Revelation Space

Hey loyal Tftb readers – remember last April when I asked y’all to help make me a reading challenge? Hopefully you forgot because it’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve let it slide so long. But I didn’t forget, it’s always nagging at me, usually in a really snarky tone with something like, “geez, you can’t even follow thru with ONE challenge you set for yourself that involves something you genuinely enjoy, WHATSAMATTERWIDYOU?!” (My nagging is really annoying, sometimes I feel bad for the husband.)

On May 9 (2016) I posted these seven reading challenge tasks:

  1. Read a book written by a friend.
  2. Read a book written under a pseudonym or where the author uses initials to obscure their gender.
  3. Read a book which an image of a bird on the cover.
  4. Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power.
  5. Read Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  6. Read an inspiration. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do and then read a book about someone who does it.
  7. Read a novel by Pat Conroy.

On June 17, I completed task 2 by reading Silas Marner by George Eliot.

On September 7, I completed task 3 by reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

On November 13, I completed task 6 by reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.

And on May 24 2017, while sitting on the couch and accomplishing nothing else, I completed task 5.

The task came from the s-i-l who is an avid reader and all-around science fiction geek. Revelation Space is described as an epic, space opera. I agree. It’s like a soap opera set in space with multiple storylines and characters and it goes on and on and on, for 585 pages. I applaud his task for stretching me out of my reading comfort zone, BUT… it’s a bit like challenging someone who rarely reads international authors by giving them War and Peace.

I tend to steer away from Science Fiction because it just doesn’t really interest me. This book was filled with descriptions and details that didn’t add to the plot and also weren’t able to suck me into the places or the characters. Maybe if I was more comfortable with immersing myself into sci-fi scenarios they would have added something. Often the plot twists/advancements consisted of a character saying, “Oh, I get this connection, I understand this now,” and then going on and explaining it to the reader. It just felt like cheating by the author, but heavens knows, he did need to find ways to get to the end of this damn thing.

In the last TWO months, while slogging thru Revelation Space, the to-read pile has continued to grow. But be assured, I have not forgotten about my crowd-sourced reading challenging and I WILL complete it…someday.

 

H is for Hawk

hawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is the 22nd book I’ve read this year, towards my goal of 37. Goodreads tells me that this is 4 books behind schedule. (Thanks a lot, Goodreads) It also completes one of my Thoughts from the Back Reading Challenge tasks – read a book with a bird on the cover. Two down, five to go. Fortunately, I didn’t really set myself a schedule for the Reading Challenge.

I had heard a lot about this book before reading it. It is memoir, nature, history all rolled together and told by an excellent, descriptive writer. From childhood, Macdonald has been fascinated with the sport of falconry, both its history and the birds themselves, and in adulthood she becomes an experienced falconer. Grieving after the sudden, unexpected death of her father, she decides to throw herself into training the most difficult, fierce predator of them all, a goshawk.

H is for Hawk is the story of the training of the goshawk, Mabel. It is also the story of Macdonald working thru her grief, and finding her way again. It is also the story of the author T.H. White, best known for his books of the Arthurian Legend. White himself trained a goshawk and wrote a book about it. Macdonald entwines the two training experiences leaving the reader feeling that there was no way Macdonald’s story would be complete without White’s story as well.

I heard the author read an excerpt on a radio interview. I was left somewhat breathless. Actually reading the book never left me feeling quite that same way, but still I really enjoyed it. Macdonald herself is an introvert and somewhat of a loner, especially during this period in her life, and it feels like she is purposefully keeping the reader at arm’s length. Her writing is solid though perhaps too descriptive for some. I read it just before diving into an animal training adventure of my own, so I think it is speaking to me on that level as well as the fact that a nature and history combo is clearly a draw for me.

The history was about falconry and White, but it was also about the connection of humans to nature, and it is perhaps that aspect of the book that I loved the most.

When I trained my hawk I was having a quiet conversation, of sorts, with the deeds and works of a long-dead man (White) who was suspicious, morose, determined to despair. A man whose life disturbed me. But a man, too, who loved nature, who found it surprising, bewitching and endlessly novel. ‘A magpie flies like a frying pan!’ he could write, with the joy of discovering something new in the world. And it is that joy, that childish delight in the lives of creatures other than man, that I love most in White. He was a complicated man, and an unhappy one. But he knew also that the world was full of simple miracles.

