sartorias: (JRRT)
A few quick, scattered thoughts--my schedule is crowding up, but I mean to keep on with this reading, I am enjoying it so much.

As always, spoilers ahoy.

Parallels are so strong in storytelling and in poetry, and LOTR is full of them.

The meeting with Gildor is the first of them—the elves are kindly but treat the hobbits lightly, not seriously: he keeps back hard details lest the hobbits turn aside from their road, though he promises to spread the word. And does.

But what I’m getting at is the very end, when Frodo goes to the Gray Havens, Gildor is seen again in company with Galadriel and Elrond, rather than nameless Elves. Everything has changed, including the place of the hobbits: it’s clear that Bilbo and Frodo have an honored place among them.

That’s the longest of the parallels. Inside of that, rather like nesting parenthesis, through these early chapters, the four hobbits run out of the Shire, scared, and at the end, ride back fearless (three of them; Frodo is beyond fear), recognizing each point along the way before they scour the Shire of the last of evil.

So on to the next arc of chapters. Over the years, I’ve gathered that a lot of friends think the story begins with Bree, that is, when the hobbits meet Strider, the first man.

For me, the story begins with the first introduction of the weird, in chapter six. We got glimpses of it before—Gandalf’s amazing fireworks, the meeting with the elves.

But in chapter six, when the hobbits head into the old forest, the trees attack them, nearly smothering Merry until Tom Bombadil comes to the rescue. Many of my friends over the years have said that they hated the Tom Bombadil portion, or considered it unnecessary. That pains me, as I love this section so very much, and also consider it very important. Tom Bombadil is magic. Goldberry (who is no slouch in the magic department herself) says he “is.” That matches with references to magic later on, I think in Lothlorien, when the hobbits ask about magic and the elves say something to the effect, what’s that?

Tom Bombadil’s name is musical, dancing along. Goldberry is the river’s daughter—and considering English mythological figures in rivers (very scary and powerful they are) it’s clear that she’s a splendid match for Tom. When she says her farewell, she does it in such a way that the hobbits see the entire landscape before them, as if it’s eternal summer. It’s one of the loveliest passages in these early chapters.

The hobbits, and their ponies, are safe—and I don’t think it any accident that here, without at all understanding the meaning, Frodo has a dream:

Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him in a swift sunrise.

The first time I hit the very ending chapter and reflected back to that, it broke me down completely.

The hobbits take off, the ponies having had as good a time at Tom’s and Goldberry’s. Again, we get tiny glimpses of the hobbits, but the narrative voice hums with vigor in describing what the hobbits see:

Northward beyond the dwindling downs the land ran away in flats and swellings of gray and green and pale earth-colors, until it faded into a featureless and shadowy distance. Eastward the Barrow-Downs rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into a guess: it was no more than a guess of blue and a remote white glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them, out of memory and old tales, of the high distant mountains.

The weirdness of the barrow wights luring the hobbits into their twilight existence, then dressing them like princes and laying them out with weaponry takes us into the weird from a totally different direction.

The language changes: suddenly a song began: a cold murmur, rising and falling. The voice seemed far away and immeasurably dreary, sometimes high in the air and thin, sometimes like a low moan from the ground. Out of the formless stream of sad but horrible songs, strings of words would now and again shape themselves: grim, hard, cold words, heartless and miserable. The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered.

Who are the barrow wights? Do they take only living people? Or is there some weird magic lingering around the dead that craves company? That mystery is never solved, but its sinister magic fades before Tom’s return, and he sets them on the road to Bree.
sartorias: (Default)
I still feel more comfortable at LJ, but the owners could make it go away in a snap, so I'm testing DW in case. (It's still bewildering, and there are a whole lot of steps I do not understand, like the different between access and reading list and circles.)

Anyway, today's BVC post is about passionate reading.
sartorias: (JRRT)
So I was going to do this for the BVC blog, but then I thought, no way could I read the books and stretched out posts every two weeks. So maybe I'll switch around.

But when I took the books out . . . well, feel free to skip the before-the-book blather. I guess the equivalent of travel stories starting with the hassle of getting to the airport and all the kerfuffle and missed connections and impedimenta before one gets anywhere. Most of the time I skip that and start reading at touchdown, so I certainly understand giving this the go-bye.

Lord of the Rings has been a part of my life since I was fourteen on the verge of fifteen.

Warning: I’m a visual reader, so when I reread a favorite, I’m likely to experience palimpsest images—memories of the circumstances of the first read, and connected subsequent experience, overlain on the images from the book.

