rachelmanija: (Default)
2016-06-24 01:33 pm

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, by Lynne Cox (Part I)

I'm only halfway through this memoir of a world-record cold-water swimmer, which I am greatly enjoying, but I had to share a few excerpts.

Memoirs by athletes who are famous in non-famous sports are often very interesting: they're not about being famous and meeting other famous people and (often) getting addicted to drugs/fame/sex, they're about what it actually feels like to do their sport. (Also, they're way more likely to be written by the athlete rather than a ghost writer.)

The best ones are usually by people whose sports involve a lot of endurance and are at least somewhat solo (rather than team sports; you're competing as much against yourself as against others.) I am very interested in physicality, people's relationships to their bodies, the mind-body connection, and pushing the limits of the mind and body, so I like that sort of thing. Especially when interesting locales are involved. People who get seriously into things like rock climbing, long-distance swimming, mountaineering, etc, tend to have mindsets that would not be out of place in a Zen temple.

Cox discovered an aptitude for cold-water, long-distance swimming as a child; she was rather hilariously inept at all other sports, and had a three-year battle with a PE teacher who hated her and kept refusing to excuse her from volleyball to do stuff like train to set the world record swimming the English Channel at age fourteen. Cox was completely self-motivated; her family supported but did not push her.

At this point she is looking for new frontiers. This is all swimming in oceans, not pools. While stymied in her hope of swimming from Alaska to the Soviet Union by 1) everyone telling her that the water is so cold that she would die in ten minutes, 2) her only landing point being a Soviet SPY BASE which they understandably did not want to let an American on to, she joins a study on cold water swimming led by Dr. William McCafferty and Dr. Barbara Drinkwater (seriously), partly to pass the time and partly in the hope that she'll learn something that will enable her to swim in water that normally kills people.

Dr. Drinkwater explains that men have less body fat, and so tend to sink. Women have more, and so tend to float. But… "You're different. You have neutral buoyancy. That means your body density is exactly the same as seawater. Your proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced so you don't float or sink in the water; you're at one with the water. We've never seen anything like this before."

Cox is fascinated by this finding, which meshes with both her abilities and her sense that she is, in fact, one with sea water. But they want to see how she reacts in a natural environment, not in a lab, so Dr. McCafferty and his wife walk their dog on the beach while she does her daily workout in the ocean.

Before and after these workouts, I'd hide behind a bush and take my core temperature using a rectal thermometer, the only way to get an accurate reading after an immersion in cold water. I always made a point of telling Dr. McCafferty my temperature just as joggers were passing; they'd give him quizzical looks, since it appeared to them that he was talking to the bushes.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-06-14 12:14 pm

The Gunslinger (Dark Tower series), by Stephen King

Strange fantasy by Stephen King, one of his earlier books. He later revised it to correct some minor-sounding issues of consistency with later books in the series; I read the revised version, which has a fantastic short essay by King at the beginning. I love his nonfiction writing.

It has a justly famous first line: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Like it says: a gunslinger relentlessly pursues a man in black who is very bad news. That’s not to say that the gunslinger has clean hands himself.

It’s a weird western, somewhere on the border between dark fantasy and horror, in an incredibly bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape. It has a lot of elements I like and does capture the epic, mythic, movie Old West atmosphere he was going for, but it’s also overly gloomy for my taste— the atmosphere felt very oppressive, which was clearly deliberate, but still— and, very unusually for King and me, I was not grabbed by the characters. He was clearly going for archetypal (the gunslinger’s name isn’t revealed till something like halfway through), but for me it just read as flat. His characterization tends to work via specific details and unique speech patterns, and this had few details and most people spoke more or less the same way. The characterization made sense given the overall conception, but it didn’t play to King's strengths as a writer.

However, I gather that the sequels go in very different directions. Should I read them? Am I more likely to like them? I also have a vague impression that the series ending was widely disliked. If you read it, without getting too spoilery, 1) did you hate it if you got that far, 2) did you hate it enough to retrospectively ruin the entire series, 3) if yes to both, is there a good pre-ending stopping point?

There have been rumors of a movie for forever, but it’s now actually happening and Idris Elba plays the gunslinger. This ups my interest in the series quite a bit. Of course I could just see the movies, but that’s a long wait for a lot of installments.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower)
rachelmanija: (Engaged!)
2016-06-10 01:45 pm

Yousef and Farhad, by Amir Solani (author) and Khalil Bendib (artist)

This short graphic novel, which can be downloaded here or ordered as a paper review copy from the website, is subtitled “Struggling for Family Acceptance in Iran: the story of two gay men.”

It is that rare thing, a work of propaganda which is also a work of art. The entire genre of protest music contains many wonderful songs so it’s not rare there, but I can’t think of too many examples of written propaganda which are also good art. This is. Since I already agree with its message, I was expecting a “preaching to the choir” effect and enjoy the art more than the story. I loved both. It’s extremely well-written, easily gliding from lyrical metaphors to wisecracks to satisfying story moments. It makes its point, but it does so much more than that, too.

Yousuf and Farhad, which was commissioned by Outright, was created to promote the idea that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that gay people should be accepted both politically and personally, to raise awareness of the persecution and prejudice against LGBTQ people in Iran, and to support Iranian LGBTQ people. It’s also a lovely graphic novel which is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always moving. The art is expressive, and even the most minor characters feel like real people with their own stories. Actually, the supporting characters seem more like real people, while the heroes are more types, but that’s probably deliberately done to create an everyman effect and aid in reader identification.

It’s short and sweet, so I don’t want to give too much away. Yousuf and Farhad are two men in love in a place where their love is forbidden; they face prejudice, persecution, and despair, but also find comfort, support, and aid, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

On a literary level, it continues a very old tradition in Persian literature of linking Earthly love to Divine love with its comparisons of the beloved to holy places and things, and the love between the men with the love of God for his creations. The names of the heroes are taken from two of the most famous Persian works of literature, the heterosexual love stories of Farhad and Shirin and Yousef and Zuleikha. It obviously implies that gay love is equal to and as important as straight love and, more subtly, suggests that LGTQ people and the stories of their love should be as respected in Iran specifically, by tying them in to culturally important stories. (I’m using “Iran” to mean the modern country and “Persian” for its ancient literature; that seems to be the most common usage, but please correct me if it’s not the preferred one.)

This is a story which is radical given the current political context, but it does not appeal to radicalism. Instead, it says that there is nothing inherently radical or counterculture about same-sex love and it does not conflict with traditional values or with Islam, and it is homophobia which is a break from tradition and with Islam. I hope it gets through to the people for whom this would be a convincing argument or the only one they would accept.

I obviously read the English version, but it’s also available in Farsi. Contain people being homophobic and (decode at rot13com to see the spoilers) n aba-tencuvp fhvpvqr nggrzcg.

If you want to know if there’s a happy ending, gurl ner unccl naq gbtrgure ng gur raq.

If you would like to read more of Solani’s work, his graphic novel Zahra's Paradise was hugely acclaimed. Based on the subject matter— a young protestor who vanishes— it also looks hugely heartbreaking.

