Book binge, 2017 spring edition

So I went home to New York for a week (the city is still standing, at least) and bought many many books, as recorded here. A pretty good haul in terms of both quality and quantity.

Peter S. Beagle, Summerlong
Not one of Beagle’s best, but with some lovely moments—Abe comparing playing the harmonica with the band to what he should have felt in Temple on the High Holy Days, Lioness saying Lily’s name, and all of Joanna.

Bill Hayes, Insomniac City
Beautiful and elegiac, resonating with love for New York and managing to describe his last days with Oliver Sacks without sentimentality.

James Brabazon, Dorothy L. Sayers
Well researched, but unexciting and curiously detached. Carolyn Heilbrun says in an essay somewhere that, while she appreciates Brabazon’s qualities of being English and Christian as qualifications for a Sayers biographer, she would have liked to do it herself, and it’s too bad she didn’t; this one could use more of a feminist, no, a woman’s slant.

Helene Tursten, Who Watcheth
The latest Irene Huss. A bit darker in places than I would prefer, but I like seeing Irene’s families—her husband and daughters, and her colleagues on the homicide team—doing all right. A pity there’s no ex-Superintendent Andersson in this one, though.

M.L. Longworth, The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne
Another Antoine Verlaque/Marine Bonnet mystery. Like the others there is some carelessness in both writing and editing—lots of typos of which the publishing house should be ashamed—and the plot isn’t very probable, but it’s fun. We let Verlaque get away with being a bit of a schmuck because the other characters know he is one too.

Ian Rankin, Rather Beat the Devil
It was dumb to buy this in New York, because Rankin is one of the few authors I’m likely to be able to find here in a timely fashion, but what the hell. Very readable, if shocking here and there as usual. Rankin has arrayed such good people around Rebus—Deborah Quant, Siobhan, and the essentially sweet-natured Malcolm Fox—that I worry about what he’s going to do to them all in the next volume.

William B. Helmreich, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows
The author is the guy who made me drool with envy by walking ALL of the streets in New York; this is the first of five projected guidebooks, one for each borough, based thereon. Even more talks with individual people would be fun, but it’s very entertaining.

Joseph R. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin
Not quite as intimate a view of Eleanor Roosevelt as I was hoping for, probably because rather than in spite of Joe Lash having been her close friend. When he was writing there were still a lot of people alive to be hurt, and a lot of papers not yet available, so that Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book goes into more detail about Eleanor’s emotional life (for instance, Lash barely distinguishes Lorena Hickok from the other woman journalists Eleanor worked with).

DW Gibson, The Edge Becomes the Center
Gentrification in New York, oral history of. Not quite as interesting as I was hoping for, but a good resource. Will pass it on to H if he wants it, assuming he still even remembers who I am.

Virginia Nicholson, Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes
Whether it was her original intention or not, Nicholson seems to be writing a social history of women in 20th century Britain, from single women in the 1920s to women in wartime, and now in the 50s. The end of the book suggests that she’s going on to the 60s next, which would be welcome too. She cites David Kynaston’s huge social histories of the same period, and seems to have been considerably influenced by them—although she doesn’t have quite Kynaston’s grace and fluency of writing, the book reads almost like an annex volume, focused exclusively on women—which is a good thing, with more smoothly presented information and less hammering a point home than in her 1920s book.

Ben Aaronovitch, The Hanging Tree
The latest Rivers of London mystery. Very much a series book—if you happened to come to it first it wouldn’t make a lick of sense—but highly satisfying if you have read the earlier books, with wonderful character work and dialogue, also nothing terrible happens to anyone we care about. Not quite enough good architecture for my tastes, and a few too many action scenes—as if the author is thinking ahead to movies or a TV series—but Sahra, and Lady Ty, and Nightingale.