So the first image begins in May 1966, when a writing friend and I (for reasons that made sense to young teens) avoided her lovely bedroom that she didn't have to share with anyone in favor of climbing up into their hot, stuffy attic with no furniture. We lay on a narrow area of planks nailed together, under which we hid our stories in the crevice between the boards and the drywall of the ceiling of the room below.

I remember I was deep in the throes of composition on my ninth notebook when my friend began reading Lord of the Rings, which she had recently checked out from the library.

We shared writing and reading, and were both picky about fantasy. I hated whimsy, she hated romance. Of the portal fantasies available to kids in those days, the ones we both loathed were the most common: it was all a dream endings, and even worse were those that brought the adventuring kids back with their memories wiped, to fit the thematic hammer of "There is no place like home." Small comfort when home wasn’t safe, or a person fit so ill into the social climate of the time. We wanted escape and consolation, as Tolkien later said in his essay "On Fairy Stories."

So there we were, breathing asbestos and stuffy air in that attic as one read and the other wrote. She had recently cruised the adult section of her library and stumbled on Fellowship of the Ring; deeply into it, she kept exclaiming and muttering as I scribbled. When she let out an exclamation of grief and said one of the best characters had died, I thought, Not reading that one, ugh!

A day or so later, she met me at school at usual, and the first thing she said to me was, "You have to read these books. It's about another world, and it's written by a grown-up, who believes in his worlds just like us, and the ending is NOT stupid. But first you have to read the first book, The Hobbit."

I’d been seeing The Hobbit on the shelves at my local branch library for years. But I’d never touched it—I’d assumed it was whimsy about dressed-up animals.

She promised no dressed-up animals. She said that it had a really stupid ending—but the ending made sense when you started LOTR.

So I went straight to my branch library after school, and checked out The Hobbit — which turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than I had expected; the awkward and talking-down parts were standard for a lot of books on the library shelves in those days. Still, I have to admit now that I have never reread it. I will! Just waiting for the right time.

The Hobbit being done, I was ready for the real thing, but my branch didn't have it. On Saturday I walked the three miles to her house, and her mother took us to the main library. There it was, on the adult fiction shelf, three dingy fifties-era volumes. We checked out all three, my friend warning me that as soon as I finished one I would want the next one right away. Hoo boy was she right.

As soon as I got home, I settled in to read. When I first opened that book and saw the title page with the runes all along the top, and the Elvish all along the bottom and the foldout map, my nerves thrilled so intensely I can still remember the shock of wonder.

Right there was not only a book portal to another world, but also evidence that adults wrote about other worlds. They were not crazy. They were not full of weird drugs. All of the dire warnings from the adults around me about indulging in fantasy, which I had been resisting with passionate loathing, had been proved to be as wrong as I had always believed.

That was Memorial Day weekend, 1966. I read pretty much non-stop. I was finished with all three books by the Tuesday, at which time I had to take them along to school and give them to my friend to return to her library.

Segue up a few months into summer. Unknown to me, the Tolkien craze had started up; that summer a Tolkien picnic was held in central LA. The Los Angeles Times did an article on it, of course depicting the fans as a bunch of wild hippies. But at the end of the article they included an address for the Tolkien Society, run by Dick Plotz out of somewhere in New York. For fifty cents, you could join. My babysitting money extended to that much. Within a week, I received three mimeographed fanzines which I read and reread.

Another time jump, to December of that year. I had begun to regret that super-fast reading, and longed to reread LOTR, but by then the copies had vanished from the main branch. I had no idea that the books had suddenly taken off in popularity, and apparently copies were being swiped from libraries all over.

My parents always dropped us off on our local main street to shop for holiday gifts for the family. There was a tiny bookstore off a stationery store, and to my astonishment I found LOTR in paperback in a box set. But it cost a walloping three and a half bucks! I remember agonizing over that huge expense, when my accumulated babysitting money was probably about twenty bucks max. I had to get presents for the entire family!

I made it work by combining cash with sibs for parental gifts, and guiltily sneaked that box set in and under my bed. The day after Christmas, we drove up to Lake Arrowhead for Christmas vacation to a cottage we shared with another family, in hopes of seeing snow. I brought those paperbacks. I still remember opening them up, and the smell of that print. I studied the cover art, which made no sense whatever, but that did not interfere with the deep pleasure of owning my own copies. I went out and sat under the whispering pines to read the trilogy again, this time more slowly. It was even better the second time.

