oursin: Illustration from medieval manuscript of the female physician Trotula of Salerno holding up a urine flask (trotula)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 21st, 2017 11:29 am)

Re the current hoohah about Boots the chemist charging well over the odds for the morning after pill, I was going to comment - when posting the link on various bits of social media, to go 'and Edwin Brooks must be spinning in his grave!'

Brooks was the MP who put through the sometimes overlooked but significant 1966 Family Planning Act: as discussed in that post I did some while back on 'why birth control is free under the NHS'.

However, I discovered from googling that - as far as one can tell from The Usual Sources - Brooks is still alive, but moved to Australia. I am profoundly shocked that the Wikipedia entry, under his political achievements, doesn't include that act. We wonder if, in the long history of reproductive rights, it got overshadowed by the more controversial 1967 Abortion Act, or, by the final incorporation of contraception into the NHS in 1974. If I had time on my hands (which at this moment I don't) I would go and try and edit that entry.

*I think this is a quotation from someone? but I can't find a source.

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([personal profile] oursin Jul. 21st, 2017 09:12 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] kerkevik_2014 and [personal profile] coughingbear!
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([personal profile] white_hart Jul. 20th, 2017 07:40 pm)
Seanan McGuire's Hugo-nominated novella Every Heart a Doorway is a school story with a twist: it's set in a boarding school specifically catering to young people who have visited the kind of other worlds familiar to readers of portal fantasy novels and who are struggling to adapt to real life on their return (most of the students at the school in this book long to return to their fantasy worlds, though we are told that there is a sister institution catering for those who need help to forget their more traumatic travels). Disbelieving parents send their children to the school hoping that they will receive therapy and recover from their breakdowns, but instead the school supports its students in understanding and integrating their experiences while still allowing them to hope that they will find their doors again one day.

The story mainly follows Nancy, who has returned from a sojourn in the Halls of the Dead with a preternaturally developed ability to stand still and a penchant for dressing in gauzy black and white clothing, to the distress of her parents who want their old daughter back. Shortly after Nancy's arrival at the school the first in a series of gruesome murders occurs; suspicion falls on Nancy, as a new girl and one whose world was a underworld, and she and a small group of other students have to work together to discover who the real murderer is. The murder mystery plot is really only a Macguffin, though (and I thought it was quite obvious from very early on who the murderer was); the book is really an exploration of identity and belonging, as the students try to deal with having found and lost worlds where they felt that they belonged much more than they ever had at home (each student went to a different world, uniquely suited to that individual). It's easy to see Nancy's parents' rejection of the changes in their daughter as parallelling more conventional rejections by parents' of their children's developing tastes and views. Identity politics writ larger also feature; Nancy explicitly identifies as asexual, while one of the friends she makes is a trans boy who was expelled from the fairyland he travelled to when he was discovered to be a prince and not the princess they thought he was.

Some of the reviews I'd read online had made me worry that this was going to be preachy, or at least a bit cringily identity-politics-by-numbers, but in fact I didn't find it that way at all; it was interesting, sensitive and thoughtful. I wasn't completely convinced by the way the murder plot was resolved, which seemed to owe rather more to the conventions of the students' fantasy worlds than to the real world in which the story takes place, but generally I really enjoyed the book and can absolutely see why it has won and been nominated for so many awards.

Except some of it doesn't seem to be, o hai, I am now making an effort, it is more that various academic things (seminars, conferences, etc) that I had flagged up in my diary ages ago finally came up and were all within the space of a few weeks, I don't know, it's the 'like buses' phenomenon. And some of them I did do some social interaction at and others I just slipped in and out, more or less.

Have booked up, what I was havering about, the annual conference in one of my spheres of interest that I was usually wont to go to but have missed the (I think) last two because I was not inspired by the overall theme that year. And it's not so much that I'm not inspired by this year's theme, it's more 'didn't they do something very similar a few years ago and I did a paper then, and don't really have anything new to say on the subject', so I didn't do that, but I think that it would be a useful one to go to to try and get me back into the groove for that thing that the editor at esteemed academic press was suggesting I might write and talk to people (if I can remember how to do that thing) and hear what's going on, and so on.

Also had a get-together with former line manager, which between the two of us and our commitments involves a lot of forward planning, but it was very nice to do it.

Have also done some (long) and (a bit less) outstanding life admin stuff, which I both feel pleased about and also as if I haven't actually done anything, which is weird.

Did I mention, getting revised article off last week, just before deadline? and then got out of office email from the editor saying away until end of month. WHUT. The peeves were in uproar.

And generally, I am still working out what I do with the day when it does not begin with posting an episode of Clorinda's memoirs and go on with compiling the next one. Okay, there are still snippets to come, but they come slowly.

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([personal profile] white_hart Jul. 19th, 2017 07:41 pm)
I picked up Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders in the Oxfam bookshop, because I'm always interested to try new-to-me 1930s detective stories, and grabbed it off the top of my to-read pile last week when I was looking for an easy read to follow To Lie With Lions.

The Saltmarsh Murders is the fourth of 66 detective novels featuring Mrs Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, psychiatrist and amateur sleuth. In this novel, she turns her attention to the death of a young woman who has recently given birth to an illegitimate baby (and the disappearance of the baby) in the South Coast village of Saltmarsh, where she was paying a visit when the murder was discovered. She is aided in this by Noel Wells, the slightly dim curate of the village. Noel also narrates the novel in a first-person style which clearly owes a lot to Wodehouse, who he mentions being a fan of.

