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charlie, computer cat

August 2018

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Aug. 14th, 2018

relaxing

Summer reading 4: The Explorer + rereads

Book: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Amount read: All of it - this was an actual physical book so I feel percentages are inappropriate :)
Thoughts: I really liked this. It's a kids book - I would say aimed at 10-13 year olds probably, so not even what I would call YA. It's got a good sense of realism about what it might actually be like to be stranded in the Amazon - it doesn't romanticise it as much as this type of book often do. I found the explorer himself a little more unlikely as a character but not enough to give me a real problem with the narrative. It clips along well and I found the ending affecting, in a good way.
Overall: Nothing of any great depth, but a pleasure to read.

Re-reads of Going Postal, Feet of Clay, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Unnatural DeathCollapse )
relaxing

Summer reading 3: A Skinful of Shadows, Winterglass and Exit West

Book: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
Amount read: 100%
Thoughts: I am oddly resistant to Frances Hardinge and I don't really know why. A piece of historical fantasy, with ghosts and characters learning how to come to terms with their own powers should be something I absolutely love. I did enjoy reading this - I thought the concept was interesting and properly unsettling, it clipped along at a really good pace (I read it over an afternoon/evening) and I generally liked the characters, although I did think that Makepeace was a little too willing to welcome random ghosts into her head, or that her fear of the idea was inconsistently expressed, perhaps. I also found the fact that it is mentioned that Makepeace is not her true name and then nothing happens with that faintly annoying. The thing is, while this was all well and good, it just didn't grab me in the way that, say Uprooted did last year. I doubt this is something I'd re-read particularly. Like all her writing, it feels Diana Wynne Jones like but missing some vital ingredient that would make it really take fire. I'm explaining this poorly (not being a proper reviewer, I suppose) but that's the closest I can come to conveying it.
Overall: Good, but lacking something and so not great.




Book: Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Amount read: 100%
Thoughts: I quite liked this! It was super weird and unsettling though and definitely had flaws. I loved the setting, which felt genuinely strange and fantastical. I took a little while to warm to the characters but I did generally quite enjoy inhabiting their point of view for a while. I was totally taken aback by the ending though, which was not what I expected at all - I couldn't decide if it was just a surprising twist that I should take at face value or if it was setting things up for something else that's part of a longer book? It was very short and, by the end, I actually kind of wished it had been longer/wanted to know what would happen next.

I did find the book's approach to gender a little distracting - I couldn't decide whether it was trying to do something clever that I wasn't understanding or if it was just being boundary pushing in places or what. I particularly found General Lussadh confusing - she's referred to by female pronouns throughout but clearly has male anatomy and I wasn't sure what that was supposed to convey to me in terms of the character and or her relationships. I also found the sex included in the story felt a little forced in places, but it is a thing which is hard to write well, so I'm not knocking off major points for that.
Overall: Intriguing. I would definitely read a sequel to this (I wonder if there is one)




Book: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Amount read: 21%
Gave up because: I just found the narrative incredibly stilted and found the air of disconnect that the story (such as it was) fostered unappealing. I picked it up in the first place because I found it in the shared kindle library, saw it was on the Booker shortlist and wondered whether those two things together implied something more interesting than run of the mill literary fiction. I have to say that if it did, it didn't keep me interested long enough to get to it.
Predictions for the rest of the story: Saeed and Nadia get together and try to leave the terrible war torn Middle East for the West but discover that things are bad for them there in different ways.
Overall: Standard issue lit fic without enough heart to grab the attention.

Aug. 1st, 2018

relaxing

Summer reading 2: Ballad of Halo Jones + re-read of Night Watch

Book: The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson
Amount read: 100%
Thoughts: Hmmm. I know this is a classic and all, but the first thing I feel like I want to say here is that I found the art style really tough to wade through. I've been consistently surprised, although I probably shouldn't be, by how much difference this makes when reading comics. Some of the pages were really busy and as well as not being aesthetically to my taste, I found some of it genuinely hard to parse and it took me quite while to figure out which character was which.

I wasn't in love with the pacing, and for a lot of the time I felt like I couldn't figure out what the story it was trying to tell was. Some bits really dragged and some bits I got kind of swept along with. If it hadn't been the book group book for the month, I'm not sure I would have persevered with it. That being said, the thing that I did like and found really interesting was something I noticed half way through, which is that the narrative is completely female focused; it's not in any way a feature of the story, but I realised part way through that all the characters are female unless there is a specific reason for them to be male and that reason is usually for them to be in some way a love interest/sex object. I just loved the fact that, just like in reverse in most stories, it's never mentioned, it's not a feature of the universe to be 90% female or anything, it's just that's the way the writer chooses to be focused.

Overall: So yeah. I'm kind of pleased to have read it from an academic point of view but I wouldn't recommend it as a piece of storytelling in and of itself.




