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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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New kindle - or possible those harsh few kindle-less days - seem to have snapped me out of my 3 months long reading rut. Seriously, I'm incredibly happy. Kind of giddy, even. It's like a piece of my brain has been put back.

Recently finished:

I finished Anna Reid's Leningrad, about the WW2 siege. It's not the world's best organized book, and there was probably a bit of room for more of a blow-by-blow historical narrative, but that all completely pales next to the human story she weaves. It's absolutely, horrifyingly, riveting. There's a lot of diaries, memoirs, conversations, interviews, reports, recollections and so on available, and this vast tapestry of an entire city - a complicated, educated, cultured, terribly literary city - just being stripped completely of every basic human need, food and shelter and warmth, and how they coped and held on or didn't hold on. All those ways they managed to preserve humanity, and all the ways they lost it. The first hand accounts of what it looks like and feels like to starve to death, and in a few cases, the process of not quite starving to death and climbing back to life after that. I couldn't turn away.

Daniel Abraham's Tyrant's Law was last week, I just have nothing to say about it. It's very...competent.

Also, Margaret Macmillan's Paris, 1919, about the Versailles peace treaty. I thought it was a little too broad, if anything, with a lot about what was going on the world over and a bit less about the moment of the conference itself. (Not that it wasn't interesting, of course - I didn't know about D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume, or that there were 100k Chinese workers in the trenches of the Western front.) There was, of course, a great deal about the conference, just that it was all very focused on the big players and the big issues, whereas I found myself more interested in the weird stuff going on about the sidelines, all those small delegations with quixotic dreams. It just seems like that kind of information is ultimately more telling about the logic of that moment in time than understanding this or that long-irrelevant piece of specific political wrangling that led to this or that decision.

And a re-read of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, which I was inspired to go re-read because of watching the Big Bang Theory. Seriously. For some reason, some corner of my brain saw a connection, and I had it on a tentative re-read list for a while anyway. (My brain may be onto something, not sure.) Anyway, I still love it. I read it way back in the army, in translation, on some really lonely little base on the Egyptian border, and i've always wondered if I loved it so much just because it perfectly suited my mood and all that English rain and green hills were unbearably exotic just then.

But no, it's just brilliant, and i'm amazed it's so short. There's so much packed into the tone and the language. All that heartbreaking loneliness and disappointment, hiding behind the pomposity and clinging to a mask of what he calls dignity so hard its embarassing just to read about. These people that reader can see are acting like fools, but can't for the life of it see it themselves. Standing around in rooms and not noticing, or pretending very hard they're not noticing, that they're sad just now, or happy just now, or even falling in love just now.

Currently reading:

Frankenstein, I finally feel like i'm beginning to get a bit of a handle on it as a story, rather than as a historical artifact.

Around India in 80 Trains, by Monisha Rajesh. Not a terrible interesting travel book, about, well, what it says on the tin. I would like this books a lot more if she talked more about trains. It's like she thinks they're just the way to get to a place or something!


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May 2017

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