I wasn't sure the Bertie Wooster-esque narrative was a natural choice for a detective novel, and Noel is a very sloppy narrator, with events coming out of sequence in a way that made it quite hard to follow the plot at times. The book also features a black character and contains the kind of period-typical attitudes to and language about race that are pretty hard for a modern reader to stomach, as well as some period-typical attitudes to class and a couple of incidences of painfully rendered yokel accents. Most of the characters felt very two-dimensional, with the only one who really took on any life at all being the village madwoman, Mrs Gatty, and I didn't actually find the mystery plot particularly compelling. I don't think I'll be seeking out any more of Mitchell's books (although I think I might have at least one more that I bought as a Kindle bargain years ago...).
oursin: Photograph of small impressionistic metal figurine seated reading a book (Reader)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 19th, 2017 02:07 pm)

What I read

Melisande Byrd His Lordship Takes a Bride: Regency Menage Romance (2015), very short, did what it says on the tin, pretty low stakes, even the nasty suitor who molests the female protag in a carriage (the Regency version of Not Safe In Taxis) just disappears. The style was not egregiously anachronistic (apart from one or two American spellings) but a bit bland.

Janet Malcolm, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (2013) - charity shop find. Some of the essays were of more interest to me than others, but all very well-written.

On the go

Matt Houlbrook, Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (2016). I depose that somebody whose scams got rumbled and who was banged up in various institutions for his crimes is not exactly trickster royalty. He then went allegedly straight and got into journalism, partly writing up the inside stories of the crime world, but these are very much complicated by the author as to their authenticity and did he actually write them. While he was more of a career criminal than the opportunistic upperclass louts in the McLaren book mentioned last week, he did have claims to gentility, but again, so not Raffles The Amateur Cracksman.

I'm currently a bit bogged down in it, which may be a reflection of the author's own experiences in trying to write about somebody who lived by lying, had numerous false identities, etc etc (which are very much foregrounded).

Simon R Green, Moonbreaker (2017) - came out this week, I succumbed.

Also started one of the books for review.

Up next

There's a new Catherine Fox out tomorrow (allegedly)...

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([personal profile] steepholm Jul. 19th, 2017 07:15 pm)
Early in my stay at Tonjo's Foreign Faculty Building, I joked to Miho that I didn't want to end up as the main character of a Japanese tale, 「可哀相な外人の物語」, or "The Story of the Pitiable Foreigner". The thought had been prompted by my bedtime reading of a Japanese novel that had one of its main characters, sleeping alone in an old building, rather suddenly and unexpectedly introduced to a ghost to his room at night. At that point, as I looked out at the grove surrounding the large and otherwise deserted old building in which I was then sleeping alone, I had decided that light fiction was a better choice.

The yurei and obake of Tonjo ignored me, happily, but I felt that fever took me pretty close to "Pitable Foreigner" status, had I not been able to pull out of the dive for my last evening in Tokyo, merely scraping the tops of trees and getting bits of bird's nest in my cleavage.

I was particularly glad, because this was the day that Satomi, her mother and her friend Chiaki (who as luck would have it works in a kimono shop) were coming to do yukata-related things with me. Our original plan had been ambitious - to go to Kanda shrine and watch rakugo. Gradually, though, with the temperature being in the mid-30s, this was reduced to eating some nice desserts at my flat, then walking elegantly around the grounds of Tonjo drawing admiring glances from all who beheld us. Anyway, here are some of my favourite pics from the occasion. There are quite a few, but feel free to scroll past:

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Obi Wonky Maybe?

Of course, I only included that last photo so that I could use the caption.

Then it was on to Miho's place in Nakano, where my appetite returned on cue, and I had a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Hiroshi, a fine chef as I remember from last year. (Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling well himself, for much the same reasons as me before, and had to retire early.) Satoshi Kitamura, whom I'd met at the Mexican embassy, was another guest at supper, and we had a very good talk about the varying degrees of (in)directness one might expect in different cultures, which issued in the following Buzzfeedish joint declaration (apologies for the national stereotyping, but sake is no friend to fine distinctions):

If an American thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a bad idea."
If an English person thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a very brave suggestion."
If a Japanese person thinks its a bad idea, they'll say, "The weather's been hot, recently, hasn't it?"

We had drunk quite a bit of sake by that time. Afterwards we walked fifty yards to the local festival, the other reason for being yukata-clad. It's a small affair but a popular and traditional one: Miho reminisced how the sound of the festival music used to excite her when she was at primary school (she's a little older than me), and she'd run home to change, ready to dance. As is typical in such affairs - not that I'd seen one before in real life - a temporary tower had been built in the centre of an open space, with a small stage surrounding it. At the top, a taiko drummer accompanied a set of maybe half a dozen tunes (each of which had a different dance associated with it), which were basically played in rotation throughout the evening, and from the tower strings of lanterns radiated like filaments from a web. There were various food and drink stalls (though not goldfish scooping, sadly!) around the edge of the area. Some people were watching, some were dancing - the dance involving (whatever the tune) a slow, anti-clockwise circuit of the tower, done in conjunction with various combinations of arm gestures, claps, turns, and forward and backward steps. Not too hard to learn, if you've had enough sake, and I followed Miho and gave it a go. I am no dancer in any idiom, but I remembered the lyrics of the Awa Bon Odori:

The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance?


This has been my motto throughout the trip, and to be honest it's not such a bad one for life.

If you want a flavour of the sound and movement of the thing, please click through to the video below:

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That marked the end of my Tokyo stay, and the next morning I boarded the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the west of the country, a town famed for fresh seafood, for the garden of Kenrokuen, and for putting gold leaf on so many things that it would make a rapper blush.

The first thing that fascinated me, though (because I am a Big Kid) was the fountain at the station, which was also at times a digital clock. Cool! (I'm sure they have these kinds of things elsewhere too, but I've not seen one.) The station itself is pretty impressive. This huge structure at its entrance seems new, and I suspect may have been erected to celebrate the arrival of the shinkansen line from Tokyo a couple of years ago, after which Kanazawa put itself on a no-holds-barred tourist footing.

