January 2011

Books read in January:

  1. Sabriel by Garth Nix. I don’t know how it took me over a decade to read Sabriel, but I enjoyed it and would read it again.
  2. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik. Sequel to His Majesty’s Dragon, I was afraid it would be boring since most of it is sailing around the world, but it delightfully wasn’t. Also, the Chinese dragons are awesome.
  3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say that the film version is a good adaptation, but I still think her best work is Interpreter of Maladies — it won the Pulitzer for a reason.
  4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A fresh and imaginative post-apocalyptic dystopia with survival skills. Excellent, and can’t wait to read the next two books.
  5. Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. Effortless prose, but disappointing. Each story is told in the first person, and all of the voices sound the same.
  6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Easily readable and fascinating.
  7. The Voyages of Sinbad by Sherahazade. Did you know that Sinbad wasn’t the captain of his ship? I didn’t.
  8. Passage by Connie Willis. This book could have ended around page 400 and I would have left happy. It didn’t. Disappointing, but I still love Connie Willis.
  9. Sir Gowther ed. by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury. Medieval romance about a half-demon who is very bad.
  10. Sir Isumbras ed. by Maldwyn Mills. Medieval romance reminiscent of Job.
  11. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Fourth time reading it and still fantastic as ever.
  12. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Having read The Lady and the Unicorn and continue to dislike it the more I think of it, I held low expectations for this book. I was pleasantly surprised.

Best new read of the month: The Hunger Games.
Best (only) reread of the month: The Thief.
Longest book of the month: Passage (800 pages).

On Endings: More and more often I am disappointed with the endings of the books that I am reading. Sabriel cut off abruptly and then had a pointless epilogue. The Hunger Games would have been frustrating if I hadn’t known that there were two more books following it. Passage‘s ending dragged on for far too long and then didn’t really end. Girl with a Pearl Earring also had a pointless epilogue-y chapter. As a general rule, I am opposed to prologues and epilogues. If the author cannot include that information in the body of the narrative itself, then he or she isn’t trying hard enough and/or that information isn’t necessary for the reader to know. The former felt true for Sabriel (it had both a prologue and an epilogue) and the latter was true for Girl with a Pearl Earring. That said, Memoirs of a Geisha tied up its knots neatly, as did The Thief. Bravo.

It wasn’t planned, but three of the books I read this month have been adapted into films. I only remember the odd scene, the splash of colour, the music. Now I want to see them again.

Also, half of the books I read this month were in first person. The book I’m reading now is in first person, too. I might need to write up my thoughts on that at some point.

Assorted, etc.

It seems that I get bursts of productivity soon before I go to bed. When I’m finishing up washing the dishes, I’ll see the trash bin and say, ‘I might as well take that out.’ I might as well take out the paper recycling. I might as well wash the bin lid. No, I didn’t do the last one. That’s when I decided it could wait until later.

I was going to work more today, but didn’t. I slept and read and listened to the radio instead. I’m ready for Ros to come back from London, but at least I’ll see people in the office tomorrow.

For those who know Chris, there has been news from her: she and her students are safe in Cairo. Her mom wrote, ‘Cairo is volatile, Chris is one cool cucumber’. That’s Chris, all right.

Yesterday was my grandmother’s funeral. She was my last grandparent to have died, and I have been overseas for all but one of my grandparents’ deaths, save one, and he died before I was born. An entire generation of my family has passed away. May light perpetual shine upon them. I think I’ll call my dad before getting ready for bed.

That’s all for now. Book list will be posted tomorrow.

Innovation

Exercises, ice, and rest are helping my wrist to calm down, but I knew that if I wanted to get any writing done today I would have to find a different way to go about it. I can type one-handed, but that’s tedious. Knowing that it’s all about the angle of the wrist when typing, I decided to take a cue from Anna’s standing desk.

Normally the nook is home to our music books and the stack of books I’m borrowing from friends, with just enough space for the computer to sit. This set up has been working well for today. When my ankles and knees protest from standing, I can sit down to think or to consult the materials spread out on the table.

A few people have half-jokingly suggested that I invest in dictation-software, but for what I’m doing that just isn’t feasible. I’d be better off with an amanuensis — and one who knows Middle English as well as I do, and isn’t afraid of Old English or Latin (or even Spanish, French, and German) either. I doubt dictation software is sensitive enough to know which dialect of Middle English I’m reading from, or to handle that each word can have multiple variants of spelling. So for now, the standing desk is working. I have over 1000 words written, and still have more of the day left to go.

Watching, waiting

Internet and mobile phone networks have been cut off in Egypt since early this morning. I hope that my friend Chris, and the students she’s looking after, are safe. They were supposed to go to Luxor this weekend, but they might still be in Cairo. She and I are supposed to Skype on Sunday. Who knows if the Internet will be back up by then?

