New book & a nice day

New book, The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (cool name!), the first in a truly enormous series of historical novels starting during the Wars of the Roses. I was sold on the intro which is a huge bibliography of sources for her historical research.

Today, very intense work day again, but then I went out and bought a tiny Christmas tree, back at work again, then out to work at a cafe with visiting friends, more errands (post office, to mail my contribution to an APAzine, etc), more work, wrapping christmas presents (still a huge mess all over the living room floor) and out to sushi, which was excellent. (Ichi Sushi, best in San Francisco!) You should definitely have the ocean trout. We bought beers for the sushi chefs and toasted them, it was so amazing. Also nice, other friends just kept seeing us through the window and then coming in to hug us. !!! Now that’s living.

It’s fun to be in an APAzine – I’ve always thought it sounded so neat and old school. I want to do it better justice than a sort of diary entry so I will be thinking about that for the next go-round.

After all this I am too tired to say anything super meaningful. I’m so happy to have this enormous book series to read over the holidays!

Low key neighborhood day

I am reading Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and I highly recommend it! It’s an epic novel about a family in Uganda over a 300-year time span. Here’s a review of Kintu in the NY Review of Books. But take it from me this is a fabulous book. My favorite sort of long, complicated novel with multiple dimensions, that really creates a holographic body of knowledge you would not otherwise have a way to express or learn, through stories of chance and causality over many generations.

My day was a usual Wednesday; I woke up around 7, had coffee, sat in front of my special winter daylight lamp doing Duolingo practices, read for a while, then to work, meetings, more work, more meetings. At 10am I went off to the neighborhood center for senior tai chi class (free!) where I’ve been going for the last couple of years. It turned out that later in the afternoon there was a holiday party & choir performance, so after some more work and one of the amazing, tasty vegan salads I get delivered from Thistle, I went back up the hill to the party. It’s a good thing I dressed up for it because most everyone was dressed to kill!

The choir sang a Chinese tune (in English, but in what sounded to me like the Chinese scale) that was quoting Confucius (When there is harmony in the house, there is order in the nation, etc), a Hanukkah song in Ladino (Ocho Candelitas), When I’m 64 (but they sang 94 instead) and a Grateful Dead song to round out our cultural tour (as the conductor commented, he felt that it was important to represent that aspect of San Francisco cultural diversity). I was in the back of the room next to a lady with an adorable baby who was doing baby sign language. Saw several of my friends from tai chi (Gerry, Violeta, Anastasia, and others) but it was a big crowd and I could not get to the cookies or the potluck food…. alas. I discovered though during the Silent Night singalong (audience sings regular version, choir sang some sort of counterpoint) that I can still sing the alto part and my voice is not horrible (Also not great). Thanks, years of choir.

I sent a short clip of the Grateful Dead song to my son, who last year took a college class that was just about the Grateful Dead, taught by the archivist at UC Santa Cruz of their archives, and by the end of that class he appreciated them but was also kind of tortured by Too Much Dead, All The Time and having to study very hard to be able to identify different songs and versions of the songs BY YEAR. Anyway, I trolled my son by sending him this video clip.

Then back home in a leisurely fashion, catching Pokémon and hacking Ingress portals all the way down the hill, back to work and providing a useful, warm platform for the cat.

I will likely finish Kintu before bed and start something else!

The ultra-unreal

Enjoying this essay a lot: Modern China is So Crazy It Needs a New Literary GenreOn Living Through the “Ultra-Unreal,” and Writing About It

Many of China’s “ultra-unreal” phenomena are written about on the internet immediately after they occur. Reality is a text to begin with, and now that the internet can show us “ultra-unreal” phenomena that we otherwise would not know about, we end up with a sort of doubled “ultra-unreal.” This has created a huge challenge for fiction. Fiction can no longer just tell straightforward stories about single topics following single narrative arcs; reality is providing us with all sorts of rich possibilities for experiments in fictional form. To some degree, the more true to reality fiction is these days, the more avant-garde it will seem. The way we look at things determines the way we write about them. Reality is mutable.

There are some interesting statements about the nature of “magical realism”.

I need to read this author’s books. This sounds glorious & ridiculous. I lost the thread just reading a single paragraph of the synopsis of PART of the book.

