skip to content or skip to search form


“hopeful in the church of the morning sun”

It was almost a week ago while I was traveling that I got an email from Steven saying that he’d found a baby bird dying in the hallway of our apartment. I thought that was really odd, but was just glad the cat hadn’t hastened its end. Then came my triumphant return and my day off work Wednesday and a whole lot of bird sounds. I went into the bedroom to find the cat entranced with the closet and quite a racket coming from within.

I was terrified for the bird, but managed to trap it in a shoebox and get it out to the balcony. It was weak, frail, featherless in spots. Its parents flew around but didn’t come near. It got out of the box and, terrified, threw itself off the edge of the balcony. While I don’t think it would have survived long anyway, it died soon after its fall and I buried it on the back hill. I cried a lot.

Clearly something was going wrong to let birds into our apartment, and since they were in the closet I suspected the problem was connected to the air conditioning unit there. There is a nest above and to the right of our air conditioning unit’s vent to the outside, but I think the actual connection must happen inside the brick, which explains the insulation that floats down to our closet floor.

Ever since then, it’s been like “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I wake in the middle of the night sure that somewhere I can hear a bird, an indoor bird, a dying bird. Today I had that same dreadful certainty but whenever I went to the closet, any chirping stopped. After vacuuming out all the insulation and clearing carpet space for birds to fall, I climbed up to see the hole that must be the way in.

Being sure in my heart that the birdsongs I heard were the equivalent of the call coming from inside the house, I finally had to set up a stakeout. I sat with my laptop for a while and, as I’d feared, there was a shrill sound from a box I’d moved out of the way in my cleaning. This one had feathers and personality, and could get itself off the ground a few inches when it flapped its wings. I kept it on the balcony until I was sure the parents had found it and watched them fly to the edge of the box, chirping wildly. When I released the fledgling into the bush below its nest, I couldn’t hear any more cheeping babies in the nest. I did see both parents as I walked back to the apartment.

It makes me feel like a freak that little birds have driven me to photo(blogo)journalism, but I wanted to have documents for when they weren’t there anymore. Maybe it’s because everything seemed like an emergency, like time was slipping away, but I wanted something that would remind me I’d done something (even if, since it’s a photo, that something was only look) and I think it worked. I can hear birds outside now and they sound plenty cheerful to me, but what do I know about birds?

“Well, it’s because the other 90 percent is filled up with curds and whey.”

Last night was for major travel, so tonight is for majorly early bedtime. I can’t go there without sharing the news that at last I found a copy of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness and it’s mine mine mine. Well, okay, and the real news you probably couldn’t pick up on in previous sentences is that I’m totally geeking out and it did in fact lift my spirits every time I picked it up, which is just amazing. So here are some of my super-spoilery happy impressions.

Steph from Lost at Sea plays viola and percussion (and probably something else prior to that) in Kid Chameleon and I’m so glad to see her again!

Lynette is straight, which really surprised me. Or maybe she’s not straight and is just fucking Todd to destroy him, which would be basically evil and awesome. I don’t suppose we’ll really find out. But hmm.

Oh, and speaking of which, Wallace’s new not-quite-boyfriend is the next ex, right? Because Ramona’s head lights up when he’s mentioned and she (intentionally?) misinterprets the chi trick Scott learns from him via Wallace, and even her response to Wallace’s plans to cuddle with him seems pretty much ambivalent. But if he is indeed the dark, mysterious man at the final concert, he knows Todd and is influencing him for non-vegan psychic reasons, at least during the Honest Ed’s fight. SCOTT, IT’S A TRAP! BEWARE! Oooooooh, divided loyalties! I can’t wait for more of it in the next book.

I love that Ramona reminisces in her underwear and the memory is so strong that she reverts to the tank top she was wearing then. It seems so real that she and Scott are in many ways less mature in their relationship than Scott and Knives were, though on the surface that seems not to be the case.