Ellen Emerson White, A Season of Daring Greatly
Like the same author’s The Road Home, the heroine is a tough, smart, gifted young woman in a stressful situation—but fortunately professional baseball is not going to fuck up Jill Cafferty’s life quite to the extent that the Vietnam War did to Rebecca Phillips’. I like Jill and her mother and brother, I like the ensemble cast—and I’m glad she threw a Japanese guy in there—and the baseball talk, which I’m not used to hearing in English. Would enjoy a sequel with Jill as a successful veteran deciding whether to quit and go to college.

E.K. Johnston, Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Another with a heroine reminiscent of the author’s earlier work—Hermione does have a voice fairly similar to Siobhan’s, but since I like them both I’m not complaining. As with the Story of Owen, there are so many other side stories I want to know more about, I wish it wasn’t so short.

Frances Partridge, A Pacifist’s War and Everything to Lose
Diaries from the war and the 50s. Interesting contrast with Naomi Mitchison’s war diaries—they were almost exactly the same age, similar class and upbringing, both essentially leftist, but with completely different approaches to just about everything—Frances far more concerned with individual pleasure (she identifies herself as a hedonist), more monogamous (sorry, Naomi), less prolific with regard to work and children, less driven, without Naomi’s Scottish nationalism… . I’m sorry to say I’m more in Frances’ mold.

A. A. Vormilne

This popped into my head and I had to put it somewhere. It doesn't quite scan right...

They're changing guard at Vorhartung Palace.
Ivan Xav went down with Alys.
Alys is seeing one of the guard,
"An ImpSec man's life is terrible hard,"
Says Alys.

Yuletide letter 2016

Amended from past years:
Thank you for writing something for me. With the exception of the do-not-like stuff, please take any and all of this as optional suggestions only, and do what works for you. Not all of the stuff I like, for instance, may be applicable to all the fandoms I've requested; choose what makes sense to you.

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Book binge

I had one of my ritual book-buyings this spring, ordering a couple of dozen at a go through ABEbooks (I’ve lived in Japan too long, and can’t help pronouncing it ah-bay-books). A mixed batch as usual, but with a lot of good stuff in it.

A Game of their Own, Jennifer Ring: women playing professional baseball. Kind of sad, because there just aren’t enough opportunities being made, but interesting stories being told. I’d have enjoyed more focus on the minutiae of the team, particularly the relationships among the women and their families, the way baseball crosses lines of ethnicity and religion and class and sexuality.

Division Street, Studs Terkel: the first (I think) of his monumental oral history series. Also kind of depressing, because things in America were and remain really messed up, although not always in the same ways; that would make a hell of a sociology paper, looking at it as a mirror of the present. Not as fascinating as Working, but that’s a very high bar.

Tourists, Lisa Goldstein: urban fantasy in the literal rather than genre sense. Most of it was not to my taste, because none of the characters seemed at all likeable (either integrally so, or too miserable to be fun to spend time with), but the ending was happier than I’d expected; a bit deus, or rather princess, ex machina, but requiring further consideration. Original.

The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire, E.K. Johnston: a duology set in alternate-universe Canada, VERY MUCH up my alley. Everyday lives and dragon fighting and alternate history and music all going on together. Too short—I would have enjoyed a couple of six-hundred-page tomes which actually picked up all the potential subplots rather than just hinting at them—and not perfect in every way, but very very enjoyable. Maybe for next year’s Yuletide.

West Berlin Journal, Eloise Schindler: notes on life in 1960s Kreuzberg as the wife of a liberal pastor. Not exactly fun, but fascinating, and among other things provoking interesting thought on the differences and similarities of living as a foreigner in Germany and in Japan.

A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab: the second in a fantasy trilogy. I had read the first and decided I’d like to know what happened next, but ended up not being interested enough to do more than skim. Not character-driven enough for me, and done in too broad strokes, and focusing too much on place without enough of a sense of the real life of the places.

