Les Semaines

February 28, 2010

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

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The Record-Keeper Keeps a Record

So what have I been doing that I've been silent so long? Good question. I have to admit, I've been wondering that myself.

Well for one it's application season again, both in my day job and for Clarion West. So there has been all of the usual work for that: paperwork and meetings and checking things off and tracking with evaluators. Lots of record-keeping. I feel like a record-keeping demon.

The Clarion West deadline is tomorrow night (March 1) at midnight, so applications are coming in thick and fast. I've been kind of obsessed with watching my email the last couple of days, especially, because I Do Not Want To Get Behind with them, because thereby lies grief.

What else? I visited my parents in Victoria and my sister came from Alberta, and the four of us were together alone for the first time since she got married for the first time in 1974. After that there was always someone, a spouse, a child. It was actually very cool and enjoyable, even if we did have to get some serious things done while we were there. I am one of the lucky few who likes my family. Yes, I know I'm blessed.

I appreciate this blessing more and more as I and my parents get older.

I've been making more effort to connect with friends we haven't seen for a while. I miss them. I know it's important that we get work done, but it's also important to hang out with fun people.

We also have been helping Devin move, from a small, north-facing ground-level cave to a top-story, large and bright apartment. I am jealous of her nearly 180-degree view. She can see Mount Rainier and a bit of the Space Needle! Sunsets and mountains! Well, sunrises, too, but I don't think she's seen too many of those.

I've been thinking about writing an entry here. Each Sunday I think of it. Then I haven't been doing it. Tonight, I did. I have several things in mind that I want to write about, so I hope I don't get distracted again.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

Really our only new disc is the new Final Fantasy/Owen Pallet (it's unclear which name he's using now), Heartland. All I can say, is that it doesn't have anything as immediate catchy as the songs on either Has a Good Home of He Poos Clouds. Not bad, though.

Later: Now we have Beach House's Teen Dream and Joanna Newsom's Have One of Me. More new listening, hooray. And more about these later, I hope.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

I *think* this is everything I've read since I last checked in. Obviously, I've been too busy reading to write.

L. K. Madison's young adult novel Flash Burnout follows the story of a young man dealing with the competing demands of a friend in need, a girlfriend, and his burgeoning interest in photography. Recommended.

Roland Smith's young adult historical novel Elephant Run takes place on a teak plantation in Burma during World War II. Nick is delighted when his mother sends him to his father in Burma to escape the Battle of Britain. However, this isn't as wise as it seems, as right when Nick arrives the Japanese invade Burma, and his father's plantation is taken over, his father taken to a work camp and the plantation workers become forced labour, while Nick is held for his father's good behaviour. How Nick and his allies deal with all this is a rousing and fascinating story, and a glimpse at another world.

When I read the jacket copy for Barbara Kingsolver's new historical novel, Lacuna, was sure sure I wouldn't be very interested in it. It just didn't sound like something I'd want to read. But from the moment I picked it up I was absorbed. This is the story of a half-American half-Mexican man as he grows up on various sides of the border, caught up in the various political and artistic tensions of the two countries. He becomes a writer. One of the most fascinating books about early 20th century America that I have read--and as I have read very little about the same period other than about the artist Frido Kahlo, who figures largely in this story--the most fascinating about Mexico during this time. Highly recommended.

When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan is a charming novel set in the south during the Reconstruction about a young girl, whose father is long gone and whose mother abandons her at a wedding they have crashed because they're hungry. The newlyweds hesitantly take her in, but when her father returns she's forced to go back home. As she discovers what her real family is up to during that complicated time, she has to make some tough decisions about her loyalties. Very realistic, with a great main character.

Ann Halam's young adult fantasy Snakehead is a funky, realistic novel set in Ancient Greek, retelling the story of Perseus. Involving and delightful.

