kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 candy mountain)
The Coffee Trader, Whitefire Crossing, Arcanum. I really think the The Lascar's Dagger deserves its own post, for reasons that will become clear.

First: I really, really want to like David Liss' work. It's historical fiction, covering a place and time and culture that really doesn't get enough press: the Jewish finance community in Amsterdam, in the late sixteen-hundreds or thereabouts. This one in particular is about a Portuguese-Jew who moved to Amsterdam with the exodus, and was doing alright until a few bad decisions have landed him in hard times and hot water with just about everyone. A non-Jewish widow of his acquaintance has an idea to corner the market on this new commodity called coffee, but wrapped up in that is the character's sister-in-law, a meddling and somewhat abusive maid, another Jewish trader of major social standing who has it in for the protagonist, the aforementioned widow, a guy ruined by his investments in the protagonist's financial disaster, and a whole bunch more, all of whom have their own agendas and methods and motivations.

It's just... they're all such jerks, even our hero, who seems to want to put himself forward as a helpless ninny who's been cast about by fortune's disfavor, but sheesh. If I wanted suffocating world-building, the tiny and (apparently) leaning-towards-orthodox, highly regimented and self-supervised community of Jews in Amsterdam are clearly it. Given the narrative makes clear the Dutch are pretty live-and-let-live, it's almost insane that the Jews create a community for themselves that's almost as repressive as any Soviet regime. I mean, it's crazy-making. I fail to see how any of the characters haven't just broken and run mad down the street.

Various comments and complaints and whatnot behind the cut. )

Alright, onto the one that I really, really did want to like, as much as I want to like The Coffee Trader -- similar time-period to Liss' work, alt-history, taking the bones of the original and grinding a lot of it up with a heaping of original ideas, much like The Thief series. Except some important stuff got left out while something bordering on appropriation got left in, among other things.
kaigou: (2 using mainly spoons)
Went through a storm of book-reading: The Goblin Emporer, The Coffee Trader, The Thief/The Queen of Attolia/The King of Attolia/A Conspiracy of Kings, Whitefire Crossing, The Spirit Thief, Arcanum, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Lascar's Dagger.

To get a few out of the way: yes, I adored The Goblin Emperor. Maia is non-angsty (but damaged all the same), lonely, compassionate, and above all else, genuinely good. There were more than a few scenes that in a quiet, understated way, simply broke my heart. It's not a YA-style everything-amped-to-eleven. It's a quiet story; when complete, you realize there wasn't truly a bad guy in the classic fantasy sense, and the one main conflict hinged on building a bridge over a river, but somehow it all works despite that, or maybe because of that.

The one major complaint? I would've much preferred if the naming scheme had been introduced before the story, rather than after it; it was damn hard to keep track of who-was-who, and I say that as someone pretty well-versed in reading extensive historical treatises where names change and/or are fluid and most definitely are not in English. I just couldn't parse the pattern from the text, and a short intro note would've been helpful.

Many things I liked (Maia chiefly, of course), but especially how his world -- no matter how suffocating, as it consists entirely of the court -- is still immensely populated. The author is really skillful at giving you enough people in a scene to make it feel crowded, without the sense that you'll be quizzed later on these teeny details; what's important to remember gets emphasized in just enough way that it stands out even more. In terms of craft, that's a rare and valuable skill.

Behind the cut: Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Spirit Thief, The Thief/Queen of Attolia/King of Attolia/Conspiracy of Kings. )

Any way you look at it, minor quibbles are minor. I'd still recommend The Goblin Emperor and the four Thief books, unequivocally. The others, YMMV, and who knows, I may change my take if the stories pick up.

More in next part.
kaigou: under this playful boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless sadistic maniac (2 charming maniac)
Well, [personal profile] maire recommended The Riddle-master of Hed and Barry Hughart's stories, and I finally tracked down copies of each. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it past three pages of the first. It just felt too much like in media res, but not in a good way. More like I was expected to care about the siblings' squabbles, and the text was clearly indicating that I was expected to read characters in a certain way, but I'd barely even met them. It actually felt a little like I was walking into a sequel, and I was supposed to already know what was going on and who-was-who. So, guess it's a pass on that one.

