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24 November 2016 @ 01:57 pm
publicBooks of 2016 - I  
1. Modern Scottish Women Poets edited and translated by Dorothy McMillan and Michael Byrne
"Within these pages, an extensive introduction sets the scene for the growth of women writers from Scotland throughout the whole of the twentieth century. This invaluable collection traces the work of more than a hundred writers, some of whom have been most unfairly forgotten, over one of the most eventful periods in Scottish literary history. With over 200 poems - from Naomi Mitchison, Carol Ann Duffy, Dilys Rose, Kathleen Jamie, Meg Bateman, Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead and many more - this collection celebrates the exceptional power and range of Scottish women poets."

It was really interesting to have such a wide selection of writing - so many different themes, styles, languages - and interesting to see which made my soul shiver and which left me cold. The two poems which have stayed most clearly with me are Violet Jacob's The Jaud, and Kathrine Sorley Walker's Scottish Legacy. The lines "At the fit o' the freendless queeyn" (The Jaud) and "So is the history unrolled / that chronicles quiet, far from famous, lives" (Scottish Legacy) give me thrills. This is the amazing power of poetry which I am only now discovering: the weight and resonance of each word. Novels and short stories can have this quality too, but I suppose it tends to be concentrated by the barer structures which most poetry has. I was wondering what it was about these two poems that particularly resonated with me, other than their language: I think that it's because they are both about the touching of distant lives, the fact that those who lived those lives will never know that someone is now thinking of them, yet there is a link forged between them, which in a way celebrates or reinforces their existence, however seemingly insignificant it was. The fragile connection of fleeting, unknown lives... How beautiful.

2. Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.
This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.
Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they’ve been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

Sanderson totally came through on the feminist question! :O Maybe I should have more faith in the guy... In any case, it was surprising and satisfying to see various characters commenting on Elendel society's gender roles in a way that suggested that the topic may be ruminated upon in more depth later on. I was happy with Marasi's one-paragraph rant, but it would be even more interesting if different opinions were set against one another in the next volume. Also satisfying was the fact that I called the major plot twist, oh yaaaass >:D (When I realised, I paused and explained everything in all of its convolutions to Stacia, just so that I could then crow to her if I were proven correct, heh heh.) The characters are beginning to gain some more depth now - I really liked how different sides to Wax were shown via the opinions of secondary characters (and also via his own opinions on things like the voting system, which betray his privilege), and Marasi is growing into her own person, but my favourite character development was that of Steris, for whom I have a slightly bewildered soft spot that makes me protectively angry with Wayne. We're getting some answers about the now-historical figures, but of course some of those then lead to yet more uncertainty... Who the heck can Lady Truth be? What exactly did the Lord Mistborn get up to? There was one character that I was so, so happy to hear about again, having sobbed over them at the end of The Hero of Ages. The fantasy-detective-novel structure worked even better this time than in the first book, I think, with more showing rather than telling (still a bit of the latter somewhat clunkily inserted), and exploration of the advantages and pitfalls of adding powers to traditional detective tools. As ever, the theological musing was thought-provoking, this time upon the concept of free will, which I actually haven't ever given much thought to. I have the vague yet strong sense that it's impossible for anyone or anything to have free will, as we're always limited by the laws of nature (or at least what we know of them now), and the concept of freedom has to be absolute. However, allowing for the caveat 'if it's physically possible', then I suppose I do believe that we have free will. I continue to think that humans, other animals, trees, stones, etc, are here at random, just existing, without purpose, by chance, and so we can theoretically do anything. That's the problem with the question, though, isn't it? If not everyone has access to all of our (limited) options, then can it be the case that we have free will?! I'm never going to be able to do the same things as the Queen, but then again, that's not, in my opinion, because of any kind of destiny, but rather because of sheer luck, which could be seen as a law of nature...

3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
"'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
My name is Kvothe.
You may have heard of me'
So begins the tale of Kvothe - currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeepter - from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin.
The Name of the Wind is fantasy at its very best, and an astounding must-read title."

