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Geek Luddite

Sep. 3rd, 2016

09:00 am - Books: Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany

I finished reading Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany, by Kevin McAleer. I finished the book months ago and this post has sat in my drafts unreviewed since then until now because by all the petty things you might ever pray to, this book was bad.  This book was not good.  This book was the kind of book that shitposting was actually invented for.

If you absolutely must read a book on dueling in Germany in the mid-1800s to early 1900s, I hope you have found some other options. This book is not at all good.

The author notes in his introduction that he finds the idea of dueling romantic and that he thinks if he had been alive back then, he would have dueled. Yes. Yes, he would, because dozens of people would have challenged him.

Folks, I am an easy sell when it comes to histories of dueling. I will read dry academic articles. I will read the footnotes. This book would be so much better if it were merely dry. Dry can be informative! This book is full of errant failures of logic, bizarre intrusions of full brooding capital letters for nouns like Truth and Beauty, and a sort of constant underwash of misogyny like the taste you might get if you accidentally poured yourself a mug of coffee in the morning without realizing there was half an inch of last night's mediocre lemonade still drying out in the bottom of the mug.

Normally I try to charitably attribute this kind of mix of the subject matter and the narrative tone to a sort of accidental mixing that has occurred when the unpleasant notes of the past have swirled, like unset watercolors, into the ink of the narrative framing.  In this case the author explicitly told us, in the text, that he sought out this research because it felt like his kind of thing. So. Mixing = canonically intentional in this case.

Nonetheless, and quite disturbingly, the book actually was quite useful for the purpose for which I read it, which was to help me imagine how scientific societies full of epic douchecanoe bros wearing the scientific society equivalent of feather-bedecked science fedoras might conceptualize their dueling habits. That is, however, a real specific sort of purpose. This is not a general use book is what I'm saying here.

So.  This book exists.  You could conceivably read a copy if you find it.  You have been warned.

Jan. 24th, 2016

05:38 pm - Books: The Stolen Prince by Hugh Barnes (biography of Gannibal)

Oh gosh, never have I wanted to recommend bits of a book so much while simultaneously being so disappointed in that same book. This biography was a hot mess. It's full of awkward, uncomfortable language used about its subject in a thoughtless way; it is not very good at providing a clear throughline to its sections; the opening section is unfortunately one of the least effective, most problematic sections in an often ineffective and problematically structured narrative... and yet.

There just aren't going to be that many book length biographical options about this fascinating person, and there also aren't that many biographies about significant black figures from Europe in the 1700s. And I am a sucker for biographical and historical narratives of the 1700s that span multiple countries.

So, strengths: the bits tracing Gannibal's interactions with 1700s French intellectuals and the bits about Russian court politics feel deeply researched and intriguing. There's a gorgeous tiny bit about Gannibal writing protections for the serfs on one of his estates into a lease contract, and then actually taking the person he leased the estate to to court, and winning, when that person mistreated the serfs. There are some snarkily fantastic bits about Peter the Great.

Weaknesses: the opening bit about slavery in the Ottoman empire, and indeed all the references to the Ottoman empire, are stunningly orientalist in tone. The kindest thing I can suggest is that perhaps... the author read a bunch of very offensively orientalist things for research and then toned them down for reuse without actually stopping to analyze whether the toning down had in fact gone far enough to, y'know, stop being awfully orientalist (hint: it had not). Then there's the consistent narrative textual reference to Gannibal as "The Negro of Peter the Great" which.... no. no. please do not do this as narrative nomenclature outside of references. Maybe this comes across less awfully in the United Kingdom than in the United States.

Which, actually, is a nice segue to the biggest problems I had with this book: 1) it does not seem to be written with an intended audience that includes black people of any nationality (I mean, obviously I cannot definitively judge this given that I am a) white, and b) not the best reader of subtext, but... I would be very deeply surprised if it didn't grate on the nerves of black readers in many spots, which is extremely unfortunate given that it is a biography of an important historical black European), and 2) it does not seem to have been written with any eye to discussion of race, racism, or slavery in the broader context of its own time period, let alone contemporary perspectives. There are persistent and, to me, inexplicable references to Byron's poetry in the narrative, and an excruciating bit paralleling Gannibal with Shakespeare's Othello, but the only time that Aphra Behn's Oroonoko gets mentioned is in a caption to an illustration. There are no, none, zero references to other historical captivity narratives of the 1600s and 1700s, even though the captivity narrative was a thriving literary genre and widely published.

Basically: come for the bits of translated Russian politics and snark about French intellectuals, enjoy the fragments about Gannibal's life, and... sort of wade through the many pieces of unfortunate frosting holding these pieces of cake together?

So many not delicious things wrapped around so many delicious excellent things. I just... I dunno what to say overall here. Absolutely worth it if you're the kind of reader who is interested in this topic and good at sort of... forking aside the less appetizing bits of the presentation to the side of your plate?

On the plus side I found out while looking up title and author for this post that there is a different book also written about Gannibal by a children's author who made him the star of a chapter book series for kids, so at least I have some next things to read.

Jan. 11th, 2016

07:58 pm - Queer characters, fiction recommendations, cataloging, and internalized prejudice

I've been thinking lately about queer characters in fiction and how hard it can be for folks to find published stories with queer content in libraries and bookstores -- even when that content is actually there in published books.

many paragraphs of blather ensue...Collapse )

I'm still in a muddle, I guess, and I'm talking it out here hoping to get some kind of mental clarity.