Bridge of Birds... reminds me so much of the translations of Chinese stories. It's a particular style, influenced by the patterns of the original language, and Hughart does manage that. With a bit of dry humor, here and there.

However, I got sidetracked by another story, and I'm still not sure where I found the recommendation. Reiko Morgan's Over The Mountain Of The Moon is a m/m romance set vaguely during the early Sengoku, maybe, in Japan. Awfully florid and oh with the romance and declarations of luuuuuurve and the protagonist-uke veering into yandere, but relatively entertaining all the same. If you can get past the flowers and hearts of the so-romance-it-hurts variety. Not a complex plot and a bit of whump, but sometimes I guess a body's in the mood.

And then a rec from Dear Author, I think, that sent me after Master of Crows, which is your usual fantasy-romance, but with cultural elements of a steppes-influenced world bordering the, hrm, maybe central eastern European sort of world. The heroine isn't helpless nor stupid, which is a plus. Not a massively complex plot, but the hero is just as much a little off-beat as the heroine, so what might've ended up annoying spunkiness in her is toned down because he's not the usual all-bastard, all-the-time.

I quit halfway through Abraham's sequel, A Betrayal in Winter, even though I really did enjoy the first in the series, A Shadow in Summer. Abraham's managed a world that's substance of China, not so much trappings. It's very subtle, but it reminds me of stories about 19th-century Shanghai: cosmopolitan merchant-crossroads, but still China beneath the veneer of things from everywhere.

The problem for me was that the first book's emotional hinge is a triangle. Normally, I don't have a problem with this, and in the first book, it wasn't actually a problem. One hero leaves for a journey, and in his absence, his girlfriend and his closest friend become, erm, close. Things roll out that way, sometimes, after all. Technically, it's still cheating, but in the book's context, I had no issue with it.

The problem was that the second book... also hung its major emotional-plot elements on a woman cheating on her supposed intended/affianced. So again, uncomfortable triangle, with everything hanging on the woman's choice to split her attentions between two men. Once, okay, but twice is a little too much of a pattern. I had no interest in finishing the book once I realized that, and certainly no interest in carrying on to find out if the third and fourth books also turn on the emotional pivot of a two-timing woman. Pass.

Tried to read Maya Snow's Sisters of the Sword, but it's a little too YA-style for me. Not in content -- it's got some brutal scenes early on where the protagonist's family is murdered right in front of her, so I wouldn't recommend it for kids under, hm, twelve -- but stylistically. It's just a very YA kind of voice. I didn't like that at that age, and I like it less, now.

Never did finish Dragon in Chains. Awful lot of lyrical poetry, but I need a little more conflict to make me turn the page. Okay, I need conflict, period. Wasn't getting any.

On order: The Signore: Shogun of the Warring States, a fictionalized history of Oda Nobunaga by Kunio Tsuji, and The Samurai and the Long-Nosed Devils by Lensey Namioka. Ambivalent over the second, since it's been so long in print (and now out of print, I think) that I can't find an excerpt anywhere. So not really sure if I'm facing yet another YA-voiced story, even if a used copy is only a buck-fifty. (What a joke: shipping is more than twice the book itself.)

In related notes, the past night or so, we've been debating what it'd be like to have a Buddhist monk, a Catholic padre, a Daoist master, a Confucian scholar, and a Shinto priest in a room together. Although by the Heian or shortly after, the Buddhist and Shinto were probably close to the same in terms of ideology... but I still think the Confucian, the padre, and the Buddhist would be arguing over whether women are evil inherently or only evil if they don't follow the moral precepts of being barefoot and pregnant, while the Shinto priest would be in the corner playing one-sided Go. CP says by mid-Qing, the Daoist would be arguing right along with the rest, but I'd rather think of early Daoism, and that kind of priest would probably also be playing Go.