Not Time’s Fool, Erica H. Smith: the fourth in an ongoing series by an Internet acquaintance. Self-published, and overall of higher quality than about 99.44% of the commercially published stuff available. I loved the new focus on Janet (a favorite character of mine), could have done with slightly less time spent on fairy tales but otherwise enjoyed it richly and am now waiting for the next and last.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold: the new Vorkosigan book. Has had a mixed reception on the net, with which I mostly agree—I like the idea of the retcon per se, but feel that in both past and present it comes off too smoothly. Bujold at her best is absolutely brilliant at showing people struggling to master difficult but precious relationships (Aral and Cordelia in the original two books, Miles and Ekaterin, Bothari, Mark and his whole family, Duv Galeni…) and that’s what gets skimmed over here, to the detriment of the book’s heft (metaphorical, that is). But I do like the new characters, including Jole himself; I am seriously tempted to nominate a Yuletide cast entirely made up of Cordelia’s staff and Jole’s. And I loved Alex Vorkosigan poring over his grandfather’s drawings.

Games Wizards Play, Diane Duane: the latest in the Young Wizards series. Lighter in some ways than some of the others (deliberately, one assumes) and lots of fun. I loved Harry Callahan casuallly introducing the wizard-king of another planet as “My brother,” both funny and moving, and I liked Nita and Kit working on new ways to be together. I found Penn and Mehrnaz both a little light on nuance, there to help tell somebody else’s story rather than to be their own…

Shadow Web, N.M. Browne: alternate modern history and doppelgangers in London. I’m just not good at “has to pretend to be somebody else” stories, I didn’t like having to spend the whole book worrying about whether Jess would be found out, get home safely, etc., when I would rather have been exploring the alternate reality with a little less immediate panic. (This is one thing Erica Smith’s Waters of Time books, see above, do very well: her time jumpers are prepared for their impersonations within an inch of their lives.)

Letters to a Friend, Winifred Holtby: effervescent, thoughtful, impassioned, hilarious, and ridiculously enjoyable. I’m sometimes reminded of a phrase that was applied to another young woman sometimes called a saint, the “shining personality” of Etty Hillesum.

Among You Taking Notes, Naomi Mitchison: her wartime Mass Observation diary. I am a big Mass Obs fan, but had held off on this one because I wasn’t super interested in life in a Scottish fishing village; however, her 1934 Vienna Diary convinced me it would be worth a try, and it was. It’s full of personalities and opinions and ups and downs, rather less about the progress of the war and more about the day-to-day and its immediate effects on near and far-flung family and friends, which is just right for me. I wish she’d kept a diary her whole life.

A Tangle of Gold, Jaclyn Moriarty: the last in her “Colours of Madeleine” trilogy, and a brilliant conclusion, tying up almost too many loose ends. I think it’s her particular talent to show the ambiguity of her characters, good and bad sides and aspects melding and blending together—Keira and Belle and Ko and Abel and Chime and Jimmy.

A Notable Woman, Jean Lucey Pratt: the collected diaries of the woman who was “Maggie Joy Blunt” in the Mass Obs wartime excerpts. Not quite as enjoyable as I’d hoped, because she spends so much of her writing time unhappy, wanting a lover or a husband, a book published, a good job. Reading her in close proximity to Winifred Holtby and Naomi Mitchison, see above, gives a sense of the differences…not in technical writing ability, but in…breadth of mind, vitality of some kind…?

Military Brats, Mary E. Wertsch: oral history of growing up with parents (usually fathers) in the armed forces. Very interesting as it is, and probably invaluable research for a novel treating any such, but rather depressing in the incredible frequency of emotional and/or physical abuse.

Solitaire, Marian Botsford Fraser: interviews with single women across Canada. Beautifully written and skilful in the interviewing as well to draw out the best; also painstaking in its cross-section, geographical (except maybe the Far North), ethnic, religious, a fairly wide age range, queer and straight women (unlike the author of Singled Out, who doesn’t seem to have been able to decide whether lesbians counted as single women or not), women widowed and divorced, both happily and unhappily, and never married, women with vast sexual experience and virgins, the lot. Painful and definitely worth keeping around.

All Girls, Karen Stabiner: studies of girls at two girls’ schools, an elite California establishment and a NYC school for lower-income girls of promise. Not quite with the immediacy and rueful humor of Brooke Hauser’s New Kids, keeping some distance between the reader and the subjects, but interesting.