White’s works are best known to most as the inspiration for Disney movies and Broadway musicals (Camelot). In The Sword in the Stone,  Merlin teaches young Wort to understand himself and his place in the world by understanding non-human animals and their places in nature. Macdonald learned some of those same lessons herself while training Mabel, and I’m pleased she wrote this book so she could teach me, as well.

Silas Marner

I have finished the first task of my crowd-sourced reading challenge! To refresh your memory, I asked you to give me some reading tasks to accomplish within the next year. Here are the seven tasks you came up with:

  1. Read a book written by a friend.
  2. Read a book written under a pseudonym or where the author uses initials to obscure their gender.
  3. Read a book which an image of a bird on the cover.
  4. Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power.
  5. Read Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  6. Read an inspiration. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do and then read a book about someone who does it.
  7. Read a novel by Pat Conroy.

marnerSilas Marner was written by George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans, who chose a pen name to make sure her work was judged apart from her gender and her personal life, although I don’t think she really bothered to keep her identity secret. I was thinking I should read her later novel, Middlemarch, but instead saw Marner while perusing the classics shelf at the library. Plus the husband and I had gotten into a twisted trivial discussion not long ago about Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, an albatross, and Silas Mariner. (I didn’t even come up with Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner until later.) Obviously it was an omen and it was time to actually read Silas Marner so maybe I could remember what I was supposed to be talking about next time.

There is no sea in Silas Marner. Set in rural England, Marner leaves his home town after being falsely accused of a crime and losing the girl he loves. Embittered, he sets up shop as a weaver in a small town far enough away that his past won’t find him. He is a solitary figure and cares only about his weaving and the gold that it brings in, which he hoards. He gets robbed. Then an orphan baby wanders into his house, he adopts her, and finds something to love and live for. Ta-da!

I can appreciate the writing. There’s plenty of commentary about class and society, about how love is better than money, and some decent character development. Still, the novel and the writing are so dated that it was a bit of a slog to get thru. Here’s one passage that I enjoyed:

I suppose one reason we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our good will gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips.

I can totally relate to this line. I’m sure there were other great passages, but I didn’t want to slow down to appreciate them, I just wanted to keep reading, hoping that something might actually happen. If you thought my summary indicated a less-than riveting plot, you are correct. But at least my summary was only five sentences.

A task is complete, a classic is read, a confusion is cleared up. It was worth reading Silas Marner because I chose it myself. Heaven forbid if this dated novel is still required for a high school English class.

Accountability

The written word introduces a certain level of authority to language. It’s why we sign written contracts and read the fine print. I think it’s also why we write down to-do lists and resolutions; not just to help us remember, but also to make us, somehow, a little more accountable. This is why I always finish everything on my to-do list and stick to all my New Years’, Lenten, and summertime resolutions.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Ok, but seriously, I think I do better when I write things down. When I write in this blog about things that I want to do, I feel that y’all become my accountability accomplices. Sure, I bothered to blog about it because it is something I really want to do, but now I’ve told other people that I want to do these things. I know that y’all don’t really care if I follow through. I know that I’m only disappointing myself, but the extra motivation from imagining that I might leave someone else disappointed in me is what just might keep me going. I feel like I’ve been making some promises to us in recent posts and I think it’s time for an accountability check.

Taking better care of myself. Eating healthier, exercising more – I’m at a total failure point on this one right now. I need to right the ship, set some concrete action plans, and refocus. And to be honest with us, I’m not ready to make that happen just now. I know from past attempts that if I try when my mind is not in the right place, there will be no success.

Hurricane season preparation. The emergency food and water has been purchased and set aside. I do still need to go thru the important papers cache. And I promise us that I will pay attention and act accordingly if there is a legitimate hurricane threat.

