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In rough ascending order of how excited I was about it. This was a good year for media (except for movies); I had a tough time ordering this.

Movies: A sparse category this year, but I'll say Guys and Dolls. Because I have a crush on Marlon Brando this big, and seeing him sing love songs makes me swoon. He's only a minimally competent singer, actually, not a particularly good one, but he sells it well.

TV: The Office! The only TV show I actually watch on a current basis.

Books(first read, fiction): The Engineer Trilogy (Parker) squeaked in at the very end of the year. I'm not counting this as a series (although I should), mostly so's I can mention this along with Voigt. It's dark and reminds me rather of a fantastically precision-engineered Rube Goldberg contraption, but I really, really liked it all the same. Will try to post on this later. Post on the first book here. These books engage exactly the opposite circuits in my brain than the Tillerman books below.

Reread: Card's Memory of Earth series, which I don't think I've reread all the way through since high school; thoughts here.

Music: I am totally and incontrovertibly in love with Ian Bostridge. This is how in love I am: I'll even listen to him singing German art songs! though I prefer to hear him sing Britten or Handel. Honorable mentions: [ profile] liuzhia hooked me on Wicked. Also, Angela Lansbury in the original cast recording of Sweeney Todd is just flipping amazing, as is the entire recording, even though I don't much like the movie version.

Book series: The Tillerman Cycle (Voigt). A Solitary Blue gets special mention here. These (YA) books are about families and reaching out and make my heart hurt. Weirdly, Voigt's fantasy books leave me almost entirely cold.

Books(first read, nonfiction): Sweet Anticipation (Huron)! Most completely awesome book I read this year, no competition, possibly the best book I've read for several years. Awesome subject matter, and Huron actually talks about it very intelligently and scientifically. However, I will note also in honorable mention that The Art and Craft of Making Jewelry (Gollberg) has beautiful pictures, and Photographing the Southwest (Martres) is extremely useful.
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The first book of a trilogy (so take everything here with a grain of salt until I finish the third book). It's set in an alternate, less developed world, so has the feel of a fantasy, but without any fantastic elements.

I... am kind of surprised by how much I like this book. But it's got an engineer as the central character! A real engineer, one who reminds me a great deal of D in the scientific characterization (though very little in the non-scientific sense). It's got elegant descriptions of machinery and convoluted conspiracies and people wrecking their lives out of the best intentions (and sometimes knowing it... self-awareness is a painful thing, but one I like reading about). And the last hundred pages seems just one sock to the eye after another (ending with a reveal in the last two pages that was clearly telegraphed and which I totally should have seen coming but didn't). I liked this so much that I'm going to buy the second and third books (and I don't say that very often about trilogies).

I mean, it's got issues. I don't really like the way she does omniscient POV - it gives me a headache because she jumps from character to character too quickly for my taste. Sometimes she uses weird anachronistic phrases which really annoy me ("Great white hope"? "Piece of cake"? Umm... no). It's dark, as might be expected from a book whose themes seem to be the machinery of governments and that love leads to evil. Most glaringly, the engineer himself is a little... Mary-Sueish isn't quite right... too skilled. I liked him very much in the first few chapters, where he is revealed to be exceedingly competent about engineering, as it tallies very well with the competent engineers I know. Once he turned out also to be an expert in politics and people, I lost interest, and although I'm still psyched at his engineering prowess, I think he is the least interesting character by the end of the book.

I don't think it's much like Iain Banks or John M. Ford (though the Mezentine empire could well be a stand-in for Ford's inverted Byzantium in Dragon Waiting... um, now that I write that, maybe it is), but I can feel similar parts of my brain engaging when I read Parker, so I might expect that fans of those authors might also like these books. Dune, as well. It reminds me a lot of The Carpet Makers (Eschbach). I would recommend it highly for [ profile] julianyap and dis-recommend it for [ profile] mistful, and I have no earthly idea what the rest of you would think about it. If you do happen to pick it up, let me know so I can add the data to my rec engine ;)
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As more of a sociological experiment than anything else - the first time I gave up after chapter 3 or so, but I was kind of curious as to why all the buzz (I mean, it's pretty easy to see why teenage girls would like it, but also a large proportion of the married-women-with-children I know love this book).

I think I see the appeal to middle-aged women-with-families. It really does take you back to that time when you fell headstrong and dazzingly in love with the person who is now your husband-- It's not like you would trade the love you have now, where sometimes he takes out the trash even though that's something you normally do and it makes you all happy, but it's very different from those first halcyon days where you thought and yearned about him all the time and got butterflies in your stomach every time you looked at him, or looked forward to seeing him after being separated for a whole couple of hours! And it kind of takes you back to that stage.