There are three layers to my novel. The first is the story of a man who has been infatuated with libraries since childhood. He is the narrator of the novel. His dream is to live in a library, and in his apartment he has a lot of books and a lot of mirrors. Because of the infinite regress effect of the reflection of the books in the mirrors, he is able to approximate his childhood dream of living inside a library. He has no disability, but he likes to do his reading while sitting in a wheelchair. He likes to wheel himself around among his books and mirrors. He becomes a volunteer companion to inmates on death row, and he moves into the prison for a while. He talks to the inmates the way a priest would. He thinks of the prison as another sort of library.

Excerpt from A House by the Sea

Reading Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and loving it. Some great stories and essays – I have more to say in detail but for now a quick note and an excerpt from P.H. Lee’s “A House by the Sea”, which describes the life of the former residents of a certain basement in Omelas.

Do you believe it now? Can this really be how they live out their lives, so close to the City that they can hear the bells clamoring and the processions proceeding? Can they really live together, in a house by the sea? No? Let me tell you this, then. There used to be a doctor—a nice man with a real white doctor’s coat, who still lives in the City—who came out to their house every Wednesday to check up on them, but that didn’t work out, because he kept feeling uncomfortable and trying to euthanize them. So now, whenever one of them gets sick, a woman comes in on the train from Vallcoris. She doesn’t have a doctor’s coat. She just has a sweater. She doesn’t know about the basement, she doesn’t know about anything, not really. She just takes their pulse and asks them to cough, and leaves them with prescriptions, and no one tries to euthanize anyone.

Putting this in a sort of mood-file in my imagination, along with the title story of The Open Cage by Anzia Yezierska.

By Degrees and Dilatory Time by S.L. Huang, and Nisi Shawl’s The Things I Miss the Most also struck me as amazing – exploring the complexities of feelings about our bodyminds over time.

Rambling a little

I’m curious to read the Commonweal series by Graydon Saunders going off a friend’s description and from the reviews. Everyone seems to agree it is strange.

First, imagine that you’re reading Master & Commander, except without any of the introduction to workings and terminology of a Napoleonic war era British navy sailing ship provided to the viewpoint character dr Stephen Maturin. Instead, it would be like reading the first person account of the operation by captain Jack Aubrey, written for people who are already familiar with both the world he exists in and the structure and organization of a military outfit.

and then

It’s military fantasy with no gendered pronouns (no, really), an interesting look at systems of government, obvious affection for the smallest details (you like logistics? get yer logistics here) that meant I came away feeling like I knew a whole lot more about artillery than I did when I started.

That’s plenty to get me interested!

This book isn’t on Amazon and so after a bit of digging around, I bought it from Google Books, found the epub download link, converted it in Calibre, and emailed it to my Kindle. That’s also how I read book manuscripts that people send me and stuff that I download from the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg.

I had a good day today. Went to the doc for some routine tests and vaccinations, worked from a super nice cafe in the Castro where I could see the vintage F train cars go by, did some shopping & home again to work for the afternoon. It’s still such a relief to be able to breathe freely and see the blue sky after two weeks of wildfire smoke & filter masks.

Other people’s reactions to me in the Model CI continue to be odd, quite different from their reactions to me on the TravelScoot. I think it is a return to being perceived as more disabled in some mainstream (and likely quite wrong) way while the TravelScoot as I’ve observed many times tends to be seen as some sort of quirky toy, a hipster affectation, no matter how obvious it is I walk with a cane or how many blue accessibility symbol stickers I plaster all over it. The Model CI just reads as “wheelchair” though a fairly slick looking one so it is a quieter interaction and people are more embarrassed to either look at me or meet my glance. I got followed around a store for a bit as they tried to obliquely figure out if I was about to shoplift madly or what. (What.)

I figured out a really good setup for the undercarriage with a big sturdy shopping bag that has 4 handles. Carabiners clip the back handles to the spots where the rigid plastic basket would clamp on. The front handles looped around the nubbly posts at the front sides of the seat which are meant to have maybe a light and a coffee cup holder (they will have those soon, as soon as I can get to a bike shop for the holder and charge my new bike light).

Warcross is awesome!!!

Warcross continues to deliver the goods! I love this book. The gamer/hacker heroine in her ripped up jeans and flannel shirt has now gone through the first draft for the Great Games or whatever they are called, and was picked first to be on the Phoenix Riders team even though she is a lowly level 28. The captain of her team, Asher Wing, is a wheelchair user, which made me instantly happy. I was trying to figure out from the description what kind of chair he had and I am thinking powerchair since his headrest was mentioned. Another named character on an opposing team was a former Paralympian.

