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October 24, 2014
medusa

Art by Autumn from Daydreams & Giggles

I’m taking a mental health day today. In the meantime, have this amazing painting of Medusa that I commissioned from Autumn at Daydreams and Giggles. Isn’t she divine? She’s based on Mami Wata.
I collect Medusas. I also got an amazing painting from Ted Naifeh at DragonCon. I have to go to a Kinko’s to get her scanned though. She’s too big for my home printer. She’s also very not safe for work, so I don’t know that I’ll post her just in case that’s not cool for people.
For some reason, Medusa just stuck in my head when I was little. I learned Greek mythology when I was very young. My mom was going back to school when I was about four and so she told me myths instead of fairy tales. Demeter was my third grade Halloween costume. So, I was a giant nerd even as a tiny child.
But Medusa… There was always something about her. (You may have noticed that I’m a fan, what with my blog name, my twitter handle, and my jewelry company name.
Is there anyone you read about when you were little who stuck with you?

Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Mead, and the “Percy Jackson Problem”

October 23, 2014

Rebecca Mead wrote a piece in the New Yorker today called “The Percy Jackson Problem.” I found it via Neil Gaiman’s tumblr:
gaiman
So, I clicked through because, first of all, I object to the notion that the Percy Jackson books “seem designed to repel grownups with teen goofiness.” And second, I wanted to see how Neil Gaiman was winning an argument he wasn’t aware of.
So, the reason Gaiman was invoked by Ms. Mead is that almost exactly a year ago he gave The Reading Agency annual lecture on the importance of reading and libraries. And the lecture was reprinted in the Guardian.
The whole lecture is worth a read, but the part that gets pulled out, and the reason it is relevant to the New Yorker article can be summed up in these two paragraphs:

There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

Seriously, Mom? At 10?

Seriously, Mom? At 10?

I happen to agree with him. I was encouraged to read with very little supervision as a child. I read almost anything I could get my hands on. I had a personal library of over 1,000 books by the time I was 15. But, I remember one Christmas when I was ten or so. My mother gave me Pride and Prejudice and Stranger in a Strange Land. Now, I love both these books now. But at ten I shook out my stocking a few more times to see if there was anything better in it. She didn’t push though. She didn’t force me to pick up those books and read them right then. If she had, I doubt I would be the Austen or the Heinlein fan I am now. (Also, what was she thinking? There is no way I could have grokked Stranger at ten. Maybe some kids could have, but not me.)
So, I know where I stand. You know where I stand. The article seems a little uncertain about where its author stands. She wants to be with Gaiman, but also finds herself leaning toward Tim Parks’s view. Mr. Parks wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books in which he expresses the opinion that people do not move from trashy books up “a kind of neo-Platonic stairway” from bad books, or children’s books up to Serious Literature.
He does say, at the end of the piece, “that there are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction.” So Parks is, ostensibly, not assigning a value to the reading anyone is doing, he’s simply saying that it is unlikely to see a progression in one’s reading tastes. People will not graduate from Twilight to Tolstoy, for example. Or even to Romeo and Juliet (although why people want to force students to read that play I do not understand. It’s really not very good) no matter how much publishers try to encourage it. twilight

 
Since I prefer genre literature I am fairly strongly on Gaiman’s side of this argument. I think people should read what they like. I don’t, personally, like literary fiction very much because I find most of it dull. I want action or adventure. I want stakes that are higher than a middle-class marriage or the resolution of feelings of discontent. That’s me. That’s what I like. I read Great Literature. I have a degree in literature. Russian literature even. But, I spend most of my time reading mysteries, speculative fiction, or young adult literature. I generally find that more happens in those books.
Because of that I have fairly strong feelings about what sort of books one should be reading. How do you feel? Are some types of books better than others? Or should we just live and let live when it comes to people’s reading habits? And is that different for kids?

