Somehow, we have reached the midpoint of August.
I think the heat is starting to break at last. While we’re expecting another day of hot temperatures around here, the nights have been cooling off to something more reasonable, rather than hovering around 85-90°F as they’d been doing through most of July, and daytime highs are expected to be around 85°. I’m hoping that this means we’ll see things cool down as we head into September, as we didn’t get much in the way of a real Autumn last year. I miss Sweater Weather, and the long hot days are good for no one. Hopefully, we’ll get some rain, too, as that has been absent of late.
In other news, I have the next few days off from work, and I’m looking forward to getting some sleep, completing some projects around the apartment, reading, writing, and visiting a nearby state park if the weather holds out. Pictures to come if that happens.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
It seems that I can’t put an article of clothing down without Mina coming up and deciding it will be her new bed. She particularly loves my jeans, regardless of what state they’re in. They could be in the laundry basket awaiting the washing machine, or freshly dried and ironed, and she will be just as happy to curl up on them. It’s like she doesn’t realize that she has her very own cat bed, a blanket on the chair, the couch, the office chair, and just about anywhere else in the apartment she wants to lie down on. But no, she has to pick my jeans.
Fortunately, cat hair is easy to brush off jeans, and most of the rest of my clothing is black, so no one notices the hair on that. I long ago accepted that cat hair will be part of my wardrobe.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- Babel by R.F. Kuang, ARC provided by NetGalley
- The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, P. Craig Russell
- The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations on Time and a City by Anna Sherman, audiobook narrated by Holly Palance
I’m not always on board the hype trains for new science fiction and fantasy works. I’ll get excited about some upcoming title because I hear how great it is from BookTube or blogs, and when I finally sit down with it, I’m often disappointed by some (or all) aspects of the book. So I was a little leery when I got the ARC for R.F. Kuang’s newest novel Babel, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. There were so many conversations about the nature of language and translation, the hierarchy that Western cultures have placed on languages (placing Greek and Latin on a pedestal, while languages like Creole or Chinese are derided as somehow ‘lower’), and what it’s like to be essential to a culture that sees you as less than human. The characters in Babel all struggle with these questions, though their perspectives differ wildly. How they answer these questions informs the way they respond to the situations they find themselves in in the story, and determines their fates as events come to a head. None of them ever felt out of character, and none of their stories ever felt contrived or like they were acting or delaying their response for the sake of plot or pacing. The magic system also felt organic and believable, which is a welcome change from many others I’ve come across (the metal-based magic in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga, for example. Who was the first to say, “what would happen if I ate this nail?”, and who did they manage to talk into chewing on a second nail to see what would happen? I’ve always wondered this). Thanks to the school setting, the explanations for the magic come about naturally, from teacher to student, and the changes in the system– from who’s had access to magic through history and why the changes occur– don’t feel contrived, but rather are part of a larger, ongoing world that is as affected by changes in economic markets and food production as it is by magic. I’ll be writing more about Babel this week, but I have one main hope for this book: that readers don’t just look at the surface-level story. I want them to look farther into the cultural dynamics and the sense of otherness that Robin and the other characters experience, because that’s the core of the book.
After I finished watching The Sandman on Netflix (the first time), I decided to pick up the next few volumes at the library, as it had been a while since I’d read them and volume four, Season of Mists, is considered by many to be some of Gaiman’s finest writing for the entire series. In this volume, Death smacks some sense into her moody brother Dream’s head, and he vows to right a wrong he committed millennia ago. What happens next is a strange chain of events that test Dream’s wits, patience, and his own understanding of himself. Gaiman was so patient with this story in its telling, as the twists and turns come about at unexpected points, but are not out of the blue when you consider the in-world rules that govern such entities as the Endless or the myriad gods that populate this universe. Assuming Netflix renews The Sandman for a second season (which they would be foolish not to, given its immediate success), I’m looking forward to seeing how they tell this story.