Scenes of clever hacking… loving descriptions of leaping around and fighting in the Game . . . And she has moved from her first swanky hotel room to some sort of team training mansion where she has a suite with a rooftop patio with her own private infinity pool.

They have also been to a great party at a disco which was seamlessly wheelchair accessible with great augmented reality. There are so many adorable details like that there is a (female) character named Hamilton.

I also dig that we see more of Emika’s motivation and backstory for the high school hack that got her arrested.

This is like the perfect antidote for the boring sexist barfbag that was Ready Player One. It’s assuaging my soul!

Secret Tides of Rebel Librarians, and a powerup

Some recent books.

I re-read The Black Tides of Heaven (and then The Red Threads of Fortune) by J.Y. Yang, sparked by a Habitica challenge. I love the characters & their angsty drama, and the worldbuilding & politics and the magic/tech system.

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes. A fun book about a bookish middle schooler fighting oppression and censorship. The adults are so over the top, firing the librarian & throwing away most of the books in the library. Books are contraband! I enjoyed this and followed its shout outs to …

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd. Saw someone say that it is as good as The Secret Garden. It didn’t quite get there for me, but it is lovely — its heroine is a girl in a TB hospital for children out in the country in England during WWII. A depressing atmosphere of coughing, greyness, blustery winter, eating soup made from half-rotten onions. She sees winged horses in the mirrors, writing letters with the Horse Lord. Where it fell a little short for me is in her dealing with her trauma – and her actual changes of heart as well as everyone else’s. That, and if you can’t put a piece of paper colored with pencil out in the snow and rain how were the other things surviving? (Sometimes, I can’t help logicking the fantasy novels. Sorry.) It’s a good book.

A book I didn’t much like – Blue Collar Space. Old school feeling, along with the old school annoying gratuitious sexism to where there are theoretically equal women on the spaceships but somehow their agency is always undermined – they have to be rescued or are helpless or they do the thing by accident – they don’t quite achieve the asimovian squeal but it’s there…. absolutely maddening. Oh no wait, the one story with the teenage girl talking to her Daddy DID achieve it. I nearly forgot. Anyway, this book can bite me.

Currently in mid-read of Warcross by Marie Lu. Oh wow! This is the most ridiculous and indulgent book ever! Our heroine is an older teenager desperately trying to survive her first year out of “group homes” and deal with being in debt, about to be evicted. She is a badass hacker and bounty hunter of the world’s most popular game, Warcross, which EVERYONE PLAYS. Did I mention she has a skateboard and rainbow hair and a fabulous, meaningful, full sleeve tattoo?

I have just got to the bit where she has gotten off the private jet and is in a swanky hotel in Tokyo, freaking out at all the delicious room service food, and the comfy bed, and how the city is much more integrated with the Game – you level up constantly just while living your life, and the virtual overlay of people and buildings and the entire city is gorgeous – their pets, their levels and achievements, their weird outfits, virtual environments — Really makes me hark back to how people thought VR or AR was going to be.

I mentioned the skateboard? And how she wakes up in the hotel and puts on her only outfit which happens to be WHAT I WEAR ALL THE TIME ie a tshirt, ripped jeans, and a red flannel shirt. Thanks Marie Lu for gratifying my every desire in this weird dystopian future. Yes. More fantasy novels with soft hotel beds, a view of a glittering city, room service fried chicken that is better than anything you’ve ever eaten, and a pleasant “ding” indicating that you just leveled up.

Layers of history

Came across this excellent article today on U.S. museums that add information about slavery and enslaved people to their exhibits.

Can Art Museums Help Illuminate Early American Connections To Slavery?

Silly but clear headline (the answer is “yes, of course”).

For these particular portraits of people from 1700s Massachusetts, there is presumably whatever info was there before on a placard next to the painting, and there is a new placard outlining the person’s connection to slavery, including the names of the enslaved people whose labor enriched themselves and their family.

I like this approach to history. Who is missing? Who is not seen, heard from? Who has disappeared from the picture and why?

Add in another layer, of the indigenous people of that part of Massachusetts, and their lives at the time of these portraits.

An interesting book is mentioned in the article, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry. I may give that a read.