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I'd put myself up at an air BnB for three nights in Kanazawa, to justify two nights at a proper ryokan in Takayama afterwards. It was my first Air BnB experience, and while it was nothing special nor was the price I paid for it. The room was pretty bare, but everything promised was present, and at least I had this as the view from my window:

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I have to say that, throughout the next few days, my energy and appetite, briefly resurgent for the Nakano matsuri, went back into abeyance, so I don't think I was able to do Kanazawa justice. However, I did put the miles in! First stop was the impressive fish market (which looked delicious but prompted no appetite in me at all, alas), followed by the castle park. Of course, no one knows whether samurai armour was originally modelled on the appearance of Japanese castles, or the other way round. What is certain is that in the feudal period, once two castles spotted each other they were apt to convert (much like the Transformers of our own day) into mechanised fighting machines of ferocious violence and battle it out until one of them was a flaming heap (which was then officially blamed on earthquakes). The sight so disconcerted the shogun that he ordered that castles should never be built within 4 ri of each other, an ordinance still in place today.

Actually, that may have been the fever writing. Interesting as Kanazawa Castle may be, it's actually less famous than the adjoining garden, Kenrokuen - so called because it's a park (en) containing six (roku) features (ken) thought notable - although I'm not sure which six they had in mind. I saw a lot more, personally. Even for someone with low energy levels it was a very pleasant place to walk around, and oddly reminiscent (in its penchant for sudden prospects, islands with "fake" temples, sinuous walks, water features, and commitment to "nature methodised"), to the kind of thing that was being done in English landscape gardening over the same period. (I wish I had the knowledge and vocabulary to expatiate on this.)

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Naturally, after wandering in the heat for a while, you want something to help you cool down. As I mentioned earlier, putting gold leaf in, or on, pretty much everything is a Kanazawa speciality. Want yourself a gold-leaf face mask? We've got you covered. Sweets or soap or sake with bits of gold leaf inside? Of course. Actually, why not just buy yourself an ice cream cornet covered in a single sheet of gold leaf?

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Oh, okay then.
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([personal profile] lamentables Jul. 18th, 2017 05:39 pm)
Treasures #oftheday #naturaldyes #stjohnswort #dyerschamomile

I've been doing some productive pottering with natural dyes, picking things from the garden, simmering and steeping, washing and drying. The yellow threads are dyed with the flowers of dyers chamomile, the doily thing with the leaves and stalks that were left. The silk on the top of the pile, and the linen at the bottom were dyed with St John's Wort - plant tops including flowers - and they are the most delightful chartreuse. The linen is an oversized M&S shirt I picked up for £verylittle last year, and I'm pretty excited about it. I have a plan to use some of the various threads I've dyed recently to stitch into it and make it even more interesting.

We have bought into the F*tb*t thing - somewhat to our surprise, but prompted by an enthusiastic friend - and so far I'm pleased with the difference it is making to my life. I like the little nudge each hour to get up and do 250 steps. When working hard means sitting at the desk for hours on end, it makes a quite an impact on the way I feel, the stiffness in my legs, and my mood, if I'm never still for more than 50 minutes. I think that's helped with the dyeing too, because once I'm out of my chair I'm more inclined to potter and commit small acts of productivity. Until my tendinopathy is healed, I'm not focusing on the total number of steps per day, but I don't think that's going to be the most radical impact anyway.

We got in quite a few steps at Northampton General this morning, when I took abrinsky to have a pirate scar installed on his cheek, courtesy of the NHS. He was lucky to be paired up with a surgeon who likes to start early, so he'd had his little op (an excision biopsy) and was back at home eating toast before 10am. abrinsky points out that the installation was performed by a female doctor, Dr Woo, with a female assistant.

With both of us at home the cats are finding it rather disconcerting when, at 10 minutes to each hour, all the humans start rushing pointlessly around staring at their wrists. I think they'll get used to it.
Tags:

What if all students spent a year working the land before university?

How about, not?

Do we not get the impression that he has a very halcyon vision of what working on the land might involve? I suspect that there are not enough lovely organic farms practising biodynamic agricultural methods to take up anything like the numbers of intending students there are each year and a lot of them would end up working in agribusiness enterprises (which I suppose might be a salutory awakening, or not).

Also, would not much of the work be seasonal? What would they do the rest of the time?

Might there not be objections from the local communities?

I also think of the lack of amenities in many rural parts, e.g. no or inadequate public transport: in the evenings, not in the least worn-out from hours of back-breaking toil for poverty wages, maybe they'll gather round and sing folk songs and dance traditional folk dances and practice folk crafts?

And actually, I don't think this is true:

We also know that without contact with nature we will not form an attachment, we will not learn to love it.

See the rise of the notion of the healing powers of nature and the pastoral way of life in Britain as the society became increasingly urbanised, and therefore romanticised the supposedly more simple and harmonious existence of country life.

I have a feeling that people who live close to nature know exactly how dreadful nature can be. Tetanus! Anthrax! entirely natural.

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([personal profile] oursin Jul. 18th, 2017 09:14 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] sciarra!
oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 17th, 2017 08:43 pm)

The end: Yorkshire Dales 'bookseller from hell' quits his shop

Doesn't say how long this charmer has been running a business, if you can call it that, but what I should have liked to have seen would have been a face-off between him and Driff Field, author of successive editions (last in 1995) of the idiosyncratic Driff's Guide to All The Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain (these are probably still worth reading if you ever come across copies, even though the information on actual bookshops is presumably waaaay out of date):

Hugely successful for its wit and wide coverage of the field, the guide was nonetheless chaotic, idiosyncratic and often sarcastic, with entries such as: "the b[oo]ks are slowly transforming themselves back into rags"; "judging by body temp, shop seems to have expired in 1930"; "I could smell a bargain, pity was I had a cold that day"; "owner has been unwell recently with bad back (possibly caused by turning on the customers once too often)".
or at least how Driff would have written him up.

