monthly updates, reading, writing

Countdown!

It’s the last update of October, but all eyes are forward right now! Only a few more days until we dive headlong into another NaNoWriMo. I’ve got a collection of world-building notes, an inkling of a plot, a vague outline of a character. It’s more than I’ve had some years at this point, and there are still a few days left to work with. I feel like this will be a fun project (but I’ve thought that before; they always seem to grow serious in the writing).

I made it through my annual solo week with no more than the usual exhaustion. It gets easier as the kids get older, but it’s always instructive to tote up just how much energy it takes to keep the household running by myself. There tends to not be much left over at the end of the day. Today has been pretty good in terms of productivity and relaxation both. It’s very damp and chilly, an excellent day to stay indoors, and so there has been knitting, and baking, and cleaning, and writing.

And reading! I’ve been enjoying a visit with Fritz Lieber. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually read this one before, despite having had it on the shelf for ages–a single-volume combo of Swords in the Mist and Swords Against Wizardry. The style is obviously dated, but Lieber’s descriptive language is a delight, and the adventures themselves have a cheerful freshness. This choice of material is probably some kind of subconscious revolt against the steadily increasing height of my to-read stack, which has overgrown the bedroom shelf and started taking over the kitchen.

Next time I see you, we’ll be several days into our new projects. Have fun!

garden, life, reading, writing

Happy Readercon!

After a bit of dithering (surprise), I decided to go this year. And we got an extra day off at work, so I’m even going to the Friday daytime programming, which is a first. I’m a little nervous about going solo, but it’s all part of the “leave room for things in happen in” practice, and there is a lot of interesting stuff on the schedule.

The summer is passing quickly and without much drama. We did a lot of traveling last week, hence no update–I was tired! with three days in NH at a family Fourth of July, and two in CT visiting friends. I take a picture just like this every summer at the lake, because I am a creature of habit and like to get up early while everything is still.

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Fairy Hills just hit 40k words after a few weeks of steady progress. I am making deep changes to this part of the story, so this really is like a first draft all over again. Which is annoying, I confess, because that means that there will be yet another draft in the near future, and I would like to put this project to bed someday. I bought an app called Word Keeper, which is delightful if you enjoy looking at progress charts–sort of like the NaNoWriMo wordcount tracker made perpetual and a bit shinier.

Writing has been going well enough that I have tried off and on of late to turn off the laptop and read in the evening. I’ve read 24 books so far this year, which is frankly amazing (for me). I’ve been reading a lot of new-to-me nonfiction stuff: Thinking in Systems, Liminal Thinking, How to Change the World–you may be sensing a theme. In fiction I have been visiting old favorites. Tea with the Black Dragon is just as charming as I remember it being, as was Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?

In other news, the driveway garden is flourishing. Already considering ways to expand next year, since I haven’t managed to entirely kill anything so far this summer (the basil bolted while we were gone, and a few of the sunflowers aren’t going to make it, but everything else is hanging in there pretty well). I had no idea potato plants grew so big!

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And this was a longer update than I expected to write. Have a great weekend!

arthurian literature, reading

Review: Arthur’s Britain

I picked up Leslie Alcock’s book during the same library trawl that found In the Land of Giants. Again, I got tired of renewing it and bought a copy (my library visits are great for book sales).

It’s rare in my experience to find a book that takes Arthur’s existence as historical without the author of said book coming off as a crank or at least a hopeless romantic. Although one is free to dispute Alcock’s interpretations of the evidence, at least he doesn’t seem to be a crank. The first part of this book consists of an in-depth description of challenges facing any literary historian of this period: the sheer scarcity of written records, changes in language, changes in dating systems between events and their record when there is one, the chance of human error (or deliberate alteration, even with the best of motives) whenever records are copied by hand, etc. He goes on to describe the source texts he considers worthwhile as evidence for a historical Arthur.