My favorite scene is just post-fight when everyone’s in pain and sad and yet looking to help or at least be aware of someone else. Envy may not be one of the story’s “good guys” (and recall that this is a story in which the top good guy has to beat people into oblivion) but she’s not the heartless bitch her ex and his friends might almost wish she were. The more plot there is, the more things in the social group get tightly incestuous and yet, while “everyone in this town is bitches, apparently” there’s an undercurrent of support and strength amid the heartbreak that just makes me want to wiggle.

And there’s more Comeau! I hope his ring from the future comes is something he picked up (can you use past tense for trips to the future?) while visiting me so we can share data and gossip because we’re the National Security Agency, though I’m not holding my breath on that one. But how awesome would that be? Call me, Michael. I know you know who I am.

So yeah, what I’m saying is that I’m really too old for this now, but I’m utterly charmed. It’s great that the wacky fantasy and the emotional frenzy have come to the forefront now. I mean, by this book when there are save points and extra lives I might have finally noticed that there were video game references instead of having to be informed after reading book one, but I’m not there for the geeky in-jokes, just the in-book in-jokes. I barely know the characters in any real sense, but I have such a fondness for them all the way down to the poor waitress who doesn’t want to be in a documentary and doesn’t want small and thoughtless tips. I feel so lucky to have these books that speak to me at a dopey emotional level and just make me happy. I like this happiness. “Today a child is born unto us, and his name will be bacon.” And it was good.

on the death of irony

I’ll correct this one for accuracy, which I still need to do with my previous post, but today’s scorn-inducing statement from Bush heard by me on NPR in my car is his mention of (again, non-key words may be slightly inaccurate) “the mission we are accomplishing here” in talking to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki about that country’s prospects. Seriously, has he no shame?

on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

I can’t find an official transcript, but what’s burned into my brain from hearing his statement live on the radio driving in here is that our prez sez, “May God bless the Iraqi people and continue to bless America.” I know I have the total lack of parallel structure there right because I immediately yelled at the radio, which is not something I generally do.

Yeah, now that we Americans have killed a terrorist by means of an air strike, that is what Bush calls “justice.” He still seems pretty keen on the trial of Saddam Hussein, which makes sense to me, but I guess blowing people up makes for better press conferences. However the really important thing is that now that this decidedly unsavory fellow has been wiped off the face of the earth we can finally start hoping that Iraq gets some special treats from God, who had previously been withholding his divine support for fear it might accidentally land on a Jordanian terrorist when he (and while I’m pretty sure Bush’s second phrase didn’t have a pronoun, let’s not kid ourselves about which one he’d choose) wasn’t paying attention or something. But hey, don’t let anyone forget who has God’s Most Favored Nation status. I was and continue to be sad and furious.

April Reading List

April is over already and I know I’m forgetting something on this list but I can’t remember what. I guess this is the chance for my pals who have to hear me babble about what I’ve been reading to test whether they pay better attention than I apparently do.

I have some posts partly written, several still in my head. I just can’t face the discipline it takes to sit down and own up to them, I guess. So instead this is the easy part, what I did when I wasn’t blogging.

Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran, Elaine Sciolino
Yes, boys and girls, I think we’d better be prepping for the next war. I didn’t learn much news in a big-picture sense from this story, although maybe not everyone went through a phase of reading lots and lots of books about Iran, so that’s not saying too much. Sciolino details memories from her visits to Iran as a journalist from her meetings with Khomeini in his pre-Revolution exile to (in my favorite anecdote) the day she learns that the misguided US policy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq as if they were separate-but-equal forces in wickedness was in part a result of an article she’d written opposing any such policy. You get a sense of the culture, history, even terrain of Iran without getting too much deeper, but it’s a patchwork worth reviewing. It’s a nuanced book, easy reading for something that deals with hundreds of characters over more than two decades, and maybe not a bad start while we’re listening to the drums in the deep.