For years after, I faithfully carried that box set from crummy apartment to crummy apartment. But as the decades passed, the paperbacks, which I had reread so many times, began to fall apart. The pages, which once smelled so fresh and new, had become so yellowed they were difficult to read.

So I kept them as mementos, and began reading the hardcovers—Houghton Mifflin second edition, fifth printing— which I got as a birthday present in 1970, and had kept pristine. The excellent paper is still smooth and cream-colored. The dust jackets have fallen apart, sad to say, but the book covers are still smooth in black cloth with the ring and the ring poem in Elvish and the Eye of Sauron embossed on the cover in gold and silver.

And every time I open them, I remember that initial thrill.

If you've made it this far, want to share your experience?
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Saturday is my Jane Austen book group's next meeting, the topic Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, so I started to reread it, and as usual got sucked right in.

I still think it one of the best novels of the Victorian period, maybe of the century. If that publisher who is hiring people to rewrite the plots of classics into contemporary novels lands on this one, my guess is they'll call it Sex Lives of Wives and Daughters because at heart, it's about sex. Though all in g-rated language. I can imagine teens listening to it being read aloud during the 1860s and resonating with the passions of the younger girls in it, while the eyes of their elders met over their heads at such passages as:

"And yet he thinks he loves you!"

"It is his way of loving. He says often enough he does not care what he does so that he gets me to be his wife, and that after that he is sure that he can make me love him. . ."

Gaskell illustrates, with sympathy, the dangers of keeping girls ignorant. And even then, some are incapable of constancy--serial monogamy--but the narrative voice doesn't hammer them as evil, or consign them to the Victorian Death By Consumption that so many heroines who step out of line suffer.

The book is quiet, though rife with humor, compassion, and sharp insight. By this period of her life, Gaskell had finally rid her writings of standard Victorian tropes (long deathbed speeches being one). She'd reached the age of 55, she'd honed her talent--but alas, dropped dead suddenly a chapter before finishing this novel. You know where it's going (and the publisher confirms it in an afterword), but still, it's a dash of cold water to suddenly lose that warm, intimate immersion and be told what happened. (Actually, pretty much akin to the feeling one gets at reading the end of Mansfield Park, wherein Austen's narrative voice steps out onto the stage and tells us the ending.)

I wonder if it was sparked by response to Trollope, who was busy publishing right around that time, one of his favorite themes being how "sullied" girls were who dared to fall in love with the wrong guy before the right one comes along and in essence shows his interest enough to cause her to fall in love with him. Thus retaining her mysterious purity. I love reading Trollope, but that particular trope was so very pernicious in so many ways.

Anyway, whatever its inspiration, there it is, and one can see certain of its themes reflected in George Eliot's Middlemarch, most obviously in the doctor and his awful wife. Another is that consistently-met setting: so many mid and later Victorian novels are set a generation earlier, before railroads. Eliot takes on a number of contemporary themes--her novel is bigger in reach--but much as I love parts, and I think the ending is one of the best written in the English language, I think that Gaskell's quiet insights resonate more.

Though Wives and Daughters is set in a pastoral village before railroads mucked up the landscape and the air, by no means is it backward-looking. The hero is a scientist--really, he's a geek. He gives the heroine a wasp's nest, and his letters are full of descriptions of creatures he's found and examined under his microscope. This aspect, too, Eliot developed, the tensions between the safety of the old ways and the chance of improvement in the new.

It's difficult to know how much influence such a deceptively quiet novel had at the time. But every reading I give it gets better, firmly numbering it among those I consider truly great.


Dec. 17th, 2016 07:00 am
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Secret histories--inspiration across media--connections. Good and bad, but I'd rather focus on the good. The bad is getting more than its share of air time.

In other news, it is the season of good reading. I have at hand an ms that I've looked forward to for years, actually, come to think of it. And sitting right behind me an ARC of Seven Surrenders, by Ada Palmer, sequel to Too Like the Lightning, which I read twice and loved earlier this year. Going to reread it before reading the new one: I want all this complicated world's images and ideas glimmering around me before I strike further out into that wine dark sea.

A third of the way into Mark Lawrence's new one, which will come out in April, so I don't know that I should discuss what I'm seeing. (It's a worldbuilding issue, which may be spoiler territory for some types of readers). But the book is really, really good. Violent, yeah but with this one I'm not feeling that it's gratuitous as I did when I tried his first series (then put it down when I hit rape territory), or unnecessary in bits of the second series, which had enough terrific elements that kept me going. I feel like he's getting better, or maybe it's just that this one is closer to my own particular reading protocols. Anyway. Enjoying.
sartorias: (handwritten books)
From a recent conversation about book-matchmaking and how awesome it is when it works. (And how very painful when it is a disaster.)
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Another heads up about the Worldbuilders fundraiser, win critiques! This might make a good gift idea for a writer you know.

