Fun reading: Noctis Magicae

There’s a newish fantasy series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter, a Canadian writer: The Midnight Queen, Lady of Magick, and Season of Spells. I have read the first two and expect to pick up the third at my local bookstore this afternoon.

The genre is fantasy mixed with Regency romance and alternative history (the mad king is Henry XII), seasoned with a dash of Gothic. The setting is England and Scotland, mainly Oxford, London, and Edinburgh (Din Edin). The universities instruct young people (men in Oxford, but both sexes in Din Edin) in magic. Most people still worship the Roman gods, or local gods; Jews and Christians exist but are minor sects. The main characters are young, in their teens and early twenties, with lots of interesting, active women, including gay and lesbian characters. The plotting is lively. Hunter handles romance tropes with humor and some unexpected twists. Nothing too awful happens to anyone; your emotions will not be harrowed by the loss of major characters. Major characters have human flaws but are on the whole admirable (that is, nobody is a wanker like Quentin Coldwater). (I like reading books about people who behave well, or at least try to do the right thing. If I wanted to read about people behaving badly, I could pick up a newspaper or many works of literary fiction.)

Some very minor quibbles: I could live without the K on “magick,” though I expect that is part of the Regency-era flavor (eighteenth-century spelling being quite unreliable). Also—a very general complaint, not this writer’s fault, and something I would be subject to if I wrote fantasy, because of where I have traveled and what I study—I am a little tired of “Matter of Britain” fantasy and would be thrilled to read something set in (let’s say) Istanbul and Athens, or Marrakesh and Valencia. However, Hunter is very good at describing libraries and other elements of setting, and I greatly admire the verisimilitude regarding place.

Also a piece of praise that might be construed as quibblesome: the Latin in these books is decently grammatical. OMG the number of fantasy or alternative-history works I have read with grossly inaccurate Latin. This probably doesn’t bother most people, but I am not most people. Thank you, Ms. Hunter, for your language skills.

I enjoyed the first two very much and am looking forward to the third (and more?). Excellent fun reading/ quality brain candy.

 

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Fighting the Bishop

“Colonel Weatherhead was pulling up Bishop-weed in his garden. He had a fearful tussle with the Bishop every Autumn, for the Bishop was entrenched in a thorn hedge at the bottom of the garden near the river, and however much of him Colonel Weatherhead managed to eradicate there was always enough root left embedded in the thickest part of the hedge to start him off again next year. Colonel Weatherhead had a kind of sneaking admiration for the Bishop—here was an enemy, worthy of his steel—. The Colonel went for him tooth and nail, he dug and tore and burned the Bishop, and the sweat poured off him in rivulets.” (D. E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s Book [London: Herbert Jenkins, 1936], 78)

A bit later, the Colonel is trying to persuade his fiancée to marry him sooner rather than later, and they find themselves at cross-purposes:

“Why not? . . . it’s absolutely the hand of Providence pointing. The weather is as foul as your drains, and my Bishop is done for—”

“Who is your Bishop?” interrupted Dorothea somewhat irritably for such a good-natured woman. “Who on earth is your Bishop? You’ve been talking about him for ages, and I don’t see what he has got to do with our getting married—”

Colonel Weatherhead roared with laughter. “Good Heavens! I thought everyone in Silverstream had heard about my Bishop—I can’t be such a garrulous old bore after all—have I never told you about my struggles with the brute every autumn?”

“Never,” said Dorothea primly, “and I really do not think you should speak of a Bishop in that way, Robert dear. He may be very trying at times—I am sure he is—but after all we must remember that he is consecrated—consecrated with oil,” said Dorothea vaguely, “and therefore—”

“It’s a weed,” gasped the Colonel between his spasms of laughter. “Bishop—weed—it grows in my hedge—it has roots like an octopus—” (99-199).

 

You see! Not only is bishop’s-weed a dreadful opponent, but the octopus reference reminds me of my very own octopus, otherwise known as the MMP. No wonder I’m still in difficulty with the last vestiges of it.

Thanks, Clarissa

I started reading Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl yesterday, and it took me awhile to realize that it’s a retelling of Taming of the Shrew (although I did notice the coincidence of names). The love interest, Pyotr, doesn’t seem to want to tame Kate. He likes her fine the way she is. In chapter one, he beams approvingly as he says of Kate, “Just like the girls in my country. So rude-spoken.” When Kate suggests the term “women,” he says, “Yes, they also. The grandmothers and the aunties.” Later he says, “It is evident you could choose any husband you want. You are very independent girl. Woman. You are very independent woman and you have the hair that avoids beauty parlors and you resemble dancer.”

From Clarissa’s descriptions of Ukrainians, I recognize that Pyotr is probably absolutely accurate and truly attracted to Kate. Although I’m exceedingly happy in my marriage, he sounds pretty good to me, far more interesting and worthwhile than most of the Romantic Heroes of Romance. Romance writers please take note! We need more Ukrainian heroes. Kthxbai.

