When the world around you is breaking apart, piece together a puzzle.
When the world around you is breaking apart, piece together a puzzle.
When the world around you is breaking apart, piece together a puzzle.
It’s been a fucking long-ass week.
It seems strange to say that we’ve only been in quarantine mode for a week, because it already feels like we’ve been doing this forever. The office is closed, the entire creative team has been teleworking since Monday, and we’ve started a New Thing on the blog, which Jennicorn aptly named quaranticles. The world may be falling apart and we may all be in the middle of a story that was probably written by a ten-year-old with a cynical imagination, but at least we can still blog about it.
While we’re at it, I’ve started a new thing too, which I’m naming Book Bites. This can be literally translated as “short little half-assed reviews of books that I meant to review in great detail on my honor I did but I’m really fucking tired so this is what you’re getting instead.” If you really wanna go for my underbelly, you could probably translate it even more literally as “tiny rants cobbled together from my goodreads forum posts,” though I really hope you don’t.
Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.
Theme of the week: Books That Made Me Want To Eat. This was actually a coincidence rather than a formal theme.
The Great Passage
I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I don’t usually use the word “charming” to describe books. That’s changing today. This book is charming.
To summarize, Kohei Araki is a lexicographer who has spent his entire life pursuing words and found a career compiling, editing, and publishing dictionaries. (Also, sign me tf up.) He is currently embroiled in his struggle to publish The Great Passage, a dictionary dreamed up by himself and Professor Matsumoto, an elderly linguistics scholar. To this end he recruits Mitsuya Majime, an exceedingly awkward 27-year-old word geek, and trains him as his successor. The book has two stages: it introduces Araki and goes through Majime’s first months as a lexicographer, then jumps ahead 13 years to the final two years of publishing The Great Passage. In the 15 years that it takes them to finally publish The Great Passage, they are joined by extra staff swiped from elsewhere in their publishing company; Majime meets and marries the girl of his dreams, who is as single-mindedly focused on her career as he is on his; and Professor Matsumoto struggles with old age and esophageal cancer.
One of the things I love the most about this book is its complete lack of internal drama. There are issues that have to be resolved, but everything is very civilized and there’s no fighting or even angry shouting. The characters are genuinely invested in their work and go out of their way to help each other. There are three very gentle romances that don’t involve screaming accusations, name-calling, or any of the other unpleasant quirks romances tend to accrue. Even after a critical error is discovered in the final stages of the publishing process, everyone pitches in to meet the deadline and nobody gets thrown under the bus. It’s lovely. This may be my Japanese genes talking, because this book is very Japanese. I can’t even articulate why it feels so Japanese. It just does. It also feels very anime in places, particularly the part where Majime checks out for five minutes after his dream girl asks him out, and actually there is an anime version and with any luck I’ll be able to hunt it down and watch it.
And, though this usually doesn’t happen, I love all the characters. They’re not described in the depth you might find in, say, A Song of Ice and Fire. They’re more like sketches than paintings, but those sketches are all you need. I don’t know how Miura does it, but by the end I even liked Nishioka and I never thought I’d like Nishioka. I especially love Majime, who even in his forties is still awkwardly, childishly cute. I love that he writes his future wife a rambling 15-page love letter with lots of Chinese poems and classical references and it works. I love that that letter is included in its entirety at the back of the book, with commentary from Nishioka and Kishibe. I love that his wife, Kaguya, is a professional chef holding her own in a male-dominated field and that after the time jump she’s running her own restaurant. There are so many elements in this book that are just so cool, from the characters to the word analyses to the obligatory Pokémon reference. This is, as has been stated, a thoroughly Japanese book.
“It’s a nice day. You want to go somewhere?”
“How about Korakuen?”
His heart started pounding hard enough to knock his soul right out of his body. This must be what was meant by the phrase ten ni mo noboru kimochi, “being on cloud nine,” literally “rising to heaven” with joy.
In that moment, the difference between agaru and noboru became clear. Words that had been floating in chaos swiftly grouped themselves into interlocking sets.
There’s a long passage after this in which Majime rhapsodizes about the difference between agaru and noboru, which I for hopefully obvious reasons will not be transcribing here. Go get the book yourself. It was really cute.
Second Favorite Scene:
He was the genuine article. Araki looked on with admiration. It had only taken seconds for Majime to work out the underlying meaning of shima. Back when he’d put the same question to Nishioka, the results had been dismal. Nishioka had never considered any possible meaning but “island,” and his answer had been “something sticking up from the sea.” Appalled, Araki had yelled, “Idiot! Then the back of a whale and a drowned man are shima, are they?” Nishioka had looked flustered and then laughed foolishly. “Oops. You’re right. Gee, that’s a tough one. What should I say, then?”
Things This Book Made Me Want To Eat: Soba. I really want soba. Somebody please give me magic powers so I can summon a bowl of soba.
The Girl in Red
Official rating: 3.75 stars. I was wavering between 3.5 and 4 and finally settled in the middle.
Somewhat appropriately, the last book I read before the office shut down was about a plague. The Girl in Red is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, only Red is a twenty-year-old sci-fi geek walking 300 miles through an apocalyptic plague-ridden world to get to her grandmother’s cabin. I kept waiting for a wolf character to show up, but none did, unless you count the toothy creatures that are never actually explained. In retrospect, I suppose Sirois qualifies as the hunter character, though he doesn’t actually do anything and Red is the one who kills the maybe-wolf.
This was my first Book of the Month read, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I LOVE IT. On the other hand, the writing drives me bananas because Henry writes like an engineer. For context, I’ve spent a good chunk of my professional life translating giant engineering reports into a form of English that most English speakers can understand, and one thing I’ve noticed is that engineers like to throw in as much information as they can to make sure that their readers really get what they’re saying. There are (so) (many) (parentheticals). The unnecessary title casing is really irritating too. I feel like Henry could have made her point without Title Casing Everything She Could Think Of.
