frayadjacent: Connie Maheswaran on a beach reading excitedly (!reading)
Questions from [personal profile] chaila:

Favorite books you read this year?

Ha ha ha, is this a leading question? The answer is definitely The Steerswoman series, by Rosemary Kirstein. Though I read some others I liked, most notably Gullstruck Island by Francis Hardinge, The Steerswoman really won my heart. It was so full of love and sympathy for its characters. Like I was just swelling with indescribable love for so many of them! Bel, Steffie, Rowan, Zenna, so many Outskirters whose names I can't recall right now...<3 <3 <3

Its world was so refreshingly lacking in patriarchy. It had accurate meteorology! And the journey of discovering what the world was really about has been so great. I loved reading Rowan's thought process and working through the reasoning with her. I can't wait for more! Also I can't wait to re-read all the books; I have a feeling I'll be coming back to all of these. And maybe when I do I'll have more intelligent things to say, mostly I want to flail at them right now. And as I was writing this and thinking about tomorrow's post I started reading James Nicholl's review of The Outskirter's Secret and later (I never did read those reviews when reading the books) and now I *really* want to re-read. Speaking of ...

Are there any books that you always return and reread?

Not really, not since I was a kid. However, I tend to return to the same authors time and again. Almost all of my fiction reading from age 18 to about 24 was Ursula K Le Guin. I lived in a college town with a fantastic used bookstore that had almost everything she'd ever written on its shelves, and between that and the library I managed to get my hands on her entire oeuvre prior to 2004 or 2005 (when I stopped reading her new work). I discarded a few of her early novels -- I think I read Rocannon's World, her first novel, but neither of the two that came after despite having paid money for the trilogy. More shockingly, perhaps, I threw down The Left Hand of Darkness in disgust with her insistence on using male pronouns for characters who had no gender. I never got more than about 50 pages in, and never tried it again. Later I felt partially vindicated when I read an essay where she self-criticises that choice.

But I did reread most of my favorites: The Dispossessed, The Earthsea Cycle, The Telling, The Compass Rose, The Birthday of the World, and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. The last three of these are short story collections; many of the stories are set in the Hainish universe, which I love and always longed for more of. And the last book contains what's likely my favorite short story ever: "Another Story". And The Birthday of the World contains a story set in the same world as The Left Hand of Darkness, but with a more thoughtful presentation of sex, gender, and pronouns, and it's a wonderful story.

As much as I loved Four Ways to Forgiveness, I was never able to reread it because it's so violent.

I got rid of almost all of my books, including all of my Le Guin, when I moved to Australia. Writing this is making me wish I had her stuff on hand, and it looks like a lot of it might not be available digitally. Oh well.

I've also reread the Harry Potter books and His Dark Materials, but again, only once. And Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are high on my reread list. I have a strong impulse to return to fiction I know I love and an equally strong feeling that I aught to be more open to trying new things; the result is a stalemate where I don't read as much fiction as I used to.

Though part of it is also that I enjoy non-fiction as well. But I'm even less inclined to re-read that. :)
frayadjacent: Buffy looking to the side in black and white (Default)
I refuse to click on that Against YA piece -- I've had my share of obnoxious/snobby/infuriating discussions and whatnot this week, thanks. But I have been enjoying scrolling through the responses on metafilter.

And through it I keep thinking a few things:

 - [personal profile] sanguinity, [personal profile] chaila, [personal profile] beccatoria, and I (when I can keep up! I'll get there) are having a fascinating conversation about different theories of justice, coding people as indigenous, and pwning ladies in Xena and Wonder Woman.

 - I am beyond sick of grimdark (usually white dude) stories==morally complex and "grown up". I'm not saying that the original essay makes that equation (wouldn't know, didn't read it), but, I just...I want fiction that is morally complex and offers hope. (Cynicism for its own sake is frankly not very morally complex, but it seems like both books and television shows can write terrible stories with characters who make no sense whatsoever and get away with it if they are cynical.)

 - I also want to be able to read without struggling through sentences, and I want to be engaged enough in the story and/or characters that I can keep reading. Also I want the characters in my fiction to not make me feel like something has crawled inside me and died.

