wombat1138: (Default)
I continue to theorize that some librarians just plain hate books.

Yesterday when I got there, there were ungodly numbers of donations piled up, enough that I had to clear out the entire current booksale section and send everything that hadn't sold at our branch since last week off to the main library, just so I'd have somewhere to put the new stuff out. After a few hours, I thought I'd finished, but then peeked into one of three boxes that were stacked up on a cart near "my" desk. More books. The first box was fairly standard stuff-- an entire set of 80s/90s Tolkien editions (including a copy of _Unfinished Tales_ which the owner obviously never finished). It did have some vintage SF/F magazines from the 70s/80s that looked like they might have some resale value on Amazon, so I put those into a bin to send to the Amazon selling crew at Main and kept going.

The second box... ah, the second box. There was an delicate "old book" scent: part mildew, part dust, and part decaying paper/ink. The first item I pulled out was a dainty string-bound pamphlet, maybe about 20pp long and about the size of a large index card, with a textured rice-paper cover. It was in beautiful condition, with bright lithographed illustrations and crisp clean pages. It was an English-language edition of a traditional Japanese folktale, published in Japan in 1938.

I checked the value on Amazon. There's another copy currently selling for $250.Read more... )
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The e-ARC of Bujold's Ivan book is now available from Baen. It is good.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I'd say this is a lovely, fluffy cream-cake of a book. It's kinda like A Civil Campaign without the agonizing self-induced clusterfuck centerpiece (and only one POV-couple romance); the overall tone also reminds me in various ways of Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos.
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It's been ages since I've read these books, but I've started to wade back through the series what with the Ghibli Arrietty movie about to come out in the US. For that matter, there seem to be more "Borrowers" books than I remember; it's possible that my hometown library system didn't have them all or I just wasn't able to locate them at the time.

Finished the first book this morning; have all of the others checked out except for book #2, which I'm planning to pick up from another library branch tomorrow.

Something that I hadn't really thought about in my childhood was exactly what happened to Aunt May's brother. I think I'd vaguely assumed that he was killed in the Great War, but this time, I thought, "Wait a moment-- from the British perspective, did the Great War really have a 'North-West Frontier'?" Turns out the "North-West Frontier" was a province of the British Raj in what is now Pakistan; its administrative capital was the city of Peshawar.

Also, there's a mention that Aunt May and all of her siblings had been bilingual in their childhood, growing up in the Raj and nearly illiterate in English (though conversationally fluent)-- I wonder what their other language was?


Jul. 13th, 2011 11:02 am
wombat1138: narbarf (pic#658101)
...oookay, GRRM wasn't kidding when he originally said this book would be the other half of AFFC.

I can't even summon the indignation to stay awake. The travelogues are literally putting me to sleep. I've been gradually picking my way through the book for the past two days, and I just keep getting struck down by nap attacks of "oh god not more travelogues".

ISTR a publisher's comment on Usenet that one quick way to gauge a manuscript's quality when slushpile-wading is to flip through the pages and get a rough idea of the ratio of narrative passages to dialogue. The idea seemed to be finding the sweet spot that was neither too much description or too much dialogue.

I'm not sure what the perfect ratio was supposed to be, but this isn't it. Especially when the narration keeps making me pass out from boredom.
wombat1138: (Simpsonized)
At this point, I regard Diana Gabaldon's books as somewhere between a guilty pleasure and force of habit. IMHO, her writing has grown notably more self-indulgent as her doorstopper series continues (and/or her editors have stopped editing), and her recentish meltdown about fanfic didn't improve my opinion. I doubt very much that I'm going to buy her new graphic novel, The Exile, although I may browse through it at a bookstore-- it's essentially a partial retelling of her first book, switching out of the original tight 1st-person narrative toward other characters' POVs.

However, I'm kinda disgusted by the tone of many negative reviews it's collecting on Amazon, which can be summarized as follows:

1.) "How were we supposed to know that a 'graphic novel' would turn out to be some dumb cartoon book?" No comment.Read more... )
wombat1138: (narbat)
Obligatory themed lolcat.

