Sunday Sum-Up: August 15, 2021

Friday the 13th was the other day. Does this mean we can officially start decorating for Halloween? Asking for a friend.

The heatwave finally broke here, and yesterday was lovely. Today is supposed to be lovely, and the rest of the week is supposed to be lovely, too, although my day off is predicted to be the warmest day. Go figure. Still, it’s not going to be 100°F or anything, so I can live with that.

Last Sunday morning, I ventured out to the farmers’ market, where I bought vegetables for the week, a package of Lebanese cookies, lavender tea, a bouquet of flowers, and some chocolate gelato in a cone. Also, I saw a lot of dogs. All in all, a successful trip to the market.

Later in the week, we had some insect friends show up on the windows at work. Though when I say “friends”, I really mean that the grasshopper was cute, and the mantis was creepy. I always feel like I should kill the mantises when I find them, as they are invaders (the native mantids are tiny and brown), but when you’re faced with a giant insect known for eating its own, and it looks back at you when you walk up to it, you should be sure that you can take it out with the first shot, and I’m not sure I could do that.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Though we did not watch the Olympics, I think Mina caught wind of the gymnastics events, and now fancies that she, too, could awe the world with her flips and other such acrobatics. Granted, she only does these things in pursuit of her Go Cat wand toy, but she is definitely impressed with her abilities. If I fail to get the Go Cat toy out and play with her by about 10:00PM, she begins to meow loudly and look at me expectantly until I pick up the toy and start playing.

After about fifteen minutes of play, she’ll flop over and decide that she is done playing, or else she’ll settle onto the couch arm and watch the toy flit about, but not go after it. So I doubt she’d be able to make it through those long training sessions that gymnasts do to get themselves in shape. Still, a cat can dream.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Elder Edda contains some of the oldest Norse tales that still exist. There are stories about Ragnarök and Loki’s treacherous nature, as well as various parts of the tale of Sigurd and Gudrún. It’s weird and often unfamiliar territory, but the deeper I get into old stories, the deeper I want to go. Greek mythology is massively popular, I know, but there’s something so flighty and shallow about the Greek gods and demigods that they don’t hold my attention for very long (unless the story is written by Madeline Miller). But the Norse tales… they’re so strange but so immediate, mysterious and hilarious- often at the same time. I will be seeking out more sagas in the future, with the Völsunga Saga probably being the next one.

There are no more superlatives with which to describe Wolf Hall. It’s brilliant, and every time I reread it, I see more details and foreshadowing, and I’m left wondering just how Hilary Mantel managed to put it all into words.

I had a sudden wish to read a thriller of some kind, so I scrolled through my local library’s audiobook selection and picked a later John le Carré novel, Spy Running in the Field. It’s hard to describe, but it goes something like this: Nat, an aging British intelligence officer who has spend his career enticing foreign nationals to spy for England, meets Ed, a young man who hates Brexit and Trump but loves badminton. Nat is also a badminton player, and so the two build a friendship over semi-weekly badminton matches at an athletic club. At the same time, Nat is given control of a run-down intelligence office in London, and his primary duty is to keep watch over a double-agent who is having second thoughts about his decisions. It’s a quiet, tightly-written book with a pace that seems slow but keeps building tension all the way through, and even though you know from the opening paragraphs that something is going to go terribly wrong, when that moment happens, it’s still so shocking. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It makes me want to keep reading le Carré’s work.

What I’m Currently Reading:

We, the Drowned is a historical novel set in Denmark, though it follows generations of boys and men from a little Danish town as they grow up and head out into the world on various sailing ships. It’s beautifully translated and goes from being funny to horrifying to tragic almost in the span of a single page. I’m enjoying it so far (not the war scenes, which are graphic and, you know, WAR, but so it goes), but it’s one of those novels where I’ll only read a chapter or two at a time. It will probably take me the rest of the month, if not a little longer.

