Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

Reading Wednesday 11/01

Recently read: I'm really impressed at people who were getting Yuletide recs out within a few days of the event!

Anyway, via [personal profile] redbird I discovered Aral Vorkosigan writes to Captain Awkward by [ profile] lannamichaels. The thing I most love about it is how it portrays Aral and Captain Awkward trying so hard to communicate across a cultural gap. Plus that devastating point-missing PS right at the end...

The putative letter dates from shortly after the end of Aral's first marriage, ie before the events told in the main sequence of the books. I think all the plot information discussed in the letter is revealed in Shards of Honor or Barrayar; anyway there aren't major spoilers for the series, it's all backstory. And probably won't make much sense unless you've read those two, the Cordelia pair. The subject of the letter is an abusive relationship, with glancing references to non-consensual sex and torture, but no graphic detail. And it's technically Real Person Fic in that Captain Awkward is a real person, JenniferP, but it's an imaginary letter that JenniferP might have written, rather than imagining her in a more direct relationship with a fictional character.

More obscurely, perhaps, [personal profile] seekingferret wrote Mechaye Hametim, a sort of sequel to the film Yentl. In many ways I disliked the somewhat saccharine ending of Yentl, especially given that the original Isaac Bashevis Singer story ends with something like, 'and there was never any joy in their house'. [personal profile] seekingferret's fic made the film happy ending seem more palatable. The happiness is hard-won, not just sailing off into the sunset, but it feels like real happiness, and it made me believe in Yentl's future in the Goldene Medineh in a way that the film really didn't. I doubt the fic will make sense if you don't know the film, and I suppose it's technically spoilery.

Also two longreads about progress. Lots of people have been linking to A history of global living conditions or lists of good things from 2016 and similar articles about how we shouldn't despair over a couple of bad election results, since globally the picture is quite positive. I absolutely agree that despair is not warranted and is also morally and politically dangerous. My feeling is that it's still valid to be scared about bad things that are likely to happen to people you care about personally, and sad about people who have been killed in racist and colonialist violence, even if the absolute levels of badness and violence in the world are going down. After all, metrics like extreme poverty and childhood mortality and scientific and technological progress were definitely way better in 1930 than in 1830, but that didn't make the following decades anything other than terrible. I know in my bones just how quickly a generally functional, socially and economically advanced country can fall apart, and drag everywhere else down with it. Especially if the prosperity is extremely unevenly distributed.

But that's just me having a feeling. Here are two pieces with much thoughtful analysis of the meme that 2016 was The Worst Year:
My brother [ profile] angrysampoet writes about 2016 in the context of the last 50 years of global politics, as part of the long, painful endgame of social democracy in the West. He's way to the left of me and way more radical politically, but he's also a much better historian and his piece is very nuanced and well-informed.

An even more impressive piece is from Ada Palmer at Ex Urbe who writes a kind of historiography of Progress: On progress and historical change. I'm still digesting it, because there's really a lot of ideas in it, and she's contexting current events in something more like five centuries of (mostly European) history, never mind Sam's five decade perspective. I strongly recommend it, and it's feeling like a good starting point to get further in my thinking than just the binary choice of "everything is doom and despair" versus "a bad US president doesn't really matter on a global scale".

Currently reading: A journey to the end of the Millennium, by AB Yehoshua. I'm enjoying this, but with some caveats. It's subtitled A novel of the Middle Ages, but in many ways it's quite aggressively modern, and I think that is probably deliberate, but it's not the immersion in a different culture that I look for in historical novels.

I really like that it breaks the Eurocentric perspective of much of modern writing about the Middle Ages, it treats white Christians as this peculiar tribe eking out an existence in the barbarian lands of northern Europe, with the Jewish and Muslim viewpoint characters as the sophisticated travellers visiting these primitive lands and trying to avoid rousing the superstitious natives to violence. And within that, the plot about an African Jew who's completely bemused by this bizarre new German concept that marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman. But the sexism and racism are twentieth century sexism and racism, projected back onto Ye Olden Dayes. The major female characters are nameless, just "The First Wife" and "The Second Wife," and the novel opens with a long and mostly pointless scene about the protag psyching himself up to satisfy both his wives in a single night. That's not, gender roles were different in the 10th century, that's exactly reproducing all the other litfic ever about middle-aged men angsting / fantasizing about their virility. Likewise the only Black character (though most of the main characters are not exactly white) is "the black slave" and seems to be very stereotyped, and again, it's modern racially essentialist stereotypes, nothing that feels authentically period.

I'm finding de Lange's translation a bit awkward. In some ways it's quite successful at conveying the feel of reading Hebrew, full of allusions to the scriptural language which is at the root of modern Ivrit, and it's poetic as I imagine Yehoshua's writing must be. But it's also quite intrusive, I don't want to be constantly feeling that I'm reading a translation. Never clunky, it's not over-literal to the point of being completely unidiomatic, but it's just distancing.

Up next: Surely Katy by Jacqueline Wilson, because I have been unknowingly waiting for this book for most of 30 years.

I prefer comments at Dreamwidth. There are currently comment count unavailable comments there. You can use your LJ address as an OpenID, or just write your name.
Tags: book, linkies, reading wednesday

  • Reading Wednesday 22/03

    Recently acquired: Can neuroscience change our minds? by Hilary and Steven Rose. Steven Rose was a big influence on getting me into bioscience,…

  • Reading Wednesday 8/03

    Recently acquired: A second hand book stall appeared right in between my flat and work, and it ambushed me and somehow I ended up with Downbelow…

  • Belated Reading Wednesday 22/02

    Recently read: A couple of cute things: Ghetto Swirl by Terry Blas. A lovely comic about a nerdy, Mexican, gay, Mormon and some street kids. In…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.