Yet another paean to the 'return' of the physical book and the allure of the bookshelves: My bookshelf says who I am – and a Kindle cannot do that.

Well, that depends whether your bookshelves do say who you are - mine, I depose, say 'I am large, I contain multitudes' - and whether you want this revealed to any casual observer - though I daresay anyone wishing to decode [personal profile] oursin from her bookshelves would have to be in and out of several rooms and up and down staircases.

(Also, of course, we may not have physical shelves to browse but we have our virtual ones, no?)

Today’s unlimited information makes the boundedness of bookcases profoundly comforting. My inner librarian is also soothed by arranging books. When my young children go to bed and I’m confronted by their daunting mess, my favourite activity is tidying their bookcase.
*looks around at piles on floor* And not even the excuse of having small children.

Me, myself, today, I was actually doing something that might be considered my inner archivist at work - going through what I cannot even with any accuracy describe as my files, to bring some order into various matters of life admin, accumulated over a considerable period. The cobblers' children...

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([personal profile] oursin Jul. 17th, 2017 09:08 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] snippy!
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([personal profile] oursin Jul. 16th, 2017 08:19 pm)

Bread during the week: brown oatmeal.

Saturday breakfast rolls: from the wholewheat nut bread recipe in James Beard, cutting down on the amount of sweetener he seems to think necessary - sugar AND honey!!! Nice. Haven't made these for yonks.

We stayed in Saturday evening and I made the following meal: starter of healthy-grilled asparagus and hard(ish)-boiled quails' eggs, sprinkled with a dukkah-type dry dressing of toasted sesame and sunflower seeds + pinenuts, crushed in a mortar; then smoked swordfish (which I had happened to spot in the organic butchers/fishmongers), which I served with ground black pepper and lemon, and a couscous and raisins salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, heritage tomatoes sliced and tossed in wild pomegranate vinegar with salt, sugar and basil (maybe it's me, but do heritage tomatoes, whatever their colour and shape, all taste like tomatoes?), and a hot cucumber pickle thing from one of my books of Japanese cooking - cut the cucumber in 4 lengthways, cut out the seeds, chop into batons, stirfry briefly in sesame oil with dried chile, add a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar (recipe also says salt, which I consider supererogatory with soy sauce) cook briefly, and leave to marinate for a bit.

Today's lunch: duck steaks, panfried and then rested as per instructions on packet, with Greek spinach rice (for some reason the rice was a bit too al dente), okra simmered with ginger, coriander and fish sauce, and padron peppers.

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([personal profile] white_hart Jul. 16th, 2017 11:41 am)
I am assuming, from the amount of anxiety I'm currently feeling about who the new Doctor will be, that I am generally not as OK as I would like to think I am.

Wibbleage )
oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 15th, 2017 04:24 pm)

via [personal profile] liseuse. Why do I think this was compiled by somebody who has not been reading for as many decades as I have? (I am still considering that peach you are offering me.)

1. You currently own more than 20 books: I slightly shudder to think how long ago I passed that mark.

2. You currently own more than 50 books: vide supra

3. You currently own more than 100 books: vide supra

4. You amassed so many books you switched to an e-reader: no, I switched to an e-reader for portability when on the move.

5. You read so much you have a ton of books AND an e-reader: is this at all exceptional?

6. You have a book-organization system no one else understands: I used to have a book organisation system but with one thing and another much of it has fallen into chaos.

7. You’re currently reading more than one book: yes, but some are more backburnered than others.

8. You read every single day: I breathe every day too.

9. You’re reading a book right now, as you’re taking this book nerd quiz: I'm not actually trying to multitask here.

10. Your essentials for leaving the house: wallet, phone, keys, and a book: unless I'm just going round the corner to the shops or to the gym, e-reader; also, Freedom Pass for London Transport.

11. You’ve pulled an all-nighter reading a book: no, but I've stayed up later than I intended.

12. You did not regret it for a second and would do it again: no.

13. You’ve figured out how to incorporate books into your workout: WOT.

14. You’ve declined invitations to social activities in order to stay home and read: no, but there are occasions I may have wished I had.

15. You view vacation time as “catch up on reading” time: to some extent. Also, long journeys.

16. You’ve sat in a bathtub full of tepid water with prune-y skin because you were engrossed in a book: eeeeuuuuwwww, no.

17. You’ve missed your stop on the bus or the train because you were engrossed in a book: yes.

18. You’ve almost tripped over a pothole, sat on a bench with wet paint, walked into a telephone pole, or narrowly avoided other calamities because you were engrossed in a book: not to my recollection.

19. You’ve laughed out loud in public while reading a book: once or twice.

20. You’ve cried in public while reading a book (it’s okay, we won’t tell): no.

21. You’re the one everyone goes to for book recommendations: I'm not sure this is a thing one can say about oneself.

22. You take your role in recommending books very seriously and worry about what books your friends would enjoy: what am I, some kind of missionary? I put my thoughts out there and people can make their own decisions.

23. Once you recommend a book to a friend, you keep bugging them about it: good grief, no. Seriously poor ton.

24. If your friend doesn’t like the book you recommended, you’re heartbroken: oh, come on, how old are you, 6?

25. And you judge them. A little bit: de gustibus non est disputandum, seriously.

26. In fact, whenever you and a friend disagree about a book you secretly wonder what is wrong with them: what are you, 6?

27. You’ve vowed to convert a non-reader into a reader: eeeeuuuuwww.

28. And you’ve succeeded: you have a great future ahead of you as a cult guru, but count me out.

29. You’ve attended book readings, launches, and signings: only when it's been mates of mine launching their book.

30. You own several signed books: a few, but mostly ones by friends.

31. You would recognize your favorite authors on the street: some of them.

32. In fact, you have: no.

33. If you could have dinner with anybody in the world, you’d choose your favorite writer: this supposes that there is one prime favourite. Also, quite a lot of my favourites are dead.

