are people you like and you want to see more often… and there are people you like, and you see them maybe once every year or two, and that is just fine by you. And I am that person to some people. And that's okay. I have to let it go.

I've been having a lot of anxiety lately… not just about the election, but Lord knows, it doesn't help. And I'm trying to get better about curating my own news reading. I don't need to click on every "read this to be outraged! If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!" link my friends retweet about horrible things happening in Naperville, or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is not one goddamn thing I can do for women in the Congo. Seriously. Not one thing. To be anxious about them is a narcissistic, masochistic indulgence that does not help them at all. I don't need to pay attention to things I can't affect or help in any way. In fact I specifically need to not do it, because, because it eats up energy I could be spending on things I actually can affect. Attention is the currency of the day. The things I can't afford to spend it on: I have to let them go.
metaphortunate: (Default)
Interneeeeeets! I missed you! My computer DIED finally. I mean, slow death over the past 3 months, but it finally joined the Choir Invisible. So I type to you on my brand new Retina display! OHMYGODIT'SSHINY. So shiny.

(Oh, Mac. What's a week of migration troubles and bullshit between friends, bullshit which is not yet over but I just can't deal with it anymore tonight, I ask you? Or at least between company that beat me up and took all my cash, and sucker.)

I just saw Seanan McGuire's post about how she will Not Be Writing Any Of The Rape, Thank You, Horrible Entitled Fan. Which reminded me of the Diana Gabaldon book I read over my trip. 1940s woman goes accidentally time traveling back to Olden Times, and if there's one thing we know about Olden Times, it's that it was always rape o'clock back then! However, and I did not quite get how funny this was until the end, our protagonist Claire gets a rape threat here and a rape threat there and here a grope, there a beating, everywhere a rape threat, but in the end, spoiler )

Which totally works for me! I mean, if rape is necessary for gritty realism, let us have realistic gritty backstory for everybody! Let's have Batman dedicated to fighting crime because his parents were killed and then he got buggered in an alley! Let's have Captain America overcome his trauma from being gang banged by Nazis! I mean, those male superheroes - going around by themselves all the time, wearing all that skintight spandex. What did they expect?
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I've never read 50 Shades of Grey, but while I was lying around sick last weekend I enjoyed Jennifer Armintrout's sporking of same. It's funny! But man, are there a lot of people out there moaning that the writing is terrible, and no wonder they can't get published if this is what people want, and - more seriously - that isn't it terrible that women apparently find this sexy and want to fantasize about a creeper like Chedward Grullen. I do find it kind of funny that when Twilight came out it was all "what about the children" fretting about what kind of example Bella was for teenage girls and now that 50 Shades is apparently "mommy porn" the zeitgeist effortlessly shifted to fretting about, apparently, what kind of example Ana is for middle-aged moms.

About the bad writing: as @PennyRed says: "Um, hello? It's PORN." Porn doesn't have to be lapidary or groundbreakingly original. It gets popular on different terms. Bitterly announcing that 50 Shades's overwhelming popularity is a sign of the end of literacy and shows why your carefully crafted novel can't sell - i.e., it's wasted on the inferior readers of today - is pathetic. You don't see moviemakers do this. Kathryn Bigelow doesn't go around blaming The Hurt Locker's depressingly small box office on the popularity of Big Wet Asses #14. Or at least not in public.

Not, to be clear, that Ms. Armintrout does that either. She's got a sense of humor about the writing ("Chapter 8: This One Time I Fucked A Girl So Hard She Turned Into a Pirate"). But she goes on and on and ON - and she's hardly the only one - about how she cannot believe that there are women out there who talking about wanting their own Christian Grey. Because the dude's an abusive creep.

But I kind of think she's missing the active ingredient of the fantasy. 50 Shades didn't introduce the concept of abusive creeps to women at large. Twilight didn't. How many of the girls whom everyone is all worried about their reading material, have already encountered the abusive creep up close and personal in real life? The appealing aspect of 50 Shades/Twilight isn't that the hero is an abusive creep. The appeal is that in this fantasy-fulfillment fiction, the abusive creep is just misunderstood, and really means well, and only wanted the best for you all along.