My lampwork beadmaking instructor finally resumed our local classes, after a summer hiatus for him to go teach intensive day/week-long sessions elsewhere. I think I've managed to recover most of the basic grokkage from the spring classes about working with hot glass (no major injuries yet yay), but I'm still having trouble broaching technical discussions with him about how to do certain things.

Part of this is the sheer orthogonality of approaches-- I have a fair amount of theoretical geekage on the subject, but don't know how it translates into practical working conditions; he has a great deal of experience and skill with the hands-on stuff, but not nec'ly much knowledge of why it happens.

(And also, I am a big geek with no conversational skills. Case in point: we all get to wear didymium safety lenses, since they screen out certain colors and make it easier to see what's going on inside the flame. He reminded someone that their regular sunglasses wouldn't do for this purpose, and we had to wear the didymium lenses, whatever dydimium was. I incautiously infodumped that didymium was a mixture of the two different rare-earth elements neodymium and praseodymium, which might explain why the neodymium-based "lavender" glass looked colorless when seen through the lenses, and that neo-lavender looked blue under the fluorescent working lights but purple under incandescent lights and sunlight, and then I ran out of infodump. Crickets chirped. I slunk down in my chair, resumed melting glass, and waited a few minutes for the normal conversations to resume around me.)

But I've also realized that though I had a lot of small bits and pieces of knowledge about glass color chemistry, it didn't really fit into a coherent theoretical framework-- I could chirp out factoids about opaque/translucent glass containing fluoride compounds, but didn't know why/how they turned the glass opaque instead of simply changing its color. (And I had a total abject fail when suddenly asked to explain what colloids were. "They're a mixture of stuff... with other stuff?" *bzzzt*)Read more... )


Aug. 1st, 2010 08:07 pm
wombat1138: (Default)
Finally finished all of the Aubrey/Maturin books, more or less. I only flipped through a few pages of 21 and had long stretches of quasi-skimming in the last few books where I was following individual paragraphs but on reflection had no clear idea of the surrounding plot context.

I think I was mainly galumphing through them as a continuous read because I thought that if I left off, I'd probably forget the plot up until then. On the whole, I enjoyed the first fifteen or so fairly well, but not nec'ly enough to re-read them in the near future. No doubt I'd appreciate them more if I had a better (i.e., any) grasp of all the nautical manuevering going on.

They did illuminate some of the criticisms I'd seen about Novik's "Temeraire" books wrt naval inaccuracy, and Novik's human characters are still terribly flat compared to O'Brian's. However, I remain amazed at her economy in portraying the dragons' devastating charm of personality.


Jun. 16th, 2010 11:51 pm
wombat1138: (marker sketch)
Mainlined the first three books this week; planning to fetch the next two from the library. Fortunate timing wrt short wait for book 6 to come out.

Might actually have to read up on actual Napoleonic Wars for better sense of background. Hope to recover pronouns RSN.

Later addendum after book 4: still enjoying series, though have managed to confirm a niggling suspicion that Novik's romanization of Chinese is wildly inconsistent. However, this in itself does not nec'ly conflict with the narrative POV's filtration via a British officer who never acquires proficiency in the Chinese language.
wombat1138: (Default)
Almost done with the series re-read-- down to the endgame of The Bastard Prince, the last book in the "Heirs" trilogy, which just leaves King Kelson's Bride and the anthologies.

The "Heirs" trilogy just isn't very satisfying for me-- not just because of the aforementioned despair factor, but also because it feels like the underlying structure is increasingly slipping. Read more... )
wombat1138: (Simpsonized)
I've been re-reading Katherine Kurtz's entire "Deryni" saga in publication order (skipping some short stories) for the first time in years. Some thoughts:Read more... )
wombat1138: (spot)
(Partially reposted from FW comments.)

The Diana Gabaldon fanfic flap has generally failed to interest me, mostly because I already knew that her thought processes on such matters were completely alien to me, thanks to her comments about Cassie Edwards' plagiarism. headdesk )

I've been following her series over the years, even though it's been getting increasingly overgrown and underedited. Her bizarre logic about plagiarism and fanfic hasn't bothered me enough to consider giving up on her books.

