I’m so glad last week is over.
I had a lovely weekend. Three days off with nothing to do and weather that encouraged people to stay home (snowy and cold). I got extra sleep, I baked, I read, I got caught up on some TV shows. Overall, a great weekend.
The rest of the week… Was not so restful. I hit a flock of problems that ended up not being a big deal at all but were stressful to deal with until the resolution came about. For example: I lost my wallet on Thursday morning. I had to get to work, so I couldn’t do a lot of searching at home, but I checked the main places it should have been, plus in the couch. No one recovered it at the bank or grocery store I went to the day before, and I didn’t see it anywhere. So I spent part of the morning getting my bank card, driver’s license, and credit cards replaced.
Only to get home that evening and find my wallet, safe and sound, in the couch cushions that I had already checked.
Go figure. All’s well that end’s well, I guess, but there was a lot of stress and hassle I could have avoided if only I’d been slightly more thorough in my initial search.
So the stressful week is over, and I’m hoping that this week will be a lot more laidback.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
While last week was stressful for me, it was pretty relaxing for Mina. She found a new place to explore: the bathtub. My tub has sliding doors which are usually closed, but she has recently discovered that those doors are occasionally open, and there is another space she hasn’t fully investigated yet. If the door isn’t open when she wants to hang out in the bathtub, she paws at it until I come and open it. This usually occurs around 4:00AM. Needless to say, I have gotten into the habit of leaving that door open a little way so that she can get into the bathtub whenever she pleases.
I did a quick load of laundry last night. I pulled out the old comforter that I fold up to use as a cat bed, folded it, and by the time I turned back to the laundry basket, Mina had hopped in and made herself comfortable. She looked so cute that I let her stay there for a while. It’s a good thing I wear mostly black, and that what was left in the basket were mostly socks.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and Tibet by Jamyang Norbu
- The Land of Stone Flowers: A Fairy Guide to the Mythical Human Being by Sveta Dorosheva, translated from the Russian by Jane Bugaeva
- Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, audiobook narrated by Darrell Dennis
- Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari, translated from the Japanese by Anthony H. Chambers
I read about The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes last year in David Damrosch’s Around the World in 80 Books. It was one of his suggestions for the book’s journey through Asia, as it was written by Jamyang Norbu, a Tibetan activist and writer who has lived in exile for more than forty years. Norbu tells the tale of what happened to Holmes in the two years between ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Empty House’. Holmes ended up in Tibet and met with the Dalai Lama, but obviously, Watson wasn’t there. So Norbu pulls in a character from Rudyard Kipling’s stories, Huree Chunder Mookerjee, a spy and scholar, and presents him as the narrator of the story. Huree tells of how he met Holmes in India, how Holmes was nearly killed by mysterious agents, and how together they managed to make the perilous journey into Tibet where they face a deadly opponent who seeks to claim mystical powers, and thereby begin his plan to spread his power even farther. This story is wonderfully crafted, with plenty of wry observations about how Western people overlook and underestimate people who don’t look or act just like them. It’s also a beautifully written story and works within the canonical stories better than many other Holmes pastiche novels I’ve read. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories and you enjoy a good pastiche, it’s well worth it to track down a copy of this. I got mine via interlibrary loan.
The Land of Stone Flowers is illustrator Sveta Dorosheva’s hilarious take on fairytale creatures and their views of humans. In short, many of them don’t think that humans exist, but those faeries who have encountered humans want to provide a guide for other fae creatures to help them deal with the humans they may encounter. Of course, the faeries and goblins and whatnot who are writing these guides don’t really understand human culture. But they do the best they can. The result is a gorgeously illustrated and hilarious guide to human beings– in a roundabout fashion.
Winter Counts is an action/mystery novel set primarily on the Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota, where David Heska Wanbli Weiden is from. It’s a Lakota reservation that experiences profound poverty, and where the Lakota people are still dealing with the cultural and social consequences of the American government’s broken promises over the past 140 years or so. Death is a constant presence on the reservation, with numerous teen suicides, fatal accidents, and alcoholism that kill so many. Law enforcement is often spotty, as the tribal police are not able to enforce laws covering violent crimes, and the federal government often declines to investigate violent crimes. Virgil Wounded Horse is something of a vigilante, inflicting violent vengeance on those who beat their wives or children, or commit other crimes that won’t be solved by officials. He’s also trying to raise his fourteen-year-old nephew and keep the boy in school, despite all the factors working against him. But when heroin starts showing up on the Res, a tribal official askes Virgil to investigate and get the drugs off their land. With the help of his ex-girlfriend Marie, Virgil looks into things, traveling to Denver and back to find out what’s happening. The more he finds out, though, the closer things cut home and the more tangled the web becomes until finally Virgil, who has largely left his cultural heritage behind, must ask himself what it really means to be Lakota, and what lengths he’ll go to to protect his own. This was a phenomenal book that maintained tension without having to have constant action. You get involved with the day-to-day dramas of the characters’ lives and come to care about them so that getting the heroin off the Res feels even more important than ever. I also loved the sense of place the book has (it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been to many of the places mentioned, like Valentine and Rapid City), as Weiden nails the feeling of the windy South Dakota hills and the emptiness of the Nebraska Sandhills. I’ve read a few books set in this area (there aren’t all that many out there and even fewer that get national attention), but this one is the only contemporary book that really nails the sense of the place. It also highlights the problems that the Lakota face every day, whether it’s racism from the white people who live in the area, teen suicide, poverty, or just the extreme weather. It is at times bleak, funny, or violent, and I highly recommend this- especially the audiobook, which (I think) gets the Lakota accents just right, as well as bringing a wonderful sense of personality to the characters.