Jessica Stern of Outright wanted me to give a hard copy to the person who edited the latest Outright benefit anthology. (It's quite beautiful in paper and I wish it was more available that way.) So please email me with your address. ;)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-06-01 11:02 am

Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King

Lisey is a middle-aged woman whose husband Scott was a famous writer. When the story begins, Scott has been dead for two years. Lisey is a reader, not a writer, but Scott’s writing is nipping at her heels in the form of academics and fans who want his papers, stalker fans, and the very real fantasy land from which Scott drew his inspiration, which Lisey once visited, and which she may need to visit once again.

The book interweaves the present-day story of Lisey, widowed but not alone (she has sisters) with the story of their marriage. I was all ready to say, “This book really isn’t horror at all and people who aren’t into horror might really like it,” but then I hit a horrific act of violence (not lethal, but seriously wince-inducing) and also Scott’s childhood turns out to be pure horror in both the abuse and fantasy sense, so I guess not. It’s mostly not horror, though.

King is often autobiographical, though in that odd way of fantasy writers in which either completely real incidents or characters are dropped into contemporary fantasy, or by metaphor, so that drug addiction might appear as addictive and destructive alien powers. King additionally often has writer characters who seem based on himself to some degree or other, and not always flatteringly; I am pretty sure I’ve read him saying that the most autobiographical character in The Stand is Harold Lauder. (Harold isn’t a villain, exactly, but he’s villain-ish, and about the opposite of a Marty Stu.)

Lisey’s Story is about what might have happened to King’s wife if he’d been killed in that bizarre van accident. (His memoir/how-to On Writing, which I highly recommend, contains a vivid account of that.) Sort of. If the van accident had been a shooting by a crazed fan or a weird illness, and if he’d had a childhood that was not only horrific but magically weird, and if his stories were partly drawn from a real fantasyland he can visit. And, of course, Lisey isn’t really his wife and her sisters, who play a major role, aren’t really her sisters. But I have a feeling that to some degree, they are. And that their marriage, which is largely mediated by a shared language of words and sayings, both is and isn’t their real marriage. Lisey’s Story is an extremely real-feeling book, even for King, who built his career on making the fantastical real and grounded and specific.

It’s a book about grief, but not about the initial shock, which is most commonly written about; this is about grief that’s been lived with and adjusted to and become familiar, that’s starting to heal at the same time that it’s finally sunk in that someone you loved is really gone and that is a wound will never really heal. It’s a book about marriage, and the intimacy of years and years together. It’s a book about language and storytelling; Scott’s writing is important but the language he and Lisey use with each other, the mortar and bricks of their relationship, is even more important. It’s a book about family— Lisey’s sisters are much more prominent in the narrative than I expected.

But most of all, it’s about Lisey. All things considered, I expected the story to be more about Scott, but it really is Lisey’s story, even though he’s the one with the fame and the magic. But Lisey has grit and practicality and her own creativity, though it’s not of the artistic sort, and she plows through stalkers, grief, family troubles, crazed fans, and a fantasy world with a stubborn determination that made Scott love her, kept her with him when another woman might have fled screaming, and just might defeat some very serious opponents.

I loved Lisey and I loved the metafictional nature of the book. The very first chapter is about how Lisey got erased from a news article about Scott— she was incredibly heroic, but the male journalist ignored her, credited her heroism to some random dude, and the photo shows nothing of her but the heel of her shoe. The rest of the book is about putting Lisey back in the story, but in a way that she wants— not as a flashy hero in the eyes of the world, but doing what needs to be done and is important to her, in her own way.

I’ve never been married, but I’ve seen a lot of married couples and observed how they often do seem to have their own language. This was the first book that made me feel like I got what it felt like to be in that sort of relationship and have that language. (Some of the language is silly or annoying, but mostly in the way that couple’s and family’s language and in-jokes really are silly and annoying to outsiders— it captured a real thing that I haven’t seen most fiction even attempt.) Similarly, the sisters’ relationships were also very real-feeling in a way that, again, was of great interest to me because I don’t have siblings. As a whole, the book is more about intimacy than it is about fantasy worlds and monsters and stalkers— the latter (especially the stalker) are more sizzle than steak.

That being said, warning for horror elements and one moment of cringey violence. Also, it deals with mental illness in a way that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes fantastical/metaphoric and sometimes both. I’m happy to discuss any of that or anything else about the book in comments, so general warning for spoilers in comments.

I liked the book a lot and it made me want to catch up on King’s later work. I haven’t read any of his other more recent books, so feel free to rec anything within the last 20 years or so.

Lisey's Story
rachelmanija: (Sandman: Dream)
2016-05-31 10:02 am

A Way of Exploring Dreams

I’m sure you all know that most therapists don’t usually do that much dream exploration any more, despite its prominence in Freud and hence pop culture depictions of therapy.

I do a lot of work with trauma-based nightmares, but those are quite different from non-trauma-related dreams. The dreams are not generally subtle, so the work is more to get rid of them than to explore what they mean; it’s obvious what they mean. In those cases, the client was traumatized and is re-experiencing it in nightmares which don't contain any deeper meaning, and from which no insight can be gleaned because the insight (client was traumatized in a specific event) is already known.

However, I do sometimes have clients tell me a dream that either isn’t obviously trauma-related, or might be but also seems to have some deeper meaning, and ask me what it means.

I might say something like, "I can't tell you what your dream means. Dreams are totally individual - you're the only one who can know what it means. What do you think it’s about? Were there any parts that felt especially meaningful, or that reminded you of anything in your life or your past?"

If they don’t have any ideas, I’ll try asking about cultural ideas about dreams. I’d phrase it as something like, “In your culture, do people have ways of interpreting dreams? Is there someone in your family or someone you know who knows a lot about dreams?”

Generally, if their culture does have ideas about dreams, they will know some specific person who could interpret their dream. In that case, if the client says that yes, there is someone they know who knows about dreams and they'd believe their interpretation, I'll ask how they'd feel about asking that person. If they go for it, I’ll check in next session about what Grandma or Auntie had to say, and how the client felt about it.

But if there wasn't anything like that, or the client didn’t believe in it, or if they asked Grandma but found her explanation unsatisfying or insufficient, and they’re still really curious about the meaning of the dream, I tell them that there’s another way of exploring dreams.

"It involves art,” I’ll say, “but it’s not literally drawing anything from your dream. Though you can do that too, if you want to."

If the client doesn't already do art, I’d say, "Anyone can do this. You don't have to be good at drawing, or even know how to draw or paint at all. It's not about making good art, it’s just a way of exploring your dream in a way that you can’t do by just talking about it. It won’t necessarily tell you what your dream means, but it might give you some ideas or insight. It's easier to do than to explain."

This method is based on something I learned in a class and I now am not sure what it's called or what the exact source is; it’s Jungian, though. Possibly Robert Johnson.

This is the sort of thing that a client will either really get into, or not want to do at all. It takes the entire session, so make sure they want to do it before you start. It’s usually something you’ll tell them about and ask if they want to try it in one session, and then actually do it in the next session. All else aside, you’ll need to collect a number of sheets of blank paper, and paints and/or color pens, pencils, or crayons.

To begin the session, even if they’ve told me the dream before, I ask, "Can you tell me the dream you want to work on?"

If there's multiple ones, I have them pick the one that feels most important, frightening, emotionally intense, etc.

The client tells me the dream. I listen to the whole thing. You can listen uninterrupted, or occasionally ask questions.

If there's a lack of vivid detail, in whole or in part, I ask questions. If you ask questions, they should be geared toward enlarging on the details of the dream, not on associations or possible meanings. You want to keep the focus on the narrative of the dream itself.