Although I'd be really curious to read anything that compared how each school of thought would react to meeting a yokai/demon in the flesh. (In the spirit?) Exorcise it? Beat it into submission to the Buddha? Instruct it in moral rules of behavior? Fear it? Or invite it to tea?
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
For some inexplicable reason (as in, no idea how I followed whatever links to end up there), this evening I ended up on a wiki page about the film, Mary Poppins. I have never liked this film, although as a kid I liked Julie Andrews well enough that she often saved films for me that I'd otherwise detest. But Mary Poppins, hm. And although CP calls this an example of a severe reinterpretation of the text (and one mostly unsupported by the text), it's still there, in my head, all these years later.

First, let's get this out of the way: Dick Van Dyke does the worst Cockney accent. Despite being born-and-raised American, when I finally saw Mary Poppins, I assumed he was from somewhere else in America, and not British (or Cockney, allegedly). This is because I'd already been to England and met several lovely elderly Cockneys while we were in London, and Dyke didn't talk anything like them. Plus, he was completely comprehensible, and right there, I knew he couldn't be really British, because you had to listen hard when someone from London spoke or else you couldn't figure out a word of it. Even the people in Aberdeen were easier to understand, with a little work, than the taxi drivers and bed/breakfast keepers we met in London.

So there's that level of a wrong note (so to speak), but there are deeper levels. One is that before I ever saw the film Mary Poppins, I'd read Kingsley's Water-Babies. (Later I saw some of the so-called filmic/animated adaptation of the book, and was disgusted with the fact that it was nothing like the book.) Water-Babies made a huge impact on me; while I was used to Dickens and his thorough applications of bathos for the sake of making his young protagonists (ie Oliver) sympathetic, Dickens also had later movies to deal with where Fagin and his crew were iffy and dirty but hardly, y'know, freaking terrifying like Oliver Reed. But Water-Babies pulls no punches about the life and tasks of its chimney sweep protagonist, and at the young age of maybe six or seven, trying to imagine a life of a chimney sweep came very close to giving me nightmares. If there is anything on this planet that I would never, ever, ever wish upon any child, it would be cleaning chimneys.

And then there's the song by Mrs Banks, about being a suffragette. I guess I was maybe nine or ten? when I finally saw Mary Poppins, and I already knew what suffragettes were. (Thank you, Mom, the feminist.) Except that in the movie -- relatively straightforward and crowd-rousing lyrics aside -- the movie-Mom wasn't treated like a hero. She was treated like a ditz who, I don't know, did suffragette-ing on the side, on Sunday afternoons, like a weekly hobby to keep herself busy between doing wash on Tuesdays and having other ladies over for high tea on Thursdays. And maybe some silver-polishing on Saturday morning. Or whatever upper-class British ladies did, which (in my admittedly young and inexperienced opinion) seemed to amount to a lot of dabbling. And looking ornamental.

But the film's pivotal role -- and the real bearer of any moral message -- is Mary Poppins herself, and she seems to treat (or so I recall) Mrs. Banks as though Mrs Banks is little more than a twittering ditz, and mostly useless. I knew my American history and that women fought for a long, long time before they got the vote, so I figured in Britain it was probably similar, and that (at the time) a lot of men saw women wanting the vote as something that should never happen, and would never amount to any good. So I completely expected Mr Banks' dismissive reaction to his wife's activism; it was Mary Poppins' dismissiveness that really baffled me, and then annoyed me. I mean, if Mary Poppins is supposed to be so smart, why would she a) treat another woman like she's stupid, and b) not respect and support a woman trying to make life better for all women?

Thus I was already a bit iffy on the film, first time I watched it, but the clincher was the song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. )
kaigou: (5 flowers on brick)
There were several issues with Paper Butterfly (Diane Wei Liang), one being that the voice was rather dry and distant, the other being that it couldn't seem to keep my attention. The reason for losing my attention, though, wasn't from the book but from my reaction, and I'm still trying to put my finger on it.

A few weeks ago or so, I recall linking to this essay [thx to [personal profile] soukup!] that discussed -- well, lots of things but this was one of the sub-themes -- the issue of works written for the insider group and works written for an outsider group. A significant point was that of the texts mentioned, some of them (which had been highly lauded in the West) were stuffed to the brim with a certain kind of sell-out, catering, mindset. The intended audience was clearly Western, and that audience's viewpoint was valorized over the insider/non-Western view.

