I think I mentioned last month I finally got around to reading Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, after being a fan of the movie for 20 years.

This may be one of the saddest books I have ever read.

This surprised me. The film is bittersweet, but it’s also filled with a love of the river, the land, and family. It’s warm and nostalgic. There’s a sense of helplessness about what happens to Paul. That his tragedy is inevitable, and however much Norm would like to save him, it simply isn’t possible because of who Paul is.

The book is melancholy and saturated with guilt. Here, Norm believes that he should have been able to save Paul. Moreover, if he had only known Paul better, understood him better, been able to connect with him, he could have saved him. Maclean wrote one of the best-known western memoirs as a tribute to his brother, all the while insisting that he didn’t know Paul well enough to be able to write it. And he mourns everything about Paul. The book is told in the voice of an old man, filled with self-recrimination and love.

It’s a strange and heartfelt piece of writing.

 

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re-reading

July 28, 2017

I’m re-reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, again.  I’m well into double digits on the number of times I’ve read this. I’ve re-read many of her novels multiple times, but this is the one I always go back to when I’m feeling particularly off balance and need a warm, comforting, something.

I love this book so much, and every time I read it I try to figure out why. It’s a perfect blend of setting, character, and story. It’s both fresh and familiar. It draws on so many tropes, but spins it all into its own thing. I love spending time in this world, and with Harry. I know exactly what happens, almost to the word after spending so much time with this book. But it still seems fresh to me, somehow. It feels right.

And I’ve got three more episodes in season three of Star Wars: Rebels.  I love this show. It’s making me want to go back and finish that last fanfic that I never finished writing.  I can see the story building to something, and I’m kind of dreading exactly what grand finale it has planned. But gosh, in the meantime, it’s just great.  That perfect blend of setting, character, and story.

We may be on to something here.

 

book run!

June 16, 2017

I made a library run this week (and also picked up the latest Vanity Fair Star Wars preview!):

I’ve never read A River Runs Through It even though I adore the movie, and I decided it was finally time. And the library has this cool thing where they put a shelf full of popular books right by the entrance and I’ve heard great things about Underground Railroad and it was right there so I got it too.

Oh, and look what came in the mail:  the finished copy of Bannerless!  It’s a book!

current reading

June 9, 2017

In preparation for my trip to Iceland, I’m reading Egil’s Saga, one of the classic medieval tales about Norsemen getting into feuds and viking raids and settling Iceland. Pretty dang awesome. I read this one and Njal’s Saga in college, and I remember liking Egil’s better — more adventure and less outright murder and burning down of houses with old people inside and that kind of thing. I’m hoping to visit the homestead of Snorri Sturluson, the purported author of the saga, when I’m in Iceland.

And then there’s my fun reading:

kanan comics

 

Knitting, Symbols, Power

March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day.

A friend of mine has been knitting a lot of pink hats over the last few months. She keeps giving them away, because someone always wants one, and she can make more. Last week, she was waiting at an airport and spotted another knitter. The typical conversation ensued as she asked, “What do you have on your needles?” A sweater for her granddaughter. “And what are you working on?”  My friend raised her needles to show a pink square of yarn.  The other woman’s eyes got wide.  “Is that one of those hats?”  Yes.  And then she smiled, “I’ve knitted some of those myself.”  Instant connection.

This story made me think of two different passages in two of my favorite Victorian novels.

First, from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens:

“Darkness closed around, and then came the ringing of church bells and the distant beating of the military drums in the Palace Courtyard, as the women sat knitting, knitting. Darkness encompassed them. Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.”

(Let’s pause for a moment to admire Dickens’ writing, his cadence, the relentless repetitions and embedded ironies, and that killer last line.  Dropping heads.  Boom.)

Okay, I’m back now.  This is of course Dickens’ master melodrama about the French Revolution, and what he is describing is the impending arrival of the Terror, the guillotine, and the story of the impassive women who sat as observes, knitting as hundreds of people were executed.  Quite the scene.

Here’s the other passage, early on in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad:

“Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinising the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again — not half, by a long way.”

(Let’s pause for a moment to reflect that Conrad is writing this in his third language.)

Here, protagonist Marlow is describing the front office of the merchant company he works for. He’s about to be ordered to the Congo to go after Kurtz. The Latin is the old gladiator call:  “We who are about to die salute you!” More knitting, more death.

I’ve often thought that you can take the girl out of grad school, but you can’t really take grad school out of the girl. If I were still in academia, doing close readings and deep literary analysis, here’s what I’d do with these passages:  I’d try to find out if Conrad was specifically riffing on Dickens (I wouldn’t be surprised); where else this iconic image of women knitting as harbingers of doom might appear; I’d research the historicity of the image, if there is a source for women revolutionaries in France using knitting to encode records and send messages (wikipedia says yes!  And associated with a women’s march no less, hmmm…..).  I’d look for other ways knitting might appear symbolically in Victorian literature. Then I’d expand out and look for this image of women knitting at the boundary of Darkness in other periods of literature.

But I’m no longer in academia and however intrigued I am by all these questions, I don’t have a month or so to spend pouring through academic journals. I’m on a novel deadline.

However, I’ve lately become interested in the symbolic potential of knitting. It seems relevant.