34. You own a first-edition book: a few, none, I think, that I went out specifically to collect rather than happening across a copy that was.

35. You know what that is and why it matters to bibliophiles: oh, come on.

36. You tweet, post, blog, or talk about books every day: no.

37. You have a “favorite” literary prize: I skorn them utterly.

38. And you read the winners of that prize every year: what, with my existing tbr pile?

39. You’ve recorded every book you’ve ever read and what you thought of it: life is too short.

40. You have a designated reading nook in your home: no.

41. You have a literary-themed T-shirt, bag, tattoo, or item of home décor: what is this even. Okay, I do have a photo of Dame Rebecca on my wall: it was a present. Do piles of books count as home decor?

42. You gave your pet a literary name: what pet.

43. You make literary references and puns nobody else understands: I will cop to that.

44. You’re a stickler for spelling and grammar, even when you’re just texting: ditto.

45. You’ve given books as gifts for every occasion: birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduations, Tuesdays...: not really.

46. Whenever someone asks what your favorite book is, your brain goes into overdrive and you can’t choose just one. You end up naming twelve books: and then adding afterthoughts.

47. You love the smell of books: yes.

48. You’ve binge-read an entire series or an author’s whole oeuvre in just a few days: or at least over the course of a few weeks.

49. You’ve actually felt your heart rate go up while reading an incredible book: I've never actually checked this.

50. When you turn the last page of a good book, you feel as if you’ve finally come up for air and returned from a great adventure: not sure I would put it exactly like that.

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([personal profile] white_hart Jul. 15th, 2017 11:09 am)
The sixth of Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolò books brings to a conclusion the phase of Nicholas's life sparked by the devastating events of the ending of Scales of Gold. In many ways it felt as though this and The Unicorn Hunt were two halves of one very long book rather than two separate instalments of the series, which I think probably partly explains why I felt that The Unicorn Hunt's plot seemed to meander rather if it was mainly setup for the next book. I feel similarly about The Disorderly Knights and Pawn in Frankincense in the Lymond series, and although the ending of To Lie With Lions isn't quite as cataclysmic as the end of Pawn in Frankincense, or indeed Scales of Gold, it leaves Nicholas in a similar place to Lymond at the end of that book; isolated, friendless and being taken to an unknown destination.

The centrepiece of this book is Nicholas's voyage to Iceland, culminating in a haunting, nightmarish winter journey across country in the face of an imminent volcanic eruption, and a subsequent description of the eruption itself, which are definitely up with the Sahara journey in Scales of Gold and the winter journey in Russia in The Ringed Castle among the most amazing of Dunnett's descriptive passages. The novel then gathers pace and ramps up the tension towards the dénouement, which does the typical Dunnett thing of shining a new light on so many things and radically changing the reader's understanding of both Nicholas's and other characters' natures and motivations, and even if I had guessed the identity of "Egidius", the third Vatachino partner (mostly because Pat McIntosh's Gilbert Cunningham mysteries include a character with the same first name and nickname as the "Egidius" in Dunnett's books, almost certainly as a tribute to Dunnett) there were still plenty of surprises among the revelations.

Only two more to go, although then I'm sure that both the Lymond and Niccolò books would benefit from a re-read; there's so much in them that only makes sense once you have got to the end. Also, I have just bought a secondhand copy of King Hereafter, as it isn't available for Kindle. Though right now I think I need to read something a lot less emotionally demanding for a while.
2017/58: All Systems Red -- Martha Wells
I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. [p. 9]


All Systems Red is the first-person narrative of Murderbot, a self-hacked security cyborg -- 'SecBot' -- who, due to having disabled their governor module, is no longer forced to obey the commands of the Company . (Note the pronouns: Murderbot may not have what they primly refers to as 'sex parts' but they are very much a person, possibly more so than some of their human clients.)
not spoilery )
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 15th, 2017 11:50 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] owlectomy and [personal profile] talking_sock!
oursin: Drawing of hedgehog in a cave, writing in a book with a quill pen (Writing hedgehog)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 14th, 2017 05:02 pm)

In one of those buildings which are now part of one of the Institutionz of the Highah Learninz in the Bloomsbury area, and are really not entirely fitted for purpose when you take into account things like accessibility, because the entire row if not the whole square is probably Grade II listed and therefore limits what one can do with the internal arrangements, also precludes bulldozing the lot and building something new.

Also, actual conference took place in a space which has massive associational resonances (a member of the Bloomsbury Group wrote An Important Book in it) but is a) not air-conditioned and first thing was draughty because somebody opened the windows at the back and later on stuffy and soporific and b) acoustically awful, though I think some of the problem I had in hearing the first speaker was not just because I was sitting rather far back but because, although they may have been miked, they muttered. Less of a problem with subsequent speakers, though I did move further forward for the after-lunch sessions.

All in all, very interesting, slightly tangential to my general line of interests, but one of those subjects that demonstrates what very diverse approaches you can get with different people from different disciplinary fields looking at a particular subject.

Also, managed to ask at least one question during discussions, and had a good conversation with one of the speakers at tea-time.

Although some weeks ago attendees were asked to advise on dietary restrictions re lunch, the day before there was an email saying, oops, no catering, find yourself. So as it was just around the corner, went to former Place of Work where I still have the entree.

Where I encountered a former colleague and had some discussion of Recent Changes - possibly it is not quite the thing for someone who was there as long as I was to moot the idea that people staying forever in the same workplace tend to get ossified, as does the place itself: but I think I perhaps did somewhat to counteract that effect by having Outside Scholarly Interests, visiting archives for research purposes, etc? Maybe? (unlike certain colleagues whom I suspect still hang on and will do until their lifeless corpse is discovered in the stacks.)