That's fuzzy, but it's a jumping-off point into a critique of Paper Butterfly, and why I stopped reading. )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 nobuta smiles)
Of the last round of library books, I finished Faust's (more like tore through it) and then decided the only other one that held my attention was Nina Revoyr's Southland. Short review behind cut. )

Returned those books, and now I have the next set to read:

The hell screens — Lu, Alvin
Mama rocks the empty cradle — DeLoach, Nora.
The mistress of spices — Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee
The Midnight Palace — Ruiz Zafón, Carlos
The Dervish House — McDonald, Ian

...a few early impressions of the first two in the list. )

More on the rest later, when I'm done with these. (I suspect Lu's is going to be a slower read, because the book's voice doesn't really give you the room for speed. DeLoach does, though.)
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (5 bookstack)
Paper Butterfly — Diane Wei Liang
...trying to, at least. It's slow going, and the protagonist (a private eye in Beijing) is a little too reticent or introverted to get a handle on her. Cautious, as well, and the third-person POV is a little distant, and all of it's creating distance where I think I'm supposed to find sympathy. But I want to like the story, so I may keep trying.

Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad — Minister Faust
This is a book I can't review with any kind of distance. It was just that good, and caught me that much. Tore through it in an evening, because I simply could not stop. Now I want his next books. Like, fifteen minutes ago.

Chinatown Beat — Henry Chang
Not sure if I'll keep with this one. Decent writing, solid, but there are starting to be hints of misogyny. Not sexism (where women are less capable/able than men) but outright don't-like-women-that-much. Haven't read enough to pinpoint whether this is the narration/author or the character in particular. Problem is, not sure I want to keep reading to find out.

Southland — Nina Revoyr
I'm four or five chapters into this one, and I'm starting to get that feeling, the same one I got at this stage of The Hero's Walk, that something marvelous is unfolding in front of me. Stay tuned, will report in later.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 Edward armor)
Current status:

Done Wrong — Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)
Dropped. Not really where my brain is at, right now, and this title is fourth in the series, I think it is. Going to try and find the one with the summary/case that was more interesting.

The Steel Remains — Richard K Morgan (fantasy)
Dropped... for now. Just not doing it for me. Story is okay, characters have potential, but it wasn't holding me.

Havemercy — Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (fantasy/steampunk)
Dropped. See this exchange for an uncharacteristically (for me) succinct review.

The Hero's Walk — Anita Rau Badami (literary)

GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. It's not slow, it's dense, but it's rich. Emotional without being melodramatic; introspective without drowning in navel-gazing. It's a story of mourning, grief, loss, and how even inside a family, we can still be strangers.

It's about an upper-caste (but hardly wealthy) man who disowned his daughter for marrying a Westerner and ditching her arranged marriage, who after nine years of distance learns his daughter and her husband have died in a car accident -- and his is the only family able and willing to take in the orphaned grand-child. It's about an eight-year-old girl who's lost her parents, her voice, her culture, and her moorings, in that order. It's about a grown woman who's lost repeated chances at marriage thanks to her mother's selfishness, but might not have lost her chance at love. It's about a life-long obedient daughter-then-wife who realizes she's had it up to here and it's time to start declaring, and chasing, what she wants. It's about a younger son, shadowed by his older sister and desperately wanting to make the world better but getting nowhere. It's a lot of people getting nowhere, but that's to be expected when you're not sure how to get there, or if you even have the courage to try. It's a gorgeous, thoughtful story, sometimes-sad, sometimes-wryly-humorous, always human and respectful and ambiguous towards its characters.

This is not a story to swallow whole, or even to chew up in large bites. It's a story to be savored, and a story that lets you in to be the observer in complex and burdened personal histories that make up this strange new land for an orphaned child. It is also not, I should note, saccharine, in any way at all: the grand-daughter is not some bubbly Westernized child who shows up and delights, charms, and changes everyone. The grand-daughter is suffering and struggling with her own grief for her lost parents that's just as deep as her grandparents' grief for their lost daughter.