 - I would nonetheless love to read/watch more stories about people over the age of 35.

frayadjacent: Xena riding Argo with a greenish background (Xena: riding Argo)
I stopped between The Lost Steersman and The Language of Power while my family was in town, but now I'm back at it.

I'm already almost halfway through The Language of Power and I'm coming to the cold hard realisation that this book is not going to end with any more resolution than its predecessors.  :( I'm loving these books so dearly, but I see now the price for jumping in in the middle of a multi-decade WIP.

That being said, The Outskirter's Secret, which I never really discussed here, has probably been my favorite. Awesome adventure! So much Bel-Rowan hangout fun! Rowan being all out of sorts! Seven thousand mother fucking delightful new characters.

But I did adore Steffie, and Zenna, and the "Demons" in The Lost Steersman, and I am enjoying The Language of Power, especially Rowan and Bel's comfortable dynamic.

Spoilers for The Lost Steersman )

Oh, and while I was digging around to remind myself of Janus's name because I forgot it for a second, I saw from Rosemary Kirstein's blog that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. And apparently her treatment seems to have obliterated it!

frayadjacent: Xena on Argo, charging forward & waving her sword (Xena: Charging on Argo)
I finished The Steerswoman and am now reading the second book in the series, The Outskirter's Secret.  And...I kinda feel like these books were written for me!  I love the characters -- Rowan and Bel, obvs, but also a lot of the minor characters too.  Kerstein writes people with such sympathy -- and Rowan's POV is one that's so interested in understanding people, and cultures, and how they tick, and RESPECTS them.  It's just really great.  Also things like the pacing, level of sex and violence, etc, are just about right for this gen-loving squeamish fangirl.

Spoilers for The Steerswoman, vaguely spoilery for the beginning of The Outskirter's Secret )

The slow reveal that This World is Not What You Thought has been an utter delight.  I tend to skim descriptions when I read, and I've been forcing myself to slow down, to actually visualise what's being described, because the world-building that's done through description of objects and scenery is part of the book's awesomeness.



frayadjacent: Buffy with her arms crossed from "Checkpoint", text says, "Power: I have it" (BtVS: Power)
I'm a slow and infrequent reader-of-books, and even then I often forget to post about what I'm reading.  So, it's not Wednesday, even in Australia, but I figure I better post this while it's on my mind.

What I just finished

…if by "just", one means "a week and a half ago".  I read Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge, and it was one of my favourite books in some time.  The main protagonist is a young indigenous person on a colonised island, and the book deals with the dynamics of colonisation really well, I thought.  And it also focuses on people who don't get noticed, and what they might do with that social invisibility, the ways they can exercise power through it, the ways they may come to resent it.  It's beautifully written and I absolutely adored the main character, a clever, adaptable girl whose skills are really well established by her back story.  And it has an ensemble of characters I came to care about deeply, it doesn't treat characters like canon fodder, and it establishes a fascinating setting, both physically and socially. It did go to that The Cycle of Violence Ends Here place in a way that bugs me, but that's my only complaint. 

Well, that and the fact that I can't vid it.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book.

What I'm reading now

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein.  I'm less than halfway through now. 

I was almost immediately struck by how rare it is in fiction (here I'm including television and movies) to have a female character who is broadly admired and respected for something other than her looks.  There are lots of competent women and girls in stories, but they almost always have to prove themselves, far above and beyond what an otherwise equivalent male character would have to do.  It's so refreshing to have that not be the case in this story, especially for Rowan (the protagonist), but also in general.  While their society clearly has strong class divisions and is in many ways modelled after medieval Europe, it's refreshingly light on the patriarchy.

 I am totally shipping Rowan/Bel.  It's funny, my shipping tendencies are so weak, but apparently I have a button for women with different but complementary abilities and world-views, who respect and surprise and have a general fondness for each other, travelling together.  *heart melts*

I realised a bit of the way through why the Steerswomen are so appealing to me: they're basically an expression of the fantasy of intellectuals who freely share knowledge and, as such, largely live outside the market economy that controls much of the rest of their society. 

