Four Brothers in Blue

From a recommendation from my dad, I’m reading an actual paper book, Four Brothers in Blue, which is mostly letters from four brothers who were all in the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. They were in different regiments and wrote letters home & to each other. This was strung together many years later by one of the brothers with details (boringly) filled in.

The letters are mostly about details of the misery of soldier life: being cold, losing all your stuff or throwing it away on a long march while carrying 100 pounds on your back in 90 degree heat, needing more socks, mud, blisters, asthma, what it’s like to wake up with lice crawling all over you, eating disgusting food, and how the entire army has diarrhea as well as lice. Somehow, I always like reading this sort of book as it makes any physical pain I’m in less significant as I try to imagine having to walk several miles to gather hay and firewood to button into my lice-filled poncho in the freezing night, for warmth, as i attempt to sleep “on the soft side of the planks”.

Early on in the book and the war, the brothers are fans of McClellan, calling him “Little Mac” and reporting excitedly if he passed close by them on parade. He kept the army morale high, even if they did think he should have followed up quicker after Lee’s defeat at Antietam. They were disappointed that this hero wasn’t taller. One brother even sneaked up to McClellan’s horse, Dan Webster, snipped off a piece of the horse’s mane as a souvenir, and sent it to their mom. I guess this horse must have had a McClellan saddle.

The letters written back to them from their mother and father are missing but you can tell they were being sent little care packages of bandages and medicine by their mom, and stern advice about knapsacks from their dad. All the brothers explain repeatedly to their dad that his knapsacks sucked because they were heavy and the straps too narrow, and they can’t carry all that stuff because they have giant ammo pouches and 50 pounds worth of guns. They stick closest to their “rubber blanket” which I imagine to be a bit like a ridiculously heavy yoga mat, and anything made of wool though the blankets are the 2nd thing to go after the knapsacks. Ponchos sound the easiest to carry. So, now I know some survival tips, in case I’m accidentally transported back in time to 1861 as an able bodied 20 year old man. How useful!

Slow absorption of history with digressions

I’m still slowly reading In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars with forays into Wikipedia or pauses to read a book or two or six by people mentioned in the history. Last night I ended up trying to explain Lord Uxbridge’s leg to Danny who got interested and then read out loud to me from Mr. Dallas’s speech in court to defend Henry Paget (the Noble Lord). (Result: Paget paid 20,000 pounds to Wellesley for eloping with his wife Charlotte.) Readers of Regency romances take note, Paget was married at the time to one of Lady Jersey’s daughters.

Onward to some more Luddite riots centered in Bolton and Preston (land of my ancestors! at least one branch of them! Weavers and miners all, emigrating around 1900 to work in more mills but escaping the mines!) and a long chapter about Shelley and co.

One pause was for Life in the Sickroom by Harriet Martineau, which is AWESOME and which I’ll summarize soon. I liked it so much I found a (cheap!) first edition online – leather binding, marbled papers – Lovely.

I am probably going to pause to read the novel Patronage by Mrs. Edgeworth, but first, a complete departure since I need to recharge my Kindle, this morning in the sun on the porch with coffee, with a real life paper book in hand: From the Legend of Biel by Mary Staton, which I had never heard of till James Nicoll‘s mention of it in a review. So far it’s glorious, weird, trippy, one of those Freak Out in Space books a little like Solaris, as the head of the 4-person expedition to planet MC6 enters the pearl-like featureless dome trying to map the maze within and finally, the center, and some glass holograph floppies which, slotted in, OVERWHELM HIS MIND with story.

book cover with geometric buildings

Why, why, why, would you want to wear a jumpsuit uniform in space and as you explore another planet? They’re always unzipping their jumpsuits (but never to pee) What is wrong with just … what about pants and shirt, space explorer uniform designers? I guess the idea is that in zero-gee you don’t want your shirt floating up but that is why we have tailoring, knits, even perhaps Space Suspenders.

Other moments where someone enters the dome, or the ruins, of the past or the aliens or one’s ancestors: Pern on the Southern Continent (with bonus rocketships), I think one at least of the books by H.M. Hoover, an Andre Norton or two or five (especially the one where they jump around on the colored squares to get in, like Dance Dance Revolution). And so many more. I have to think it is from Lord Howard and the pyramid (The protagonist of Biel is even named Howard – subtle. )

