June 2012

Books read in June:

  1. Edgewood. Kelly Ledbetter.
  2. O Pioneers! Willa Cather.
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula K. Le Guin.
  4. The Green Rider. Kristen Britain.
  5. War Horse. Michael Morpurgo.
  6. The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Carrie Ryan.

Best (only) unpublished novel: Edgewood
Best new read: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Best reread:A Wizard of Earthsea

Check back tomorrow for a review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

In other book news, my ‘unread list’ has nearly doubled. I received some scholarship money earlier this week, which I was instructed by my supervisor to not all be put toward rent, so I set aside part of it and rashly spent it on books. My store of unread science-fiction had gotten perilously low, but that will soon be rectified.

Where the lark sings

Out in the field where the lark it flies,
Over the earth where my heart it lies,
Oh how it sings when the west wind blows,
Out in the field where no-one goes.

-Kate Rusby, ‘The Lark’

 

After spending the entire day cooped up in a room without windows in Edinburgh, I wasn’t about to waste what was left of the beautiful, long summer evening. Ros and I went for a four-mile walk over the faraway-hill I pointed out in my last Favourite Things photo. It had been ages since I had heard the lark sing. They sing only in wide open fields, where they can fly into the wind and let their flutey song fill the air.

On the train back from Edinburgh, I was again struck by the rolling green fields, the beauty of the blue sky and the blue sea and the green hills in between. I live in such a beautiful place. It is a privilege to live here. I want to drink it in, fill my lungs and my soul with lark song and lush green and the sea.

   

Look for the clump of trees in the centre of the above middle photograph, on the ridge of the hill — that is where we crossed the hill; the town is on the other side.

And, on the way back, the same view as the photo at the top of this post, only a couple of hours later:

Green Rider

Opening line: ‘The granite was cold and rough against the grey-cloaked man’s palms. It was good, solid granite, from the bones of the earth itself. He traced hardly perceptible seams between the huge blocks of the wall. It was the seams, he believed, that held the key. The key to the wall’s destruction.’

Trouble is brewing in Sacoridia. The king’s brother plots in hiding. The wall that could never be broken, the wall separating Sacoridia from its evil, magical and corrupt neighbour, is breached. And a king’s messenger, one of the elite Green Riders, rides into the path of a schoolgirl, slumped over his horse with arrows in his back. With his dying breaths he entreats the girl to fulfil his mission, deliver his message, before it is too late. Karigan agrees, even as she is warned to ‘Beware the shadow man’…

And thus follows the adventure of Green Rider by Kristen Britain as Karigan races against all odds to get to Sacor City with the precious message. Hounded on every side, from assassins to brigands to monstrous beasts, as well as the Grey One himself, lost in the forests and plains of the kingdom, Karigan must use her own wit, strength, and stubborn will to survive.

It had been over a decade since I last read this book and I remembered only the basic premise of the novel. I vaguely recall that it was supposed to be a series, but since the subsequent books didn’t come out until after 2003, I forgot about it. A year or so ago, I saw the series, with their beautiful new UK covers, in a bookstore, and on a whim picked it up from the local library (yes, it was actually whim: it was on the shelf; I didn’t have to reserve it). The novel is far more action-packed than I remembered, filled with much more world-building detail and intrigue. I read it in a space of two days while I was in bed with a cold, and it was very diverting indeed. The magic at times reminded me of the Charter Magic in Garth Nix’s Sabriel books, but was also unpredictable, as magic should be. Of course, I could find things to criticise — is ‘defiant’ the only way to describe a wolf’s eyes?, Karigan would have been more traumatized by her assault by a mercenary, the Anti-Monarchy Society served no purpose in the plot, and so on — but overall, I was more pleasantly surprised by how rich the world of Sacoridia is, with its history and clans and how the country had changed over the centuries and how the architecture and politics and universities reflected these changed. I have already requested the next book in the series from my library.

If you enjoyed Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, Sabriel by Garth Nix, and/or The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, you most likely will also enjoy Green Rider by Kristen Britain.

Favourite things

Faraway hills:

Though, strictly speaking, that hill is not so far away. This is Queen’s Gardens street, and I love how every time I walk down it to go home I can see the hills beyond the town. Rich green in spring and summer, yellow in autumn, covered in snow in winter, that hill is the boundary of town: beyond it are farms and fields.

Blue skies, blue gowns

The heavens smiled upon the first day of graduations this week. Blue blue skies, cottony clouds, bright sun, cool breeze. I watched four of my friends graduate in this morning’s ceremony, and also Noam Chomsky and A. S. Byatt receive honorary degrees.

Above: Noam Chomsky getting his hood; Below: Ros being a fangirl with Noam Chomsky.

   

Ros and I are so decorous. No really. Below are my four friends who have all graduated now, and one by one will be leaving our seaside town. I have the bad habit of befriending people just as they are preparing to leave. Our church, All Saints, will not be the same without Rob, Ros, Chris, and Allie.