It’s a real pity about the writing, because otherwise this book is so good. I really really really love Red. She is intelligent, iron-willed, and tough as hell. I love that she’s a walking encyclopedia and isn’t shy about sharing what she knows. It is so refreshing to see a heroine who (1) speaks her mind, (2) doesn’t hesitate to defend herself, and (3) isn’t pushed around by an overbearing supernatural boyfriend. No offense to YA fans, of course.
My biggest frustration, apart from the writing, was exactly the same as Red’s frustration, because I spent most of the book wanting to give Adam a good kick. I could really feel her frustration with her family’s apparent inability to understand the scope of the problem, and with their refusal to take her warnings seriously. I wanted to scream when mom took off her mask and started breathing in the infected air, and then again when they heard a truck pulling into the yard and Adam’s first impulse was to go to the window to see who it was are you fucking kidding me how can they see a pile of burning bodies in the middle of the street and still not understand 🤬 I actually was honestly hoping he would end up in one of those quarantine camps he really wanted to go to, because he was seriously cramping Red’s style. The whole thing with the chest-bursting-parasite-that-might-be-a-Xenomorph thing was so creepy that I stayed up watching YouTube videos till three in the morning for two nights in a row because I couldn’t go to sleep. At the same time, I was grateful that the book wasn’t just a rip-off of Alien because that’s really been-there-done-that and it would’ve been beyond lame if the book had spent all its time gently parodying sci-fi movies and then ended up exactly the same way.
Then I actually finished the book and I was livid because you can’t just dangle a toothy monster in front of me and then not tell me why somebody thought it would be a good idea to breed it in their lab. Don’t get me wrong: I’m really glad that Red, Sam, and Riley made it safely to Grandma’s house. I’m really glad that there actually was a Grandma who was demonstrably alive and still inhabiting her house. On the other hand, what the f*cking f*ck is the deal with those monsters?! I get that the book is skewering sci-fi/Chosen One conventions and that, realistically speaking, there is no real reason for Red to learn about the origins of the parasite and the Cough, but COME ON! Why was the parasite created? Was it supposed to be a weapon? How is it getting into people in the first place if it’s able to come bursting out of their chests? Is it related to the Cough at all, or is it just unhappy timing? How many of it are there? I would suspect that the government was injecting it into people with their little tranq gun thingies, but they seemed pretty bent on rounding up and destroying as many parasites as they could find, so that seems unlikely. Either way, this book needed to be at least 100 pages longer because somebody’s got some splainin’ to do. At the very least I feel like Red is owed an explanation for the thing that killed her brother, but I also suspect that that’s one of those things the author intentionally left unanswered because she doesn’t know it herself.
On the plus side, I liked the story. The writing may have dampened my enjoyment of it somewhat, but it was still a good read. I love the part where they stumble across D.J. and he feeds them bibimbap. I love how chill he is even when he’s the only one left in town, carrying on with his life while the kidnapping militia is running riot. I kept waiting for something bad to happen after Red separated from her group and abandoned her pack, but I was glad that nothing did. It was good that not all of her suspicions turned out to be true. I wasn’t really a fan of the 2x-Sirois-deus-ex-machina thing, but, since this is kind of a parody, I’m okay with it.
And, although I’m disappointed that Red gave up on finding out about the parasite, I can understand why the author went in that direction. Red is not, as she says herself, a hero or a Chosen One. She’s a young woman who’s trying to reach her grandmother’s house. From that perspective, I’m okay with her not learning absolutely everything. I’m maybe being too forgiving, because I love Red so much. I loved the total slaughter of Toothpick and his band, (1) because they deserved it and (2) because I am unspeakably sick of wimpy, self-righteous characters who find themselves in mortal peril but somehow still suffer a crisis of conscience along the lines of “Oh no! Who am I to try to kill these people who are trying to kill me/my loved one(s)???” and end up getting themselves and/or others killed or injured. Red knows what needs to be done and she does it, and I really respect the hell out of that. She may not enjoy it, but she’s not stupid enough to let her conscience get her killed.
On a completely unrelated note, now I really want bibimbap. 😬
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers.
Happy International Women’s Day! 🥳 I’d completely forgotten about this day until Snapchat reminded me of it an hour ago, but it seemed appropriate to mark the occasion with a review of the latest addition to my badass women shelf. I’d been planning to post this review today anyway, but it’s nice when things work out.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the sweet, hilarious, and heartbreaking story of a young woman who has come through horrific abuse, both at the hands of her mother and of her college boyfriend, and somehow still made it into her thirties. Following the institutionalization of her mother and the removal of her boyfriend, she has been living by herself and working as an accountant at a design agency. Given that she was raised by a mentally unstable mother and then shifted from foster house to foster house for the rest of her childhood, she has very poor social skills, and is more comfortable with classical literature than she is with other people. Though she is repulsed by the people she interacts with on a day-to-day basis, she also quietly wishes for connection, and eventually finds it when she is befriended by Raymond Gibbons, the office IT guy and her complete antithesis.
Eleanor Oliphant struck a chord with me because I am a book-inhaling, literature-reciting nerd who has been muddling along for about a decade in a life I would consider “fine.” In the thirty or so years she’s been alive, no one has ever told Eleanor that life should be better than “fine,” and it shows. She goes to work every day at the same time, comes home at the same time, and eats pasta with pesto and salad every night except for Friday, when she buys a frozen pizza from the supermarket. She has nothing to do on the weekends, and spends every weekend waiting for Monday to come while drinking herself blind. It sounds depressing when I say it like that, but Eleanor is actually really good company. For someone whose weekly highlight is a frozen margherita pizza and a bottle of Chianti, she’s surprisingly funny. She never actually means to be funny, but her day-to-day observations are hilarious. Here’s a few of my favorites:
How they loved to wear those badges on their blazers the next day! As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe.
It was, I thought, the sound of madness, the kind of music the lunatics hear in their heads just before they slice the heads off foxes and throw them into their neighbor’s back garden.
Clients, I soon learned, could be very demanding; I still had limited direct contact with them, which suited me just fine.
From what I could gather, they would routinely be completely unable to articulate their requirements, at which point, in desperation, the designers would create some artwork for them based on the few vague hints they had managed to elicit. After many hours of work, involving a full team of staff, the work would be submitted to the client for approval. At that point, the client would say, “No. That’s exactly what I don’t want.”
