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What books are you most glad to have read?

What books are you most glad to have in your mind as objects, if that's how you have books-- to revolve and contemplate --

or as nodes in your web of thought, if that's how you have them -- for their connections to other books or for their illumination of you know Life or science or art --

or as blotches of blurry colour, if that's how you have them -- for the pleasure or surprise or wonder they gave you?

What books would you most wish never to forget? Which have lodged in your spine and made it stronger? The really key keys to your mythologies. The non-negotiables.

I wish to plan my reading better this year, but while I have perhaps two hundred unread books lying about desperate to be taken up, I have limited time and there's a snowy blank where the urge towards the next book might usually be found. (And a snowy blank all 'round.)

So -- off the top of your head -- through old habits of mind or new revelations or sheer perversity -- what would you most not want not to have read?

Sans advice, I will finish Howards End and Party Going and probably go on to Red Shift, since that's what Backlisted recently covered (in n extraoooordinary [DING DING DING] episode, found here.

Cheers for any thoughts at all you care to share.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/3006.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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This eternal virus1 and the world virus of authoritarianism have made me irritable. In this state (and next door to that one) it's difficult to focus and it's difficult to like things and people.

What better time to review some books?

During my illness, I made very few ventures out, but one was to Sorenson's Books, recently and beautifully rehoused with fellow bookseller Chronicles of Crime in a wonderfully arcane warren more like a dream of seeking than a retail space.

I went to hunt up a copy of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia because they were reading it on Backlisted. I ought to have been looking for Howards End, because that is the next book for book club, but in my fog I could hold only one book in mind at a time. They did not have Venetia. I eventually found it as an abridged audiobook through my local library’s Hoopla subscription, which met my needs perfectly well.

The book I walked out of Sorenson’s with was Loving * Living * Party Going, a Picador omnibus of three of Henry Green’s novels. I was somehow under the impression that they were a series, but Green it seems just loved a gerund.

I’ve been hearing about Green as an under-rated novelist for a good long time, maybe most recently in The New Yorker. He was in my headfiles under to be read (sometime), and this seemed to be bookstore serendipity's signal that it was time.

Henry Green’s Loving )

Mad Shepherds and Other Studies by L.P. Jacks )



1. Which is to say, this cold I’ve had since Dec 22
2. The wealthy family are named the Tennants. Get it?
3. L.P. stands for "Lawrence Pearsall".

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/1469.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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Thanks for the follow-backs, journalfolk. I have no plan for how to make it worth your while.

I am finished Barchester Towers, and glad to be quit of it.

I liked The Warden very much, and there are many things to like about Barchester Towers, but, having read this novel of his, I cannot say with conviction that I like Anthony Trollope. I wonder if the reason I gave up on the Chronicles of Barsetshire all those years ago was my annoyance with this book and specifically its constant lumbering jocularity about the Nature of Woman.

Some of the good qualities of The Warden are still in evidence; Trollope is very good on the pettier, more self-concerned, but not actually evil side of human behavior -- the way that resentment and pride override charity and compassion, for example. Mr. Arabin, ruefully trying to remake his life at 40, moves me, and the signora, though not precisely adequate as a portrait of a woman with a disability, comes close to being a fascinating character study. I wouldn’t say she tips over, quite, into actually being fascinating, though the ambiguity around her injury and its cause, and the constant speculation about What's Under the Blanket, would provide excellent material for, say, Lacan.

The major characters of The Warden seem to have foregone any further personal growth in the sequel and are content to run the little grooves of their personae over and over, like table hockey characters. That was my feeling; the book group liked them better, and thought that the relentless babbling about the hilarious weakness of women was meant more ironically than I did.

(Some poking at the mass conversation (Look! The Victorian Web is still there!) produces various interesting possible positions on this question.) (When I was a youth nothing pleased me more than nested parentheses, especially if I could wrap them all up together at the end: ((())).)