The Real Valkyrie is, ostensibly, a sort of history of the 10th century warrior woman whose grave was found in Birka, Sweden. For years, archaeologists assumed that she was a male because she was buried with weapons and other things associated with men. But a 2017 analysis of the skeleton’s DNA revealed that it was actually a woman, not a man buried there. This was an astonishing realization (and of course, some people declared that, “well, she was buried with weapons, but that was just an honorific. She wasn’t actually a warrior. Because, you know, Woman”. But if you’re going to say that “these male skeletons buried with weapons were definitely warriors, then you can’t up and say that the women buried with weapons [and who had evidence of combat injuries] somehow weren’t warriors), and has prompted a rethinking of our assumptions about Viking warriors and women’s place in Norse societies. The main problem I’m having with The Real Valkyries is that it’s so scattered. Brown assigns a name to the woman in the Birka grave, Hervor, and makes up a life for her based on the sagas from the early 900s. We follow this woman as she grows up and travels with various female figures like Queen Gunnhild, and Brown describes the history, legends, politics, and crafts of the time and place. But instead of feeling like story filled with detailed worldbuilding, the book reads like Brown wanted to talk about all sorts of disparate subjects, but couldn’t quite figure out how to string it all together and so put things in at random. There are a lot of fascinating facts and ideas, but it doesn’t feel very well connected. Expect a more in-depth review a little later.

I’d been a little leery of Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf, just because I knew that she brought a lot of very modern terms and words into this thousand year old poem. For example, she translates the famous opening, “Hwaet!” as “Bro!”, and will say things like “#blessed”. I generally prefer my translations of ancient works to not be so glaringly modern, but I like Beowulf, and so after seeing a few reviews I decided to give it a try. My library had the audiobook available, and it’s only four hours long. And so far, I am really enjoying it! The bro-speak Headley uses suits the nature of the basic story, which features warriors boasting about their deeds, just like guys might do over beers at a bar on a Saturday night. So I’m glad I tried this, and I’m looking forward to listening to more of it, especially given Headley’s treament of Grendel’s mother, whose passages she translates not as “monster” but as “aging warrior queen”.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I requested both Strange Beasts of China and Witchshadow from the library, and both arrived within a couple of days of each other, because that’s always what happens. Strange Beasts of China is less than 200 pages, though, so it shouldn’t take long to get through it. Witchshadow is roughly 450 pages, though, so it will take some time. I decided not to go with the audiobook this time, as I’m not the biggest fan of the series’s narrator. She does a perfectly fine job for most of the text- especially with the various accents- but I kind of hate how she voices the male characters.

The Craft:

Not a lot of sewing last week. I had a lot of photo editing to get through, and I did a lot of writing. But I started stitching the first of my striped pillowcases one evening while listening to an audiobook, and I got about half of it done. So I’ll probably stitch the rest (and maybe more) while listening to the rest of Beowulf. I anticipate getting another audiobook sometime this week (perhaps the next Brother Cadfael book), so I might get some more sewing done- maybe I’ll even finish the first of the two pillowcases!

About That Writing Thing:

I reached 100,000 words in my current work in progress! Woohoo! According to the page calculator I consulted, that comes to roughly 200 pages. I have about another 10,000 words left in this story, but as I’ve been good about writing about 1000 words every day, I should have the first draft finished up in the next couple of weeks. Then it’s on to revisions and edits. I’m hoping to have the prologue and first chapter ready to be posted on AO3 in mid-September. Right now, I seem to be on track.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: August 15, 2021

  1. If I recall correctly I’ve only photographed a native Carolina mantis once. All the rest have been the invasives as you found here. But I still love photographing them. And unfortunately at this point they are so widespread there’s likely little we could do about it, similar to starlings. Glad to hear you enjoyed John le Carré’s book. I’ve read and enjoyed Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy, which takes place back when British intelligence was pitted against the Soviets. Like you I enjoyed it enough to want to try more. And I look forward to hearing what you think of Strange Beasts of China. Hope you have a great week!

  2. Thanks, Todd! I rarely see the native mantids, just because they’re so little. And brown. They blend in so well. The Chinese mantis (like the one I photographed) is so common around here now, too, that there’s no getting rid of them. I looked them up, and it turns out that they were released by accident in the 1890s. Oops…

    I still need to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I’ve seen the movie- the one with Gary Oldman- but I don’t think I’ve read the book. I’ve just read le Carre’s newer work. I will definitely report back on Strange Beasts of China!

  3. Now I want to watch Catlympics on prime-time TV! Mina for the gold!! Great photos — love the smiling dog. The Le Carre book sounds great. I remember hearing about it when it came out, but as I haven’t read much of his work, it slipped right off my radar.

  4. I once watched a video about, I think, the Russian Cat Circus, which is the closest we’ll get to the Catlympics… The dog was great! I wish you could see his eyes better, but it was so bright outside that day I could barely see anything on the camera screen. Oh well. His personality shines through anyway! I recommend the audiobook of Spy Running in the Field. Le Carre read it himself, and he did a great job.

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