Honestly, I can't speak highly enough of this story. The plot is simple, though the story gets right into it very quickly -- and then backs up, circles around, to give you a bigger picture to understand each character's reactions and fears -- so it's both slow and quick-moving at the same time. It's written without overly-purple pretensions at poetry; it's just deft and assured writing that carries you along, giving enough description to create the place and time. The craftsmanship in the writing is just that good, that you never stop to say, oh, how the author must have labored over this description! -- which is what I mean by 'pretentious'. The author trusts the power of her story and has the confidence in her own voice to give you the story as it needs to be given, at the pace that works, with the details that belong.

Really. Find a copy, read, and enjoy.

The Devil in the Dust — Chaz Brenchley
Currently reading. Figure it'll kill some time while I wait for the interlibrary loan books to come in, even if I'm less than crazy about the alternate-history/reality version of the Crusades. (The mention of 'Catari' in the first few pages as one of the heretical groups was slight giveaway; the next four pages' details confirmed it.)

Also: commentary on Water Touching Stone, Companion to Wolves, and The Hero's Walk. )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (5 bookstack)
Currently reading -- and yes, I do mean all of them --

Done Wrong — Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)
The Steel Remains — Richard K Morgan (fantasy)
Water Touching Stone — Eliot Pattison (mystery)
Havemercy — Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (fantasy/steampunk)
The Hero's Walk — Anita Rau Badami (literary)
A Companion to Wolves — Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear (fantasy)

A chapter of one, a chapter of the next.

I'm thinking maybe I should pick one and stick to it. Most likely bet would be The Hero's Walk — a gracious and incredible and gorgeous work of poetic verse with a deep heart — but it also deserves to be savored, not chewed through or swallowed whole. So when I start getting anxious about sitting in one place for too long, I move to sit somewhere else in the room, and look, there's a different book right there.

Bad habit, I know, but a very old one.
kaigou: (1 buddha ipod)
my local librarians are either going to hate me, or just stare at me with blank expressions. also, this numbering is in order of addition to the wish list, not in order of preference. ETA: bold = interlibrary/local; italic = not available; # = local library; underline = author avail but not that title; neither = read/reading.

1. The Hell Screens — Alvin Lu
2. Death of a Red Heroine — Xiaolong Qiu
3. The Eye of Jade: A Mei Wang Mystery — Diane Wei Liang #
4. The Midnight Palace — Carlos Ruiz Zafón
5. The Age of Dreaming — Nina Revoyr
6. Southland — Nina Revoyr
7. Feng Shui Detective — Nury Vittachi
8. Moonrise, Sunset — Gopal Baratham
9. Shadow Theatre — Fiona Cheong
10. White Teeth: A Novel — Zadie Smith
11. Life and Death are Wearing Me Out: A Novel — Yen Mo
12. Nervous Conditions — Tsitsi Dangarembga
13. Wizard of the Crow — Ngugi wa Thiongo
14. The Heart of Redness: A Novel — Zakes Mda
15. Running in the Family — Michael Ondaatje
16. My Name Is Red — Orhan Pamuk
17. Salt and Saffron — Kamila Shamsie
18. Burnt Shadows: A Novel — Kamila Shamsie
19. The Skull Mantra — Eliot Pattison
20. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery — Amitav Ghosh
21. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was — Angélica Gorodischer
22. The Dervish House — Ian McDonald
23. The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad — Minister Faust
24. The Alchemists of Kush — Minister Faust
25. The Devil's Whisper — Miyuki Miyabe
26. Chinatown Beat — Henry Chang
27. Babel-17/Empire Star — Samuel R. Delany
28. The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years — Chingiz Aitmatov
29. The Mistress of Spices: A Novel — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
30. My Soul to Keep — Tananarive Due
31. Brown Girl in the Ring — Nalo Hopkinson
32. Cast in Shadow — Michelle Sagara
33. Racing the Dark — Alaya Dawn Johnson
34. Salt Fish Girl — Larissa Lai
35. Fatal Remains — Eleanor Taylor Bland #
36. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel — Sijie Dai
37. Mama Rocks the Empty Cradle — Nora DeLoach
38. The Walking Boy: A Novel — Lydia Kwa
39. When Fox is a Thousand — Larissa Lai
49. Warchild — Karin Lowachee
50. The Hero's Walk — Anita Rau Badami #
51. Miss Chopsticks — Xinran
52. The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up — Yiwu Liao

I have no idea whether 'Minister Faust' is a real name or pen name, but it's a freaking brilliant name any way you look at it. It's a name that demands you do great, if kinda crazy, things.