Fruits of Victory, Elaine F. Weiss: land girls in America during the First War. Academic rather than anecdotal, well researched and thoughtful, useful for research rather than pleasure reading.

Daughters of the Samurai, Janice P. Nimura: Ume, Sutematsu, Shige and the others in America and Japan. Also a good piece of research and well written, telling me a lot I didn’t know about their American experience in particular, and providing a nicely different slant from Ume’s letters to her foster mother, my main source so far.

Selected Letters of Rebecca West, ed. Bonnie Kimes Scott: bought because I was so fascinated by Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, or is it the other way round? Very readable, but also inspiring one to go to bed every night thinking “Well, things could be worse: at least I’m not Rebecca West.”

One Under, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: the latest Bill Slider mystery. Well done in terms of the mystery, with her usual competence; one very sad personal event and one happy one.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley: recommended by some people on the net. MUCH more to my taste than I had anticipated, with wonderful small details, music (although I would have liked to see even more of the Mikado), generally well-researched Japanese (the names seemed just a little too modern, Keita and Yuki for instance, but within tolerances; I was also sorry that the lady at the Rokumeikan turned out to be Takeko Inoue and not Sutematsu Oyama), humor and intelligence. Now I want more.

Yuletide letter 2015

Amended from past years:
Thank you for writing something for me. With the exception of the do-not-like stuff, please take any and all of this as optional suggestions only, and do what works for you. Not all of the stuff I like, for instance, may be applicable to all the fandoms I've requested; choose what makes sense to you.

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Anyway, as above, please take from this what you see fit; I’ve made some fairly specific requests/prompts, but as long as you’re kind enough to observe the do-not-like list, I’ll be delighted to read whatever you wanted to write. Many thanks.

Mostly Brahms

Thoughts on the 4th symphony and related issues:

1. This is silly almost to the point of blasphemy, but it cracks me up: there's a line of melody in the first movement, woodwinds and later violins, that has been reminding me of something else for a while. "Not classical..." "it has lyrics..." I thought vaguely, and then one day on the train it came to me. "Celia, you're breaking my heart, you're shaking my confidence, baby..." So now I grin to myself every time we rehearse that point, and have now privately christened it the Cecilia Symphony, which is only appropriate homage to the patron saint.

2. Listening to the 2nd symphony on the radio the other day was a strange experience; they're both wonderful, but it's the gap between comedy (in the classical sense) and tragedy. I kept thinking, oh, right, Brahms does have happy endings sometimes, it's not all leading to the stalwart recognition of despair...

3. I'm still waiting to hear a rendition of the flute solo as good as the one I heard at sixteen, although our flutist is not bad. It needs to be completely three-dimensional, not a melody line, a whole melody plane...

4. The third movement, unlike the others, is more satisfying to listen to than to play. Not sure why this is; maybe because the cello line is comparatively simple and accompaniment-esque compared to the others; the violins get most of the excitement. I am dissatisfied with the way our first violins (of whom I'm normally a big fan, what with one thing and another) are handling the sweet second theme; not singing enough.

5. The second movement doesn't give me quite the same sense of the numinous as the second movement of the second symphony does, but it is still utterly amazing in the emotional range it covers, the polyphony, the variety.

I think that'll do for now. Oh dear.

