I did not, in fact, end up with a hangover after overindulging in wine last weekend. But I was incredibly loopy on Saturday night, and though I was still coherent, I am quite thankful that my friends put up with my crazy texting.
Otherwise, it was a decent week. A mix of good and bad things, but nothing horrible enough in my own life to throw me for a loop. Nothing grandiose, either. It’s just been a series of perfectly fine days blended with a few, generally frustrating things.
Basically, it was a week.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
I’ve commented on Mina’s TV watching habits before, but it used to be that she watched YouTube videos for cats– recordings of birds and squirrels picnicking at feeders and whatnot. But Mina has apparently grown bored of the shows meant for her and is branching out. She greatly enjoys sewing and history bounding videos by Bernadette Banner, Rachel Maksy, and Abby Cox. She is not interested in the BookTube channels I follow. Sorry, Daniel Greene. My cat thinks you’re boring.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth trilogy #2) by N.K. Jemisin, audiobook narrated by Robin Miles
- The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science by Seb Falk, ARC provided by NetGalley
The Obelisk Gate was an amazing follow-up to The Fifth Season. I had no idea where the story was going to go after the revelatory statement that ended the previous book, but where it did to was unexpected and satisfying. There were so many routes Jemisin could have taken the story that would have made it more like a traditional fantasy, but she took none of those routes. This made is a much better story. This trilogy deserves every award it has received. It’s a genre-defining and genre-defying story.
As much as I love the Victorian Era, its historians have a lot to answer for. I want to go back in time and smack each and every one of them upside the head for copy/pasting their own views of How Things Are onto previous ages. Every era likes to see itself as the pinnacle of human achievement, but the Victorians took this to extreme. They painted the Roman Empire as this grandiose epoch of human history, and decided anything after that was just crap. Until, you know, the Renaissance when we learned to read the works of Classical Greece and Rome and stopped letting the Pope determine everything we could do! Oh, and the Victorians also took their gender norms and applied them to everything they found, which is part of the reason that, until only recently (think: within the last ten years) that archaeologists stopped assuming that every skeleton found with a sword was automatically a male warrior. (Hint: Not every skeleton found with a sword is a male warrior. Some of them are women. Probably more than we think.) But I digress.
The common modern view of the medieval era is to assume that the people of that time were too stupid to breathe and spent their time burning books because the Pope said “Books bad!”. And so they spent 1000 years malingering in abject idiocy and willfully abandoning anything that smacked of “reason” or “science”.
But Reader, may I turn your attention to a little thing called the ‘gothic cathedral’?
Seriously. People who could design and successfully build churches- with fan vaulting, flying buttresses, and intricate stained glass windows- that have stood for centuries were not stupid.
The Light Ages seeks to shine light on the scientific advances of the late medieval era, specifically the 1100s-1300s. Seb Falk anchors his history on John Westwyk, an English monk of St. Albans who wrote a scientific manual in the late 1300s, which dealt with how to mark the passage of time and the movements of the planets through the night sky. Falk also shows how the vibrant university society flourished during the era, and how popular were scientific documents dating from the Classical Greek and Roman eras, right up to the latest writings from Arabic doctors and astronomers into the 1300s (and into the 1400s). It’s important to realize that scientific progress isn’t marked by long periods of dead air followed by out-of-the blue breakthroughs by a singular mind. Progress is made in increments across the centuries, and a breakthrough is often a single step among many– it just happened to be the thing that everyone latched onto. We can’t fault the medieval thinkers for not having access to the same scientific knowledge and tools that we have. They were doing some pretty amazing things without the benefit of computers. Many of our assumptions about science in the medieval era are wrong, and Falk’s book shows how thinkers like Westwyk were often more subtle and more advanced than we give them credit for. They knew the Earth was round, and they knew the general circumference of it. And while they didn’t understand why the movements of the planets didn’t make perfect sense, well, no one else would until the 20th century. The people of the medieval weren’t less intelligent than we are. We just have better tools.