If you can think of any other SF/F works, or any of these titles make you do the "if you like that [story description] you may also like" routine, please feel free to rattle off the "also likes" you've got.
kaigou: Roy Mustang, pondering mid-read. (1 pondering)
Last week (after we got back), I was bored enough and hadn't read a book in awhile, felt like, so thought I'd check out what new ebooks were on offer from the publishers I like (read: who seem to be somewhat consistent in decent quality). One area I almost always check out is "multicultural", but this time I noticed something and I'm not sure whether it's me, or if it's not me.

When I say "multicultural", I mean as in: where the two (or more) main characters come from a variety of cultures. Kinda culture-clash, even if on a superficial level the characters may have a lot in common, visually. Someone from Australia and someone from Britain might look like they have distant-distant-distant kin, possibly, but culturally they're going to have some differences. The lack of a language barrier meaning the differences may be less than, say, Australia and Peru, but still, culturally it's still not quite exactly the same. Still, that's what I'd consider a watered-down multiculturalism, because between language, ethnicity, and culture (on a very broad scale), there's still a lot in common between the two characters, more than there's difference.

When I say, multicultural, I mean, lots of cultures, coming and going and complex and textured. )

If it seems like it's an odd request, it's because I've realized that we can extend that meme about "if you don't like panels with only white guys, as a white guy, don't agree to be on panels with only white guys". If I don't like books with only white characters, stop agreeing to read/purchase books with only white characters -- and to be honest, settings in which the white culture dominates quietly, in the background, as an unquestioned assumption, is part of that refusal.

I'm thinking it's time to paraphrase the Dalai Lama: read the change you want to see in the world. I'm ready to read. Throw some titles at me!
kaigou: (5 flowers on brick)
One of my biggest issues with application development is when any driver in the development (whether programmers, designers, or the corporate decision-makers) declare that "users can just get used to this". I end up arguing the opposite, every single time. Like arguing that users do need a halfway button that says "save and continue" on a really long form, or that we can't drop the red asterisk for colorblind users who won't see the red outline on a text-box, or that a series of steps aren't obvious or intuitive. I don't believe you can force users -- or that you even should -- into changing their own perceptions and patterns just because you think it's easier to not include that second button, or because you believe asterisks will "mess up" your pretty styles.

Since an application's purpose is to help someone work more efficiently (whether at a new task or just redoing an old task in a new format, like in-browser), making the users slow down to learn a new pattern-language seems counterproductive. You have to fit the application to the users, and any changes must be slow and subtle. We're all old dogs, really, when it comes to how we interact with patterns.

I see the same argument in fiction, where users (readers) argue for things like "pronounceable names" or dislike settings or conflicts that don't mesh with their expectations. Things like female characters who are androgynous enough that an unfamiliar character might, at first, not be sure of the female character's sex/gender. Or hierarchies that don't work in the same way as those the reader knows. Or even just value systems that aren't in-culture for the reader: different priorities, like setting one's family/parents above one's personal ambitions. Those kinds of stories are the opposite of the application-design style above, because they don't bend to the user's conventions, but expect the reader to bend to mesh with the story.

[paragraph above is badly-phrased, see comments for discussion/elaboration]

Maybe such unfamiliar-named, unfamiliar-setting stories might reach a wider audience if they worked more to meet with reader non/familiarity? Like taking a non-English name and anglicizing it a little differently to make its pronunciation more obvious, more understandable to English-familiar readers? (I am suddenly thinking of Korean names, which seem to be anglicized in any of a variety of ways, and frequently have vowel-combinations that would be one way based on English rules, but are pronounced quite differently.) Another is cultural, where the protagonist notes things that would be taken for granted in the protag's own culture (ie, family over individual or vice versa), but are distinctly different from the reader's culture, and thus are tagged or lampshaded solely for the reader's benefit. (Characters who note the side of the road driven is a huge, if rare, example: who the hell ever stops to think about what side of the road they drive on, if they grew up with that understanding/assumption?)

