Sunday Sum-Up: July 17, 2022

I survived the busy work week! Huzzah. It was not as tiring as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t exactly a lazy few days. I’m looking forward to a nice day off full of reading and writing. I will probably end up listening to podcasts and drawing instead, because that’s just what I do sometimes.

If I could just stay on task sometimes, I might actually get things done.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Last night, Mina got a little antsy before a storm rolled in. She was running around the apartment, leaping onto shelves and whatnot, and running headlong into things. She also managed to get her feather toy stuck under the door, and came crying to me because she couldn’t get it unstuck. This is unusual because Mina is normally a quiet cat who only meows once in a while– mostly when she needs to use the litter box or is about to throw up. So to hear her running in with her constant kitten-meow (which is different from her physical discomfort-meow) was unusual and a little funny. She was acting just like a little kid who needed a grown-up to rescue their toy from whatever ridiculous situation it has been put into.

So I rescued the toy from under the door and played with her until she decided she was bored and hopped onto the shelves to look out the window.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Widow Queen‘s ending was just as interesting as the rest of the book, and leaves off with the birth of a famous historical figure (assuming you’re familiar with English history prior to 1066). The characters continue to be fascinating and feel true to their time period (rather than seeming like twenty-first-century people in period dress), and Zakrzewska-Pim’s translation is excellent. Obviously, I can’t comment on the prose of the original Polish, but the prose of the English translation makes the book flows so smoothly that it doesn’t feel like a translation. I’m looking forward to the second book of the duology, The Last Crown, which is due out in September.

The Word for World is Forest was a difficult book not because of its length (my edition was only about 189 pages), but because of the subject matter. Humans have arrived on a planet that is almost entirely covered in forest. They promptly began clear-cutting the forest because they feel entitled to the wood and other resources, and they begin enslaving the native people, who they view as little better than animals because of their appearance and cultural traditions. The primary human character, Davidson, is especially revolting in his misogyny and racism, and I think would have been so, even for the time the book was published (in 1972). This was a deliberate choice, I think, in order to make the contrast between the humans and the native Athsheans even starker, and make the Athsheans more sympathetic. The Athsheans, led by Selver, are a peaceful people forced into brutal conditions. But fighting back means that they will be changed forever, and they risk destroying their peaceful nature. Not fighting back, though, means the death of their world at the hands of invaders. This is a difficult book, but its point is not to comfort but to make you think about our own prejudices and views of people who are different, as well as our place in the natural world.

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater is a short book of essays about crafting- primarily about knitting, which Okun has been doing since childhood. The stories are often cute and sometimes poignant, such as when she talks about two college friends, each of whom died at the age of 22, or when she talks about her sometimes turbulent relationship with her younger sister. While most of the essays provided some insights about Okun’s own crafting life, some of them felt a little aimless to me. There were also little lists that appeared between essays, and they felt strange in the audiobook because it felt like there wasn’t enough separation between essay and list. Overall, I’m happy I read this book, but I’m also glad it was fairly short. Had it been much longer, its charm would have worn off.

Never Say You Can’t Survive is a collection of essays about writing that Charlie Jane Anders initially wrote for TorDotCom in 2020. I was interested in it because I’m always interested in reading about writing, but I was mostly unimpressed by Anders’ essays, which were broken up with a series of sub-topics and mostly contained writing advice I’ve seen a hundred times before. I didn’t find Anders’ voice all that engaging, either. At least it was a quick book to get through.

What I’m Currently Reading:

The Art of the English Murder discusses the origins of the True Crime genre, the rise of the fictional detective story and other murderous genres, and the real crimes that inspired them from the 1700s into the twentieth century. So far, it’s a fascinating take on these genres and shows that 1) it’s not a new trend, and 2) it has drawn all sorts of people, but women are always criticized for being fascinated by dark stories of mayhem and murder. I was hoping that Worsley herself would narrate this book, as I have enjoyed every TV documentary of hers that I have seen, but she is not the narrator here. I can’t say that I enjoy Anne Flosnik’s voice, but it’s not such an issue that I won’t finish the audiobook.

