the singing-woman from the wood's edge
05 August 2013 @ 11:46 am

Seeking NONFICTION book recs. Scientific history or similar low-feeeelings topics preferred, good prose style absolute requirement. Things I have read that capture what I'm currently looking for include: anything by Hanne Blank (her nonfiction is social history of queer/feminist topics, & brilliantly written), George Johnson's biography of Henrietta Leavitt (a turn-of-the-century female astronomer), "Longitude" seems like it would probably count but it's been a while.

Currently reading Arthur Allen's "Vaccine" which is doing nicely, but there are only 450 pages in it.

the singing-woman from the wood's edge
24 April 2013 @ 09:57 pm
What did you just finish reading?

Growing Up Weightless, John M. Ford. Reread. Still gorgeous. Hard to describe - it's so dense that when I try I always wind up leaving things out. But it's not dense in an inaccessible way, it's just dense in that that's what happens when you pack an entire world and a lot of very very real people with weight and history and relationships into <300 pages. The sheer number of things that feel right is astonishing - the way people move on the moon. The trains. The garden-dragons. People's relationship to water. The RPers - like, Ford gets roleplay *right,* and uses it as something that advances the story rather than dropping the story dead, and I don't even know how. The POV shifts, also, are something that shouldn't work but do and beautifully. And there is so much in here about the relationship between parents and teenagers that I just - wasn't yet able to understand, at 22, that I can now at 26.

Books like this make me want to grow up, and gain wisdom.

Pastoralia, George Saunders. I liked this rather better than In Persuasion Nation, possibly because I had more attention to give it, but possibly because the stories here average longer and therefore have more room to have emotional arcs. Still not sure that this is my Kind of Thing. Some of the stories have characters who are trying in spite of the world and themselves, underneath the style, and I like those - the title story, and "The Barber's Unhappiness," and "The Falls." With the others, I'm just impressed by the technique.

I actually only mostly finished it, as the library copy is missing pages - the back half of "Sea Oak," which turns out to be the story about the strippers that I've read before, and the first half of "The End of FIRPO in the World." Accordingly I have not yet read the latter.

Which means that "the others" here, now that I count... just means "Winky." Hm. I guess it left a really strong impression? Apparently I dislike it that much when the writerly empathy that's necessary for accuracy gets turned to the service of mockery.

Nectar in a Sieve, Kamala Markandaya. (lent by Potential Boy C) Early postcolonial Anglo-Indian lit. The life story of a farmer's wife who witnesses (read: is fucked over by) colonial industrialization, told with quiet restraint. Lovely, but thoroughly depressing. I kept on wishing that the lead character were less of a cipher - that she would be allowed to have hopes and dreams and an inner life, rather than just falling into one new (usually lesser) rhythm of endurance and survival after another. But I suppose that's the bloody point.

One character is a slut-shamed villainess and I was a mite uncomfortable with that, but it's not book-ruining.

What are you currently reading?

To Serve God and Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton. Gushed about this last week. Still pretty excellent, although the current section is claiming a casual link between the rise of the service economy undermining traditional notions of masculinity, and the rise of the paternity-obsessed, homophobic strains of the Christian Right. It's a link whose logic makes a fair deal of sense when Moreton unpacks it, but that I wish she were backing up with evidence as well as logic.

backburnered: How Bad are Bananas?, Mike Berners-Lee.

What books did you acquire this week?

From the library: The Boy Kings: a Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, Katherine Losse.
From the pop-up used bookstore outside my doctor's office, for my will is weak: The Borrowers Aloft, Mary Norton; The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers, Tom Standage; Art & Architecture of Cambodia, Helen Ibbitson Jessup; Sondheim & Lloyd-Webber: the New Musical, Stephen Citron; The Collapse of the Soviet Military, William E. Odom
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
17 April 2013 @ 03:41 pm
I'm ambivalent about continuing to use Goodreads to track my reading in the wake of the Amazon acquisition, so I'm going to try to do these instead.

What did you just finish reading?

Paradox of Plenty, Harvey Levenstein. Social history of American eating habits from approximately the 1920s to now, including but not limited to the rise of processed foods, the homogenization of 'mainstream' American food culture, the evolving role of government regulation in the food industry, and the roles of ethnic foods and dieting as class markers. I am skeptical of the academic rigor of a lot of writing on food politics, but Levenstein seems to be consistently strong there - both this and Fear of Food are evenhanded and gloriously apolitical in their analyses. Writing style is at times a bit dry and dense, but I'll take that over aggressive hippie pretension any day.

In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders. This was more or less my first exposure to Saunders, though I'd read a short story of his online before - I forget the title, and Google is not enlightening me, but it was about a male stripper and his aunt's demanding ghost? Anyway they're all like that; aggressively surreal and unafraid of nastiness and cynicism. It's effective satire, and beautifully written, and when there's shock value it's not gratuitous, but -

I don't know. One of the frequent flaws of nasty-minded satire is that it's inherently distancing, and that distancing sometimes means a certain emotional hollowness? I don't think that any of the individual stories in the collection suffers too severely from the hollowness problem - they all have actual characters who have actual feelings - but it's hard to not feel that distance anyway when they're read as a whole.

All of his collections that the library has have 1312312-person hold queues behind them, and all three came off hold for me basically at once - am debating whether to speed through Tenth of December and Pastoralia now, and potentially get less out of them if I would if I spaced things out more, or return them and try again in three months or whenever it is they come off hold again.

What are you currently reading?

