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...and school and work are cancelled for one more day. Uni sending out increasingly hedging emails last night was kind of amusing, I admit. Public transport here still somewhere between dodgy and nonexistant.


So, book meme, filched from [personal profile] schneefink:

List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don't take but a few minutes, and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the 'right' or 'great' works, just ones which have touched you.

I ended up cheating a little, because my mind drew a total blank after about four, so I scrolled through Goodreads and took whatever immediately jumped out with some emotional something-or-other...I also found that I remember when, and even where, I first read a lot of these, so that's part of it as well. I don't particularly measure life in books that way, but a lot of these kinda stick out.


Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke - This was far (far, far) from the first SF book I read, but I think it was the first one that blew my mind a little? I also found it shamelessly emotional and still think it's beautifully written. It was given to me by my best friends dad, raiding who's bookcase had started me on the path to genre fannishness, after she had moved to the USA and I visited her and this was for the flight back. (I think I was 13. I remember this was just before 9/11 and thinking how absurdly easy all the airport stuff in the US had been.)


The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro - I re-read this recently and found I love it even more now. It's just so precise and so restrained and devastating, and works on so many layers, over and over, that all interact with each other. The plot, the prose, the persona, the philosophizing. It just completely shook me out of myself when I read it. (In the army, on the Egyptian border, while doing 12/12's on this utterly idiotic checkpoint.)


A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin - Read in the boot (yes, boot) of a car while driving to Eilat with family, age 12 or so. I remember waiting desperately for the third book to come out. (Oh, the innocence.) I do love these books (never seen the show, i'm afraid) and i've been very fannish about them for a long time. I love the multiple readings they support, the deconstruction of fantasy tropes yet the unabashed fantasticality of them and how much it's possible to argue about them.


To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis - read in junior high, probably? I love farce, and it's hard to pull off in general and particularly hard in writing. I still re-read this once a year or so, because it always makes me feel better.


Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazny - borrowed off of that same Dad-of-best-friend's bookshelf. This one always sticks with me because it's basically about geography. One of the first books I can remember reading that really hit that place I love of intersecting questions of genre with questions of landscape. This place is different from that place, and we are different in it. Let's talk about that.


A Peace to End all Peace, David Fromkin - I'd basically gone through everything I wanted to read in my (very small) junior high library, so I moved across the aisle to the non-fiction. I don't think this was the first history book I ever read for fun, but it was the first one that was fun, and opened up history as something weird and interesting and relevant.


A Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez - highschool. I remember a maths teacher taking it away from me in class, which hadn't happened in a while by that point. Just a really emotional, visceral, can't-stop-reading this reaction.


A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz - someone from my commune got me Charles Robert Wilson's Spin for my birthday (I suspect this was in the army. I was also more insight into who I was and what I liked than that person had ever shown otherwise in the six odd years of our extremely close...Acquaintance? Association? English doesn't have a good single word for the relationship you have with people who are members of the same anarchist-marxist-commune-group as you. Trust me, it often isn't 'friendship'.) Anyway, I had already read it, but when I went to exchange it, because it had been given to me in Hebrew and in the context of something very...Israeli, I felt I should get an Israeli book, of which I (alas) don't read that many.

So I got this and couldn't stop reading it. It's so personal and intimate. It's about books and politics and words, words, words, and Jerusalem and Russia, and the holocaust and the conflict, and running to and running from and being immigrants and trying to narrate your life so it makes sense, even though it doesn't.


Market Forces, Richard K. Morgan - read while walking on a beach, when commune-group decided to take a hike (literally) because it was felt things were going badly with our quest to battle the alienation of late-stage consumer-capitalism. Which one member of group reading a book rather than talking to anyone surely contributed to. But I thought it was about false consciousness and the deadening effects of late-stage consumer capitalism, so that was all fine. I was awful when I was 18, ok? (It's a good book though.)


The City and the City, China Mieville - this one is just dizzyingly fun (yet disconcerting) to read as a Jerusalemite. I found myself giggling and wincing at the same time at a lot of what the book does, and it's about geography again, and about genre. It deconstructs genre through the deconstruction of geography. That just gives me all the feels.
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Recently Finished:

I finished The Steel Remains! Go me! It helps that it picks up a bit towards the end, but that middle is a slog. Also, in retrospect, there's really remarkably little plot. Just a lot of moody recollecting and angst. It unravels kind of interestingly, but really struck me as terribly written in places and the...let's call it a romance?...is just terrible. The great and godlike blah being as finally revealed are just incredibly bland and boringly ponderous (and weirdly and incongrously anime-like). I might read the sequel for the worldbuilding, but the characters can all go vanish into the aether.