Plus they're almost all women. 

Relatedly, I love how they quite readily admit when they're wrong, or when they don't know something for certain.  Not that everyone is walking on eggshells about what they know -- they have vigorous debates and aren't afraid to argue strongly when they are certain, but there doesn't seem to be the kind of egoism that plagues so much of contemporary academia and science, and can make for straight up bad science.  Admitting when you don't know something is a fundamental tenet of intellectual honesty, and I love what an important feature it is to the Steerswomen's culture.

What next/etc

I'm planning to read the rest of the Steerswoman series, but I'm actually a bit confused about what's what.  On Amazon Kindle it looks like the next book is The Lost Steersman (oh I just realised who that's probably about!) and the one after is The Outskirter's Secret?

frayadjacent: Connie Maheswaran on a beach reading excitedly (!reading)
Reading meme!

What I've read lately

I re-read The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle a few weeks ago, then got busy with work starting and haven't read much else.   I grew up on the animated film, which I still love, and didn't read the book for the first time till my early 20's.  In many ways they're pretty similar -- Beagle wrote the screenplay -- which means that for significant portions of the book I can actually hear the film's dialogue as I read.  (Did I mention I watched that movie a lot?  It and The Black Stallion were my childhood movie staples.)  However, the book develops Schmendrick and Lir quite a bit more and is quite a bit less romantic about Amalthea/Lir.  I dunno, I still love the way the book explores -- and turns on its head -- the highly gendered notions of innocence that prevail in these sorts of fairy tales.  "Beasts don't go on quests, but young girls do."  It still breaks my heart when Schmendrick turns the unicorn into a human.  But I still love who she becomes at the end.  And of course Molly Grue still rocks my socks.  The book doesn't have anything to say about the ways that purity and innocence are racialized, though, except to perpetuate it.  It's especially noticeable when the unicorn becomes Amalthea, and suddenly it's not a white unicorn that everyone's carrying on about, but a very pale white woman.

What I'm reading now

I just started Alif the Unseen, recommended by [personal profile] yasaman in this meme!  I've only read the zeroth and first chapters, but I'm already getting pulled in.  

I've also been reading A PhD is Not Enough!  Which, yeah, I'm not gonna talk about that here.

Anything else?

I am way behind on my Elementary fic!  I blame lack of internet.  However, I'm also determined to leave comments on fic I've read recently (er, within the last few months...) before I start more.

frayadjacent: Connie Maheswaran on a beach reading excitedly (!reading)
Because I'm not reading journal articles any more!  For like a month and a half.  And since I can't read the internet at home right now, I had to crack a book. 

(I've noticed people don't include fic in this meme.  Even if others did, I wouldn't want to -- too many of my favorite fic writers are on my r-list.  It's just a bit awkward.)

What did you just finish reading?

Yesterday -- Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma.  I found out about this from [personal profile] chaila!  Interesting, creepy YA horrory novel, and a quick read.  I liked it!  It revolves around two sisters' relationship.  As chaila said, they are the most important people in each other's lives, and the book neither romanticizes nor (completely) villifies that.  I loved the way it presented the relationship between people and place, where characters' very existence was bound to a specific location.  The characters were interesting and well-written.   The ending is sort of unsettling in that it doesn't really answer the questions that most of the book sets up.  But that felt OK? 

Today -- Coraline, the graphic novel, by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russel.  It was an interesting and fun read.  I would have loved it as a kid.  It would have scared the crap out of me and it had a talking cat.  What more would I need? 

What are you currently reading?

Um, Moving to Melbourne: a Practical Guide.  Which so far hasn't told me anything I hadn't already figured out or been told by other people.  

Free book-question-shaped space

So, I want to get through as many of my actual physical paper books as possible before moving  (I'll be getting rid of most of them).  But in the meantime I'm collecting e-books for the move itself -- and after we arrive -- and I keep just wanting to read those instead!  But I really, really am going to give China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston one more try.  Every year or two I pick it up, enjoy it for ~10 pages, put it down, get distracted by TV/the internet/work/bouncy balls and forget about it. 

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