I recall someone on my dwircle was discussing/reviewing a book set in Japan, I think it was, where the main character noted such cross-culture differences. Those familiar with Japanese culture found it off-putting, it seemed, because these seemed like things a Japanese person would never think to randomly compare. I mean, how often do you go around your native/home culture and say, "I'm getting cucumbers and okra, but you'd never see these in a Russian supermarket"? Those who not quite familiar with Japanese culture seemed to be more forgiving, maybe because they were glad of being given some handle on the differences. It can be hard to assess what's "strange" for a character when the entire setting is strange to you, as the reader.

Bend to the user/reader, or expect the reader/user to bend to the story? What do you think?
kaigou: I knew it! not in the sense of knowing it, but I knew there was something I didn't know. (3 knew it but didn't know it)
I was never into superheroes, outside the exposure to the Wonder Woman television show and a handful of Saturday morning cartoons -- which I didn't much like, seeing how in her own show, Wonder Woman was pretty awesome, but in the Justice League getup, she mostly just flew around in her invisible/glass helicopter and, I don't know, made coffee the rest of the time. (At least, that was my impression as a kid.)

Awhile back CP and I were talking about one thing and it led (as it always does) to something else, and I finally confessed that for the majority of my childhood, I was convinced there was a really awesome superhero out there... but that not being very knowledgeable about superheroes and all that (and it didn't help that my parents discouraged comic book reading, and besides, the library didn't carry comic books), I never could find out where to read the superhero's stories.

See, at some point in 2nd or 3rd grade, I happened to see a poster, probably at the mall or something, at one of those shops where you could get everything from old posters to lava lamps to whoopie cushions. Bookending this particular poster was another I already knew:

This poster, along with posters for Superman, Batman, and even the little-known Captain America, all taught me How To Identify Superheroes: they were usually the ones standing front-and-center, and almost always had their legs shoulder-width apart, or wider (per Luke in the poster above). Superheroes didn't kneel at anyone's feet, and they didn't sit, either. The superhero's hands would be on his hips (or one hand, with the other holding his weapon of choice or brandishing a fist). Every now and then a superhero might have crossed arms, like Batman's laconic pose, or Wonder Woman showing off her bracelets.

But generally speaking, you knew it was a superhero if the character was larger than everyone else, and looked like someone who could hold their own, possibly even spell trouble for bad guys.

Thus it made perfect sense to me, at that young age, that this was also a superhero. )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 oh em gee)
Talking just now with CP on a paper idea of his, and (as we frequently do) we ended up tangenting along until we ended up on a discussion of whether there are/were significant non-named/generic non-human critters in folklore from any of the African countries.

When I was researching for stories of my own, one thing that bothered me to no end was the overwhelming amount of material available on European (especially British and North European) folklore creatures... and the absolute dearth on just about anywhere else other than maybe Japan and Russia (and a smattering from India). Elsewhere, sure, you could find plenty of stories about named characters -- i.e. Anansi, Coyote, Baba Yaga -- where there's an entire body of legends about the character's exploits. But those legends also presuppose that there's only one, even if that one shows up everywhere at any time. What I was looking for was generics or categories, like the Indian naga, or the Korean gumiho, or the Welsh redcap, and having no luck.

A few times, in articles from/about -- I think it was Mozambique, South Africa, and... I want to say one of the western coastal countries, but I don't think it was Cote D'Ivoire proper -- there would be random passing reference. Then the interveiwee (or translating author/ethnographer) would keep going, into some story of another named legend. No, no, back up, I wanted to say, but it was clear that someone -- whether the interviewee, or the interviewer -- didn't consider these incidental unnamed category-creatures to be worth more explanation.

