like dragons

Wednesday reading — at the end of all good things

What I've been reading

I did finally reread The Last Battle after all my procrastination and fussing. Unsurprisingly, I still didn't like all the bits I originally didn't like, but there were also more things that I was able to enjoy than I remembered.

The initial chapters with Shift and Puzzle are a striking depiction of an abusive friendship, and specifically of an abuser manipulating social justice rhetoric to control their victim. That alone would probably make it my least favorite Narnia book, just because it's so unpleasant, but revisiting it I can at least say that I do find it an effective piece of writing.

Something that struck me is that Shift's most frequent complaint is that he can't get ahold of oranges and bananas. He coerces Puzzle into going into town to buy him some, but they don't have any. They don't seem to grow anywhere in Narnia, and Archenland seems by all indications to have the same temperate climate, so presumably they're imported from Calormen, but the apes can't be, because all the Talking Animals of Narnia were given that ability by Aslan when he created it. Why are there apes in Narnia when it isn't their native climate and they can't get their native diet? Getting nice things to eat is one of the reoccurring themes of Narnia: it's practically a defining feature. Sure, you may get taken in by magically evil Turkish delight, or have to subsist on apples and roast bear for a while, but eventually you are going to get offered a really good meal, unless you're an ape, apparently. Not that I'm arguing that this excuses the things Shift does in universe; it just feels like shitty, lazy worldbuilding in service of everything getting terrible so Lewis can crumple up his world and throw it away, which I'm not in sympathy with and I'm not inclined to play along with.

I did really enjoy the large middle chunk of the book, though. It's basically a dystopia set in Narnia and I do enjoy reading dystopias. Also it has much more Eustace than I remembered, and he feels more like the Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader than the one from The Silver Chair, maybe partly because of the rapport he and Jill have with Tirian and Jewel, who are more like Caspian and his crew than Puddleglum is. There are actually as many great Eustace and Eustace-related lines in this book as there are in Dawn Treader, which I would never have realized if I hadn't taken it into my head to do a completionist reread. So there's that.

I most certainly did not notice the first and only time I read this book that it contained the line "You have been wakened yourself by cats quarreling or making love on the roof in the middle of the night: you know the sound." I don't know what amuses me more—that Lewis makes reference to cats fucking, or that he employs the locution "making love" for it. Which, incidentally, he had previously used in its earlier sense, unless those scenes of Jill making love to the giants in The Silver Chair are meant to be read very differently. I can't, incidentally, lay my hands on a decent source dating when the former meaning definitively slid into the latter, and would like one if anyone else has one.

I just plain hate the last third of the book where everyone is dead. None of them sound or act very much like themselves any more. You can't really have a story in a place without time, so while this gorgeous dreamlike world would probably be a lot of fun to be in, I don't find it particularly fun to read about compared with actual Narnia. I think the Platonic scheme of the Realm of Ideal Forms and the shadow it casts (i.e. the real world) is muddled by the introduction of Narnia, which while short of heaven is clearly superior to the actual real world because it's a fantasy wish-fulfillment land. It makes it weird.

There are repeated references to Eustace and Jill being younger than all the Pevensies, which I don't think can be right. Surely Eustace is older than Lucy? If he really isn't right around Edmund's age, either a bit younger or a bit older, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader reads very differently, or would if I didn't utterly reject this piece of canon.

Um. That was even more than I was expecting to write.

I also finished reading Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Ancient Athens, which I adored. It's my very favorite kind of history, and so engagingly written.

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New Doctor, new Who

Something went wrong with the playback of the first version that I had downloaded about a half an hour in, and so we ended up only watching the rest of the episode last night. If that doesn't sound like an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm, I suppose that's roughly accurate.

Doctor Who 8x01, Deep BreathCollapse )

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Wednesday reading — the past is another country

What I've been reading

Pretty much just rereading a bunch of children's books this week. Also kind of assuming that everyone who might be reading this has read the Narnia books.

