Tag Archives: reading

Checking in

Six months into the year. Half way through. Have I been making more? Do I care less?


If nothing else, I’m still happy with my lunchroom.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself some goals. Run more, read more, make more. The goals were modest, achievable, and I started really well.

Running went marvellously. I started a 10k training plan and blasted through 70% of my 240 mile goal by about April. So I can afford the current hiatus due to a stunning combination of wonky hip, work stress, and It’s Far Too Hot To Go For A Run Let’s Just Drink Beer At Home syndrome. Also, douchebags on the prom who resent allowing runners any space. Nice weather brings out the worst in people.

Reading also has been proceeding at a good pace. I’m six books ahead of schedule, and my e-book queue is down to 77 books. cough. I’ve only ditched three books unfinished due to awfulness, and actually genuinely enjoyed a few extremely random choices from Before I Learned Not To Trust Amazon Reviews. I keep meaning to take a book and a couple of beers down to the beach and just hang out on my own but it’s like eight minutes away and I am a terrible lazy lump. Slumping on the futon and open a window is almost the same thing, right?

The only thing I feel slightly shamefaced about is the making. I stormed in with Galaxy and Little Birds, but then I got a mental block on the next project, MURDERPIGS.

(There is a story behind MURDERPIGS. It is long and complicated, and I will tell you one day. For now, you only need to know that it is a cardigan.)

Anyway, I made a slight miscalculation with gauge and ended up with sleeves wide enough to make off-colour jokes relating to wizards. Worse, I ended up with one sleeve wide enough etc etc and then made another one. Sigh. So it got screwed up and stuffed in the corner for a couple of months while I spent my time very industriously replaying Skyrim.


I did eventually manage to kick myself into action and frog those sleeves. I then put the whole project in the knitting naughty corner so it could think about what it had done, and allowed myself to make some other things. To cleanse the palate, as it were. I may also have allowed myself to replenish my stash.


Just a little.


Yeah. I kinda remembered that Etsy exists. And then there was a sale in a local yarn store and now I’ve found out about Unwind Brighton and soon I’m going to need a bigger house, let alone stash box.

As of right now, I’m on four FOs and three WIPs, which puts me just about on target for 12 items this year, if I ignore how much I have left on the WIPs. And the sewing project which is also sitting looking balefully at me from the corner. So actually, I think this has been quite a successful half-a-year. I hope you lot have been having a nice time of it, too.

Book review: Quantum

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of RealityQuantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fascinating story of the development of and controversies within quantum physics. Nicely grounded in the scientific and political context, and it’s always fun to hear about scientists bitching at each other (and salacious details of their personal lives; I’m looking at you, Schrödinger.)

Also, great diagrams, and beautiful explanation of the Actual Science. A number of the things I learned during the quantum physics module of my A-level suddenly made much more sense. Only 13 years too late. 😀

Extremely dense, though, and could have done with some pruning. It felt a bit like every single detail of every single incident was being included (and quoted), which occasionally made it difficult to follow. Digressions into mostly relevant stories weren’t introduced clearly, so I got terribly confused in one section which tripped into the future for Einstein’s and then Bohr’s death without really explaining the context (that they respected and admired each other, regardless of their scientific differences).

However, definitely worth the read. I’ll be scouring the bibliography for interesting directions to go.

PS not enough cats in boxes. LMFTFY.

Maru in box.

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FO Friday: A BOOK

YEAH I KNOW I was whining only yesterday about not reading. But then I finished one. Here is a review, as posted in GoodReads yesterday.

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, #1)Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this up during one of the Kindle sales, intrigued by the idea of a fantasy adventure involving steam-punk bug-people. Who wouldn’t be? The premise is interesting; a vast, sweeping tale of empire-building and resistance, of friends and enemies, of politics and battles. And bug-people. And goggles.

The execution, however, is poor. From trailing prepositions to ugly phrasing, poor characterisation to menace-drained scenes, the whole thing read more like a set of stage directions than a novel. It felt like I was constantly battling the text in order to extract the meaning.