2017/57: American Gods -- Neil Gaiman
"Media. I think I have heard of her. Isn't she the one who killed her children?"
"Different woman," said Mr. Nancy. "Same deal." [loc 6102]


Reread sparked by the Amazon TV series -- which is a very different animal,
'based on' rather than a straightforward adaptation of the novel.
non-spoilery )
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 14th, 2017 08:01 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] swingandswirl!
lamentables: (Default)
([personal profile] lamentables Jul. 13th, 2017 09:08 pm)
My tendinopathy seems to be responding to treatment, even if I have not been the most compliant about doing my exercises. I can - at the moment - walk 2 km without pain, and navigate the stairs without difficulty. I have been warned that progress will not be linear, and that I should not be disappointed by relapses.

It has been bothering me for ages that I have tendons and tendinopathy. Surely there's a spelling mistake there. I had to consult an etymological dictionary today, where I found that tendon comes from the Latin nominative and tendinopathy from the genitive. That makes sense now. Phew.

My physio probably won't be surprised that I had to look this up. She has been plying me with information and today emailed me a link to a physiotherapy podcast all about treating tendinopathy. It was interesting and included advice on engaging the patient with their treatment, which was kind of meta because the podcast was clearly her way of engaging me with my treatment. Based on experience, my physio believes my long calf muscles and short achilles tendons are a risk factor. The podcast told me that being post-menopausal and having type 2 diabetes are also risk factors. I'm realising that diabetes is a risk factor for pretty much everything.

Apart from the longterm project of increasing my strength and protecting my tendons, it's really lovely to lie on the treatment table chatting away to an interesting person while she massages my lower legs very thoroughly. I look forward to going back in a fortnight. And I vow to be more compliant with the exercises.

My attention was lately drawn to some descriptions of 'natural' contraception and I thought, well, just because something does not involve an appliance, does that make it natural?

Natural fertility control for women involves: digital thermometer; Menstrual Cycle Chart; Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Chart, i.e. some kind of equipment, not to mention the routine monitoring of temperature. I also imagine that if you do the examination of cervical mucus thing, you need some time to familiarise yourself with what it's supposed to look like at various stages of the cycle, even if you don't invest in a microscope, set of litmus papers and a slide.

I am given to understand that it works for some women and they prefer it to other methods, but I can entirely suppose there is a significant faff factor and situations in which it would be a good deal less than ideal.

As for the male methods, do they not seem to require a certain element of mastering a technique? (even without the Taoist philosophy) - either Coitus Saxonicus... a man squeezes the base of his penis immediately before ejaculation so that the semen is diverted to the bladder' or 'simple breath control & muscle flexing techniques'.

Perhaps I'm unduly cynical, but these seem to involve not only trusting the man to take care of the matter, but that he is competent at these measures.

In Vonda McIntyre's science fiction - Dreamsnake and the Starfarers sequence - she posited 'biocontrol', but this was something that was taught at puberty, was not just about contraception, and there were some instances of its either going wrong or individuals just not being very good at it.

But aren't these all, to some degree or other 'flyin' in the face of nature'?

(Feel there are wider issues there about 'natural' remedies, and those herbal treatments which can actually have adverse effects, because 'herbal' can comprise 'pharmacologically active' but not always in the carefully calibrated way of actual pharma.)

2017/56: Spandex and the City -- Jenny Colgan
He almost certainly had no idea that the fact that he was rich was as strange to me as the fact that he could lift up a truck with one hand. [loc. 1255]

slightly spoilery review )
On Thursday evening I found myself with Miho and Mikako at the Mexican Embassy, which was hosting an event about Mexican-Japanese literary relations. This is not, to put it mildly, my area of expertise, but it sounded like an interesting gig, so with my credo of cultural omniverousness I went along. Most of the talks were in Spanish with Japanese translation, or Japanese with Spanish translation, which was an interesting challenge (I don't speak Spanish at all). The one exception was Satoshi Kitamura, once a long-term resident of England - you may remember Angry Arthur? - who, perhaps because he knew I was in the audience, kindly translated himself into English as well.

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From what I could make out through the dark glass of linguistic ignorance it was a good event, with some interesting stats, such as this one showing the huge imbalance between languages that have been translated into Japanese for children's books. (The columns represent English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.)

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At dinner afterwards I happened to find myself next to Diana Wynne Jones's Japanese publisher, which made for a very stimulating conversation, particularly about titles. (Not only that, the following day I talked with DWJ's Japanese translator about the same subject.)

The 7th July is, as any fule kno, the festival of Tanabata. (Long story short, there were once two stars - let us call them Will and Lyra - who fell in love but were separated, and destined to be able to be with each other only for one day each year, this being that day: it has thus become a festival for lovers particularly.) This was to be a) my first festival in Japan and b) my first opportunity to wear my yukata. My friends Yoshiko and Hiroko had agreed to come with me, and indeed Yoshiko pointed out that her university was holding a Tanabata event, which included a free yukata-dressing service (even Japanese people don't find these things so easy!). Of course, I gratefully took up the offer, and so it was that I found myself on the 8th floor of Taisho University, in a room full of people being yukata'd up, having their hair put right, and so on, under the expert tuition of a group of (it seemed) professionals, two of whom immediately set their sights on me.

I don't suppose there can be any of us who hasn't fantasised at one time or another about being taken in hand by a pair of no-nonsense, Japanese ladies of middle age, and tucked, trimmed and twirled like a kokeshi doll, but I never thought it likely to happen in real life. After emerging from this experience I was passed on to a student to have my hair plaited and my decorative flower attached. The whole thing took, maybe, twenty minutes, and this was the result:

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Silk purses and sow's ears, and all that - I think they did a very good job with the material available.