In The Warden there are really no villains – just short-sighted selfish people, and I like that about it. Barchester Towers is painted in broader, almost Dickensian strokes. Mr Slope is stuck in the begged question of bad guys: why is he the villain? Because he's bad. How do you know he's bad? Because he's the villain. Also, red hair. Watch out.

Next up: Howard's End, last read about the same time as BT, which is to say, a very long time ago indeed.

I got violently winded walking to book group yesterday, though the sticky toffee pudding was worth it. Today a little errand walking similarly exhausted me. It was ten days ago the walk-in clinic doctor gave me the puffer and said this thing would play itself out.

So tired. I think tomorrow will be an ugly shirt day (a day when you're too tired to iron the good shirts).

An invitation, of course, to think about illness and wellness, access and ability. Something to discuss with the senora.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/1082.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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I am in a classics reading group, which during 2016 I mostly failed to show up for, excepting January's David Copperfield (1850) and December's The Warden (1855).

You might therefore assume I give special precedence to British books written during the 1850s, though I do not know that to be the case.

The only Trollope I had ever read before was Barchester Towers (1857), in second or third year uni. It is, of course, the sequel to The Warden, but I'd never read that. I don't know why.

Reading choices in early university seem in retrospect both more random and more joyful. I read a book on Provencal poetry, for example, and acquired a permanent affection for Langue d'oc, though I followed up on that in no way. Maybe my reading the book had something to do with Pound? I don't think so, though. I hadn't heard of a lot of big names at seventeen through nineteen, though I wanted to think I was literary.

All I remembered about Barchester Towers until this re-read, so many years later, was Eleanor's shrinking widow's cap and her stomping her "little foot" at one point, which had startled me at the time, as until then I had been assuming she was a fully developed female character.

Further Thoughts on Barchester Towers )

Enough of Trollope for now, I think. I've a drawing date with a friend down the road. This three-week cold has left me short of puff, but I should just about be able to make it a block and a half.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/973.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
I hear about books on podcasts, or I think about them in passing, or suddenly stop dead on the sidewalk remembering how compelled I felt by the very idea of them: then I put these books on hold at the library. The books arrive, and either I have forgotten why I wanted to read them, or I've lost the urge, or -- if it really is something I definitely want to read or to have read -- I'm too intimidated to begin*. They sit on my counter for three weeks; I renew them; three weeks later I renew them again; then I return them, usually a day or two late, having read a couple of pages on the way to the library and thought some variant of "Hey, this is kind of interesting." Sometimes I put them on hold again.

I've been through this cycle with Infinite Jest once before. This time, when the book came in (I forget what inspired the hold), I thought I'd actually have a go at it, since it is certainly a Want to Have Read. So I am now approximately 7% of the way through IJ, though if I want to read it all before the hold runs out, I'll have to consume a cramming-level number of pages per day (ppd).

It helps that I'm already three books deep in the stack of butterflied current reading, meaning that starting IJ is a kind of special procrastination, though not of anything imposed on me from outside, except maybe that I'm joining the classics reading group in August and am supposed to have finished The Guermantes Way by then and instead of beginning with GW since I have audiobooked both Swann's Way and In a Budding Grove, I am re-reading (or anyway re-consuming) IaBG on paper, and I'm only 33% through Part I.

I may yet close the circuit. I hope so. Some of the books are short and it would really take only an afternoon's push to finish each one.

Reading for school choked my external reading urge -- I felt too much anxiety to read anything for pleasure when I could/should be running over once again the thought-loops in my head that I was trying to translate into a readable master's paper -- and too anxious to do that either. Now I can read what I like, and I miss having an external force determining my path through language. I mean, an additional external force. Or maybe I mean externalized.

Anyway. Infinite Jest: so far pretty good. There's a story I want to tell about it and podcasts, later.


*I've only heard one writer talk about this kind of reading anxiety, on the BBC, and I've forgotten her name, though she's the only person who ever expressed this kind of secret shame-thing of mine, that sometimes I am too anxious even to read the thing I want to read, although I have been supposed, on various occasions by various people, to be Clever.