Nothing is left unsaid. Almost all action is reported through the eyes of a chosen character who then sees, hears, and feels everything (i.e. ‘he felt the ground shake’ rather than ‘the ground shook’), which renders the action less immediate, less exciting. If the author thinks another character will have an interesting thought, he has no qualms in slipping straight over and letting them have that thought, regardless of how entrenched we are in the mind of the main protagonist. They sense emotions in other characters even when the other characters are hiding said emotions. At one point a character ‘wonders if she imagined she saw respect’ in another character’s eyes and I had to close the book and have a little lie down.

As with many things in this book, I understood what the author was getting at but the inelegance of the phrasing made me want to cry.

The only flaw of good characters is that they are just too good – too self-effacing, too loyal – and of ‘bad’ characters that they are not bad enough. Romantic relationships are reduced to playground flirtations, friendships to jealousy-tinged arrangements of convenience. I don’t know what any of the characters are *like*. I know what they did, what they saw, what they understood; but I dont know what they look like except for a few dislocated physical characteristics (hair colour, location of spines).

The action travels quite nicely from one place to another, with some nice descriptions of landscape and architecture. Action scenes are described in loving detail, the body count high as any daft action movie, the gore tastefully low. Characters get into terrible situations but are then conveniently released before the author has to hurt them. None of these averted crises have any lasting effect on the character in question.

I don’t want to be too damning, because I admire the vision behind this book. I’m told its the first in a series of ten, with seven or eight already written. Given my trouble with sticking to one plot for a mere 50,000 words, I have to doff my cap. And it was interesting enough for me to finish, which is more than I can say for some things I’ve read. But the execution is poor enough that I couldn’t even read the bonus short stories at the end.

Summary: great vision, great world-building, but superficial characterisation and a writing style like fingernails down a chalkboard. 2/5.

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Donning my feminist tiara, I also have some other comments. Just some little things that struck me as interesting – not as sticks with which to hit the author, but as interpretations of the text. Spoiler, NSFW, and I guess probably trigger alert.

  • a woman who enjoys the sexing is ‘excused’ from being termed a slut because ‘she didn’t sleep with all of them, of course’. Because, as we all know, sluts are bad, and she is a ‘good’ character
  • a woman having sex in a situation which is at best coerced, is stated very, very carefully to have consented and possibly instigated
  • a woman escapes rape purely because she happens to have had a weapon sneaked into a supposedly sealed room
  • a woman escapes rape purely because the man can’t get it up
  • a woman escapes torture purely because the guy threatening it had something else to do
  • a male character goes off in a huff after being friendzoned by a woman who ‘thinks of him as a brother’ because he has given her absolutely no indication of any romantic interest at all
  • a woman gets her ‘art’ only after receiving penis.

I don’t know if I have any specific comments on these things. OK maybe one at least. I felt the treatment of rape and torture were cowardly, at best. If you don’t want to glorify it, fine. But don’t toy with it. Don’t give convenient exits for the characters you like while silently throwing the rest of your population (female and male) under the bus.

I also thought there was a very interesting undercurrent of racism between the insect-kin that was mostly unexplored. Halfbreeds are derided, publicly disdained, but there seems to be absolutely no taboo about sex between species/races/kin/whatever.

Overthinking: I am doing it. But I’m a classicist. That’s what we do best.

Why am I not reading?

One of my biggest takeaways from NaNoWriMo this year was that I really need to read more books. As I said before, it’s hard to put together a decent scene when the only thing you read are forum posts and animal memes.

Yes, Incredulous Owl or what the hell ever bird you actually are. Really.

It’s been bothering me for a while. At the beginning of the year, I set myself a goal of reading more books than last year, in which I tallied a measly 15 books read. So far this year, I’ve read seven. Seven. It’s December. I suck at this.

I’ve got a Kindle, man. A computer full of ebooks and multiple even more devices that can read them. We have custom-built bookshelves in the living room. Custom-built. And I’m not bloody reading.

I’ve been trying to puzzle this out and I think I’ve established the main reasons.