RBOC summer

  • All is well, or as well as it’s going to be, w/r/t my dad. One of my brothers is learning about the difficulties of figuring out what questions to ask, and of whom. I sympathize.
  • I will be heading to Family Land in August. I accepted that I need to do this and booked the whole trip all in one go this week, instead of hemming and hawing and spending hours comparing different flights and cars.
  • I wrote 500 words today. Or typed them. I wrote a version of them on Tuesday, but today’s typing of that paragraph led to a certain amount of editing. So I’m counting both days as writing 500 words.
  • Am I done reviewing chunks of translation? Can this even be possible? There must be something else that I’ve forgotten to do there. I will be translating that massive text for the rest of my life, I’m convinced. “Done” is a hallucination, or at least a highly temporary state.
  • I’ve been putting together a list of manuscript-related vocabulary for my fall grad class.
  • We’re a week into July . . . yipes . . . I really do need to think about fall classes. The heat wave of a few days ago has broken and the weather is perfect today. I’d love to do something outside. Preferably not weeding, although of course that is always an option.
  • Weeding would arguably be better than cleaning the garage. Bleaching the litter boxes would be better than cleaning the garage.
  • Things I have been reading lately: D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Early novels of E. M. Delafield, available in an omnibus Kindle edition for a buck. Reading six of them in a row mainly convinced me that Victorian child-rearing left terrible scars on a lot of people, especially Delafield. Since her later novels (Provincial Lady!) are more comic, did she get over it? Or just move on? A. S. Byatt’s The Biographer’s Tale, which I didn’t care for; it felt like a cut-rate version of Possession, which I prefer. Also, L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, a romance with a plain 29-year-old heroine who gets life-changing news and starts telling her horrible relatives what she really thinks of them. Plays with romance tropes in delightful and original ways. Rather gushy descriptions of Canadian forests (which completely omit the black flies), but I skimmed those bits.
  • Maybe I’ll do the litter boxes and half an hour of something else useful and then sit outside with sherry and potato chips.

Odds and ends

I cherish the fond illusion that I file/recycle/toss paperwork every 3-6 months, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Very otherwise. However, today I have tackled stacks of paper. As usually happens when things pile up for long enough, I have been able to recycle large quantities, including early drafts of two essays for which I have now corrected proofs, print-outs of conference papers given three and four years ago, and receipts associated with those conferences.

Still on my desk:

*a program from a conference four years ago, in a place I particularly enjoyed;

*instructions for my phone. which I seem to have got on quite well without;

*a two-year pocket calendar for 2014-2015;

*a postcard from Hull;

*a paper written by a graduate student for a course I taught, which I think I kept because in theory I am on the student’s dissertation committee (in practice, I don’t think the student has submitted any work yet);

*receipts from this year’s stay in Kalamazoo;

*a stack of references to things I mean to read for scholarly purposes;

*a set of newspaper clippings referring to books I have thought of reading for pleasure, along the lines of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey and Her Brilliant Career;

*a handout from a paper at this year’s K’zoo with my notes connecting the paper to one I’m thinking of writing;

*a check re-order form;

*an important piece of paper I should have put in my safe deposit box four years ago but which at this point is probably irrelevant;

*a chapter draft with marginal comments from discussion with my writing group;

*the label with which to return printer ink cartridges for recycling;

*a certificate, in Spanish and English, testifying to my having given a paper at a conference in a Spanish-speaking country.

Snapshot of my desk/life.

 

Roxy

Back to the Dinny Gordon universe, I really don’t believe in the canonical outcome for Dinny’s sister Roxy.

In the early books, Roxy loves boys and clothes and dating around. When she goes to college, she meets a man named George Bean, from Wyoming. They fall in love, she visits and spends the summer working on a dude ranch, George takes her hiking and skiing, she starts learning to ride. His plan is to become a ranch boss. In DG, Senior, Roxy and George get engaged, somewhat to the surprise of the Gordon family. But Roxy is calm and happy and convinced that this is what she wants.

Here’s my take on it: the marriage does take place, because Roxy is, in her way, just as stubborn as Dinny. Also, having been a girly-girl, she enjoys the feeling of competence she gets from learning that she can ride and ski and do things she never tried before. However, after a couple of years isolated on a Wyoming ranch, she is increasingly unhappy. George takes her on a vacation to Los Angeles, intending just to give her a break and cheer her up. On a movie studio tour, she’s the lucky winner of a screen test. It’s really a promotional gimmick, but in this case, the camera loves Roxy, and the test leads to a small role in a movie. In turn, the movie role leads to regular work in commercials and, finally, to a recurring role on a soap opera.

At first, George tries to be a good sport and support Roxy, since she supported him. He moves to L.A. with her, and looks for work in local agribusiness. But orange groves and Wyoming ranches are not the same thing. One of Roxy’s new friends is a girl who starred in every high school play back in South Dakota, and left for Hollywood the day after graduation. Things have not worked out so well for her as she hoped, and she’s homesick. Life as a ranch boss’s wife sounds really good to her.