Although, or you know, perhaps because: but that seems facile. It seems like there has to be More to It than that, though the More is maybe just chronic anxiety about everything ever, or else deep-seated issues that can't be resolved except with more therapy than I can currently afford. If therapy is even still a thing people do.
radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
So the read-my-books-in-alpha-order scheme ground to a halt on Book 2, against the slender side of Prochain épisode. No idea why. It seemed like my sort of thing.

In the meantime, I read some review books, and then I read The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. J. Henry Waugh, Prop. I am still on the alpha scheme -- I'm just skipping ahead until I hit something that pleases me. This also means I have yet again escaped Northanger Abbey. Huzzah!

UBA is a genuine literary oddity (I'm setting up an opposition here between literary oddities and merely weird bad books) -- a book for which there really isn't any precedent or any genre label, and its only real descendent could be another book that is wholly its own thing, rather than another book about tabletop baseball games. Maybe it has a very slight aura of Philip K. Dick, but its metaphysical space is both subtler and more claustrophobic. I like Dick*, but I felt like there was more at stake in Henry pissing off his boss than in the end of the world in Dick's SciFi.

I keep reading that it's The Best Baseball Book Ever, which seems almost completely beside the point -- baseball is the starting-point, maybe, but it's about -- well, I think it's about how you start off just trying to agree on the rules of the game you're all going to play, and then your negotiation over the rules turns into politics, and eventually into religion. Or about how wanting God or Dog to cheat in your favour is kind of the foundation of religious faith. Also about being a person who is immersed in fantasy, and how if you're lucky that makes you an artist, and if you're not lucky it makes you a lonely sod who drinks too much and can't communicate what matters to you to anyone else.

You will understand why I had to read it in small doses.


*Har de har har
radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
I haven't had anyone over in a long time, from a combination of passionate asociality and shame about the state of the shed. The state is somewhat better, though it still begs a lot of work -- I had a swipe at the bathtub before [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea dropped by, but I did not attempt the tiles.

State of the kitchen was not improved by my various attempts to make a graham cracker crust. I'd been trying to make meringue and that was disastrous (though I did invent caulking.) Two goes at the crust seemed to do it. I fear I have lost my baking mojo.

Working from home, though, is brilliant -- my own breezy shed instead of the airless office or even the pleasant, but remote, school library. I feel oddly more rooted.

Mind you, that's day one.

The esteemed [livejournal.com profile] papersky has a new book out. I remembered that I admired the prose of Among Others, so I put a hold on the impending copy of the new one at the library. I thought I'd read another while I'm waiting, so I am halfway through Tooth and Claw, and then via LiveJournal archives I am following the process of writing this same book while I read it. This is both pleasurable and melancholy -- the entries are so fresh, but it was a long time ago now.

Tooth and Claw is blurbed as Anthony Trollope but enacted by dragons, and it delightfully is that. To me, one of its strengths is that it also reads like a caustic 18th century satire in the mode of Swift or Johnson or Pope. Or someone even loopier -- Sterne, say. Because human institutions and dynamics have to be translated into dragon behaviours that make sense both within the fictional world and as analogies for human structures, the new structures can't help but become allegorical.

So, for example, the male dragons have claws and the female dragons have hands, and the male dragons are held in dragon culture to be superior for this, because they can fight. Yet a hand is good for ten thousand things, and a set of claws for many fewer. The bond of class servitude is literalized as the physical binding of servant dragons' wings, and there are also the lesser and ambiguous bonds of clergymen -- that's brilliant stuff. The lordly consumption of farmers' nestlings has to make you think of A Modest Proposal -- but also of the mad parallelisms of Tristram Shandy.

This is the top book of a stack I'm reading down through in layers, like my own performance of Cloud Atlas (and making this connection made me thing of how cleverly Cloud Atlas mirrors the act of reading multiple books at once, the way you find interconnections even when they aren't intentional.)

radfrac_archive: (writing)
First my left shoulder went awry, and now my right shoulder has gone. There's this blue-white star of pain at the base of my right shoulder blade, and it's worst when I type or sit at a computer. Painkillers don't seem to touch it. Only heat shrinks the star to a gleaming pearl, rotating slowly in place, sending out flashes of pain.

