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Edition Française.

I often regret, as I go through my life, the absence in English of the word “bouleversé”. Often, “bouleversée”, since I want to say it about myself, and a female subject dictates another ‘e’. In an otherwise English sentence, I feel my mouth forming itself for French. “It was a simply incredible book,” I say. “I was…” and I feel the lack of that word, the fact that saying it will, in all likelihood, confuse rather than communicate. Then I remember that there is an analogue, and I finish my sentence, belatedly, “bowled over.”

“Bowled over” is what it means, knocked over by a ball, and I have gone through this cycle of reaching, regret and replacement a hundred times. Still I feel something lacking, despite the perfectly adequate phrase “bowled over.” And I think I know now what it is.

It’s the sound. “Boule”, intense and self-contained, barreling through the vowel without deviation or dipthong, and then “versé”, “turning”, turning outward, the sound itself an opening, a release. “Verser” means to turn or flip, yes, but also to pour, and that word captures so perfectly the experience of being shaken, awakened, and changed. The projectile of the first syllable shattering your preconceptions like a glass pitcher, so you are poured out to find a new shape, shattered and made new. I love that word.

Pie of an unnamed month

Sunday February 14, 2010 @ 11:03 PM (UTC)

I’m not behind at all. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cream Pie
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cream Pie

Like most of my Homemade Pie of the Month entries, I made this from a recipe in Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. It has Nutty Graham Cracker Crust made with peanuts!

Favorite Two Books of 2009

Monday February 08, 2010 @ 12:44 PM (UTC)

I’m not a terribly decisive person, as anyone who can remember movie reviews here, which used a scale from 1-10 in half increments can attest. Thus it should surprise no one that I had a tie for “favorite book” of 2008, between The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I rather like the two-spot system. It allows me to be indecisive, and after all, rating books is so vicious. Reviewing them is hard enough — rather like trying to capture the taste of a fine coffee in words — but rating them is so final and arbitrary. Choosing two is perhaps no less arbitrary than choosing one, but it seems more friendly. And, in theory, two favorites allows me to have variety in my choices (although 2008’s two lushly penned literary novels about characters’ hidden internal lives may not prove that point.)

You may wonder why I am posting 2009’s favorite books in February. But since, as I posted yesterday, I don’t read in a timely fashion, my posting habits should shock no one.

Last year, my two favorites were:

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.
This is the first thing I’ve read by Michael Chabon, tho’ several of his works are on the list. One of the things I loved about this book is how it started small, acquainting me with the details of the alternate-history setting, and reveling in the synergy of hard-boiled style with Yiddish words and fatalistic humor. Then it opened out, and out, and out.

It works as a murder mystery, and an alternate history. It’s well-paced, beautifully built, and has an ample helping of intrigue and danger. But by the end the stakes are higher, and the meaning greater, than I ever would have guessed from the simple joys of the first few chapters. It had me weeping. The characters, even archetypical Detective Landsman, are vivid and likeable. The writing is witty, if occasionally over the top. It’s just a splendid, unique story.

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.
This is the second book I’d read by Iain M. Banks (now I’ve read three) and it really cemented his place in my esteem. It’s a smart, almost virtuosic science fiction novel set in his Culture universe. It’s about societies, the power of culture and language, and yes, games. The writing is very precise, the characters believable even when they are unpleasant. The settings are imaginative — in one case, both giving me my first suspicion that Iain M. Banks is a fellow geology geek, and one of the strongest attacks of sensawunda I can readily recall. (Banks’s work is fairly sensawunda-intensive, I’d say.) Most of all, it is, as I said, smart. The plot, themes and subtext are all honed and working together. It’s as impressive as it is enjoyable.

I was actually rather shocked to realize this book was written in 1988. I didn’t notice anything that dated it at all. I’m pretty sure this book — its layers of meaning and insight, its intricate plot, the mindblowing settings and sense of scale and space — will stick with me for years to come. Thank you to Michael for recommending it to me and Ryan, and to Ryan for buying it and leaving it within easy reach.

Postscript: Man, look at those covers. Different, striking, communicative. I especially love the Banks cover.

On what I read and when

Sunday February 07, 2010 @ 10:20 PM (UTC)

I’m planning, tho’ it’s February, to blog about my two favorite books of 2009. I found myself about to confess my love of an award-winner from several years ago with the words “I’m a bit late to this party”. But I can’t really apologize for being a late reader with any sincerity, since it’s something I don’t plan to change.

My list of books to read, housed at Goodreads and LibraryThing, is well over 200. Those lists, while they capture all the recent additions, probably miss a few books tucked on shelves that I’ll “get to eventually”. I have a daunting, delicious heap of books to read, many of them already made manifest through the cunning use of Powell’s gift cards. Therefore, I’ve a natural reticence about adding to the list.