Long reading journeys since I am still in enforced idleness of convalescence from surgery and can’t sit upright for very long and leaving the house (while possible) is unwise and painful. It’s amazing how beautiful the world is though when I do — the bus ride to the doctor yesterday & back again was as wild and ecstatic as the journey into the dome of MC6 — I was early, bought an It’s-It at a cart at the cable turnaround at Powell and sat in the sun in a clean bit of pavement (recently washed perhaps by the new mayor’s power-washing crew) providing entertainment to all as part of the San Francisco landscape. Purple haired woman with a leather jacket sits on the pavement next to her motorized tricycle (decorated with artificial flowers and a unicorn horn), eating ice cream and beaming — small children tagging along after their parents with rolly suitcases drop their jaws and their heads swivel as they walk past or sometimes stop dead in their tracks to stare. I wave like the Queen of Tricycles and try to convey my harmlessness to the parents. Sometimes I’ve been stopped in that area or by the Mint by tourists who want a photo with me. Colored hair is not that strange anymore so I have to lay blame on the unicorn horn. The people waiting in a long line for the cable car ride (where I always think of young Maya Angelou), the guy sleeping next to the railing, the band playing not-great but adequate steel drum, a sunny day…. Endless parade of people going places purposefully. I loved everyone.

A month after surgery

This was a fabulous day. I had more energy, I cooked some things, folded a lot of laundry, and did my project to paint a small shelving unit in the bathroom. With interludes of lying down but this is the most active I’ve been since June and it was so nice.

liz smiling with a paintbrush

I feel more certain that I’m healing up from surgery now. Danny did all the shopping and laundry and Ada helped out with some things and cleaned her room after getting back from a gaming sleepover. Dinner was 2 kinds of congee (chicken broth in one pot and vegetarian in the other) with poached eggs. I also used up Ada’s solstice harvest pears and apples and a lemon making a pear-apple crumble. It is strangely satisfying to just make up whatever I’m cooking as I go (occasionally leading to something inedible) My chicken congee had tomato, bok choy, fresh ginger, cumin, and a lot of pepper. Ada’s vegetarian kind had tofu, soy sauce, some frozen mixed vegetables, shredded carrots from a bag, bok choy, tomatoes… lord knows what else I threw in there but it came out nice. I have not cooked anything other than toast or a microwave dinner for a long time….

I am missing Milo who is back at school (moving back just this Wednesday).

I also left the house Thurs. night for an hour of the EFF Pioneer Awards (nice to see people! and to be out!), Friday (on the bus) for a dr. appointment, and Saturday afternoon to go to the retirement party of one of my comp lit professors, again, amazing to see her and my super wonderful thesis advisor and friends from the program from 15 years ago (!). Lessons learned from going out: I am not yet ready to scooter around town or take the bus. It hurts too much and I need to seriously limit going out, and stick to cabs. (I have to lean heavily to one side when sitting up, including on the scooter, and it hurts my back and also, bumpy sidewalks omg.)

I’m in bed for the evening now reading about the 19th century novelist Mrs. Sherwood aka Mary Martha Butt. From ages 6 to 13 while learning her 40 lines of Virgil per day she was locked into some sort of “stocks” and also an iron collar around her neck with wooden boards to keep her posture correct. Her novels are a bit horrible (fascinating though – and she has a sense of humor – and you can see the seeds of later childrens literature in there). I would like to read a modern biography about her.

Meanwhile, I read just the Wikipedia entry for social theorist and writer Harriet Martineau: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Martineau and am VERY KEEN to read her book “Life in the Sickroom” from 1844 which she wrote while she was confined to bed for a couple of years. What horrors will it contain!! But what possible insights that I might actually agree with!!!

These digressions in reading are all from interesting bits of my main book right now, “In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars” which seems endless by Kindle-percentage standards, but I am sure the last half of it is footnotes. It jumps between focal points (like Banking, or Weaving).

While recovering from surgery I read nearly everything possible (in e-book form) by Charlotte M. Yonge (who I like better as a writer than Mrs. Sherwood) well worth reading – like Margaret Oliphant. She is especially interesting in writing around the 1830 riots.

I had to just accept that I needed the surgery since I wasn’t getting better without it and wasn’t really able to function well in any way…. Tied to a strange cycle of this abscess unpredictably starting to swell, then a hellish time of waiting for it to burst, then like, feeling horrible but marginally more capable but it started to happen more than once per day. That really sucked. So, I went on medical leave and they de-roofed it (ugh) leaving a giant open wound. Once I made the decision it was a little easier to just switch gears to Very Low Gear, or maybe Neutral, and idle. I prepared pretty well for this arranging everything for my bedside life, cleaning off a shelf that I look at from bed to put some plant pots and extra vases there and a giant rack of in-out boxes for my drawing supplies. And, I slowly drew (mostly while lying sideways) some of my planned scenes of the neighborhood. It is so helpful to have some sort of plan like this. I also laid on the front porch (once capable) in the sunny hour in the morning and on the back porch in the afternoon to catch the last sun before winter. I find it hard to lie still not doing anything – I look around and enjoy seeing stuff but start to want to change stuff, plan things to do, and it is very annoying not to be able to get up. But, this time, I think it’s the best I’ve planned (and had infinite resources…) And best I’ve coped.

