Sunday Sum-Up: May 14, 2023

All morning on Friday, we heard that the afternoon would be terribly stormy. There would be high winds and hail and possibly tornadoes, too. So at work, we were prepared to lock up at a moment’s notice and hide from any tornadoes or other major storms.

All afternoon and into the evening, it would be awful outside. Terrible. Atrocious weather was headed our way.

And this was the weather when I headed home from work around 6:30PM:

As you can see, it was just dreadful outside. It did get cloudy later on, but there were no storms.

While there was a line of strong thunderstorms that hit the state, they all missed us completely. I don’t mind not getting the tornadoes that did touch down a few hours west of us, but I wish we could have gotten a little rain. It’s been very dry. We need some rain.

Maybe next time.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

I don’t know what it is about this cat lately, but she’s been sitting on all the hard things lately. Whether it’s my writing desk (pictured) or on a bookshelf or just on the floor, Mina has decided to refrain from curling up on any of the soft things I have gotten specifically for her use- or even the soft things I have not gotten for her, that she’ll sleep on anyway.

Perhaps it’s because the weather is warming up, and she wants to stay cool? I don’t know. In the winter, she’s happy to spend her days on the blankets next to the radiator, so we’ll see what she decides to do with her napping time in the summer. Comfy but warmer spots on the blankets, or harder but cooler spots on the floor and shelves?

Time will tell.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • The Farthest Shore (The Books of Earthsea #3) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages by Janina Ramirez, audiobook narrated by the author
  • The Watchmaker’s Daughter (Glass and Steele #1) by C.J. Archer, audiobook narrated by Emma Powell

Apparently, I read The Farthest Shore a long time ago and gave it three stars on Goodreads. I don’t know what my past self was thinking, because I ended up re-rating it and giving it five stars, because this book is just beautiful. Le Guin’s writing is as stellar as ever, and her sense of pacing and character development is just about perfect. There was a point early on when I guessed what Arren’s end-point would be as a character, and I was right. It was the ending the story needed, and while it was bittersweet, there was no other way the story could have ended and have it feel true. Le Guin was such a compassionate writer when it came to human frailty, and that compassion is present on every page. It’s lovely to see, and I wish more current writers would be half as compassionate with their characters (and readers) as Le Guin was. Ged has few harsh words to say for young Arren, even when he fails at something or gives up hope. Ged (and Le Guin) understands that people fail sometimes, and it’s not from a lack of trying or a lack of will. Sometimes, people make mistakes or do the wrong thing. That’s not the end of the world. We can always pick ourselves up and keep trying, and Le Guin understood that. So this is my favorite so far of the Earthsea books, but I’m most of the way through the next one, Tehanu, and so far it’s brilliant.

Femina proved not to be just a history of remarkable medieval English woman. After I finished the chapters about women like the Loftus Princess or the warrior woman of Birka, I read about the Cathars in France and how they regarded gender equality as a basic fact of life, and then I read about Hildegard of Bingen and Jadwiga of Poland. I already knew quite a lot about Hildegard as I studied her in college and afterward, but I knew next to nothing about Jadwiga, a young woman who ruled as King in Poland until her untimely death. She had a difficult childhood, but came through it to lead armies and found a great Polish university (which ended up with her husband’s name, though he had little to do with its founding). I’m curious to read more about Jadwiga, but I haven’t looked to see if my library has anything about her. Overall, I found Femina to be a fascinating look at women who were important to the history of their countries, though historians through the centuries have ignored and otherwise disregarded them for being women. Thanks to multiple breakthroughs in various branches of science, we’ve been able to discover some amazing things about the past that are upending what we thought we knew about history. As these advances progress and new ones come along, we’ll be able to find out even more.