Before the festival, a few of us slipped out for a meal of sake, raw fish and yakitori (yes there were also vegetables - but no, they were not boiled sprouts). In amongst the rest were a first for me, whale sashimi - something I was a little leery of for a number of reasons; but in a "When in Rome, everything comes with garum" spirit I gave it a go. I've got to say, it was really good! And - well, of course this shouldn't be surprising - far closer to beef than to tuna. (My mother has often mentioned the "Whale Steaks" served during wartime austerity as among the worst foods she's ever tasted, but I rather suspect they didn't know the best way to cook them at the Lyons Corner House, let alone prepare them as sashimi.)

The Tanabata celebration we went to afterwards took place at a local shrine - as you can see, it's a colourful event. We each wrote our prayers (mine in Japanese probably illegible to any but divine beings), and hung them with the rest, and shuffled off to bed (as you do in geta).

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The following day was the day of my lecture at the International Children's Library in Ueno, which is the children's section of the National Diet Library, the equivalent of the British Library. They sent a taxi to take me all the way from Tonjo to Ueno, about an hour's drive through central Tokyo. I was once again amazed at the decor of Japanese taxis, with their white crocheted (or tatted?) antimacassars, seemingly the product of a cottage industry run by a secret society of international, time-travelling Victorians. (I didn't take a photograph, but try this one for size.) The white gloves worn by the driver didn't faze me, for white gloves are to be seen in so many places in Japan, most obviously since I've been here by the people inside the election vans that drove though Tokyo in the run-up to the recent elections. Apparently the message on the loudspeaker was simply saying, in effect, "Vote for me!", but inside half a dozen white-gloved people (from a distance I suppose only their hands were visible) were smiling and waving, to add a human touch to what could otherwise come across as a rather hectoring message. Once, I was walking up a small side street when one of these vans passed me and a young woman hung out of the side of it, smiling and waving, and I admit that I was struck by her sincerity and, by extension, the economic soundness of the policies advocated by her party's representative. Still, "投票できない" I sadly informed her.

The library is a rather splendid building, and I was given a tour of it, the most exciting bit naturally being those parts the public doesn't get to see, namely the basement vaults, where you have walk across a very large fly-paper to get the dust off your shoes before you can enter. "We keep this at a constant temperature of 22 degrees," Ms Nakajima, my guide, informed me, "to preserve the books." I actually felt it to be a little cool for comfort, and congratulated my body on its ability to acclimatise. But, those whom the gods wish to destroy they first persuade that 22 degrees is a bit nippy, as I would later have cause to remember...

Ms Nakajima went on to tell me that they didn't keep manga - including things like Shounen Jump - at this branch of the library, but at the main branch in Nagacho, because manga wasn't thought of as essentially children's literature. However, they did have magazines for children and teenagers. Wondering exactly what this distinction amounted to, I took a volume at random from the shelf - a pink affair with the words "My Boy" written in English on the front and a picture of a rather beautiful young man. In fact, there seemed to be rather a lot of beautiful young men in evidence, and the volume fell open at a page at which one was depicted (in some detail) giving another oral sex. I'm still trying to get my head around a cataloguing system that classes this under children's literature but excludes One Piece. (According to Wikipedia, in 2009 62.9% of Shounen Jump readers were under the age of fourteen, just as a data point.) But all cataloguing systems have inherent contradictions, because the world's a contradictory place, as I have argued elsewhere...

My Boy was of course a work for fujoshi - mostly straight females who enjoy reading about male-male sex. Has anyone ever done a comparison between that demographic and the slash fiction phenomenon in the West? Probably - but if not, they should.

The lecture went well - and afterwards they sent me some pictures, in most of which I'm grimacing like Theresa May, but here's one that I feel sums up the actual spirit of the event far better, although you wouldn't get that there was quite a large audience. To my left sits Professor Hishida, who was acting as my interpreter:

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I got the taxi back, feeling strangely tired, but I put that down to nerves (not that I'd felt nervous, but perhaps my body knew better?), and stopped off at the little restaurant next to Tonjo called Paper Ban - odd name, but there you are - and ate a curry and rice topped with grilled cheese, a surprisingly satisfying combination. Then I went to bed at 9pm, feeling very tired....

... and slept feverishly for the next 12 hours.

At first, of course, I blamed the mosquitoes. Could it be malaria? Did it call for a G&T? But Dr Google said no, Japanese mosquitoes are malaria-free - so I tried to cure myself of hypochondria by rereading the first chapter of Three Men on a Boat, a worthwhile experience at any time, and reconciled myself to the fact that it was probably the heat, and constant mixing of heat with air-conditioned cold - the same thing that triggered my previous fever, four years ago in Boston (in the UK I never seem to be ill).

Anyway, I've been living with that fever for the last few days. It tends to hit in the evening (it's due just around now, in fact), sends me shivery, coughing and sans appetite to an early bed, and then releases me in the small hours, a little spacey and weak, but able to do some basic things. On Sunday, for example I was able make it to Kagurazaka for a lunch date with my internet friend Yuki (she's the one in the middle), though my appetite wasn't great:

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And on Monday for a lunch date with my other internet friend Yuka in Shibuya (I also have friends called Yako and Yoko, in case you're wondering). She'd come from Kobe specially, so I could hardly cancel - besides, I was really pleased to see her.

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And on Tuesday Miho's class came to my flat for tea, after a Q&A session:

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Me and my Crew

But I was not at my best for any of these events. And I had to cancel Tomoko, and decline invitations from Akira, Yasuko and Chie...

Yesterday I spent more quietly still, venturing only a short air-conditioned bus-ride to the cinema to watch the first film from Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch's Flower. If you haven't heard of Studio Ponoc it's run by a lot of ex-Ghibli staffers, and the director of this film is the Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also directled Arrietty and When Marnie was There.