It also makes me extremely nervous. I really dislike the fallacy of the first lover in general, so you can see that I would have a strong visceral "No, no, no!!" reaction to Bella's sixteen-year-old (or however old she is) "unconditionally and irrevocably in love" status, after as far as I can tell they have spent the equivalent of two dates together. UGH. Plus which, I don't know that it's actually at all healthy to be unconditionally or irrevocably in love with anyone. Also? Edward is, like, a hundred years old. EW. Nasty old man!
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Okay, thanks to a suggestion by [ profile] julianyap, I'm going to try something new. I usually don't post about books unless I can write a long rant, but I'm going to try in addition posting a little bit about every book I read (except maybe the ones I don't finish).

Antsy Does Time (Shusterman): Fun and quirky (for example, a character called "Skaterdud") and darker than it first appears. YA. I liked!

Speeding Bullet (Shusterman): Less fun than Antsy. Judith Krantz for the YA crowd, gone somewhat-darkly wrong.

Photographing the Southwest, Vol 2: Arizona (Martres): These books rock. Arizona is beautiful, and this book is probably worth it for the pics of slot canyons alone. Though I think I might prefer Utah overall.

Throne of Jade (Novik): I thought I had this book on hold for, like, a year. Then it turned out I hadn't actually put it on hold. Anyway. Liked it, actually better than Her Majesty's Dragon (which I also liked quite a bit), except for the ending, where we find out that the villianous guy... is actually a villain. Whee.

Mothers and Other Monsters (McHugh): SF/mainstreamy-ish. These are really, really good stories, most of which broke my heart. [ profile] lightreads and [ profile] julianyap spring to mind as people who might like them.
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I've been rereading the Memory of Earth (Card) series lately. I think these books are utterly amazing-- I feel that they were written at the height of Card's powers, before he lost his trademark utter compassion for all characters, even the stupid and/or evil ones, but after he figured out mad writing skillz. And these books are written for grownups. Ender's Game was an adolescent book; its themes resonanted sharply with me as a geeky teenager, though now that I'm a bit older they seem a little less important. The Memory books talk about civilization, and gender roles, and how those interact, and how people cope when gender roles are overturned, and what it takes to build a society, and... yeah. I read these first in high school, and all of that went over my head, and now I get it.

And yet... although I adore them, and think the series is the best and most interesting stuff Card ever wrote, and am planning to give them to at least three people for Christmas presents, I am not sure they are not for everyone. In particular, I would describe these books as "Card's response to Narnia, on SF steroids and with actual women characters"-- that is, possibly not as interesting to those who are not into Christian theology/ethics. They've got plot and sociology and biologically-altered organisms and cool technology, yes, and all that is very well done and worth reading for, but underneath that Card is interested in talking about Christianity, and how that interfaces with theology and ethics. (And if you're Mormon, of course, they have yet another extra added layer of resonance, but as I don't think anyone Mormon reads this LJ, I'll defer that discussion.) What if God told you to kill someone? Why would you want to do what God wants, in general? What's the point of religion if religion gets half the stuff wrong? What is the role of government in religion? What (as [ profile] nolly pointed out to me when we read this first) could have been going through Saul of Tarsus's heart as he changed? Plus analogues of prayer, baptism, scriptures, etc. etc. Also, the third book in the series should be read by anyone who thinks Card hates gays (you may, instead, come away with the idea that he doesn't think about marriage in at all the same way many do, which would be far nearer the truth, but I will also defer that discussion unless someone wants to hear it). Anyway, highly, highly recommended for anyone who really liked Curse of Chalion, which has got some of that same "let's have plot and sociology and think about theology at the same time!" vibe, though used in a less Christian-centric way.
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[ profile] nolly: Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer... etc.: Awesome. This is what graphic novels were meant for. (Well, in the nonfiction category, anyway.) This should be required reading for anyone who is interested in science/physics and the ways in which it interacts with society/politics. (And who, like me, is too lazy to actually read a non-graphic biography.) Also, YAY primary sources! My only complaint was that the changing artistic styles sometimes made it so that I could no longer tell who was who, but that may just be my non-artsy side showing up.

[ profile] ase: Y: The Last Man (vols 3-10): So, Y did some good stuff. Then... they lost me by being one of those plot-heavy books that does not explain well a huge chunk of the plot. (Other contenders in this area include Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series, which sucked that way, and Series of Unfortunate Events, which actually won huge points with me by managing to pull it off.) Still, a graphic novel worth reading if you can find it at the library. Better than V for Vendetta; I still like Watchmen better.