    1. THE INTERNET. Speaks for itself.
    2. No good armchair. We don’t even own one; we have a sofa bed (no armrests), an uncomfortable little sofa, and a couple of futons. I just don’t have anywhere to do this:

  1. Reality guilt. When I read, I’m gone. Lost to the world. I have a constant nagging sensation that I should be doing something, or that if I stop refreshing my favourite fast-paced forum, I will miss something interesting and regret it later.
  2. Interruptions. I don’t deal well with them. If I’m focusing on something and my attention is drawn away, it takes me a while to return to reality, and I feel a fleeting and entirely irrational burst of rage. It’s quite disconcerting, and it’s definitely one reason why I avoid immersion.

So as long as I step away from the computer, stack up the cushions just so on the sofa, and schedule some time to say BYEBYE to the world, I should be fine, and more books will be devoured.

As for the last point, well. Besides gagging my other half, I don’t really know what to do about that. Ideas?

The Last Man

I’m on an accidental break from knitting at the moment, as I left for a weekend away without packing any knitting materials at all. No, I wasn’t feeling very well. So in the absence of teh yarnz, I bring you a little book review.

Mary Shelley’s The Last Man tells the story of Lionel Verney, last remaining member of the human race after a particularly virulent plague scourges the planet. OOPS SPOILER… kidding. The book was published in 1826, and I think the name should be a fair indicator of the subject matter.

The events themselves are set far in the future, concluding in 2100. The futurism is subtle; the occasional balloon flits over the horizon, but otherwise, this is very much a 19th century period piece. No, not remotely steampunk.

The text itself is dense with literary references, many of them classical. I found myself fascinated by the way a single line could unpack an entire play, and give a different or more profound insight into the events. AKA, I’m a nerd. 😀 It was definitely worth looking up most of the quotes – curiously, the version I was reading linked some of them, but not all. Google helped.

It’s a slow starter, which threatened to disappoint after a substantial period devoted to the pre-apocalyptic life of the main characters. But this slow, steady buildup gives a depth to those characters that might otherwise be lost to their various fates with little regret. Once the action gets going – and yes, there were some ghoulish chants of ‘come on plague, you can do it’ – it really opens up into an interesting and thoughtful exploration of the reaction to apocalypse and solitude.

Here’s a Project Gutenberg link, should you wish to give it a go.

Umm… it’s supposed to be about Persia. Isn’t it?

So I’ve been reading ‘Persian Fire’ by Tom Holland. The first couple of chapters were a bit shaky, nothing like the smooth, engaging read of ‘Rubicon’ – I was concerned. It all seemed a bit higgledy-piggledy, and I was finding it difficult to follow. In fact, it reminded me of the final chapter of Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, where his narrative breaks down a little and he seems to keep distracting himself.

Luckily, the crisis passed, he’s hit his stride now. Ironically, it’s in a section which isn’t even about the Persians. But I can’t fault his language –

“There, where they might no longer shame the city that had bred them, the weak and deformed would be slung into the depths of the chasm, condemned eternally to its tenebrous oblivion.”

I found myself reading that passage a few times, drinking it all in. It’s such a dramatic and redolent way of describing the ditch into which the Spartans chucked their disabled or funny-looking kids. Also –

“That the Athenians were content to ascribe their origins of their city to a discarded toss-rag speaks eloquently of the significance that the myth possessed for them.”

It’s a wonderful way of expressing a concern that I’ve always had. For the uninitiated, Hephaistus (crippled blacksmith god) lusted after his sister, Athena (warrior goddess). One day, he tried to grab a hold – she pushed him away but not before he got so excited that he came on her. She wipes it off with a scrap of wool, drops it down to earth where it fertilises the plains of Attica, which subsequently give birth to Erechtheus (some kind of dinosaur, see below) which she set up on what would be the Acropolis in Athens.

Aside: with stories like that, can anyone still wonder why I studied Classics?