Reading challenge. I have not abandoned the reading challenge that you gave me. I am currently reading Silas Marner, by George Eliot who is the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. She had a successful career as a literary editor and critic, but chose a male pen name for her own fiction so that her novels might be taken more seriously, both because male writers were taken more seriously in the 1860’s and because her personal lifestyle choice of living openly with a married man raised a lot of eyebrows.

The politics of gun control. I’ve ranted a bit about politics and policy, and last week I promised to write to my elected officials. Usually, I am not the person that does that, but the Orlando shooting really shook me up (again.) I had jotted down a couple of possible letters and was investigating whether email or snail mail would be better when I heard about the Chris Murphy filibuster. With C-span on in the background, I fired off short emails to Sen. Cruz, Sen. Cornyn, and Rep. Culberson. I just wanted to make sure that if they were doing any sort of counting of constituent opinions that they would count me as in favor of some gun control regulations. As I listened to more of the filibuster and the legislation that Murphy was supporting, I wrote a second, longer email to Cornyn about how I supported the specific measures being “debated.” (I knew there was no further point in writing to Cruz.) I was surprised and pleased to receive a thoughtful response from Cornyn’s office. I’m sure it was written by a staffer, but it felt personal and not just a form letter reply. He, of course, disagreed with me, but he thanked me for writing and being engaged in the political process and then he told me what he was doing that he felt would be effective in combating gun violence, legislatively addressing the problem from the mental health side and encouraging enforcement of existing laws. I wasn’t quite ready to just agree to disagree so I wrote back to acknowledge that gun violence is a big, multi-faceted problem, but that to ignore that the weapons themselves are a part of the problem is short-sighted. I still need to send a letter or email to my elected officials in Austin. It’s so little, and it likely accomplishes nothing, but it is a small something. And I do still believe that if enough small steps are taken, there might one day be some big movement in the right direction.

Thanks for reading along. Feel free to call my bluff on anything I write about in Thoughts From The Back. Also, feel free to tackle anything on my to-do list, I’m happy to out-source the actions as well as the accountability.

Corrections and Updates

First, a correction to last week’s post on Scars. The sister decided to correct my memory regarding my first, childhood scar. She wrote:

You were only about 2 because I was 4. You begged me to give you the jar to hold. I refused and you begged some more, threatening to cry, so I gave it to you. Within about 1 minute you started running with it, fell and cut your arm. I was mortified. There really was quite a bit of blood… I don’t think you cried…I think I was scared enough for both of us, so you weren’t particularly.

I wouldn’t necessarily believe HER, but the bit about me begging and threatening to cry sounded awfully realistic.

Second, an update to my crowd sourced reading challenge. Apparently it takes a crowd to crowd source something. Who knew?! So the whole idea was a half flop, but I did get the following seven terrific suggestions for what to read next.

  1. Read a book written by a friend.
  2. Read a book written under a pseudonym or where the author uses initials to obscure their gender.
  3. Read a book which an image of a bird on the cover.
  4. Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power.
  5. Read Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  6. Read an inspiration. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do and then read a book about someone who does it.
  7. Read a novel by Pat Conroy. Lords of Discipline was specifically recommended.

So I do plan to take on this reading challenge, but without any consequences or sense of urgency since my goal of ten tasks was not reached.

Third, I failed on one of my own goals this week. I had challenged myself to do some amount of intentional fitness activity every day for a full year. 100 sit-ups was my go-to minimum if I didn’t do anything else on given day. Counting by weeks, the first try I made it into the 20’s. The second try I hit 32. Last week I had made it to week 44 but I totally forgot about doing anything on Saturday. PPFFTHPTH. I give. I need to come up with another fitness goal/motivation/accountability system…and not by crowd-sourcing it either.

Fourth, those of you who are ever in the same location as me will be pleased to learn that the doorbell sound that used to indicate the receipt of a text message on my phone has gone silent. No more annoying the granddogs, no more people getting up to see who is at the door, and no more people wondering why there is a door bell in a store, museum, park, car, etc.

Fifth, Disco Zoo for iphone. A cross between Zoo Tycoon and Tamagotchi (NanoPets). I steered clear of Farmville and Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector, but I downloaded this in a weak moment after a recommendation by D#2. I’d post more but I need to go wake up my animals now.