Leaving out the days of being glued to news, twitter, Senate hearings, rage-tweeting about Kavanaugh and rape culture, crying, and freaking out and also the 2 weeks of heavy drugs just after the surgery.

Milton Mayer book

In between much lighter reading I’ve been plowing through “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45” by Milton Mayer, published in 1955. OK, first off I wish it didn’t have a giant swastika on the cover since I can’t even leave it lying around the house without feeling embarrassed. Thanks, book designer?

The book feels like one of those mish-mash books created from already published magazine articles. Mayer is trying to complicate various explanations of “why the ordinary (non jewish) German in the 30s and 40s were in the Nazi Party or just went along with things and what that meant for them. He works in details about ten “friends” he made in Kronnenberg, along with a bunch of German history and some psychological/sociological speculation. Also trying to tell the narrative non linearly, but not very well. I didn’t think the book was very good, but stuck with it till the end.

There was a middle section that was pages and pages of him quoting another extra 11th “friend” or colleague who was a professor (maybe in Germany, then in the U.S. or England) basically outlining some thought on frog-boiling and considering the beginnings and endings of one’s actions.

Basic premise of the book of his “friends” was a bit gross since he was lying to them, was not their friend, they weren’t or wouldn’t have been his friends, and so on. Also they all sound super racist and anti-Semitic to the core so it was deeply unpleasant to hear their mild doubts of their actions leading up to and during the war.

Mayer makes some brief comparisons of race politics in the U.S. with the situation in Germany including mentioning racism against black people and the internment of Japanese Americans.

Better off to go read Hannah Arendt rather than this stuff. The last chapter had some interesting stuff about the CIA in the 50s training assassin squads of former SS officers – in Germany – to go after people they thought were dangerous communists – despite this being totally illegal in every way.

Link: http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html

Getting back on the horse

Not heroin but blogging more rather than leaning on Facebook and Slack for all my casual writing, diary, and conversation online. Never mind maneuvers, blog straight at em. The other thing stopping me is a totally mundane task to twiddle the theme of this blog and restore all the images which were lost in a previous theme change early in 2017. Somehow, there is never time!

I started off the holiday break at the end of 2017 working over my vacation. Then spent a few days speed-publishing part of my book backlog to ebook formats, starting with very tiny poetry books from 2000 to about 2005, firing up my most recent press/imprint, Burn This Press. There are more coming – both more tiny books and bigger books and anthologies that didn’t have a wide distribution and never made it to a digital format.

Many other ambitions like traveling for a vacation, or visiting every museum in the San Francisco Bay Area, were shelved for when I feel more mobile and have less pressure at work. I still did some fun things in December though!

Among them, 2 christmases: Fakemas which we hold before the actual holiday, since both kids tend to go on trips to or with other family for Dec. 25. And then actual Christmas with my sister’s family.

Here’s a cute picture of Milo home from university and putting ornaments on our tiny, tiny tree — against a background of bookshelves! It’s on a small end table that’s a solid, heavy tree stump carved and painted to look like a pile of giant books.

putting ornaments on the tree

Ridiculously meta fanfiction: Barsetshire and Madame Koska

In the last few weeks in my way of consuming books relentlessly when I can’t sleep and am feeling stressed, I’ve been reading all possible Angela Thirkell books that I could find in e-book format. They’re a ridiculous series written and set after World War I in England in Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire. The class politics are terrible and interesting and they’re a bit like reading a more complex Agatha Christie novel without the mystery solving. It’s always interesting to see how a novelist treats writing about the same group of people over time – these books would be perfect for the long intersecting arcs of a long-running tv series.

I finally hit the book “Peace Breaks Out” and felt surfeited of fancy-ass people with vaguely Trollopean names bemoaning the nastiness of their rationed food and the fact that sometimes they have to clean up after themselves. Definitely found myself muttering and cussing them all out, and hating the obvious arcs of the mawkish love stories past a certain point.

But then in the suggested next books, I noticed some mystery books starring Madame Koska – who was the detective in the books written by a fictional novelist, one of the nicest characters in Thirkell’s series, Laura Morland. Mrs. Morland writes trashy detective novels to support herself and her four sons and their household (ie their servants). It’s a running joke how while she is self-deprecating, everyone she meets gushes about how much they love Madame Koska’s exciting world of fashion design.