I did learn something interesting, actually. Archaeology and palaeontology may not really have been known as a subject until recent times, but that doesn’t mean stuff wasn’t being found. According to Holland, the Spartans used to assert their status by digging up fossils of Pleistocene mammoths and passing them off as the bones of ancient heroes. And that Erectheus thingie is described as a man with a snake’s tail. Totally insane on the face of it, but sounds awfully dinosaur-shaped to me. Who’s to say that the myth didn’t spring from the discovery of a dinosaur fossil? How else are they to interpret such a ludicrous body shape other than to decide that the gods had something to do with it?

Fascinating stuff. Ok, Tom, I was unsure about this book, but I’m hooked now. Bring on Xerxes.

Blessed be new playthings.

Especially those to do with books. I’ve just discovered a brilliant new toy – LibraryThing, which is essentially the last.fm for books. I’ve plugged most of my books in there, so I get fun toys like author and tag clouds. I’d post one but they don’t seem to work in here. Never mind. The RSS feeds work, so you can (if you look down and to the right) keep tabs on exactly what I’m reading.

Now you might not think that’s that cool – you’re wrong, by the way, but never mind – but what certainly is cool is the ‘swap this book’ function. It amalgamates data from a few book-swap sites (like BookMooch and ReadItSwapIt) so if you want to get shot of your copy, you can see if it’s in demand, or if you want one, you know where to go to request it. Brilliant! And I thought Amazon Marketplace was where it was at. I have been sorely mistaken.

Actually, the best thing about it is that it’s like having my own little library, which is one of my life’s ambitions. This is where it starts, people! You wait, in years to come I’ll have my library, and my wine cellar, and my garden triclinium. And you won’t be able to stop me!

For the uninitiated, the above is a garden triclinium, from the House of Sallust in Pompeii. Direct precursor of picnic tables. But infinitely better cos there’s like vines all over it. Exactly what I’m after.

Will Self has a lot to answer for.

Beware when reading his latest book, “The Book of Dave”, which is a pretty good read, but for me sparked off a vicious migraine. Ouch. I can still feel it a bit, just a nagging little ache behind my right eye. Must remember to attack that with some lemsip.

I guess it’s because it’s fairly hard-going – there’s a lot of dialect in it, so it requires a lot more concentration than I’m used to giving my literature. And I was trying to read it quickly so I could leave it in Cambridge for my dad to read. He’s more sensible than me, reads much slower. He probably won’t get a migraine from it. Lucky bastard. Anyway… I quite liked the book, but think I’m still digesting it. I liked the structure of it, and I liked the way nothing’s really explained – he sticks stuff in and lets you work it out for yourself (or not. I still have no real clue what a moto is.)

On the train I also finished Tom Holt’s “You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here But It Helps”, which was a bit less good. I dunno, maybe it’s my childhood literary diet of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, but the nonchalant surrealism wasn’t surreal enough for me to be impressed. Also the characterisation wasn’t that great – they all seemed to have the same voice, which (incidentally) was the same as the narrative voice. Now I know it’s your book, Tom, but you can’t have all your characters as an extension of yourself. Really now.

Feels good to be reading again. And I’m lining them up – a Tom Holland book about the Persian Empire (he wrote Rubicon, the story of the Roman Republic, which was ace), and another of the Steven Saylor ‘Roma sub Rosa’ books that I love so much. Three days of holiday left, wonder if I’ll manage them both…

mmmmm, words. yumyumyum.

I’ve rekindled a dangerous fascination. Over the weekend I bought the first book I’ve bought for a long time, Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder, devoured it in almost record time, and am dying to get my hands on more. Words. Give me words. I need words, and paper, and ink, and that guilty pleasure of creasing the corners of pages to mark my place instead of finding a bookmark. Losing myself in a story to the point that I’m not entirely sure where I am when I surface. Being disappointed at the denouement because it means I have to stop reading.

As if to prove my point, I’ve just made a trip to Amazon Marketplace. Somehow I managed to restrict myself to two books… y’know, just to check out the sellers, see what they’re like. Then give myself two days to read the books and I can go back for more. Yay! 😀