There would be several torturous iterations of this process before the client finally declared his or herself satisfied with the end results. Inevitably, Bob said, the artwork that was signed off on at the end of the process was virtually identical to the first piece of work submitted, which the client had immediately dismissed as unsuitable. It was no wonder, I thought, that he kept the staff room well stocked with beer, wine and chocolate, and that the art team availed themselves of it quite so frequently.
OUCH. 😭💔 As a professional designer employed by a multinational corporation, I can tell you that none of Eleanor’s observations are exaggerated, and that chocolate is a welcome and necessary part of most of my days.
This was what sold me on Eleanor: I’d seen the book making the social media rounds and had been somewhat interested, but I was put off by the romance vibes in the synopsis and ultimately decided against it. Romance has never been my thing, and this one sounded particularly sappy. I might never have read the book if I hadn’t received a photo of the Eleanor vs. Clients passage from a friend who knows me waaaaayyyyyyyy too well. I was mildly disappointed to discover that Eleanor herself is not one of the tortured designers, but her perspective on the matter, first as an accountant and then as the interim office manager, somehow makes her observations even more pointed. And, although there is a love story involved, it’s a very quiet kind of love story, the kind that doesn’t make me want to hurl fox heads into my neighbors’ gardens.
One thing I really, really love about Eleanor Oliphant is that, although it’s gently hinted that Eleanor and Raymond might eventually get together, as of the end of the book they don’t. I love that they end the book as besties rather than as a couple. I love that they’ll both have time to process and figure out what they want from a relationship. I love that Honeyman didn’t feel like she had to pair them off, either with each other or with other people, by the end of the book.
I’ll admit I had concerns. One of the most prominent story arcs is Eleanor’s growing obsession with Johnnie Lomond, a local musician generally held in low regard by other characters. It becomes clear fairly quickly that Johnnie is a pretentious, talentless asshole, but Eleanor forms a massive crush on him after seeing him perform just once, and proceeds to stalk him for most of the book. To this end she buys her first laptop and smartphone and follows him on Facebook and Twitter, and frequently fantasizes about their first meeting, which she spends most of her time trying to orchestrate, and their life together. But all great fantasies must come to an end, and she eventually realizes that her imaginary relationship is never going to fly. This was an enormous relief and part of the reason I was really really glad she’s going to have time to be single and think about what she wants from a boyfriend, even if I did occasionally want to shake her and scream “RAYMOND IS SO MUCH BETTER FOR YOU!”
I was concerned about this arc not because it’s bad or unrealistic, but because by that point I loved Eleanor so much that the thought of seeing her throw herself at a man who would only hurt her was unbearable. I had a couple of theories going: (1) Eleanor would meet Johnnie Lomond, and he would say or do something awful to her; or (2) Eleanor would eventually realize that she liked Raymond, and would completely forget about Johnnie. In the end neither of these things happened because Eleanor, like the sensible, intelligent person she is, realizes completely on her own that her “love” is only a crush, and that she has been behaving like a starstruck fifteen-year-old.
The moment in which she realizes that Johnnie doesn’t know her from Eve is perhaps the most heartbreaking, because she’d built up a whole world around a man who was unworthy of her and then found it crashing down around her ears in the space of one evening. This realization leads to a mental crash, which in turn leads to a crushing, alcohol-fueled meltdown and almost suicide attempt. Fortunately, Raymond notices she’s suddenly gone missing and turns up at her door, and eventually manages to steer her into therapy. With the help of Raymond and Dr. Temple, she restabilizes and begins to learn to love herself, and also learns to cope with the loss of her sister and her mother, whose deaths she has been repressing – somewhat predictably – for most of her life.
This is one of the very few gripes I had with Eleanor Oliphant: it’s mildly predictable. It doesn’t even come close to the usual romantic formula, but the biggest influences on her life are easily guessed. On page one she says she went to her first job interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth, and a broken arm, which tells you that an abusive boyfriend will be coming out at some point in the book. It’s not that you can completely rule out abuse by family, but at that stage in her life an abusive partner seemed more likely. In chapter 22 her mother says “I was cursed with daughters,” which tells you that Eleanor had a sister at some point, even though she has no memory of this sister and thinks she is an only child. Looking back over the rest of the story, I’ve begun to see other clues that I missed during my first read-through, little hints of Marianne. I really need to read this again, because I’m starting to realize how smoothly Marianne was integrated into the story, even if she wasn’t explicitly introduced until the end. And, even though I could predict the missing sister and the abusive boyfriend, the death of the mother came as a complete surprise. In retrospect, it did seem a little funny that this awful woman was still allowed to verbally abuse her daughter from whatever institution she’d been put in, but it makes perfect sense that she’s just an elaborate construction created by Eleanor as a coping mechanism.
Even with all of the above, Eleanor Oliphant still wasn’t done with me, because I also bought the audiobook and listened to it during work this past week. It was excellent. The narration was wonderful. The story didn’t get old or tiring because there were so many little clues and references I’d missed the first time around, including a reference to The Wire that completely went over my head. I will say I’m really glad I read it first, because I really would’ve struggled with the Scottish accent if I hadn’t already known the story and the dialogue.
Pros: This is hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year. Of course, the year is still young, but the statement stands. If you’re on the fence about Eleanor Oliphant, read it. I recommend both the print and audio versions. As a random bonus (for me), Eleanor and I share a birth year. 🙃 As a more general bonus, fans of classical literature should have fun finding her treasure trove of classical references. My favorite:
When the buzzer sounded on the heat lamp, the color-mixing girl came over and led me to the “backwash,” which was, by any other name, a sink.
I feel like Eleanor is going to make me even more literate, because she’s seriously making me want to start reading Jane Austen and the Brontës. For instance, I only just now realized she foreshadows Marianne in chapter 13, when she mentions her love of the characters Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. This requires further investigation. I can see I’ll be visiting the library a lot this year.