Recently Reading

October 22, 2014

I’m not feeling very well at the moment (there are several colds going around school), so I’m just going to do a brief round up of what I’ve been reading lately.

ladyAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I just listened to two Margery Allingham novels; The Crime at Black Dudley and Mystery Mile. I also went ahead and picked up the third book in the Campion series, Look to the Lady.
Campion must help protect a medieval chalice from art thieves, although the chalice is reputed to have supernatural guards as well. Campion must face off against a brutal gang and a centuries old curse in order to protect the chalice and the family that guards it.

miserI also picked up the first two books in Marion Chesney’s A House for the Season series. (Marion Chesney is, by the by, also M.C. Beaton.) These are regency romances in the style of Georgette Heyer. Things my heave and flutter, but always within the confines of one’s own clothes. They get, at most, a PG-13 rating, so they’re appropriate for those who like their romance without all the frickle and frackle.
Book 1 is The Miser of Mayfair a dissipated old man inherits his rich brother’s beautiful ward, but no money with which to care for her. He decides that the only recourse is to go to London and try to get her married off to a wealthy man. The two hit on the plan of pretending that he is a rich miser to explain their lack of funds, fine clothes, or expensive dinners.
janeBook 2 is Plain Jane. Jane is the younger, plainer daughter of a moderately wealthy family. Her mother dotes on the stunningly beautiful Euphemia and seems to hold Jane in contempt. When they move into 67 Clarges Street for the Season, Jane becomes embroiled in a mystery. The second tenants at #67 had a beautiful daughter who died under mysterious circumstances. Jane is determined to find out what happened.
All of the books in this series take place at #67 Clarges Street. The staff there are actually the pillars of the series, although the individual tenants have the primary romantic arcs. The staff has formed an odd little family and I look forward to finding out how Lizzie’s crush on the handsome footman is going, or how the new cat is settling in almost as much as I anticipate the main story.

That’s what’s been keeping me occupied lately. What have you been reading?

Crime Queens

October 21, 2014

Let us turn our attention to Crime Queens, those early 20th century ladies with murder on the mind. Agatha Christie is the most famous of these authors, but Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Margery Allingham all have their proponents. I found almost all of these ladies through television adaptations of their characters. The exceptions being Marsh and Tey. My mother introduced me to both of them and it has been a congenial acquaintance.
marpleAgatha Christie and I first crossed paths through the agency of that most unlikely of detectives, Miss Marple. Specifically, the Joan Hickson renditions as seen on Mystery on PBS. I’ve seen all the Miss Marples, 98% of the Poirots, the Tommy and Tuppances, and even the stand alone adaptations such as “The Pale Horse.”
Once I had seen my first Miss Marple I was hooked. I started to buy her books with my allowance. I checked out Miss Marple stories from the library. I sought them out in used bookshops. I graduated to other Agatha Christie novels, but the  Miss Marple stories remained my true detectival passion. I was a Christie purist until high school.

timeI was about thirteen, languishing in my room during the summers away from school, reading everything that crossed my path when my mother handed me The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I was interested in English history and Mom gave me this book. I didn’t even know that there was a whole series of Alan Grant books for at least a year. I just kept re-reading The Daughter of Time. (This was also the very first book we read in my book club.) I enjoy the series as a whole and have gone back and re-read all of the Alan Grant books. I’ve never much cared for her non-mystery fiction though. Perhaps I should give them another try? Tey is also the only one of these authors who has not had a film adaptation of any of her books as far as I know.

alleynI picked up the third of my Crime Queens in high school as well. Ngaio (pronounced nie-oh ) Marsh was from New Zealand, but her detective, Roderick Alleyn, is English through and through. Alleyn comes from a very posh background, which tends to give him a little more clout than your average Scotland Yard man in the homes of the wealthy. He heads up 32 novels in all. The other interesting thing about Alleyn is that he gets married, has children and the children grow up. So many of the detectives seem to be caught in amber. Miss Marple is as old and woolly in her first adventure as in her last. There is a t.v. series called, conveniently, the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. I didn’t find these until I was out of grad school and had read all of the books. The Ngaio Marsh books are the only ones I have a complete set of, interestingly enough.

Ian Carmichael

Ian Carmichael

Edward Petherbridge

Edward Petherbridge

It has been said that the problem with Dorothy Sayers is that she was in love with her protagonist. However, since I’m also in love with Lord Peter, I don’t have a problem with that. Lord Peter Whimsy is an aristocrat, a fop, a collector of rare manuscripts, and a genius. I honestly don’t remember if I found the books or the BBC adaptations first. There are two Lord Peters available on the television. There are the Ian Carmichael episodes, which were filmed in the 1970’s. His Lord Peter is older, slightly more dissipated, but hell on wheels when he’s roused. Then there are the Edward Petherbridge episodes, which were filmed in the 1980’s. Petherbridge is thinner and much more the stereotypical horsey British aristocrat. The Petherbridge series focuses on the stories that involve Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest.
At this point in my life I probably go back to Dorothy Sayers more than any of the others. Possibly because I have read Christie so many times that I have them almost memorized. And Marsh, though I love her, is very formulaic. You can tell which of the young persons will end up together by chapter 5. Tey is marvelous, but there isn’t really very much of her, so again, I’ve read them all over and over. Plus, there’s just something about Lord Peter. I find myself most envious of Harriet and of Sayers herself for all the time they get to spend with him.