[ profile] julianyap: Sean Stewart (Galveston, Mockingbird): I am intrigued by Stewart. I also suspect I need to come back to him in a couple of years. Lots of interesting family stuff (Galveston in particular hauled me in with its parent/child relationships), and he's clearly a good writer, but somehow it never quite all clicked for me. Mockingbird, I think, had the problem that I thought the main character was being a little... silly. Galveston had no such problem... if anything, maybe I identified a bit too much with the main female character.

[ profile] lightreads and [ profile] abigail_n: Joe Hill (20th-Century Ghosts). I don't usually read horror. I think I will continue not to. The non-horror dark-fantasy stories in this volume (e.g., the title story and "Pop Art") were really well done. The horror stories were also well done, though I personally have a much harder time with horror in general. Still, if you like that kind of thing, I very much recommend the book.
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Parents-in-law just finished up a visit. I clearly absolutely won the parents-in-law lottery.

In other news, Rambles on Blink, snap reactions, Prop 8 tactics, and Gottman's marriage/divorce studies )
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The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is the latest in a series of Arthurian kid's books by Gerald Morris, a couple of which I'd read previously. These books are really charming. I'm a little in love with them not least because I routinely fall in love with a) any Arthurian book that knows more about Arthur than I do (though you think this is hard, yet it is not so: I've never actually read Malory all the way through), b) any Arthurian book that acknowledges how essentially idiotic the story of Tristam and Iseult is, and c) any book at all that demonstrates the author has actually read the Mabinogion. T.H. White, of course, scored extremely high on a) and b), and possibly well on c) (though he was certainly a little less interested in the Celtic aspect). Morris does very well, with top marks on c) -- in this book, Culhwch and Olwen make up a large subplot of the book, and the other Mabinogion romances feature heavily in some of his other books.

These books are really cute and a lot of fun, and made me laugh out loud at times. They aren't perfect books. They can occasionally be on the simplistic side (though although I had mourned the lack of mention of, e.g., the weirdly dignified Eagle of Gwernabwy in with all the over-the-top satire, it's true that the whole episode of Mabon is treated very differently, so maybe I'm being too critical), with some of the characters one-dimensional and the plot not always hanging together entirely coherently (honestly, kind of like his sources, so I can't really complain). Dinadan, in addition, has an interesting ending that may appeal to some but which I'm not sure I liked-- I'm not sure I like the triumph of experience over hope. But anyway, his books do retain that sense of wonder I still remember from my first forays into Arthurian myth, and if I knew a kid (or grown-up kid) who was just getting her toes wet with this stuff, I would absolutely give her these books as an excellent introduction to Arthur's court and to the treasures of the Mabinogion.
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For a while I've been taking a Performance Singing class from the Adult Education branch of the city college. I've been taking singing lessons for a bit, and for some reason (well, I could go into the reasons, but why would you care?) ever since I started the lessons I've frozen up in front of an audience, and my teacher told me this was a good way to get experience singing in public (which it is).

The teacher is great; so is the accompanist. The students... well... there's a wide range. There's the would-be comic who is more interested in telling bad puns than improving his singing. There's the girl who gets very emotionally involved in her songs but no one elses's, and who brought twenty people to the final concert, only to disappear halfway through the concert with her entourage, leaving two people in the audience. There's the older lady with hair down to her waist (she's probably the only older lady with long hair I've seen in the last year) who does sensuous things with the microphone, which sometimes is quite cool and sometimes seems slightly embarrasing. There's the introverted geeky woman who sings unintelligible and badly accented French songs and who does weird things with her hands when she sings until you worry she's having a spastic fit. (That's me. I'm working on the hands thing, with some success, and on my accent,with basically zero success.) But... now that we've done this class for a while, I have a certain fondness for the others, and a certain emotional investment in their singing improvement, even though I'd never actually hang out with them socially.

This is all just to say that I really, really liked The Writing Class-- I think it's one of the best (fiction) books I've read this year-- and possibly a large part of that was having been through this Adult Ed class; someone who doesn't have that experience may not feel the same sense of resonance I did. Regardless, it's a really funny book. The main character, the teacher Amy, is rather standoffish, but I got to like her-- she doesn't whine, and she isn't bitter (though very cynical)-- and she has her own sort of weird standoffish -- redemption? salvation?

There is an excerpt at the place I found out about this book (the pre-excerpt text has some mild spoilers, nothing terrible) - if you don't find it hysterically funny, don't for goodness sake read the rest of it, but if you do find it hilarious, check out the book.