If it involved snakes, a good question to ask would be, "What did the snake look like? Was it a particular type of snake? How big was it? What color was it? Did it make a sound?" etc. (Not ALL those questions, but one or maybe more if the client doesn't elaborate on their own.)

When they're done, I ask, "Can you pick ONE moment in the dream that feels important to you? Like, the most intense, the most scary, the most mysterious, the one you're most curious about…?"

They say what that moment is. If it's too long or complex, narrow it down. For instance:

Client: "The moment when I opened the door to my home and saw my mother covered in snakes and then the snakes started chasing me."

Me: "Okay, but of that part, which was most intense or meaningful? Was it the door opening? Was it seeing your mother…?"

Client: "I think it was seeing my mother."

Me: "Okay, now paint that moment. It doesn't have to be literal at all. It could be just how you felt. Or if you want to try to represent it literally, feel free, but just remember that it doesn't have to be a good or accurate drawing at all."

Clients are often hugely self-conscious about not being good at art, so unless the client is already an artist, I’d emphasize the “doesn’t have to be good” a lot.

The client then creates a painting. We look at it and I ask if anything jumps out at them about it. If so, we talk about it. Then I ask (if I haven’t already) exactly what part of the moment of seeing her mother the painting represents.

They show me on the painting: “Those black lines are the snakes on her body.”

Me: “Okay, you know how on shows like CSI, they have the photo of the crime scene, and then blow it up, to show more detail? We’re going to blow up that part of your dream. Of the moment when you saw the snakes on her body, pick a detail that seems like the most important or emotional or scary, and just paint that. Maybe a detail of your mother, or of one of the snakes…?”

Client: “Yeah, this one snake had its mouth open and I could see its fangs. It was really scary!”

Me: “Okay. Paint that. Remember, it doesn’t have to be literal – just the feeling of the fangs.”

On a new sheet of paper, the client paints the fangs.

If we have time, I’ll have them blow up the dream several times, painting various details.

Also, have them do at least one association that may or may not be in the dream itself: “Did anything in that moment of the dream remind you of anything else in your life? Was any part of it a real thing from your past?”

Client: “Yeah, the light from the window reminded me of sunset in the town I used to live in.”

Me: “Can you paint the sunset, or the feeling of the sunset…?”

You should end up with at least three paintings: one original, one blow-up, and one associational. Ideally, you will also do a blow-up of the association: one detail of the sunset that seems most important.

Then you have the client go through them one by one and look at them as paintings, as if she walked into a room and saw them hanging on the walls. What feelings do they evoke if she looks at them as if someone else painted them? How are they related to each other? Is there some kind of progression from one to the next?

This is the part where clients should start noticing things they didn’t before. You’re having them step back and look at their paintings from a perspective they didn’t expect to take. Talk about what they see and how it makes them feel.

Then have the client look at the paintings again, this time relating them back to the dream. Do they say anything about the dream that she didn’t notice before? Do they remind her of anything, maybe something from her past? “Looking at the paintings, how do you feel about the dream now? Do they shed any light on it? What about the town where you used to live? Does the dream have anything to do with that?”

You can continue as long as you like, blowing up details or delving into associations, then alternately looking at the paintings as paintings and as they relate to the dream or associations from the dream.

This can be really interesting for a client who wants to explore their subconscious or see things in new ways. It’s not a source of answers, but it’s a source of inspiration, insight, or simply having a new experience in therapy. You can do it yourself, but I think it’s easier to do with someone else. It’s hard to describe, but powerful to experience: a dreamlike experience in waking reality. It produces a feeling of insight which is hard to put in words.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-05-30 01:53 pm

A Diary Without Dates, by Enid Bagnold

By the author of National Velvet, which if you’ve never read it is a quite unusual book with a distinctive prose style and atmosphere that I find quite lovely, especially at the beginning. It doesn’t read at all like your typical girls-and-horses book, though it is that as well.

A Diary Without Dates is Bagnold’s memoir of nursing soldiers during WWI. It’s also written in an unusual, distinctive style, with an unusual, distinctive atmosphere, both gritty and impressionistic. She captures fleeting moments of beauty or horror or unexpected humor, and the sense of how fleeting those moments are, in a way that reminds me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto, of all the unlikely comparisons. I’ve read a number of memoirs by WWI nurses, and this is by far the most interesting on the level of literature. It’s not so much a diary as a record of memorable moments, thoughts, and feelings.

Though it’s not about therapy, it’s one of the books that comes closest to capturing what doing therapy feels like for me. Bagnold delicately and precisely observes the odd mixture of intimacy and distance between nurse and patient, in an institutional setting with inhuman rules against which intensely human dramas are played out, and how you can share a person’s greatest agony one hour, and then walk outside and be moved by the beauty of a flower or annoyed by the next nurse over, and have all those moments be equally real and deeply felt, though some seem trivial and some profound. But to Bagnold, they're all profound because they're all real moments of life, and life itself is profound. A few other works that have that feeling to me are the Tove Janssen's The Summer Book and Anita Desai's The Peacock Garden, and the WWII movie Hope and Glory.

Though it’s not particularly an expose, Bagnold writes rather unflatteringly about some of her bosses and some of the rules at the hospital where she worked. As a result, she was fired when the book came out. So she went to London and became an ambulance driver. I think she must have been quite an interesting person, and reading her diary, I wished that I could have known her. I think we might have had a lot in common and a lot to talk about.

Note: Contains some of-the-period racism and other isms. Not a lot and it’s typical of books written in that period by white people (as opposed to being more racist than usual), but there’s at least one instance though I have now forgotten the details.

A Diary Without Dates (Free on Kindle; the print version almost certainly has better formatting, though the free version is readable.)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-05-27 12:56 pm

Dragon’s Luck, by Lauren Esker

Note: This was written by Sholio, a friend of mine, and I was one of the betas. The sphinx ship was my suggestion.

A gecko shifter secret agent joins forces with a dragon shifter gambler to fight crime aboard a ship shaped like a giant sphinx, while also playing in an underground, I mean illegal, high-stakes poker match. Cue hijinks and every trope ever.

A charmingly over the top fantasy adventure with a bit of romance, but definitely action with romance rather than the reverse. Great action, great characters, utterly cracktastic, and really, really funny. Part of a series about shapeshifter secret agents, but the books are all standalones and you can easily start here. If you liked Marjorie Liu’s Dirk & Steele series, you will like this.

The heroine, Jen Cho, is an adrenaline junkie caffeine addict gecko shifter secret agent who enjoys rock climbing in her spare time and spends much of the book clambering over unlikely places in both human and gecko forms. Jen is hilarious and her unflappable POV is the best.

The hero, Lucky, unsurprisingly has the power to influence luck, which is one of my favorite mutant powers and is played out in consistently entertaining ways. (He can apply it with a purpose, but unless he’s trying for something vey specific, he doesn’t know how it will work. For instance, “Leave the window open” will make the window get left open. But “help me win this fight” could do just about anything.) He is also a dragon shifter, but the way this works is pretty original and clever, not to mention often quite funny.

I don’t want to ruin the hilarity of their meet-cute, but it is truly hilarious. I’ll put it behind a cut, but if you think you might want to read the book, don’t click.

Read more... )

Most of the book is set aboard a giant floating sphinx on which a secret, illegal, incredibly high-stakes poker game is being played. Despite the total ridiculousness of this, so much thought went into the details of how all of that might actually work that it feels weirdly credible.

