Sunday Sum-Up: August 22, 2021

It’s tomato season around here. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in Nebraska, everyone with a garden plants roughly one-hundred tomato plants, as though they expect that only one in five plants will produce anything. But of course, each plant produces enough for a dozen people, and so everyone goes about offering tomatoes to everyone else in the hopes that someone will take part of their overabundant harvest off their hands.

So I ended up with a lot of tomatoes this weekend, thanks to someone at work.

Readers, I am one person who doesn’t eat tomatoes as a regular thing. I’ll get one now and then for salads or sandwiches, but one tomato a month is plenty for my purposes.

I ended up with nearly a dozen tomatoes and a bowlful of tiny cherry tomatoes.

So what does a non-tomato person do when presented with too many tomatoes? She attempts to make homemade ketchup for the first time.

I spent part of last night sorting through ketchup recipes and found one using fresh tomatoes that did not require twelve hours of simmering. It turned out okay, which is what I expected, and was less difficult that I thought it would be (as usually happens with new-to-me recipes).

But now I have a whole bunch of ketchup I need to use. There will be French fries in my future.

A couple of photographs from the week:

A little mouse came to visit us (outdoors) at work.

An odd little storm came through on Thursday. Most of the day was sunny and bright, but clouds started forming in the afternoon. But there was plenty of sunshine still. Until about 4:00, when we looked outside and noticed that, in spite of the sunshine, it was pouring rain. It rained for about ten minutes, stopped, and continued being partly sunny for the rest of the day.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Whenever I start to make the bed, Mina comes running in, jumps up, and burrows beneath the blankets. Typical cat behavior, I know, but it always makes me laugh to see her poking about until she finds just the right spot, and then crawling under whichever layer she’s decided is the right one. She’ll stay there for about ten minutes before she’s had enough. Then she goes back to running around, begging for treats, or doing whatever cat-thing she was doing before taking her blanket-break.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Real Valkyrie provides an interesting look at tenth century life in Scandinavia, ostensibly through the eyes of Hervor, the fictionalized woman that Nancy Marie Brown based upon the woman found in a richly-endowed grave in Birka, Sweden. When the grave was discovered with its partial skeleton, weapons, horses, and other goods, archaeologists assumed that the skeleton was that of a man. But thanks to DNA testing, it was revealed in 2017 that the skeleton was actually a woman’s. This made many people stop and reconsider their views of the Viking age and think about women’s roles during that era, as our current understanding was largely shaped by narrow-minded Victorian ideals. Brown speculates on what her fictional Hervor might have done and seen, and who she might have met in her travels. As Hervor grows up and makes her way in the world, Brown gives an overview of Norse life and cultures in the various locations. It’s a relatively common way to present a narrative on history, but Brown’s take on Norse life felt a little scattered, as though she hadn’t quite figured out how to connect the disparate subjects. Despite that, though, there is plenty to glean from The Real Valkyrie, and I would recommend it for people interested in Norse history.

Beowulf: A New Translation is a fascinating take on the Old English epic, Beowulf, using extremely modern language and internet slang that makes it sound like a tale told by men at a bar. It’s entertaining, for sure (as original tale was meant to be), and has a different, feminist take on Grendel’s mother (Headley’s explanation of the translation of that section is fascinating). But the au courant nature of the translation makes me wonder how long it will be relevant. Internet slang moves so very quickly, after all, and the ‘netspeak’ I grew up with is different from what teenagers now are familiar with. I doubt very much that my seventeen-year old nephew would have a clue about Trogdor burninating the countryside, or would understand my references to ‘basement cat’ or ‘i can haz chezburger’, anymore than I would understand what slang he uses with his friends. The moral of this being, “if you’re interested in Maria Dahvana Headley’s incredibly modern translation of Beowulf, read it before the slang evolves any further”.

I downloaded the audiobook of The Pilgrim of Hate from the library last Sunday and settled down for a few hours of sewing and whatnot while I listened to the entire thing in one day (I listen to these books around 1.75x speed). This time, Cadfael isn’t directly investigating a murder, as it happened many, many miles away. But the Abbot has brought the tale with him, and with many pilgrims arriving to celebrate the installment of the relics of Saint Winifred, everyone has to keep an eye out for criminals great and small. But the faraway murder investigation comes home with the arrival of two young men- one of whom is bound to walk barefoot to a distant monastery while carrying a heavy cross about his neck. Another young man travels with him, hardly letting him out of his sight. The deeper Brother Cadfael looks into their story, the stranger it grows. While this is not my favorite of the Cadfael books, it was still an entertaining read, especially with the reappearance of an old favorite character. I’m looking forward to the next one, especially given the political happenings going on in the background.