I’ve been listening to radio reports about Tunisia and have a personal interest in what is happening in Egypt just now. Oddly, no one else I know seems to be following the protests and the ripple-effect they are having across the region.

The ruling party’s headquarters is on fire. It’s right next to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Please, oh please, I hope the museum does not catch fire, too.

Watch live updates from the BBC here: BBC News – Egypt Unrest.

Watch Al Jazeera in English: Live Stream.

If it isn’t one thing

…it’s something else.

I had a breakthrough about how to structure the current chapter and was really looking forward to starting over with it today. Except that promptly after writing out my thoughts and outline last night my wrist started hurting. It’s been in a brace since yesterday evening. My plan of writing 700+ words today has just gone out the window. I’ve done everything else I wanted to do today. Today hasn’t been a complete loss, work-wise.

So I guess I’ll go steal Six Medieval Romances from Rebecca’s desk and read Sir Isumbras.

Here and there

Taking notes, reading, writing, editing: I am surrounded by words. As it should be.

I should be encouraged that there is some enthusiasm for the publishable potential of my work, and I am. I am also somewhat discomfited, as the book in question is but in the early stages of being written. It has, as do the spirits I am reading about, but a body made of air; it has form intellectual, but not yet form material. I shall be discomfited for a while yet.

I am also still behind on many things. To those whose emails I have not answered, to those who I’ve been meaning to call for months — if those in question even read this blog — know that you are not forgotten. I simply haven’t gotten there yet. I’m sorry.

Restructuring

Restructuring the thesis:

  1. The ‘Religion’ chapter is now more specifically the demon and Melusine chapter. What is the difference between fairy and demon? The Case of Melusine.
  2. Finally have my hands on medieval texts that talk about angels and demons. Trevisa is my new best friend, despite his difficult dialect, and Sidrak and Bokkus might just be my new favourite thing.
  3. Taboos and mortality and talk of purgatory moved to the no-longer-slim ‘Death’ chapter. That is going to be a fun chapter.
  4. Look! Two out of four of my chapters deal with medieval theology. My thesis has gone back to being what I wanted it to be all along.

Restructuring the novel:

  1. Probably taking out one of the pov-characters, leaving two.
  2. Debating whether to take out another pov-character, switch to first person, and/or tell it as a memoir. Yikes!

In other news, my headphones are far too effective. Ros just came home, complete with the opening and closing of our very loud front doors, and was standing right next to me before I knew she was home. As for my office, I might need to install a mirror above my desk so that I won’t jump out of my skin every time someone comes through the door.

Fantastic Friends

Just a bit of silliness: a moment with me and my desk pals. They normally like to live on the piles of books on my desk, keeping an eye on my work.

The Vague Activist Fairy, Quizzy the Quizzical Unicorn, and the Wonky Dragon.

*

In other news, Mondays are hard to get back into the swing of things. But I’ve prepared for a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow. And I read an article that makes me wonder if the English Melusine is radically different from the French Melusine after all. If it is, then this is very good.

New schedule

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve created a new work schedule and this was my first week to try it out. I spend the mornings in my office doing research and writing my thesis. After lunch, a friend and I go to a cafĂ© (we alternate between two favourites: one with good tea and wifi, the other with excellent cake) where we mutually ignore each other for an hour and a half. She reads, and I work on novel planning. I’m currently working on Serpents, the not-prequel to Bede. It’s amazing how much world-building you can do in just an hour a day. Then afterward I return to the office to see what other PhD-y things I can do for the rest of the afternoon.

I research better in the mornings, and I’m somewhat saner when I’m in the midst of a creative writing project. I also find it easier to do my research when my mind is already occupying that level of puzzle-making that comes with creating a world for a story. So the new schedule is working well.

However, it still needs tweaking after this first week of experimenting. I need to go to bed earlier, for one. Also, it’s somewhat difficult to get back into research in the afternoons. I may have to relegate the afternoon hours to thesis-related material, e.g. resuming Latin or reading contemporary primary texts, rather than to the actual research and writing of the thesis itself. Unless I’m in really good form one day, of course, or if there’s a deadline coming up.

Overall, I am pleased that I am getting more or less the same amount of thesis work done as I did when I used to spend the whole day in the office, and I’m getting other things done, too.

Companionship

God alone knows how many hours were spent just like that, just me and Pokey curled up on the couch. I have tried and failed to explain to others the rapport, the understanding Pokey and I had with each other. To him, I was another cat; to me, he was another person. And nearly three years after his death, I still miss him dearly.