Phillip Pullman's young adult novel, The Broken Bridge is the absorbing story of a young mixed race black and white girl being raised by her white father in a small village in Wales. When she discovers she has a fully white half-brother who is only a very little bit older than her, she discovers that what she believes is her history may not be quite accurate. Recommended.

Paul Collins' non-fiction account of his year in Hay-on-Wye, Sixpence House: Lost in A Town Of Books was a nostalgia trip for me: I've been to Hay-on-Wye twice and it's a place I'd love to visit again. It truly is a town of books--even the local castle is a used book store. A terrific place. I'm not sure I can separate my own love of the place from my read of this book, but I was entertained. It is also an account of the process of the appearance of the author's own first book.

Gail Carriger's historic paranormal fantasy Soulless deserve the buzz it has been getting. About a straight-laced Victorian woman in an England where ghosts, vampires, and werewolves--who is soulless: these creatures lose their powers on contact with her. When the society is unbalanced by disappearance and creation of new paranormal creatures outside the bounds of what is accepted, the scholarly and unattractive by Victorian standards (she's half-Italian) Alexia must help straighten everything out, despite the attractive government official werewolf who is trying to keep her uninvolved. Really, really fun.

I don't know why I put off reading Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy--I guess I was saving it for sometime when I needed it. And when I needed it, it was just the trick: utterly absorbing when I need a distraction. It's the story of a self-absorbed father who must travel to Thailand to see his daughter, who has been arrested for smuggling opium, and certainly will receive a death of life sentence. A vivid and fascinating heart-of-darkness story, and highly recommended.

I read Maeve Binchy's novel Heart and Soul, an ensemble piece centering around a high-powered cardiologist who has just taken an undesirable post opening a clinic for cardiac patients, at my parents' house. It was about interconnected lives, and warm and entertaining. Just like my visit.

A.S. King's young adult fantasy, The Dust of 100 Dogs is about a young woman pirate, who just at the moment of her greatest triumph--treasure and long-lost lover at hand, is cursed to live a hundred lives as a dog. Centuries later, when she is finally re-born as a human, she has to try to find the treasure again. It's hard growing up as a bloodthirsty pirate in the body of a 21st-century teenage girl. And the pirate who cursed her is also after her and the treasure. I dunno, I felt the concept was better than the execution.

Lisa Klein's young adult historical fantasy novel, Lady Macbeth's Daughter follows the story of a daughter with a twisted foot that Macbeth orders to be killed. But Lady Macbeth's servant rescues her and takes her to be raised by her sisters. Albia is raised thinking one is her mother, but she has second sight and begins to see visions of Macbeth's rise to power and his tyranny. An intriguing view of dark-age society, and Albia is a compelling character.

Sophia Harnett's young adult fantasy novel The Ghost Child is about an old woman who finds a young boy in her house and starts telling him the story of her life. It should have felt mystical and legendary, but there wasn't enough depth to evoke that for me at least.

Jaclyn Dolamore's young adult fantasy Magic Under Glass is about a young, impoverished foreign singer who gets the opportunity to sing with a rich man's musical automaton. Despite the hints of Jane Eyre in the story, this doesn't have much depth yet, and I found much of it hard to believe. I think readers of the age it's intended for will find it quite charming, though.

E. Lockhart's young adult novel The Treasure Map of Boys is her third story of the trials and tribulations of the confused Ruby Oliver trying to sort out her relationships--all of them. I've liked earlier volumes a little more than this one, but Ruby is an engaging characters and I'll keep reading these.

Cyn Balog's young adult fantasy, Fairy Tale is about a young woman whose devoted boyfriend suddenly starts changing and hanging around with a new, gorgeous and mean girl--and a very odd cousin arrives to stay with his family. Interesting.

Michelle Cooper's young adult novel A Brief History of Montmaray is very like Dodi Smith's delightful I Capture the Castle both in the feel of the narrator and her situation. She is one of the impoverished royal family of the small fictional island of Montmary, which lies between Cornwall and Spain. It's 1936, and the First World War and the influenza that followed has almost completely depopulated the Island, and now there are hints of a coming war. A charming novel.