I reread both of the Harry Potter schoolbooks, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. I really enjoy the inventiveness in FB, especially the creatures that are purely Rowling's. Having just read a bunch of stuff about the actual history of muggle football I do find it somewhat bemusing that the Quidditch World Cup is meant to be a good 457 years older than its actual-world analogue/inspiration. I thought maybe Quidditch should be played in test matches like the other sport that it's clearly inspired by, but no, international cricket only dates back to 1844. But then the medieval period of the Harry Potter universe diverge from ours in so many ways; I think you pretty much just have to go with it.

I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because the published reading order is the only acceptable reading order. I think it is completely ridiculous that new editions have been renumbered with the semi-chronological reading order, which doesn't even make sense, since The Magician's Nephew is clearly calling back to TLTWATW and not vice versa, and besides you'd actually have to put that book down near the end and pick up The Horse and His Boy before you were allowed to finish it, and harrumph. The great thing about these editions, though, is that they have all the wonderful Pauline Baynes illustrations, and not just a selection of illustrations "adapted from them" like the ubiquitous paperback editions of my youth. They've also been newly colored, and whoever did it did a nice, period-appropriate job.

Anyway, the book still does a good job of sucking you in, as naturally as if you had in fact found a portal to another world in some of your furniture. I must say, as an adult with more context for what air-raids are, I think the Pevensies are awfully cavalier about them. Also I'm not super-clear on how the system for identifying traitors so they can be sacrificed by the White Witch at the Stone Table up until now is supposed to have worked. But then I'm not exactly a fan of penal substitutionary atonement in non-lion-based theology, either. It's funny how almost entirely the kids are supposed to have forgotten the world of their actual birth shortly before they're sucked back into it, considering what will later be made of Susan's later attempt to forget/deny/move on from Narnia.

I reread Prince Caspian, which was never one of my particular favorites, although I like the camping/survivalist part, and I like Caspian, and goodness knows I love Reepicheep. I guess it annoys me when Aslan dicks everyone around by only appearing to Lucy for no good reason. It's, like, a test. Of something. And also keeps the book from ending too quickly, I guess. Feh.

I reread The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was and is my absolute favorite Narnia book because Eustace Clarence Scrubb. I adore Eustace, okay. In spite of being someone who, unlike him, had read all the right books, I sneakingly sympathized with him not enjoying himself very much, especially when they had no water and everything was legitimately terrible. I also enjoy how ridiculously over the top awful he is at first, just because it's absolutely hilarious, and I also like his little redemption arc and him being a basically normal person afterwards. Also I think I'm the only person on earth who ships Caspian/Eustace but I'd be so into it. Maybe I will have to write it just to prove that it can be done.

I reread The Silver Chair, which you would think that I would adore given my aforementioned Eustace fandom, but I never really warmed to it. Partly Eustace doesn't really feel like himself to me, which is too bad, because I do like Jill very much. Partly because I think everyone who likes this book tends to love Puddleglum, and I'm personally not hugely enthusiastic about Puddleglum. Partly because this is another book where the entire plot is based on Aslan being super unhelpful for no good reason. (I do have epic shipper feels about the part where Eustace realizes that he's missed Caspian, though. ♥) Also the Lady of he Green Kirtle is wonderfully menacing, but then it feels like they defeat her too easily and too early in the book. It felt off somehow. This was definitely my least reread book as a kid (excluding The Last Battle, since it was never reread).

I reread The Horse and His Boy, which is another one of my absolute favorites. On reread it annoyed me a bit how Aslan was stage-managing absolutely everything that happened, though. Not only does he set everything in motion, he's tweaking and adjusting everyone at practically every turn! Although I'm still pretty into his intervening to let Aravis know what her stepmother's slave's beating felt like. In a kinky way. Um. Also I weirdly adore Lasaraleen. I think it's honestly sweet that in spite of the fact that she and Aravis are basically total opposites, they're good enough friends in their own way that she goes along with it when Aravis asks her for help, even though she thinks Aravis is completely mad to be doing what she's doing. Also I've come around to a lot more girly-things than I was into back when I first read these books.