I was idly scrolling through the library’s collection of fantasy audiobooks, and I came across The Glass and Steele series. It looked interesting and the first book was available, so I downloaded it and gave it a shot. Before I talk about the book, though, let’s get a few things straight about late Victorian women’s wear:

  • Corsets were not worn next to bare skin. One would have worn a chemise under the corset for comfort’s sake
  • While tightlacing was a thing, it was not practiced by the vast majority of corset-wearers, and even fewer did so on a daily basis. Tightlacing was generally something a fashionable woman might do for a fancy occasion when she wouldn’t be expected to exert herself and when she was willing to put up with some discomfort for the sake of fashion. Women in history have used wide skirts, puffy sleeves, and other costuming tricks to make their waists look small compared to wider skirts and shoulders. It’s only been in recent decades that fashion has demanded that women reshape their bodies to suit fads, rather than the other way around.

So with that said, back to our regularly scheduled book sum-up, already in progress: After being betrayed by her fiance and having her inheritance stolen from her in the wake of her father’s death, India Steele has no money and no options. In desperation, she takes on a dubious job working for a mysterious American man, Matthew Glass, who is searching for the clockmaker who is the only one who can fix a very special watch. Things take a turn when India sees a news article about an American outlaw who has been spotted in England. Convinced that Glass is the outlaw, India must watch her step to ensure that she doesn’t put herself in danger- or fall for the wrong man. I enjoyed this book for the most part. It was somewhat predictable, and there were certain circumstances I wish that Archer hadn’t put India into, but it was entertaining. Aside from the corsetry nonsense, the thing that bugged me most about the book was actually the narrator. Powell was fine for the most part, but the accent she used for Glass’s American companions drove me up the wall. Thespians and narrators, please remember this: People in the western half of the United States have a variety of accents. Texans do not sound like Nebraskans, and Nebraskans do not sound like Californians. If you’re going to use a “Western American accent”, please study a proper one from the proper place, and don’t use John Wayne’s mumblings as your point of reference.

I’m not sure about this series quite yet. There are at least twelve books, so there is a lot to look forward to if I continue. I’ve downloaded the second book already, and it has a different narrator, so if she doesn’t make the American characters sound like they’re chewing on marbles, I may have a fun new gaslamp fantasy series to read.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, audiobook narrated by Katherine Littrell (63%)
  • Tehanu (The Books of Earthsea #4) by Ursula K. Le Guin (64%)
  • The Nature of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Carl F. Hostetter

I saw The Woman in the Libary on a ‘Books about Books and Readers’ display at Barnes and Noble last weekend along with a couple of others that looked interesting, so I downloaded it from the library and gave it a shot. It is, ostensibly, about an Australian writer who has come to the US for a writing fellowship. One day, while working in the reading room of the Boston Public library, she hears a woman scream. She and the other three people at her table chat while waiting for security to clear the scene, and they quickly become friends. The only problem is that one of them is a murderer. There is a framing device surrounding this story that slowly builds its own mystery, even as it affects the outcome of the overarching plot. This one has had some interesting twists and turns, though at this point I am more interested in what is going on with the framing device than the actual story. I don’t know if I’m buying the friendship between these four people, and there is a character who is rapidly getting on my nerves. I only have a couple of hours left on this, though, so I’ll probably finish it up later today and see if my suspicions are confirmed, or if I’m completely off-base.