This is entirely my speculation, but it's possible that it's the ethnographer only wanting a 'body' of stories, instead of snippets here and there -- little stories, if you will. And it's also possible that it's the interviewee (as CP suggested) not wanting to seem too backwards, so preferring to tell legend-type stories, where there's a running narrative. Instead of, y'know, talking about the bogeyman.

But I wonder if it's also possible that in telling the little stories, that there's a self-censorship at play because of the self-consciousness of the telling. Like, for instance, choosing not to repeat the stories of Santa Claus, because you stopped being fooled by that story when you were eight -- even if ten minutes after the interviewer leaves, you're reprimanding your own children about the fact that if they don't behave, Santa will leave coals in their stockings.

Besides, it's my firm belief that if there's one universal aspect to parenting, it's that all parents have a bogeyman at their command. And if you don't behave, that bogeyman -- whatever his or her name, age, rank, appearance, or living quarters -- will come get you.

Or maybe it's just that bogeymen are universal.

ETA: If you do know of beastiary [yokaiography, demonography, list-of-nonhumans, etc] books that recount the folklore of 'generic' (unnamed) non-human types, from cultures other than EU/CEE (which I already have in spades), please do tell.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 omg fanfic)
Came across a thought-provoking (okay, given that linoleum can make me think deep thoughts, this may not be saying much) philosophical essay, ostensibly discussing whether or not Dumbledore is gay. But in the midst of tackling that question, Tamar Szabó Gendler had this to say:
...a number of leading critics of authorial intent [point out] that language is a social creation, and that authors do not have the power simply to make words mean what they choose. By this reasoning, it’s not up to Rowling to say whether Dumbledore is gay: her texts need to be allowed to speak for themselves, and each of her readers is a qualified listener.

By contrast, “intentionalist” literary theorists such as E.D. Hirsch Jr. argue that authorial intent is what fixes a text’s correct interpretation. Without such a constraint, Hirsch contends, one uses the text “merely as grist for one’s own mill.” And, at least to the extent that readers’ primary concern is with understanding what an author meant to communicate, intention is obviously central.

Oppressor vs. oppressed, collaboration in wartime, immigration, and a few other maybe-unexpected systemic corollaries to the dynamics, but mostly just slightly rambly pondering. )
kaigou: sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness. (2 flamethrowers)
From a Salon essay about the English-language translation of The Ringbearer, a satirical/parodic take on The Lord of the Rings. First, tying into both myth-making and a broader pop culture application, per the issue of fantasies in re women's roles, this food for thought:
"The Lord of the Rings" wouldn't be as popular as it is if the pastoral idyll of the Shire and the sureties of a virtuous, mystically ordained monarchy as embodied in Aragorn didn't speak to widespread longing for a simpler way of life. There's nothing wrong with enjoying such narratives -- we'd be obliged to jettison the entire Arthurian mythos and huge chunks of American popular culture if there were -- but it never hurts to remind ourselves that it's not just their magical motifs that makes them fantasies.

And an intriguing reaction from the reviewer, too, in the final paragraph:
Yeskov's "parody" -- for "The Last Ringbearer," with its often sardonic twists on familiar Tolkien characters and events, comes a lot closer to being a parody than "Wind Done Gone" ever did -- is just such a reminder. If it is fan fiction (and I'm not sure I'm in a position to pronounce on that), then it may be the most persuasive example yet of the artistic potential of the form.

And since translations and language have been on my brain, this paragraph from an interview with Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things:
To be able to express yourself, to be able to close the gap—inasmuch as it is possible—between thought and expression is just such a relief. It’s like having the ability to draw or paint what you see, the way you see it. Behind the speed and confidence of a beautiful line in a line drawing there’s years of—usually—discipline, obsession, practice that builds on a foundation of natural talent or inclination of course. It’s like sport. A sentence can be like that. Language is like that. It takes a while to become yours, to listen to you, to obey you, and for you to obey it. I have a clear memory of language swimming towards me. Of my willing it out of the water. Of it being blurred, inaccessible, inchoate… and then of it emerging. Sharply outlined, custom-made.


kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗

to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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