I have to say that Calormen, in spite of being a sort of racist and clichéd mishmash of things, does come across as a more realistic country than Narnia, even if it is most often realistic in kind of terrible ways. I always found it fascinating when I was rereading this book, even though I have to agree that Aravis, Shasta, Bree and Hwin have the right idea heading for Narnia and the north.

I reread The Magician's Nephew, which I think might be the best-written book of the series even though it can never dislodge Dawn Treader from my heart, and I by no means protest against it being placed first in the abominable reading order because I have anything against it. I generally feel like one of Lewis's strengths was writing about kids' thoughts and feelings in a way that I related to when I was one myself, but I wonder if I think he did best with Diggory and Polly because he was going back to the era when he himself was a kid. Or maybe it's that Aslan doesn't come onto the scene until near the end, so the plot is primarily based on Diggory, Polly, Uncle Andrew and Jadis being the people they are. It feels like it holds together better to me. Also I just love the idea of the World between the Worlds, and its cousin, the Neitherlands. (Still really wish I could read the Fillory books.)

What I'm reading now

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James Davidson

What I'm reading next

No, really, I am going to reread The Last Battle sometime. Honestly. I mean, it's definitely a better end times book than Left Behind, so there's that.

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sad Mac

RIP Pantalaimon Mark IV, September 2008-18 August 2014

As of yesterday, my late 2008 aluminum MacBook no longer boots and I'm pretty sure he's dead. In the days leading up to his demise, abrupt power-downs due to overheating grew increasingly frequent. He was just shy of his sixth birthday and still running mostly current software, albeit not always as quickly as I would have liked.

Pan will be reincarnated as a new laptop, also named Pantalaimon because I am original like that, as soon as I get the money together.

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slytherin by __hibiscus, Slytherin

Wednesday reading — Harry Potter and the final three

What I've been reading

I finished rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after having temporarily stalled out about a seventh of the way into the book a week ago as previously mentioned. The first time I read it I was dying to find out what was going to happen next, obviously, after lining up at Barnes and Noble at midnight, and on subsequent rereads I had an eye to future speculation and fanfic fodder, so in a way the book couldn't be too long or include too much, even though it could be a bit repetitive. Attempting to read the series straight through, purely for pleasure, and of course already knowing the ending, the suddenly slackened pace really tells.

I reread Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was…divisive, back in the day, but which I have always adored if for no other reason than that it gave us Draco Malfoy crying in the bathroom. I get the impression that J.K. Rowling will have thought, when she came to pen this storyline, that at last Draco's misaimed fandom would realize how unworthy he was of their affections, and if so this could not have been less effective with me. I do still hate the romance plots in this book though; not any of the ships themselves, but the way everyone is constantly hounding everyone else to stop dating someone and/or start dating someone else. I'd ask if other people's social circles were like that at sixteen or something, but the adults are just as bad so that's no explanation.

I reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I still find pretty satisfying on the whole, even if it meanders a bit into some deadish ends. I got choked up all over again from chapter thirty-four onwards; I think that part where Harry finally realizes what he has to do and does it is the best bit of writing in the whole series.

What I'm reading next

I'm thinking about rereading the Narnia books next. Actually what I really want is to read the Fillory books, but as they don't exist I'll have to make do with our universe's equivalent. Note that while I have reread all the other books scads of times—Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy most often, The Silver Chair least often—I have literally never once been able to make myself pick up The Last Battle again because it made me so mad, so that should be interesting.

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Wednesday reading — Harry Potter and the other books

I am not having to type this entry on my phone! This is so exciting for me! Especially since I read a bunch of things and want to ramble on and on about a bunch of them.

What I've been reading

I read Vergil in Averno, the second Vergil Magus book (although chronologically it's actually the first). It was more of a slog than The Phoenix and the Mirror, mostly because Averno, although not literally hell, is an unrelentingly unpleasant place to be, even secondhand.