campionLast, we come to Margery Allingham. She is the most recent addition to my Crime Queens. I found her through Netflix. I had re-watched all the Lord Peter that was available and the Netflix algorithm suggested the Campion series. Our Albert, as he refers to himself, is played by the Fifth Doctor Who, Peter Davison. He plays a fool, but a fool who is hired by governments and kings. He is also the disinherited son of an unnamed, but extremely prominent noble house. He has a butler who is an ex-convict and a number of very dubious acquaintances.
This is one series that I thought for a long time made much better tv episodes than they did books. Some of the books are a bit uneven and some of them border on dull. But, I recently had occasion to listen to the first two books in the series, The Crime at Black Dudley and Mystery Mile I found myself quite diverted. The one thing that was interesting is that Allingham does not actually have Campion as the protagonist. In The Crime at Black Dudley the protagonist is the slightly prim Dr George Abbershaw, a noted pathologist, but not a detective in his own right. Mystery Mile is more impartial. We follow several characters, including Campion himself, but we’re never tightly focused on him. The over-the-shoulder camera view is a much more modern literary trick than you might think. It’s a bit disconcerting to go back to older books and realize that you don’t get that very much.
I’m slowly working my way through the Campion books, but I don’t yearn for the next one when I’ve finished.

Much like all the early 20th century literature, there are attitudes and descriptions in all of these books that would range from out of touch to downright racist today. So far, I haven’t encountered anything that seems to come from a place of hatred, but there is language and just general description that wouldn’t fly today. For example, there is a Turkish character in Mystery Mile. He is repeatedly referred to as “the Oriental.” Every time I heard that I twitched a little, but it’s never said in a sneering way, just a very matter of fact way. So, be forewarned, these are very much products of their time and some of the content may make you uncomfortable.

And, just for fun, here is the intro to PBS’s “Mystery”

Jonathan Strange on Tumblr

October 20, 2014
Lady Pole on the set of the JS&MN BBC miniseries

Lady Pole on the set of the JS&MN BBC miniseries

Wherethewildnettlesgrow over on Tumblr has made a lovely score for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I thought I would share with you. The actual post has a beautiful image as well, but here is the score track listing:

Part 1

The Library at Hurtfew (Oxford, Brideshead Revisited OST) // The Stones of York (A Thorough Education, Jane Eyre OST) // London/Drawlight and Lasclles (Passage of Time, Chocolat OST) // The Cards of Marseilles (The Deathly Hallows, Deathly Hallows OST) // The Prophecy (Cloud Atlas Opening Title, Cloud Atlas OST) // Stephen and the Gentleman (The Trolls, Frozen OST) // Lost Hope (Dance Under a Winter Sky, Spirit of the Cosmos) // The Shadow House (Disparus, Oceans OST) // Strange and Norrell (Dobby, Deathly Hallows OST) // Strange in the Peninsula (Ancestors, Being Human OST) // Strange and the King (Travel to Edinburgh, Cloud Atlas OST)
Mr Norrell on the set of the JS&MN BBC miniseries

Mr Norrell on the set of the JS&MN BBC miniseries

Part 2

Arabella on the moutains (And Just Like That, A Single Man OST) // Childermass (George’s Waltz Pt. 2, A Single Man OST) // Venice – (Polyjuice Potion, Deathly Hallows OST) // A Tincture of Madness (Winter Nights, The Girl with the Pearl Earring OST) // Eternal night (New Direction, Cloud Atlas OST) // Freeing Lady Pole (Sorcery, Frozen OST) // The Nameless Slave Will Wear a Silver Crown (Aurora Borealis, Gravity OST) // John Uskglass and Childermass (Lily’s theme, Deathly Hallows OST) // The Spell (Patronus Light, Prisoner of Azkaban OST) // Strange and Arabella/The Age of English Magic (Cloud Atlas Finale, Cloud Atlas OST)
This just showed up on my dashboard serendipitously, but then I thought I would explore what else Tumblr had for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
wherethewildnettlesgrow had several posts on the book. There were some very pretty image posts that are worth looking at.
There is an entire blog called jonathanstrangeandmrnorrell. It is the self proclaimed unofficial blog of the book.
Then I just did a search with the book’s title as a hashtag. And then it was a really long time later…
Have you ever gone looking for what other people are posting about a favorite book?
If you have some free time (a great deal of free time actually) I recommend looking up The Night Circus on pinterest!