(She's written another book -- Winner of the National Book Award-- which I didn't particularly like, perhaps because I don't live in Rhode Island... maybe you really need to connect to the milieu that she writes about.)
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Ok, here's hoping the hands stay stable! Anyway.

Now that Dag and Fawn are thoroughly married, I don't find them nearly so irritating, basically because I am far more sympathetic to the "We're doing things together as partners" concept than the "We're doing this for looooove!" one. However, I still think he was completely running away from his responsibilities, as evidenced by the part where he wanders around not knowing what to do. Usually, people figure that out first and then start doing it. I'm just sayin'.

This is also to say that I am now clearly seeing that this was all intended as one book - and - I know LMB has said this from the beginning, but it's a little different when you're reading it piecemeal. I really, really wish it had been one book; I would unsay a lot of the mean things I said about the first couple of books. I'm also now, for the first time, planning on buying this sequence, but NOT until it's all released as a single volume. (Hear that, publishers? You could have gotten my money up front, but noooo, you had to try to be all clever!)

Because now I see what LMB is trying to do - she's trying to trace a romance, not just through the easy infatuation stages, but also through the much more difficult stages of trying to do something with all that energy. I don't always buy it, but I can get behind it the way I couldn't get behind the love story of book 1.

This book also plays to LMB's strengths more - a strong diverse cast of characters, the unintentional humor of life, romance in the background and not at the forefront (Whit is really cute!), partnership, a plot twist (the outcome of Berry's quest) I was certainly not really expecting. So, yeah. I liked it. A lot.

Other random thoughts:

-Speaking of hating the publishers, I really kind of hate and despise the cover. Aw, plucky Fawn, protected by her brave tall (old!) man. To be fair, I would have hated it pretty equally as much if he were leaning on her, so I think I might just be grumpy. (But! I'd just like to point out that Aral and Cordelia wouldn't be caught dead either way. They'd be both standing tall. Actually, Cordelia would probably be in the middle of taming lions or rescuing hostages while Aral was coordinating military campaigns.)

-Boy, Dag and Fawn sure do agree on everything pretty quick. I mean, it's not like I fight with my husband all the time either, but we come from basically the same sort of cultural background. And we do occasionally get snippy, with less provocation than Dag and Fawn sometimes have.

-The Dag-Fawn age thing still squicks me out. Usually I can ignore it, but when he says "Behave, child," as, basically, part of foreplay, it completely overwhelms my squick-sense.

Small cut for spoilers. )

-Major, major points for Fawn and Dag admitting their trek might be a stupid one. I'm sure it won't be, but major points for their being okay with that.

-Now that I'm done... I really enjoyed reading it... but... did anything actually happen in this book? Is this going to be a Cherryh-style sequence? Nothing wrong with that, I'd just like to know.
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Yeah, so, my hands have been pesky lately. I think they're getting better, but will probably continue not to post or comment for a while. Though I want to! :) I may respond to comments here, but may not for a while, sorry.

In passing, though: Cynthia Voigt has blown my mind, which was highly unexpected. A Solitary Blue, while I can see it might not be everyone's cup of tea, just completely impressed the heck out of me, and the whole Tillerman series has done so, a little less strongly-- but I'm glad I didn't read these ten years ago. Rosemary Kirstein, while I am enjoying her, did not particularly inspire adulation, though I think they might have had I read her ten years ago. I hope to elaborate a lot on this soon.
cahn: (ase-blue-tallis)
(New icon that [ profile] ase made for me! Yay!)

Okay, I apologize for the long hiatus. Now that winter and the associated Hand Issues are over, perhaps more postings! Okay, now I have to tell you about This Book.

I haven't been as excited about a book in a long time (since, I think, Bujold) as I have been about reading David Huron's Sweet Anticipation, a book on cognitive psychology in music (with a particular thesis dealing with anticipation and prediction). I bought this book off of a rec in Nature-- the first time I've ever done that, and the first time I've bought a book without having read any sort of sample of the contents in quite some time. And wow, did it pay off.

I LOVE Huron's book. How do I love it? Let me incoherently count the ways. )Although you don't need a science background to read the book (he talks about concepts like information in a way where he doesn't have to use any math) he never plays cute or dumbs down things in a way that masks rigor, and if you're used to that, well, you won't like this book.

Speaking of which, I then went to the library and checked out Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music, which although treating somewhat similar material is basically the opposite of Huron's book. I'm too disgusted with it to even bother taking the energy to give it a proper rant, but...cut for rant )


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