29 January 2017

odysseus at o'hare.

ὤ μοι ἐγώ, τέων αὖτε βροντῶν ἐς γαϊαν ικάνω;
ἦ ῥ' οἵ γ' ὑβρισταί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
ἦε φιλόξεινοι καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεοθδής;
Odyssey 6.119-21

He clutches papers, wonders, who lives here?
True men like me, the sort who fear the gods?
When I washed up in Scheria, he thinks,
they washed me, fed me—then they asked my name.
But things are different here. They question you,
your place of birth, your business, your last stop.
They do not follow Zeus, the god of guests,
or do his rites of hospitality.

My wife is waiting for me, he says, please—
and others say the same. My husband's here,
my daughter, I have papers—languages
he does not know, for he speaks only Greek,
Homeric Greek at that. He is alone,
and prays this country has some kinder gods.

26 January 2017

double dactyls.


fig 1: King John.

young Philip Faulconbridge,
son of his father he
wasn't at all—
learning his getting was
gave Phil a reason at
last to stand tall.

fig 2: Doctor Faustus.

Faustus of Wittenberg
summoned from Hell
one whom the adjective
fit like a glove (i.e.
really quite well).

fig 3: Le petit prince.

A. Saint-Exupéry,
flyer of planes and a
writer of books,
once drew a picture whose
made it look hat-like and
earned him odd looks.

fig 4: Ninety-Five Theses

Martin of Wittenberg
wrote out some theses and
stuck them on high:
reading this treatise most
many good Germans bid
Rome a good-bye.

16 January 2017

a small seasonal sonnet.

Or, lines written on the back of an order of service.

It's ordinary time that fills our lives,
not feast or fast but only keeping on,
a time of laundry, homework, butter knives,
of fitful nights that yield to weary dawn.
Green robes, library fines, week after week
(this season's so much longer than the rest)
till we've forgotten what we meant to seek,
that strange far thing we thought might be our quest.
But festive seasons still mark other times,
echoes of joy throughout the sullen year
to teach that truth that animates our rhymes:
this world is Christ's. We're meant to seek him here,
in striving to unpick each tangled thread,
in ordinary life, in wine, in bread.

7 January 2017

bookish resolutions.

I see this post was accidentally published early; on the off-chance anyone saw that, I apologize most earnestly.

I grant, Reader, that New Year's Resolutions are very silly; I do not grant that this is reason enough not to do them. I have several.
  1. Take fewer books out of the library. I do not mean by this "read fewer books" or "buy more books" or anything of the sort—what I mean is that I've a tendency to check far more books out of the library than I can realistically read. This is largely because I grew up without regular access to a public library, and so treat every visit as though it may well be my last. I often wind up returning books I've not read, which is just depressing. (It gets worse when I'm stressed—the less time I have to read the more books I borrow.) This year I mean to check out no more books than I can sensibly read and turn in on time. I can always go back.
  2. Read Crime and Punishment. Because I can. In general I want to read more of that sort of long thing I'm always meaning to get to, even if it means I read fewer books in total. (I'm not scared of long books, truly, but I seem to have fallen into a pattern of not reading many.) Also Dad's always nagging me about Russian literature, so. I'm also meaning to read some Bulgakov.
  3. Read more short stories. For no other reason than that I enjoy them, and in particular I should like to read more anthologies. I've historically had trouble with anthologies, because you wind up paying a great deal and often only enjoying a few stories, but I live near a library now, see point one. I think I've mentioned here that I believe a good short story a greater accomplishment than a good novel; I stick by that, which makes it even stranger that I read so few shorts in practice. To begin with I've been reading The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume One, and it's got in it one of the best stories I think I've ever read, Ellen Klages' "In the House of the Seven Librarians."
  4. Read more diversely. I've put this last because it's really the most important one. My reading lists are mostly women but still almost all white, and I'm ready to start doing something about that. I don't mean this in a grudging eat-your-vegetables kind of way—having a more diverse reading list is more fun. It only takes a bit more time and thought, which I'm usually too lazy for.

1 January 2017

2016 reading summary.

I don't know exactly how many books I read in 2016. It was at least 183, which is much less impressive when you take into account how many comics I read. But those records end in, at the latest, very early December. For some reason, I've been having a bad couple of mental health months. Upshot is that I've been not only struggling to read books but also forgetting to write them down. In the end I still managed to read quite a bit, but by the time I got back onto my horse I had entered a shame cycle whereby I couldn't write books down because I couldn't bear to look at the list. I reread The Phantom Tollbooth in the weeks after the election, because a quest for Rhyme and Reason sounded about right just then, and I did a lot of Edward Gorey comfort reading. I propose below to list a some things I've managed to get through lately, and then note my favorites from the year as a whole.