Jonathan Strange continued

October 19, 2014

strangeI thought today I would do a quick reaction to Kate Nepveu’s post on Chapters 5-10 over on Tor.com.

Chapter 5:
I agree with her that Mr Drawlight is fairly amusing. We both exceprted his comment about French windows, for example. But I think I still find him more objectionable than she seems to. He also compares unfavorably to other members of his archetype, namely the divine Oscar himself and Gail Carriger’s Lord Akeldama.

The notation about money is very valuable. Mr Norrell could give away £800 very casually. Ms. Nepveu has converted that to 2013 value and it comes out to roughly $116,400. That is a tremendous amount of money to send off just to avoid the hassle of receiving a letter.
She also notes the foreshadowing about the resurrection which can be found in the footnotes. I didn’t notice that particularly, but I already knew that a young woman was brought back from the dead. Possibly from a Goodreads review? I’m not sure.

Chapter 6:
Oh… So, “a good chunk of the book will take place in Venice.” Well, I guess that explains the paintings then. Hmm, I’m not sure if I’m glad I know this or not.

Canaletto, The Reception of the French Ambassador Jacques–Vincent Languet, Compte de Gergy at the Doge’s Palace, 4 November 1726

Canaletto, The Reception of the French Ambassador Jacques–Vincent Languet, Compte de Gergy at the Doge’s Palace, 4 November 1726

Chapter 7:
Refusing to see things, and people, as they really are. Mrs Wintertowne’s perception of her daughter as perfect and perfectly healthy may have directly contributed to her death.
Mr Drawlight is seen as the unlikely hero. His actions in persuading Mr Norrell to resurrect Miss Wintertowne set up (apparently) the rest of the book.

Chapter 8:
She seems much more drawn to the man with the thistle-down hair than I was. I accepted him as a character, but was not particularly entranced with him. Although, now that the comparison between Mr Norrell’s head and a stew pot has been pointed out to me I rather like it too.
Mr Norrell’s perception of Miss Wintertowne as not quite a person, as something that can be bartered or given is rather upsetting. Althought, since her mother is, as far as we know, giving her away to Sir Walter, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr Norrell who has barely met her would feel entitled to do the same.
The fact that the fairy knows about Jonathan Strange already is puzzling. Also, that he is supposed to become Mr Norrell’s “greatest friend.” I don’t get the impression that Mr Norrell has any friends.

Chapter 9:
Ms. Nepveu manages to bring Charlaine Harris into the conversation! Bonus points for that.
She also picked out my issue with Sir Walter and his ideas about his relationship with his future wife. He’s a nice man, but…
Miss Wintertowne’s remarkable health and vitality is remarked upon. She circled the square an absurd number of times and feels better than ever before. Better than a normal young woman should. 

Chapter 10:
The view widens, but there isn’t much else to say. The concept of magically drafting the men of Lincolnshire is more disturbing on further reflection. That’s just creepy.

Barring unforeseen events, I should continue with chapters 11-17 on Friday.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Chapters 5-10

October 18, 2014

strangeI know I’m running late.  A dear friend came into town, so I went off gallivanting with her instead of doing my blog post. But, here is the second set of chapters for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link to the Tor.com reread written by Kate Nepveu. It is much more in-depth than I will be going. She has a summary of events, followed by commentary, and then a miscellany, including historical notes.
My sympathies, for the present, are firmly with Mr. Segundus, so I look on the fact that Chapter 5 focuses on Mr Norrell with sadness.

Chapter 5: Drawlight

Does Childermass remind anyone else of Severus Snape, or is that just me? Also, I’m assuming that he’s more than human, but time will tell.

“Besides, if such a magician had existed you would have long since found him out, would not you? – and discovered the means to part him from his books and put an end to his scholarship? You have done it before, you know.”

This quote from Childermass puts an even worse complexion on Mr. Norrell’s dealings with the York society.