I wanted a quick audiobook for the second half of last week, and that’s what I got with Anna Sherman’s The Bells of Old Tokyo, which tells the story of Tokyo, its bells, its past, and its present in a narrative that flows from one time period to the next, and from one subject to the next without jarring the reader with its many jumps through time or subject. Sherman will go from talking about the sound of ringing bells and the beauty of Tokyo when it was rebuilt after the devastating 1923 earthquake to discussing the destruction and death after American pilots dropped firebombs on the city in the waning days of World War II. Sherman visits museums, interviews an eccentric artist, befriends the owner of a beloved coffeeshop, gets a little better at speaking Japanese, and develops a better understanding of the traditional ways that the Japanese view the flow of time, which is very different from the Western idea of time. This little travelogue/memoir is enlightening in many ways, and I’d recommend it if you’re interested in history, Japan, or both.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold, edited by Paula Guran (43%)
- The Heroine with 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar (38%)
Beyond the Woods is a collection of fairy tales retold by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Karen Joy Fowler, Catherynne M. Valente, Charles de Lint, Yoon Ha Lee, Tanith Lee, Priya Sharma, and others. These stories are as dark and beguiling as their original versions and aren’t the sorts of things you would tell your children on a winter’s night. They’re weird and wild and have roughly the same messages that you’d find in a story from the 1600s or earlier. I’m about a third of the way through, and while I’ve enjoyed most of the stories, I’ll admit to mostly skimming Holly Black’s contribution, as there is something about her writing that puts me off her stories.
I’d been meaning to read The Heroine with 1,001 Faces for some time, and since it was available through the Hoopla app, I decided to go ahead and download it the other night. So far, it’s been a fascinating look at women’s stories through the ages, from The Iliad to fairytales to the Me, Too movement, and up to the woman-centered retellings of Greek myths proliferating over the past few years. Tatar opens with a critique of Joseph Campbell, whose book, The Hero With 1,000 Faces, became an enormously influential work after Hollywood producers like George Lucas used it as a guidebook for the films that have become part of the cultural zeitgeist. But Tatar noticed that whenever Campbell spoke of women’s stories, he tended to dismiss them or declared that women were what the heroes were trying to get back to, or that women didn’t need to be heroes because they were mothers. Tatar felt this was insufficient and was determined to explore women’s stories and their heroism more thoroughly, so finally developed this book. So far, I’ve found it to be a fascinating take on the stories that have been overlooked or cleaned up over the ages to make light of women’s suffering and enforced silence. Tatar is a professor of mythology and folklore, and has been studying these stories and others for decades, so hearing her perspective is eye-opening.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
I’m not completely sure yet, as I have several possibilities on tap, but one major thing I will at least by trying out is The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill, which is a historical novel about a spirited young woman learning to survive in the high-pressure court of an aging Eleanor of Aquitaine. The blurb for this book states that Stanfill has a historical understanding akin to Hilary Mantel’s, and if that’s the case than this will be an enthralling story.
It had better be, as it’s more than 800 pages long.
What I’ve Been Watching:
- The Sandman
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Joely Richardson, Patton Oswalt, Jenna Coleman, Vivienne Acheampong, Mason Alexander Park, Vanesu Samanyai, Gwendoline Christie, David Thewlis, Stephen Fry, Boyd Holbrook, et. al.
Teleplay by Neil Gaiman
Based on the comic series by Neil Gaiman
Still. Again. I am completely under this show’s spell, and now that I’m rewatching it I’m finding so many things that I missed before, and I’m seeing all sorts of bits of cinematographic details like lens choice (anamorphic in many places, or ultra wide-angle in places you wouldn’t expect it) that give this show a unique and dreamlike look. I’m still impressed by the casting choices- even for characters who appear for a minute or two- and I’m so happy to see that they’ve expanded on the queer stories that show up in it. The original comics had plenty of queer characters, but I appreciate the expansion on these stories. Any time popular media thoughtfully expands on the stories of queer characters– whether they’re good people or not– it expands the general populace’s view of the varieties of experiences that LGBTQIA people have, which just makes us seem more like ordinary people and not “other” people to be feared or distrusted.
Suffice it to say that I am still in love with this show, I will keep rewatching it, I will recommend it to everyone who will listen, and if Netflix doesn’t renew it for All the Seasons, I will be most unhappy.