The supporting cast all feel like real people with lives and motives of their own, down to ship workers who appear in one scene and have two lines.

During the climax, almost everyone aboard the ship is high as a kite for plot reasons, and while the heroes and villains are having their dramatic final battle, they keep having to dodge random people attempting to pet their hair or tell them all about the pretty pink bubbles.

Fluffy and delightful. Definitely a read-in-one-gulp type of book.

Dragon's Luck (Shifter Agents Book 3) is only 99 cents on Amazon!
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-05-23 11:43 am

Penric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

A novelette set in the Chalion world, in which Gods and demons are real, though powerful and supernatural forces rather than representatives of the concepts of good and evil. (People do generally think that Gods are good and demons are bad, but it’s more complicated than that.) It’s set about a hundred years before The Curse of Chalion. (This isn’t obvious in the text, or at least it wasn’t obvious to me; I think I found it in the author’s afterword.) You can start the series here; it’s unrelated to the other books, and a complete story.

A young man on a mission finds both his task and his entire life unexpectedly diverted when he becomes possessed by a demon. In this case, demon possession means having another personality sharing your mind and talking to you, not having your own personality displaced. In the process of learning about his demon in the hope of divesting himself of it, he learns a lot about himself, his world, and what he really wants from life.

The characters and story are likable and engaging, and the magic system and cosmology, which I enjoyed in the other books in the series, continue to be interesting. It’s a pleasant story with a cozy feeling, but a little slight, especially compared to the novels set in the same world. I was unreasonably distracted by a major character having a name that I have previously only encountered in a Shakespeare play, in a world which seems to have no relationship to ours, but this may not bother anyone other than me.

But if you like small-scale fantasy about well-meaning people, in a world in which altruism is neither stupid nor the sign of an approaching cement truck, you will probably like this. It reminded me a bit of The Goblin Emperor, though with a much more down to earth and informal tone. Bujold's Sharing Knives books also have something of this cozy, domestic feel, though they are romances and this is not.

Penric's Demon
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-05-22 02:06 pm

Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb

I read this ages ago, but never got around to writing it up. So I may be misrecalling some stuff. Luckily, however, I read it on my Kindle and made liberal use of the note function, mostly to write stuff like “YOU IDIOT” and “Did you consider asking her, dumbass?” and “WTF! Idiot.”

This is something like the tenth book in a series with sub-series and related series and so forth. I would definitely not start here.

I’m not sure where I would advise you to start, or if I would advise you to start. There are two trilogies (“Assassin’s Apprentice” and “Magic Ship”) in which I loved the first book, had mixed but generally positive feelings about the second, and disliked the third. But they’re not standalone at all, so you can’t just read the first books because they end on cliffhangers.

Also, be aware that part of what I disliked about the third books was that they either failed to resolve mysteries or plotlines set up in the first books, or resolved them in ways which I found anti-climactic or annoying, so reading the third book just to find out what the hell was up with [X plotline you care about] may not result in a happy experience.

Spoilers for Assassin books: Read more... )

And then there’s more books that resolve some things but not others, and are incredibly padded – in one book, Fitz spends something like 300 pages angsting over whether or not to leave his cottage. Every now and then he breaks up the monotony by making some tea.

I felt like a compulsive masochist just picking this book up, but I had managed to get invested in a certain relationship between two characters (Fitz and the Fool) in the very first book, and wanted to know what was up with it despite my near-certain knowledge, based on something like nine previous books, that the book would be incredibly slow, the characters’ refusal to talk to each other or pick up on incredibly obvious stuff going on would drive me batty, and it would probably end with their relationship not having progressed at all. Spoiler: I was absolutely right! Also, if you thought Fitz made some stupid decisions in previous books… you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Whump fans note: If you wondered if anything could top a character being tortured to death, the answer is yes.

Cut for detailed, irritated spoilers, mostly involving weapons-grade stupidity and also tragic yet somewhat hilariously OTT whump. Read more... )

Fool's Assassin: Book I of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-05-18 01:19 pm

Amends, by Eve Tushnet

Note: I critiqued this novel in manuscript; the finished version differs from the one I originally read. My review is of the rewritten novel, not the original.

“This is the real damage of addiction. It turns you into a bad metaphor for yourself.”

Amends is a satirical mainstream literary novel about an ill-conceived reality TV show about a group of misfits in rehab. The characters were selected for an unholy combination of freak-show appeal and a TV producer’s ideas of diversity and likability, which bear about the same resemblance to the real world’s version of those qualities that reality TV bears to reality, which is to say an unsettling mixture of almost none with, occasionally, a surprising amount, Reality and real emotions seethe beneath the glossy surface, sometimes coaxed to come out and put on a show (and thus rendering themselves fake) sometimes erupting unscripted, powerful and filled with awe. Hopefully the camera caught it...

(Sharptooth, a wolf otherkin, was selected by the producers as focus for the audience to point and laugh; she’s unexpectedly canny in some ways and innocent in others, much closer to being an ordinary person with ordinary life problems than a number of seemingly more everyman characters, and generally a lot more than the producers, the other characters, and probably many readers bargained for. She’s my favorite character, both to read about and as one of the few I would actually want to spend any time with in real life. (Is she convincingly otherkin? Got me. She's definitely convincing as an imaginative young woman with some issues who grew up in a time when otherkin were a known cultural phenomena.)

The show and the novel are clearly meant as mirrors of each other; the backstage discussions on the show, its characters, and its audience invite the readers to inspect the structure and presumed intent of the novel. The show was intended to pull viewers in with sound-bite squalor, then reveal an unexpected amount of truth; the novel is clearly trying to do the same, but with glittering wit, snappy punchlines, and a takedown of contemporary culture in addition to simple squalor. The characters, initially sketched-in or even caricatures, reveal themselves to be more, both within the show and to the novel’s readers. But how much more? How real is anything when the camera’s rolling?

The prose and dialogue of Amends is a real pleasure, biting and clever and snappy, quotable and re-readable. At times it’s almost too polished. One of the points of Amends is how modern American society is constructed to allow us an endless amount of shallow quick fixes we can use to stave off whatever raw and terrifying emotions or reality we’re hiding from. Reach out, and there’s always something there to grab, whether it’s drugs and booze, TV and internet forums, or the cheap fake emotion of talk show revelations and suspiciously modern-sounding ancient religions. Take away the high, take away the social media, take away the camera, and is there anything left? Much as I enjoyed Tushnet’s way with words, there were a few places where her point might have been better made by leaving out the wisecracks, and letting the emotion come through unpolished and unadorned.

It’s possible that I would have read Amends had I not been hired to critique it in manuscript, as I liked Tushnet’s style, which I was familiar with from reading her blog. Or possibly not, due to not being much of a fan of the genres of both satire or the literary mainstream. If I’d passed it up, that would have been my loss. I confess to having fond feelings for this book due to my participation in its evolution, which no doubt add to my liking for the finished result. However, my personal liking is probably counterbalanced by my usual dislike for the genres it belongs to, and so it all evens out.