It usually takes more than one ‘strike’ for a book to get added to my list, unless the strike is a doozy (recommendation comes from great authority, I need an audiobook and it’s on the library shelf, et c.) I wait for a general impression to accumulate: people whose taste I tend to share say ‘yea’ (often I couldn’t even tell you who by the time I get the book), it’s a Powell’s staff pick, the blurbers are writers I admire, the premise is interesting, and so on. The thing about my accumulation system is that it takes a while. Rave reviews when a book is fresh don’t count as much with me, subconsciously, as continued mention a few months down the road, and even my early-reading pals take a while to work through a book and share their opinions. I don’t tend to buy new books, or even put them on my list.

This puts me at odds, I think, with Jo(e) Q. Public, and even with my younger self, who counted her allowance money and waited with anguish for the latest Mercedes Lackey book to come out in paperback. My reading is more erratic and my choices more eccentric these days, but it’s making me happy. I very seldom read a book in paper that doesn’t, at very least, entertain me. My delayed reading system probably contributes quite a bit to that.

That doesn’t make it any less embarrassing, though, when my favorite books of 2009 were published in 2007 and 1988, and my 2008 picks were the 2000 Booker winner and a masterpiece from 1925.

Do you read a lot of new releases? How long is your list?

Amazon won't sell these books

Sunday January 31, 2010 @ 02:12 PM (UTC)

These books are not available from Amazon, 1/31/2010

I’m a little disappointed to see only writers and publishing industry folks talking about Amazon’s dispute with Macmillan. Short version: Amazon has a dispute with Macmillan Books over one small aspect of their business (ebooks) so they pulled all their paper books from sale. They are throwing their weight around in a maneuver straight out of the WalMart Monopolist’s Handbook.

I know the previous #amazonfail furor was over social justice, and this is “just business”. A lot of readers also have a personal pocketbook-pug in the ebook-pricing dogfight. But publishing is the business of selling ideas, and that makes it everyone’s business. I’m by no means saying everyone needs to delete their Amazon account as a few authors have done. To be honest, I’m not doing so. I haven’t bought a book from Amazon in a long time because of their strong-arm tactics toward publishing companies (they did something almost identical to a UK company) and print-on-demand sellers. I intend to continue that policy.

All I’m hoping is that some folks outside the publishing industry — readers, consumers who are affected by this — read about this and think about it. Books are the lifeblood of our civilization, the strongest thread connecting past and future. I’m not gnashing my teeth with anger over this dispute, and I’m not asking you to do so: I’m just saying that, given Amazon’s powerful place in the bookselling industry, this is an important conversation, and one everyone who reads and loves books, paper or digital, should pay attention to.

Here’s some reading:

If you decide to do something, here are some ideas:

  • Buy a Macmillan book (Tor, Forge, St. Martin’s, Picador, Farrar Straus & Giroux, et c.) from another retailer, like Powell’s, this weekend.

  • Commit to buying all your books from another retailer.

  • When you link books from your blog or website, link to another retailer (I use Powell’s: their Partner Program is nice.

  • Write an email to Amazon, telling them if you disagree with their actions. If you’re taking any business elsewhere, you can tell them this way.

  • Blog about this, delicious links about it, whatever comes naturally.

  • If you’re on Twitter, retweet messages and links about this.

  • If you’re on Facebook, post links or update your Facebook status so your friends hear about this.

  • If you belong to Flickr, take a photo of any number of Macmillan books and contribute it to my new group, “Amazon won’t sell these books”. I love taking photos of books (weird, I know) and I hope this will cause some conversation.

Thanks for reading!

Update, 3:18pm, 1/31/2010: Amazon has announced they will acquiesce to Macmillan, in a post on their Kindle fora. The tone of the announcement, I feel, is very misleading. It paints Amazon as the victim of Macmillan’s strong-arm tactics, even while it admits Amazon pulled the books. Choice language: “…Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.” They don’t mention that Macmillan wanted to charge as little as $5.99 later in the book’s life cycle.

So now that I’ve read their spin, I have a correction to make to this post: I wasn’t angry. Now I am.

Amazon hasn’t said when they will restore the books, and I would still love to see your Macmillan books added to the Flickr group “Amazon won’t sell these books”.

December Pie

Monday January 18, 2010 @ 02:27 PM (UTC)

I noticed it’s been a long time since I posted photos of my monthly piemaking. Now, there’s been no groundswell of public protest to this pie paucity, and for all I know my readers are sitting at home rejoicing that they don’t have to look at my pies every month. But I have no data either way, and besides, it’s my website. I’ll boast if I want to.

Here is, ahem, December’s pie. Since obviously I made it last month, I must have been delaying this post for a long time! Look at those Christmas decorations! That’s an old picture!

Chocolate Cream Pie with Cinnamon Meringue

Chocolate Cream Pie with Cinnamon Meringue

This pie, like most of my Homemade Pie of the Month entries, is made from a recipe in Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie.

This is the last pie of 2009, but I gave Ryan another round of Homemade Pie of the Month for this year. So you may have to endure more of these posts.

Awards Eligibility 2009

Saturday January 16, 2010 @ 02:49 PM (UTC)

Apparently it’s an accepted practice to post lists of your Nebula- and Hugo- eligible pieces for the delectation of passing voters, but it’s a dashed awkward sort of thing to do, especially when you have no pieces to list. I didn’t publish any spec-fic during 2009.

However, this is my second (therefore, last) year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award. If you register for an attending or supporting membership at AussieCon before January 31, or if you attended/supported last year’s Worldcon, you could nominate me here.

Well, that wasn’t so bad. I managed to get through it all without hopping from foot to foot and babbling in manner of Bertie Wooster. Maybe by next year it won’t feel so very uncomfortable. Toodle-pip!

Ryan posted this link. Apparently one of the people stuck in the Newark airport during the security-breach scare last week was a guitarist, and he rallied the strangers around him to sing “Hey Jude”. It’s a short video, but it’s hard to deny its feel-good potency. Partly that’s the power of the Beatles, but I think it’s also just people singing together, one person bringing out an instrument and trying to make the situation better.

I used to work at…what did I call it here? Oh yes, Queequeg’s Qoffee Qasa. One night I was filling in away from my home Queequeg’s, at one of the busiest QQs in the district. This store wasn’t as matey as my usual store, due to size, location, and existence of a drive-through. A few hours into my shift, we got a call from my home store. Did we have power? Why yes, we did. Because they didn’t. Okay, they’ll send customers there. Call waiting — the next furthest store. Did we have power?

The power continued to fail across town, as if it were herding all the customers toward us and the biggest Queequeg’s, the 24-hour behemoth to the West. Customers came in swells. The drive-through Qrewmember reported power had gone out across the street, in all the apartment complexes up the block. Our logo was shining out like a lighthouse of warmth and comfort, and they were coming. Then the phone rang again. The 24-hour store had lost power.

I don’t remember those hours in great detail. I was on the register, trying to serve the mob as quickly and kindly as possible. I know we had a line that filled the entire store, that we ran out of white chocolate sauce, that all the power outlets were taken and people were setting up camp in our lobby until their own power came back on. What I remember most clearly is the spirit that emerged. Usually, if there were five people in front of a customer in line, that customer would get anxious, check his watch, fret and bark a little when he finally got to the front. Now, with fifty people in line, everyone was friendly and understanding. They took normal chocolate instead of white chocolate. They bought the next person in line’s drink. They left epic tips. And when I tell this story with more brevity — say, in three sentences or less — this is the detail I always mention: someone brought a guitar and played quietly in the corner for hours. We turned off the stereo and worked as hard as we could. We made fussy employee drinks for the 24-hour store’s six chilly Qrewmembers, who had to sit on the sidewalk outside their store, waiting for light. We worked past closing time.

No one sang, that I remember, but that dude in the corner with his guitar made it official: that wasn’t just a Queequeg’s, that night. That was a community. Music does that, Beatles or no.

The Eyeliner Principle

Thursday January 07, 2010 @ 11:27 AM (UTC)

The Eyeliner Principle is simple. For decades, eyeliner on men has meant Evil in science fiction, adventure, and action movies and TV shows. (On women, eye makeup has little significance. I would say on women it means the character is awake, but we all know that Hollywomen sleep perfectly made up, and seeing them without eye makeup is about as common as seeing them in bras that don’t match their underwear.) Pirates of the Caribbean broke new ground using eyeliner for the merely morally ambivalent.

Now, you could probably come up with several cultural explanations for this: eye makeup is associated with women, so men with eye makeup are coded as effeminate and therefore transgressive, flawed. Or perhaps it’s playing on white audience’s xenophobia – certainly some eyelinered villains, like Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon, play on tropes of the dangerous, exotic Other. Maybe it’s a mish-mash of the two. Whatever the origins, it’s a pretty good bet when you see a guy in eyeliner in a mainstream piece of media, you shouldn’t trust him.

I bring this up because it isn’t just a handy way of tagging baddies like the fiancé in Titanic. It allows the omniscient viewing public to differentiate good male characters from their evil twins, clones, doppelgangers, possessed or de-souled counterparts. This incurs no plot damage, since the other characters always seem to be ignorant of the Eyeliner Principle (they seem to be slow to catch on about leather pants, too). This holds true everywhere from Young Hercules (Yes, I’ve watched that. Hercules isn’t the only one that was young once) to Star Trek. Which is really the reason I brought this up*. It’s important that you all know that Captain Kirk with eyeliner is evil. Seriously, if you ever see William Shatner wearing eyeliner, run…and thank me later.

*More on Evil Kirk coming soon!

When Leslie What came up to Portland to read in the CALYX reading a few months back, she proposed that we collaborate on a story for the themed anthology Is Anybody Out There?, edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern. I’d never co-written a story or written a story to fit a theme, but I am adventurous (when adventure doesn’t involve danger or leaving my house) so I said yes.

We just found out our story was accepted and will be published in the anthology! Is Anybody Out There? is due out in June, 2010 from Daw Books. Here are the details about the theme and the creation of the anthology from Marty Halpern.

Our story is called “Rare Earth” and one early reader calls it “PortlandTASTIC.” I’m really proud of our work, and excited to see it in bookstores next summer!

And yes, there was a fortune cookie for this too, but my camera is out of batteries.

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