Having thus laid out his reasons for believing that there was an actual person by that name, albeit one he places much earlier in history than popular culture does, he dives into the archaeological record–which is just as fragmentary as the literary one–to describe the world such a person would have lived in. What was the situation like during and after the loss of Roman control, what kinds of buildings and material objects do we have evidence for, what movements of peoples took place during the relevant times, how did they actually carry out warfare, etc.

The book is frequently dry but readable for a non-expert. If you’re looking for mythology it will be most unsatisfying. This is a sober examination of actual records and physical evidence, with barely a whiff of romance to be found in its pages, and Alcock’s conclusions regarding Arthur are notably modest. I found it fascinating if slow going, not least because I now have a great appreciation for the challenges faced by anyone studying this field, whether in documentary or archaeological form. While I can’t speak to the quality of the author’s research, he is careful to label speculation as such and to make plain the many areas where we simply don’t know enough to draw firm conclusions. Some of the topics near the end of the book seem a bit rushed, but on the whole I would consider it a solid resource.

4/5 stars, will certainly revisit.

reading

Review: In the Land of Giants

One recent evening when the commotion at home grew overwhelming, I escaped for an hour to the Medford Public Library. It’s a modest collection, but on a rainy weeknight the place was well populated — there was a t-shirt upcycling activity going on in the young adult section, and I had to hunt around to find an unoccupied table quiet enough to work at. I was ostensibly there to figure out what I was going to do with the fairy book revision, and I jotted down a few thoughts. I also wandered through the stacks, remembering other libraries I have known.

In my aimless travels through the British history shelves, I happened across Max Adams’ In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages. The subject dovetailed too neatly with the recent Arthurian research for me to overlook this bit of serendipity, and even though my “to read” pile is more fond aspiration than achievement these days, I optimistically checked it out.

I’m not done with yet, admitted, but I am greatly enjoying the read. It’s a quirky book, part history, mostly travelogue, and potentially very dangerous to the pocketbook, because if you don’t immediately want to book a plane and go hiking through the quiet back country of the islands, I consider your humanity suspect. Given that I am already prone to looking at hills and lakes and wondering what the people who lived here a thousand years ago thought about them, I am entranced by the prospect of having so many clear physical markers of ancient human presence dotting the landscape.

The only real negative is that my knowledge of early British history is spotty, and my grasp of the landscape on the kind of intimate scale showcased here is nonexistent; it’s easy to get a bit lost in the names. Expert readers will not suffer from that problem. Even then, however, there is an abundance of physical detail to immerse oneself in, to bring one’s mind to focus on the simple, immemorial experience of walking long distances. It can be difficult sometimes to connect with the minds of those who lived so long ago, but by literally putting himself in their footsteps, Adams gives our imaginations a map.

reading

A Few Thoughts on Re-Reading “The Hobbit”

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I read The Hobbit — one of those books where I feel comfortable in my assumption that I remember everything about the story, and am wrong.

First of all, whenever I read Tolkien I am brought up short by the contrast between his work and countless imitators. How many people writing a genre story today would have the dragon killed by some random guy who isn’t even introduced until almost the end of the story? Bilbo is hired as a thief, and he’s braver than he thinks, and he gets a little more into that role with every adventure, right up to the Arkenstone, but there is never any glory to be had in it.

Second, there was that post that went around a while ago about someone reading the story aloud to their child who made Bilbo a female character. Well done with your life choices, whoever you were, because honestly my dude, the overwhelmingly monosexual landscape comes across as intensely weird. I can’t even imagine writing anything with this many characters in it and just… never even thinking about this, apparently.

Thirdly — this is such a modest story. I found out that I had forgotten so much of it — Bilbo taunting the spiders, most of the Beorn stuff, the Laketown shenanigans — but more than anything else the tone struck me as surprising. It’s just a fun little story, not Timeless Literature incubating. It doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. The narrator’s voice is one of your older relatives. It’s a story for which I have very warm feelings, partly because it doesn’t put on airs.

Now as autumn is finally here, I’ll be rereading The Lord of the Rings. This is something I do every few years, usually in the darker half of the year.