However, this does: after deleting all of the fanfic-related entries from her blog, she's updated it with a gushing book recommendation without mentioning that the author, Samuel Sykes, is her own son. He hasn't been sharing that information on his own, either. wtf )
wombat1138: (Default)
The latest TokyoPop 12K translation (The Twelve Kingdoms:Skies of Dawn) is *really* annoying-- sometimes because of minor but pervasive format issues, sometimes because of one-shot slips that noticeably affect the story.

Format peeve #1: The text keeps hyphenating certain types of number/unit phrases regardless of context. IIRC normal English usage allows hyphenation when such phrases are folded into compound adjectives-- "our army has five hundred men" vs. "our five-hundred-man army"; "the man was six feet tall" vs. "a six-foot-tall man"-- but this book keeps splashing hyphens around left and right: "the voyage takes one or two-weeks", "a good harvest produces sixty-bushels of grain per acre" etc.

Format peeve #2: perhaps because they were sold to buy the extra hyphens, there are almost no definite articles preceding official titles being used *as* names, as opposed to *with* names: "she didn't trust High Mandarin Seikyou", fine, but "she thought High Mandarin was always complaining about Palace Administrator"? Blech.

As for examples of the one-shot slips--- argh. The first one I noticed[*] was the sentence "The kirin Hourin was with them; he was at present lying down, complaining of ill health", which shows two fundamental failures to grasp basic kirin concepts in this world: Hourin's gender is wrong (though this is conceivably a typo, since Hourin is never referred to again by a gender-based pronoun); her illness isn't just incidental, but rather a divine manifestation of the failing regime of the king of Hou. And near the end, when Yoko explains her pseudonym alternate reading of the kanji in her name, which she writes out in demonstration, the actual text just shows the miscoded characters "ÐÐ".

I'm going to have to re-read Eugene Woodbury's fan translation as an antidote. Gah.

[*: though now that I've returned to Woodbury's version, I've immediately noticed an even earlier textual slip by TokyoPop-- he goes to the trouble of fully translating the description of Suzu's age (14 by the traditional Asian new-year count, but chronologically 12). TP glosses that over and just says that she's 14, but this creates an inconsistency much later in the book when she meets Shoukei and Suzu still calculates her own present age as 16, based on arriving from Japan when she was 12 and then spent 4 years on the road before signing up with Riyou.]
wombat1138: (marker sketch)
The movie version of Possession falls into my category of major disappointments in media adaptations-- not epic fail as such, but one of those prestige projects with respected directors/actors and good source material whose sum total (imho) didn't live up to any of those parts. (The main other example that comes to mind is Les Miserables with Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Claire Danes.)

I was re-reading the book over the weekend and started jotting down notes about the characters' names and various other elements. I'm still mystified about a few names which may either cause me to klonk myself with obviousness when I finally get them, or which I just don't have the requisite familiarity with Victorian literature to pick up (frex, I can't remember whether I've read all of the epic poems associated with the modern leads), but hey.Read more... )
wombat1138: (spot)
While working through a weed-out list at the library (books that haven't been checked out for two or more years), I spotted two theoretical modernish classics I hadn't yet read and decided to give them life-support by borrowing them: Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate. They share a number of interesting features.

Both books were first published in 1959 and have been made into two movies each: a black-and-white classic within a few years of publication, and a more recent remake within the past decade-- I've seen both of the Manchurian Candidate versions, but neither of the Jackson adaptations, both of which are simply called The Haunting (there's also a parallel knockoff book/movie called Hell House). Both books are also themed around the unreliability of self-awareness (not just of one's own motives, but extending to one's own actions and even sanity) and the ambivalent pathologies of manipulative love/hate.