Amends isn’t my usual kind of book at all, but I liked it a lot. Sentence by sentence, it’s delicious. And while the satire is funny, a lot of the character interactions are downright hilarious. The metafictional conceit is well-done, and while reality TV is obviously an easy target, many of Tushnet’s subjects are less obvious and thoughtfully explored. I don’t think you have to have any particular interest in reality TV, addiction, or rehab to read the book; I’m not the sort of reader who would normally pick it up, and I liked it anyway. It’s not so much about addiction and sobriety as it is about living an authentic life in a plastic world. Or, sometimes, the other way around.

Amends: A Novel Only $3.99 on Kindle
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2016-05-07 11:40 am

Stranger made the 2016 Rainbow Book List!

This happened a while ago, but I was so distracted by health issues that I am pretty sure I never announced it. Well-- it did!

The Rainbow Book List Committee proudly announces the 2016 Rainbow List. The Rainbow List is a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18. The Rainbow List also includes genres I don't read, like picture books, but if you have small children, that would be an excellent resource.

The Rainbow Book List

If anyone happens to know whoever puts those together, you might alert them that the sequel, to Stranger, Hostage, 1) exists, 2) continues (but does not conclude, there are four books total) Yuki and Paco's epic love affair, 3) has many more LGBTQ characters, both major and minor. I am pretty sure that the majority of the people who read Stranger have no idea that Hostage was ever published, so this isn't "You must love my book," it's "FYI, this book exists and you can read it if you want".

Again due to health, I have probably read less in the last year than in any year of my life since I learned how, so I have read very few of the other books on that list. I look forward to reading at least some, and I invite you all to give it a browse. Lots of excellent-sounding books on it. These particularly intrigue me:

*Selznick, Brian. The Marvels. In black-and-white pencil illustrations, Selznick depicts three generations of actors descending from the sole survivor of a legendary shipwreck. As that story closes, another unfolds in prose as young Joseph discovers his connection to the actors and his family history, and he embraces his uncle’s life story as it affects and changes his own.

McCarry, Sarah. About a Girl: A Novel. Astronomy buff Tally plans to go to college, solve the mysteries of the universe, and win a Nobel Prize along the way. When love complicates her friendship with the boy next door, Tally veers off on a quest to uncover her own mysterious origins. Astronomy meets mythology in a magical realist twist, and Tally’s questions get lost in the arms of a beautiful woman determined to forget her own past.

Wilke, Daria. Playing a Part. Tr. by Marian Schwartz. This import—the first teen book translated from Russian—follows Grisha’s coming-of-age in a Moscow puppet theater, as he reels from the impending departure of his beloved gay mentor Sam and the looming heart operation of his best friend Sashok.

*Tamaki, Jillian. SuperMutant Magic Academy. At this boarding school for paranormal teenagers the student body is a wild mix, from witches and shapeshifters to jocks and performance artists. Hilarity ensues.

Has anyone read any books from the list? Got any recs?
rachelmanija: (Engaged!)
2016-04-12 04:26 pm

His Animal Instinct: Gay Shifter stories to benefit LGBQ human rights internationally

Please share this far and wide. It's a very good cause.

His Animal Instinct: More Tales of Wild Pleasure is an anthology of gay romance stories featuring shapeshifters. All profits go to OutRight, which fights for the human rights of LGBTIQ people worldwide. It is an excellent organization and I have personally met its executive director. Please promote this anthology and make them some money. Also, the stories are fun.

Nine sizzling tales of gay paranormal romance! Ten best-selling authors bring you their hottest stories of shifters and the desires that cannot be denied.

From wolves to leopards, alphas to omegas, these men can change their shape… but they can’t change who they love. 

rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-04-12 03:12 pm

Cuckoo's Song, by Frances Hardinge

This was one of my favorite books of last year, and I have no idea how to review it.

It's best read entirely unspoiled, but it contains some elements that 1) I would normally warn people about, 2) might not be dealbreakers for people for whom they normally are, due to spoilery reasons, 3) even saying what they are is going to be either spoilery or misleading, 4) but I actually do want to warn people because they really are disturbing, but then the book goes in a completely different direction after that.

Also, most of what I liked about the book is extremely spoilery, but a lot of what made it so enjoyable was that I wasn't expecting it. I can say what happens in the first fourth or so, but again, the first fourth is really different in both tone and content from the rest of the book. ARRGH.

Okay, so, the book contains creepy body horror and a really disturbing (non-sexual) scene of a parent attempting to harm their child. There is an in-book reason for both that may or may not mean that readers who normally wouldn't touch a book containing such things would actually be OK with them in-context. The child is not actually harmed (though scared and upset) and the rest of the book is not disturbing at all, or at least it wasn't for me. Effectively, there is a genre-switch about a fourth of the way in. It starts as a mystery, quickly goes to horror, and then goes somewhere else entirely that is definitely not horror (though it has elements of… um… spookiness, I guess.) Also, it is almost entirely about women and girls and their relationships; there are important male characters, but they're secondary.

Setting is 1920s, post-WWI; I don't recall if we get an exact date, but the time period, like basically everything else in the book, initially looks like a colorful detail but turns out to be crucially important. 11-year-old Triss falls into the river and gets sick. She's sickly in general, so this isn't new; what is new is that her sister acts really weird around her, alternately angry and frightened and generally strange. And Triss herself feels changed, different, with bizarre cravings. Not for blood or flesh, but for much stranger things. Rotten, fallen apples. Doll's heads. Pincushions. And then her parents start whispering about her behind closed doors.

Triss is sure something happened to her in the fall in the river, but she doesn't remember it. Her doctor says this is normal after a shock. But she's not so sure...

And everything on out is giant spoilers for the entire rest of the book. Read more... )

Highly recommended, even in you do need to hastily skim some horrific sections near the beginning. Very vivid and original, with great characters. Definitely not a downer, despite the cover and intro.

Cuckoo Song

I feel bad for the cover artist. They went with the "creepy horror" (very off-putting to me) cover, but a more representative cover would have been spoilery. Probably something that just signaled 1920s; unsettling/non-realistic/odd would have been better.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2016-03-17 05:34 pm

A History of Glitter and Blood, by Hannah Moskowitz

Ambitious, weird, metafictional horror-fantasy set in a magical city where all but three faeries have fled post-war. It’s now occupied by tightropers who spit out ropes and live in the air, and gnomes who live belowground. Faeries are immortal and every part of their body has its own sentience; they shed glitter constantly and each speck of glitter has its own awareness, which they tune out because otherwise they’d lose their minds. They are not considered dead until there is literally nothing of them left, so the heroine carries her father’s ear and eyeball in a jar; it presumably is still able to see and hear, though not speak. Pre-war, faeries had a wary co-existence with the gnomes, which eat faeries, usually bit by bit. Each eaten limb stays aware until digested. I think. It’s a little unclear what you have to do to a faerie part before it ceases to be aware.

And that is just one of the many, many, many things which are unclear in this odd, frustrating book. The ideas are intriguing, original, and horrific; the execution often uses that maddening trick of excusing its flaws by pointing them out and saying that they’re deliberate. The plot makes no sense? Well, real life often makes no sense. The emotions are weirdly distanced? The narrator is traumatized and emotionally numb. Key incidents are incredibly confusing or elided altogether? The narrator is traumatized and doesn’t want to think about them. Basic facts like how the body part sentience is actually experienced, how big faeries and gnomes are relative to each other (the gnomes can eat a faerie in one bite, but can also have normal-sounding sex with them), what the tightropers look like, the characterization and relationships of major characters, how any race survives when almost all females are killed by the act of giving birth to their first child, etc, are vague or confusing or contradictory or make no sense? It’s because the narrator is a traumatized teenager writing about experiences they don’t understand or can’t face, not a professional writer.

