Sunday Sum-Up: April 10, 2022

Do you ever have a week that starts out incredibly stressful because of a pair of problems at work that eats at your mind day and night, and you think it’s going to be a disaster because they’re not going to get solved, and then lo! Events fall into place in just the way you needed them to, and both problems end up being solved in short order, and in the best way possible?

That happened to me last week. I was losing sleep over said problems, thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to sort them out without major issues, and then I got them resolved with relatively little fuss. It was great. The bigger problem was sorted out on Friday afternoon, so while we were incredibly busy all day and I should have been so tired when I got home, I was actually full of energy and for a while, nothing could upset me. It was a great feeling.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Voidcat likes her sunbeams. She’s enjoying these cool mornings and warming afternoons, as they provide wonderful patches of sunlight without being uncomfortably warm, which they can be in the summer. She has also gotten used to the noises from outside when the windows are open, though the other day she did bolt and hide in the closet at the unexpected sight of a large dog happily galumphing down the street. The dog was gone within a few minutes, and she returned to her normal seat on the windowsill and all was well in her little world again.

Bonus Sidney photo! This old man has been feeling a little more chipper lately, which means he’s yowling for attention and getting in the way. Particularly in the morning, as he has developed the habit of lying on the floor next to the bed– right where I put my feet when I get up, so now, when I am barely awake, I have to look down to make sure there is not a cat where I am about to step. I can’t tell if he does this on purpose or not.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a fantastical retelling of Moby Dick but told from a whale’s perspective. Bathsheba, as she demands to be called (rather like Ishmael does in the opening of Melville’s story), tells how the leader of her warband is obsessed with finding the human whaler who scarred her for life, and how this obsession led to dire consequences. It’s not just a retelling with Rovina Cai’s gorgeous illustrations, though, as it is also a story of the demons we carry with us and what terrors they can bring into the world. This was a fantastic story, and I read it in one sitting.

The Bright Ages is a 10,000-foot overview of the medieval era which seeks to tell a different story of the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ (a term most historians have stopped using). In this narrative, the authors refer to the years as the ‘Bright Ages’, and briefly delve into the lives of such luminaries as Galla Placidia or Hildegard von Bingen to show that the traditional story of the middle ages is not really what popular culture would have us believe. Rather than being an era of barbaric violence (though there was certainly violence), the middle ages was a time of light and learning, where vastly different cultures vied with each other in one arena and sought to co-exist in others. The authors also discuss why it’s important to rethink our views of the medieval period– in part because extremists seek to use old narratives to advance their own, narrow (and often violent) goals in the modern world.

I had a rather rough time with Fevered Star. There were points where it was fascinating and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, and others where the narrative dragged on while the characters discussed history (because worldbuilding). It definitely feels like it’s afflicted with middle-book syndrome, as it doesn’t really have a beginning, it doesn’t really have an end, and there’s very little fulfillment story-wise, as it’s just advancing the overall plot without finishing anything up. I’ll have a more in-depth review later this week.

The Historian is the sort of Dark Academia story I can get wholeheartedly behind. I’ve heard that a lot of Dark Academia books deal with the machinations of privileged people in fancy, ivy-covered universities, and I generally am not interested in it. But The Historian is the story of a series of historians who are unwillingly and unwittingly drawn into the story of Vlad Țepeș, a fifteenth-century Wallachian leader who is the historical figure behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This isn’t Stoker’s tale, though. It’s a radically different story where scholars throughout history have been haunted by a strange book that appears at a critical point in their lives. The book opens when an aging scholar looks back on her teenage years when she came across a strange tome with a frightening illustration of a dragon in it. She brings the book to her father, who knows exactly what is going on but is afraid to tell his strange story to her. The story unfolds across two timelines, as the daughter recounts her investigations, and as her father tells the story of his own travels. I read this when it first came out in 2005, and it didn’t resonate with me as much then as it does now. I loved it this time through, and I loved the scholarly articles and letters sprinkled throughout, and I loved how the historians’ obsession with the past led them into strange and frightening places, but they continued anyway because 1) they had to know what happened, and 2) their studies of history reinforced in them the idea that learning about the past can be key to stopping evil in the present.

What I’m Currently Reading:

Nothing. I finished Fevered Star and The Historian last night, and I haven’t started anything new yet.

What I Plan to Start Reading Next:

Cabo de Gata is a book I bought from the indie bookshop last month. It’s quite short, so I should be able to get through it pretty quickly. It’s about a German man who is profoundly unhappy with his life, so he moves to a seaside town in southern Spain, thinking that will be the reset he needs. But life there is not the warm idyll he thought it would be, and he has a hard time connecting with anyone there. One day, he develops a connection with one of the feral cats the town is named after. I’ve read the first couple of pages, and it was fairly intriguing, so I’m hoping the rest of the book will be the same.

I’ve been meaning to reread Sir Gawain and the Green Knight since I bought the A24 film, The Green Knight, on blu-ray some months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve only read J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of the story so far, so I’m interested to see how Armitage and O’Donoghue interpret this Middle English tale, which is deeply weird when you think about it. I also plan to reread Tolkien’s translation before I rewatch the film.

I’ve been meaning to read Beside the Ocean of Time since I found it at my local used bookshop last summer. It’s about a young Orkney boy named Thorfinn Ragnarson, who daydreams about traveling back in time to join the Vikings or of becoming a knight and fighting in famous medieval battles. His life in the twentieth century is no less eventful than his daydreams, though, for while the traditions of his little island haven’t changed much for centuries, even the Orkneys are not unaffected by time and war.