Cons: Mild predictability, a certain idiot musician who’s not worth Eleanor’s spit, unclear passage of time. In the beginning she says she’s “nearly thirty,” later she says she’s just turned thirty-one. What’s up with that? Also Reese’s fucking book club sticker is still stuck on the front wtaf 🤬 This doesn’t actually affect my enjoyment of the book – I mean, I’m not insane – but I still don’t see the need for these gorram stickers. If you’re somebody who doesn’t care about the stickers, I envy you.
I had trouble finding the book at Barnes & Noble because I was absolutely convinced it was written by Elin Hilderbrand and I have no idea why. Luckily it wasn’t too far down from the Hilderbrand section, so I still found it anyway. Then I was convinced it was written by someone named Gail Honeymoon. I actually typed “Honeymoon” earlier in this review and only caught it by chance. I seriously have no idea how my brain works sometimes. Maybe I associate it with Hilderbrand because it’s on the same shelf as the Hilderbrand books idk man
BOOM BABY it’s March and I’m currently at 30/60 books!!!
Soooooo to be totally honest 25 of those are mangas because I spent most of February blitzing through Soul Eater, which I finally did finish. On the other hand, hooray I’ve read five books that didn’t have pictures!
For anyone who might be curious, here’s a brief timeline of my relationship with Soul Eater:
My high school best friend makes me watch a few episodes of the anime. I get hooked and start collecting the manga.
2011 – 2020
I collect the entire manga but stop reading after book five or six for reasons I am currently not sure of but may have something to do with my pervasive laziness and declining reading skills.
January – February 2020
I get fed up and read the entire series over the course of 1.5 months.
Overall I enjoyed the series. There were some things I didn’t like and some things that made me go WTF, but I liked the premise and loved the ending, even though I’m still salty about Arachne. The only thing about the ending that’s got me scratching my head is Gopher and his 9,000 Noahs, (1) because I’m still not sure what the point of Resurrected!Noah was and (2) I’m not really sure that Gopher actually deserved a happy ending. Still, he’s probably going to spend the rest of his life getting pushed around and verbally abused by those 9,000 Noahs, so I suppose it evens out in the end.
About that abandoned book: I don’t plan to make a practice of abandoning books at the drop of a hat, but I really couldn’t get into The Siberian Dilemma. Maybe it would help if I had the rest of the Arkady Renko series as background – this was the first Martin Cruz Smith I’ve ever tried, so that might’ve had something to do with it. In any case the characters didn’t draw me in and the writing was very choppy and non-sequitury, and before I knew it the book was due back to the library. I tried to renew it but it for some reason was unrenewable (maybe somebody had it on hold?) and I refuse to pay fines for books I don’t like so back it went.
To be fair, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ll try reading Gorky Park and work my way back up to Siberian Dilemma if I end up liking the series, but otherwise I don’t see myself trying this again anytime soon.
With Soul Eater safely out of the way, I finally got to start some new books!
Eleanor Oliphant was wonderful and I will be buying the audiobook as soon as I get to work tomorrow. The only thing that pisses me off is that stupid little sticker they keep insisting on grafting onto the covers of random books. I don’t care if this book is part of Reese’s Book Club. I don’t care if it’s Oprah’s pick. Get that shit off my book cover or at least make it removable so I can take it off myself. 🤬
Also I might’ve gone a little crazy at the library after getting Soul Eater off my list, but, hey, we all do that, right?
Last Saturday we had lunch with one of my uncles, who mentioned he’s been reading a lot of Japanese books and named names. He specifically recommended The Great Passage, so I picked it up at the library.
I’m only on page 73, but Great Passage has been speaking to my soul on many different levels: it’s about a man who has dedicated his life to words and all their possible meanings; he has this really awkward apprentice who’s so deeply invested in words that he literally checks out for five minutes to analyze the difference between the words agaru and noboru (both meaning “to rise, ascend”) when the girl of his dreams asks him to go to an amusement park with her; these two men are trying to produce a new dictionary before their publishing company can shut their project down; and, possibly most importantly, they eat a lot of amazing food in between dictionary work and now I really want Japanese food.
More seriously, I’ve also made it a goal to read more books by writers of color, particularly Asian writers. I realized some time ago that, although I’ve read hundreds of books, comparatively few of those books were written by people of color. If this is something you’re struggling with too and you want some more diverse reading options, take a look at my writers of color shelf. I only have 133 books on this shelf so far and some of the authors are repeats, but I know I’ll find more. 133 may sound like a lot, but when you compare that with the 725 books I currently have on my Want to Read shelf, it’s rather sobering. Of the almost 800 books I’ve marked “Want to Read,” only 18.3% were written by people who were not white. I did okay(ish) with my reading list last year, but I just realized that if you take away the mangas and miscellaneous graphic novels, which I generally don’t count, my 2019 book diversity percentage goes down like a lead balloon. Looking back over the five books I’ve read this year that weren’t mangas, only one of them was by a writer of color. I need to get better at this. 😭
On that note, I’m really looking forward to reading my latest library haul, particularly The Dove’s Necklace. The only thing that’s kinda giving me pause about this book is that it only has 2.98 stars on goodreads, which seems strange to me, given that it won the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Hopefully the rating is just the result of angry bigotry and not actual valid objections, because the inside cover descibes the book as a “brilliant, funny, profane, and enigmatic fever dream…as gripping as classic noir, nuanced as a Nabokov novel, and labyrinthine as the alleys of Mecca itself,” and I already kind of love it even though I haven’t actually started reading it.
I’m only in one book club on goodreads. I used to be in three, but I left the other two at the beginning of the year because I hadn’t been participating in them and I wanted to focus on the Coffee Break book club, which I’ve been actively participating in since joining. I’m not really sure what’s so different about this group because the other two were perfectly nice, but for some reason this one really lit a fire under my tail, possibly because it was the first group I’d seen that did monthly reading trackers and my OCD had spent its entire life waiting for this chance. This was the group that got me to sign up for my first-ever buddy reads, and I’m actually starting to consider the possibilities of the Book of the Month threads. I’ve never done a Book of the Month read but this month they’re all reading The Girl in Red, which happens to be on my Want to Read shelf and looks fascinating.