The Lake of Dead Languages, Carol Goodman
I never liked Donna Tartt’s The Secret History even though I know I’m supposed to and I want to give it a charitable reading now that I’m older even though I didn’t like her next book, The Little Friend last fall. This tale, though, is about Latinists not Greeksters, which is perhaps why I don’t hold it to a high standard. It’s a fun enough story about a woman separating from her husband who goes back to the boarding school she attended in high school and where her roommates committed suicide to teach Latin. That part of the book is fine, but when she starts to realize that crime has come to campus and that (bum bum bum) perhaps the suicides weren’t quite that I lost a bit of interest. It’s a problem in a 500-page whodunit if you can easily figure out the “who” in the first 150 pages and then have to just keep waiting for things to get dun and the protagonist to wake the fuck up and deal with the necessary denouement. That sounds like I liked it much less than I did. It dealt with adolescent girls (and Latin!) in what seemed like a largely plausible way, though it is first and foremost a plot-driven story, even if the plot takes its time moving through its curves. I’d recommend it as fun, but it’s nothing special unless you’re a classics geek, in which case you should be encouraging me to geek up myself and do better than just reading high-class trashy mysteries.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
I’ve read this before, but it was only $1 and I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t know to what degree the voice is accurate or fair and not some sort of colonialist fantasy, but the view of the peculiar sufferings of women was one I wanted to hear when I read it, though I don’t think it’s the only truth.

Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Ursula Le Guin contains the books from her Hainish/Ekumen of Known Worlds series Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions.
Still on my Le Guin kick. These books, originally published separately, have more connections (though obscure enough to be not really necessary to understand the stories) than the other Hainish novels I’ve read. My favorite was Planet of Exile because it was a love story of a most unsentimental sort. People fall in love/lust and make their choices and live through wars and trials or don’t, but there was a deep beauty about it.

Passage, Connie Willis
I don’t believe in near-death experiences, but there was something about this book that got me out of bed to have Steven tuck me in because I was so unnerved that I needed to get up and move around. It’s very much a “creation of self through narrative” story about a woman researching near-death experiences who is able to go into a simulated version only to realize she’s found something very real to her. There’s not a good way to resolve the story and keep those who do think there’s an afterlife as happy as those of us who think that’s just the end of us.

River of Gods, Ian McDonald
I really need to write about this book, especially the anime/manga aspect of nute fetishism, which I thought was really cool. I don’t remember where Steven read about this first, but he’s been looking for it for a year or so and it’s finally available in the states. It’s a story about geopolitics and sex and intrigue and water wars and rogue AIs in post-India at the centennial of its no longer being pre-India, 2047. I’ve never read such a well-realized future world and enjoyed and appreciated the nine personal stories we follow, although I found Shiv’s the least interesting and was disappointed that his opens the volume. Unlike a lot of books with multiple characters and converging storylines (I’m thinking of William Gibson and Barbara Kingsolver, who display quite different and differently disappointing tendencies) have real endings after real arcs. To go back to The Lake of Dead Languages a bit, even once it’s obvious what’s going on and what some of the solutions are, the human element remains so real that those story bits don’t really matter. Much as I’ve gone crazy for Le Guin and probably others, I think this is the best-written and most affecting book I’ve read this year and I can’t wait for Steven to finish his semester and take a crack at it so we can talk together. Maybe I’ll be a kind blogger and figure out some ways to talk about it here because wow did I like this book!

Life Mask, Emma Donoghue
I still adore Emma Donoghue, whose Stir-Fry I wrote about a lifetime ago and loved even farther into the past. I could say this one is set in the same universe as her previous historical novel, Slammerkin except that the protagonist here, Eliza, is trying to be sure that as a celebrated actress she’s keeping herself (barely) in the rarefied World of the aristocracy in England just before/in the midst of the French Revolution has no overlap whatsoever with the street life of a common whore. Eliza befriends Anne, a talented sculptor, but feels she has to let the friendship fall when rumors of lesbianism pop up, because while a true aristocrat can weather anything, those who’ve worked their way in have no right to safety. Meanwhile there’s plenty of political intrigue on the part of the Whigs who disapprove of Pitt the Elder, not to mention aristocratic adultery all over the place. And then at the end there’s suddenly a love story that made me smile (and, in the book, may make Walpole smile). It’s not that I don’t know English history at all, but I certainly didn’t know it to the who-was-fucking-whom-when level and still don’t entirely even for the group involved here, but I very much enjoyed the detailed view. I’d have smarter things to say, I think, if I hadn’t been tired when I finished it last night and tired now when I try to think of a response, so I’ll leave it at that.