Book: Night watch by Terry Pratchett
Re-reading because: Someone on my twitter feed mentioned re-reading this in order to do a podcast on it. I was looking for something to read just to chill out on the garden seat and started The Shepherds Crown, which I found depressing and will finish and post about later in the holiday so decided to switch to this instead.
Thoughts: I mean, in general TP books stand up incredibly well to re-reading because what's amazing about them is his razor sharp understanding of people and his use of language, not especially what happens. This is actually one I didn't love so much when I first read it because I was distracted by the plot, which didn't quite feel right in the setting somehow (I think I mentally associate time travel with sci-fi rather than fantasy) and I have found that on re-reading, I've actually enjoyed it a lot more because I focused in more on the themes and ideas he's trying to explore. I found myself thinking about the fact that although this book focuses on the way that Vimes was created by Keel/his older self but actually doesn't quite acknowledge that Carrot is also key in creating the Vimes of the present - like this plants the seed, but without Carrot, it wouldn't come to fruition or something? The line that sticks in my mind most strongly at the minute is Vimes talking to Ned Coates, probably the most effective revolutionary the book shows us (unless you count Vetinari), when he says "Don't put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again - that's why they're called revolutions. People die and nothing changes." I think it encapsulates what I love about Vimes as a character - that world weary cynicism is something that I think we share.
Overall: If you haven't read any Pratchett, I wouldn't start with this one, but I do love it and if you read it once and didn't quite connect, I would definitely recommend giving it a second pass.

Jul. 29th, 2018

candid-opinion, calvin

Summer reading 1: Europe in Autumn

So, I thought this might be a fun summer project - we shall see, I guess!

Book: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Amount read: 36%. Yes, I am not a completist and will stop reading a book if it fails to engage me enough.
Gave up because: I got tired of waiting for some semblance of engaging plot or characterisation? Or even some sense of the setting? The author is obviously a massive admirer of Le Carre and the book feels so far like he really wants to write a Cold War spy thriller but doesn't want to do the level of historical research that would require and so has decided to hand-wave "OK, there's a Cold War like situation going on!" Unfortunately, that feels like an accurate description of the level of world building that's been done so far, and it really doesn't work for me! I mean, I too have read and enjoyed Le Carre but he doesn't describe the geo-political situation in great detail because the fundamental assumption of those books is that the reader already knows all that and understands the stakes involved. In this, I basically have no idea why Rudi decides to get involved with the transnational 70s spies or, conversely, why they pick him to recruit or what stuff people want smuggled across these borders or why. It comes across as if it's a group of people *playing* at being 70s spies - an impression reinforced by the fact that so far none of them have mobile phones.
Predictions for the rest of the book: Given that I'm not going to finish the book, here are some predictions for what might happen
1. A femme fatale shows up - probably the one from earlier in the story (Marta?)
2. Rudi discovers that the Coureurs are actually the baddies.
3. There's a mole!
4. It turns out it's all some sort of immersive video game experience. This would make the fact that Rudi seems happy to dive in to this life threatening occupation for basically no reason make more sense.
5. It turns out that everyone else is living in Utopia and this is a Special Circumstances type arrangement for the people who *really wish* they were Cold War spies.
Overall: I'm actually too uninterested to even go and read the Wikipedia summary of the plot to find out what happens, something I occasionally do for books I decide I'm not going to finish anyway.

Jul. 8th, 2018

charlie, computer cat

(no subject)

It's too hot to do very much at the moment, which is making school very tough indeed. I am going to be so glad when the holidays start. On the plus side, my tomatoes are just starting to ripen, which is very exciting and there are loads and loads and loads of them so that'll be good. I did write a post about Pride in my head but it is too hot to post it.

Jul. 1st, 2018

sea-mist

(no subject)

Well, the exercise in pulling back a bit from things at school is going OK. I had my appraisal at school and was very up front about how unhappy I was and my intention to move on if I couldn't improve things/things didn't improve. The Head said all the right stuff, so I guess it's a question of what the follow through turns out to be like. The atmosphere at school is pretty awful though - people are massively negative and demotivated. I started to feel sorry for Head by the end of the week - I think she's realising how much she's set people against her. We've had a couple of TAs leave because they didn't like their new assignments or hours for next year and I suspect that she's now worrying about how to replace them. She bought it on herself for the most part but still, it must be a tough situation to be in.

The decision not to work in the evenings or weekends has left me feeling really refreshed though. I think it's partly just because it's new - there's a sense of decisiveness to it - but the fact remains that both last weekend and this I've felt more able to relax, enjoy myself and do stuff around the house and garden. I'm probably even going to manage to get the book club book read and I re-read The Power as well, which I still have a completely visceral reaction to. I've become completely obsessed with Critcal Role, which is a show where a bunch of voice actors basically twitch stream their weekly DnD session - I've started at the beginning and am working my way through, switching between watching the YouTube vids and listening to them as podcasts. It's making me very nostalgic for playing DnD, I have to say.

I was listening to the FT podcast yesterday and one of their commentators was predicting that the way Brexit is being handled, Scotland will probably leave the union in the next 20 years or so. They weren't so sure about NI, not because they won't want to but because they weren't sure if Ireland would want to accept them, which was a point I hadn't thought of. Personally, I'd put about a 90% chance of a United Ireland and about 70% of Scotland leaving the Union in the next 20 years - I thought I'd write it down because I was reading a Tim Harford article about how we routinely over estimate how good we have been about making predictions, so this way, I can come back in 20 years time and check :) American politics continues to be scary and depressing - I feel uncertain if there's anything I can or should do as an outsider to support the forces of non-fascism (US friends, feel free to suggest). I remember studying the interwar years when I was in school and thinking that if only they'd known, they could have done this or that and we could have avoided WWII but now I feel like we do know, we can see it, but we can't seem to stop it anyway, which is super depressing.