Actually fuck it I just checked the library catalog and found out there are seven available copies so now it’s on hold and I’m doing a Book of the Month read!!! Wish me luck!!! 😍😍😍
Welcome to adulthood. You get excited now when you use your day off to buy a new keyboard and go to the Korean market.
That keyboard was not cheap!!! 😭💔 Unfortunately I really needed a keyboard with a number pad, which makes life a lot more pleasant, and even more unfortunately my new computer did not come with one because Apple really knows how to soak you for every penny. Of course the real tragedy here is that I decided that I needed an expanded keyboard and immediately ran off to buy one but we won’t get into that ORZZZZZZ
Anyway, the reason I ended up at the Korean market was that I’d stumbled across a recipe for ganjang guksu (Korean soy sauce noodles) and wished to try it immediately but did not have somyeon noodles. My brother was moving home from Atlanta that weekend and our parents had driven down to help him move and I had the run of the kitchen, which is a polite way of saying I should probably never be left on my own ever because shit like this happens:
It was really good.
I was also left alone with Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zuri, who was Very Displeased with the snow that showed up around the same time as her late-night walk. It was only a few flakes, but she has spindly legs and almost no fur and overall it wasn’t a good experience for her.
On the bright side (for me), I caught her using the sleeping bag I bought her for Christmas! I’m not actually sure she knows what it is or how to use it – it took her a while to get used to it when I first put it out for her, but after a couple of hours she curled up inside it and we couldn’t get her out. Since then I haven’t really seen her use it, but suspect that she uses it as a substitute for a human lap when no human laps are available (i.e., when we’re all out of the house). Since that was its intended purpose, I suppose it’s worked out.
In this case she had to resort to the sleeping bag because I ran off for a few hours in the middle of the day and didn’t return until almost dinnertime. Everything always seems to stack up on the same damn days, and on this particular weekend Heather and I had already made plans to visit Historic Savage Mills, doggie or no doggie. I was mildly concerned that I might come back to find little doggie gifts on the floor, but luckily that didn’t happen and we still managed to see a lot of fun stuff.
This trip was a definite improvement over the last time I visited Savage Mills, (1) because I had company and (2) because we saw a lot more and also got food.
If you offer me a hot sandwich with ham and melted cheese, the answer will always be yes. :3 My favorite store (after the bookstore, of course) was probably the one with these rubber stamps, which took me straight back to the 90s:
I really wanted to buy stuff at this store but I’ve always been terrible at traditional media so there wasn’t much point. We also saw this hysterical sign outside a bridal consignment shop:
and of course it wouldn’t be a shopping trip if I didn’t pick up at least a couple of new books 😬
YOU GUYS I FINALLY FINISHED A BOOK FROM MY TSUNDOKU SHELF OMG /flails
To be totally honest, I love reading, but I really, really love being able to obsessively track every page online and set actually realistic goals. On Saturday I finished Memory of Fire: Genesis, and today I remembered to remove it from the tsundoku shelf. I mean I’ve already added at least five other books to the tsundoku shelf, but still. PROGRESS.
Genesis was already discussed and extensively quoted in my last reading update and doesn’t need to be reanalyzed here, but it was really, really good. I highly recommend this book, both to people living in America and people with an interest in pre-Columbian history and mythology. (And, uh, maybe don’t read it while you’re in a good mood cus it’s gonna bring you waaaaaay down.)
On a slightly less progressive note, I have now read 23 of the 60 books I’m planning to read this year. Four of them were regular adult books without pictures. The other nineteen were mangas. This is mildly embarrassing because, even though mangas are books, the long-term plan is to be able to hit my reading goal without needing to include mangas. That’s in the future, though, and in the meantime I’ve had 25 Soul Eaters sitting on my bookcase for years and years and years. I think I must’ve gotten up to book five or six before I stopped reading them, but now I’m up to nineteen and am almost done with the series. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the series to date and say What the fuck?
I don’t know if other Soul Eater fans feel the same way, but one thing I’m noticing is that the conflicts don’t last very long, and it’s kinda starting to bug me. There are extended story arcs and side villains and Medusa is definitely still fucking around with her black blood experiments, but most (if not all) of the arcs so far seem to have been resolved very quickly and easily. The bad guy turnover rate is ridiculous. At the beginning of the series, there are a few minor antagonists who either get defeated quickly or turn out to be DWMA teachers in charge of remedial lessons. Medusa is introduced as main villain and puppet master, but is seemingly killed during the first major battle. She and her team manage to release Asura, who seems like he’s all set to become the next main villain, but he quickly fucks off to god knows where and hasn’t come back so far. Medusa later comes back by stealing a little girl’s body, which she inhabits while we are introduced to her sister Arachne, who also seems like a good candidate for main villain. Then Arachne dies a few books later and it turns out she was only a side villain and the other major villain is in fact Noah, only then Noah dies too and now I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.
This is what I’m talking about when I say all their problems get solved way too easily, because Arachne and Noah were presented as powerful antagonists but in the end went down with hardly any fight. The battle scenes were extremely short. I loved the idea of using Soul’s music to turn Arachne’s own web against her, but Maka should not have been able to defeat her as quickly as she did. It makes slightly more sense for Noah to be defeated fairly quickly because he was up against a handful of powerful Meisters and didn’t seem to have any fighting abilities of his own, but Arachne’s defeat was incredibly anti-climactic and disappointing. It was one of those defeats that had me going “I bet she’s got some other trick it couldn’t be that easy,” but she had no other tricks and it really was that easy. I suppose I can’t really count Noah out just yet since Medusa came back and all and Noah did have access to a lot of demon stuff, but now Gopher’s run off with the Book of Eibon and I wouldn’t put it past Ohkubo to make Gopher the new villain even though he couldn’t villain his way out of a paper bag.
I feel like I should clarify here that I actually have been enjoying Soul Eater and have also been rewatching the anime, but I’m not a fan of the villain situation and I wish Arachne had had more of a role because I really liked her and all she did was wait around and work on her magic before Maka chopped her head off. It’s also not really clear to me why everyone and their mom wants to absorb Asura, or what they hope to get out of it if they succeed. What is the long-term goal here? I’ll admit I’ve been reading these really quickly because, like I said, there’s 25 of them, so it’s possible I’ve missed things, but I wouldn’t mind some more clarity with the general plot.