Another Sunday night post

Tomorrow I'm probably going to regret not having gone into work on Saturday, but I did have a fairly productive weekend on non-work-related terms.
The apartment is somewhat cleaner, or at least tidier, than it was, I took a load of dry-cleaning and got it back, I made a pot of pseudo-chili that I can eat for dinner tomorrow and the next day, meaning I don't have to deal with shop/cook after work. Yesterday I went into Kyoto and did some food shopping, including a couple of packets of the non-sweet, non-sticky dried apricots that are my preferred work snack (along with roasted almonds, which are easier to get hold of).
What else? Afternoon naps (this is what happens when I lie on the bed to watch baseball), not actually very pleasant--waking up with a headache. Not sure why, maybe my body not enjoying the weather's switch to pre-summer mode. [Oh my goodness, there's a guy playing violin in the NKyo concert on TV with an honest-to-goodness Mohawk. The concertmaster, in fact. What next.]
I got a couple of minor freelance things done; I also stuck my head in at a local band concert in which a colleague was playing sax. They were very respectably competent (a few clarinet tunings that M-from-orchestra would have winced at, but basically decent), but my goodness, the boringness of band music, why would anyone even bother (she said snobbily). Join an orchestra, or a jazz band, why not?
Orchestra rehearsal this morning, strings, Brahms. So much going on and it's all fascinating...I keep telling myself that I have to practice more, not even so that I can play my own part properly (sure, that would be a nice bonus, you know?) but so I'll have the leeway to listen to what other parts are doing. Caught myself making a snide remark to M afterwards about something completely pointless, talk about a vicious circle.
Saturday night I had what I can only describe as a ?date? with the handily named Tanaka. Dinner at a yakitori place (what Seiden-sensei, deliberately, calls "burnt chicken"), to a "jazz session" in a little underground place, with expert amateurs doing "Summertime," "My Favorite Things" (reminding me of Y, who loved that movie, and of my father, who used to say dryly "When the dog bites or the bee stings, you're better off going to the doctor than thinking of your favorite things"), a couple of other tunes I didn't know as well. Then a walk to a nearby park (where someone kissed me once) and a long talk.

This and that

1. I made two identical pots of chicken soup: one for today, with barley in and therefore no longer soup but barley stew (sort of mess-of-pottagey, actually), and one for tomorrow, to go in the fridge and get its share of barley then. Still not quite as good as my mom's, but nice for a rainy February, I mean March, evening. Also featuring the incredible vanishing leeks: I put in TONS of leeks, or things in the supermarket called 岩津ネギ doing a good leek imitation, and they disappeared entirely in the final product, but probably contributed materially to the sweet/savory vegetably goodness.

2. I've been making the same damn decision (or being even less productive) every Sunday afternoon for about a million years: the next thing to do is set myself a timetable, or it'll never get done.

3. I figured out (though I'm sure it's not the actual historical explanation) why the Tragic Overture is tragic: it sounds all the way through as if things are going to work out and there's going to be a happy ending, and then at the very end it all comes crashing down. The end is that much worse because of all the hopeful major-key stuff earlier.

4. Oh my God, the trombones in the Brahms 4th (big Brahms day today). The whole symphony feels like it's beyond my powers of emotional understanding (like the hapless oboist who says "Natalie, this is bigger than both of us!" in that very good Ursula LeGuin short novel), which doesn't stop it from making me cry.

5. Have I been reading anything worth mentioning? I must have. Nothing comes to mind, except maybe the latest issue of Ookiku Furikabutte, which I'm reading very slowly because it's one of the game ones and they always make me tense. Someone--Mizutani?--says to himself, damn, it feels good doing something you know you can pull off because you've worked so hard at it.

Leave it at that for now.

3 lines

Because I never post and I should, and everybody seems to be doing the "lines from 3 WIPs" meme and I actually have them:

1. Draco was the only person she’d told, back in fifth year, about what he called her big romantic crush (it’s none of those things, she said crossly, and he asked if he should then call it her little sexual fantasy and she hexed him).

2. “Weyrleader” had been synonymous with “T’kul” for so much of her life that it seemed incongruous for the Weyrleader to be a man of more or less her own generation.

3. Ertrex’s head came up so fast that she saw him flinch in pain for a moment. He swore softly in the harsh Vallusian slang she had occasionally heard—never directed at her—from the young guards. For a moment she missed Dalterk and Texek so much that tears came to her eyes.

Other people have, like, consistent fandoms...

Yuletide letter 2014

Amended from past years:
Thank you for writing something for me. With the exception of the do-not-like stuff, please take any and all of this as optional suggestions only, and do what works for you. Not all of the stuff I like, for instance, may be applicable to all the fandoms I've requested; choose what makes sense to you.

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