Tea with Sumana and friends

Mentioned during lovely tea “salon” at Le Marais with Sumana and many others:

  • Erma Bombeck. Wikipedia articles skimmed through on our phones. Several of us remembered liking her books when we were kids – according to Sumana the humor holds up well. I had a sort of visceral memory of a particular bookshelf in my grandparents’ basement that also held tattered paperbacks of Carlos Castaneda and some other books that must have belonged to my aunts when they were in college. (The better books were up on higher shelves all around the basement edge, hardbacks from the Heritage series which my grandma must have subscribed to mid-century; they were very nice with great typefaces and prints, and are why I read tons of Russian novels and Balzac and stuff like that in my childhood).
  • The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. Science fiction I’m currently reading, set in approx. 100 years from now South Africa. It’s very good! Genetic engineering, AI robot assistant/pets, lots of species gone extinct. Youth coming of age, social chaos, weird espionage. There will be a sequel!
  • History of BART. Susan had the coolest damn thing which was a BART pen she was given at a BART station from answering a questionnaire. A little scrip rolls out from the barrel of the pen and lo! it’s a BART map! Adorkable. I recced the BART history book which I’ve now been given as a gift twice (and gave one copy away)
  • Jean Kerr, who wrote Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, which sounds familiar but I can’t really recall it. More 20th century humor!
  • Ruth McKenney, who wrote My Sister Eileen, another humorist and playwright
  • In this context, Sumana’s 18 short plays about Python which I hope she performs again!
  • David Graeber book Utopia of Rules, which looked good. I read some of Debt and some other book of his and thought they were OK. This looked maybe more up my alley though since I enjoy thinking about bureaucracies
  • Our friend Seth being a mime in Paris and my aspiration to join a MIT puzzle hunt team next year
  • The Wrath of Khan musical, which is AMAZING (the bits i’ve seen) Here’s a sample: Have I Still Got the Magic
  • The Play That Goes Wrong which Sumana recced and which sounds pretty good!
  • Perfecting Sound Forever
  • Tidelift as a way for open source software to be supported. You can sign up for it free which gets you a sort of audit of what packages you are using so that you can support their maintainers directly.
  • As always I recommended Happy Snak, my favorite SF book right now. I am trying to at least make it a cult classic. Best heroine. Best aliens. Best first contact. Best small business owner of a mall food court restaurant on an alien space station who becomes an unlikely diplomat and whose deep belief that everyone deserves the happiness obtainable from delicious, convenient, low cost snacks turns out to be revolutionary.

I’m sure we talked about things that weren’t books, plays, or software projects, but I didn’t take notes on those things so have no idea what they were.

liz-dolores-park

Four Brothers in Blue

From a recommendation from my dad, I’m reading an actual paper book, Four Brothers in Blue, which is mostly letters from four brothers who were all in the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. They were in different regiments and wrote letters home & to each other. This was strung together many years later by one of the brothers with details (boringly) filled in.

The letters are mostly about details of the misery of soldier life: being cold, losing all your stuff or throwing it away on a long march while carrying 100 pounds on your back in 90 degree heat, needing more socks, mud, blisters, asthma, what it’s like to wake up with lice crawling all over you, eating disgusting food, and how the entire army has diarrhea as well as lice. Somehow, I always like reading this sort of book as it makes any physical pain I’m in less significant as I try to imagine having to walk several miles to gather hay and firewood to button into my lice-filled poncho in the freezing night, for warmth, as i attempt to sleep “on the soft side of the planks”.

Early on in the book and the war, the brothers are fans of McClellan, calling him “Little Mac” and reporting excitedly if he passed close by them on parade. He kept the army morale high, even if they did think he should have followed up quicker after Lee’s defeat at Antietam. They were disappointed that this hero wasn’t taller. One brother even sneaked up to McClellan’s horse, Dan Webster, snipped off a piece of the horse’s mane as a souvenir, and sent it to their mom. I guess this horse must have had a McClellan saddle.

The letters written back to them from their mother and father are missing but you can tell they were being sent little care packages of bandages and medicine by their mom, and stern advice about knapsacks from their dad. All the brothers explain repeatedly to their dad that his knapsacks sucked because they were heavy and the straps too narrow, and they can’t carry all that stuff because they have giant ammo pouches and 50 pounds worth of guns. They stick closest to their “rubber blanket” which I imagine to be a bit like a ridiculously heavy yoga mat, and anything made of wool though the blankets are the 2nd thing to go after the knapsacks. Ponchos sound the easiest to carry. So, now I know some survival tips, in case I’m accidentally transported back in time to 1861 as an able bodied 20 year old man. How useful!