Meanwhile, I've had a grand total of two, count them two, people ask me for recommendations for books for gift giving, for people who read a lot. So I thought I'd toss out a few non fiction books that I've been reading lately, that are keepers on my shelves.

Making Conversation, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. (Also found here, taking a few more clicks to get))
I love books that work like a chat with interesting people—they write something intriguing, or funny, and I talk out loud to the book.
That’s how I feel about Making Conversation, a title that perfectly fits this absorbing, charming, intriguing, insightful series of riffs. I haven't finished reading it yet (I have it on my nightstand for dipping into before bed) so no more formal review, but even halfway in I love it so much.

Old fandoms! I thought no one else delighted in evidence, sketchy as it is, that fandoms existed all through history--and there's an intriguing throwaway line about Mary Wortley Montagu that sent me scurrying to my bookshelves for a couple of pleasing hours.

Marketing categories as defined by how the story uses the Transnistrian Infundibulator.

"Chaos is Not Your Friend," on the compromise with evil, written in 2004, is eerily apropos today.

This is not only a book for sf and f fans who read widely in the world, but it's a real good one for writers. Publishing--marketing definitions--why books fail--"How did this get published?"--query letter dos and don'ts--there is so much good stuff here, so wittily and gracefully written.

Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, by Robert S. Bader. If you've ever been curious about how the Marx Brothers evolved into their zany characters (especially if you've read their own books and discovered how their anecdotes don't always rely on the same facts), this book is a must. If you've ever wanted a look at vaudeville, top and bottom, this book is a must. Basically Minnie Marx got her boys into show biz as a way to keep them out of easy crime, which was preferable to the horrors of child labor in the factories. And so they went on the road. The research here is phenomenal--Bader sought out every tiny newspaper in tiny towns on the vaudeville circuits (and off) for reviews and ads about the brothers, plus combing theater records, etc. Really absorbing.

Drive! Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age, by Lawrence Goldstone.

This one actually came out a few months ago, but still I recommend it. In an engaging, humor-veined narrative, Goldstone brings to life the men (and the few women) who were involved in the development of the idea of a horseless carriage, its invention, and its manufacture. He structures the story around George Seldon, one of the early American innovators, his patent, and the subsequent nearly-twenty-year lawsuit over the protection of that patent instigated by Henry Ford, moving backwards and forwards in time, and from Europe to North America, in order to build a picture of the invention of the automobile.

It’s apparent from this book that, like the development of artillery, boys have always been fascinated with loud, smelly, dirty, and dangerous. Those early autos were all four, their utility questionable, especially over the rutted, meandering, narrow roads connecting the world 120 years ago. With excellent citations and a satisfying reliance on period newspapers, letters, diaries, and accounts, Goldstone builds his picture, taking time to illustrate for the modern reader how different thinking was at that time, so that we can appreciate the innovation at each step.

For example, you would assume that the development of the road we recognize now as a highway would go hand in hand with the invention of the auto, but not so. Those early cars (including race cars, which took a horrible toll not only on drivers but passengers, spectators, and innocent animals by the score) juddered over disastrous terrain; it wasn’t until a very rich mogul who liked his horseless carriages got angry that his proposed race was turned down by local authorities said, basically, fine, I’ll make my own carriageway and it will be fenced in, and limited just to cars. Some of his impetus was no doubt provided by the many tickets he was given for ignoring the local six mph speed limit, and the law stating that all horses and pedestrians had the right-of-way.

Goldstone takes the time to provide background on the inventors and those who partnered with them in various ways, including the investors, many of them rich and crooked moguls who were basically pirates without the cool ships and swashbuckling clothes. Throughout the narrative he carefully examines, and dismantles, the reinvention of himself that Henry Ford propagated from his earliest days.

It’s a colorful, immensely readable account that shows how we got from there to our familiar cement world here.

The Fleet at Flood Tide:America at Total War in the Pacific 1944-45

This extraordinarily well-written history of the second half of the war in the Pacific begins in 1944. It’s off to a slow start as we get caught up on the details of ships, material, training, and leaders among the Americans, and the background lives of some Japanese, both military and civilian.

The mass of information pays off when we get to Spruance’s fleet encountering the Japanese at last.

I really appreciated the clarity with which Hornfischer describes strategy and tactics on sea, land, and in air, especially the evolving strategic arena concerning aircraft carriers. Admirals themselves weren’t always certain what was going to work, especially in serving basically as moving air bases for an air war.