I really like the writing style (though it seemed to go slightly downhill in the latter half of the book? Like those excellently-begun-and-then-suddenly-riddled-with-typos-and-leaps-of-logic Big Bangs where the author and beta(s) have clearly run out of time before the deadline...), the sentence structure, the metaphors, the technique of having action in the present even while the bulk of the story is told through Kvothe's narration of his past, and then an extra layer of history via the stories that he heard as a child and adolescent. I really like the fact that you're finding out about him as he tells his story, meaning that you're hearing about him in the way that he's decided upon, and also in the way that he sees those events now - he talks about how he felt at the time, but that's necessarily through the window of all of the experiences he's had since. Quite a different picture would have been painted by an omniscient narrator. I think the patina of self-deprecation (mixed with pride, sometimes) that adult Kvothe lies over events prevented me from subsuming myself in the characters, which has its pros and cons: it's not what I was expecting, and is therefore intriguing, but I don't have the same dedication to the characters that I might have had via third person. The various plot strands are well done, with several different levels of mystery and action running parallel, keeping you on tenterhooks about multiple things at once (man, the money-related stuff was reeeally stressful...), while the knowledge that you have of the present day taunts you as you read about the past, always nervously expecting something that you know is coming. Things move more slowly than most of the thriller/mystery fantasy that I've been reading recently, with the cards being kept closer to the author's chest - I didn't see as much detective work being laid out for the reader, though there are plenty of questions raised and enough material for wild speculation. There were also a few laugh-out-loud hilarious moments in amongst the drama.

4. The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
"With The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
Now, with The Bands of Mourning, Sanderson continues the story. The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

What the hell... After finally having decided that I was a Brandon Sanderson fan – following Shadows of Self – I finished this book mostly because I kept assuming that it must be going to improve. It read to me like a first draft that he accidentally sent in instead of the final version – I've never thought his writing style was particularly interesting, but this was clumsy. Things just coincidentally appearing when needed, actions happening one after another without any overarching link or structure, events that should have been epic reveals just... happening... with everyone like "oh gosh, how surprising, right, next", clunky scene and time transitions, attempts at characterisation that I just found twee (Wayne's sections >.<), and endless telling rather than showing. The main redeeming feature was Steris's character development, which I loved. She's so damn endearing, in a pleasantly unexpected way, and I like the message that it's never too late to spread your wings, find a new direction.

5. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight
"Are you stressed out, overbooked, and underwhelmed by life? Fed up with pleasing everyone else before you please yourself? It's time to stop giving a f*ck. This brilliant, hilarious, and practical parody of Marie Kondo's bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up explains how to rid yourself of unwanted obligations, shame, and guilt--and give your f*cks instead to people and things that make you happy. The easy-to-use, two-step NotSorry Method for mental decluttering will help you unleash the power of not giving a f*ck about: family drama; having a "bikini body"; Iceland; co-workers' opinions, pets, and children; and other bullsh*t! And it will free you to spend your time, energy, and money on the things that really matter. So what are you waiting for? Stop giving a f*ck and start living your best life today!"

We stumbled across this article (basically an excerpt from the book), and immediately ordered a copy. It really is an excellent book. I have for years been staggering under the weight of the guilt I feel about all of the things that I think I should be doing but which I'm not, and sometimes my head is so stuffed full of things that I have to pay attention to and worry about that I can't think clearly; her advice made me feel lighter, and as though possibilities of more truly-lived life were opening before me. It's definitely not the work of one read-through, getting rid of years of feelings of obligation, shame, and the desire to make people like you at the expense of being your genuine self, but this book is definitely a catalyst for that process.

6. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
"A Room of One's Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge, is one of the great feminist polemics, ranging in its themes from Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë to the silent fate of Shakespeare's gifted (imaginary) sister and the effects of poverty and sexual constraint on female creativity."