I feel like I should end this on a less depressing note, so I should say that I am still really enjoying veg growing. We have lots of super large courgettes (my courgette plant is looking HUGE), and lots of green tomatoes ripening up on the tomato plants, plus the beans are flowering and the sweetcorn is continuing to grow. The kale we put in for the winter has been a bit eaten and the peas we planted didn't do very well, but Mum and I are already plotting how to put more veg growing troughs in for next year :)

Jun. 10th, 2018

charlie, computer cat

(no subject)

Ugh. I hate writing reports! I'm not sure quite why they are such hard work, but I find it a real slog. I'm feeling very demotivated for work in general at the minute, which is not helpful as I also need to write a report for my leadership course. It doesn't have to be too long, but it does have to get done. So of course, I spent most of this evening looking at transport options for our trip to France in the summer. At least I did find something that worked for that, so that's something but I really need to pull my finger out and get productive over the next week or so!

Apr. 22nd, 2018

butterfly

Things I have been....

Watching

Since Liz's visit, I've got very into Queer Eye. I inhaled the new series on Netflix and am now going back and watching the original show on YouTube as it doesn't seem to be legally available anywhere I can see. It's just very charming and definitely scratches my itch for TV which is basically about people being nice, a bit like Sewing Bee and things like that. For me, it feels like the new series is very much about challenging toxic masculinity and saying to these guys that it's ok to care about how they look and to talk about how they feel and so on, which is also really cheering me up right now!

Listening

As a result of that, I have started listening to Getting Curious, which is a podcast that Jonathan from new Queer Eye does, which is adorable. Basically, each fortnight, he takes a topic that he's curious about and gets an expert on to talk about it. Recent episodes include "How can we be less rude to bees" and "Why's the bail system such a hot mess?" (I haven't listened to that one yet, but I'm going to guess racism). Much more so than queer eye, I feel like it shows how confident he is because it's full of bits where he'll stop the person talking and say "Hang on, I totally didn't get that, explain what pollination is!" or whatever it is. Recommended.

Reading

I'm feeling really disconnected from my reading at the moment - I'm finding it hard to get excited about any new reading and at the same time, feeling like I've re-read all my comfort re-reading too many times. I think maybe I need to go and browse in a real bookshop and find some new things that are a little out left field.

What I did read yesterday was a lot of the FT, which I quite like to read. It's partly my attempt to pretend to myself that I'm not completely in my internet bubble, although while it's not left wing, its still very definitely intellectual and pro-intellectualism so it barely really counts. I spent many years being annoyed about the pay wall and occasionally going to see how much it cost and being put off again and then discovered that Alex has a sub via the university so I use that now. I wish they had some kind of micro payments system where you could pay per article - I wonder why no-one does that in newspapers. It feels like something I'd definitely have done with the FT and probably ended up spending quite a bit, if not quite the level of the subscription cost.

Apr. 1st, 2018

charlie, computer cat

(no subject)

It's the Easter holidays at last! I am celebrating by having an extremely lazy Easter weekend, mostly playing Halcyon 6, which is a game Alex introduced me to and which I have been really enjoying. I'm finding it similarly absorbing to how I find Civ, which is perfect for how I'm feeling right now. I'm currently only on the easiest difficulty level, but I might try the next one up after I complete it, just for the fun of it :)

Mar. 25th, 2018

charlie, computer cat

Nearly there

It's nearly Easter at last! Actually, as it's been an assessment week, I feel like I've caught up a little bit. Oddly, I always find test papers easier to mark than books, which doesn't make sense really as they're bulkier and often take longer. I guess it's that I don't have to write responses or anything so it's mentally less taxing. Anyway, I think reading will be OK and SPAG is fine, but Maths is still looking pretty dire, even though they've made masses of progress since the start of the year. We're going to have to work really intensively on it in the last few weeks before SATS and then hope that all the borderline kids make it, which is a big ask, frankly.

Trug has arrived for the new veg planting, but is only part way through being put together as the drill keeps running out of battery. It is a very old drill, so not that surprising, I guess, but still, annoying. I might need to go and buy some horticultural fleece though as we are apparently forcast more snow over Easter, which is ridiculous! When is it going to get properly warm!

Liz is here for the week, which is really nice - so good to see her again! Managed to just miss crossing over with Niall and Nic but presumably, they'll see eachother at Eastercon so it's nice that we get a bit of time before that :) Also made plans to see Niall and Nic soon, which is nice. Last time we went up, I ended up wondering about staying in Oxford long term. I love this house, but I am a bit bored of Oxford, somehow. Still, we're unlikely to do anything about it while Alex's work is here as well as most of our mates. I guess we'll have to wait until he can get a job at the University of Victoria and make a really radical move!

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