To Serve God and Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton You guys. YOU GUYS. So, this is a book about the rise of Wal-Mart as a corporation. She starts out by talking intelligently about exploiting the growing red-state/blue-state divides of the Nixon/post-Nixon years as a marketing strategy. Right now she is talking about the cultural imperatives towards service of Southern Christian women and how they were hijacked early in Wal-Mart's development to effectively make these women perform uncompensated emotional labor. She is using the enclosure of the commons as a metaphor for this, and it's brilliant. So, yeah. I realize that feminist, labor-centric analysis of American social history is not everyone's bag, but it's mine and it's rare and it's done SO WELL here. I am 90 pages in and I am sad that there are only 270 of them.

How Bad are Bananas?, Mike Berners-Lee (No, I have no idea if he's related to Tim either.) Analysis of full carbon lifecycle of a bunch of everyday things. Notable for being about the full carbon lifecycle - e.g., his analysis of food carbon is not limited to simplistic food-miles guesses but rather also includes on energy inputs needed to produce food, carbon produced when the packaging rots in the landfill, etc. He acknowledges the degree of margin-of-error that's necessary in these figures. It's nice to see environmentalist writing that has intellectual rigor to it! It's... not nice to realize that dairy is even worse for the planet than I thought.

Growing Up Weightless, John M. Ford. Group of Lunar-colonist teenagers are teenagers, plan trip to Luna's farside under cover of fake sleepover. Reread, though it's been long enough since that I don't remember much besides it being densely brilliant. Still brilliant. Gorgeous worldbuilding, strong characterization.

What books did you acquire this week?

None that were not from the library; I am being SO GOOD. From the library: Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart, discussed above; Kushiel's Dart (Jacqueline Carey); Tenth of December and Pastoralia (George Saunders)
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
04 September 2012 @ 12:06 am
Tonight, walking home from the bus, I encountered a gaggle of young men who were cluttering up the sidewalk with pointless displays of machismo. I had to make a snap decision - was it safe to walk through the group? Would avoiding them too obviously mean turning a non-situation into one? etcetera.

Of course this is a common occurrence. Usually nothing bad happens, and nothing did this time - I walked through, and got some sheepish and unsolicited apologies from the ones who hadn't realized there was a lady present.

But I sometimes resent this constant evaluating. It's hard to not wonder what else I could do with those brain-cycles.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
27 February 2012 @ 11:30 am
On Saturday, Dani and I were grocery shopping ([personal profile] watersword was there too, but she was off searching for something-or-other at that precise moment). We needed two pounds of ground beef for this one recipe, and three-pound family packs were on sale, so I asked her if she was likely to actually eat the rest if we got one.

"Well, it's a sacrifice, but I guess I'll have to do it," she said.

"Are you sure, sweetheart? I wouldn't want to ask too much of you."

"Well, Betsy, I just - I am willing to do this to prove my love for you, okay? Even if it's difficult."

We carried on in this vein for a while, and then noticed an older lady - maybe late sixties? - watching us and just cracking.the.hell.up. When I made eye contact, she looked sheepish about eavesdropping for a split second, and then when she realized that I was doing it to let her in on the joke she broke into this "oh my god, you two are so adorable" grin.

What makes it really good for my faith in humanity is that Dani was wearing a femmey enough shirt that I can be reasonably sure that she was actually parsing us as a queer couple.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
20 January 2012 @ 02:02 pm
Last night, I was walking back to the metro from dinner when I saw my bus careening out of the garage. Since I wasn't entirely sure where it stopped on the street, I spent ten seconds looking vainly for the bus stop, and then another thirty dithering about whether looking for the bus stop had meant I didn't have time to run for the bus.

This greatly amused my dinner companion.

Then someone yelled, from a full block away, "Hold the bus! Hold the bus!" and started running for it. Amazingly, the bus stopped again.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
27 October 2011 @ 12:08 pm
There is something essentially cruel about mornings. One starts off happily curled up, half-asleep, next to one's girlfriend. Then one has to go away and stare down cross-browser JavaScript bugs. To do this, one must also get out of a perfectly nice warm bed, walk out into the chilly fall rain, cross Rockville Pike during rush hour, and crowd up close, on the Metro, to people who have decided to substitute perfume for showering.

Through all of this, one's better self must also attempt to convince one's hindbrain that this is a good and worthy process. This is difficult. One's hindbrain KNOWS when one is telling it horrible horrible LIES.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
04 July 2011 @ 08:45 am
I'm standing at the paint sink @ the Nu Sass rehearsal space & one of the other Pris folk, who shall remain nameless to allow hir to retain dignity, is at the couch stapling fabric to it.

[redacted]: Then again, I like Nicholas Sparks books.
{someone else]: qua?
[redacted]: You know, the guy who wrote The Notebook and etc.
([redacted] turns to face me.)
[redacted]: Don't judge me. I have a staple gun.
me: I wasn't judging! Did you hear me say anything?
[redacted]: Since when did you have to say anything to be judgmental?
me: ...touche.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
02 February 2011 @ 10:30 pm
I never really do this, but right now work has me feeling like I've been hit with the STUPID STICK. So. Love meme! Say nice things about me! Post your username so I can say nice things about you!

On the bright side, in 36 hours I will be in Disney World.
the singing-woman from the wood's edge
(said at wedding itself, roughly: this is a less extemporaneous version.)

I'm going to steal wholesale something Annalee said of me once, and call her my chief of staff. We've all seen that episode of The West Wing, right? Leo's giving someone advice on picking chiefs of staff: do you have a best friend? Is she smarter than you?

Anna, I've always admired your sense of decision, because it's obvious to anyone who knows you that it comes from an even stronger sense of self. You've been a lot of different people over the decade I've known you, but they've always been reflections of the same incredibly strong, resolute woman. So even though I haven't known Nathan anywhere near as long, I know he must be right for you. You're simply too smart to marry anyone else. So I'm looking forward to the day he becomes Maryland's First Lady.