February 2011

Books read in February:

  1. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. A group of affluent Classicists at a small liberal arts college in Vermont get a bit carried away with their studies. Think History Boys, Dead Poet’s Society, or The Emperor’s Club but much darker and less moral.
  2. The Lieutenant, by Kate Grenville. An astronomer-made-marine lieutenant goes on one of the first ships to Australia. In addition to examining the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, he learns a bit about humanity, too, when he befriends an aboriginal child. Very lyrically written, it made me want to reread The Dispossessed.
  3. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), by Josef and Karel Čapek. A Czech play that first introduces robots, or at least the word ‘robot’, to the realm of science fiction.
  4. 1066 and all that, by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman. History is what you remember.
  5. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. A theoretical physicist and other anarchists on the moon.

Best new read of the month: The Lieutenant.
Best (only) reread of the month: The Dispossessed.
Funniest book of the month: 1066 and all that.

I am still working on my list of Unread Fiction books that I compiled after Christmas. The goal was to reduce it by half before I could ‘acquire’ any more books. I only need to read three more books to do this. Unfortunately I’ve already borrowed the rest of the Hunger Games trilogy from Katherine and His Dark Materials from Bronnie, but I won’t be reading them until I’ve removed three books off of my list. Needless to say, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Kate Grenville once I can buy/borrow books again.

Back from the south

The past week I was in England and Wales — England for pleasure and Wales for work (which was also pleasurable). Going south has given me hope: it was beginning to look like spring there. Crocuses and daffodils were blooming, the air was warmer, the trees a bit greener. In about three weeks, it should start looking like that here. Ros says there are shoots sprouting up already in our garden, but I came home after it was dark so I haven’t seen them to be sure.

Oxford was lovely, as usual. I got to catch up with friends and eat at my favourite restaurants. Whenever I visit Oxford I breathe a sigh of the familiar. It is nice to have another city in this country that I know well enough that when I visit it can actually be a holiday: having lived there before, I am not pressured to ‘do Oxford’ when I go there. And though I am very glad I am at the university I am, I’m a bit envious of the college system — especially the chapel. If I could go to Evensong or morning prayers every day just by walking across the quad, I would.

I was in Wales for a Master Class in Medieval Palaeography at Bangor University. On the train there, I sat across the table from a mother and her six or seven-year-old daughter. The little girl had with her a chapter book in Welsh and was learning to read English. It was fascinating to listen to the girl practice reading the English book aloud, and to have her mother occasionally help her with pronunciation, saying, ‘In the English alphabet, these letters are…’ Then, at the workshops, at least half of the people there could speak Welsh (the rest of us were from universities farther afield), and they all introduced themselves and spoke first in Welsh, then translated into English. I had been to Wales before, but in Cardiff, and haven’t had an opportunity to hear Welsh spoken. Even while walking around the town and sitting in Costa there were people speaking in Welsh.

More academically: I was in the classes for Middle English, which were taught by A.S.G. Edwards.* At the conference dinner I learned that he had visited Norman, Oklahoma and afterward he, Rebecca, another one of the lecturers, and I had coffee (from which I learned that I can drink decaf coffee without ill effects! hooray!). I was most interested in the sessions on editing texts, in case I do end up spending the rest of my life working on Melusine. As a result of this weekend, I have had my faith in the Riverside Chaucer utterly shattered. Thanks Tony.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Super Amazing Cambridge Guy is actually in all probability a nice person (I’m sure I’ll meet him eventually at one of these conferences), but I’m tired of hearing about him whenever I introduce my thesis topic. This time I heard about how hardworking and dedicated he was, having finished his thesis in two and a half years, that he would wake up so early in the morning and exercise and then work straight from 6 AM to 7 PM, and what a charmed academic life he has had afterward. Well, let’s just say that I’m glad my supervisor would kill me if I tried to keep those hours.

Consequently, being in Wales this weekend meant that I missed the royal visit to our town. I saw a bit of it on television when I walked through the hotel lobby where our conference dinner was going to be. Oh well.

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* Okay, I’ll admit that whenever I see his name I think of the the financial firm A.G. Edwards.

WIPs

A sample of my Works in Progress: text and textile.