I read Hood, because I really liked Emma Donoghue's nonfiction writing about fictional lesbians. It's a really good depiction, I think, of not being able to get out of your first relationship, even when it's not good enough, because it's never bad enough, either, a decision that is finally settled for the protagonist by a car crash. (That's not a spoiler, it's on the back cover. It's mingled present day and flashbacks.)

I read Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's memoir of football fandom, which is very funny and thoughtful, even though I find the idea of rooting for a team with absolutely zero consideration of what people happen to make up that team at any given time nearly incomprehensible. Doubtless many people would consider my intention to root for various teams, including historical rivals who play in the same league, because I like their goalkeepers, to be equally incomprehensible if not more so. (And yes, when they play each other I will be rooting for nil-nil draws.)

I read Johnny Hiro: The Skills to Pay the Bills, which I didn't realize until the end was actually the second book in a series, because it is nowhere labeled as such. It's a surprisingly sweet mix of very realistic slice of life stuff with very wacky and physical adventures, including multiple cameos by Mayor Bloomberg. I really loved it (and put a hold on the first Johnny Hiro book).

I read/reread The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, Neil Gaiman's previously-published short story that is now illustrated and adapted by Eddie Campbell. I have to admit, I didn't love that certain sections of dialogue were redone sequential art-style, because I found it jarring to switch between that and regular prose dialogue attribution, but on the other hand the illustrations were striking and atmospheric.

I reread Caddie Woodlawn, which was one of the books I had practically memorized as a kid, because I discovered that there was a semi-sequel/continuation, Magical Melons, that I hadn't known existed.

I began my HP reread with, of course, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In memory I always underestimate just how long the beginning with the Dursleys being terrible goes on, and correspondingly how quickly the school year flies by. I was amused to notice on reread how interested Harry is in his schoolwork at the beginning, when he's insecure about his ignorance of the wizarding world and desperate to prove that he's good at something. As soon as he discovers Quidditch, which he is very good at, he settles into the Harry who barely keeps up with his (admittedly considerable-sounding) courseload.

I reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was my least favorite of the four books back when there were only the four books. Probably it still is. Dobby manages to be the most annoying character in a book that has Gilderoy Lockhart and Colin Creevey in it, which is saying something, and house elves are just a really unfortunate piece of worldbuilding.

I reread Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is, conversely, the most perfectly Harry Potter Harry Potter book. I'm just always delighted by the way the end comes together like clockwork.

I reread Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and for the first time noticed that it can get little clunkier with its infodumps than the first three, including a fairly cringe-y bit where Harry does that thing where he looks in the mirror so he can describe his appearance to the reader, which I think is pretty much never advisable. For all that, though, I love how much it opens up the wizarding world, although house elves continue to be the worst idea ever. In-universe, Hermione's S.P.E.W. campaign is annoying, but that is only because the unfortunate implications of a race of intelligent (uh, -ish) beings who seem largely incapable of wanting to do anything other than serve their owners can only be avoided by not inventing such a thing in the first place.

I started to reread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, intending to continue straight through all seven books, I really did, but…it is so slow to get started. And also I had to set it aside so that I could read another book involving a magical school and a protagonist whom a lot of people find annoying…

I read The Magician's Land, which is the third, and almost certainly the final book in the Magicians series, so I suppose that it is now a trilogy. Unlike some people, I never hated Quentin, but I especially like him now that he is my age and has learned some things. For anyone who read "The Girl in the Mirror" from the Dangerous Women anthology that also contains "The Princess and the Queen" by George R. R. Martin, it is in this book, and there is a lot more Plum. I love Plum.

What I'm reading next

I will definitely get through OotP again, um, sometime. /o\

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Happy birthday, Harry Potter!

I was just thinking that it would be fun to reread the HP books. The last time I reread books 1-5 was just before Half-Blood Prince came out, and I listened to the Deathly Hallows audiobook within maybe a couple of months of when it came out (and I read the whole leaked carpet book to avoid being spoiled, that was fun. Especially the pages that were poorly focused) and that's ages ago now.