My current journal is enormous, and it's actually sort of too heavy to carry around, so today I was reduced to toting index cards held together by the pen lid. Then, even though the beer clerk (or whatever you call the person who fills your growler) told me she'd put the cap on extra tight, the nut brown ale leaked into my bag (a feather-light but tough reusable originally designed to hold four bottles of Okanagan wine) -- all over my book and index cards.**

The book was not Prochain Episode, to which I still have not returned. It was The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black / John Banville, which is supposed to be a new Philip Marlowe novel in the voice of Raymond Chandler. For my money*, it isn't much like Chandler -- it lacks the clipped, glib, effortless hard-boiled tone. (I am consulting my ale-stained index cards now.) Black-Banville has a fine prose style, but he uses more qualifiers and equivocations -- he expresses more ambivalence. Chandler's profoundly ambivalent, but his language isn't, and that tension is part of the pleasure. I heard Banville interviewed, and he agreed with me about who Marlowe's one true love really is, so I thought it was worth looking into.***

I'm researching for an interview on Monday by listening to poets read their work on YouTube. There are many genera of poet, both living and fossil. The singsong, the theatrical, the conversational. Those who sound like they're reading a book to a child and those who sound like they're trying to bully you. Those who read all line breaks like questions and those who enjamb with ferocious glee. There's that infinitely wistful address pioneered by Michael Dickman that I rather envy.

When I do read, when I can be convinced to attempt it, I tend to be a conversational-theatrical hybrid, I think. I hope. I aspire, anyway. Perhaps I am orchidaceous and recondite. Perhaps it is time for bed.


*In this case, "my money" would consist of library fines.

**I know I could use my Mobile Device to take notes, but it isn't notably faster, and I don't enjoy the kinetic experience of poking at it as much as I like using a pen. Since no one is watching me, I might as well choose my own pleasure over some abstract concept of convenience or modernity. He said grumpily. Also: get off my lawn.

***Marlowe is, in my opinion, a gothic heroine. I keep meaning to write a paper about that.
radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
I recently took an English course called “Sexting through the Ages.” I am not making that up. It was a survey of erotic writing from ancient Sumeria to the Internet age. As we worked through the readings in the course, from the Biblical “Song of Songs” to the searing modernist provocation Story of the Eye to the queer erotic standby Macho Sluts, it occurred to me that I’d never formally worked out my view of erotica.

What is erotica for? To turn you on, of course, which is a perfectly good reason all by itself for erotica to exist. Hopefully, it is also meant to give you aesthetic pleasure. Can it do more than that? I would argue yes, if it’s done right. That’s especially true if you’re queer, trans* or otherwise marginalized by the mainstream idea of what’s sexy. I think it can change not just your ideas but your consciousness. Erotic pleasure, aesthetic pleasure, and ecstatic states like trance are not separate conditions, but three means of reaching the same goal.

My first experience with erotica was based on reading (a little belatedly) the surge of sex-positive feminist writing from the 1990s. It was called “sex-positive” to distinguish it from anti-pornography theory like Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women. The movement included writers and editors like Carol Queen, Patrick Califia, Lawrence Schimel, Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle, Wickie Stamps, Tristan Taormino, John Preston, and many other writers, often published by the ground-breaking Cleis Press. They were staking out a new territory: erotica as self-discovery and self-creation.

These writers showed me a therapeutic and ecstatic view of erotica. Some said it outright and some merely implied it, but most clearly imagined erotica as a vehicle for healing and empowerment – including stories or images that on the surface could be read as violent or degrading, because these reach deep unconscious forces in us. In this way of thinking, erotica is a tool (pun accepted) to support the identification of our desires (What do I like?), the exploration of those desires (How do I like it?), and, if we want to live them out, the integration of our desires into our lives (How can I find someone else who likes it too?). Goal: Ecstasy for Everyone. These writers remind us that a given text or image—even one that might bore, disturb, or amuse one of us—could be for another of us the exact thing that opens up self-discovery and pleasure. You know: “don’t yuck my yum.” Making fun of someone else’s turn-on is an attack on their well-being. The literal content of erotica is not as important as how it makes you feel – hot, hopefully, and in the best case, happier.