P.S. Justin is pissing me off and he needs to go. 🤬
My last post was 318 days ago. What in the actual f@$# was I doing for 318 days? Desperately climbing out of this hollow place of despair also known as the rabbit hole.
The duration of my visits depends on how much I over-commit myself to people and/or projects. Managing my own mental health and the war within, trying to be a good human towards others, and striving to achieve my goals, all while trying to find my niche in this chaos so I can be a somewhat dependable being and contributing member of society, has left me wanting to nap to avoid the anxiety that comes with it all.
Alas, I pressed on and checked off many of my tasks from 30 Days of Projects. Due to certain projects changing while the rest took more days than anticipated – most notably Marie Kondo-ing the sh** out of my condo, the not-so-fun renegotiation of household bills, and putting the final touches on my office – I have been delayed on the last 10 projects on my list. Interestingly enough, my husband and I decided to sell our condo and randomly move to either Florida (and be closer to my seester Meriel but abandon seester Karo) or Baltimore to live in a high-rise overlooking the Harbor and the Ravens stadium even though I’m not a Ravens fan. Instead our second home is a cozy 1973 single-family house very much separated from our neighbors with lots of green space and much closer to seester Karo. In other words, and because I must be a glutton for punishment, I have a new set of projects. This time, however, I do not intend to return to that rabbit hole.
P.S. I did return to the dark side, or at least my hair color did.
The Silence of the Girls
You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers.
This was an interesting read. I’ve been on kind of a Greek mythology kick ever since I read Circe, so The Silence of the Girls made its way onto my reading list the minute goodreads suggested it.
The Silence of the Girls is a woman’s-eye view of the Trojan War, a first-person account narrated by Briseis, queen of Lyrnessus. Following the sack of Lyrnessus, Briseis is captured and given to Achilles as war booty. She lives in the Greek camp for about a year (I think?) before the sack of Troy, during which time she observes the people around her, forges new bonds with her fellow slaves, and tries to survive as best she can. Eventually, of course, she becomes a point of contention between Achilles and Agamemnon, and is used and abused by both men in their fight for dominance. Later in the book her narrative is interspersed with chapters narrated by Achilles, whose mental state can be described as fragile at best.
I’ve always loved Greek mythology, so I found Silence fascinating. Though it’s still a retelling of the Trojan War, it added a number of new things that I hadn’t read before: Briseis, who in other retellings is most definitely not a queen, is the wife of Mynes, son of the king of Lyrnessus; Patroclus has a girlfriend/war prize of his own, named Iphis; Hector’s body and face magically rejuvenate every night after his death, causing Achilles to drag him all over the camp in a furious attempt to obliterate him; Briseis tries to run away, but thinks better of it five minutes later; Achilles has mummy issues. (Okay, that one I kind of knew.)
One of the best things about the book is Briseis’ observant and often dry-humored narrative, which gives a face and a voice to some of the thousands of women who were enslaved and then forgotten during the course of the war. Unlike other authors, Barker doesn’t glorify the war or try to portray Achilles as heroic; though he is a nearly undefeatable demigod, he is also described as a thug, a butcher, an overgrown child who clings to Patroclus and Briseis because they remind him of his mother. She doesn’t force Briseis to fall in love with Achilles, or with any of the other Greeks. Though Briseis decides not to run away from Achilles later in the book, her decision is based on a very painful logic: even if she does succeed in running away and hiding in Troy, she knows that Troy will fall within weeks, and that she will suffer more than she already has when she is recaptured. And, though she ends up married to one of Achilles’ servants, this is also for a practical reason: Achilles, knowing that Briseis is pregnant with his child and that he only has days left, arranges the marriage and instructs her new husband to take her and her child to his (Achilles’) father’s court. There is some sliiiiiiight Stockholm Syndrome towards the end, as Briseis grows somewhat more accepting of her life with Achilles, but, given that she had by that point been badly abused by Agamemnon, I can understand her softening a bit towards Achilles and wanting to make the best of things. I went into this book wanting sweeping heroics from her, but, in retrospect, I think that’s the point Barker is trying to make: that sweeping heroics are not always possible, and that sometimes, in terrible situations like the one Briseis is forced into, the best you can do is survive. This is never made clearer than it is in this powerful passage towards the end of the book:
I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son.
Those words echoed round me, as I stood in the storage hut, surrounded on all sides by the wealth Achilles had plundered from burning cities. I thought: And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.
And yet, despite the horrors she has witnessed and even though escape would be pointless, Briseis still realizes that she and the other slave women have survived and will continue to survive.
There they were: battle-hardened fighters every one, listening to a slave sing a Trojan lullaby to her Greek baby. And suddenly I understood something – glimpsed, rather; I don’t think I understood it till much later. I thought: We’re going to survive – our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams – and in their worst nightmares too.
In the end, Silence isn’t particularly emotionally fulfilling. It is not a revenge epic. It is not a wish fulfillment fantasy. It is the story of a woman struggling to survive and eventually making a new life for herself after her world is destroyed. The book ends with these words:
Now, my own story can begin.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m really not sold on the writing. The book wasn’t badly written. Some of it was lovely. Unfortunately, the slang and a lot of the dialogue in general was very………..British. I had no issue with the profanity; presumably every language has its own version of fuck and all variations thereof, so it makes perfect sense that the Greeks – particularly the Greek soldiers – would’ve been singing something like this:
Why was he born so beautiful?
Why was he born at all?
He’s no fucking use to anyone!
He’s no fucking use at all!
He may be a joy to his mother,
But he’s a pain in the arsehole to me!
Other quotes made less sense.
