Sunday Sum-Up: March 19, 2023

I’ve been going through the various apps on my phone and unsubscribing to things like YouTube channels I don’t watch anymore, leaving Discord servers that I thought would be fun but turned out to be annoying, or unfollowing Tumblr blogs I don’t care for anymore. It’s been nice to get rid of the baggage that was getting on my nerves. My various feeds are streamlined, so I see less stuff in general, and what is there makes me happy instead of annoying me. It’s something I should have done a while ago, but better later than never!

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Mina might look like an international cat of mystery in this photo, but she was really just grumpy about her schedule being disrupted by the time change last weekend. She’s back to sleeping on the bed next to me, and because the days had been getting long she wasn’t accustomed to waking up in the dark. She certainly isn’t used to being fed while it’s still dark outside, so the fact that I am getting up at dawn, trundling into the kitchen, and getting her food ready is blowing her little mind.

She’s still unhappy about getting up in the dark, but once she realizes what I’m up to, she perks right up.

Now I just need to get used to waking up in the dark.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • I’m Writing You From Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future by Delphine Minoui, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, audiobook narrated by Suehlya El-Attar
  • The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2) by Katherine Addison, audiobook narrated by Liam Gerrard

Delphine Minoui’s eye-opening memoir about living in and reporting from Tehran, Iran, from 1998-2009 combines personal, family, and national histories and opens a window into the lives of many ordinary Iranian citizens representing a swathe of ideologies that defy the stereotypes that are often the only things that we in the West are shown when it comes to Iran. This was a fascinating and compelling story that was often harrowing, as Minoui describes fleeing from the morality police or being interrogated by the national security forces, or being part of a protest when the police fired into the crowd. It’s also full of interviews with many people who love their country, even if their views contradicted each other. This is not one of those books that you enjoy reading, so much as a book that is completely fascinating and helps a Western reader begin to make sense of a country that is too often depicted as an enemy. It’s easy to see a country as being solely represented by its government and forget that there is an entire population that may not be happy with what their government is doing, so Minoui’s writing and the writing of other journalists are important to show us what’s really going on around the world.

After finishing another reread of The Goblin Emperor earlier this month, I was happy to see that the Hoopla app had the audiobook of the first companion novel, The Witness for the Dead available. I quickly checked it out and started listening to it, hoping for an experience to match Kyle McCarley’s brilliant narration for The Goblin Emperor. Sadly, Liam Gerrard’s narration was nowhere near as good as McCarley’s, but admittedly, that’s a difficult act to follow, and while I’m not overly fond of Gerrard’s voice, he did a fairly good job though it wasn’t always easy to tell which character was which in a conversation. Still, I love this story and would follow Addison’s accounts of tea drinking and his hunt for a decent black jacket if that was what she chose to write about. I hadn’t read this since it first came out in 2021, so I’d forgotten a few plot points. The story follows Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead that Maia, the emperor, hired to investigate the deaths of his father and half-brothers. Now, Thara resides in the city of Amalo where he is a Witness for the Dead- that is, he listens to the spirits of the recently deceased to do things like investigate murders, as he is called to do at the beginning of The Witness for the Dead. Several other duties fall within his remit, and we get to see what they are and how he fulfills his obligations. There’s a lot going on in this book, and it seems like the threads are fairly disparate, but they all weave together into a satisfying story. The next book, The Grief of Stones, is not available as an audiobook from either Libby or Hoopla yet, so I will probably just read my physical copy, rather than wait around for the audiobook to show up at the library.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • The Paston Letters: A Selection with Modern Spelling edited by Norman Davis (71/320)
  • The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty (127/484)
  • How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch, audiobook narrated by Gabra Zackman )57%)