And to think, in a couple of years this will be me… and I will be the one wearing the blue PhD gown!

O Pioneers!

Opening line: ‘One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.’

O Pioneers! is a novel that follows the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants, and their community at the turn of the 20th century. Alexandra Bergson, the eldest of four, inherits her father’s estate when he passes away. Despite drought, despite year after year of bad harvests, Alexandra invests in the land that so many pioneers abandon. It takes a lifetime, but she pulls her family into prosperity, realising her father’s dream that the youngest son, Emil, might go to college and have a life that isn’t tied to the land. Of course, Emil has his own dreams, and Alexandra learns to have dreams of her own.

Sarah recommended this book to me last week after I posted about My Daniel. I was in the mood to read My Daniel, but since I don’t have my copy of it here in Scotland, I checked out O Pioneers! from the library to read instead. I had only read Willa Cather’s short fiction in an American Literature survey course years ago during my undergraduate. The novel was a quick, lyrical read. I enjoyed the descriptions of the prairie and of prairie-life: the fairs held in the basement of the French church, the Swedish mother attempting to recreate the Old World in her garden, the vastness and coldness and awe-inspiring quality of the prairie, capable of rendering one to insignificance as well as inspiring hope. Read this novel for a glimpse into the life of the pioneers who dared settle in the West, which was, surprising, not so long ago in the order of things.

On being an immigrant

The calendar says that it’s mid-way through June, but I am still wearing my winter coat and knitting a pair of legwarmers. It is no wonder that I keep saying ‘winter’ instead of ‘summer’. It is a mild winter for… June.

Visas have been on my mind recently. Theresa May, the current Home Secretary for the UK, has been making changes to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and visa legislation. The two-year post-study work visa is now closed to applicants and, most recently, the rules for a non-EEA (European Economic Area) person coming to live with their British partner have been made more strict. The latter might affect a few people I know, and so I have heard a lot about it. This comes at a time when I realise that in a year’s time I will be finishing my PhD and looking for jobs. I’ve more or less accepted the fact that I will not find an academic job for the academic year of 2013/14*, simply because of timing and the long process it takes to find a job, but it also means that I am looking at the end date of my visa.

Being an ex-pat means making your home in another country. Making friends, relationships, learning a new vocabulary, where to find things in the supermarket, which way to look when crossing the road. I have invested myself in this country and in this town. As an immigrant and as an international student, I have contributed more than £20,000/year into this country’s economy through tuition, rent, working, buying groceries, paying bills. I am not a drain on the state. And yet when the end date of my visa comes up, I have to leave.

It’s a weird thing to think about: the possibility of being made to leave, rather than choosing to leave. When one is an ex-pat — which is a fancy way of saying when one is an immigrant — one is a subject of the state, not a citizen. Certain things we tend to take for granted, such as the right to work, to live with your spouse and children, become more complicated when you do not actually belong to the country in which you choose, or would like to choose, to live.

I have another 19 months before I will be made to leave, unless I am able to find a job and acquire a work visa in this country. I have spent much of the last couple of weeks worrying and a couple of days ago I chose to stop. I know what I need to do in order to keep on top of the ever-changing visa laws. I know that the most important thing right now is to finish my thesis. I cannot find a job without having my thesis finished — and so that is what I am going to do.

And in the meantime, I will continue to be British and moan about the weather, when really, we know not to expect anything less than winter for a Scottish summer.

* That isn’t going to stop me from applying to every single one I can find, however.

Favourite things

St Salvators:

St Salvators tower tolls the hour and dominates the skyline of our little town. It is the oldest building still in use in the University, dating from the 15th century. The University doesn’t really have a campus, but St Salvators Quad is oft described as the ‘beating heart of the university’. I walk past it, through its quad, around it, at least once a day to get to the library, to the museum, to work. It’s become instinctive to look for the tower to check the time, to count the bells as they toll.

Prometheus’s fire

Early in the morning, the sun rose, and shortly after, so did the town. Walking in at 6AM, three hours earlier than normal, the town was waking when it would otherwise be asleep. Queen’s Gardens was still quiet; South Street, a little less so. By the time I made it to North Street all was hustle and bustle as I and a few hundred others were ushered into St Salvators Quad. The Olympic Torch was coming.

Preceded by a relay race run by school children from the different primary schools in town, by a speech from the University Vice-Chancellor and town Provost, the torch that has been touring Great Britain came into view. All watched as it was lit with fire from a Fife miner’s lamp and cheered when it was held aloft.

The torchbearer then ran around the Quad and left through the chapel archway to the peal of St Salvators’ bells — ringing a peal specially composed for the occasion. The torch then ran up North Street and down South Street and on to the rest of Fife.


I had a ticket to get into the Quad for the lighting ceremony thanks to my job at the museum. I’m glad I went — it was a chance to participate ever so slightly in a bit of history.