What I have finished lately has been short. I read Laurie Penny's Everything Belongs to the Future, which was as intelligent and absorbing as I've been led to believe, and also Paul Cornell's Witches of Lychford which was very good in what felt like a very Paul Cornell sort of way. (Are you into Anglicanism but also kind of into paganism? Yeah. And this one starred a female vicar, which is a good bit of the way to my heart.) I read David Davalos' play Wittenberg—a story about Hamlet and his professors Faustus and Luther, because of course it is—because I was worried it was too similar to something I've been making a tentative start on writing. It isn't, and it was quite good fun.

I did my traditional seasonal reads: From Hell (Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell) for Thanksgiving, Hogfather (Terry Pratchett) for Advent, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for Christmas. That last I read out loud with my father, who is kind about my pronunciation and very patient when I collapse giggling about how much I love the Pearl Poet. We also organized a small reader's theatre of The Second Shepherd's Play, and I decided that I wanted to be the Wakefield Master when I grow up. Besides that there's the venerable tradition whereby straight after Christmas I steal and read a book I gave as a gift to one of my family: this year it was Dad's gift, Robert Farrar Capon's posthumous More Theology & Less Heavy Cream. Very light indeed, a collection of humorous columns for the late lamented Wittenburg [sic] Door.

Those are all worth noting because I liked them—one that's worth nothing for the opposite reason, though it saddens me to dwell on't, was Connie Willis' new book Crosstalk. Here's what I wrote about it in my journal at the time: "a cross b/t Bellwether & Lincoln's Dreams & so disappointing it soured me retrospectively on both. The thing about the Irish is stupid, Twitter does not work that way, & CB makes very little sense as a character. 'I assure you that parts of it are excellent'—but even the good bits made me feel that I was reading a draft of a much better book, one that would be half as long." Naturally this was all rather crushing. So, counterpoint: December's standout! It was a sci-fi novel which I can't talk about—or anyway I don't know how much I'm allowed to say so I'm keeping mum. This is because it isn't published yet, and I was a test reader on it. It is very, very good and I'm excited for when it comes out and I can review it properly here.

So: Favorite reads for the year as a whole. I make a habit of marking my favorites with asterisks, so this is easier than it might otherwise be. Here are some of my favorites, excluding re-reads, and including nothing that I didn't mark as a favorite at the time: 

Nox, Anne Carson — for school; my term paper on it ruled.
The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisalo
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne Valente
Thomas the Rhymer, Ellen Kushner
A Humument: A treated Victorian novel, Tom Phillips — for school, the same seminar that read Nox. It was a course about texts that interrogate the technologies that produce them, and it changed my thinking about books and reading in a really major way.
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, Steven Brust
Digger, Ursula Vernon
Liar, Justine Larbalestier — I'm not sure on this one of how good it was versus how well it pushed my own personal buttons. But it pushed those buttons very effectively.
Hitchers, Will McIntosh
The Rabbi's Cat 1 & 2, Joann Sfar
Games Wizards Play, Diane Duane — similar caveats as for Liar. This is a book aimed at my thirteen-year-old self with a ludicrous degree of precision, and I loved it largely on her behalf.
Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer
Antigonick, Anne Carson & Bianca Stone
Speak, Louisa Hall
The Parliament of Fowls, Geoffrey Chaucer (& the Tales)
Brendan, Frederick Buechner (& others of his)
Still, Lauren F. Winner
Glittering Images, Susan Howatch — and some but not all of the ensuing series, which I devoured at lightning speed this summer. Ultimately my favorite was probably Mystical Paths, the second-to-last.
As You Like It, William Shakespeare
The Fate of Mice, Susan Palwick (and Shelter and The Necessary Beggar: Susan Palwick was my real discovery of the year)
Necessity, Jo Walton
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories, Ken Liu
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The Secret History, Donna Tartt — did I tell you I'm a Classics major now? and yet still not a murderer.
Joe Gould's Teeth, Jill Lepore
Telling Tales, Patience Agbabi
Owl in Love, Patrice Kindl
Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer

I've not done statistics on the whole list, because of the record-keeping errors noted earlier, but I'll say that this sample is mostly science-fiction and fantasy, almost all by women, and fewer comics than I might have expected. (Although this really is the year I got heavily into Saga and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.) If I had to choose a favorite from all of these it'd be—difficult, since I love all these for very different reasons, but probably Antigonick. It's breathtaking.

I'd meant to include here my reading resolutions, but this post has gone a bit long—expect them here within the week, and then a return to regular monthly bookblogs. And, while I didn't want to go into too much detail about all of the books I listed here, in the comments I'm willing to talk about any and all of them with possibly excessive enthusiasm.