Perfect…. completely meta-trashy…. the meta has gone 2 levels deep as Thirkell was more or less writing Trollope fanfiction and then the Koska author is writing fanfic of the fanfic. I have just started Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch – it’s extremely fun and silly.

Sideways review of "In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities"

Read an interesting book about Narragansett. Through the ugly casual racism you can see some interesting stuff. I looked up a lot of details and learned a little about the history of Black Governors in New England and their elections. Written in 1898 with stories about people who lived 100 or so years before, another Alice Morse Earle book. And now for a random history walk through the interwebs!!!

I did find census records of some of the people mentioned including Cuddymonk, who is described as mixed Narragansett and Black (in the 1790 census as Cuddy Monk with 5 in his household; his wife Rosann is mentioned in the book but the census only lists heads of households). I looked him up since he had a distinctive name.

Anyway, the book has a bunch of stories from what is now Bonnet Shores (then Boston Neck) including a mention of the ridge where the Tower is built (The Tower is named after “Unfortunate Hannah” Robinson). (I know the area from (partly) growing up there, and the Tower was and is a really cool landmark.) In Earle’s story, Hannah is an abandoned, sickly, dying young girl returning home to reconcile with her stern, cruel father after eloping with a French dancing-master. In actual life, she had 9 children with him in Providence before she returned to her parents’ house, which kind of messes up the touching fable of her almost innocent girlhood!

Unfortunate Hannah Robinson’s dad was a rich slave-owning plantation owner in Boston Neck, who bought a woman he called Abigail. The local story as told by Earle (I can’t find any other source) is that she was a queen in Africa, and Robinson freed her so she could go back there and find her son and … bring him back to Rhode Island? OK, seems unlikely! Her son Prince Robinson became one of the Black Governors of the area. The Prince Robinson in the census in the 1800s who was a stonemason may be him or may be his son. I feel sure a bit of real research could tell. There was also a woman named Tuggie Bannock who was said to be Abigail’s daughter and who was a witch. I couldn’t find her in the census. Earle makes her sound ridiculous, which is very annoying.

As I was looking through the census I noticed the Champlins and Hazards were also slave owning plantation owners (You will recognize the names if you are from there). And also on the same page as Cuddymonk: a white governor of Rhode Island listed as Gov. Samuel Potter.

My interest is in adding dimension to the people mocked in racist fables and replacing the caricatures with something more respectful. For example the way that (what’s her name) re-wrote Sojourner Truth’s famous speech in southern plantation dialect when she did not talk that way in her life. Alice Morse Earle does the same thing to her “characters”. I think it is part of undoing white supremacy to make our histories and geography more ‘true’ and more known. Now what I mean by that could fill a book. Moving right along…..

It looked also, in my casual reading, like the Hazards and Robinsons intermarried a bunch and one of that family at least became an abolitionist and did some work to gain freedom for a guy from his town who was detained in the south assumed to be escaped slave and this led to around 100 people there getting out of “detention” ie either jail or slavery. His textile business, not unrelatedly, had to switch from cotton to wool consuming and producing since the Southerners wouldn’t deal with him anymore.

Basically over that 150 years or so, the rich white people intermarried and owned all the land, and the Narragansett and Niantic and Black people intermarried and didn’t. I notice it didn’t seem to occur to Rowland Hazard to give the land back to the still extant Narragansett people as a way of settling up.

Another Hazard that Earle refers to: Caroline Hazard who wrote essays, poetry, and biographies and who was the President of Wellesley College for 10 years. I might look for her books in the Internet Archive. Of course Earle casually mentions her as “Miss Hazard” and her incredibly famous writing. Perhaps they were friends.

It is sad that I am at least happy that Morse Earle includes people of color which leaves some clues and tiny bits of truth along with the garbage racist caricatures. Other books do much worse — for example a multi-volume set “The Early History of Narragansett” has hundreds of pages of detail of every (white) family in the area for a couple of hundred years and all their names including details from their wills but never mentions that they are slave owners leaving human beings to their children in their wills. The Black and Narragansett & Niantic people are just left out of the Early (White Supremacist) history completely. You have to work to do that kind of disappearing.

Another example: In the Narragansett Historical Society’s short description of the area’s overall history, there is no mention of the history of slavery, of black residents over the years, or of the ongoing history of the Narragansett tribe’s people.