This wasn’t at all what I was expecting of this book, but I thought it was wonderful! I was surprised and then basically awed by its meandering, whimsical tone – her writing is stunning, and full of a unique personality and life. Her feminist ideas were pretty revolutionary (and, sadly, some of them remain so), but it was actually her views of literature which intrigued me most. "What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes, one feels, I should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is, so it happens." (p72) This is exactly what I think makes the works of my favourite writers (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Diana Wynne Jones, Haruki Murakami) incredible: the reality and sincerity given to things that you might otherwise disbelieve, that struck chord. And Woolf’s statement that ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ are different entities in this context is fascinating. It makes me think of the theories about individual realities versus a shared, objective existence, and the idea that there’s a universal truth lying underneath the ego. The excellent radio programme La Librairie Francophone recently featured a guest writer who mentioned his idea about this: that we do all share an objective reality, but that it’s inaccessible to us, impossible to pin down, because, as soon as the moment has passed, our very subjective memories of it are all that are left.

7. L'élégance du hérisson de Muriel Barbery
« Je m'appelle Renée, j'ai cinquante-quatre ans et je suis la concierge du 7 rue de Grenelle, un immeuble bourgeois. Je suis veuve, petite, laide, grassouillette, j'ai des oignons aux pieds et, à en croire certains matins auto-incommodants, une haleine de mammouth. Mais surtout, je suis si conforme à l'image que l'on se fait des concierges qu'il ne viendrait à l'idée de personne que je suis plus lettrée que tous ces riches suffisants.
Je m'appelle Paloma, j'ai douze ans, j'habite au 7 rue de Grenelle dans un appartement de riches. Mais depuis très longtemps, je sais que la destination finale, c'est le bocal à poissons, la vacuité et l'ineptie de l'existence adulte. Comment est-ce que je le sais? Il se trouve que je suis très intelligente. Exceptionnellement intelligente, même. C'est pour ça que j'ai pris ma décision : à la fin de cette année scolaire, le jour de mes treize ans, je me suiciderai. »

I absolutely loved this book. It took me a little while to get into it, both because at first I sometimes had to spend fifteen minutes deciphering a page (which tended to consist of just one immensely long and convoluted sentence), and because I found Renée pretentious and irritating. I came to love her character so much that, at this point, I can’t quite imagine that early emotion. I loved Paloma too, and I especially loved the way that you come to know them, through their writing. Seeing (as far as is ever possible) their true selves through the gaps between their actions and their self-conscious conceptions of themselves was a very true-to-life and fascinating approach. This is the first time that I’ve read about official philosophies, and the first time for a while that I’ve thought positively about what life and death mean. I spent so many hours pondering that kind of thing as a teenager, but in recent years I’ve focussed more on getting by, and, when I did think about life's meaning, it was by despairing at the emptiness I saw. It was refreshing and energising to open up that discussion with hope and interest again, and the book’s conclusion that we can find a meaning of life in beauty (in art, in other people, in tiny, simple things) was very uplifting.

8. Essential Classic X-Men, volume 3 by various artists and authors
"1969: The X-Men, Marvel's poorest selling title, flagging in sales and on the verge of cancellation, was in dire need of a shot in the arm. Enter Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, and True Believer, you had better grab onto your hat and get ready for one of the most amazing evolutions in Marvel history! Prepare yourself for the introduction of mutant mainstay Havok, the vampiric villain Sauron, the Mutates, and X-Man-to-be Sunfire! Not to mention, the Living Pharaoh, a classic team-up with Ka-Zar in the Savage Land, as well as the return of Magneto and Professor X! Plus: Hank P. McCoy tries a stint as mad scientist and ends up creating - and BEING - his own monster! And while the Beast gets furried and hurried, his former teammates are fighting the likes of Morbius and the Hulk! Guest-starring Spider-Man and Iron Man! Collects X-Men #54-66, #67-80 (covers only); Amazing Adventures #11-17; Marvel Team-Up #4; Incredible Hulk #150 and #161."