Onward and upward. I have some reading plans for May, but we have many family obligations so I may end up posting a very short list and feeling sure that everyone is laughing at me, which they may well be. We’ll see!

March Reading List

Not such an exciting month, but the first to feature audio books since two interstate trips necessitated something to help me keep my eyes on the road.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell, read by the author and famous pals
I know everyone thinks Sarah Vowell’s voice is the hottest thing ever, but it definitely took some time to grow on me, though grow it did to some degree. I like the authorial intent side of hearing a writer read her own work, but it can be unsettling too. I don’t want to know that Vowell says “R. E.” for “Re:” any more than I wanted to know that William Gibson says “ock-TAYVE” or pronounces “Jean” the same way whether it refers to a boy or a girl. Though since I’m a heretic and hadn’t read much of Sarah Vowell’s writing anyway, it won’t hurt me much to hear her voice subvocalizing next time I come to it. I’m still on the lookout for the audio version of Assassination Vacation, at least part of which should be perfect preparation for another trip to Buffalo.

Where Girls Come First: The Rise, Fall, and Surprising Revival of Girls’ Schools, Ilana DeBare
I went to an all-girls high school, although the Catholic sort that only warrants a chapter here, so I have strong feelings about the potentials for success in all-female environments. DeBare, in working to found a non-religious independent and progressive school for girls, began researching the history of girls’ schools and realized there was a lot more of that independent mindset in the schools that had come before her than many people would assume. There’s not a lot of depth here, but it covers a lot of ground and I found it entertaining and interesting reading. I’ve been thinking a lot about education recently and reading a lot of parent blogs and educator blogs where such things are discussed. I sure am glad to be able to think about this more as theory than practice.

Stiffs: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach, read by Shelly Frasier
As a road book, this was more than tolerable, though I found the reading boring. It’s painful to listen to a slow reader and I keep wanting to push ahead to a comfortable pace the way I would if I were in control. Also I was horrified that they didn’t get someone who knew the difference between “cavalry” and “Calvary” or how to pronounce “Turin” since that kept cropping up. I’m still not sold on audio books mostly because I prefer to read idiosyncratically, but this was an engaging enough book that made the miles and miles of Ohio pass more pleasantly.

The Telling, Ursula Le Guin
Indeed, I reread it. Still beautiful and haunting and true.

Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler: Celluloid Tirades and Escapades, Joe Queenan
I got this because it was cheap, knowing nothing about it. Queenan has a collection of anecdotes about movies he’s seen and reviewed, the sort of thing that nowadays you’d find on a blog. I don’t know if he and I share a ton of common ground in terms of aesthetic preferences (except a mutual dislike for the near-mandatory scenes where some guy gets kicked in the crotch) but I decided to not really argue with anything and just see how much entertainment I could get out of it, which was enough for the tiny amount of time it took to work my way through each article.

Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris, read by the author
Another car trip. Maybe this shouldn’t count because I had Steven shut off the cd with the one about the tv producer at the Southern church, especially because I didn’t want to hear that horrible Christmas letter. But I’ve read the book before, which is how I knew what to skip. I’d wanted to actually hear The SantaLand Diaries and that was worth it, but ooooooh does the fictiony fiction hurt.

I’m reading other books but I didn’t finish any of them. I was aiming for a lot of non-fiction this time around but only managed a little bit, or perhaps lots of little bits.

“Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”

Edited to change “Space Opera” to “Space Odyssey” because my error was annoying me.

I do have a pitifully short list of books I read during March as well as all sorts of thoughts about how much I loved (and love and aim to keep loving) Gray Horses. Then there’s more about weird relationship issues in other books, but mostly it’s spring and I’m lazy and tired and overworked and this is what you get from me today.

Instead what you get is (BUM BUM BUM)

Saffron reacts to the movie.

our cat’s first year of participation in International Record Your Cat Reacting to 2001: A Space Odyssey Day, although given her age it’s also her first year of eligibility.

Saffron is decidedly not a fan. The music creeped her out and she wouldn’t go near the screen unless, as in the photo, Steven forced her to look while I snapped a photo. She seems to have recovered well and is sleeping happily on my feet now, so at least this story has a happy and easily comprehensible ending.

Goodbye, Cruel World!

It’s spring break for Steven and so today we blast off to a not-so-springlike place where we won’t be moderating comments much if at all, so don’t expect to hear from us or have us hear from you through the rest of the week. Maybe we’ll come back with stories and even an audiobook or two to add to my monthly book list next time.

We’re finally off the comic weblog update list since we don’t really aim to talk about comics, so maybe most old readers won’t even notice this note!

February Reading List

Right, it’s not February anymore. I didn’t make much time to read in February and hope to do better about that in March, as well as pull in some non-fiction. I may have come to a halt on Le Guin for now, but gorging myself on her books didn’t detract from my enjoyment of any of them.

The Love Wife, Gish Jen
The story of the stresses and delights of a multiracial family when a distant Chinese relative comes to live with them and provide childcare. While the plot itself was engaging, the style was really the high point. Written almost like a screenplay, each major character narrates at various times, often commenting on the narrations of others. It sounds awkward when I describe it, but it was very effective and made me sympathetic to all the characters, which is all the more powerful in a story about conflict and changing self-definition. I very much enjoyed readiing, although the plot doesn’t overlow with joy.

The Telling, Ursula Le Guin
As I said yesterday, this warrants rereading for me and was worth buying too. Relevant and beautiful.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow
I really hadn’t liked Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and here I didn’t think the postmodern magical realism added up to much and didn’t think the revolutionary techgeek subplot worked, but there were moments that were absolutely lovely. Maybe the next Doctorow book will be the one for me, but I have no regrets about reading this. Like The Telling, I found it an inspiring relationship book, although it’s not exactly about good happy-ending-type stories.

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula Le Guin
I think this is the oldest Le Guin I’ve read, but it didn’t feel particularly dated. I briefly complained about is-she-crazy-or-does-she-have-access-to-another-world stories, but here it’s clearly not an either/or situation. Here it’s a man who’s the protagonist and his dreams can remake the world, which means that no one in that world can be aware of the changes. Maybe I don’t have a problem with stories like that after all.

Tales of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin
The tales themselves are mixed in depth and context, but all entertaining for fans of Earthsea and they provide support and added explanation for other books without being necessary to understand them.

The Other Wind, Ursula Le Guin
The latest and perhaps last of the Earthsea books brings back characters from all the previous novels (including Tehanu, which I hadn’t yet read) and brings them to satisfying conclusions by having them look death in the face and understand their places in the world as a part of world-building.

Tehanu, Ursula Le Guin
I already knew who Tehanu was and some of her story from reading the sequels first, but I was amazed and delighted to read a book for children in which a character says, appropriately angered, that a child has been raped because sometimes children are raped. There’s so much more to it than that, but the politics impressed me. I should try to write more on this later.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
As long as we run across people saying, “Don’t chicks just naturally like cleaning?” I don’t think this book is outdated yet.