- By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar
I have no grand objection to this book. I don’t mind grimdark, which is what this felt like. Nor do I object to grimdark as applied to Arthurian lore. Tidhar’s take on the legends is basically, “what if Arthur was a thug who knew how to gather power to himself and take advantage of it all the way to the top?”. Which is probably how a lot of kings of the time got their power. But the writing felt so perfunctory. Tidhar was just marching through events like he was ticking them off a list. I was more than 100 pages into the book when I realized I just didn’t care about the characters or the narrative. It’s an interesting take on King Arthur, but the writing was not to my taste.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth Trilogy #3) by N.K. Jemisin, audiobook narrated by Robin Miles
After finishing the second book in the Broken Earth trilogy, I immediately requested the audiobook of the third book, The Stone Sky. My Libby app informed me that I was third on the waiting list, and that it would be about a month before it was available.
This was a lie! The Stone Sky showed up the very next day. I’ve only just begun it, though, so no thoughts on it yet.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
- Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writings by Hilary Mantel
- The Lost Queen (The Lost Queen Trilogy #1) by Signe Pike
I still want to read Hilary Mantel’s collected essays for the London Review of Books, but The Light Ages was denser than I thought it would be, and so took much longer to read than I anticipated. I will start this one soon, though.
Also, another round of Tome Topple is upon us! I have a bit of a late start, but I want to read The Lost Queen, which is apparently another take on the King Arthur myth. I really wonder how it’s going to turn out, given that the original Arthurian stories are Welsh, while The Lost Queen is apparently set in Scotland, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
A Stitch in Time:
So I’ve been working on my witchy hat. It’s been fun so far, but I ran into a bit of weirdness when I sat down to sew the two brim pieces together. See, I bought a thimble for the first time (turns out you don’t want to sew multiple layers of wool blend without a thimble. I mean, you could if you hated your hands, but I don’t hate mine, so I bought a thimble), and when I first put the thimble on, I realized I didn’t know which hand I used for sewing.
I know how ridiculous that sounds. But I am cross-dominant. Or multi-handed. Or mixed-handed. Whichever you want to call it. This means that I use different hands for various tasks, instead of one hand for pretty much everything. I say I’m left-handed because that’s what I write with, but I do a lot of things (like sports?) with my right hand. And because I’ve only done a bit of mending in the past several years, I could not remember which hand I use for extensive sewing.
Cue five minutes of confusion as I tried to figure that one out.
Turns out that I sew right-handed.
I sewed the brim pieces together, ironed the result, and (unevenly) top stitched the brim, and then ran into another problem: the crown piece was too wide to fit onto the brim, even though I had measured it all several times by then.
Add to that the fact that, when I pinned everything together (which was when I realized that the crown was too big) and tried the hat on, it was too small. The pieces fit fine individually, but not when pinned together. After many attempts, I finally figured out that I had pinned the pieces together at the wrong point and just needed to readjust.
But the crown was still a little too big for the brim. Fortunately, I’ve been watching Abby Cox’s unboxings of the antique gowns she collects, and through that I’ve discovered that even couture sewing is way more slapdash than I’d thought, so I felt more comfortable about finding a workaround for the crown problem without having to entirely re-cut a new one.
I’ve re-pinned the pieces (again), and plan to get the sewing for that done today. After that, I just need to add the ribbon (so I can secure the hat to my head on a windy day) and the lining, and it will be done. I’m hoping to have this project completed this week.
About That Writing Thing:
It’s a good thing I decided not to take part in National Novel Writing Month this year! Between the election and running out of time because of witch hats and dense history books, I would be failing!
But I’m not upset about my progress so far, because every time I’ve had a chance to sit down, I’ve been making easy progress through the story. I’m approaching a major turning point in the plot, and then will be pivoting back to a few of my favorite characters for some general politicking and then some travel through a beautiful locale. Then the weird magic-stuff will start to happen! I’m excited for that part, even though I probably won’t be getting to that point in the story for at least a couple of weeks.
But progress is progress, and after sitting down and basically failing to make what felt like appreciable progress throughout October, it’s great to be able to just sit down and get 1,000 words without effort. I’m hoping to get a few hours of writing in today, but I have a bunch of errands to run today, so we’ll see how far I’ll get. But there will be progress of some kind!