Learwife is a book I hadn’t heard about until a few days ago, when my Bookstagram friend Simon raved about it, saying that it will certainly be his favorite book of the year and that it will haunt him until he rereads it. As Simon hasn’t yet led me astray with his historical fiction recommendations (we met thanks to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, after all), I knew I had to seek this one out. As the title suggests, it’s the story of Queen Lear, who is hardly mentioned in Shakespeare’s play King Lear. This is all I know about the book, and frankly, it’s all I need to know. I’ve downloaded the audiobook, and look forward to starting it after I’ve listened to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

About That Writing Thing:

The writing continues apace. I’ve made slow progress on my fantasy story (which will be novel-length by the time it’s done, so I may as well just call it a novel). This is a little frustrating, as I wanted to be farther along than I am by now, but that’s how things have been going lately. I’m hoping that, with a frustrating read now behind me and a with a lot of work stress having disappeared, I’ll have a little more energy to focus on my own writing.

I do wonder if there’s a part of me that doesn’t actually want to finish this story because it’s been so much a part of my life for the past eight years. I’m so familiar with these characters that I can just slip into their mindsets (all ten or so POVs) and know exactly how they’re going to respond to a given situation. I also wonder if I don’t want to get to a certain part because I know some of these characters are going to die (because battles have consequences), and I don’t want to let them go.

But I really do want to finish this whole series, because I’ve been working on it for eight years and it will be amazing to finally get it finished, write that final line that’s been virtually written in stone for a while now, and then put “The End” on it. Then it won’t be in the back of my mind anymore, and my readers won’t be asking, “Do you still plan to finish it?” because it will be done.

So I guess I’m of two minds about finishing this thing up.

Mostly, I want it to be done, so I will keep chipping away at it, whether I write 200 words a day, or 2,000.

In other writing news, I’ve been working on much shorter stories (inasmuch as I can write “much shorter” stories these days) set in a very different, very modern setting than my fantasy series has been. I have a set of seven stories planned out so far, ranging from about 2,00- 4,000 words each. I was in the middle of the first draft of the fifth story when I got stuck and couldn’t figure out how to continue. After a couple of days, I realized that where I had set my story and what was going on in it were completely wrong and that I needed to do something drastically different. So I deleted that draft and started all over, and now the story is much better for it.

I’m hoping to finish that second draft today so I can edit it down and post it later in the week. I have a very clear idea of the sixth story, so that should be less of a problem to complete. But you never know. The writing gods are sometimes fickle, so I may have to completely rethink that one, too.

10 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: April 10, 2022

  1. Very glad to hear how well the problems at work were resolved! That photo of Voidcat, I mean Mina, reminds me of an article I read about the blackest of black birds, and how some actually have all these fascinating structures within their feathers such that they seem to absorb almost all the light hitting them, leaving feathers that are almost featurelessly black.

    Fevered Star… hhhmmmm… sorry to hear about that one. I still feel obligated to read it, but at least I know I have Black Sun to look forward to first, and most folks seemed to really enjoy that one. The more you talk about The Historian the more curious I become. If the book, itself, has any of the feel you create in your descriptions then I think it’s a book for me.

    Your thoughts on your current novel were interesting, how you were wondering if, perhaps, you don’t really want to finish it because it’s such a part of your life. I’d not thought of that before but it makes perfect sense.

  2. I saw The Green Knight (movie) and absolutely enjoyed it. I can’t say how well it did compared to the original story but based on what I’ve heard, the original story is quite complicated in itself yet the movie was so well executed. I hope you enjoy both when you get around to them!

  3. I saw the movie last year when it came out. I thought it was fantastic! There are definitely differences from the original book (which I expected), though it very much holds to the strangeness of the medieval story. The movie is darker, but it’s goals were to tell a more introspective story about time and death. I listened to the Armitage translation yesterday, and it was great, too. Armitage keeps to the alliterative verse of the original, so you really get the rhythms of the Middle English verse. I’m planning to read the next translation on my day off.

  4. The colors of bird feathers and the structures in their feathers are so interesting. I read something about iridescent feathers that birds like grackles have. I wish I could recall what caused those colors (still waking up this morning), but it was fascinating. I should look it back up again. I should look up the black feather thing, too.

    Yeah, Fevered Star was a little frustrating. I do wonder if I’d had a better time with it if I’d been able to just sit down with it for more than half an hour at a time, but that’s all I ever seemed to have at a time. It had its highlights, but there were equal numbers of lowpoints. I really enjoyed the first one, too, so that makes my experience with Fevered Star all the more disappointing. The Historian was fantastic! It’s a very slow book, and it’s heavy on research, so if that’s not something you’re interested in, it might not be for you.

    I think anything that’s been part of your life for so long (going on 9 years with the series) kind of becomes part of who you are, and once you finish it, what then? It’s out there, making its own way, being interpreted (and hopefully enjoyed) by other people, and it’s not all your own thing anymore. And what comes after that? I’ll have to come up with all new things after that. But it’ll be a relief to be done with it, too, because I’ve been working on it for so long. It’s a weird paradox, but every time I get back to the writing (assuming the cats don’t interrupt, which they like to do), I have fun with it.

  5. If you’re interested in the super-black feathers there are two articles I’d read, one in a popular journal and the other in a scientific one. For the easy to read article search for The Atlantic, article name: “Super-black Is the New Black.” And for the scientific one search for Nature Communications, article name: “Structural absorption by barbule microstructures of super black bird of paradise feathers.” Both are currently available online. I hope you enjoy them. 🙂

  6. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed The Historian! Though a bit bummed it’s not truly about Vlad, as that was the main reason for my buying it. However, it still sounds really fascinating, and I hope to crack into it soon.

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