Sunday Sum-Up: March 26, 2023

So the 90s called, and they wanted me to rejoin them for a couple of days. And by that, I mean my internet connection was out for two days.

I got home from work one night to find my modem blinking at me while my phone and computer declared that there was no network to connect to. I got on the phone, contacted my internet provider, and got a technician scheduled to arrive forty-eight hours hence.

Once I got over being grumpy about my lack of internet access, I sighed and got on with things, because while irritating, it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. So I turned on an audiobook and did things like wash the dishes and clean the dust from around the motor of my pedestal fan (it was getting gross, and I use that fan all the time, even in the winter), so the first evening was productive.

The next day was my day off. It entailed two appointments and several errands, but when my friends canceled our dinner plans because they weren’t feeling well, I had a night to myself– without internet access. I got so much writing done! It turns out that when you can’t hop online to do a bit of research, you stay much more focused. I wrote one short story, started another, and wrote most of another scene for my long Work in Progress- nearly 3,000 words in total. AND, I ended up using the dictionary that’s been hanging out, unused, on my shelf for years. Once I finished writing, I sat down and read over 100 pages.

The day after that, the internet technician was waiting when I got home from work. He fixed the problem (a bad modem) within an hour or so and got me back online, but because I needed to meet up with a coworker from another branch later that evening, I was in waiting mode and felt like I couldn’t work on anything because I was already doing something– I was waiting. But I did read for a while while I was waiting, but that evening was not as productive as I’d hoped it would be. Alas.

But my connection is back, so I’m back to my normal routines. Or will be, once next week properly rolls around.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

It is March in Nebraska, and because it’s March in Nebraska, the weather is pretty much running on vibes. For example: early in the week we had a day where the temperature was above freezing and the sun was shining, but we were getting heavy snow. I don’t understand it, either, but Mina always enjoys watching the snow fall. She’ll spend an hour in the window watching it come down before retiring to the chair with her favorite blanket in it, where she’ll curl up and nap for hours at a time.

There are definitely days where I would love to do the same thing- watch it snow, then go curl up somewhere cozy and nap for a while. This little cat might complain about her life sometimes, but she doesn’t know how much I envy her. If she had to go to work in my stead, I think she would have a greater appreciation for being able to take a nap whenever she wants.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch, audiobook narrated by Gabra Zackman
  • Dune Messiah (Chronicles of Dune #2) by Frank Herbert, audiobook narrated by Simon Vance, Scott Brick, Euan Morton, Katherine Kellgren
  • The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
  • The Paston Letters: A Selection with Modern Spelling edited by Norman Davis

How to Disappear was a fascinating collection of essays on Busch’s thoughts on various notions of invisibility or disappearing. From children’s imaginary friends to scientific cloaking devices to how society tends to forget about women over forty, Busch’s insights are keen and thought-provoking. We live in a society where we are encouraged to make our names known and be seen by as many people as possible, but Busch discusses how it can be incredibly freeing to be invisible and go unseen, at least from time to time. This isn’t one of those books that will change my life, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.

A few years ago, I bought the new, pretty mass-market paperback editions of Frank Herbert’s Chronicles of Dune (volumes 2-6). I’d read books 1-3 before that, and fully intended to read the entire series around the time that Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Dune came out in October 2021. That did not happen, and I finally got around to rereading Dune Messiah this week when the audiobook came in for me from the library. I eagerly downloaded it and got to reading and… Well, I was confused by the collection of narrators who seemed to have been assigned chapters at random, except for Simon Vance, who read most of the book. Why were the other narrators there at all? I don’t know why. They weren’t reading any specific points of view. Also, while Simon Vance is one of my favorite narrators, I was actually disappointed by his performance this time around as he made all the female characters sound so shrill. Another thing that bothered me this time around was the story itself– Dune Messiah picks up twelve years after Dune. Paul’s empire covers the entire known universe, and the religion that sprang up in his wake has taken on a life of its own- a life that Paul does not care for. The tone of the story is rather bitter, as Paul hates what the religion has done to the people around him. He’s also trying to avoid a future that ends in chaos for the universe, but to do what must be done, he must make a series of terrible sacrifices. This all sounds terribly interesting, but the book is shot through with so many didactic conversations about philosophy that the plot and characters are often subsumed by it all. And (something that really bothered me this time around), so much of the book is concerned with Alia’s sexuality. And yes, I know that mentally she is and has been an adult, but physically she is fifteen. But we have all these grown men standing around being all, “she’s a sexy woman now, we need to address this. She needs to get married, or there will be problems”. Sure, I get it. The book was published in 1969, and things were different then. I get the cultural context. But I’m not interested in adult male characters ogling a fifteen-year-old girl’s body. I’m also not so interested in authors constantly philosophizing at me. So I finished the book and called it quits on The Chronicles of Dune. I’ve read the third book and didn’t go any farther, and I’ve realized why I’ve never finished the series: I just don’t care what comes after Dune. And these days, I don’t want to sit there reading an author’s endless philosophical diatribes. So as pretty as the books are, I’ve decided to go ahead and sell them to the used bookstore.