I realize with that last one you’re supposed to understand that the character is speaking with a different accent, but that was a peculiar way of conveying the class of a Trojan woman. The book also frequently uses the word “bloody” (okay, I guess…….I suppose ancient Greek could’ve had a comparable word) and “for god’s sake.” The Greeks worshipped many gods. Barker clearly knows this. Everyone who’s ever picked up Greek mythology knows this. To which god are the characters referring when they say “For god’s sake”? Surely they’re not referring to the Christian god whose name most of us take in vain nowadays? Was it really that fucking hard to write “For gods’ sake” instead? THIS IS KILLING ME.
The writing, for me, was the greatest obstacle in reading the book. It didn’t go quite as far as “Reader, I married him,” but the modern slang, Briseis’ internal arguments, and other minor irritants sprinkled throughout the book all added up to a very jarring, aggravating style. I was in Troy – and then I wasn’t. I was in the Greek camp on the beach, and then Myron was talking about “cheeky little sods” and suddenly I was in a pub watching the Greek army get hammered and yell about soccer. The Britishisms constantly dropped me out of the narrative, which overall walks a blurry line between beautiful, acceptable, and irritating. Barker also tries to dictate the reader’s internal pronunciation with hyphenated words that shouldn’t actually be hyphenated, such as “We-ell,” “List-en,” and “Ye-es.” Even more aggravating than the British slang and hyphenated words is Briseis’ habit of speaking to an unseen person, who seems to be her own internal interrogative voice:
Would you really have married the man who’d killed your brothers?
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have been given a choice. But yes, probably. Yes. I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again.
I just don’t know how you could do that.
Well, no, of course you don’t. You’ve never been a slave.
This is an extremely valid point and one that I’m glad Barker consistently made, but it’s wrapped up in such a self-righteous bit of dialogue that it didn’t have the same impact it would’ve had if she’d written it differently. Between the hand-wringing “I just don’t know how you could do that!” and the self-consciously morally superior “Well, no, of course you don’t,” I came out of this particular chapter annoyed, which is probably not how the exchange was intended. In case you missed it the first time around, Barker considerately copied it and pasted it into a later chapter:
You were trying to arrange your marriage [to Achilles]…How could you do that?…I don’t understand how you could do that.
Perhaps that’s because you’ve never been a slave.
Also, I don’t actually remember her trying to arrange a marriage to Achilles at any point after Patroclus’ death? Did I miss something, or did Barker delete the scene where Briseis tried her luck? Whatever the case, I feel like there are better ways of explaining Briseis’ decisions than forcing her to argue with the handful of clueless voices camped out in her head. The narrative as a whole leaned rather heavily on the “I Must Make It Sound As If The Character Is Speaking Directly To The Reader” device, which, rather than making it sound natural and conversational, wrecked the flow of the prose and made it more contrived. Here’s a few examples:
The story was interesting. The writing drove me crazy. I personally prefer The Song of Achilles, which didn’t use stupid words like “shlurping,” but The Silence of the Girls is still very much worth reading.
It’s officially 2020.
And in honor of the saying, “Hindsight is 2020,” I have some shit to say.
If anyone is keeping track, I now have a bookshelf named tsundoku. This is specifically for books that I’ve either bought or received but haven’t read. In the spirit of Fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions, I borrowed two more books from the library, which I also so far have not read.
On the bright side, I finally organized my bookmarks. #headdesk
My 2020 goal of reading 60 books got off to a rocky start when I failed to finish any books for most of the month of January, with the sole exception of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I started reading last October and finally finished on January 2. I have literally nothing to say for myself except that it’s a fucking long-ass book and I got hit hard by the Harry Potter doldrums halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you’ve already read these books and you’re trying to marathon them as an adult for old times’ sake, all I can say is don’t.
Owing to the Harry Potter Fatigue (YES THAT’S A THING) and the general reading slump I’ve been in since last year, I fell about three books behind over the course of January and then quickly shot up to three books ahead by reading the first five volumes of Soul Eater in four days. I knew I’d have to pad out my reading goal with mangas, but I didn’t think I’d have to resort to them that fast. 😭
I thought I’d start a New Thing here, which I’m naming Karo Reads It All. This tag will be for the posts discussing my current reads*, so please do come back if you’re a dork like me and you like to stalk other people’s reading lists! KRIA is the result of a thought I literally just had like a second ago, which is that I should make a specific tag for myself
because I really love talking about what I’m reading to keep myself accountable and on track.
* Note: I will not be tracking mangas because I typically read those in one sitting, and I’m more concerned about my ability to finish books that don’t have pictures.
The tsundoku quest got off to a strong start with Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire: Genesis, which I started reading on the train on January 18 while on my way to see a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (which, by the way, was excellent).
I spotted this completely by chance at my favorite secondhand bookstore and immediately knew that it had to come home with me because it’s quoted in the epigraphs in Cat’s Eye which is one of my most favoritest books EVERRRRRRRR yeah okay I’m a nerd but you knew that
When the Tukunas cut off her head, the old woman collected her own blood in her hands and blew it toward the sun.
“My soul enters you, too!” she shouted.
Since then anyone who kills receives in his body, without wanting or knowing it, the soul of his victim.
The quote came out pretty early in the book. I was excited. 🤩
Anyway, to be completely honest: I’ve been reading this book in stages because it is gorgeous, riveting, and absolutely inFUUUUUUUUUURiating. Never read this book if you’re in a bad mood because it’ll put you in a worse one and you’ll end up hoping in your heart of hearts that Columbus and Cortés and all the rest are upside down and inside out and burning somewhere in the deepest pits of hell.
I’m not saying don’t read it at all. I think this is a book that every American needs to read at some point. I can’t speak for its historical accuracy, especially as it is set during a confusing and poorly documented period of history (and even more especially as the author describes himself in the preface as “a wretched history student” and then goes on to say that he is a writer rather than a historian), but it still needs to be read because it offers a Latin American perspective on the creation of the New World. It also goes back through the history and mythology of some of the Native American tribes whose worlds were destroyed the minute Columbus set foot on American soil. Not gonna lie, some of these stories actually aren’t that nice. There seems to be a lot of kidnapping, murder, and theft. 🤣 This one is my favorite so far:
After five days it was the custom for the dead to return to Peru. They drank a glass of chicha and said, “Now I’m eternal.”