Reading Tales of Moonlight and Rain was a frustrating experience, not because the stories were bad or hard to figure out (they’re lovely and beautifully strange), but because the translator, Anthony H. Chambers, drowned them in commentary and notes. At least 40% of the book (and probably more) was devoted to Chambers explaining the backgrounds of the stories, the real-world history behind them, how the language and poetry were affected by Chinese styles, how the poetic structures worked, and what cultural pressures brought them about, and what modern Japanese writers have said about the stories. I absorbed basically none of this information because much of it was of a scholarly nature, and because I have little background in Japanese cultural history. But I feel like I would have had a much better experience with these stories had Chambers just shut up, been concise, and presented the stories with minimal commentary. A couple of brief essays about the cultural/historical background and some notes about the context of the stories was really all they needed. I don’t know if this volume was meant for casual readers, or if it was meant for an academic environment, but I almost want to track down a different copy with less commentary. I think I would enjoy the stories more that way. I did like them, but the experience was marred by the excessive amount of notes surrounding them.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angelica Gorodischer, translated from the Spanish by Ursula K. Le Guin (18%)
- Odin’s Child (Ravneringene #1) by Siri Pettersen, translated from the Norwegian by Sian Mackie and Paul Russell Garrett (189/604)
- Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) by S.J. Parris, audiobook narrated by John Lee (18%)
Kalpa Imperial is a fascinating history of a world that never existed. The Empire has risen, fallen, and risen again many, many times in its long history, and storytellers have told the stories of these cycles over and over again. There is no particular plot here, It reads like a popular history of an empire, but told by a storyteller instead of a scholarly historian. I’ve enjoyed the book so far, and I’m happy to be reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation work. She and Gorodischer are a fantastic combination, as Le Guin has the skills to appear to stay out of the way of the story, but I know her own writing skills are at work to make this story as elegant as the original must be.
Odin’s Child is another fantasy novel in translation, though it is a more traditional sort of story than Kalpa Imperial. Hirka is a girl of Ym who was born without a tail or the ability to bind the Might, the magic that binds the world and that everyone else who lives there can manipulate to some degree. Now that she’s fifteen, Hirka will have to face the Rite, which will reveal her as a person not of Ym and will result in her being hunted to the death. Her friend Rime, in contrast, is the scion of a ruling family whose destiny was to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps and become a ruler in kind. But Rime’s talents and dreams lie on a different path, and he must face his family’s scorn and the potential anger of his people to choose the life he wants. Meanwhile, the petty and tyrannical Urd has just risen to a seat of power on the Council, but he is hiding a secret that could destroy him- and potentially everyone else– if it becomes known. So far, I’m enjoying this book, though it is slow-paced. I like Hirka and Rime, and I’m intrigued by Urd’s story even though I want to punch him in the face.
Heresy is the first book in S.J. Parris’ historical mystery series starring Giordano Bruno, an ex-monk from Italy who was caught reading a proscribed book and managed to escape before agents of the Vatican could sentence him to death for heresy. Now, he travels throughout Europe as an itinerant scholar. He’s on his way to Oxford to speak at the university there when he is approached by Sir Francis Walshingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, who has a task for Bruno- to see if he can discover what Mary Queen of Scots is plotting with her foreign allies before the conspiracy to overthrow Elizabeth can take hold. But while he’s in Oxford, someone starts murdering intelligent young women on the university grounds. It’s up to Bruno to use his wits to find out who killed the women and avoid those religious zealots who would execute him for his views. I’m not very far into this, but I’m enjoying Bruno’s perspective and his wit. This is definitely not the first “Walsingham approaches and unlikely scholar to spy on Mary Queen of Scots” book I’ve read, but it’s the best-written one I’ve encountered so far. We’ll see if the rest of the book lives up to the promise of the first twenty percent.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
- A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
- Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
- Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki
A Spindle Splintered and Comfort me With Apples are both fantasy novellas I’ve been curious about for a while, as I enjoy the writing of both Harrow and Valente. I’m going to try to get through both of them today and tomorrow. Chasing Homer is a book I picked up for a yearlong reading challenge I’m taking part in. I needed to find a book by an author I’d never heard of, so I perused the ‘New Arrivals’ shelf at the library, and this was the most compelling book by an author I’d never heard of before. It looks strange and intriguing, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
If I get these finished in time, and get farther along in Odin’s Child, I plan to start reading Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman, which I got for Christmas and which looks so interesting.
It’s been a while since I sat down and made something, but over my long weekend, I finally sat down with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the 1980s Granada adaptation of several Sherlock Holmes stories (starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke), and started working on my new hat.
The last time I was in Iceland in 2019, I stopped by a grocery store to pick up a couple of staples. I happened across an aisle with a good selection of yarn, so I picked two skeins of dark blue Icelandic wool with the intention of having a friend make me a pair of fingerless gloves for the cold days of winter. My friend made the gloves but only needed one skein. It took me a while to figure out what to do with the remaining skein, and then I remembered that I have a pattern for an Icelandic-inspired hat. I needed a little more yarn to complete it, so I bought a skein of black wool of similar weight from a local shop, and proceeded to not make the hat for a few months.
But finally last Monday, I started working on the hat. It should only have taken a couple of hours to complete, but I kept messing up the band, no matter how many times I reread the instructions. After pulling out the band twice, I finally improvised the hatband and completed it, so now I have a cute and cozy hat just in time for the cold, cold days of January.