I haven’t read Shannon (aka S.A.) Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy yet, but as The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi is a prequel to that trilogy, I decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did. Amina’s story goes like this: a retired, legendary female pirate is enticed into taking one last job that will set her family up for the rest of their lives. A wealthy old woman hires her to find her missing granddaughter, who has been taken by a Frankish mercenary. Amina sets about gathering her old crew and investigating the girl’s disappearance, but there is more to the story than the old woman lets on, and before she knows it, Amina is wrapped up in an adventure that could get everyone she cares about killed in horrible ways. I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book: Amina is a woman in her forties who was perfectly happy to stay home and raise her daughter. It’s nice to have a fantasy novel starring older characters. Chakraborty’s writing is great (though there were some bits that felt more modern than necessary), and the way she weaves the story threads together was expertly done. Her explanations of the natures of the fantastical characters were fantastic, too. All in all, it’s a fantastic story and it moved the Daevabad trilogy much higher on my To-Read list.

The Paston Letters is a collection of letters written by and for various members of the Paston family, who were wealthy landowners (though not nobility) in the second half of the fifteenth century in England. While most of their letters concern familial matters like property disputes or the family matriarch’s disapproval of her daughter’s choice of husband, there are mentions of major historical goings-on. This was the time of the Wars of the Roses, and it seems that the Pastons were supporters of the Lancastrian side in this. John Paston I was actually imprisoned by Edward IV for a while over political matters. As I’m a nerd, I found even the daily matters interesting- especially because you can see how linguistic patterns changed across fifty years of English history. The early letters are full of words and phrases that require some puzzling out (though Margaret Paston has a particularly idiosyncratic writing style), while the later letters seem much more modern in their words and grammar, though they’re still very wordy and often elliptical in style. But the thing that I found most confusing about the whole thing were the names. The Paston parents were John and Margaret. Among their children were two boys named John (they lived at the same time and both survived to adulthood) and a daughter named Margaret. I know the convention of the time was to name the children after their parents (ad infinitum, ad nauseum), but really? Two boys named John?? Dear Medieval England: You have more than five names. You have quite a lot of names, actually. Please make use of them.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • The Binding by Bridget Collins, audiobook narrated by Carl Prekopp

I’d been on the waiting list for the audiobook of Kary Hays’s Gothic novel The Cloisters for a few months, so when it finally arrived for me I downloaded it as soon as I could and started listening to it. Around the 10% point, I’d already found the book to be aggressively mediocre, so I asked a friend who read it a while ago if it got any better, and she said “No”. So I returned the book and went looking for something else in the Gothic vein. What I ended up with was Bridget Collins’ The Binding. This is the story of Emmett Farmer, a young man recovering from a sudden and terrible illness that prevents him from doing work on his family’s farm. When a nearby bookbinder sends his parents a letter telling them that Emmett will be her new apprentice, they have little choice but to send Emmett to her. There, Emmett finds a new life making beautiful bindings for strange books, for in this world you can take a terrible memory and cast it into a book where it will be safely stored while you go off and live your life unburdened. But Emmett’s world is shaken when, in the vault where the bookbinder stores her finished work, he finds a book with his own name on it. I’m about 10% in, and it’s beautiful so far. Collins’ writing is lyrical without being overwrought, and she builds up the world without having the characters sitting there info-dumping about things. Prekopp’s performance so far has been fantastic, too. I’m looking forward to getting farther into this book and finding out what caused Emmett’s illness, and what memories are in his book.

What I Listened To:

Nothing, really. The days when I had time to listen to music were the days that I lacked internet access (no Spotify!), and I forgot to download any albums to my phone when I did have access. Oops. Could I have listened to music on my phone without a WiFi connection? Yes. I could have used data to do so, but I pay for data as I go, and I’m cheap when it comes to my phone plan. I will continue my Academy Award-winners project next week, with the original score to Brokeback Mountain.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: March 26, 2023

  1. Sounds like an internet outage every now and then might be good for productivity. 😉 I’ve never read beyond the first Dune book. I’ve always meant to, and likely will one day. And speaking of trying more, I’ve wanted to try Chakraborty’s work since I first saw it. I’m glad to hear this one worked well even without reading the longer series. I may give this one a try first, also.

  2. Ok, weather in Nebraska sounds worst than weirdness here because you’ve got snow. The weather here just can’t seem to decide if it wants to be winter and cold, or spring and warm.

  3. During our last power outage, I had to laugh at myself for how weird it was to be *gasp* offline for a night! How did we ever survive pre-internet? Interesting to read your thoughts on Dune Messiah. I read the books decades ago and keep thinking about doing a re-read, at least for the first book. But having just reread an older book I always considered a favorite and ending up disappointed with it, I’m worried I’d feel the same way about revisiting Dune.

  4. I kind of treated it like I was on vacation, when I travel and don’t always have internet access for a night. It eventually worked… I am glad I had such a productive evening the one full day I was without access. Otherwise I would have been going a bit nuts not being able to listen to music or check the weather.

    I’m often nervous about rereading old favorites, because same. What if it’s disappointing to me now? I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t been let down by anything, but there are a lot of books I’ve decided to just leave in the past because I know they’ll just hit differently now.

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