Jan. 4th, 2016

07:41 pm - From the other side of several days of sleep

New Year's Eve I came down with a cold or a flu or something. It was the most lovely, benign type of whatever-it-was.  I didn't have a sore throat, or a cough, I wasn't congested: I just ran a fever for two days and slept almost around the clock.

Then I had a day where I lay in glorious languor on the couch, drinking beverages and reading Zen Cho's absolutely fabulous novel Sorcerer to the Crown.

I'm starting out the new year feeling quite rested, and very refreshed, and since I'm still possibly just the slightest bit getting over the whatever-it-was, I've given myself permission to put off any resolutions or useful activities until next weekend.

I hope that your new years are, as much as possible, off to similarly restful, optimistic starts, full of good things to eat and drink and entertainingly delightful things to read and comfortable pillows galore.

Dec. 5th, 2015

12:44 pm - Seasonal Card Time - my yearly reminder, request, offer, what have you!

I love seasonal cards.  Writing them reminds me of all the things I love most about the holiday season and is one of the main ways I interact, personally and spiritually, with the holidays.

If we follow each other mutually on any social media, and you would like to have a holiday card from me this year, please message me.  Ideally, lemme know the name I should use on the card, and the address, and, if you're feeling extra kind, specify the type of holiday greeting you prefer if you have a holiday preference.  (I will default to generic holiday, not religious, if no preference is suggested.)  I do try to keep track in my spreadsheet of holiday info when I know about a holiday preference, so if you tell me it's Solstice, or Christmas, or Hanukkah I will do my darnedest to write down which and remember to use it. Failures are mistakes, not intentional hints of anything, I promise.

I know the holiday season is not celebrated by everyone, and not a good time for everyone.  I won't be sad if you would prefer not to get a card.

I would, however, be genuinely delighted to send you one.

Nov. 12th, 2015

06:53 am - Posted here in lieu of that hole that Midas's barber used (oh, whispering grass)

It's a more-or-less a functional substitution, but (probable) hypervigilance and massive pattern matching is an EXHAUSTING replacement for whatever other people use for people reading.

Oct. 28th, 2015

12:22 pm - Books: $2 A Day

On recommendation of a friend who wrote a wonderful review, I picked up $2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (http://www.twodollarsaday.com/).

I then spent two days being vaguely cranky at the world and marginally depressed while reading it, but I recommend it nonetheless. Very short, well researched, and does a nice-enough job of combining the narrative "stories" with the policy analysis and data to work for most people, I think.

I grew up in a not-well-off family with an extended family who were middle class and upper class.  We were poor but we were cushioned from the kind of deep poverty that this book is about.  We were occasionally homeless, we were on WIC and received food stamps (they were still food stamps back then) when I was a kid in the 1980s.  But I always had winter coats.  We got enough shoes.  When we were homeless we couch-surfed in pretty nice houses, or got to stay in motels. We had running water and heat.    Though I knew this book was focused on people and situations more difficult than the ones I grew up in, I knew a lot of people growing up who were poorer than we were. I did not expect that there would be a lot that was new for me in this book.

There was a lot that was new to me.  The policy changes of the 1990s came after my family had (re)-entered the middle class.  Most of those changes took effect after I had gone to college, and I have not needed to access social services of these types since college. Things for the lower working class may have gotten better (at least according to notes in this book), but, as the authors very clearly show, things for the very poorest in America have gotten a lot worse.

If you have the emotional energy, this was a very worthwhile read. Probably at a similar level of depressing and angering as, oh, Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol? But possibly with more triggers.
Trigger warnings behind the cutCollapse )
[edited because I forgot to put in the authors' names after the title when first posted.]

Sep. 8th, 2015

09:16 pm - Objects moving, objects at rest.

So I have moved (from VT to MN, from a suburb to the middle of Minneapolis, from a three bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment). And now I am in the phase of moving after the first busy part and before the establishment of new routines.  It's usually an unsettled and open time, one good for reflection and long walks, journaling and crafts and catching up on correspondence.  At least, it usually is for me. I've lived in at least 12 or 13 different apartments and houses, and five states. Often enough to start to get a sense of my own patterns.

Productively fallow, that's how this time feels.  It's a lovely feeling.

Jun. 24th, 2015

10:29 am - 4th Street! and sundries

4th St: I will be at 4th Street Fantasy this weekend!  I look forward to seeing and chatting with folks.

sundry 1 - moving:
I'm moving back to MN from VT this summer, so I look forward to perhaps catching up more often with MN-residing friends and those who visit MN more frequently.

sundry 2 - writing:
I am still too shy to finish the one piece of fanfiction I'm noodling on and post it, or to post comments on the amazing fic writer whose stories were the whole reason I set up an ao3 account in the first place - specifically so I could post the comments about how much I like their work that I still have not posted.
On the other hand, I've had three stories published in the last 12 months and written a couple tiny public comments on short stories I liked in various magazines. Apparently I find the idea of fanfiction writing and commenting more intimidating than writing for paid publication and commenting on those stories.

Feb. 25th, 2015

10:20 am - Question about readings and publication/submission of stories

So I'm in the interesting-to-me position of getting to be part of a series of public events here in home-state where a group of local genre writers read their work. I'm flattered to be included and having a lot of fun, but don't have much published fiction yet.  This has left me full of questions.  Do public readings affect first sale rights at all, if I read things that are still out on submission?  Is it different if it's a reading of the whole work versus a part?  I've been operating on the assumption that a recorded reading of a complete work probably uses up first publication if the recording is publicly posted, and that an unrecorded reading of a partial work is probably fine, but I'm not sure about unrecorded readings of complete unpublished work.  Should I just plan to write some things that I use just in readings, and don't try to submit for publication?

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