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Since this film too was based on an English children's book, Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick (1971), I was curious to see what he'd done with the source material - especially since, compared with The Borrowers and When Marnie was There, the source is pretty slight. I was feeling quite good, though on the bus-ride I ran through the Crispin's day speech in my head and found my cheek wet with tears, which wasn't a good sign (though to be fair I'm easily moved to tears and that speech is a blinder).

I'd seen from the trailers that Mary and the Witch's Flower appeared to be set in England, which is what made it especially intriguing to me, the other two stories having been transposed to Japan. And it was indeed set there, although this is never mentioned. Even more specifically, the landscape looked just right for Shropshire, the book's setting. The house, the character's clothes, the street, all looked right - except, oddly for Peter, Mary's friend, who in the 1971 book is the vicar's son, but here appears (to my eye) to have wandered in from America:

Peter
Genuine question: would you be surprised to see a rural Shropshire 12-year-old dressed this way?

Overall the film was in improvement on the book, I thought, though it did recycle an awful lot of Ghibli tropes. One interesting thing is that, while everyone spoke in Japanese (obviously), when they wrote, they wrote in English. I wonder what the reasoning is there? Is it somehow more implausible, or more illusion breaking, to be seen to write Japanese than to be heard to speak it?

I felt reasonably good after the film, to the extent of making a plan to visit Shakey's for a tentative pizza, and then the shop called "Snobbish Babies" on the fifth floor of the station. (What can they sell?) Alas, before I'd got very far into the pizza the shivers descended again and forced me homeward. So today I've been extra quiet, writing blog posts and doing other such harmless nonsenses, but this one has already gone on quite long enough, so I will leave you for now with a calming picture of some carefully packaged but hugely expensive, and no doubt very delicious, Japanese fruit.

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Yes, that mango really will cost you £9.50
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 13th, 2017 09:20 am)
Happy birthday, [personal profile] kimsnarks!

What I read

Finished An Accident of Stars, which, I can see it's attempting interesting things with the portal fantasy (Narnia under the White Witch is a walk in the park by comparison) and doing unusual things with the characters, but there was a hiatus in the middle while I read other things, and I had a bit of a 'I started-now-I'll-finish' feeling about it.

I then, following somebody (I think [personal profile] fairestcat) mentioning Cat Sebastian's The Ruin of a Rake (2017) on Twitter, essentially inhaled that and the preceding volumes in the series, The Soldier's Scoundrel (2016) and The Lawrence Browne Affair (2017). These are m/m regencys, and while they are not in the KJ Charles class - OMG the anachronistic word usages and out of place idioms, + character given a title that there is a real-life Earl of - I was consuming them like, no, not popcorn, I'm not that bothered with popcorn, a better analogy would be really good salted roasted nuts or poncey vegetable crisps.

Diane Duane, On Ordeal: Ronan Nolan Jnr (2017: novella set in the Young Wizards universe) - didn't like quite as much as I usually do this series. Plus, no, it was not Fred Astaire swinging around the lamp-post in the pouring rain, that was Gene Kelly.

On the go

Angus McLaren, Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London (out autumn 2017, this was an advance copy). Continues McLaren's longtime interest in deviant forms of masculinity not subsumable to simple invocation of homosexuality, though it may be in the mix. This takes a high-profile case of an attempted jewel robbery by 4 upper(ish) class men (I think the some of the class analysis could be a bit more nuanced, e.g. the social resonance of specific public schools) which ended up nearly killing a jeweller, and for which two of the perpetrators were flogged (yes, I know one might think they were used to that, with the public school thing, but it was considered shocking that they might endure a criminal penalty associated with the roughest elements).

This is contextualised in wider patterns around crime, class, masculinity etc, and there seem to have been a significant number of entitled young men who, even though they had either run through their inheritance or, because Depression, inheritance not what it was, thought the world owed them a living of nightclubs, posh hotels, fast cars, smart clothes, etc. And if they could not e.g. marry a rich woman, they turned to crime.

At which they were so not Raffles the amateur cracksman but really pretty useless, possibly more like Bunny had he tried to go it alone.

Haven't finished it yet: have just got to the chapter on Fascism.

Also on the go, because that is a bound proof copy that I don't want to tote around me, so on the e-reader, Farah Mendelsohn, Rejected Essays and Buried Thoughts (2017.

Up next

Thinking that Matt Houlbrook's Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook (2016) would have interesting resonances with the McLaren, and has already been sitting rather a while on the tbr pile.

oursin: Photograph of Stella Gibbons, overwritten IM IN UR WOODSHED SEEING SOMETHIN NASTY (woodshed)
([personal profile] oursin Jul. 11th, 2017 11:24 am)

Bronte 200 Symposium: Branwell Bronte: 'Perfect Wreck'.

Though I daresay no-one will have the effrontery (or will they? cf the guy who was all about Shelley wrote Frankenstein, not some girly) to posit that he wrote the works of his sisters?

In fact there are some interesting things about the wider culture of the time that you can probably get at through:

A one-day interdisciplinary symposium which seeks to explore and interrogate not only the figure of Branwell Brontë, but the context of the early Victorian culture in which he struggled to fulfil his ambitions.

Papers are invited on a broad range of topics, such as:
Early Victorian models of masculinity
Concept/appeal of the Byronic hero
Romanticism
Landscape
Juvenilia
Victorian magazine culture (eg Blackwoods Magazine)
Role of the artist
Depression
Alcoholism/opium addiction
Mental health











But, you know, if there happened to be a family of male writers, and there was a sister who was thought promising but never came to anything and fell in love with her male employer and fantasised that it was a reciprocal Forbidden Love, etc etc, would not holding an entire symposium on her be considered Political Correctness and Tokenism Gone Mad?

We think, also, of the sisters of eminent men who were actually accomplished artists/writers and had their work appropriated, got literally banged up in lunatic asylums by their male relatives or at least were grossly overshadowed by them...

.

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