The Elements of Eloquence is a short book about the craft of writing and rhetoric. It names and describes a variety of rhetorical devices, like alliteration or assonance, that poets, speechwriters, and other writers have used through the ages to make their writing more beautiful, to make pithy jokes, or clarify their points. It was short and entertaining, and helped me understand some of the finer points of wordsmithing. I’m considering looking up a used copy to refer to when editing stories and whatnot.

Because I’m a complete nerd, I’m already considering what sorts of reading projects I want to attempt in 2022. Thanks to conversations I’ve had over the past month, my own general interest, and the film The Green Knight (which I saw last week), I may settle upon an Arthurian reading project. I’ve read many retellings over the years, been disappointed by several, and found others to be forgettable. But I haven’t read half of what’s out there, and of the ‘classic’ tales like Malory’s La Morte d’Arthur or Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian Romances, I’ve only read sections here and there. So I sat down one day and jotted down a list of Arthurian tales and retellings I was interested in, starting with the earliest story I could find: Historia Britonnum (The History of Britons) by Nennius, written around 829 CE. It’s Nennius version of the history of Britain, and is strangely fascinating given its blend of actual history and pure fantasy. Nennius writes, for example, that in Biblical times Ireland was a desert and no one lived there. Not actually the case, of course. But his recounting of Roman leaders in Britain is quite accurate, though his account of the initial battles against the Saxons smacks of untruth and national founding myths. But why, you ask, do I bring it up in light of an Arthurian story retelling? Because it contains the earliest accounts of Arthur, though it’s only a brief recounting of the twelve great battles he won, including that of Badon Hill where Arthur is said to have killed more than 900 Saxons by himself. It also contains the legend of Vortigern’s failed castle, in which the Saxon warlord Vortigern was trying to build a castle on a hill. But every time the walls reached a certain height they would crumble. So Vortigern’s sorcerers got together and told him he needed to find a young man without a father and sprinkle that man’s blood on the foundations. Vortigern’s men went out, and one day they found the young man they were looking for, brought him back, and were preparing to kill him when the young man gave them a prophecy about two dragons- the red and the white, and declared that this foretold Vortigern’s downfall. The young man is given no name in Nennius’s story, but later writers took it and made it part of Merlin’s story. Historia Brittonum is a short, odd little book that contains as much fantasy as fact, but it’s fascinating on many levels, whether your interest is Arthurian legend or general British history.

Strange Beasts of China is an odd, often surreal little book about a zoologist-turned-novelist who writes stories, mostly romances, about the various beasts that live in or around her home city of Yong’an. The beats are often very much like humans, but they embody certain aspects of the human condition, which often leads to their downfall. The narrator’s life is bound up with the beasts, and not just because she writes popular stories about them. The more she encounters the beasts, the more she begins to understand the oddities of her own life. I haven’t read many Chinese novels, so I don’t know if the structure of Strange Beasts of China is typical of contemporary Chinese fiction, or if it is unique to this story, but it had a far different structure from the average American novel. It’s a strange and haunting book that has much to say about the human condition and what we are willing to do to other beings and each other for our own selfish reasons. I’m still processing this story, but I will probably write a full review of it later on .

Did Not Finish (For Now):

  • We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen, translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund with Emma Ryer

I have no particular issue with We, the Drowned, but I wanted (and needed) to finish some other books first thanks to ARC publication dates and the arrival of library holds. I plan to come back to it fairly soon, but I’ll be reading short sections of it when I get there, as the topics can get dense and/or brutal.

This one is frustrating, as I’d been looking forward to this new volume of Dennard’s Witchlands series. But there are some plot elements that I’m irritated about because they feel like they’ve appeared with little to no build-up, and because one of the main characters never seems to be able to figure out that other people can see through their flimsy plans. You’d think they could learn after three books, but no… I may pick it back up later on, but I may just leave this series behind. We’ll see how I feel about it later on.