The Paston Letters is a collection of (shockingly) letters written by various members of the Paston family who lived in England during the latter half of the fifteenth century. Now that I’ve grown accustomed to the spellings and some of the archaic words (though they often yede themselves around the countryside, so I feel like yeeting something into the wilderness is somehow nothing new), I’m better able to figure out just what the Pastons are talking about- especially when they up and talk about figures like the Duke of York or Henry VI alongside their requests for fabric (preferably of a goodly blue) or a pound of sugar. A pound of sugar! And here I’ve always heard that sugar was something only royalty could afford at this point in time! Apparently not, because Margaret Paston asked her husband to buy her some while he was in London and it’s no big deal. It apparently wasn’t a big deal to her when the Moleyns got into a sword fight with one of her neighbors and then threatened to kidnap her. Drama! in the fourteenth century. These letters are mostly fascinating, interspersed with the occasional, “I recommend me to you, blah blah blah three pages of business proceedings”. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these, especially as the Wars of the Roses heat up. Will Margaret still be able to get her sugar and French wool? Will John’s sister find a good husband? I don’t know! I want to find out.

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi is Shannon Chakraborty’s fourth novel and a companion to her bestselling Daevabad Trilogy. It’s about Amina Al-Sirafi, an infamous but retired pirate who haunted the Indian Ocean for years before disappearing to raise her daughter. When the mother of a former shipmate finds Amina and offers a king’s ransom to find her missing granddaughter, Amina can’t resist the opportunity. She heads out to gather her old crew and sets sail to find the girl. The more she finds out about this job though, the more Amina finds out that there is more to the girl’s disappearance than it first seemed. But it’s too late to back out, as the kidnapper seems to have his sights on Amina and his own status as a legend. I’m almost 150 pages into this, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I haven’t read the Daevabad series yet, but that’s okay because even though all the books are set in the same universe, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi takes place several hundred years earlier than the Daevabad Trilogy. It’s wonderful to have a heroine who isn’t some brash seventeen-year-old. Amina has lived a full life already and is now in her forties- as are her friends. She’s still brash but has enough wisdom to recognize her flaws and account for them. And she trusts her friends to be able to do their jobs. It’s great. More middle-aged protagonists in fantasy, please!

How to Disappear is a collection of essays about things that are invisible, things that seem to be invisible, or about becoming invisible. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, the book would really be about as the synopsis in the Libby app made it seem like it was about living a life that is less online, but it deals with far more than that. Busch writes about children’s invisible friends, the science of invisibility cloaks, or what it’s like to scuba dive in tropical waters where the animals barely notice human existence. The ideas and examples are so clearly written and expressed that I’m even interested in finding and reading the esoteric poetry Busch describes in the section detailing the idea of disappearing ink and disappearing words. I’m just over halfway through the book and will likely finish it later today. I’m looking forward to finding out what other disappearing things Busch will talk about.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

  • Finding Neverland, original film score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, original film score by John Williams
  • Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events, original film score by Thomas Newman
  • Shadow and Bone, season two, original score by Joseph Trapanese
  • The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists
  • Silkidrangar by Samaris

I listened to the soundtracks of Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as part of my project to listen to the Academy Award-winning scores of the twenty-first century. Finding Neverland won the 2004 awards, and I did not enjoy it. It was too sweet, too sentimental, and too repetitive. I think John Williams’ score for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban should have won. Thomas Newman’s score for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events should have come in second if we had a first and second place for these things.

I listened to most of Joseph Trapanese’s score for the second season of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, which I managed not to binge-watch the first day it was out. I’m on episode five and taking it slowly because I want to enjoy the season more slowly this time around. I like it more than the first season, regardless of whatever pacing issues people say there are. I haven’t read any reviews, so I don’t know if critics are saying, “the show goes too fast” or “the quick pace is slowed down by all these scenes where the characters develop background and depth”. I’m honestly fine with it all as it is. The music is pretty great, too, though I miss the prevalence of the Darkling’s leitmotif this time around. Does that make me dislike the score? Absolutely not. I think Trapanese hit it out of the park this season, too.

The Decemberists’ 2009 album The Hazards of Love is one of my favorites of all time, so it’s odd that I hadn’t listened to it for at least a year or two. It’s one of those albums that tells a story across all the songs, and the story is simple enough that it’s understandable even if you aren’t sitting there listening intently. I love the instrumentation, the complex lyrics that don’t look, on paper, like they should work but somehow do when sung. I love the vocalists’ voices and the melodies they sing. I love how ‘The Rake’s Song’ sounds so jaunty and fun, but when you listen to the lyrics you realize how horrifying his story really is. I just love this album, and I have since I heard the first note the first time I listened to it. I should go back and listen to more of The Decemberists’ music, because while I don’t like their other albums quite as much as The Hazards of Love, I still enjoy them a lot. And I haven’t listened to their most recent album or two.