Some Twistings and Tellings

David Allison has some thoughts on The Iron Dragon’s Daughter which I’ll inelegantly sum up by saying he thinks it’s a fantasy story about the discursive nature of reality. That’s the direction Steven and I went in talking about it when we read it and, to some degree, when we discussed it on Peiratikos. When I first put it down, I remember being annoyed that, oh, it was another book where a woman’s crazy or maybe she’s not and there really is another world! But that’s not really it, and I knew that. It’s most interesting maybe for what it does to its readers who have watched the protagonist Jane making the same circles in her life again and again in different iterations only to see her break through to something, maybe something new or maybe something more. I’m really torn on which I think it is, but I do think at least that it’s a question of self-determination and self-awareness there when those aspects had been cloaked earlier. Good old creation of self through narrative, how I’ve sort of missed you a tiny bit!

I’m not sure I’d have been reminded of this if David hadn’t posted, but I’ve recently been fascinated with another book about a sad, lonely woman learning her story, Ursula Le Guin’s The Telling. It was published in 2000 and presumably written before, which I mention because to me it exemplifies a “pre-9/11 mindset” that doesn’t take as a given that many of those who use the term are setting the stage for a worldwide theocracy but looks at this as an element in telling a story about a possible future. Set in the same universe as The Left Hand of Darkness and other books I haven’t yet read, it features another Earth-born rookie investigator for the Ekumen of Known Worlds scoping out a newer planet. This time around, though, it’s a woman, Sutty, who grew up just outside the reach of the Unist religious world government and lived long enough to see it begin to fray and fall as part of interacting with the Hainish aliens and others in the Ekumen.

Sutty and her girlfriend Pao planned to study together and travel to new worlds as a pair, but Sutty finds herself alone on the world of Aka, where indigenous culture has been successfully and quickly suppressed as part of the acceptance of technology and the consumerism that has become the Akans’ core value since their initial contact with aliens (in this case mostly from Earth). Eventually Sutty gets to leave the major city and head upriver to a place where she hopes to get under the surface of the propaganda and learn about the culture whose language she learned to read and which was already banned and obliterated in the years it took her to travel through space to Aka. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that reading isn’t important in the same way as listening and telling and that books are a way to preserve the stories that preserve and sustain the traditional culture. Truth is in its tellings in a world where the idea of a dictated fact had previously held no ground, but Sutty is shocked and worried to learn that attempts to keep the telling a nourishing force have meant that stories of the rise of the corporate state and suppression of the words and tales have not themselves been incorporated into tradition. Does this mean the culture she’s growing to love will head in the same direction as the Unists who erased Earth’s history and were willing to forsake all other books for their one Book?

I’ve just begun to reread The Telling even though it’s only been a few weeks since I read it because the love story, core not only because of Sutty and Pao but because of the required duality of the traditional storytellers, inspires me and because all of it seems so pertinent and real. I worry that I’m complicit in the silence, that keeping a silly little blog where I’d never engage the people whose blogs I read in the bigger world is a way of ignoring the real stories, keeping my voice out of them. Then of course I can worry that thinking about this in terms of fiction is easier than talking about ports or birdshot or the hidden imam, even though the other things are ones I could say. But part of the power of The Telling is Sutty’s deeply personal story of oppression, love, loss, alienation, and learning. It’s also a witness to stories of heroes and regular people, many of whom are heroes of a sort as well. It’s not the story of the Earth’s post-Unist recovery but a reminder that there could be one at least. I’m more concerned, though, about intelligent life here, not the hope of eventual support from the heavens.

Ours was originally a blog sort of written in the dual, a shared way for Steven and me to muddle things out, to think and work together while we were far apart. But now we’re not far apart and I wonder if I should be rereading The Iron Dragon’s Daughter too because like Jane I keep spiraling around here and trying something new only to end up tongue-tied, uninspired, saying the same sort of things I’ve said with some derivative passion. I’m not at the jumping-off/restarting point yet, but I think I’m approaching it and maybe this self-awareness will help this time. Either way, I’ve just finished a sweater and will have a short list of books I’ve finished to post tomorrow and the rest of the world will keep marching to wherever it is that it’s going now.