In the two passages above, knitting is ominous. The knitting women sit at the threshold between life and death. It seems a strange association to me, because for me knitting is productivity, life, and love. It’s a thing that turns common yarn into sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and a million other good things. A hand-knitted item is not just useful, it embodies the love and esteem of the one who knitted it for you.

But I wonder:  if you don’t know how to knit, it’s a mysterious skill. Someone manipulates a couple of sticks in an arcane fashion, and cloth pours out. Objects with patterns, shapes, and complexity, made from the simplest tools. It’s a thing that mostly women do, often in groups, that looks a little bit like magic. Like witchcraft.

I imagine that the sight of tens of thousands of pink hats, and the dawning realization that they were not manufactured in some distant country, not funded by a dark conspiracy, that they were in fact made by tens of thousands of hands united in solidarity, right here in the U.S., was just as terrifying to some conservative commentators as the sinister Madame Defarge, knitting the record of who should die by the guillotine’s blade.

When commentators asked, Who funded all those hats? Where did they come from?  We paused a moment before answering because we almost didn’t understand the question. Yes, yes they were made in America.  We made them. And we realized these commentators who were so suspicious of the hats could not conceive of women communicating on a such a scale to produce tens of thousands of these objects.  Could not comprehend women making such a powerful statement with their own two hands and a little bit of yarn.   (Last year, after that regrettable hacking episode of Supergirl, I joked that no one would ever be hacking Ravelry to expose users’ information. I’m not so sure now…)

One suspects they have never been inside a craft store. Which is a little sad, isn’t it?  I think of going through my life without making things, and I get ill.

Our hats are bright pink instead of the black wool of Conrad’s sentinels.  It seems appropriately post-modern, that a sea of stylized pink ears should evoke similar foreboding in some. I approve.

But of course, they only appear foreboding to outsiders, to people who don’t understand the message. They see a ridiculous knitted object, maybe slightly risqué if they dared say the word out loud.  Those of us who make and wear pink hats see solidarity. These hats identify friends. Some astute commentators have pointed out that the sea of pink hats means photographs from the Women’s March can never be repurposed and made to represent something else. They mean safety, that you can be among strangers and know you’ll be all right, because you see a knitted pink corner peeking out of a pocket.

They’re a symbol of what we can make, and the power we have when we unite. We make hats. We can remake the world.

Kitting, knitting into the light.

 

Monday update

February 20, 2017

Saturday’s event at the Park Hill Branch Library was great! Thanks to all who came by!

So I spent all last week writing a bunch of emails hoping to get responses today but then it turns out today is a holiday and one of the things about working from home is sometimes you just don’t notice when everyone else isn’t working.  At least I don’t need to go to the bank or post office today.

I finished my last book (Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock) without picking my next book, and this has left me floundering a bit. I try to pick the next one before finishing the previous so I can jump right in. When I don’t, I look at all the books on the to-be-read pile and freeze up. So, that’s something I need to do today.  JUST PICK SOMETHING, GAH.

I submitted two lists for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Given how busy I was this weekend, I think that’s pretty good. The highlights were out at Walden Ponds, where I set up the spotting scope and got a bunch of neat ducks, and a hooded merganser showing off for the ladies.  But I was also able to get the scope on a magnificent golden eagle, who perched on an electric line pylon nearby and stayed for a good long time.

The Bannerless sequel is about at the 50% mark. I had to stop and outline the messy middle, but I think I’m back on track, at least for the next little bit.

And that’s a Monday.

 

award nomination season

February 8, 2017

The nominating season for the Hugo and Nebula awards is upon us (the former nominated by attendees of last year’s and this year’s Worldcons, and the latter by the membership of SFWA), and I like to try to talk about what I’m looking at nominating, at least a little.  (A couple months ago I posted my own eligible work, if you’re so inclined to look.)

As usual, I didn’t read much in the way of shorter fiction — I keep meaning to and I keep not making it happen. Grr.  I did encounter Paolo Bacigalupi’s new one, “Mika Model,” super brutal and pointed and very good.  I actually did pretty well on novels.  My favorite new novel last year was probably Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip, a very quiet but very clever. . .actually I can’t say much more about it without spoiling the surprise, which is right there in the title and I didn’t even notice it until I was a third of the way through.

A lot of good entries in series:  Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone, part of the very cool Craft Sequence. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey.  The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, which wraps up the excellent Raven Cycle, which everyone should try.

This brings me to this year’s Hugo Awards, which added a special category for best series. This has the potential of being quite contentious, which is why I was sure to nominate all of the above, as well as Wild Cards, the longest-running shared-world anthology series in SF&F, which had a new book out last year, High Stakes.  It would be awesome to get some recognition for the 30 years of storytelling the Wild Cards gang has put out.

The other category I paid attention to is Graphic Story, because there’s just so much going on in this field, both in the big publishers and with independents. I’d like to draw attention to Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, the ongoing Strong Female Protagonist, and a couple of out-of-left-field entries from DC and Marvel:  Bombshells, which on the surface looks like an excuse to draw all the DC women heroes and villains as 1940’s pinups, but manages to be a totally woman-centric alt-history adventure story, which is very cool; and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I’m late to the party on that one, but it’s goofy and meta and hard not to love.

And that’s what I’m looking at right now.