I found Condon a much tougher read for some reason, and ended up skimming through large portions to reach the end; haven't yet tried to give it a more careful re-read. Part of my difficulty was because of film-based expectations (Raymond Shaw gets the first POV scenes in the book and the crucial backstory event is exposed within the first few chapters, whereas both movies are filtered much more heavily through Ben Marco's POV of bewildered inquiry and the backstory isn't explained until a significant distance into the narrative); another part was because of Condon's narrative prose style (it strikes me as self-consciously florid yet hardbitten, if that makes sense); and part of it is because of characterization-- the POV gets handed off among three or four different people, all of whom seemed rather static compared to what I remembered seeing onscreen. But then, I may just have bad taste, since at the moment my favorite version of the story is probably the recent remake movie, which radically changed and compressed the plot. I may change my mind if I can give the book a good thorough re-read, though.

Conversely, I've been giving the Jackson book a more careful re-read for the past day or two. Although hailed as a classic horror novel, it's been metaphorically hissed by various Amazon reviewers who didn't think it was scary enough to've earned the praise-- and they're right, if their scare-o-meter is based on eldritch apparitions wreaking graphic vengeance for clearly-explained past wrongs (desecrated graves, secret sins etc.). I don't think the full effect of the book *can* take hold on the first reading, except in retrospect; the re-read is much more chilling in terms of picking up clues about what once happened in the house and what is happening now, esp. in terms of watching the main (and unreliable) narrator slowly lose her grip on herself. Jackson also uses color imagery in bright, sharp stabs of symbolism.

Major spoilery (if still only half-formed) speculation about the Hill House backstory below the cut.Read more... )


Oct. 23rd, 2009 04:01 am
wombat1138: (Simpsonized)
Have drifted back into semi-haphazardly re-reading all of Diana Gabaldon's books-- #7 just came out recently; after going through that twice (a fast skim for the plot overview and a slower re-read for the nuances), I went back through #s 5 and 6; since I don't have #s 3 and 4, I just checked those out from the library.

While I'm not sure I'd go so far as to describe any of them as actually *bad* at this point, #5 definitely strikes me as the least good-- many of the major plot arcs are anticlimactically structured with long buildups toward something *not* happening, and some of the other major plot arcs seem randomly thrown in without much lasting consequence for the overall saga (e.g., Indian village excursion for safflower oil leads to passenger pigeon feast and bear hunt and... so what?). There are also a number of weird loose ends that're just left hanging, such as determining whether a stone was accidentally swallowed or not, which in turn leads me to opine that the "jewel resonance as test for time-travelling ability" plot device is a really bad idea-- if a potential time-traveler can make a jewel explode just by handling it, then a.) presumably the kid didn't swallow the stone after all or he would've been blown apart by corundum shrapnel from the inside (it eventually reappears several hundred pages later without interim explanation), and b.) he and his sister should never be taken to the Arkansas "Crater of Diamonds" park and allowed to play with random gravel. And the manuscript's endpoints seem wrong to me, in that the first 200 pages could've been seamlessly attached to the end of the previous book and the last 200 pages could've been used as the beginning of the next one (and possibly should've, in terms of encapsulating the Malva Christie arc more neatly-- as it is, she's introduced toward the end of book #5 and then disappears with no further function).

(The random Russian boar-herding family near the end of #5 just disappears afterward, too-- Gabaldon seems to've completely forgotten about them, or at least found no further use for them.)

It's also interesting to trace in retrospect how her tight 1st-person perspective from first book has disintegrated over the course of the series-- Roger became the first 3rd-person addition in the frame story of book #2, and has been joined since then by Jamie, John Grey, Brianna, Young Ian, and William as the latest addition that I recall (possibly having forgotten some others in the middle). Claire remains the only 1st-person narrator, though.