Does that sound familiar? Because it's what people have been saying about Rene Welling at Readercon. Hell, it's what people always say first thing at cons and in high schools when some asshole harasses a woman. He didn't mean anything by it. Man, don't you think women want that to be true? I'm reminded of one time at Wiscon when people were making fun of the healing cock trope and [personal profile] commodorified stood up and said, gosh, you know, why would a community overwhelmingly made up of women be attracted to a fantasy where one bout of good sex would cause you to just magically get over your trauma from being raped? It's a mystery! We all shut the hell up. Why would women resonate with a fantasy where the scary dude who won't leave you alone turns out to be only scary in a thrilling way, turns out to be sexy, turns out to be rich and secretly kind and fixable under his rough exterior and perfect once he's been tamed by the power of your love and understanding?

Cause we get told and told that these creepy dudes should be forgiven, understood, worked around, given the benefit of the doubt. And yet, of course, when you were the one in the situation, you know what happened. And it's fucked up and disorienting to have the world at large telling you what you know isn't so. You end up all, am I crazy? Am I the one that's crazy? Do I really have to break my community now to deal with this? And, y'know, sometimes you do. I'm so grateful to [ profile] glvalentine for doing that. But I tell you what that is not: it's not a relaxing wank fantasy. And there's a place in life for fantasy. Sometimes you don't want to read only manifestos. And if you'd like to take a break from cognitive dissonance, and you don't fantasize about fighting; maybe sometimes you fantasize that maybe the world works the way people tell you it should, and you're neither crazy nor being lied to and manipulated ALL THE FUCKING TIME, and that if you follow the rules you'll be rewarded and safe and get love and good sex and fun. It's a lie, you know it's a lie, but it's not hurting anyone for a woman to enjoy a fiction for a while. All porn should be so harmless.
metaphortunate: (Default)
And I've just finished _Pawn in Frankincense_. THREE HOURS after I should have gone to sleep. Luckily, though, what with that plus the news today, now I will probably never sleep again.

Do not, under any circumstance, read this book if you have a one-year-old son. That's my advice.

I need a unicorn chaser in the worst way.

ETA: My unicorn chaser is "Your Daddy's Aim is True", hockey RPF, Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews, explicit. It is also kidfic. The porn bits and the kid bits are ENTIRELY SEPARATE AND NOT IN ANY WAY RELATED.

And here is the thing: although mostly I dig the porn in slash, you could take the porn entirely out of this story and it would still be the best. The porn is beside the point. Here is my very favorite line:
Patrick just stares at him, because - ready? Ready for what? You do not get ready to take care of a baby by just getting handed one and a bunch of stuff and going to it.
metaphortunate: (Default)
To follow up to our earlier discussion: if you have finished Cryoburn, I strongly second [personal profile] azurelunatic's recommendation that you read:

First: Treatment for Shock, by [personal profile] dira.
Then: Sunset, by [personal profile] philomytha.

And then feel slightly better about the whole thing. We should all be so lucky.
metaphortunate: (Default)
Okay so a bunch of shit happened since we last spoke including my computer died, we flew to the east coast, I went to two weddings, I lost my voice, I got pinkeye, we ended our experiment with #darkness - not in that order - and I want to write about all of it, but time is limited so first: three books by women that I read this week. Um, four actually. And a half. No spoilers, but some might show up in comments.

1. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel.

Delusions of reference )

2. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Free from Baen!)

Falling angels sing thee to thy rest )

3. Among Others by Jo Walton

Is it me? Maybe it's me. )

4) Oh fine, bonus book: The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel.

If your child is any shade of indigo, please hang up and dial 911 )

Incidentally, if you would like to read some real book reviews, the kind that give you actual information about books and let you know whether you might want to read them or not instead of trailing off into unrelated parenting worries and/or recommendations for pornographic fanfiction, you could do worse than checking out [personal profile] wired's reviews tag. She does good stuff!


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