Here is another interesting collection of info from 1700s and early 1800s on people of color in Rhode Island mentioned in letters and manuscripts: http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/PeopleofColorweb.htm

In case you were wondering about Bonnet Shores, it was mostly Wesquage Farm and Bonnet Point before the mid 19th century, thought to be called that because the shape of the Point looked a bit like the bonnet of a ship’s jib (a small sail at the bottom of the jib).

bonnet point aerial view

OK…. sometimes this is what I do with my evenings… to relax…..

Plowing through heaps of books

Braindump of some of the books I’ve read lately, or at least, since my last post about books. Lots of science fiction and fantasy here as usual with forays into history, science, and “literary fiction” though for me to go near that without barfing it had better be great.

* The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. I loved this! So beautiful! Do that thing with language! Break my heart! And with intense, queer as hell soldierly camaraderie. Tantalizing backstory (those ancestor aliens/gods…) I didn’t want this book to end!

sorcerer-of-wildeeps.jpg

* My Brilliant Friend, and the others in this series of 4 books by Elena Ferrante. Oh, my god! Brilliant and awful and amazing! I was shattered into pieces and had to rebuild myself and my own politics. By the last book (when they are old) I realized I could only barely grasp the depth/breadth of things because I am not old enough yet. (If you are the sort of person who has talked about realizing you have to be 30ish to get the idea of Middlemarch, and you are now older than 30ish, please go for these books immediately!!!) I need more people to read into book 4 so I can discuss it deeply. I have feelings here people. And those feelings can be summed up like, “Did she really — omg — she did! No. But yes. NOOOOO” You will not stop having epiphanies here. Deeply fucked up in the best way. You know how you realize that over the ages every human society has intoxicants, and that we need them to get through the heinous pain of life unless we are some kind of mystical saint (which is its own sort of intoxicant anyway)? It is because things are truly as fucked up and confusing as these novels represent them !!!!! There is no way to avoid it if you have half an eye for complexity.

* All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Fabulous! Nerdy guy Laurence who builds time machines and AIs who joins Not-Elon-Musk futurist geek team, and his childhood sort-of-friend Patricia who talks to animals and goes to wizarding school, meet again as adults in San Francisco and try to prevent the impending magico-technological apocalypse. I love their friendship with each other and how they develop their own groups of weird talented chosen family. Playful, intense, and cool! I also really like how all the bits of science fiction and fantasy you would expect or take for granted are elided. Instead of rehashing the tropes of magic school or whatever, Charlie takes SFF assumptions and builds something weird and new over all the things that don’t have to be said, like a lacy bridge of fanciful awesomeness.

(Note, I think I suggested the connection with Conference of the Birds. But I can’t actually remember if I did. Seems likely! And I liked how that idea came back at the ending)

* Woman with a Blue Pencil: A Novel by Gordon Mcalpine. Epistolary novel where a young Japanese-American man from the West Coast sends chapters of his detective novel manuscript to an editor in NYC. His detective starts off as a Japanese American professor but then the bombing of Pearl Harbor happens and the editor demands a more palatable hero, who the author creates in palpable anger and grief as he and his family are imprisoned in an internment camp. The original detective’s story continues in parallel as he is written out of the acceptable publishable story. It is a disturbing science fictiony metaphysical novel. Interesting, tightly written and structured book, really elegant. I was in awe of the clever structure.

* Black Wolves by Kate Elliott. This is a new series in the same world (a few years on) as the Crossroads series, which I adore, and had to go back and re-read once I read Black Wolves! (They reward close re-reading!) If you feel that epic fantasy like say, Songs of Fire & Ice could just be better.. and less of a rehash of the genre… and like, do more interesting things with gender dynamics…. Read Crossroads, and this new series! So good! Also kind of a mindfuck and a criticism of not just the genre but why we come to the genre and what we want from it… (I like that a lot.)

* Crystal Society, by Max Harms. I got really excited about this because it is weird. If you read a lot of SF and you want to explore some ideas, here are some good ones! This is the story of AI’s subroutines and their very rational market internal to their own brain, and I really wanted to like the AI in its parts and together as a whole, and am rooting for it against the scientists who made it and who worry that it will be a sociopathic entity and then it it is both likeable and a sociopath and I was very weirded out! Fun exploration which reminded me a little bit of the weirdness of the web novel “Ra” but a lot more competent at making a human-enjoyable plot.

* The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Fabulous!!!!! I will never forget the journey across the horrible ocean road!

* City of Stairs and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Excellent fantasy series. Sorry to be brief, there are lots of reviews, neat worldbuilding. Heroic women!

* The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. Another great fantasy book about empire and (de)colonization, with a great heroine, by a dude, that doesn’t feel like it was written by a dude, in a good way.