Silkidrangar, the debut album by the Icelandic group Samaris, was the soundtrack to my last trip to Iceland. It was in my head pretty much the entire time- partly because I would listen to it while relaxing at the various hotels and hostels I stayed in. It’s also the album I like to listen to whenever I’m out taking photos where other people are because it somehow disconnects my inner critic from what I imagine other people are thinking when they see me out wandering around with my camera. I had a super busy few days at work, and so I decided on Saturday that what I really needed to do was put on Silkidrangar, go to the park, and stand out in a 17°F windchill for forty-five minutes while photographing ducks. I was right. Birdwatching in the cold while listening to an Icelandic musical group was exactly what I needed.

Samaris blends electronic and traditional instruments with ethereal vocals to create music that engages the mind without being so demanding that you have to shut everything else out to appreciate it. And like every other Icelandic music I’ve listened to, it has that Icelandic sound to it. It’s a certain something that you get that feels both grounded and otherworldly, as well as both new and old at once. For me, it stays fresh no matter how many times I listen to it, which is why I didn’t freak out when Silkidrangar ended up being the only album I had to listen to during a six-and-a-half-hour drive across southern Iceland. It suited the landscape with its fog, strange mountains, glacial rivers, and waterfalls so perfectly that I clearly remember so many of the incredible landscapes I saw on that drive.

So if you ever need a quick escape from the humdrum of daily life, I recommend listening to Silkidrangar by Samaris.

Next week, I still probably listen to more from The Decemberists and Samaris, as well as diving into my next Academy Award-winning soundtrack from 2005, Brokeback Mountain by Gustavo Santaolalla.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: March 19, 2023

  1. What a lovely interesting post this week. Mina is adorable. I loved reading about both the Paston Letters and the idea of the invisibilty essays. Don’t think I will read either but I love getting interesting facts from ye (like sugar) that is a little insight into how what we were taught was either a) wrong or b) simplified so much that it irks me.

    I also really loved yer foray into discussing the The Decemberists’ 2009 album The Hazards of Love. Apparently the First Mate is a major fan. We listened to “The Rake’s Song” and “The Mariner’s Revenge.” Like ye said, “the complex lyrics that don’t look, on paper, like they should work but somehow do when sung.” Aye. I don’t see how I could ever listen to this music over and over again cause it is weird but it is interesting. I do, however, love “Sons and Daughters” which feels like it is not from the same band to me even though obviously the singer and the wordplay is the same.

    Thanks for the fun. Arrrr!
    x The Captain

  2. Every so often I try to do a little housecleaning and streamlining of various aspects of my life, as you did, and have found it’s usually well worth it. If something is just not working for us, and perhaps even continually aggravating us, then why keep exposing ourselves to it?

    And I really enjoyed your thoughts on I’m Writing You From Tehran. I’ve always felt it’s important to keep in mind there are ordinary people in every country and not to judge an entire population because of the actions of their government, which are rarely if ever a perfect representation of their people.

  3. I’ve been cleaning up tech as well. I was much better at keeping apps low this year…I think I’m quicker to delete if they stink

  4. Mina is definitely adorable. I tell her that about a hundred times a day.

    The Decemberists are great like that. They have so many different sounds in their songs that they never feel repetitive, but you can always tell it’s The Decemberists.

    Have a great week, Captain!

  5. Mina looks like she’s auditioning to be Yoda’s understudy. 🙂 So cute. I just read The Grief of Stones, and I”m with you — I’d read whatever Addison writes in this world, even if it’s just following Thara Celahar around to tea houses and navigating city trams. Have a great week!

  6. I always say I’d read about Celehar drinking tea and shopping for new jackets, but I’d read about him navigating the city trams, too!

    When Mina was a tiny kitten, I joked that she was more ear than cat. She really looked like Yoda’s understudy then!

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