I also read the fourth Flashman book, Flashman at the Charge. Those who like that sort of thing will like this sort of thing, I suppose? It's mostly more of the same, but I feel like the sly, ironic political and historiographical commentary, and for that matter, characterization, has given way to a less interesting and more straightforward barely-parody. It seems by this point that Flashman is a guy who is totally going to win at life, and he really doesn't seem like such a bad fellow anymore - his only failing now appears to be that doesn't buy into the militaristic honor codes of Victorian masculinity and isn't into getting killed for the sake of downtrodding some natives, which is not really much of a failing from where we're reading. In the first book he was genuinely vile by any possible morality, to the modern reader as well as his contemporaries, yet he was still coming out on top because everyone around him was working by these honor codes, which are absurd and deeply immoral themselves. Simultaneously, he was kind of a loser in the spheres of life that actually matter - family, wealth, friendships, etc. I could admire Flashman for bucking the rules and getting one over on the British Empire in public, despise him for being a scumbag and fraud in secret and pity him because his private life was a self-inflicted shambles all at the same time. The older, wiser and generally better Flashman of book 4 is a much less fascinating construct.


That said, currently reading the next Flashman book, and Ian Kershaw's The End.
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Good grief, it's Wednesday again?

Finished Recently

Ripped through The Glass God, the new Kate Griffin book, in a day (well, mostly in a night.) I still find the series really fun and readable, and at the same time still a tiny bit frustrating, when it comes to characters. This one seemed to have a lot of potential, with Matthew missing and very vulnerable and and Sharon having to step up and stuff, but all that interesting chewiness gets sidelined for quippy dialogue and set pieces and convoluted mystery-murder-mayhem plot and so on. So, par the course. At some point I'm just going to have to accept this series is never going to grow into the complex exploration of urban alienation and the social underpinning of humanity that I would like, but not yet!

Frankenstein. Don't quite know what to think about it, really. I figure all the thoughts have already been thought. Personally, it hits me in the same place most things do. Isolation, alienation, etc. I can see the SF-Fantasy elements thought. SFF is so often about that kind of stuff - what does it mean to be human? Where is the line of that drawn? Who gets to define it? It's kind of nice to see that it's not contemporary liberal angsting but is right there at the roots of the genre. The monster begs, desperately, for connection, but Frankenstein refuses, but he (Frankenstein) can't conceive of himself as bound in a web of connections. He's constantly surprised that the monster - that anything - could come at him through the people around him. It just never seems to occur to him that all those threats aren't about him.

On the non-fiction front, 1913 by Charles Emmerson was kinda meh. A sort of world-portrait of 1913, organized by major cities. It should have been right up my alley but fell a little flat. It is nicely readable and the focus on cities is novel and welcome, but it ends up straying too wide. If I wanted to read about the Meiji restoration or the Young Turks or Habsburg disintegration or whathaveyou, i'd go read about them, and not in ten page snapshots. What I wanted was to know what kind of shoes people wore in Tokyo or what employment was like for Black people in Durban or how often people in Buenos Aires went to see movies or how much tea cost in Teheran. Some of it is there, which makes the digressions into narrative political history all the more frustrating, but not nearly enough.


Current and Future Reading

Back to slogging slowly through The Steel Remains, and I've heard good things about Up Against It, by MJ Locke, or possibly the next Flashman book. (I think i'm up to 4.)
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I like the idea of memes, I just never do 'em. I feel self conscious. But i've been on a bad stretch the past months or so with reading, so at least i'll talk about it.

Currently:

I just started "The Taste of War" by Lizzie Collingham, which appears to be a fairly broad look at the role of food in WW2. I'm enjoying it so far. I've always been particularly interested in the daily life and logistics of the period, so this is right up my alley.

I'm a few chapters through "Late Victorian Holocausts," by Mike Davies (about the effects of climate and colonization in the 19th century.) Now, i'm broadly in Davies political camp, and i'm not opposed to polemics per se, but sometimes he kind of slides into this self aware drama, like he's giving a May Day speech on a barricade. I've heard some good May Day speeches on barricades, but, like, time and place, you know? 

I've been reading an Orwell collection - My Country Left of Right - for ages as my bus book. It's a mishmash of letters, reviews, diaries, columns, speeches, etc. I was reading it very, very slowly, but it's kind of picked up lately.

The only fiction i'm properly reading at the moment (well, i'm bogged down with Frankenstein) is Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. It's ok, but I feel like it's been ages since i've managed to really get into a secondary world fantasy (even Abercrombies latest is sitting unread, despite how much I ended up enjoying The Heroes) and this is no exception. It's novelties - well, really only the gay main character - have worn off and nothing else is strong enough to drag me along. I'll probably finish it eventually, but I have a hard time seeing myself picking up the sequel. Morgan is really a writer I want to like more than I do, since I loved Market Forces years ago, but nothing else i've read by him since has been nearly as interesting.

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