The air battles are vividly described—exhilaratingly so, capturing the bravado and reckless determination and individualistic humor of the air aces. He draws heavily on reports and memoirs to bring the fight to the individual level before zooming back to show fleet movements, both in air support and in land support when the attack on the islands began.

Equally vivid, and a whole lot more grim was the unflinching description of the yard-by-yard fight for Saipan, made much more horrendous by the Japanese command’s insistence on suicide missions for the honor of the emperor—and on convincing the civilians that Americans would rape all the women and eat their babies. And when the end came, the soldiers used the civilians as shields, and then forced them into mass suicide.

Hornfischer draws on a variety of reports by Japanese from command to civilian, most notably Yoshitsugu Saito of the Imperial Japanese Army, Chuichi Nagumo of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Shizuko Miura, a civilian nurse, and Captain Sakae Oba who held out along with several hundred civilians and military on Saipan until December 1, 1945 when he surrendered. The addition of these people’s stories helped to understand what the Japanese thought during those terrible battles and immediately afterward.

Hornfischer describes the evolution of amphibious operations as well as the invention of newer and more effective weapons, like napalm, who wanted to use them, who didn’t, and why they finally did and where.

Hornfisher is developing a point: the result of what American forces witnessed on those islands—the mass suicides, the many Japanese terms for suicide attacks culminating in the kamikaze attacks on US ships—is that the Japanese high command considered that only total war, to the death, would satisfy their honor.

And so American strategy makers finally came around to the conviction that surrender would only happen if they shocked Japan. The atom bombs would do that—two of them, one after the other, so that the Japanese would believe that America had an arsenal of them.

Hornfischer’s painstaking development of the decision making process behind the atom bomb dropping, and his follow-up about the reactions of those in charge as well as the effect on the Japanese, was sobering in the extreme. Especially considering how relatively blasé people seem to be about mass weapons these days.

Recommended for anyone who wants to read about the war in the Pacific and how and why we could drop A-bombs on civilian cities.
sartorias: (reading chair)
Lots of good bookage of late.

Including audio.

Like: Jo Walton's Necessity. I blathered a long review at Goodreads, basically: I loved listening to this book, because it made me slow down so I could think through the philosophical discussion, and I could appreciate the structure, which does nifty things with time--and with who could tell whom what when they knew that they were jumping around in time. And oh, oh, oh, when we get outside time . . .

Thunderlord, a Darkover novel by Deborah Ross.

Back in the seventies, the Darkover series was important to so many of us. It was a series in which the agency of the female characters mattered; there were wars, yes, as in so many fantasies, but the psi connections, and the Free Amazons, etc, paralleled our own struggles to break the pink curtain.

Deborah Ross has inherited the series, and I think she does a superlative job. For one thing, I think her prose is better than Marion's, and also her characters a bit more complex. And yet she perfectly captures the Darkover 'feel' in this volume, featuring two very close sisters who travel over the mountains so that one can marry the Scathfell Lord--feuding enemy of the Aldarans--which marriage will basically save the Rockraven family, who has been on hard times every since the Stormqueen days.

But fierce weather and then a bandit raid interrupt, and the plans are thrown into chaos. The loyalty of the sisters, the questions of laran and genetics, the feud and its expectations, all gallop toward a tense climax. The sisters find their own way to resolution, completing a very satisfactory tale. It's lovely to revisit Darkover with these new stories--I can't wait to see what Ross does next.

Guns of the Dawn, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
I saw this book referred to in a few places as Jane Austen meets the French Revolution.

Okay, I can kind of see the Jane Austen part in that I imagine the author putting down, say, Pride and Prejudice and musing: what if, in 1803 when Napoleon was poised to send a flotilla over to conquer England, George III had put out a call to draft one woman per household, to bolster the kingdom’s flagging numbers of soldiers out in the field?

Elizabeth Bennet, though very well brought up, was exactly the sort of responsible, civic-minded young lady who would deem it her duty to report in and pick up a musket rather than send a hapless servant in her place.

The novel begins with one of my least favorite openings: in medias res, following which we get a very long flashback catching us up. But I was too so involved that by the time the two timelines joined again the pacing was galloping along, the characters vivid and complex, the tension high to the very last page.

During that beginning I could see the French Revolution refs, as we learn that neighboring Denland recently underwent a violent revolution—the king was murdered, as was the queen and the heir, following which a republic was established, with a Pariliametary government, which we are told overthrew all laws of social and religious order before charging over the borders in a mad effort of expansion in order to legitimize that rogue government.