* South Texas Experience: Love Letters by Noemi Martinez. good book, good poems, delicate but solid, keep an eye on Hermana Resist Press!

* A bunch of books by Jessica Day George (Castle Glower series). A young princess who is soul-bonded with her family’s castle, which moves pieces of itself and builds new rooms every Tuesday. Griffins, magic, moving between worlds and the sort of AI-like castle. Very sweet. Also, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, an enjoyable version of Beauty and the Beast.

* Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. Cowgirl/ranch hand Nettie Lonesome is basically a Slayer. But more interesting. I enjoyed this – A Western with an excellent punch.

* The Antagonists (books 1 and 2), a series about a wheelchair-using superheroine (superantiheroine?). Burgandi Rakoska tells an engaging, satisfying story! Writing is a little amateurish so don’t go for it if that bothers you (I think it is charming). The drama is awesome and the way that the heroine uses her crip powers and insight, SO GOOD. In book 2 they go to hang out with King Arthur, who as you can imagine, is an asshole and a half. One of the superhero trials they have to undergo is enduring a chamber of pain. Hahahah! Yay! Now there is something I would have a superpower in. (King Arthur runs out screaming in like 30 seconds.) I am looking forward to Rakoska’s next series about kids in a paranormal school that sounds like it will be much more infused with disability politics & experience than, say, X-men.

* Nearly all the Vorkosigan books (re-read) in order by the timeline of the series (About 12 novels)

* All the Expanse books by “James A. Corey”. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abbadon’s Gate, and Cibola Burn. I guess there will be more. And I will probably read them because I do love space opera and the women characters don’t 100% suck. Rant ahead: I could not help but notice the heavy reliance on space hookers for atmosphere to give a gritty frontier/port feeling. There are seriously space brothels in every chapter and it is sort of like the annoying feeling when every TV show or movie has to have a scene in a strip club. Not even for fanservice but to signify something … How is everything “equal” and there’s lots of politicians and engineers and pilots and military robot exoskeleton wearers who are women but somehow 90% of the women in space are hookers anyway? Eh!!! I got so annoyed I started highlighting all the whorey bits. Good news, they stopped relying on that so much in the later books. But something is always so wrong with women’s agency in these books. I was very annoyed no matter the good efforts and halfway decent characters! Still I ate up these books like candy and also watched the TV show. To assuage my feelings I started writing a poem from the point of view of the very interesting, intelligent, ambitious, activist minded, technologically capable space hookers, who are FRIENDS.

* Alastair Reynolds, Poseidon’s Children trilogy. I love Reynolds’s books a lot but loved these less than usual. Kind of boring. I got very annoyed with everyone in this one family from Tanzania, spaceships, coldsleep, various world governments, and most of all, elephants. What is with being super obsessed with your great great great great etc. grandmother who you would barely share any genetic material with anyway, no matter how famous and great she was, and no one is really that important (I am allergic to Great Person theories of history) Endless rehashing of moral qualms. Please kill that million people for the greater good, or don’t. But don’t tell me how you’re thinking about it, then have the character tell someone else they’re thinking about it, then have them tell a third person all about it, as if the reader hasn’t heard it already, and then have someone else hold the first person to task for not telling them, and then finally do the morally questionable thing or don’t…. Whatever, JFDI!!! Still, good and with some juicy ideas like the uplifted elephants, the artilects, the creepy giant whale woman, all the cool tech, the Evolving robots who take over Mars, but could have been compressed severely. Also it struck me weirdly that someone would constantly be thinking “Ah…. AFRICA…” You are from a specific place, right? (Which happens to be the bit with Kilimanjaro and elephants and dramatic sunsets in a sort of timeless safari park except Kilimanjaro has a railgun coming out at the top.) Would you describe your feelings of longing as being about an entire continent, whether you’re under the ocean, or on Mars, or in some star system? Do people do this? I have never thought romantically about the entire continent of North America; am I weird? Well, look, anyway, House of Suns is still one of the best SF books ever and you should buy it and read it. The Prefect was also unusually excellent and sparky with newness.

* Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. More with generation ships and checking out the nearest planet around another star. Lots of politics of how we are to govern the generation ship and its environmental and resource difficulties and then rather like in that one Helen M. Hoover book you realize things may not be working out quite right. Honk if you like process.