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black nail varnish

Wednesday reading — gods and zombies

What I've been reading

I read Soccernomics, which is sort of like the football version of Moneyball—in spite of the title, I would not so much say that it is the football version of Freakonomics, because it doesn't have quite the same relentlessly contrarian vibe. It was really interesting and entertainingly written and gave me interesting anecdotes to share with my Michael Lewis-loving but soccer-hating dad.

I read Inventing the Enemy, a collection of relatively recent essays by Umberto Eco, who is as always entertaining.

I read the entire run of iZombie, the Vertigo comic that Rob Thomas is loosely adapting for the CW. I am cautiously optimistic about this; the basic premise does seem like it would work well for a TV show with cases of the week and longer plot arcs. On the other hand, the fact that they pulled the pilot at SDCC because they were recasting a character makes the project seem troubled already, and I thought Rob Thomas produced some absolutely atrocious work in season three of Veronica Mars when he was dealing with heavy network interference, so that is actually the opposite of confidence-inspiring.

I reread American Gods, also with a prospective television adaptation in mind, and so unsurprisingly one of the things that struck me was how much the various dream sequences reminded me of the ones in Hannibal, except that in this case they are actually present in the source material. I wonder if and how they're going to incorporate all the side stories; they're an obvious target for excision, but also some of the best bits of the book. I have not yet tackled the 10th anniversary author's preferred text for comparison purposes.

I read Rebecca, which I picked up at the library on a whim. Pop culture had managed not to spoil me for what happens in it, which is nice for a novel of suspense. Also not really spoilery but stillCollapse ).

I read all the issues of Gambit's recent medium-lived solo title, which was okay if not great and did have nice art and a frequent habit of opening with gratuitous shower scenes.

I read Superman: Red Son, which managed to be as interesting as its premise and did not make me want to throw it across the room in spite of being written by Mark Millar. (I was scarred by my experience with The Ultimates, okay. It put me off picking up anything by Millar for a while, no matter how interesting-looking.)

I read The Phoenix and the Mirror, thanks to a rec from [personal profile] sineala. It is basically AU medieval Roman Empire alchemical fantasy inspired by the medieval AU RPF tradition about Virgil being a magician.

What I'm reading now

I've just begun the second Vergil Magus book. Also temporarily my only working Internet is on my phone, which is very annoying.

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magpie tree

Wednesday reading — house spirits and other haunts

What I've been reading

Did you know that David Ives, author of highly quotable short plays and that sexy long one, has taken to writing children's books? Because I did not know this. At first I just assumed that my library had screwed up their authorities, but no.

His first book, Monsieur Eek, I thought was a little shaky, but I really enjoyed the subsequent two books, Scrib and Voss: How I Come to America and am Hero, Mostly. Both of those have strong funny narrative voices and really good judicious use of speling to convey dialect.

I read Seconds, Bryan Lee O'Malley's new book, and to be honest I was a little disappointed that I didn't love it more. Like, don't get me wrong, it's a cute, fun book, although a little claustrophobic. I guess part of the problem was that he was working on it for what seemed like approximately one million years since the last volume of Scott Pilgrim came out.

I read Life in a Medieval Village, which is so interesting and entertainingly written. I absolutely love details of day to day life from pretty much any historical period.

I read This is a Book by Demetri Martin. It is very aptly named. If you have ever seen Demetri Martin, you can probably imagine the book pretty accurately. (The illustrations aren't as fun when you don't get to watch him draw them! This is a flaw in book technology!)

I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Sworn Sword, the second Dunk and Egg novella. As an adaptation it's okay, I guess.

I read The New Deadwardians, which I thought was a longer Vertigo series but turned out to be fully contained within one trade of eight issues. I really liked it and thought the worldbuilding with the vampires and zombies and class issues was interesting and would have sustained more stories in that universe.

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