I’m finally getting around to The Secret History in part because I have an ARC of R.F. Kuang’s upcoming Babel, which she has described as “a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell“. I felt like I should go ahead and read both The Secret History and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell before getting to Babel, so here I am. I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell earlier, and now I’m getting to The Secret History. So far, I’m impressed by the narrative drive and the prose, which is deceptively simple. The characters are less appealing, but that’s not because they’re badly written. The Greek students the narrator, Richard Paben, is fascinating are complex characters who I find to be loathsome individuals who are children of extreme privilege and who dive into their esoteric fields of study as though they are the most important things in the world, and who are utterly clueless about the people around them and are completely unaware of their great privilege as wealthy white college students. They also have the sorts of homophobic views that I would expect of conservative characters of the 1980s. So they’re not pleasant to read about, but like Richard, I find myself drawn into the story. Unlike Richard, I would not find myself compelled to spend all my time with such ridiculous people, as I knew people somewhat like Henry or Bunny when I was in college, and I avoided them whenever I could. I’m hoping to get through The Secret History fairly quickly, as Babel is quite long, too, and is due out in about a month.

Do I even count Powers and Thrones as a book I’m currently reading, given that I’m a whole eight pages into it? Sure. I may continue and chip away at it, or I might put it away for a while and get to a couple of other books I need to read either for a project or because they’re library books that have a definite due date.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I’m as surprised as you are to see The Atlas Six on this list, but on one of my Discord servers, we got this idea to get a book, annotate it, and send it along to the next person to read and annotate, and on and on until we get through the chain. It was actually my idea to pick The Atlas Six because it seemed like a book that would be evenly split between like and dislike, and that would make the annotations both interesting and funny. I’m the first on the list, so I’ll be reading The Atlas Six this week and probably be making plenty of snarky notes as I go.

I don’t remember where I saw When I Find you Again, It Will Be in Mountains, but I was fascinated and decided to track down a copy. Fortunately, my library was able to get it quickly via inter-library loan, so I will be reading this collection of Chinese poetry by Chia Tao, who lived from 779-843 CE.

There are a couple of other library books I’ve picked up in the past couple of days. I recently decided to try a few short books on my TBR so I could start to make something of a dent in my StoryGraph TBR, and so far it’s been a successful endeavor. We’ll see if I get to the other two library books waiting for me on my shelf.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: July 17, 2022

  1. I find I need to read books like The Word for World is Forest sometimes, ones that aren’t easy or comforting but instead sometimes stressful and push me to think and feel. And yet, perhaps a little more so these days, I need to pick the right times to read them and I find lately there are fewer times that feel right. Hopefully that’s just a temporary situation and in the future there’ll be more times for these. Either way, though, it is a book I plan to read.

    I remember reading the initial essay or two by Anders over at Tor, but I lost interest before long. Like you, I just didn’t find them engaging or exploring new territory, or even the same territory in an interesting way. I used to read a lot of essays on the site but don’t read nearly so many now. Not entirely sure why. Perhaps just lack of time.

  2. You’re right. It’s important to read uncomfortable books from time to time to rattle the mental cage, so to speak. But it’s hard to find the right headspace for them these days, when everything seems to be on fire. It’s much easier to reach for the comforting books instead.

    I haven’t been reading many of the essays on Tor, either. Mostly just their Star Trek episode reviews, and essays about Middle-earth or horses. I’ve not been terribly impressed by the essays they’ve posted about the craft of writing, but maybe that’s because I’m not a fan of the authors who have been penning those essays. It seems like their advice is sort of “write dimensional characters with flaws” and whatnot, and, yes I’ve seen that before, what’s your advice on how to do that? That part never seems forthcoming. But when I leaf through Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I always feel inspired again the way I don’t with most of the writing guides I’ve picked up in the past few years.

  3. She was so distressed about her toy! Luckily, it was easy to take care of.

    You might start with A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s a YA fantasy and not very long, and it has all sorts of compelling ideas.

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