But from there, all resemblance to the Austenverse and to the French Revolution changes.

Little stuff first. The language is too modern for Austen, the manners and mores more Victorian or Edwardian; the word ‘posh’ and its connotations is very much a twentieth-century slang term and concept, with its sense of irony at at upper-class posturing. The Victorians said ‘toff’ and Jane Austen’s contemporaries said ‘fine’. The one constant through all these period was the belief in the superiority of good families, and that idea gets examined with a merciless eye here.

The Denlanders, once our Lascanne army meets them, are not like sans-cullotes or Napoleonic French at all. But one thing for sure, they are tough when put to the test, determined and smart and thorough, especially up against the charismatic superiority of noblesse oblige.

Likewise the war reminded me more of Orde Wingate and his adventures than Napoleonic forces, with a bit of the Charge of the Light Brigade thrown in. The one surprise concerning weaponry I guessed early on; beside that, there were intriguing, and disturbing.

All of these elements combined most effectively (view spoiler). What each sides believes, and why, the development of strategy and the assumptions behind it, and above all the cultural, emotional, and mental cost of war are explored in a story impossible to predict, as characters change and gain in complexity.

The ending was a tad tight for me—I wanted to know what happened to certain characters and familial situations—but these are small quibbles in an otherwise tense, vivid, insightful, compassionate, and lingeringly effective work.

Chasing Portraits, by Elizabeth Rynecki, is a fascinating book by turns heart-breaking and thought-provoking.

The basic outline: Elizabeth Rynecki grew up with her great-grandfather’s artwork around her, and never thought too much about it. Her grandparents didn’t talk much about the past, and only spoke Polish to one another.

Her grandfather once mentioned to her that he might write his life’s story, but she, without knowing the context—and with the quick judgment typical of the young—told him he wasn’t a writer, and the subject was dropped. However, after he died, when she and her father went to clear out his house, they not only came across the art work which she was now beginning to appreciate, but she discovered a handwritten memoir, about her grandfather’s life in Poland before World War II, and what happened to the family during the Holocaust.

That changed everything.

Using this memoir as a basis, and considerable research, Elizabeth Rynecki tells the story (sometimes fictionalizing dialogue) of Moshe Rynecki, whose deeply devout father had not wanted him to become an artist, but finally and reluctantly gave in. Moshe Rynecki spent years at his art, making some 800 pieces before the world began disintegrating around their ears.

What do you do with that much art when you have little money, you’re old, what few rights you have are being taken away by day and the Germans are coming with their guns? He ripped the art out of the frames and bundled paintings and drawings in groups of fifty, many of which he gave away. He started a kind of catalogue, but was unequal to the task . . . he told his progeny to go to safety, and his wife, but he was determined to stay with his Jewish brethren, and whatever happened to them would happen to him.

Well, it did. Meanwhile, the family was scattered, many murdered along with millions of others. The survivors, at the end of the war, then faced the monumental task of finding one another, along with some twenty million other displaced persons, with no resources. Years later they, and a small bundle of Moshe Rynecki’s art, made it to the USA for a fresh start.

Segue up to the grandfather’s death: suddenly those warm, wonderful paintings of ordinary Jewish people going about their lives had a context, and Elizabeth Rynecki was determined to recover her great-grandfather’s art as a legacy for her own family.

And so the next stage of the story begins. Right after the war, no one would take the art, when the family tried to sell some in order to survive. A few places let them know that they would gladly accept donations, but museums dedicated to the preservation of Jewish art and culture had scarce funding, and not much interest in the mainstream.

Gradually that changed—and unfortunately for Rynecki, she discovered that now that the paintings had gained worth, people wanted to hang onto them, and resisted her efforts to reach out. A lawyer who dealt with the complicated mess having to do with Jewish properties stolen by the Nazis, told her flat out that being a descendant of the artist was the least likely way to ever recover anything. Why? Because maybe the artist had given the art to a museum, which was then looted by Nazis, so the provenance would trace back to the museum. Or maybe they’d sold it, and after the Nazis looted the gallery, etc etc.

Elizabeth Rynecki had to figure out what it was she wanted to do. There was no way she was going to recover that art—but why not make a historical record? And so began detective work, meetings in several different countries, exchanges of harrowing stories going back to World War II. And the discovery that some—even fellow descendants of Holocaust victims—still refused to talk to her, to even send jpg.s of the art to be shared with the world. There is no manual, she points out, for proper behavior for descendants of Holocaust victims. Who owes what to whom? Especially in the case of art?