* Several trashy feminist paranormal romance novels by Zoe Chant, about curvy paramedics who are friends with each other and all end up dating some sexy, feminist, shape shifting ex-Navy Seal were-bodyguards of different animal backgrounds, who respect them for their amazing skills. Much hurt/comfort is to be had. Truly worth a read especially if you get all the way to the hilarious tongue in cheek one about the sexy were-meerkat Hollywood reporter/detective. OK they are all tongue in cheek but… Meerkat was over the top silly. Start with the bear one; I laughed and laughed when the bear bodyguard has green and brown furniture to remind him of the forest, and cooks a great middle of the night breakfast for his curvy paramedic client!

* Several of the lesser known and not so popular novels by Anthony Trollope because I was in the mood but have read the Palliser and Warden novels too many times already. Ralph the Heir (maddening!) Mr. Scarborough’s Family, and I can’t remember the others and can’t be bothered to go back and look as they were dual editions. I like Trollope a lot.

* To Hold the Bridge. Really brilliant short stories by Garth Nix. I acknowledge the weird brilliance of the Sabriel books (necromancer, boarding school, demon cat, weird talents) while still being a little annoyed by them without being able to explain why. The short stories really grew on me. I went back to read all the Sabriel books and liked them better the 2nd time around.

* The Strange Crimes of Little Africa by Chesya Burke. Detective novel set in Harlem in the 20s. Our heroine Jaz Idawell (hehehehe) is BFFs with Zora Neale Hurston and they solve murder mysteries! What more is there to say. I enjoyed this! I had read Burke’s book of short stories, Let’s Play White, and enjoyed it some years ago; I’ll definitely read whatever else she writes when comes out in book form!

* A lot of books by Kazuo Ishiguro, I think all the books. I liked the first one I hit, Never Let Me Go, and resolved to read everything by Ishiguro. Then they started on the whole to annoy me and feel unsatisfying. Good but, not all that.

* The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. I read this, because it had good reviews, but honest to god I can’t remember any of it.

* Bassel: Behind the Screens of the Syrian Resistance.

* The Biography of a Grizzly. What it says on the tin.

* Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle (and several others, but they got boring) Historical fiction.

* The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Good and naturally super horrible and sad too.

* All the Dance to the Music of Time books again. (last fall) Still good.

* Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete. I liked Fermor’s story of walking across Europe in the 30s but by the time he wrote this he just seemed creepy.

* Some fairly terrible jane austen pastiches by Carrie Bebris but I read them all anyway because I was sick

* Some much, much better, fabulous Jane Austen homages/continuations, by Sherwood Smith, who is great and brilliant. If you have a mood where you want to re-read Mansfield Park, do it! And then read Jane Austen After. Two alternate endings to Mansfield Park! Tie-ins to her other novels!

* There are more books, but I would have to go poke through my past orders since I deleted lots off my Kindle already.

If you have book recs for me, please let me know! I need a steady stream of fuel to burn here because of general insomnia and reading very quickly.

Noticing women mentioning women

I started reading Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes with Wikipedia in the other hand to get different perspectives on all the people Ansary mentions and the stories he tells about the history of Islam and various political figures. At some point this evening I got up to the Moghul Empire and while looking up Babur, felt very excited that his diary is famous. I love diaries and memoirs. While you can get a lot from an overview of history, it’s even better to go straight to some original texts. Well, to translations of them. There were a few versions listed online and on Amazon. I was hoping for a recent version for Kindle that would have decent footnotes and that might have left in any racy bits about crushing out on youths in the marketplace. But the only kindle version was from the turn of the last century. Translator Annette S. Beveridge. I bought it and interrupted my reading of Ansary to dive into the textual mind of Babur.

But first there is a 400 page history of Babur by Beveridge. She opens with a description of how Babur learned everything important from his mother Qut-luq-nigar who was well educated and accomplished. And from his grandmother Aisan-daulat and his older sister Khan-zada. About Khan-zada, Annette says tantalizingly, “Her life-story tempts, but is too long to tell; her girlish promise is seen fulfilled in Gul-badan’s pages.” As you can imagine, I immediately interrupt my reading of Beveridge’s introductory explanations of the important women in Babur’s life to look up all of them, Gul-badan, and Beveridge herself, promising myself that if Beveridge doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet, she will soon.

She did have one and I scurried around adding some corrections to it (it left out that she translated the Baburnama… and she is mentioned in her husband’s article but incorrectly as a translator of Hindu rather than of Persian and Turki) and link-ifying her name elsewhere to point to her article. It turns out she also translated Gulbadan, Babur’s daughter and Akbar the great’s aunt, who wrote the biography of her brother Humayun (the Humayunama) including some of her own and her other relative’s histories.

gulbadan

From Annette’s gloriously boring 400 page preface to her translation of the Baburnama she is revealed as being extremely scholarly, at least it sounds like it! She compares different versions of the Baburnama and is very excited about the Haidarabad Codex.