Here’s an example:

Once upon a time there was a writer who couldn't write a fucking book.

I don't know what comes next. That whole chapter's going to need to get thrown out anyway. You completely forgot halfway through that you'd said it was raining at the beginning.

Was it raining?

No one's ever going to know and it's all your fault.

Put a fucking map in the next draft.


The novel held my attention and is certainly plenty weird and ambitious, but using “in real life a traumatized teenager would write an incoherent mess of a book” as excuse to write an incoherent mess of a book did not work for me. The novel was too realistic to work as surrealism, too inconsistent to work as fantasy, and the whole “everything makes no sense because the narrator is a traumatized teenager” device didn’t work for me. These are the exact same problems I had with Moskowiz’s other novel I read, Break, so this is clearly her signature style and I’m just not her audience.

The worldbuilding is really interesting, which made it all the more frustrating that it had so little focus and what we did get didn’t make much sense. However, the novel also does some unusual (spoilery) things with narrative and metafiction, so if you like that sort of thing and don’t mind the issues I had with it, it’s worth a try. The horror is more conceptual than graphic, but dismemberment is crucial to the plot. (One of the things I found most frustrating was that I was really intrigued by the concept of having scattered awareness via shed glitter, eaten body parts, clipped hair, etc, but because the characters tune this out, you rarely get a sense of what that actually feels like.) Note that it contains underage (late teens, not children, but still) sex work (not graphic, but still).

A History of Glitter and Blood
rachelmanija: (Default)
2016-03-15 03:13 am

Find this poem?

I can't recall the title or author. It was probably written pre-WWII, at least. It's about someone fighting a battle (a literal battle, though overall the poem is allegorical/metaphorical/has spiritual implications) and seems to be losing where he is. But though he can't see it from where he stands, his side is winning. The last few lines I think use dawn as a metaphor for victory.
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
2016-03-14 02:46 pm

Aaron Burr's Journals: Halt and Catch Fire

[Rachel: But first, a little set-up.]

July 30, 1809. Went to my lodgings; all asleep and fast locked; tried at d'Aries's; ditto; knocked hard at each; no movement; resolving not to lay in the street. The old man came down in some trepidation, got light, and my bed was ready. Not a mouthful of bread or milk or anything eatable or drinkable to be had save pure water. Having dined on fillib [Bixby: His favorite filbunke] and walked at least ten miles, a supper would have been welcome.

Attacked by epinaises. [Bixby: For funaises. Bedbugs] Fought hard till 4, slaying thousands, but the number of the enemy increasing, resolved on a retreat. The sun had risen; began by taking the sheets, coverlid, and pillows out doors, beating and shaking them well; then stripped and changed my clothes, and laid me on the floor. Got a sound nap of five hours.

[This happened to me too, only it was ants. I had a cough, so I left a cough drop near my bed. Woke up coughing, stuffed it in my mouth, registered that it was acrid… and crawling… and so was I… I spat it out, leaped out of bed, and turned on the lights. Ants EVERYWHERE. I proceeded to enact exactly what Burr did, only with the additional aid of a water bottle. The ants won.]

August 29, 1809. I did go to bed at 10, promising myself a rich sleep. Lay two hours vigil; that cursed one single dish of tea! Note: My bed had undergone a thorough ablution and there were no bugs or insects. Got up and attempted to light candle, but in vain; had flint and matches but only some shreds of punk which would not catch. Recollected a gun which I had had on my late journey; filled the pan with powder and was just going to flash it when it occurred that though I had not loaded it someone else might; tried and found in it a very heavy charge! What a fine alarm it would have made if I had fired! Then poured out some powder on a piece of paper, put the shreds of punk with it and after fifty essays succeeded in firing the powder; but it being dark, had put more powder than intended; my shirt caught fire, the papers on my table caught fire, burnt my fingers to a blister (the left hand, fortunately); it seemed like a general conflagration. Succeeded, however, in lighting my candle and passed the night till 5 this morning in smoking, reading, and writing this.

[Rachel: Any story containing the phrase “And then I remembered that I had a gun” never ends well. It’s right up there with “Hey guys, watch this!”

I can’t decide what is most hilarious about this story. I mean other than everything. But just to start with, that does eventually occur to him to make sure the gun isn’t loaded but literally nothing else he does involves the slightest particle of “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” that in however long it took him to make fifty tries at lighting the gunpowder it never occurs to him that there is a reason nobody lights candles with gunpowder, that despite being a combat veteran and a duelist he still hasn’t figured out what happens when you set gunpowder on fire, that he blames the completely predictable result on the amount rather than the fact of the gunpowder, that the candle actually did get lit, or that, once the candle was lit, he proceeded to use the light to immortalize his idiocy for posterity.

A legacy, what’s a legacy? In Burr’s case, it appears to be making himself surprisingly relatable to everyone who has ever accidentally set themselves on fire by doing something that was, in retrospect, guaranteed to do exactly that. The other thing I can’t decide is if this is more or less gloriously stupid than the time I set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet. On the one hand, naked and dripping wet. On the other hand, his initial idea was to light the candle by shooting at it. This is why I don’t own a gun.]
rachelmanija: (Default)
2016-03-12 01:12 pm

Research help?

I cannot find a doctor who is willing to do extensive testing for a possible bacterial infection I may have. However, there are some labs which will do it without a prescription (or with some prescription signed by some random doctor in Idaho) if you pay out of pocket.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to research these labs and point me toward ones which don't look like total quacks. (i.e., if they find something, I probably actually have it.)

This is my main priority. However, if you come across any labs which are clearly TOTAL quacks that are guaranteed to find every bacteria in existence and send you a report saying so, send me a link to those too, so I can keep track of them. (Reason why is complicated; if you're curious, I can explain in email.)
rachelmanija: (Emo Award: Shinji agony)
2016-03-11 11:22 am

Aaron Burr’s Journal: Blackmailed by the Laundress

[Rachel: But of course, Burr’s luck does not last for long.]

Burr: 21. Quarrel with the blancbisseur [1], who carried off *** and refused to deliver them till I had given some handkerchiefs of another person which I never saw or had; so I must either lose my clothes, enter into a lawsuit or pay for things I never saw.

[Rachel: Or he could challenge them to a duel. No, wait, that didn’t go so well last time.]

[1] Bixby: The launderer; possibly meant for the laundress. If so, it should be blanchisseuse. The text is partially undecipherable. We should be glad to know what the launderer carried off!]

[Rachel: Burr’s clothes, obviously. Bixby’s efforts to understand Burr’s hellish scrawls in phonetic Swedish and bad French are clearly getting to him.

Meanwhile, I am dying of laughter at Burr getting his laundry held hostage until he returns handkerchiefs belonging to someone he never heard of. It could only happen to Aaron Burr. Or me. I once had my apartment manager hold my laundry hostage. When he finally returned it (upon threat of calling the police) I found that he had vengefully cut a scary clown face into one of my undies. Possibly the laundress also did this to Burr and Bixby just couldn’t read the entry that said so. He has several footnotes that just say, “indecipherable.”]

Burr: At 7 walked to Liston Hill (Wennerquiest's) to take supper and a bed in conformity with his several warm invitations. Found no one at home but a servant, who said he could give me nothing to drink but small beer and nothing to eat but the bro bru; so left a note for him on his table and walked home.