The moral, as Mr Drawlight explained it, was that if Mr Norrell hoped to win friends for the cause of modern magic, he must insert a great many more French windows into his home.

Mr Drawlight seems to be quite the sponger. I don’t have a tremendous amount to say about this chapter, except that it contains two impressive footnotes and I don’t much like anyone in it.

Chapter 6: “Magic is not respectable, sir.”

The notion of country gentlemen muttering darkly about clever government officials feels very familiar. I’m picturing a sort of English Joe-the-plumber.
We get a great deal of background on Sir Walter Pole, but I find myself frustrated when we switch back to Mr Norrell. Is Sir Walter actually a good man? I know he is a collection of ugly features that somehow all come together into a pleasing whole. I know he is in deep debt. But I know nothing of his personal character despite several pages with him.
The descriptions of the Venetian paintings in Sir Walter’s rooms were beautiful, but the bizarre situation with Miss Wintertowne was very strange. I assume the girl has consumption, but a) no one in the room was acknowledging her coughing and b) why is her mother so interested in getting her married?
The situation did remind me of an epigram from Martial that I translated back in Latin class:

image from Wikipedia

image from Wikipedia

Gemelus doth his mistress pray
At once to fix the wedding day;
Sends gifts, and begs with all his might.
Is she so fair?– A perfect fright!
What is it then, that sets her off?
Why, Maronilla has — a cough.
(translation from Select Epigrams from Martial for English Readers)

Chapter 7: An opportunity unlikely to occur again

Miss Wintertowne has died, as was to be expected, but before the wedding, and thus has inconvenienced everyone.
Apparently, Mrs Wintertowne refused to acknowledge that her daughter was ill? At least, according to the slightly untrustworthy, but well-informed Mr Drawlight.
Mr Drawlight seems to pop out with small gems, much like Oscar Wilde, “Upon my word, there is nothing in the world so easy to explain as failure – it is, after all, what every body does all the time.”
The little play with Mrs Wintertowne entreating him and Sir Walter trying to ignore him is almost painful. And Mr Drawlight, though witty, comes across as more and more reprehensible.

Chapter 8: A gentleman with thistle-down hair

The negotiations with the fairy were very interesting;  half Miss Wintertowne’s life in exchange for her resurrection. I do notice, however, that neither party specified which half the fairy got. Maybe I’ve read too much Seanan McGuire, but I can’t help but feel like it was a bad bargain. Will he take her, Persephone-like, half of each of the next seventy-five years? Or will he take her now and bring her back in 37 years once she is no longer young and beautiful? I have a twisty mind.
Drawlight and Lascelles continue to be moderately horrible. Lascelles is actually offended that the butler and menservants are speaking to him. Bleh.
Miss Wintertowne is surprisingly calm. I hope I see more of her in the future.
I have no idea why the fairy took her little finger. I wonder if that will come up again?
Also, somehow I had forgotten that there were illustrations in this book. I find it sort of strange. I suppose I’ve read editions of Jane Austen that had pictures. And I think some of my Dickens did, but I’m not accustomed to pictures in my historical fiction. I think A Natural History of Dragons and Johannes Cabal, Detective are the only things I can think of that I read recently that are illustrated.

Chapter 9: Lady Pole

The narrator is a lady! (Which, I knew because Kate Nepveu mentions it in her analysis of the first four chapters, but still! It’s unexpected and cool.)
Mrs Wintertowne’s indignation on the very personal and intrusive notes she is getting following her daughter’s resurrection just tickles me. I love the notion of an etiquette book for a magical world. How to properly retract condolences after a resurrection. Does one write a birthday or a deathday note to a ghost? How to leave a calling card for a werewolf on the morning after a full moon.
Sir Walter’s hopes for mutual understanding with his future wife are both sweet and slightly creepy. He’s forty-one and expecting this bright, beautiful nineteen year old to be enthralled by his opinions. It’s nice that he hopes they will actually suit and that he considers that she might even have opinions of her own, but the age gap, though period accurate, is creepy.

Chapter 10: The difficulty of finding employment for a magician

Of course the government spends days arguing about what to do with their new magician instead of just asking how he thinks he could be useful or even what he can actually do.

 

Here are Kate’s thoughts on these chapters. I haven’t had time to read them yet, so I’ll post any thoughts I have tomorrow. I’m not fully invested in the book yet, but I am interested. Are any of you reading along too?

 

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