I may interrupt this book and this blog post now to go read her translation of Gulbadan since in my mind this is basically a 16th century Princess Diary (even if she is writing about her brother).

If you know my interests in history and literature you’ll laugh, because this is so very right up my alley, it’s like catnip for me. (i.e. my projects like Building a Digital Feminary, or my anthology of translations of work by women poets) It will be very interesting to read Gulbadan’s thoughts and Annette’s layers of added meaning as she was a champion of women’s education and, well, at least their right to education (if not to suffrage) as she campaigned to found a women’s college, Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya (School for Hindu Women), later Banga Mahila Vidyalaya. I have no doubt there were hideous colonialist aspects to this, but I also liked reading about her struggles against sexist dudes who wanted to limit women’s education. What I mean though is that whatever mythos she was looking to construct of the elite womanhood of empire, that will likely be revealed in her framing of the Moghul royal women as educated, literary, and “civilizing” influences on the men of the ruling class.

Ansary’s history of the world centered on the Islamic world will be enhanced several layers more deeply by my following these threads of the shadows of the women who by the time it is hundreds of years later and halfway around the world in dusty books, are often left to unnamed roles or relegated to the footnotes. How nice it is to see their names, imagine their lives, and read their translated words. Even when we don’t know their names we know they were there and can work to add them into the dimensions of our mental landscape of history. For me, it is something like an absolute faith or belief — “you were there” and to read some writing like this is deeply validating. (for my own mythos, you might notice, which may be something like, “women can, and do, find each other’s work and make some kind of connection, and pay attention to each other, despite thousands of years of oppression which leads women to do otherwise, across time, cultures, and languages” so that even if I am embedded in the problems of imperialism and translation some form of resistance is there in the process or the result).

Meanwhle, yesterday was Ada’s birthday party, which we all worked a lot to make happen and make it interesting. It was a sort of role playing puzzle game or scavenger hunt in Glen Canyon park. The two teams of teenagers and children ran around the park for hours, guided by Ada and Milo, finding clues, translating the runes and unscrambling the words to give me and Danny (the guardian stone dragons of the hidden amulet) a passphrase. Then, a (confused and confusing, but great) battle between the two teams and the rebels, which was a combat card game a bit like Magic the Gathering, invented and designed by Ada and Milo and drawn by Ada. Puzzles by me, booklet and team badges designed by my sister Laura.

dragonthorne_card_game

Today the children have been gaming and reading the monster manual all day, and they cooked chocolate chip pancakes for themselves and brought breakfast in bed to Danny, on a tray nicely set up with a bud vase with flowers from the garden. I think Milo may have been the cook and Ada the tray-fixer and flower-picker.

This, on the one morning I sneaked out to the cafe to translate. I am about 2/3 of the way through my raw rough draft of Carmen Berenguer‘s new book Mi Lai which should be published later this year or early next year by Cardboard House Press. It is an exciting book and I’ll have more to say about it soon.

Making a puzzle scavenger hunt

I spent most of today working on the map and puzzles for A.’s birthday party in the park. My sister is drawing kick ass badges for the two teams, the Dragonthorne and Bloodsphinx clans, which will go onto the little booklet with map and runes and the doggerel that contains the hints. Her designs are so cool that I want to also print temporary tattoos for the clans.

I re-read the entire Vorkosigan series last week (or so) and now am re-reading Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds so that I can catch up on this series which is now a trilogy, Poseidon’s Children.

Also up soon on my reading list is Crystal Society by Max Harms, which sounds very amusing!

My mom is visiting and we went to spend an afternoon at Land’s End and Ocean Beach. Perfect day for it!

liz-purple-sunglasses

Danny and I also went out and had a drink at Virgil’s Sea Room where I was also able to groove out to a band next door at El Rio (great bar but too crowded for me to get around well in my scooter) playing Cuarto de Tula. We went over to Ruben’s cupcake house where he fed us thin mints or something and made us watch horrible videos like Becky and Joe’s Creativity Song and the fucking brilliant ad for Cloaxia. Make yours a bird hole!

I am just over halfway through my first draft of translating Mi Lai by Carmen Berenguer. I’m getting to the poems about San Francisco and a long one about being on an airplane (a theme I particularly love).

Meanwhile, I am reading Altazor by Vicente Huidobro in the original and with Eliot Weinberger’s translation. I learned a lot reading his translations of Octavio Paz in the 80s and it is cool to see how he approached Huidobro. Of course I love the end bits where language flies free. Nothing is more fun to translate than the untranslatable!!