There were too many people in the world. Crops were sown at the bottom of precipices and on the edge of abysses, but even so, the food wouldn’t go around.
Then a man died in Huarochirí.
The whole community gathered on the fifth day to receive him. They waited for him from morning till well after nightfall. The hot dishes got cold, and sleep began closing eyelids. The dead man didn’t come.
He came the next day. Everyone was furious. The one who boiled most with indignation was his wife, who yelled, “You good-for-nothing! Always the same good-for-nothing! All the dead are punctual except you!”
The resurrected one stammered some excuse, but the woman threw a corncob at his head and left him stretched out on the floor. Then the soul left the body and flew off, a quick, buzzing insect, never to return.
Since that time no dead person has come back to mix with the living and compete for their food.
The six are burning as a punishment and as a lesson: They have buried the images of Christ and the Virgin that Fray Ramón Pané left with them for protection and consolation. Fray Ramón taught them to pray on their knees, to say the Ave Maria and Paternoster and to invoke the name of Jesus in the face of temptation, injury, and death.
No one has asked them why they buried the images. They were hoping that the new gods would fertilize their fields of corn, cassava, boniato, and beans.
Moctezuma has sent great offerings of gold to the god Quetzalcóatl, helmets filled with gold dust, golden ducks, golden dogs, golden tigers, golden necklaces, and wands and bows and arrows, but the more gold the god eats, the more he wants; and he is advancing toward Tenochtitlán, dissatisfied. He marches between the great volcanos, and behind him come other bearded gods. The hands of the invaders send forth thunder that stuns and fire that kills.
Emperor Moctezuma, who opens the gates of Tenochtitlán, will soon be finished. In a short while he will be called woman of the Spaniards, and his own people will stone him to death. Young Cuauhtémoc will take his place. He will fight.
The Spaniards imagine that the Indians will cut them into pieces and throw them in the stewpot, but in the village they continue sharing with them the little food they have. As Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca will tell it, the Indians are horrified and hot with anger when they learn that, while on the beach, five Christians ate one another until only one remained, who being alone had no one to eat him.
Before the iron tourniquet breaks his neck, [Atahualpa] weeps, kisses the cross, and accepts baptism with another name. Giving his name as Francisco, which is his conqueror’s name, he beats on the doors of the Paradise of the Europeans, where no place is reserved for him.
This is one of the many, many things that’ve been making me mad while I’ve been reading Genesis, because I’ve never been down with the idea of going to another country and telling the people who live there that their religions suck and yours is the right one. While I support freedom of expression for every religion that doesn’t actively endorse harming other people, I draw the line at people who start trying to push their religion onto everyone else. It’s one thing to offer to teach someone who specifically expresses interest in your religious beliefs, but it’s another thing entirely to forcibly convert entire populations. Even just talking about it is making my headache worse so I guess this is as good a place as any to wrap up.
As an antidote to the rage and gloom, I also started reading The Merry Wives of Windsor!
I started with the library’s copy but quickly found I didn’t care for that particular edition, which gave more room to the explanatory footnotes than it did to the play itself, so I ended up buying a different edition when I went to see the stage show.
I have to be honest: I’ve never been an avid Shakespeare scholar. It’s gotten easier to understand him as I’ve grown older, but a lot of his language and references still leave me in the dark, even if I’m able to follow the general gist of what the characters are saying. Case in point: I really struggled with the beginning of Merry Wives and wasn’t able to finish the play before I saw the show, but I’m actually really glad it worked out that way because the play is a lot easier to understand now that I have the context provided by the show. (Of course, I’m also having trouble motivating myself to finish this one because Reading Slump. Go figure.)
I tried out a handful of buddy reads for the first time last year. I’ve never tried them before and am not sure I’ll continue because one of them was successful, one of them was partially successful but later fell apart, and the rest of them turned into me reading the book/series and discussing my thoughts on the forum while everyone else read part of the book/series and then spent the rest of the time discussing the reasons they hadn’t finished it. The only buddy read I haven’t finished yet is my Harry Potter buddy read, which started with a group of us rereading the Harry Potter series and then slowly devolved to one of us reading the books and two of us offering excuses. To be clear, I am not that one because I read the entire series growing up and they’re pretty much lodged in my head. This is why it was a bad idea for me to join: I know the books too well, I’ve developed Adult Opinions about them, and I’ve found that I have a lot of problems with them, which may be a subject for a later post because I currently don’t have the energy for an in-depth analysis.
Also, to be very very clear, I still love this gorram series SO much. It formed a huge part of my childhood/teenage/young adult reading list, I know every story by heart (except maybe Order of the Phoenix cus that one was definitely my least favorite), and I find it shocking when I run across people who either haven’t read or don’t remember the series like what do you mean you haven’t memorized Goblet of Fire how do you even live with yourself 🤣
That’s all from my reading world. What’s on your nightstand?
It’s the year of the rat, and with any luck we can treat this as the official start of the year instead of January 1, because my year began well enough and then started sloping gently downhill after the first week. 2020 hasn’t been particularly convincing so far, but the year of the rat got off to a solid start with the help of one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you don’t follow them already, gtfo my blog and go take a look at them because they’re seriously amazing.
In case anyone is wondering, this was the crispy scallion ginger salmon I was planning to cook for New Year’s dinner for the better part of two weeks:
And this was the I-Really-Really-REALLY-Want-Fried-Noodles-So-I’ll-Make-Those-Too-Because-This-Is-My-Dinner-Goddammit gai see chow mein that got added to the menu at about 11 a.m. yesterday morning because I make good life decisions:
Look, I can’t help it. They were delicious. They wanted to be made. My mom loves these noodles so much that she was stealing them by the handful and eating them straight off the platter before I’d even put the sauce on them. I have a jar of homemade chili oil in the fridge that goes really well with fried noodles and needs to be eaten. I’m Cantonese. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY FOR MYSELF.
I was going to call this post 2019 Social Round-Up, but I Went Out and Didn’t Die seemed like a much more appropriate title. Picspam and my 2019 social calendar are behind the cut.