- First off: I know that voicemail is an archaic technology and that all the cool kids are using the snazzy new messaging apps (whatever they are), but can we all agree that listening to a voicemail message from a business you’re working with doesn’t take that long, and can save a lot of confusion if you’d just take the twenty seconds to hit ‘play’ and listen? Agreed? Okay. Thanks.
- So this year wasn’t the first time I spent Thanksgiving alone, but it is the first time that horrible weather didn’t keep me from going to my parents’ house. We all decided to stay at home because of the pandemic, so there was plenty of texting going on (we’re a family of introverts who generally don’t enjoy talking on the phone or doing video chats). Overall, I had a quiet day of reading and tasty food.
- As I am not a fan of turkey, I decided not to bother with the bird and went for some Icelandic favorites instead. I started the food production on Wednesday, as it takes eight hours to bake the rúgbrauð, which is a rye bread that has traditionally been baked in hillside steam vents thanks to Iceland’s geologically active status. As geothermal activity is thin on the ground around here, I got the bread in the oven around 3:30pm and pulled it out of the oven around 11:30pm. Once that was baking, I started on the skyrterta, which is a dessert like cheesecake made with Icelandic skyr. Skyr is technically a cheese, but it has the consistency of yogurt. I quite like it, and the skyr volcano I had at Pakkhús, a restaurant in Höfn is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, period.
Anyway. Once I finished mixing the ingredients for the skyrterta, I put it in the refrigerator to set, and that was that. On Thursday afternoon, I gathered the ingredients for the plokkfiskur, a fish stew I first had at Salka Valka in Reykjavík. It’s made with white fish (I used sustainably caught cod), potatoes, onion, and a roux. It’s easy to make, which is great because I really like it, but again, am not very good at cooking.
So that was my Icelandic Thanksgiving dinner. It tasted great!
Obligatory Mina Photo:
Mina is not angry or hissing in this photo. She is yawning. She is yawning because she is tired, as well she should be since she has been up at all hours of the morning playing with foil crinkle balls and the noisiest toy mice she can find. She has also figured out how to close the bathroom door behind herself, which wouldn’t be a problem except that she doesn’t know how to open the door. So she gets stuck in the bathroom and starts throwing all her miniscule weight against it, which wakes me up– usually around 4:00am.
By the time I rescue her from the bathroom, we are both quite annoyed with each other. For the sake of a peaceful night’s sleep, I’m hoping she will stop shutting herself in the bathroom.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writings by Hilary Mantel
- The Lost Queen (The Lost Queen Trilogy #1) by Signe Pike
- Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) by C.J. Sansom
- The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki by Anonymous, translated from the Icelandic by Jesse L. Byock
Mantel Pieces is a collection of some of Hilary Mantel’s essays from the London Review of Books. Some are book reviews, others are essays about historical figures like Georges Danton (who she wrote about in A Place of Greater Safety) or Charles Brandon (a bumbling side character from the Thomas Cromwell trilogy). It also includes ‘Royal Bodies’, a meditation upon the physical expectations placed upon royal women, particularly Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. ‘Royal Bodies’ was considered by some British publications to be a scathing invective against the duchess, but a careful reading of the essay reveals it to be sympathetic to royal women, who have these incredible pressures placed upon them to be perfect women with flawless beauty and impeccable manners. No matter the subject, Mantel’s writing is, as usual, incredible.
The Lost Queen is a beautifully written take on the historical origins of the legends of King Arthur. In this story, Pike uses the story of Langureth and her twin brother Lailoken, an early Scottish figure who was said to have gone mad after his king died in battle, and gone into exile in the Caledonian woods. While there are similarities between Lailoken’s origin and the Welsh Myrddin, scholars generally agree that the Welsh tales are where Merlin’s story begins, not in the Strathclyde of The Lost Queen. Still, it’s a beautiful story that is beautifully written, though I would have liked to see a little more of Languoreth as queen. The foundations of her character- at age ten and again at fifteen– are strong, but then she fades a bit in the last section of the story. Given the synopsis of the second book, The Forgotten Kingdom, I’m wondering what will happen with all the character development Pike devoted to Languoreth in The Lost Queen. Still, I’m looking forward to reading the next book.
I’ve been hearing about Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series for quite some time, and it’s been high praise. Shardlake is a lawyer in the court of Henry VIII (Dissolution is set in 1537), and is occasionally tasked with investigating murders. It’s a bit odd to see the sort of writing I associate with detective novels set in the twenty-first century in a novel set in the 1500s, but I acclimated fairly quickly and was immersed in Shardlake’s world, the monastery, and his investigation. There were twists and turns I was not expecting, and wanted to go right on to the next book as soon as I finished.
The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki comes from an earlier era than the family sagas that are peculiar to later medieval Iceland. While it has a lot of family drama, it also features curses, spells, sorceresses, and magical beasts. It shares elements with Beowulf, but is quite different. I want to read it another time or two and get a better handle on what’s going on. It may happen that I end up liking this story more than Beowulf…
What I’m Currently Reading:
- The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth Trilogy #3) by N.K. Jemisin, audiobook narrated by Robin Miles (72%)
The Stone Sky is so compelling, and I have no idea what is going to happen. I can guess, but I’m sure I’ll be wrong on every count. Jemisin is an incredible storyteller, and I can understand why her characters react the way they do, no matter how good or bad it is. I’m planning to finish this up today. I can’t wait to find out what happens.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
- Shadow on the Crown (Emma of Normandy trilogy #1) by Patricia Bracewell
- Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price
Shadow on the Crown is about Emma of Normany, the woman who arrived in England, aged fifteen, to marry Aethelred Unread. After years of turmoil amidst a series of Viking invasions, she was exiled, returned to the throne of England, and married her Anglo-Saxon husband’s Norse successor. Emma proved her political acumen time and again, and it is theorized by some historians that she was the real power behind the throne during Cnut’s reign (and possibly still during the short reign of her son, Harthacnut). When her oldest son by Aethelred, Edward (called The Confessor) came to the throne, it seems that Emma may have tried to have him deposed. There was apparently no love lost between Emma and Edward. I’m curious to see how Bracewell deals with Emma’s political dealings, and what her take on the conflict between her and her eldest son will be.
Children of Ash and Elm looks like it will be a fascinating account of the viking incursions that spread across Europe from 793 to 1066. As the vikings themselves were pirates and raiders and not representative of the entire Norse culture, I’m curious to see how much of the Scandinavian cultures will be discussed.
About That Writing Thing:
I had planned to do a bunch of writing on Wednesday, and then I ended up having to run a bunch of errands and do a lot of laundry (and ironing. So. Much. Ironing). And also cooking. So by the time I got done with all of that, all I wanted to do was flop on the couch and read.
Still, I got a lot of writing done this week, as the characters I’ve been working with are familiar and easy to write. I’m on schedule to get to a particularly fascinating (to me) section dealing with weird magic and lost rites. And my mystical character gets to be extra weird.
I can’t wait.