The book is replete with reproductions, including gleanings of pieces that seem to have been lost, and the notes at the end are as fascinating as the story itself.

sartorias: (purple rose)
The Inda read at Reddit/fantasy has begun.

My anxieties about situations I can't help aside, the opening about organizing it I thought interesting, and at least in my mind dovetailed with some of the reading discussion lately, including SerialBox and its weekly episodes.

Some have to have the entire book in hand. I tend to prefer that, though I no longer have the free time I did as a kid when I could curl up and read a book from cover to cover. But having it at hand means I can control when to put it down. But I know other people who like to structure their reading more--a chapter a day, no more, no less. I met someone once who always stopped at the beginning of what looked like a big, important scene. He said it was the only way he could get himself to read as a kid, and it stayed as habit. So basically, he was choosing his own cliff hangers.

Many like cliff hangers, judging from the preponderance of them in series? I hate them. If I find out that something I like has cliff hangers, I'll wait until it's all out before getting it. This has included shows I like--I won't watch them until the next year, when the previous year's cliff hanger is resolved.

I don't know if this is part of being a very visual reader.

Oh yeah, on the subject of comfort things, I watched a lovely, lovely Indian film that came out last year, called Dhanak. IT's kinda of meta, in that the two kids, a girl who takes her blind brother across India to meet Shah Rukh Khan, the super famous movie star, because of an ad he appeared in asking for organ donation. It was so beautiful-lovely characters, a touch of magic, and simply stunning scenery. And folk songs sung by ordinary voices, the boy being one of them.
sartorias: (purple rose)
Still meditating some questions that came up in the writing openings discussion the other day, but today over lunch I read the last episode of Serial Box's Whitehall, which I hope will open into a second season.

SerialBox is another publishing experiment to which one can read the first episode of various series for free, then either purchase succeeding episodes one at a time, or subscribe to the whole. Each week a notice is sent when the next episode you paid for goes live. It's expensive if you tot up the price of the subscription and compare it to the price of an actual book, so at least for me, it's not something I'm going to do a lot of.

Also, I don't like cliff-hangers, and I hate waiting for resolution. But with Whitehall, the stories mostly were shaped in arcs that didn't drop you off a cliff at the end, and then I know the history of the time well enough that there are no large surprises waiting. Instead, I look forward each week to seeing what the writers do with the familiar history.

I don't know how popular it is; the subject is the Charles' court early in his reign, and though he is onstage a great deal of the time, the focus is his wife, Catherine of Braganza, who has largely been ignored by historians, and when she is mentioned, too often is reviled or dismissed for her foreign, Catholic ways.

The cast extends to the exuberant Barbara Villiers, Charles's longest-running of his many mistresses, the Earl of Rochester, and down to the servants, specifically Jenny, whose half-Spanish origins earns her kicks and spite from the kitchen staff, who don't like outsiders.

It could so easily have gone wrong for me. Of the six writers--Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Barbara Samuel, Madeleine Robins, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Sarah Smith--the only one whose episodes veered a bit too much into a contemporary American voice were those by Mary Robinette Kowal, and that was only noticeable in comparison to the others. I found Sarah Smith's single episode incandescently brilliant, and those written by Madeleine Robins subtle with all kinds of period detail and outlook, but really, I enjoyed them all.

There is no spec fiction elements here--no supernatural or magical. It's historical fiction that gives the women of the time equal voice with the men, and without disdaining them for their seventeenth century paradigm, which was another pitfall I dreaded.

I'm really hoping that they do a second season.
sartorias: (purple rose)
The hottest part of our long summer is still to come, the hot dry fire season. Since we've already got bad fires everywhere because of the intense drought (El Nino did bring rain up north, but nothing down here), I'm dreading what's to come.

And dreading the news, and trying to avoid the election gasifying, and so I thought it was time for comfort reads. Got any new ones?
sartorias: ("Butler sneaks a read" (Der Buecherwurm)
As the summer wanes for everybody else in the northern Hemisphere except for us (it will only get hotter and dryer over the next months), there is a lot of new reading out.

On the indie front, A new story bundle featuring Wild West and magic novels. This includes Judith Tarr's new series, based in Arizona and New Mexico. I haven't read it yet--looking forward to it.

Then there is the Noblebright bundle, a deal at 99 cents for twelve books, including one of my own, and Francesca Forrest's wonderful Pen Pal. C.J. Brightley explains the Noblebright concept here. Note: this is preorder, for an October release.