The divorce is amicable, and George and his new wife are very happy back in the mountains. Things keep going well for Roxy, as outlined above. She has the sense not to date the obvious Hollywood types. Her second husband owns a Mexican restaurant, and his hobby is ballroom dancing and Latin dance, at which Roxy is terrific.

Years after she divorced George, Roxy confesses to Dinny that George was the first man with whom she achieved orgasm, and for a time she confused sexual satisfaction with true love. She had much more in common with her second husband, and the sex was even better. Their marriage was successful in every way, and now, in 2018, their little bungalow is worth millions. Roxy is planning to sell it soon and move to a very comfortable retirement community, near her grandchildren.

Slightly brain-dead

Yesterday I turned in my application for promotion, along with a crate (literally) of supporting evidence. Sir John asked a few times why I kept referring to “the crate.” That is what my department calls it; each applicant gets a plastic storage crate in which to assemble paper copies of everything: publications, syllaboi, sample assignments, and so on. It will take at least four months to get through the next stages, possibly longer depending on how many cases the college level has to look at and whether any of them are controversial. The rubber-stamping stages will drag out the process for another six months or so.

But you know my motto: any excuse is a good excuse for champagne. Some members of my writing group accompanied me for a celebratory glass of wine yesterday (the only place open in mid-afternoon didn’t have anything sparkly on the menu). I’ll crack a bottle every time I hear anything. Last night, however, my main celebration involved a novel in the bathtub: Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, about three Canadian sisters in vaudeville in the 1910s. It’s divided up into short scenes of 2-3 pages that make it fatally easy to read just a little more . . . and just a little more . . . I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s an all-time favorite, but it was fun. I got the recommendation from ClothesInBooks, whose author seems to have similar tastes to mine, both in books and in interest in clothes.

In short, I stayed up far too late and got up at almost my usual time this morning, so I’m a little tired. I plan to do nothing much today (some housework, gym, gardening, more reading). Tomorrow will be time enough to get back to work.

A hole in the literature

I celebrated the start of summer by re-reading most of the Dinny Gordon books (my library is missing one), and then settled in to correct some proofs.

And I thought that I would love to read a book about grown-up Dinny as an archaeologist, correcting proofs for an article about her latest finds or reconstructions, or about her in college. So I searched for “Dinny Gordon” and “fanfic,” and came up blank.

Someone needs to do something about this.

It’s true that there are some archeology blogs, like Old Stuff in Hot Places, and Middle Savagery, which have entertained me for hours (as well as banished my lingering regret that I didn’t stick with my childhood desire to be an archeologist; I am clearly much, much better off in the library than breathing corpse dust). But I would love to find out how Dinny weathered the sixties and seventies, and hear about her experiences in academia, and perhaps even find out what she’s doing now: has she retired, is she thinking about it, or is she determined to stick at her job as long as she can because she loves it so much?

I have other things to write, but I can imagine doing a grown-up Dinny novel as a group project. Any takers? Anyone want to take up the challenge on their own?

Idle Google-stalking is not a good idea

Apart from the waste of time. I looked up a former student . . . who has published more books than I have.

Granted, that is not difficult, since I have not yet published any book. And we’re not talking academic presses, or even well-regarded commercial presses. The student was certainly both talented and a go-getter, or I wouldn’t even remember the name after all this time.

Hrrmph. I shall contemplate the glories of the completed MMP for a bit, and then get back to the Next Thing.

Maybe someone from my past will Google-stalk me and be impressed, and slink back into the woodwork.

Faderman =? McPhee

Also from the Scholars Talk Writing series, Lillian Faderman‘s system sounds very like John McPhee‘s:

“I developed a system when I was writing my dissertation 50 years ago, and I still use it. Before I start writing a book I need to have at least the illusion that I know how it’s going to end and everything else in between.

So first I need to complete most of my research. Then I review all my research notes — which generally takes several weeks — and I decide what will be useful and where in the book I’ll use it. I’ve concocted an elaborate coding system of numbers and letters, which I give to each idea or fact I anticipate using. Then I put it all into a huge outline with key phrases followed by the numbers and letters that will let me locate the material in my notes. When I was working on The Gay Revolution, an 800-page book, I had a 75-page outline. For my Harvey Milk biography, which is about 250 pages, my outline was 20 pages.

But when I finally start writing I veer away from the outline almost as often as I follow it — which is fine. The outline’s biggest purposes are to be a sort of Dewey Decimal System, to tell me where in my voluminous notes I’ll find things; to remind me of the ideas I want to develop; and to suggest their possible order.”

I wish someone would describe the coding system, any coding system, in more detail. I suppose it’s one of those things that is more useful when worked out for oneself, but some insight into a working system would be helpful in creating/adapting one’s own.

Note that she thinks in terms of Dewey Decimal! Once I discovered the Library of Congress system, I never looked back. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.