Fiction:

His first breath of Martian air was cold. Luke gasped at the thin air and began to cough. Others behind him began to do the same. His eyes had seen the red desert outside of the windows; his mind expected heat to sear into his lungs. He coughed as much out of surprise as he did at the thinness of the air.

*

Thesis:

Soon the duke’s knights beg him to stop taking their wives as wet nurses for the child he believed to be his son. His own mother then tried to nurse Gowther, but he did not spare even her: ‘He snaffulld to hit soo / He rofe tho hed fro tho brest’ (129-130). Gowther did not kill his mother as he had the wet nurses, but the damage was done. In Sir Gowther, Gowther’s savage treatment of his wet nurses is an indication of his demonic paternity – like father, like son, as it were. The statement above about Horrible is spoken by his own – human – father, Raymondin, spoken just after he laments that his wife, who he now knows is some sort of spirit-creature, ‘neuer bare no child that shal at thende haue perfection’. Like Gowther, Horrible’s brutality is attributed to his unnatural parentage. It is because he is not fully human that he is as horrible as he is.

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Wool: ‘Iris’ from New Lanark online shop.
Pattern: Adapted from The Purl Bee’s ‘Easy Mistake Stitch Scarf’.

On Breakfast

My default breakfast for the past few years has been two pieces of toast and an apple (or pear or other fruit if I’m feeling adventurous). Dear readers, this may be subject to change. Last Sunday I made my very own granola. For some reason companies insist on putting raisins in prepackaged granola, and so I have avoided buying such things because I haven’t wanted to spend the time picking out the offending emaciated grapes.

So I made my own, using this recipe.* It was much easier than I thought it would be. I also left out the cinnamon and nuts, so that the granola would be Ros-Safe as well as Chera-Approved. A bowl of Greek yogurt, granola, and sliced peaches has been my breakfast of choice this past week. Besides being tasty and healthy, there is another benefit: it actually lasts me until lunch, whereas previously I’ve been getting ravenously hungry mid-morning. Also, it takes less time to prepare in the morning. I think I’ve found a new default breakfast.

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* After reading in the reviews that others also found the granola a bit salty, when I make this again I’ll be cutting down the salt… but it’s still a good, basic granola recipe like I’ve been looking for.

Confessions

  • I am still a youngest / pseudo-only child. I do not like to share.*
  • Also, I want my way.
  • I do not like conversation or groups consisting of more than three people.
  • I’d rather be writing fiction.
  • I really want fajitas and tortillas from Taco Cabana. I could eat fajitas every day.
  • I want to be warm.
  • One of my alternate lives would be to be an anthropologist in Latin America.

* I amend this statement to be: Sometimes I really do not like sharing, but actually I don’t mind it most of the time.

A lullaby

Once upon a time I slept the night through and wasn’t so exhausted during the day. This morning I woke up at 4 AM. I opened a window because it was stuffy. The only other creature awake at that hour was a little bird somewhere, singing away. I listened to it until I fell back to sleep.

Desert of the mind

Kelly was telling me last night about an article she read about Umberto Eco, in which he spends ages and ages world-building for his novel. ‘And I thought of you,’ she said dryly. Umberto Eco meticulously plans out details and even visits the places he is going to write about.

‘But I need to go to Mars!’ I exclaimed. I have reached a point in my short story where my characters are no longer breathing the future air of places I already know in England and Scotland, but breathing the thin, alien air of far-future Mars. Last night, with the wind howling outside and rain lashing against my windows, and this morning as pale, grey light filters through the rain-spattered windows, I am not exactly in the right place for surroundings to inspire a foreign land.

I wish I could put on my hiking shoes and go wander in the foothills of the Sandia mountains. This is the right time of year for it, for the deserts in my mind are both dry and cold. I find myself reading The Dispossessed for fourth? fifth? time, for if I cannot walk in New Mexico, I can walk on the moon Anarres.

Sometimes I wonder if I would be more suited to live in a desert than in a place where so much rain and green are in abundance. Sometimes it is too much. Sometimes I need the dry and the brown, the limited supplies of water, the gnarled trees and cacti that stubbornly live on despite too little water and too much heat.

…and the water valve did not cut off when you released the faucet but kept pouring out until shut off—a sign, Shevek thought, either of great faith in human nature, or of great quantities of hot water.

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin