Aug. 31st, 2020 11:39 pm
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
Greetings, traveller! Welcome to Highly's House of the Peculiar. Public posts are mostly bookish: regular reading updates (What are You Reading Wednesdays, only I normally do them on weekends), book reviews, and other bits and pieces.

Fandom-adjacent, but not a Fandom Blog. Links to fannish discussions occasionally, but would probably rather not end up on a fandom meta roundup. Don't mind if fandom accounts follow me, but probably won't follow back for fic or shipping centred accounts.

My photoblog crossposts to [personal profile] speculumannorum, and I also occasionally repost or unlock photo and poetry posts here.

Access locked posts tend to be personal navel-gazing: I do grant access, but usually only if I've interacted with you a bit first.
highlyeccentric: A photo of myself, around 3, "reading" a Miffy book (Read Miffy!)
Currently Reading:
Fiction: NK Jemison, 'How Long Till Black Future Month'. I did not manage to get to feminist book club for this, but I'm enjoying the book. Brian Jacques, 'Redwall', which: wow, that is some mediocre prose right there. Also some incoherent monastic structures.
Lit Mag: Technically still Meanjin summer 2018, but I've not looked at it for a while
Academic: Nothing
Other non-fiction: Laren Elkin, 'Flanêuse', which... is aggravating me. The woman has a PhD, she knows how to analyse, but this is not an example of analysis. It's just... stuff. Mostly stuff about white women. It's not even particularly engagingly written.

Recently Finished:

Nothing, not even podcasts.

Up Next: I need to get to Hand of Knaves, and I bought both 'Educated' and 'Banana Fish v 1' (wild mismatch, much?) in Kino on the weekend.

Music Notes:

I'm listening to a lot of Janelle Monae this week, cut with occasional Alannah Myles, and when I'm at home, Lady Gaga via spotify. I somehow completely missed her 2016 album Joanne (weirdly country turn?), and I like it a lot. I have also listened through Lizzo's entire spotify catalogue, after hearing good things about the new album. New album is indeed good, but I think I like 'Lizzobangers' better.
highlyeccentric: Demon's Covenant - Kitchen!fail - I saw you put rice in the toaster (Demon's Covenant - kitchen!fail)
Despite earlier gloomy predictions, tonight's dinner is an Achievement. It would be a lot simpler if you had a larger kitchen or bigger pots than I do, too.

I think the ancestor recipe is a recipe by [personal profile] killing_rose, but despite remembering the existence of the recipe, I don't seem to have saved it.

Diet and access notes )

Read more... )

Makes two small or one very large serving.
highlyeccentric: An underground street (Rue Obscure, Villefranche), mostly dark. Bright light at the entrance and my silhouette departing (Rue Obscure)
Short pieces, current affairs, hot takes:
  • Jason Burke and Amantha Perera (Guardian), Sri Lanka death toll expected to rise: leaders condemn killings. I was initially impressed with the government line, which was to officially Not Speculate on the motives of the bombers or comment on their religious alliegance, but it looks like that has started to fracture overnight (with the police circulating information they hadn't previously shared). And given the Sri Lankan govt's track record, I'm... not convinced the social media blackout and enforced curfew will be a net good.

Longer pieces - essay, memoir, natural history, other

Comments policy: Everything I said in the caveats to this post applies. I teach critical thinking for a living, but I'm not *your* teacher, and this blog is not a classroom. That means I don't have to abide by the fallacy of 'there's no such thing as a bad contribution to discussion'.
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
Cover: Proper EnglishAs you may know, I am among those who have been desperately hoping for KJC to turn her hand to f/f romance. And, given my preferences among KJC’s previous work, I was hoping for a romance/action or romance/supernatural or romance/mystery blend.

This is is the romance/mystery blend, and although it leans a bit further into the ‘frothy period setpiece’ than my preferences do, I was delighted by it and, having received the ARC in return for honest review, swallowed it in one intoxicating sitting. It’s so much more My Jam than… almost any f/f on the market (and unlike a few others out there that are My Jam plotwise, it also has engaging, amusing prose!), so it’s quite hard to review this book.

Things I am delighted by
  • Top notch period history work. Far cry from the widely recommended f/f historical that I threw across the room on page three because the MC was angsting about being seen in physical contact with another woman in what was, if you knew the slightest thing about the period, a perfectly normal social touch. Instead, Patricia and Fenella have both been negotiating the fuzzy boundaries between what is considered normal female homosocial bonding for young women and preferences or desires which are more firmly deviant. (Spoilery note: I love that one of them has been desiring life partnership, but not really thinking about sex as a possibility re: women, while the other has rather more sexual experience but never really thought about forming a life partnership with a woman. Variety! Nuance!)
  • A romantic plot that consists of something other than the lesbian sheep poem in narrative form! There *is* a fair bit of staring, and some ‘well okay, she kissed me, but that doesn’t mean…’, but the main bulk of the romantic plot line is taken up with the two women figuring out the difference between each other’s external social presentation and inner self
  • Hilarious subplot involving a gay male couple, which I shall not spoil. That subplot also turns from hilarious to serious toward the end, and provides some real depth to Patricia’s emotional arc that isn’t dependent on the romantic arc
  • A good range of supporting characters. I was particularly fond of one Ms Victoria Singh, vegetarian and animal rights activist. KJC’s side characters are always a strength, bringing both engaging personalities and ties into various streams of historical demographics and politics. And - pleasing me, personally, in my specific pet interests - a male-female friendship that’s strong, unique, and just… there, providing depth to both the MC and one of the secondary characters.

Things that are less brilliant: I feel bad listing these, because I love that this book exists! I want KJC to write more of them! But, uh. You may have noticed I measure most historicals against KJC? I also measure KJC against KJC, and this is - while not her weakest - definitely not her strongest work.
  • Pacing: The mystery and romance plots were out of sync. The latter had pretty much resolved by the time the former exploded. There was also no point in the overlap where either MC had a real reason to mistrust each other, and I feel like that was a missed opportunity there.
  • Sex: It’s fine! It’s fun! It’s better than many f/f romances out there! If you *don’t* like KJC’s kinkier work, then this book is definitely for you. I’m… just going to be over here feeling bad because I liked this but am still wishing for something more, and that something more can basically be summed up as ‘the kind of dynamics KJC writes for period historical MEN at terrible house parties’.

In short: I loved this book, but I loved it in the way that you love things for existing so you can’t hold their weaknesses against them the way you would for something that existed in abundance. I would definitely pay for it. It’s not KJC’s best work but I devoutly hope it’s not her last in the f/f market.
highlyeccentric: Me (portrait by Scarlet Bennet) (Not impressed)
Supplement to monday links, occurs irregularly.

Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:

Subset: On Cathedrals and Cultural Heritage
In case you live under a rock, Notre Dame cathedral caught fire on Monday evening and burned throughout the night.
  • Here is one of many twitter videos of the crowd on the banks of the Seine singing Ave Maria as the cathedral burns. I still can't watch without crying.

  • You may have heard by now that the main structure survived (the roof beams burned, and took with them the lead roof, and the 19th c grotesques, but the stone nave vaulting survived). Here is Matt Gabrielle on medieval architecture and fire. TL,DR that's no accident, a significant motivation for rib vaulting is it survives fire better than barrel vaulting. (NB Gabrielle is now tweeting this with the caveat that his statements on rebuilding need to be qualified with a call to reckon with the structure's history, including the nasty parts.)
  • Damian Fleming has a good thread about the craft of roofing, and how we should feel for the unfortunate restoration worker(s) who accidentally lit a spark in the attic:

  • Luke Gabrielle (ThinkProgress), Decoding the far right's language about Notre Dame and 'Western Civilisation'

  • I had a lot of feels all over twitter about the destructions we DON'T mourn, but here, here's a fabulously timed piece from the previous Friday:

  • Nayuka Gorrie (Guardian AU), The government wants to bulldoze my inheritance: 800-year old sacred trees. Same age, give or take, as Notre Dame. One's a globally mourned accident; the other collatoral damage to a road expansion.
  • Related to which: Protest camp site, including donation page. I don't like using gofundme, but... money where my mouth is, and all that. Sent through what I think of as my Hot Take Fee today, and intend to make a more substantive contribution next payday.

  • Also I heard from Facebook that the last Yangtze Softshell Turtle died on the same day as Notre Dame burned.

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
  • Lane Sainty (Buzzfeed Aus), How The Geoffrey Rush #MeToo Defamation Case Went Disastrously Wrong For His Accuser. Starting with the fact that she had to discuss it in court in the first place, which she never wanted.
  • Kevin Sieff and Carolyn Van Houten (Washington Post), Her ancestors fled to Mexico to escape slavery 170 years ago. She still sings in English to this day.. Photo-essay focusing on the matriarch of the Mascogos tribe, descendents of African slaves who fled America. The tribe now speak Spanish, and seek work across the border in the US, but matriach Lucia Vazquez Valdez retains a trove of hymns in English, passed down through generations. There's audio. It's gorgeous.
  • S. Bear Bergman (Ask Bear), How do I know when to stop trying to fix myself and everything else.
    Some people are just do-it-make-it-fix-it oriented, and others have other skills and talents. That’s okay. The world needs its capable stewards as much as its disruptors. Some people are making glorious impassioned quotable speeches on the steps of a venerable monument and some people are bookkeeping for the revolution. All of these people are valuable to the work of justice and liberation. Let’s make sure we are valuing people for what they’re good at and their choices to lend some of that time and talent, whatever it looks like, toward the goal of a better world instead of always valorizing the person doing the face work. The one who spends their Sunday coding and categorizing a list of doors to knock on for the local municipal election doesn’t get much recognition, but without them the entire enterprise crumbles. Let’s be sure we have a clear sense who the entire iceberg, is what I’m saying. For everyone who is at the protest or action with a cheeky sign there’s someone who spent the entire previous day meticulously serving as an expert witness about sexual harassment taking a needed break with whiskey and comic books.

    I'm a little confused about how Bergman drew the conclusion the LW was primarily concerned about social justice inaction - that's really not the implication I drew from LW's frustration with people who were inactively happy with where they are and what they're doing. But hey, it's good advice anyway.
  • Joshua Mostafa (Overland), Mistaking symptoms for causes: the link between moralism and anti-semitism.

    A sensible place to begin thinking about the problem is to consider the nature of contemporary antisemitism and the ways it differs from other types of racism and xenophobia, as well as from older forms of antisemitism – and therefore might not be adequately addressed by generic condemnations of ‘all forms of racism’.

    Racist ideologies provided an intellectual cover for the depredations of European colonialism and the slave trade; as such, they presented the racialised Other as inferior, subhuman, irrational, irresponsible, incorrigibly violent and therefore in need of subjugation and oppression. Antisemitism, on the other hand imagines ‘the Jews’ not as inferior but as a global cabal of master manipulators )

    I have two qualms here: one, not particularly serious, but it baffles me that an Australian publication would run an article opening with an analysis of 'The Labour Party' without insisting on a specification of which labour party where. Yes, someone paying close attention can tell that the U means it's not the Australian Labor Party, but there are other countries than the UK with Labour-with-a-U parties! NZ, for one!
    Second qualm: I saw some Australian-twitter mutterings this week about it being a mistake to theorise contemporary anti-semitism separate from islamophobia, and I wonder if they were subtweeting this article. Even if not, I would be interested in seeing this article dissected by someone who holds that opinion.
  • Peter Greste (SMH, speaking as director of the Alliance for Journalists' Freedom), Julian Assange is no journalist; don't confuse his arrest with press freedom.

    Instead of sorting through the hundreds of thousands of files to seek out the most important or relevant and protect the innocent, he dumped them all onto his website, free for anybody to go through, regardless of their contents or the impact they might have had. Some exposed the names of Afghans who had been giving information on the Taliban to US forces.

    Journalism demands more than simply acquiring confidential information and releasing it unfiltered onto the internet for punters to sort through. It comes with responsibility.

    To effectively fulfil the role of journalism in a democracy, there is an obligation to seek out what is genuinely in the public interest and a responsibility to remove anything that may compromise the privacy of individuals not directly involved in a story or that might put them at risk.

Useful links (for varying definitions of 'useful')
  • Neli at Delicious Meets Healthy, How to make perfect hard boiled eggs. Hard boiled eggs, like mashed potato, are one of those things I know how to do in theory, but there are so many variations I have never memorised a good one, and often end up picking a Terrible One. The hard boiled egg recipe in The Commonsense Cookery Book is particularly bad. But this one is not bad! I have bookmarked it and now I have eggs for workdays!
  • The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae is now available open-access. Let the angelic chorus rejoice.

Comments policy: As per this post. With the added note that, if you have a lot of Feels in the vein of 'stop policing grief! value all sacred sites equally', take them somewhere bloody else until you've learned how cultural hegemony works. I spent yesterday talking down a white guy on Twitter from the claim that 'people' (read: non-white commentators, and those white twittizens who like myself had *complicated feelings*) were 'creating enmity' or... some fucking thing. I have no spare energy to rehearse that, there's plenty of actual opinion pieces out there today (and if you can't find one, refer to the ones from #weareallparis in 2015, it's the same basic principle except with heritage instead of terrorism).
highlyeccentric: Sir Not apearing-in-this-film (sir not appearing)
Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:
  • Palestine Post 24 report Netanyahu says killing 300 Gaza protestors was a 'wise' decision. Chilling soundbite, followed by some interesting-and-also-worrying dissection of Netanyahu's recent policy statements on re-occupying Gaza.
  • Melissa Davey (Guardian AU), Anti-abortion activists lose bid to overturn clinic safe zones in two states. Straightforward report on the High Court case. Doesn't contain the delightfully thorough takedowns of free-speech arguments which were imported holus bolus from the US (via US activist networks funding the case), without sufficient adjustment for Australian context and law. I don't seem to have kept links to those, but I really ought ot have.
  • ABC news Tasmania makes gender optional on birth certificates. I understand from Twitter this was part of the same package of laws that removed the requirement for legal gender transition before marriage, but I actually haven't been able to find news reports on that, only activist facebook/twitter posts.
  • Annabel Crabb (ABC news), The Secret Life of Utes: "The Australian democratic system has taken a few kicks to the cods in the last decade. But one of its special superpowers has remained — preserved, miraculously, like a half-played game of chess found in the ruins of Hurricane Katrina. And that superpower is: the capacity to reduce any political question to an equation employing the metric of utes."
  • Sam Langford (Junkee), Some enemies of Get Up have created a superhero to take down Get Up, and oh boy. Summary of the total WTF that is 'Captain GetUp'.
  • SMH Rugby Australia set to sack Israel Folau for anti-gay posts. I understand they have done so, and the NRL has expressed that Folau is not welcome there either (more nebulously, one of my colleagues says several team owners overseas have expressed the same, too, but I have no evidence).
  • BBC news Swiss court orders re-run of a 2016 referendum on the basis that incorrect information was disseminated and may have influenced the close-run result.
  • NYT How Katie Bouman became the face of the black hole. TL,DR, there were about forty women involved in the 200 person team, and understandable efforts to elevate Dr Bouman out of range of the predicted 'Rosalind Franklin' effect have... left those other women out of the discussion.
  • Maxine Beneba Clarke (The Saturday Paper), The Changemakers, A Hot Take in poetric form on the upcoming election

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
  • Adam Harris (The Atlantic) The Death of An Adjunct:

    Nearly 80 percent of faculty members were tenured or tenure-track in 1969. Now roughly three-quarters of faculty are nontenured. The jobs that are available—as an adjunct, or a visiting professor—rest on shaky foundations, as those who occupy them try to balance work and life, often without benefits. And Thea wobbled for years.

    She was on the tenure track, and then she wasn’t. She had a promising job lead, and then it wasn’t so promising. She was on her way to publishing, and then that fizzled. Meanwhile, her hopes and setbacks were compounded by an underlying reality that many adjuncts face: a lack of health insurance. She was a black woman in academia, and she was flying against a current. Some professors soar; adjuncts flap and dive and flap again—until they can’t flap anymore.

  • Gretchen McCullough (Wired) Coding Is For Everyone - As Long As You Speak English. What it says on the tin.
  • Anke Richter (The Spinnoff NZ), I'm German and I live in Christchurch, let's talk about swastikas.

    We didn’t expect such volatile clashes when we marched peacefully through our Garden City, pushing a stroller. But we also didn’t expect to be joined by a dozen National Front members. It was the first time I saw swastikas up close on real people. They’re illegal where I’m from.

    I say “joined” not because these neo-Nazis supported our march – they were opposing it of course, and pathetically small in numbers – but because everyone was so civil with them. They were even handed the megaphone for the sake of balance. only one left'winger who came from Switzerland tried to interfere )

    At the end of the 2004 Christchurch march, we all sang the national anthem together, left and right. I had to tackle this phenomenon with sarcasm: in Aotearoa, even neo-Nazis were apparently bicultural, and everyone gets along.

  • Paola Balla (NITV, keynote address for the Stella Prize), Why should I suck my belly in?.
  • Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (Meanjin Summer 2018), Ngajjurlangu - Me Too. A very moving essay, with some assumptions and policy directions that I know are hotly debated from within the indigenous community.
    Pull quote containing its central thesis )

    For context/background, a couple of additional links:

  • Yen-Rong Wong (Meanjin Summer 2018) The Very Model of A Model Ethnic Minority. Good intro to the model minority effect if you aren't familiar with the concept, and an engaging personal reckoning with it in specific Australian context from a Chinese(-Malaysian)-Australian.
  • Luke Stegemann (Meanjin Summer 2018), Paths to Amnesia. I don't GET this piece. He's definitely lamenting the decline of 'history', in favour of, apparently, nostalgia and partisan approaches to the past. In fact, he seems to me to be wildly ahistorically nostalgic for what he thinks of as a golden age of critical thinking based historical debate. He conflates libraries and archives and generally... waffles on. It is totally unclear what, if anything, he is arguing for.
  • Ephemeral New York blog, The rich activists of New York's Mink Brigade. I knew about rich women funding the worker's strikes, but the point about their presence on the picket lines preventing police violence really struck me this time.
  • Mike Seccombe (The Saturday Paper), Election 2019: Welcome to the Age War.
    Only about 20 years ago, Wood said, there were 7.4 people of working age for every one over age 65. By 2015 that had fallen to 4.4.
    Bad luck for younger Australians, she said, but that’s an inevitable consequence of an ageing population.
    “But what I find less easy to accept is a series of policy decisions that have substantially increased the size of the transfers to older households – expanding their good fortune at the expense of subsequent generations.”
    The age pension, for example, had increased as a share of average weekly earnings from 30 per cent to 37 per cent over the past two decades. Yet the unemployment payment, Newstart, had not increased.

    Insofar as I am leaning on my parents for support in the next year or so, more than I have since undergrad, I'm a beneficiary of these 'transfers to older households', but... only by good fortune of heredity. I like to think I can find something both personally advantageous and Unethical Policy at a national level.
  • Constance Grady (Vox), Beverly Cleary's 103 birthday: celebrating Ramona Quimby. I have never read Ramona Quimby, but perhaps I should.

Items of interest and/or amusement:

That is, I think, enough for one post. I'll hold the rest for Thursday, or next Monday if I don't get a chance to post on Thursday.

Comments policy: I am *not* going to be tolerant of trolling, whataboutery, outright bigotry, white supremacist dogwhistles, or general stupidity. Particularly in the cases where I've linked to something that's *an intra-community debate within a marginalised group neither you nor I belong to*, think twice before offering your twenty cent pronouncement (but if you have links to other intra-community contributions, by all means hit me up). Everything I said in the caveats to this post applies. I teach critical thinking for a living, but I'm not *your* teacher, and this blog is not a classroom. That means I don't have to abide by the fallacy of 'there's no such thing as a bad contribution to discussion'.
highlyeccentric: French vintage postcard - a woman in feminised army uniform of the period (General de l'avenir)
Currently Reading:
Fiction: NK Jemison, 'How Long Till Black Future Month', with the optimistic plan of attending the Tokyo Feminist Book Club meeting next week.
Non-fiction: Flaneuse, still
Lit Mag: Technically, summer Meanjin. Very very slowly.

Recently Finished: A surprising number of things!

A Decline in Prophets (Rowland Sinclair Mysteries #2)A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun read, but again the historical fiction work was stronger than the crime plot - and both were significantly less well done than the first novel.

The setting and characters were engaging: the novel begins (although it doesn't end) on an ocean liner from Europe to New York, and continues (although still doesn't end) on the same liner from New York to Sydney) as Rowland and his rag-tag bundle of companions finish the last leg of their Grand Tour. They meet an assortment of fascinating characters, including the historical Theosophist leader Annie Besant, the philospher Jiddu Krishnamurti (also historical), and the fiery (but as far as I can tell fictional) Roman Catholic bishop Hanrahan. At least one murder, and several near-death incidents, take place, and due to the juristictional murkiness of murder at sea, are not fully investigated. The plot continues to unfold at home in Sydney, as Rowland and his friends are forced to deal with the arrival of a bevvy of Rowland's conservative relatives.

The plot, I'm afraid to say, drags somewhat: it would have been stronger, I suspect, were it a murder-at-sea closed plot, rather than sprawling across several continents. The strength of the first book was how incredibly effectively Gentil tied her mystery plot to a very specific historic event and its tight timeline, whereas here, although historical figures appear, we aren't bound to a specific event.

The sprawling narrative and lack of a strong secondary plot means it's obvious that Rowland has all the spine of a wet lettuce, and is by no stretch of the imagination a detective. Things just happen to him, and he has neither drive nor principles. I would much, much prefer to read The Edna Mysteries, in which Our Bold Heroine solves crimes, deploying her radical acquaintances and her spineless but rich benefactor-friend to good ends, than the Rowland Sinclair Has Things Happen To Him Stories.

In addition, it stretched my credibility in the first book but now far exceeds it: I simply cannot see why Clive, Milt and Edna associate with Rowland, if it's not that they're cunningly milking the upperclasses for anything they can. Rowland has, and I stress this, no principles, no moral centre. He feels vaguely bad about things, but all his association with socialists OR his conservative upbringing have failed to induce him to have an opinion. (In comparison, Phryne Fisher is filthy rich and unashamed of it, but it's very easy to see why Bert and Cec, the radical cab drivers come informants come getaway drivers, associate with her: they respect her principles and conduct despite her wealth.)

Lies Sleeping (Peter Grant, #7)Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this, for its sense of humour, as I always do. My admiration for Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's narration has taken a beating in the face of his utter inability to pronounce 'Nguyen', though. It's not an UNCOMMON name! (Subtract points from the audiobook publishers, too, for not employing a name-pronouncing-coach or at least beta-reading for names. With a racially diverse cast of supporting cast, they really ought to.)

Plot-wise... eh. I'm starting to feel the series has over-reached itself. Aaronovitch's talent for worldbuilding has now established so much, a single book can't wow on the basis of introducing a vast amount of new concepts, and so his weaknesses in plot and character development are more jarring. In particular, although I get that this book is *supposed* to be showing Peter going into low-grade burnout, it's not very well done: largely what we got is 'confirmation Leslie's right that Peter lacks initiative, combined with a lot of comments about psychological risk, and one weird scene on a bridge'. It's possible to compellingly depict a character in burnout and/ptsd who doesn't know that's what's happening to them: this book doesn't do it.

As for relationships? It seems like Aaronovitch is moving SIMS around. If we put the two SIMS in a house, and computer says they're In A Relationship, well, everyone infers the correct emotional beats from there!

Any Old Diamonds (Lilywhite Boys #1)Any Old Diamonds by K.J. Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SLAY ME NOW. This is KJ Charles in top form and I love it so damn much. Absolutely brilliant use of single-POV, and then the twist where it turns out our deep POV has been UNRELIABLE deep POV??? UGH. Masterful craftwork, ten points, also I'll be in my bunk.

Also an ARC of KJC's 'Proper English', which I loved, but it's not quite the masterpiece of plot structure that Lilywhite Boys or some of her other work achieves. Full review later, probably on the weekend.

Up Next: I keep meaning to start 'A Hand of Knaves'. I'm PUBLISHED IN IT and haven't read it yet, it's faintly ridiculous. I also have all of the Victoriocity podcast queued up for a suitable mood.

Still listening to Grace Petrie a lot. Deeply fascinated by I've had worse, although it's rather odd that should resonate with me right now.
highlyeccentric: Teacup - text: while there's tea there's hope (while there's tea there's hope)
Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
  • Louis Beckett (The Guardian): Fifty Shades of White: the long fight against racism in romance novels. Like everyone else on Twitter, I read this and was both flabbgergasted at some specific quotes and deeply unsurprised over all.
  • Mark McKenna (Meanjin): In Search of Emily. McKenna revisits a historical court case he included in his book Looking for Blackfellas' Point. A white woman, Emily Wintle, who had been a foster child (/domestic servant) in the household of a rich white landowner near Bega, came forward to police after her marriage with an account of the secret birth of a mixed-race child to one of the landowners daughters, and the subsequent infanticide of the child. McKenna included the court records in his book. Now, armed with the greater resources of Trove's digital archives, and multiple different people's family oral history accounts, he assembles Emily Wintle's life story. The subject matter is pretty rough going at times, but engaging, and McKenna does a glorious job of both presenting a readable narrative and showing his working as an archival historian.
  • Pang Khee Teik (Queer Lapis), Selective liberal outrage against Brunei is missing the point:

    Judging from the news and accompanying outrage against Brunei, one would think that gays have been specially singled out for violent capital punishment in that country. However, the fact is that the Sharia Penal Code (SPC) that go into effect this week in Brunei includes amputation for theft, death penalty for apostasy, as well as stoning to death for adultery and same gender sexual acts. Non-Muslims are not spared and minors could be whipped too. As an LGBT rights activist working in Malaysia, I am disturbed by this global trend of reporting which gives the impression that the killing of gay people is the only crime worth the outrage. Should we not be equally outraged by amputation of limbs, death for apostasy, whipping of children, and other crimes against humanity?

    It makes me wonder if this baiting of liberal outrage has an undercurrent of Islamophobia driving it. If so, this allows countries like Brunei to frame human rights not only as oppositional to Islamic laws, but as an attack on their sovereignty. This selective liberal outrage unhelpfully lends itself to the narrative that the west is encroaching upon their Islamic values through LGBT rights, justifying their attempt to keep out all things un-Islamic.

  • Carolyn Centeno Milton (Forbes), Does unconscious bias effect our sustainable lifestyle choices. Including such ridiculous (but not really surprising) news as 'give a man a pink gift card and he's less likely to choose an eco-friendly shopping bag, apparently as a way of balancing his masculinity'.
  • Julie Jargon (The Star, but I think syndicated from the Wall Street Journal?), Why video games trigger the nightly meltdown and how to help your child cope. An astonishingly balanced and insightful approach, including specifically advising not to take your child to a therapy centre focusing on video-game addiction because 'they will deal with the gaming addiction and give you your depressed child back'.

Caveats for readers: I like comments. I am, broadly speaking, open to discussing the things I post! I am not, however, happy for anyone to turn up and drag the lowest common denominator down below 101 level. I teach critical thinking for a job, I have no intention of doing so here. Whatabout-ery, sealioning, dragging in stale talking points from dudebro athiests of the early 21st century, covert white supremacist dogwhistles, whatever else you come up with to drag the conversation back to the lowest common denominator, will not be met kindly.

hereunder the two pieces of advice I am giving )
highlyeccentric: (Sydney Bridge)
Supplement to monday links, occurs irregularly.

Short essays, current affairs, hot takes: some of which are now cold takes, because moving ate my brain
  • Paul Bongiorno (The Saturday Paper), The politics of hate - good job contextualising Australian politician's responses to Christchurch. Take-away: ' Revulsion at racism and bigotry only goes so far when self-interest is involved.'
  • Statement from the Australian Muslim community on Christchurch and Islamophobia. Does a solid job connecting pervasive racist and discriminatory sentiments with major violence.
    We remember when Liberal Party Senators openly congratulated Fraser Anning after his explicit reference to a ‘final solution’ when discussing Muslim immigration.
    We remember when Peter Dutton suggested that sections of our community should never have been allowed into this country in the first place.
    We remember when elected Liberal Party representatives campaigned to remove Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act under the guise of protecting ‘free speech.’
    We remember when Liberal Party Senators joined One Nation to vote in favour of the white nationalist slogan ‘It’s OK to be white.’
    This climate of hostility breeds discrimination, harassment and ultimately violence.
    A truly safe society is one where no community should fear that they will be made scapegoats or demonised for the sake of cheap political point-scoring.

    It shouldn't need specifying, but the statement is signed by a number of Australia's high profile white/convert Muslims. They have no trouble seeing Islamophobia as a species of or at least coterminus with racism. Comments along the lines of 'but what about WHITE muslims / islam is not a race' are not welcome in my journal.
  • Too Poor to Play (Guardian UK): in sequel to the 'poor doors' development, children in affordable housing blocked from the nice shared playgrounds in new London developments.

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other

Short subsection on Jordan Peterson: twitter sent me down a thread of 'best analyses of What's Terrible About Peterson's Work (in response to someone asking for resources to redirect students with):

Of Academic Interest
  • Mounawar Abouchi (in Medieval Feminist Forum) has put out a parallel text and translation of Yde et Olive, the most difficult-to-find of the medieval French crossdressing romances. Open access PDF. Everyone rejoice!
highlyeccentric: A photo of myself, around 3, "reading" a Miffy book (Read Miffy!)
Currently Reading:
Audio: Ben Aaronovitch, Lies Sleeping
Fiction: Sulari Gentil, A Decline in Prophets
Non-Fiction: Lauren Elkin, Flaneuse
Lit Mag: Technically the summer Meanjin, but I haven't touched it for a while

Recently Finished: Finished on planes

The Mage WindsThe Mage Winds by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this continued to deliver exactly what I came here for: magic horses! Political intrigue (more complex, this time)! Telepathic sex (tbh, could have exploited the premises more thoroughly)! Once again including solid male-female friendships, female characters with actual flaws (although tbh Nyara could have used some personality flaws - all her weaknesses are trauma derived), and supremely handwavey magic.

On the other hand, now including: genre-typical orientalism and noble savage tropes, a Magic Quest To The Noble Savage To Learn Magic, and a pretty fucking deeply embedded association between 'kinky sex' and 'megalomaniac evil blood magic taking over the world'.

On a craft level, the plotting definitely has become more complex, and stands up fairly well; but reading them as an omnibus makes it obvious how weak the conclusion is. Bam, bad guy dead, everyone home, in a tiny page count. What now? HOW DOES POLITICS???

I realise if I want politics and complex resolutions with my magic duels, I could be reading Game of Thrones. Believe me, the day is coming. Sigh.

A Thousand Splendid SunsA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well *this* made me cry on a plane. I don't really know how to review it, but some notes:

- from the title to the epilogue, it's suffused with a strong sense of place, and a particular love of Kabul. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

- I would like to follow it up with a book by an Afghani woman (this is a book deeply *about* women, and afaik Hosseini doesn't commit any major Fail, but still), and wow, it is hard to find recommendations of fiction by Afghan women writers, even in diaspora. Non-fiction and journalism, sure, but fiction? Wikipedia lists three short story writers, two of whom haven't been translated. One is a novelist who is translated into French, though Goodreads only lists one of her books. I could fish a few more novelists out of the Wikipedia list '21st century Afghan women writers', but the ones with titles listed in English, either the title has been translated by the wiki article but the book isn't translated, or the book has vanished without a trace.

Up Next: I still have one KJ Charles in my Kobo awaiting me...

Music Notes: I somehow started listening to Maggie Rogers, and I think I approve. Still listening to Grace Petrie on loop.
highlyeccentric: Green Eggs and Ham retitled: Fear of the Unknown Hinders Development of Informed Opinions (Fear of the unknown (green eggs and ham))
I cooked and ate *two whole meals* today. And hard-boiled some eggs for breakfast/snacking purposes. Between the basic 'foreign supermarkets' problem, the gluten issues, and the tiny kitchen I'm working with (two hot plates, no bench space), all of my spare brainpower is going on food right now.

1. The coffee from vending machines is cold, but the tea is usually hot.

2. Coco-ichi, a chain curry house, have some 'allergen-free' curry options. I did not personally discover this: I declined a lunch invite from someone at the orientation on Saturday, on account of betaking myself and my packed rice salad lunch to the park where there are no glutens. He helpfully came back to report that the place he'd ended up going with a group of other teachers had marked allergen-free options.

3. My mental image of Tokyo is pretty much entirely drawn from the neighbourhood of Shibuya (which was apparently the reference for the setting in Bladerunner. For some reason I'd thought it was Beijing). The quiet outer suburb I'm living in is nothing like that, and that is Okay By Me.
3b. My Shibuya-based mental image of Tokyo did not include 'The Aldgate', a British style pub in the second floor of one of the narrow buildings. They win points by virtue of having more gluten-free options than most UK pubs in the actual UK do.

4. Honey lives between the japanese teas and the western-style teas. I discovered this after three laps of the supermarket. On initially finding it, I thought perhaps it was because honey is a sweetener for tea, but then I realised the Nutella also lives in that section. I'm FAIRLY sure no one puts nutella in tea (although... there is hot chocolate powder in that aisle too. You could make some pretty great nutella hot chocolate if you wanted).

5. There's a national park type thing about fifteen minutes walk from here, with gentle walking trails and a 'sakura hill'. A++, good work, Machida-shi.

6. It's much easier to serve up vietnamese style rice noodles if you use chopsticks as your serving utensil. (This discovery really courtesy of [personal profile] bedlamsbard, who mentioned 'cooking chopsticks' on one platform or another. Otherwise I would never have thought of turning to my new hello kitty chopsticks in absence of a spaghetti lifter or salad fork.)

I've set up some photos from this week (plus another cache of Darkest Lancashire photos that I found on my camera, left from last year) in my Tumblr queue. They probably won't feed through to [personal profile] speculumannorum, though, because that relies on a bunch of IFTTT scripts, and google are blocking IFTTT from accessing google email accounts from 31 March. I will, I guess, eventually set up IFTTT to route through something else, but the whole system i have going involves two different IFTTT accounts and three gmail accounts, so. It will take a while to repair. In the meantime, [syndicated profile] speculumannorum_feed will keep working, I assume.
highlyeccentric: (Swings)
Things seen in Japan:

1. A LOT more English signage than expected. Company escort yesterday (taking us to the municipal office to do arrival declarations) says it's in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

2. An amusing range of food items and entire shops catering to a strong francophilia. My personal favourite is a cafe in Hashimoto station with entirely French signage on the outside. Very *well written* French, too, in comparison to some of the English-is-cool signage on shops etc.

3. A primary school in my neighbourhood which appears to own a fleet of unicycles for playground use.

4. Some good sunsets.

5. Not much gluten-free food, indeed not.

6. More people dressed in beige and navy than I have ever seen in my life.

7. The glorious kitch of the 100-yen stores. I have purchased Hello Kitty chopsticks and a Hello Kitty teaspoons (teaspoons being only available in the form of novelty children's cutlery, at least in 100-yen stores).

8. Election signage for 'Lib Dems', the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, who appear to be endeavouring to be Cool And International, if the english-language sloganing is anything to go by.$

9. A passbook. An actual honest-to-glod passbook was issued with my bank account. I have never had a passbook in my life before (my children's savings account had a deposit book, with deposit slips in it, as did at least one other account I opened before about 2008. Haven't had anything remotely in that ballpark for a decade).

10. A plumber wearing a suit. He fixed my non-functioning apartment washing machine, communicating via google translate all the while.

My employing company effects a truly glorious feat of logistics, meeting all staff at the airport and then either at an interchange station or at their local station before escorting them to apartments, and then shepherding us around to the municipal offices
highlyeccentric: Green Eggs and Ham retitled: Fear of the Unknown Hinders Development of Informed Opinions (Fear of the unknown (green eggs and ham))
Expect continuing irregularity as I up and move to Japan!

Good News: (For a while I tried to run a whole tumblr dedicated to posting only good news. It didn't last, due to a general dearth of good news, but... it might be worth trying a recurring segment here)

Current Affairs and Hot Takes:

Longreads, various
  • Dennis Norris II (Electric Lit), T Kira Madden's Memoir is a love letter to misfits. Conversation with the author of 'Long live the tribe of fatherless girls' - some interesting perspectives on talking about damaging family experiences when you have chosen not to bundle the whole thing, or even any single individual, as 'all bad'.
  • Hannah McGregor (Electric Lit), Liking Books is Not A Personality.
    There is nothing new in this link between loving books and conspicuously consuming them. There is a long, classed history of book consumption as social posturing. As American culture scholar Lisa Nakamura points out, displaying books for others to view has long been “a form of public consumption that produces and publicizes a reading self.” But contemporary bookish culture extends conspicuous consumption beyond books themselves, to a range of lifestyle goods that have, in fact, played a significant role in the recent revival of independent bookstores (and in the expansion of Canadian book retailer Indigo into the U.S.). It is also more complex than a simple display of cultural or institutional capital, rooted as this culture is in a deep emotional investment in books that consumers have been taught to express through consumption. And we can see it playing out through the history of book-buying, from early bibliophilia to the midcentury Book-of-the-Month Club’s offer to help you build a personal library to millennial-aimed blogs that turn bookishness into consumer behavior.

  • Amal Awad (Meanjin blog), The Ongoing Threat of Minorities.

    In my research on Arab women, one woman who worked with Muslim women told me something I never forgot: racism is exclusively about power. There are layers. Stories. The human race is multi-dimensional, capable of feeling deeply in one extreme way or another, of experiencing contrast—hate or indifference, fear or love. We are less interested in a way of introspection, or compassion, in allowing for individualism that breeds a more united whole. You get flack for suggesting individualism is worthwhile, because we are tribal and interested in the power that comes with it.

  • Malachy Tallach (Boundless), The heart of beyond. Reflections on the fiction of remote places and the politics involved in writing somewhere as 'remote'.

    Philip Larkin was once asked in an interview why he chose to live in Hull, ‘so far away from the centre’. The poet responded with a rather more sensible enquiry: ‘The centre of what?’ As Larkin understood, the question of where is central and where remote is not so much a geographical one as it is political: a matter of perspective backed by power. ‘The centre’ is where decisions are made. It is where people and money are concentrated. ‘The centre’ is the voice to which everywhere else must listen.

    But Larkin’s question also has artistic implications. Because to write well about a place, to see and to show it as it truly is, it is necessary to rid oneself of the illusion of ‘remoteness’. Cliches must be cast aside, distance dissolved. The peripheral must become central.

  • Sandra Newman (Electric Lit), What if you can't afford 'A Room of One's Own'.
  • Osmond Chiu (Meanjin blog), Eliminating Racism, or, as we call it, Harmony:

    Thursday March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You may not have heard of the day before. It is commemorated in Australia as Harmony Day.

    Harmony Day was a creation of the Howard Government twenty years ago, a response to research conducted for the federal government about the causes of racism. It was a deliberate choice to not focus on ‘anti-racism’ but rather emphasise the importance and value of ‘harmony’.

  • Charlotta Forss (Notches Blog), Some Like It Hot: Sex and the Sauna in Early Modern Sweden.

    Indeed, in report after report, early modern travellers to Sweden wrote home about the undress they had witnessed in the saunas. For instance, the Italian naturalist and diplomat Lorenzo Magalotti included a scene from a sauna when illustrating his narrative of his visit to Stockholm in 1674. In Magalotti’s sketch, a fully unclothed man rests on a bench at the back of the sauna while in the foreground, two female attendants wearing linen garments tend to the bathers.

    With accounts and illustrations like Magalotti’s, early modern travellers to Sweden voiced both fascination and a moral distancing from the local custom. In this way, the sauna provided travellers to Sweden with the curious and strange that was expected in an early modern travel narrative about foreign lands. At the same time, the sauna created an actual and conceptual space where the traveller could both join in with and comment on the local variability of eroticism.

  • Sandy Allen (them.us), Marie Kondo helped me sort out my gender
    I eventually ran out of the one makeup item I still sometimes wore, red lipstick, and now found myself incapable of making the trip to Sephora to buy more. A month later, kneeling and sobbing before my Marie Kondo discard pile, it felt silly ... this book had finally done it. )

  • Sirena Bergman (The Independent), How the use of the 150 year old speculum puts women off smear tests. What I found most interesting was the discussion of several innovations on the speculum (an inflatable one! One that opens in a different direction! One made of sex toy silicone!) that have simply not got off the ground. Bergman reports that doctors aren't interested / don't have time to train in using new tools, although I would be interested to know if there are other factors.

  • I have been enjoying Look At Me, a Guardian podcast hosted by Ben Law and Chris McCormack, in which Chris explains unsual animals to Ben, Ben interprets them through the Queer Agenda, and then they talk to researchers and citizen conservationists.

Aesthetic or Amusing Things:
highlyeccentric: I've been searching for a sexual identity, and now you've named it for me: I'm a what. (Sexual what)
Yesterday got eaten by admin and my ongoing effort to finish this particular crochet project before I fly out.

Currently Reading:
Fiction: Mercedes Lackey, 'The Mage Winds'; Khaled Housseni, 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'
Non-Fiction: Lauren Elkin, 'Flaneuse'
Lit Mag: Meanjin Summer 2018
Academic: none

Recently Finished:

DNF: Yelena Moscovitch, Virtuoso. I'm clearly not in a place for both the grotesque *and* the convoluted structure of this novel. One or other, maybe, but not both.

Call Me By Your Name (Call Me By Your Name, #1)Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book utterly blew me away. Aciman does fantastic work with language, wrapping sentences around affective experiences that elude most ordinary expressions. The end result isn't comfortable, not by far: desire, here, is intoxicating and devastating, fascinating and repulsive all at once. There are experiences here that I recognise as my own - nothing so structurally simple as 'relationship with significant age/power disparity', I mean experience on the level of emotion, affect, self-structuring and restructuring - and had not expected to ever see pinned down like this.

What bothers me is the combination of the chronological setting and the epilogue. The main action takes place in 1987; the final chapter spools rapidly through Elio's life and two further encounters with Oliver over twenty years. Yet, aside from one glancing reference to a necessarily uncomfortable health discussion AIDS is never mentioned.

Oh, I can buy that Oliver wouldn't mention it in 1987: he's clearly so far in denial he's swimming with the crocodiles. But I find it hard to believe it made no impact on Elio. The narration is, while very tightly focalised through 17-y-old Elio's experience, *voiced* by his older self, including not infrequent commentary on his youthful actions from the perspective of what it would mean later. I find it extremely difficult to believe that he looks back on an affair like that and *doesn't* think 'holy shit we were reckless'. And are we to believe Elio did not go on to have further relationships with men? The final chapter mentions 'people' after Oliver, suddenly coy about gender. And those people come and go, apparently, Elio loves and learns and... the great scourge of the LGBTQ community of the 80s and 90s just doesn't figure into anything for him. Nor does he consider that as a possible factfor Oliver, despite the fact that the life Oliver is living - married, with kids, perfectly normal life, and a secret past (present?) of affairs with men - is a textbook example of exactly what the 80s and 90s feared from bi and/or closeted gay men.

I feel like, having told a story that's very much a physically and psychologically grounded narrative of formative queer passion, Aciman took a step back and decided to massage it into a story that 'isn't defined by gender' or something. And that's where I think it shows through that Aciman isn't himself queer.or

Online Fiction:

I linked to it in Monday's links post, but Theories of the Point of View Shift In AC/DC's Shook Me All Night Long is technically a short story, and it is good!

Finished s. 2 of The Penumbra Podcast, after some confusion resulting from accidentally *skipping* the penultimate Second Citadel episode. Was NOT expecting the plot twist re: Sir Caroline at the end; overall very pleased.

Finished 'Strange Case of the Starship Iris' s. 1, loved it

Caught up on 'Under Pressure' podcast, still enjoying it, but not as much as Starship Iris.

In the process of catching up with 'Unwell' podcast, likewise enjoying it but not as much as Starship Iris.

Up Next:

Saving the next Rivers of London audiobook for the plane!

Music Notes: been listening to 'Diseases of England' again lately; it seems Apt.

Meanwhile, please meet my new crush and also new favourite song:

'Nobody Knows That I'm A Fraud' by Grace Petrie.
highlyeccentric: Sir Not apearing-in-this-film (sir not appearing)
Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:
I am not going to post current affairs and hot takes about Christchurch. If anyone has good reading on it from NZ authors, ideally kiwi muslims or at least non-white commentators, hit me up? I'm pretty uncomfortable with how the narrative I'm seeing is very much 'what this says about Australia', even from Australian muslims. I realise owning our trash is better than disowning the shooter, but... we do have an amazing knack for drowning out NZ, and a lot of white Australian commentary has come tinged with 'but we thought NZ was a nice place'.

(Don't even get me started on Americans who woke up on Friday morning to tell the world that a white supremacist raised in Australia, living in NZ, who spent time in Europe and whose manifesto is run through with discourse typical of the French identitarian movement must be what America has done to the world. Puhleaze.)

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
  • Roberta Rodriguez-Estrada (Electric Lit) interviews Esmé Weijun Wang: Illness is inseparable from the self

    RRE: You return throughout your essays to the idea that dividing illness from self is impossible. “When the self has been swallowed by illness,” you write in “Perdition Days,” “isn’t it cruel to insist on a self that is not illness?” After, you list simple facts about yourself in your journal — your name, occupation, height, family details, your favorite flowers — anchoring yourself into the small but significant details that populate your daily life. Have your thoughts on the division of illness and selfhood changed since writing this book?

    EWW: No, not really. I continue to see illness as inseparable from self. It’s a series of complicated relationships, particularly between my physical illnesses and self, but that word, “relationships,” also means that I’m always negotiating the connection between them.

  • Eliza Berlage (Meanjin Summer 2018), Australia in Three Books, which I loved for its description of Possum Magic in relation to the author's eating disorder.
  • Yvonne Conza (Electric Lit), Whatever happened to Letitia Elizabeth Landon?, interview with Lucasta Miller, LEL's biographer. Quote from Miller:
    The commodification of the private self is endemic in our Instagram culture, having been democratized at a cost. The idea that you have to market yourself to survive is something Letitia Landon — who thought “society is a marketplace” — would have recognized. What makes her special is the way in which her work surreptitiously registers the conflicts and traumas that entailed, especially for a woman.

  • Katharine Murphy (Meanjin Summer 2018), Prime Minister, Disrupted, a very good analysis of the downfall of Malcolm Turnbull. Nevertheless, I read the first paragraph and had to google 'Australia Prime Minister' because I'd forgotten who'd replaced him and when (no one really knows WHY).
  • Tegan (latetotheautisticparty), Autistic Debt.
    Being in Debt is a process where you are given invisible (and not so invisible) fines, that slowly shape your identity and form your core belief about yourself. This is the only way I can explain it. It is a debt of shame, that you carry with you, that you don’t know what to do with, or what it means, or how exactly to pay it off – you just know that you are in some kind of personality deficit. That you are less, and that people like to let you know that you are less (sometimes it’s their job), because it frightens them that you are. “Be more” they sometimes say. “Be me”, they mostly say. “Stop being less!”, they yell, in chorus. And you listen because you are young. Anyone can give you a fine – that is the cruelty of becoming indebted. 

  • Jasmine Andersson (inews.co.uk), LGBTQ teachers who taught under s 28 are still 'scarred' by law's legacy: report finds these teachers less likely to be out in the school, to avail themselves of LGBTQ leadership programs, to live in their school catchment, or to bring their partner to school events, than younger/later trained LGBTQ teachers.
  • Samia Mir (Guardian UK), Divorce, Islam and Me: I will forever be the woman who has left two husbands.

    And so I applied for khula, the Islamic form of divorce that is granted when a woman wishes to leave her husband. Seated in a small room in the mosque, my parents beside me, and my husband and his father in front, I asked for a divorce. “But I don’t want to give it,” my husband said to the qadi. There is a misconception that Islam does not allow a woman the right to divorce her husband. This lie is spread and made powerful by the halting of the education of girls and women by men, by cultural stigma, and by the mullahs who want to maintain power. But a woman who can read the Qur’an soon learns that her subjugation and oppression is a man-made construct.

    “I don’t need your permission,” I said coldly. It was the first time I had felt such resolve.

    “She’s right,” the qadi said. “She doesn’t need your permission.”

    “I don’t want to have anything more to do with these people,” I said, looking into my father-in-law’s eyes. A stunned expression spread across his face. He had assumed me to be weak, that a woman who was divorced once would be oppressed and beaten into submission, that I would do anything to avoid the shame again. They had taken my kindness for weakness. But I knew what it meant to be happy, and I knew I deserved better.

  • Cara Delay (Nursing Clio), The Lady With the Alligator Purse. Miss Lucy called the doctor, Miss Lucy called the nurse, Miss Lucy called the lady with the alligator purse. Who was the lady with the alligator purse?
  • Jennifer Wortman (Electric Lit), Theories on the Point of View Shift in AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long. This is an absolute delight: the line between astute literary analysis of a pop culture artefact, and parody of literary criticism through pop culture, is drawn out, criss-crossed, looped around, and thoroughly entangled.

    1. The speaker — let’s call him Brian — is documenting the shift, à la Buber, from I-It to I-Thou relations, from subject-object to intersubjectivity. Confronted with his lover’s fast machine and clean motor, Brian can no longer maintain his stance as autonomous male subject gazing upon the Other. He and his lover merge; he is shaken.

    Was I not a sufficiently fast machine? Did I not keep my motor clean? I cleansed assiduously for you, removed hairs, performed ablutions. True: over time I relaxed a little, cleansed and removed less of myself, slowed down. But is love not a sagging into each other, a softening of edges, an ooze? Was my dirt and languor not yours too?

  • Joshua Badge (Meanjin blog), Difference and the Politics of Fear. Technically this is a response to Christchurch, but it's a very long read on Australian race politics from the mid nineties, and... Wow. It just really struck me: this is the entire span of my life. My first memory of politics is the election of Howard. What's really striking is that while this is a spot on chronicle of Australian politics as I experienced it, it is in stark contrast to the stories my civics and history education taught me about us. Not just because I, as Badge discusses, got the 'laid back larrikins in harmony' story of Australian identity. Because in the early 2000s, our high school 'history' curriculum peaked at 1998, and, under the NSW labor government, had a very strong pro-multiculturalism bent. I don't think I ever quite realised that the unravelling of multiculturalism isn't a post 9/11 phenomenon, but something that started... almost as soon as it became official policy.

  • Tumblr has informed me of the existence and works of Carmen Papalia. I am particularly delighted by Mobility Device, a collaborative art project in which a sighted human noisemaker replaces his white cane. Pictured is a high school marching band, whose conductor led them in making thematically appropriate noises as Papalia explored the town centre of Santa Ana. The project page also talks about an instance at the V&A, when BBC foley artist Alison Craig accompanied Papalia through the exhibits with her suite of noisemakers. I would love to have seen that in action.
highlyeccentric: A woman in a tuxedo, looking determined (tux - dressed and ready)
cover of The Bird King by G Willow Wilson

Brief Synopsis: we begin with Fatima, a slave and concubine in the court of Grenada in late 1491 or early 1492. Both sheltered and trapped in the harem, she is coming to realise that the Emirate of Granada is about to fall. So far, so historical-realist. Then there’s her friend Hassan, with whom she meets in secret, who has the power to draw magically accurate maps. Plot happens, and the two opt to go on the run, fleeing the powers of Catholic Spain through a narrative which traces a looping path between straight up historical fiction, alt-history-with-magic, and straight up portal fantasy. It’s going on my list of ‘books to read when you’re bitter about Narnia’, which may or may not be a list you also keep. If it is, this should be on it. There’s a lot that’s great about this book! I found it a little slow to get into, although I enjoyed the early scene-setting chapters; once the plot began rolling for real I was hooked. Fatima is a fascinating, complex character: she begins as a ‘relatable’, rebellious-against-her-lot young woman, and as the plot unfolds the traits which marked her out early on as a Rebellious Strong Female Character become problematised, prove to be strengths in some circumstances and weaknesses in others, and are ultimately given nuance and sympathy. Likewise Hassan, bookish, sheltered and a little effete, develops complexity as he goes, including showing strengths which Fatima does not have. I loved, sincerely and wholeheartedly, the relationship between the two of them - a deep, possessive, passionate friendship which has the potential to overshadow romantic-sexual relationships but is not in itself one of those. That, too, is problematised, toyed with, shown to be both a strength and weakness, as the novel progresses.

Wilson’s grasp of the religious-cultural environment of 15th century Spain is, to my eye (and bearing in mind I’m not a hispanicist or an islamicist in speciality, although it is my period), pretty damn good. The range of characters and the range of belief types which she gives flesh to here is notable - the figures of the Inquisition are chilling, but not monolithic, and balanced by the brilliant heartwarming character of Gwennec, a Breton monk who has become caught up in events bigger than his background. Luz, a lay sister acting on behalf of the Inquisition, is the villain of the piece and very well characterised. Fatima is not herself particularly devout, but Hassan is, and the differences between their experience of religion and belief is nicely woven into the complexities of their relationship.

My one major qualm, historically speaking, is with the intersection between Hassan’s sexuality and religion - he keeps speaking of men ‘like me’, in a way that maps onto a contemporary idea of homosexuality as a discrete identity, but to the best of my understanding isn’t a good match for late medieval Islamic society. For a start, I would have expected a /lot/ more emphasis on active-passive role (unless that is in fact what is meant by ‘like me’, that Hassan’s attraction to men, which he has not grown out of, has put him in a peculiar gender category - in which case it’s massively underexplored). While medieval Islam did condemn sodomy, an awful lot of medieval Islamic philosophy, medical writing, and cultural media did not, and I wasn’t satisfied with glancing references to the palace community turning a blind eye for the sake of Hassan’s dignity. But, as I said, my expertise isn’t Islamic Spain, and particularly not 15th century Islamic Spain - I /know/ this wouldn’t be right for the twelfth or even thirteenth century, but perhaps something changed.

My bigger issue is that despite all that is good about this book, I’m just not super happy with the way it manages the genre-blending tightrope. I can’t even put my finger on why, but I don’t come away going ‘WOW what a masterful combination’, I come away going ‘er, was that alt-history or portal fantasy? Huh?’. Granted, I have this problem with several books widely recognised as Very Good - most recently Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant - so perhaps that’s a personal taste thing. I have some minor pacing issues with the very final part of the book (a key aspect of the Fatima-Hassan relationship was not given enough time to expand after a final revelation), but my main problem is just… not quite being in board with the book’s genre choices. I also suspect it may have started life as YA and been uncoupled for some reason (although it’s not like modern YA has a problem with attempted rape scenes, soo…), and I wonder if I would have liked it better had it sat more firmly as a YA novel. (This is essentially the reverse of the problem I have with Leigh Bardugo, which I didn't realise when I first drafted this review. Huh.)

In conclusion: if you want something different, something less christian-europe / northern-european-pagan focused, in your medieval alt-history fantasy, this may be relevant to your interests, but I don't think it's the pinnacle of what could be achieved in that vein. I am verz pleased to have received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

highlyeccentric: (Swings)
Supplement to monday links, occurs irregularly.

Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:

Special list of George Pell related Links is back again, thanks to the sentencing hearing
Cut, all the content warnings you'd expect for a clerical abuse trial )

Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
  • Mukahang Limbu (Poetry Society), Review of 'The House of Thirst', a special issue of Poetry In Translation, which I think I may need to read.
  • David Schraub, How to avoid the trap of House antisemitism. Link via muccamukk, last week. Note this piece was written *before* the resolution that eventually passed was modified to condemn 'hate of all kinds'. I wonder if Schraub considers that to be a step in the right direction? Here he makes a distinction in *kind* rather than *degree* between the anti-semitism in Omar's remarks and the 'Soros-style antisemitic conspiracy theories' of the GOP, and argues that the former should not be singled out for House resolutions unless the latter is also condemned. That perplexed me a little, because as I understood it the problem with Omar's comments (especially the original comments about AIPAC and 'the benjamins' - which I had to research to realise was a reference to Benjamin Franklin's figure on US dollars, not to a common Jewish name) was precisely that they are either an accidental recycling of tropes related to money, global networks, etc, or an active dog-whistle to said 'soros-style antisemitic conspiracy theories'.
  • I also read a handful of good - if wildly conflicting - takes on the Omar controversy via Haaretz.com, but it looks like they were only temporarily out from paywall, because I can't access them again now.
  • Sarah Hall (Meanjin summer 2018), The Unsung Hero of the Dish. It's nigh impossible to say what this piece is *about* but the writing is beautiful. Sometimes it is easier to follow a recipe for mushroom noodle soup than to put on a brave face. But only once have I made the soup.
  • Amy Littlefield (Rewire News), Not dead enough: public hospitals deny life-saving abortion care to people in need. Deals with US jurisdictions.
  • Damon Young (Meanjin Summer 2018), Why are swords still a thing?. Hits on some good points, in other parts is hilariously thin (at least, if you've done any reading on medievalisms and nostalgia and/or the european history of combat weaponry).
  • Briohnny Doyle and Mandy Ord (Meanjin Summer 2018), Time Machine

    I’s [sic] 1991 and my parents unveil a small grey box with a small dark screen. They have bought a special table for it. They plug it in and stand back. It is the future, they say. A time machine. The screen emanates light. The box is quiet, smells of static. They place me in front of it. I am to be captain, it’s understood. I am eight and suddenly here is a thing I will always know more about than my parents. What a development! I click around. My parents gasp as I squiggle something in paint. A marvel like a moon landing. In its low light, my parents are projected back to their own childhoods; an old anticipation. Vannevar Bush in 1945: ‘The world has arrived at an age of cheap, complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.’ They watch me and wait. Dad smokes, chews his nails.

    Each day after school I spend an hour in front of an educational game designed to teach geography and history. Mum hovers, excited, but it’s boring. I like the TV more—a pool you fall into, accepting each wave as it comes. The time machine knows that in the future children will not be bored like this, and in the future I will be an adult who feels nostalgic for this boredom. When I am a child I tell mum I’m bored and she says go run around the block. I never take this suggestion but somehow I fill the time and years pass. We put a faded sheet over the time machine so the dust won’t damage its gears.