Tehanu is the fourth novel of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series. She wrote it about twenty years after The Farthest Shore because she had changed a lot in the intervening twenty years, and could look back and see the biases she didn’t know she had when she was younger. Tehanu is her response to her younger self who just went along with the misogynistic notion that only men did magic and had adventures and did important things while women- who had their own, but lesser magics and abilities- stayed at home and did the sewing. In Tehanu, we meet back up with Tenar, who was a girl trapped in a false religion decades earlier when Ged first met her. He freed her from the dark tunnels she was meant to spend her life in. When their adventures were over, Tenar declined to study magic and went off to become a wife and mother instead. Now, years later with her children grown and her husband dead, Tenar is tasked with raising another, horribly scarred child. She and the child are living peacefully when Ged returns to the island, sick in mind and body having lost his magic. He is despairing, thinking that he has lost everything, but Tenar doesn’t necessarily see it that way. She has lost and lost and lost but has always managed to find a new way and a new purpose, though she changes her identity (in a way) with each new loss. Tenar is also told to teach her adopted child everything about magic, but she begins to wonder at the importance of this- aren’t a woman’s arts as useful and honorable as magic? I’m curious to see where this goes, and once again I am deeply impressed by Le Guin’s writing and her compassion for people- even for herself. She hasn’t condemned her younger self for going along with earlier notions of what men and women were capable of. She takes a good long look at herself and the world she built, and asks, “But why was it like that? Can it be different?”. It’s wonderful.

The first chapters of The Nature of Middle-earth have so much math. Just really too much math. So much math. These chapters contain a series of notes Tolkien wrote when he was figuring out how quickly or how slowly time moved for Elves, how long it took them to mature, how many generations there were in a given period of time, and how many Elves were in those first generations. Things like that. Honestly, a lot of it has gone over my head, as numbers don’t like to stick around in my head unless I have cause to use them constantly. So I haven’t absorbed a lot in this first section, except that Elves have few children in general, and fewer still as the ages pass, and that it takes some 2,000 years for them to really reach adulthood. Imagine having to deal with a moody teenage Elf for five hundred years . . . But anyway. I think I’m approaching the end of the math chapters, so I’ll hopefully learn more than I currently am because math and I really don’t get along very well.

Listening to Things:

My entry for this week’s edition of ‘Listening to the Academy Award-winners of Best Original Score’ was Ludovic Bource’s score for The Artist. I couldn’t find it on Spotify, but it was fortunately available on YouTube. Is it strange that we often use a video service to listen to music? I think it is. But anyway.

Listening to this music after last week’s entry, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ fully electronic score for The Social Network, gave me a bit of aural whiplash. It’s like the Academy said, “We got all edgy with the Reznor/Ross score last year, and there was Discourse, so we should try to be more traditional this time around”. And then they went with one of the most traditional-sounding film scores I’ve ever heard. Given the premise of The Artist, though, this does make sense. The music sounds a bit like a blend between Erik Korngold and Rodgers and Hammerstein, so it’s very “Hollywood traditions”, and I thought it was perfectly fine. It’s a score that says, “Come in! Sit down! We’re here to have a great time watching this movie!” It’s lovely, and if you enjoy that ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ sound, then this might be just the music for you.

Otherwise, I’ve been listening to a few playlists on Spotify that have been giving me a variety of film and television music, and that is just fine with me.

At the urging of a co-worker, I also listened to Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)’, and it was fine. Banal and easy to listen to, with nothing much that caught my attention or made me want to listen to it again. Like other selections from Swift’s discography, I found this song pretty unmemorable. I still fail to see the appeal in her music, though I know she has legions of fans who adore her. I guess I’m just not meant to be a Swiftie. I think I can live with that.

7 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: May 14, 2023

  1. Reading your thoughts about Earthsea has me wanting to reread it all. Tehanu was the last of the cycle I read and I’d like to reread through that and then those I’ve never read. For me it’s one of the classic fantasy series that has really held up throughout the years.

  2. The Earthsea books are on my “why haven’t I read this before?” list. I’m enjoying seeing your thoughts on them. Maybe later this year, when I’ve gotten through all the other things I’ve been meaning to read. 🙂

  3. Lol the weather in your area just wants to keep you all on your toes, ready for anything at a moment’s notice.
    I’d like to reread The Farthest Shore too, maybe all the Earthsea books I’ve read. I gave it 2 stars when I read it several years ago. I think I probably found it too preachy.

  4. I rated it 3 stars the first time I reread it, but I don’t know when that was. Clearly my views of it have changed in the years since then. I hope you enjoy your reread, whenever you get to it!

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