My bookshelf filled up with volumes like PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality, Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, Switch Hitters: Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica and Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica, and The Leather Daddy and the Femme. These books don’t make utopias out of erotica. They don’t depict an idealized future when no one is confused or conflicted. Instead, they try to address the incredible range of real desires and practises in a joyful way. What they do idealize (in the good sense) are the real-world activities that enable us to get pleasure in ways that builds our sense of wholeness rather than undermining it. Clear consent, good negotiation, and safer sex are near absolutes. Those are still lessons we can all benefit from, always.

These books weren’t always perfect. For example, while many writers were insightful about the ways race can get stereotyped in erotica, others made well-meaning but awkward attempts at ethnic and cultural diversity. For another, as a trans person, I wasn’t always thrilled by the depiction of people like me, even in books I otherwise liked. Since then, a lot of erotica has been written. Many more people have had the chance to represent their desires directly, rather than relying on a few published authors (however talented) to filter it for them.

The sex-positive wave hit just before the Internet came of age as the repository and generator for a pretty much infinite set of erotic stories and images. Yet we each still have to go through that same process of exploration and discovery, and we do it in layers: What do I really like? What do I just think I’m supposed to like? What do I want to do and what do I only want to fantasize about? Does anyone else like what I like? These writers are still accomplished guides and mentors in that process of self-discovery. We all need teachers.
radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
Not afraid. Just annoyed.

Virginia Woolf: most excellent of modernist writers, intellectuals, bohemians. She has my irrevocable admiration for her innovation and her wit and her elegant self-crafting. I am in favour of there having been a Virginia Woolf. I'd be perfectly happy if there were still one -- if she'd be cryogenically frozen and revivified, or turned out to be a vampire, say. I am not fussy. Zombie Virginia Woolf is okay by me. (What would she cry? Or would "BRAINS" do for her as well? "MOMENTSSS!" -- I don't know.)

However, I have this for which to resent her: she said that Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness was no good. )

radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
[livejournal.com profile] seaopaqueRebecca didn't resolve in terms of imagery for me, though the plot of course resolves cleverly -- I would call it wittily, for the play of expectation and interpretation involved.

And then some more meandering thoughts on ethics in Rebecca. )

radfrac_archive: (dichotomy)
[livejournal.com profile] seaopaque and I are reading Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca because her mentor suggested it as a reference point for [livejournal.com profile] seaopaque's own novel (her novel! I love saying that), and because I, having minimal ability to generate structure in my life independently, do better if I have a reading project.

I think my comrade is mowing through Manderley at speed; I'm following along at an amble -- I'm on page 121 of 302. This is partly because of the weird motility of Du Maurier's prose. It flows forward, brisk and fluid. Yet the action it describes is so profoundly uncomfortable, while withholding for a long time the source of this discomfort, that reading Rebecca is a bit like being guided through an awful party without a visible exit. In this, the novel reminds me of Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith. All three authors are experts in evoking the excruciating in the apparently ordinary, and the alarming psychological excrescences beneath banal situations. It's beautifully done, but it is designed to make me tense and it does, so I take breaks.

Further thoughts on Rebecca: Men with houses, women with dreams )

I've seen the movie several times, though not recently (googles, starts streaming movie) and it seems to me that it captures the mood of the book better than any other adaptation, or anyway any adaptation I'm currently able to access in memory. I know it well enough that, beginning to read, I wasn't sure if I might actually have read the book before.

radfrac_archive: (Ben Butley)
Currently, I am partway through:

Riddley Walker, which was supplanted by
Middlemarch, which was supplanted by
On Beauty, which was supplanted by
On the Banks of Plum Creek, swiftly followed by By the Shores of Silver Lake.

Both of which, incidentally, go on the list of books that a man in his 30s will get odd looks for signing out of the library.



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