[Bixby: Burr, who spelled all Swedish words phonetically, was very uncertain about the word brad. Here in despair he writes two incorrect forms.]

Burr: 21. Rose at 6 for the first time in six months. Dreamed engaged to marry a huge ugly beast; name unknown; reflections; Mary A.; deliberated whether to blow out brains or perform engagement; waked by the striking of 6.

Do remind me to give you a dissertation on locking doors. Every person of every sex and grade comes in without knocking; plump into your bedroom! They do not seem at all embarrassed, nor think of apologizing at finding you in bed or dressing or doing — no matter what — but go right on and tell their story as if it were all right. If the door be locked and the key outside (they use altogether spring locks here), no matter, they unlock the door and in they come. It is vain to desire them to knock; they do not comprehend you and if they do, pay no manner of attention to it. It took me six weeks to teach my old Anna not to come in without knocking and leave and finally it was only by appearing to get into a most violent passion and threatening to blow out her brains, which she had not the least doubt I would do without ceremony. I engage she is the only servant in all Sweden who ever knocks.

[Rachel: I know that Burr actually did kill someone, and yet I seriously doubt that Anna actually believed in his threat. He seems singularly incapable of intimidating anyone. Which possibly explains why Hamilton refused to back down. If so, that is really sad. Anyway, it sounds more like Burr going ballistic on Anna just made her take pity on him and knock as a favor. See below for more support for this theory:]

Burr: Notwithstanding all my caution I have been almost every day disturbed in this way, and once last week was surprised in the most awkward situation imaginable.

[Rachel: Naked? Using the chamber pot? Having sex? Masturbating? Masturbating while murmuring “Alexander”? Goddammit, Burr, you usually have no problem with oversharing, so why be coy now?]
rachelmanija: (Princess Bride: You keep using that word)
2016-03-10 12:18 pm

Aaron Burr’s Journal: Finally an Umlaut

[Rachel: Amazingly, Burr manages to spend quite a long time in Sweden enjoying himself, eating and drinking well, going to the theatre, and having sex with every woman in sight. However, presumably since he’s no longer distracted by lost luggage, dirty sheets, and getting arrested, he now has leisure to enjoy himself with his two favorite things, ladies and languages. I guess since French is the language of love, references to flirting and sex are often in French. Unfortunately for his editor, Bixby, Burr’s French is invariably abbreviated, ungrammatical, and/or misspelled. And then there’s Swedish, which Burr does not know at all, but that doesn’t stop him from using it. The result is that every other line is footnoted, and Bixby begins to slowly lose his mind.]

Burr: 19. Left the ball at 10; mal. a. t. ay ant tro. bu.

[Bixby: For mal a la fete, ayant trap bu. Headache from having drunk too much.]

Burr: Hosack came in at 9; left him there. Home at 2 p. Rhea?

[Bixby: Probably meant for Latin of rhubarb. See Glossary.]

Burr: Coucbe at 1 on the canopie; can't endure the down bed.

[Bixby: For canape. Sofa.]

Burr: 20. Rose at 5. Gueri de mal a T. mais pas bien.

[Bixby: Cured of headache, but not well.]

Burr: A servant recommended by Gahn as speaking English. He asked a dollar banco per day. Sent off. I could not understand a sentence he said in any language.

[Rachel: Neither can Bixby.]

Burr: Great vexation to make myself understood par Madame ou la jolie jungfru

[Bixby: By madame or the pretty maid. From now on Burr talks much of the jungfrus.]

Burr: Professor Arnt came in from Baron Munck to ask me to dine at Haga (sa campagne) on Monday, but was engaged to Gahn. Amus. av. jungf. deux heur.

[Bixby: For m'amusai avec la jungfru deux heures. Tres bien. Had fun with the jungfru (maid) for two hours. Fine!]

[Rachel: I know the “fine” is Bixby’s translation of “tres bien” but I can’t help reading it as his commentary on Burr’s fun with the maid and/or bad French, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cornered-rat line reading of “So you sent the dogs after me; that’s fine!”]

Burr: A traverse I'antichambre. U. muse venoit. Ne saur. renvoir.

[Bixby: Probably for a trovers Vantichambre. U muse Venait. Ne saurais [la] renvojer. Across the hall, maid muse came. I couldn't send her back. (The word muse is used throughout the Journal by Burr in describing his amorous adventures. The literal meaning in French is "the beginning of rutting time." He evidently uses a very unusual word for the purpose of veiling his meaning.)]

Burr: 22. Aupre a tres jo. U. Un arran. ft. mais manq ; ne scats par quoi.

[Bixby: For Aupres une tres jolie U. [jungfru?]. Un arrangement fait, mais manqua ; ne sais pourquoi. With a very pretty maid; an arrangement made but failed; I know not why.]

Burr: 24. Pours i un U. ba. eng. 9 c. soi s.

[Bixby: This is a fair sample of the sort of riddles frequently introduced by Burr in the Journal. They are generally in French, in part, at least, and consist largely of abbreviations. This probably stands for Poursuivii une jungfru (or fille) badine (or handle). Engagement pour gee soir. Pursued a sportive (or common-place) lass. Made an engagement with her for 9 o'clock to-night. Ba. may stand for basse, inferior, vile.]

[Rachel: You get the picture. I’ll just reproduce a series of Bixby’s footnotes from the next section:]

[Bixby: Note the spelling and also the queer tautology! One might as well say in English,
coach-coupe!]

[Bixby: Here Burr again turns a French verb into an English verb. This means Hosack went out.]

[Bixby: Burr almost always uses the grave accent for the acute, when it occurs to him to use any accent at all.]

[Rachel: I think at this point Bixby is probably hitting the cream of tartar punch himself.]

[Bixby (translating from French): There is nothing that restores me after too much muse as does the hot bath.

[Bixby: "Do you speak French?" "Not a word," in very perfect French. (But Burr's
French is far from perfect.)]

[Bixby: For soeurs. Sisters. Burr generally misspells this word.]

[Bixby: Notice the umlaut this time, which is an improvement.]

[Bixby: The writer is improving. He is now within one letter of the correct feminine form of the word. It should be vieille.]

Burr: Sent out for sugar, coffee, bread, and a pipe; not one of these articles to be had. Consoled myself with a little skimmed milk and warm water and at 9 went to de Castre's. Supped on philibonka.

[Rachel: This prompts my single favorite footnote in the journal so far:]

[Bixby: Filbunke is a wholesome summer dish in Scandinavia and Northern Europe in general. Sweet milk is left to sour in a dish specially made for the purpose. Cream settles thick on top. Powdered sugar and grated ginger are mixed with it. Then it is eaten with relish. Burr spells filbunke in seven different ways, but always incorrectly.]

[Rachel: From then on out, Bixby makes a point of noting every single misspelling, as if in revenge for having to read them:]

Burr: Fillibonk pr. dine.

[Bixby: The fifth mode of spelling the word.]

Burr: Fillibonk at 4. You can't imagine what an epicure I am with my filbonk.

[Bixby: This, the sixth mode of spelling the word. Note that he spells it in two different ways in two successive sentences.]

[Rachel: I have to wonder if Burr is deliberately teasing either Theodosia or his editor to come. I love that he was still driving people round the bend seventy years after his death.]