Yesterday, Mary Robinette Kowal released Ghost Talkers, which I reviewed here. Basically, loved it.

An equal pleasure was Kate Elliott's second book in her YA series Court of Fives, Poisoned Blade. I reviewed it at Goodreads, basically: loved it.

And my longtime writing friend has a new horror short story out, "The Other Side of Midnight", in which the great terror under Stalin opens to an even greater terror.

There, that's enough to keep anyone busy and out of the heat!
sartorias: (style)
Friendships seem to be okay in books, film, and TV, but heaven forbid anyone is committed, except in these favorites.

What are yours?
sartorias: (handwritten books)
As it happens, I was one of many beta readers for two remarkable, and very different, books, (the only thing they have in common is people on Mars) that are both out today:

Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine


Necessity by Jo Walton

They both have breathtaking cover art that I think also manages to convey the right mood of both.

Necessity I read in early draft, and I understand it had quite a rewrite after. Since what I read was terrific, with an ending that left me choked up in the best possible way, I am really, really looking forward to seeing what happened in later drafts. May want to talk about it here--the entire series, which is nothing like anything out there.

Arabella is a romantic adventure that reminds me of the Jules Verne stories, with a strong flavor of Patrick O'Brian and a dash of Regency era comedy of manners. But with science fiction, and automata! Levine keeps the pacing brisk, the characters colorful, the science awesome even when it's impossible (in our world!) and is something that I enjoyed--and would hand off to teen readers.
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Heh. Couldn't resist that subject header.

I'm here at Fourth Street Fantasy Faire, a one-track convention that is really a long conversation about reading and writing, with lots of spin offs. Terrific start.

But also, it's my turn at the BVC blog, where I talk about the beau ideal and I hope you will, too.
sartorias: (reading chair)
Something I've done enthusiastically all my life, but being me, took a very long time to realize that just because I was enthusiastic didn't automatically mean another would be. You'd think I'd get a clue since from my earliest years, I became increasingly skeptical about the assumed authority of literary critics. But I've always been slow on the pickup.

So today's post is about recommending books, how and why, and a couple of successes. I'd love to discuss how you approach it, some successes--and even failures, if you want to talk about those.
sartorias: (1554 S)
So I've been thinking about what happens when you really love one of an author's works, or maybe two, but none of the rest.

Why is that?

Or am I the only one this happens to?
sartorias: (1554 S)
What does Ada Palmer's recent science fictional novel Too Like the Lightning share with Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent and Denis Diderot's and Laurence Sterne's and Henry Fielding's works? The seduction of a wonderful narrative voice.
sartorias: (1554 S)
While sorting and tossing my early notebooks, I usually note titles I read and loved. Many I've utterly forgotten, and some I remember but the Suck Fairy has waved the Wand of Guano over them. But once in a while I hit a title and get this flash of whoa, I remember that! One I'd checked out repeatedly from our library was Doris Sutcliffe Adams' No Man's Son, set during the Third Crusade, and with an active heroine.

In my memory, it's right up there with Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which finally saw reprint and discovery by a whole new generation. So I looked up Doris Sutcliffe Adams, to be completely stonewalled. No info on her, except a pseud she also wrote under, Grace Ingram. (Which I hadn't known, or our library hadn't carried.) Even worse, copies of No Man's Son go for three and four C-notes, so obviously those few copies still out there are being hung onto.

If I had discretionary income, I would so start up a press and hunt down these sorts of books and get them out again! Meanwhile, I wonder who she was, and if she left any other writings.
sartorias: (1554 S)
In her blog here , R.J. Anderson has put up an interesting discussion about Naomi Novik's Uprooted, in which she's suggesting that some of the criticism the book has come in for has been issued by the under-forty crowd, and many of those who like it are the over-forty crowd, who have grown up 'reading around' problematical issues in books.

I myself thought it a good book, though not a great one; it was a real page turner, but I only loved the end, and was entertained by the foregoing, while wincing at yet another: 1) teenager paired off with a way, WAY older, experienced guy, 2) rape-related tension, 3) body count equivalent to Game of Thrones.

Those first two things are familiar from decades of reading. Some books I can't read now without a wince, like Dragonrider, or can't reread at all, likeDune, that I loved when they came out.

Then there are story elements that are either unexamined "must have to sell" or "cause for outrage" that are instant turnoffs for me. After decades of reading them and never enjoying them, I feel I don't have to read them anymore, as they have nothing to say to me, though obviously they need exploring (or will sell books) for younger writers and readers. For example, rape and murder of young women serial killer stories.

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