  • Tom Faber (The Guardian), Mashrou' Leila: The Lebanese Indie Band Championining LGBT rights. Really interesting profile, and has resulted in a pleasant Spotify expedition or two on my part.
  • Hasslam, McGrath and Wheeler (The Conversation AU), Chaning morals: We're more compassionate than 100 years ago, but more judgemental too

Items of humorous interest:
  • If you are not already aware of the instagram-based comic Strange Planet, please be informed. It is an adorable exercise in defamiliarisation.
highlyeccentric: A photo of myself, around 3, "reading" a Miffy book (Read Miffy!)
Currently Reading:
Fiction: Yelena Moscovitch, Virtuoso, which I have not yet bitten the bullet and DNF'd; André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name, although on hiatus
Lit Mag: Meanjin summer 2017
Academic: Nothing!
Other non-fiction: Also nothing, unless you count training docs for upcoming job.

Recently Finished:

Black Brow: The Blak Women's Edition (The Lifted Brow, #40)Black Brow: The Blak Women's Edition by Paola Balla

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really strong, interesting edition. Its strengths, aside from the rarity of the issue itself (co-edited by an unusually large team, all indigenous, only one a man), include the sheer range of content types. Art, comics, fiction, fictionalised narratives drawn from composite real life examples, cultural criticism, dialogue pieces, poetry, and more.

I was particularly struck by 'The Walk and Talk', an edited transcript of a conversation between Paola Balla and her mum Rosie Kalina. I know planning went into it, but unlike a conventional magazine interview format, some (perhaps most?) of that planning is preserved in the opening of the transcript itself. Karen Jackson's essay 'A Yorta Yorta Fire', on, among other things, communal mourning, and the position of an indigenous academic unit within the white university, was very moving. Lidia Thorpe's maiden speech to the Victorian Legislative Council is reproduced in full. Timmah Ball's essay 'Imagining Lisa: Dreaming in Urban Spaces' is fascinating (as, in my experience, all of Ball's work is - fascinating, and both intellectually and culturally challenging).

Poetry wise, Evelyn Araleun's 'Fern Your Own Gully' really stuck with me, and provides a great intertext to her recent essay in the Sydney Review of Books.

The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life StoryThe Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a really worthwhile read. I loved the narrative voice Revathi and her translator convey: warm and personal, as if you were sitting down to drink tea with her, but not overly familiar or confessional - you aren't her *very best friend* taking tea with her. The tone is almost mentorly: explaining, assuming goodwill on your part, but not focused on justifying herself. Even as she recounts her early life and struggles, there's a strong narratorial presence of the older Revathi. At times she draws back, recounting difficult events and situations with relatively little commentary, so I did find myself almost questioning if she would be okay - but the nature of the memoir is you know she must, at least okay enough to be writing a memoir.

There's a lot of care put into deciding when to present a concept or word in situ (eg: it is never explained why, in Revathi's home state, 'number nine' is a slur for both a hijra and a feminine man) and when to provide an explanation (at one point there's a table of the names used for different family members within a hijra community), and I really admire the work put into that. It's not a matter of dumbing down for white readers, either - the book was originally published in English, not Tamil or any of the many other Indian languages, so the explanations are as much about clarifying either hijra-specific terms, or terms and concepts dominant in Indian religious or language group, as they are about communicating to the anglophone world. I had the impression, although I can't be sure, that the concepts left unexplained / words untranslated are ones that might be broadly familiar across India.

additional note on how Revathi talks about gendered existence )

The Heralds of ValdemarThe Heralds of Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Verily, I have found the fiction of my id, and it it has magic horses as a basis of a system of government, telepathic/empathic sex, dubious mentor/mentee situations, magic snowstorms, and... quite frankly a pretty wobbly plot. I have many complaints, ranging from worldbuilding to plotting (look, there's 'denying a fated love bond' plots, and there's... this) to 'you tried, but... no' w/r/t to the treatment of rape (I was with her, I don't have a problem with rape *occurring* in my high fantasy, RIGHT UP UNTIL ONE LINE IN THE FINAL CHAPTER and then nope, so much nope).

I could write a proper review, but let us acknowledge that my id has spoken and it has said: we like magic horses. Another!

Online Fiction:
  • T. Kingfisher, The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society. There's a lot of Oggishness about this piece.
  • Another couple of episodes of 'Under Pressure', the podcast about a lit scholar on a submarine.

    Music notes: still all Hozier all the time, here. I wish to sit Hozier down and enquire as to his opinions on Augustinian vs Thomistic stances on pre-lapsarian sex.
  • highlyeccentric: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead. Don't laugh, it happens. (Why did the monkey fall out of the tree)
    Supplement to monday links, occurs irregularly. (There will be no Monday links next week, fyi, due to travel)

    We can now retire the Special George Pell section, but be broadly warned he will turn up at various points in either Current Affairs or Essays, I expect Australia has not finished saying things about him yet. Or about institutional abuse generally.

    Short essays, current affairs, hot takes:

    Longreads - essay, memoir, natural history, other
    • Maggie Levantovskaya, Shedding books to survive the uncertainty of academic life.
      When you are an adjunct, turning space into place can be impractical and emotionally risky. And yet, it is often expected. In his first one-year position, my partner made a conscious decision to bring books into his office when one of his colleagues questioned his commitment to the job. He saw that his office mate filled his shelves with books and followed suit. Miraculously, my partner became a tenure-track professor but his was not the typical story. Today he has his own office. It’s crammed with books, gifts from his students and toys that signify his nerd-dom.

    • Eddie Synot (The Conversation AU), The Uluru Statement showed how to give first nations people a real voice, now it's time for action.
    • Barry Corr (Meanjin), Pondering the Abyss. I said on Monday I was a bit skeptical of the Guardian piece on the frontier wars for not citing any indigenous historians? Corr is one such.
      This essay is not just about the spectres, the Aboriginal and settler ghosts still bound to land and water by settler forgetfulness; it also contrasts the constant shedding, modification and transformation of settler memory and the immanence of the overlapping tides of past, present and future that make up the Dreaming and come through revelation. This is not a contrapuntal story.
      Because of the cataclysmic nature of settlement I don’t embrace the Hegelian concept of history as progress. My work has more sympathy with Walter Benjamin’s concept of a horror-struck angel of history driven into the future by a storm blowing from Paradise, looking back at an ever-increasing pile of rubble called progress. Perforce it is constructed with the master’s tools. From a Western perspective it probably sits as structural antagonism within Jameson’s third horizon. From an Enlightenment perspective the settlement of New South Wales was a pioneering example of state intervention in social reform. Lenin would probably have seen the settlement as an early ‘monopolist possession’.

    • Evelyn Araluen (Sydney Review of Books), Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum, on her relationship as an indigenous person to white Australian children's lit.
      Here’s the entanglement: none of this is innocent and while I seek to write rupture I usually just rearrange. I can name the colonial complexes and impulses which structure these texts but it doesn’t change the fact that I was raised on these books too. They tell me they never chose them to hurt us, and I never thought they did. They both grew up surrounded by the bush in country New South Wales towns. None of my grandparents finished school and had very low levels of literacy. Books were one of the many things my mum never had growing up but made sure to give her children. She chose them for us around what we could afford, but always looked for stories of the bush she knows and loves with intimate detail. She read them to us with care and patience, even in all the years she was working two jobs to put those books in our hands.

    • Sommer Moore (Archer Magazine blog), When shame comes from the inner sanctum: biphobia within the queer community.
    • Ellena Savage (Meanjin blog), What I'm Reading:

      Reading in capitalism makes no sense. It produces nothing. it prepares you for nothing )

    • Caspar Salmon (New Statesman), By opposing equality in sex education, Shabana Mahmood is underestimating children
    • Patrick Strudwick (Buzzfeed UK), 30 years ago, teachers were banned from mentioning homosexuality: here's what I wish they'd taught me. There's so much courage and stubborn pride in this piece, but what really stuck out for me was the opening paragraph:

      That is not sex, he said. The teacher had just shown a series of sex education videos and asked us what we thought. I’d raised my hand and said they were good but did not mention gay sex. I was 11.

      That is not sex, he said. It was 1988, the year a new law was enacted that forbade local authorities and teachers from “promoting homosexuality”. Today is exactly 30 years since that law (which was not repealed until 2003) came into effect. It was so vague as to muzzle everyone working in schools from mentioning gay people. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic.

    • Frankie Huang (Foreign Policy magazine) Get ready for China's baby quotas
    • Georgie Burg, The priest who raped me changed my life; my daughter inspired me to jail him. A tough but moving piece, on how Burg's relationship with her queer teenage daughter gave her courage to report many years after the fact.
    • Dan Nosowitz (Atlas Obscura), Decoding the shape of the Nepali flag (h/t Silveradept) - great piece of nerdy history.

    Items of practical interest:
    • Mary Bateman offers Good Latin Mnemonics (at least, good if you use genitive-second declension tables):


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