[My personal favorite of the seven wrong spellings: fi Hi bonk a.]
rachelmanija: (Avatar: Zuko's heart is withered)
2016-03-09 10:04 am

Aaron Burr’s Journals: Breathing Causes Hangovers

[Burr has dinner with a family.]

The daughters very fine; the two elder, jolie, belle — la jeune, genie.

[Bixby: The two older ones pretty, beautiful — the young one a genius.]

[Rachel: I wonder if this, or this sort of thing, is where the line “My mother was a genius” came from in “Wait For It.” Burr always mentions when women are pretty. (He occasionally mentions when men are handsome – there’s a bit where he teases Theodosia by describing a man in similar terms without using pronouns, only to say, “Don’t get your hopes up, he’s a guy.”) But he also very frequently calls them intelligent, mentions their accomplishments, etc. Other than being more interested in their looks (and sometimes— often, actually— having sex with them, Burr talks about women the exact same way he talks about men.

The historic Burr not only personally viewed women as equals, but also held that as a political belief. This was left out of Hamilton because it doesn’t square with his characterization as a man who does not take strong stands, let alone strong stands on the radical fringe. Burr was an abolitionist, too, just like Hamilton. They had quite a lot in common, but maybe it was one of those cases where people hate each other because they’re more alike than different— they see what they most dislike in themselves embodied in the other, as in a dark mirror. (So was Hamilton too secretly a giant dork? You'd think if he was, he'd have written about it.)

Anyway, back to the diary. Which, once again, is a lot less dignified than reading any given bio of Burr would lead one to expect. After Burr meets the two pretty and one genius sisters, he proceeds on to a slew of entries beginning “hungover.” “Hungover again.” “SO hungover.” “So done with being hungover, not going to drink today.” Next morning: “Failed saving throw against getting drunk; hungover again.” “Took some laudanum; felt terrible the next morning. Took more laudanum to fix that.” I’m copying some of these, but there’s actually lots more. This may be the point where his overall situation finally starts to sink in.]

11. Having eat and drunk too much yesterday, was obliged to sit up till 5. Rose at 12.

13. Rose at 2 p. in very bad order, having been up three or four hours with the bu?

[Bixby: Drinking. Literally, with (having) drunk. On this day Burr wrote a letter to Jeremy Bentham in London in which he said: " I lead a life of the utmost dissipation. Driving out every day and at some party almost every night. Wasting time and doing many silly things."]

Took de ere. tar. punch. [Bixby: Took cream tartar punch — a favorite cure of Burr's when he was " in bad order" in the morning.] Finished letter to Koe. Began one of apology to J. B.

21. Rose at 12. Up all night with crem. ta. pun.

22. Couche at 2. Rose at 8. Read an hour in Ashe's "Travels," and did nothing till 12, when Captain M'Dowell came in and we walked to Holyrood Palace; a grand structure far above St. James's. To the Horse Guard's barracks, a very handsome establishment. […] Walked an hour seul in quest of adventure; got home without any, but with mischievous intentions.

[Rachel: I find it oddly endearing how often Burr confesses to doing nothing for hours. Nowadays it would be “played Candy Crush till 12.” Also love the “mischievous intentions.”]

25. After dinner taken up stairs by Augusta ; sent for soon by Baron Norton. Dinner and wines excellent. Madeira, champagne, hermitage, Frontignan, malmsey, claret, port, sherry.

[Rachel: No wonder he was in such need of cream of tartar punch!]

26. 26. Went to bed last night at 2; lay sleepless till 5; rose at 7.

29. Went to bed at 1 in bad order. Was waked at 8; a most infernal sore throat and too drowsy to rise; lay till 2 p. John M'Donald came in at least twenty times.

30. Had been intemperate. By way of cure drank excessively of cr. tar. punch; kept going till 5; very little sleep ; rose at 9. Bad order; very bad, but sore throat gone.

31. Drank hot whisky toddy to balance the oysters.

[Rachel: Dear God!]

[Now Burr is on the road again, with predictable results.]

1. The usual time of arrival is 1 P. M., but the coachman and the guard both got a little boozy, and each had a girl. Stopped every few minutes to drink. The coachman extremely insolent. With great difficulty got a very dirty bed, in a room with another, and, after an hour's perseverance, got a little fire and a glass of hot lemonade.

[Burr realizes he’s in danger of getting arrested for debt and decides to hide out.]

10. Out to look for obscure lodgings.

[Then there’s a long sequence in which he goes around visiting people and writes multiple notes of apology. Not sure if it was for the debts, for being drunk, for being Aaron Burr, or what.]

14. Slept one sound nap from 12 to 9! What has happened to make me such a sluggard? It must be the air of this country.

[Rachel: Yep. The air. That’s got to be it!]

18. Cre. tar. punch, which kept me up till 5. Madame P. sat with me till 3 and
nursed me with great tenderness.

[Rachel: Aww. Finally, he gets some comfort! At this point I feel like he’s earned it.]

19. K. called at 10. I was still abed. Rose at 2 p.

[Then there’s a long period where he’s legally prevented from leaving the country, his books and papers get confiscated (and he freaks out over the thought of everyone reading all about his hangovers), he’s threatened with arrest, and actually gets detained for a while. Cream of tartar punch appears in virtually every entry during this period. Then he finally is allowed to leave the country, to his great relief. But needless to say…]

28. Wind N. E. and rose to a gale. Beating all Friday and Saturday. On Friday no one at dinner but captain, mate, and myself. Friday evening (28th) I was taken seasick. Kept bed all Saturday and Sunday, eating nothing.

[Rachel: Burr arrives in Sweden, but of course things go wrong the instant he steps off the boat.]

Our baggage all passed without any troublesome search. Trunks merely opened for form. My sack, the article about which I was most apprehensive of trouble, on account of the books it contained, passed without opening. But my large trunk, containing all my clothes, is missing. I sent by the captain M'Donnaugh's letter to Malm et fih z, with a note requesting them to provide me a lodging. While at the custom-house, a brother-in-law of Malm came from him to show me my lodgings. Smith, the British consul, hearing that I had a letter for him from Colonel Mosheim, came also to tender his services. Mr. Oppenheim, of Memel, merchant, fellow passenger, very civil. Offered me a room at his quarters, which, fool-like, I did not accept. Alas! my trunk, my trunk!

[Rachel: This is at least the third time Burr has lost his luggage. The next day…]

Dressed as well as could be without my trunk, and breakfasted. Not in good order. Met here the captain and mate of the Diana. Both swear the trunk is not on board! The mate agreed to meet me at 7 at Todd's, at the landing. Walked there with the Lieutenant, one and a half miles. The mate not there. Took punch and pipe, and walked on a mile and a half further. Met the captain on return. Still insists that the trunk was put into the custom- house boat. The steward says the same. Engaged Smith and Malm to aid in search.

As the packet will sail tomorrow for Harwich, and the mail closes this evening at 5, wrote a postscript to my letters to T.B.A. and a letter to W. Graves about my trunk, enclosing to him the two letters for T. B. A. and a letter to Bellington, the agent of aliens at Harwich — a civil-looking animal — also about the trunk. Not only all my clothes, but my four letter-books, gone, gone! Went to Smith and Malm to urge them to search; but it is probable that my trunk never left Harwich. At 5 went to Smith's to give my letters, and lo, his young Swede had found my trunk on board the Diana! Huzza!