Which isn't to say that I'm not still enjoying the books; I'm rather in awe of her fortitude in writing huge sagas at a relatively fast pace (paging George RR Martin, ahem) *and* continuing to engage with her readers in a lively discussion forum *while* doing an international book-promo tour. But I nitpick because I care :b
wombat1138: (spot)
Currently bouncing off another attempt to appreciate John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting, and am heading into a tangent to chase down one cryptic reference that still baffles the book's fan concordance:
"My son thought you were a witch. Are you?"
"No, my lord."
"But you know the power of the crocus." [Federigo] pointed to Cynthia's pendant. "Guidobaldo doesn't know it, but his grandmother was a witch. She healed me with the crocus..."
Read more... )


Oct. 14th, 2008 10:06 pm
wombat1138: (spot)
The photobook How to Wrap Five Eggs is finally back in print. Originally published in the 1960s, it's full of monochrome pix of various traditional(ish) Japanese product packages. Unfortunately it doesn't include the elusive triangular natto packet that I've been wondering about, but it's still visually striking. Captions/explanations are all tucked away at the end.


Dec. 11th, 2007 06:11 pm
wombat1138: (Default)
Recently, I've taken to re-reading various long serieses, albeit in a somewhat higgledy-piggledy fashion; right now, I've been working on Neil Gaiman's Sandman and a few associated spin-offs from the main meta-arc. Last night, I re-read The Dream Hunters, which like the original format of Stardust is an illustrated novella rather than a graphic novel; in both cases, Gaiman's words are interspersed every few pages with illustrations by Charles Vess (for Stardust) or Amano Yoshitaka (for Dream Hunters).

The story of The Dream Hunters uses some familiar themes/elements from Japanese folklore, and centers on the doomed love between a monk and a kitsune-onna. Because of the inherent Sandman connection, both characters seek help from "the Mikado of Night's Dreaming", e.g. Morpheus. In the afterword, Gaiman says that he has merely retold an existing folktale with some very light reshaping, having been astonished to find a pre-existing tale that coincidentally mapped so closely into his realm of Dream.

While I'm still by no means an expert on Asian folklore, I've learned a bit more about it since the first time I read The Dream Hunters, and this time something just didn't feel right. As it turns out, the 1908 book which Gaiman listed as his primary source now has complete scans online, and there is no such story in it. Apparently he has also admitted elsewhere that although he does use some common folkloric elements, The Dream Hunters is essentially an original story of his own making.

This annoys me. (Is there even a word for this sort of thing? It's practically anti-plagiarism, disclaiming one's own work as someone else's.) Presumably the original bogus attribution to authentic sources was intended as a guard against charges of cultural appropriation, but isn't it even *worse* appropriation to claim an authenticity that doesn't exist? Not that Gaiman is the only person who's ever done so-- Ossian cycle, anyone?-- but I dunno, I'm just... guh.
wombat1138: (Default)
Our local paper had a short page-two blurb about the latest NEA stats on US reading skills, and then [livejournal.com profile] eeedge reposted another press release/report about the same story, which made me wonder about the underlying stats. A PDF of the full report, "To Read or Not to Read", can be read here.

(Tangent: last week, the local library tried out a new literacy program in which small groups of children took turns reading to "therapy dogs", on the theory that the dogs would reduce the stress for diffident readers and provide general warm fuzzies.)Read more... )
wombat1138: (Default)
As part of a recent re-reading binge, I've just whipped back through The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams, better known for his first book Watership Down. By comparison to that lapine odyssey, tGitS is an adult contemporary novel that reminds me of Robert Graves' The White Goddess in its odd, numinous pedestal of joyously amoral female sexuality. At this point, I'm rather conflicted about that-- sex-positive for women, yay! but only in the context of hypnotic devouring temptress, boo-- esp. since Adams' travelogue fantasy Maia (whose parallel re-read I'm still in the middle of) explores the same theme in a slightly more nuanced way.

This time around, I'm noticing a lot more symbolism than I recall from previous readings, especially in the character names but also the pervasive imagery of water. I know I'm still missing stuff because of Adams' tendency to show off in a polyglot way; Maia has an epigraph in untranslated, untransliterated Greek, and tGitS has a lot of snippets in German with only a few translations appendixed at the end. Specifically, the central woman in tGitS was originally named "Käthe Guetner", though this was quickly changed in subsequent editions because of a libel suit; considering all the other names, "Guetner" must have some allusive significance (unless there was some actual basis on the real woman), but I have no idea what.Read more... )


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