What I’m Currently Reading:

Sorcerer to the Crown is a Regency era fantasy wherein Zacharias Whythe, a young black man adopted by a white, upper-class English family, has been named to the post of Sorcerer Royal in an England that has lost its connections to fairyland and thus is experience an alarming decrease in magical power at a time when they cannot afford it. But Zacharias’s skin color proves to be more of a hindrance than he imagined, as his political enemies have latched onto his heritage as the reason that England’s magic is in decline (rather than looking at the real causes). Meanwhile, Prunella Gentleman is a young woman with magic who is stuck at a school for young female witches. The problem here being that English society is convinced that upperclass women are too frail to handle magic (in spite of the fact that the upper classes benefit from the magic used by peasant women and hedge witches). Both Prunella and Zacharias have an uphill battle ahead of them as they struggle to improve their lots in life and convince a deeply prejudiced society that they are capable people, in spite of their skin color and gender. So far, I am quite enjoying this book, though the casual, period-typical racism and misogyny are maddening.

The Heron’s Cry is the second book starring Matthew Venn, a police detective in North Devon, England, where he lives with his husband Jonathan. In this book, Venn is investigating the death of Dr. Nigel Yeo, who was found stabbed to death in his daughter’s art studio. Complications arise when Venn discovers that Yeo’s daughter is a close friend of his husband, and when another body is found, killed in the same manner, Venn must navigate the intricate- and sometimes rotten- connections that exist in a network of small communities. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Long Call, and every time I pick The Heron’s Cry up, I just want to keep reading. Cleeves’s writing is direct without being harsh, and her characters feel so real. I especially appreciate that she portrays people in small towns as complex individuals, rather than making them out to be country bumpkins.

I know. It’s not December yet, and thus not time for my annual reread of The Lord of the Rings, but when I saw some months ago that my library had acquired the full audiobooks of each volume of LotR, I had to put Fellowship on hold. I had no idea when it would arrive, as the list was quite long. But it showed up in my downloads yesterday, so I just had to start listening to it right away. I know Andy Serkis is recording a new version, but Rob Inglis’s version is too good to pass up.

About That Writing Thing:

I finished chapter fourteen of my current Work in Progress. Only one chapter left! It will probably have about 7,000 words. Maybe a little more. Right now, my story is nearly 105,000 words long and, according to Google Drive’s page count, it’s about 225 pages long. So I’ve basically written my second novel of the past two years. Huzzah!

Wish me luck as I tackle the final chapter this week. I’m hoping to have the first draft complete so that I can tackle the revisions and edits over the next few weeks. It feels wonderful to be this close to the end of this step of the writing process! And now that I have the story’s structure, tone, and themes hammered out, the next steps will go much more easily for me.

At least, they always have before so I’m assuming they will be again.

So yeah. The end is most definitely in sight.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: August 22, 2021

  1. Mouse very cute as long as it’s outside…and Mina as always….I read this yesterday and didn’t realize I didn’t comment

  2. Mina and her blankets!! We’ve been having little mouse visitors lately, but unfortunately inside, so far less cute. The curse of living in a city, I suppose. Hearing that you’re starting the LOTR audiobooks makes me want to do the same — it’s been way too long since my last re-read! Have a great week.

  3. I love Rob Inglis’ reading of LotR. I think he has a perfect voice for it, especially for Gandalf. I’m sure I’ll also try Serkis’ when they’re out, but I suspect Inglis will remain my go-to audiobook version of the series.

  4. It’s hard to go wrong with Inglis’s version, though I will give Serkis’s version a try. I mean, he’s Gollum, so all the nuance of the books they couldn’t put into the films will be amazing. And I do wonder if he’ll give Frodo and Sam the sorts of inflections that Elijah Wood and Sean Astin gave the characters during the filming. It’s out on September 16.

  5. Oh no! A mouse in the house! I know you said visitors, but mice in house just doesn’t rhyme… I hope they get taken care of soon! Mice are cute, but the problems they cause are not so cute.

    I can’t stop listening to the LotR audiobooks when I start them up. I’m really looking forward to Serkis’s narration. How’s he going to voice Tom Bombadil or Elrond? It’ll be interesting for sure!

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