Malinda Lo's young adult retelling of Cinderella, Ash, deserves all the buzz about it. It's rich, original, and still has that fairy tale feeling. I really enjoyed this one.

Tim Wynne-Jones' young adult novel The Uninvited begins with a young woman escaping a difficult relationship and arriving at the supposedly deserted isolated house owned by her peripatetic father, only to find out there a half-brother she never knew about is using the house as a music studio. Not only that, but someone is leaving messages, first for him and then for her. Spooky and unexpected.

Heather Duffy Stone's young adult novel, This is What I Want to Tell You is about twin siblings and the girl-twin's best friend, and what happens to all their relationships when the friend returns after a summer in England. A good read.

Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder's fantasy Except the Queen is full of clever delights. Two fairy sisters offend the Queen and are exiled to the human world. Suddenly old, separated from each other, and relatively powerless, they must make their way in the strange world and sort out why some complicated fairy matters seem to be drawn to their proximity. I really enjoyed this.

Connie Willis's science fiction novel Blackout is utterly addictive. Knowing that it was one half a set of novels, the other of which won't be available until autumn, I had planned to wait and read it when I could read both parts together, but I picked it up just to look at it and started reading and couldn't put it down.

Antonia Michaelis's young adult fantasy, Tiger Moon is delightful, gently twisty storytelling. A beautiful young woman married to a husband she does not want whom she knows will kill her when he discovers she is not version starts telling a tale about a reluctant young hero who must rescue Krishna's kidnapped daughter.

Lauren Bjorman's young adult novel, My Invented Life is about a lively, dramatic younger sister who is sorting out what's going on with her sister, with herself as an actress, and her attractions and friendships. Entertaining.

Catherine Fisher's young adult fantasy Incarceron imagines a technological world that has frozen itself into a surface "protocol" of a vaguely medieval era monarchy. The society has long ago banished all its criminals into a utopic prison. Claudia's cold, distant father is the Warden and has engaged her to the heir--first to the eldest prince who dies and then to his wastrel half-brother. But there is Finn, who has grown up inside the prison, attached to a gang of murderous thieves scraping out an existence watched by electronic eyes and the unpredictable shiftings of the prison. A fascinating, inventive, if unlikely (at least the exterior) world.

Dolen Perkins-Valdex's historical novel, Wench, focuses on the life of Lizzie, a slave whose master brings her annually to a resort where she not only looks after him but is fairly openly his mistress. There she meets three other women in the same horrible situation. It's only thinking about the book afterwards that I see how the four of them show such exemplary variations on the situation. There's rebellious Mawu, long-suffering Sweet, and Reenie, whose master loans her out. Lizzie herself is bound by the children she has had with her master, and their difficult position where everyone on the plantation knows that they're the master's children, and it's complicated by his wife never producing children. And she's very young. The book is more than a treatise, though. It's an involving story with captivating characters in untenable situations. Very well done.

Stieg Larsson's mystery thriller The Girl Who Played With Fire is the intriguing story of a journalist and a young, misfit woman who has suffered a horrible childhood and now there is strong evidence linking her to the murder of someone she went to see. A gripping read.

Jenny Moss's young adult novel, Winnie's War is about a young girl growing up in the small town during World War I just as the great influenza epidemic is spreading there. She is desperate to keep her family and friends well. A good evocation of the time with interesting characters.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

Some rejection out here in the world. A few acceptances, too. Some fiction writing and revising. Some poetry, too.

And a big grant application. Done. Sent in, despite the horrible system required to navigate to do so. Really, it was the worst I've seen, and I've seen a few, I have.

Trying to send stuff out into the world, to have enough out there that individual rejections don't quite have their sting. I'm mostly good at brushing rejections off but every once in a while it makes me crazy.

I'd so much rather hear yes.

Wouldn't you? Yes, yes you would.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

No retrospective, yet again.

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