I got sucked into the X-Men prequels fandom completely by accident, due to discovering the tragic romance of Professor X and Magneto via Star Wars: The Force Awakens interviews and the fact that Oscar Isaac will be the villain of X-Men: Apocalypse (I'm so looking forward to this! Storm and Psylocke look awesome! [ETA: I loved it! I loved Charles and his beautiful, lustrous hair and his resilience and dedication and love for his students and friends and those who need him, and getting to see him in his element as a professor made my heart swell with happiness. I loved Jean! She’s so much more interesting and engaging than she was in the original timeline, and I really like how they showcased her powers! I adored Mystique’s story, and how that influenced Storm’s ♥ I greatly appreciated the Charles/Erik fanvideo XD The only thing that left me a bit aghast was Erik’s motivation. Seriously? They couldn’t come up with something a bit more original and less sexist?!]). As per usual, not having seen/read the source material hasn't kept me from immersing myself in the fanworks (*cough* three years of reading Supernatural fanfic before seeing a single episode *cough*), but I've been slowly working through the films - I've seen X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand now. I'm a bit nervous about starting on the prequels really, because the fanfic is so good – can the film possibly live up to the fanfiction's amazing writing, beautifully crafted plots, and excellently developed female characters?! At the same time, I'm really excited about them, and savouring the wait. (ETA: Thankfully, I think the prequels are great! There are more plotholes and not-entirely-explicable actions in the films than in the fanfic, but other than that, I was happily surprised by their depth of character, relationship development, and politics.) I really like this universe's take on how those who are different can be treated, how it explores the fact that these people are born with their powers, into a society hostile to them, alone until they're found by other mutants. Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters also holds a sort of Hogwartsian fascination. I was intrigued by the idea of going back to the original comics and finding out more backstory, and this collection just happened to be in my local library. It was a lot of fun, hilariously proper now (however it appeared in the 60s), everyone calling each other "chum" and saying things like "what a gal" and "little ol' me" XD The non-stop action and villains conveniently popping up one after another was silly but enjoyable, and I liked Beast and the Hulk a lot. Professor X didn't feature much in this collection, but was awesome when he did. It was interesting to see the different styles of the various artists - I really liked how some of them rendered Iceman and the Angel, who seemed to change most from artist to artist. I did eventually tire of women fainting all over the place, and Marvel Girl proclaiming how useful her telekinesis was for making sure she got every bit of dust out from under her sofa...... (To be fair, though, she was then pictured leaping through lava.) It's actually slightly reassuring to see these comics from 50 years ago, and know that, whatever pitfalls female characters do still get shoved into, things have changed somewhat.

9. Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman, volume 1 by various artists and authors
"This new Wonder Woman series begins when Oracle calls for help after the entire Bat-Family is sidelined. And when Wonder Woman steps into the breach, Gotham City’s criminals get the surprise of their lives! Plus, Wonder Woman battles an otherdimensional science-villain, meets Ra’s al Ghul, and accepts a covert mission from Queen Hippolyta that takes her to Apokolips. Collects Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman #1-5."

I got this out partially as an antidote to Marvel Girl: Super Homemaker! and partially because I've been getting excited about Wonder Woman due to Batman vs. Superman and the 2017 (whyyy so far away?) WW film (even if their armor does have boob-cups, wtf, that would be completely useless). I liked every chapter other than a cringy one where she came out with pseudo-feminist one-liners all over the place, and thought the Gotham City and Apokolips ones were awesome, as well as one where her powers start behaving strangely and she begins to think that she must have offended the gods and goddesses. I thought the art of the Apokolips comic was beautiful, with stunning, muted colours and gritty lineart, and it was impressive how much world-building and character development was packed into such a short story. Thinking about what I liked most about the Gotham City and Apokolips chapters maybe shows me what I find attractive about Wonder Woman in general (so far) – although she commands forces or works with other heroes and heroines, she's basically a solo-operator, proud and confident, relying on herself to get out of trouble and save the day, and I think these pieces were a celebration of that, her glorying without arrogance in her strengths and even her weaknesses. It took me a while to parse through my feelings, but comparing this to Essential Classic X-Men, I realised what I think was missing in the latter – the feeling of a true team. Although they did work together, using each other’s’ skills (Cyclops hopping on to Iceman's ice bridge, Marvel Girl levitating others), more often than not it felt as though each individual's skills were just being showcased one after the other, and in place of the camaraderie and solidarity that makes teams so great to read about/watch, there were mostly just exchanges of bravado... It was clear that they cared about each other, but there wasn't that meshing or off-duty relationship development that're essential for a true unit. It'll be interesting to see if that's present in other collections/arcs. To go back to Wonder Woman, the fact that she wasn't part of a team in these episodes meant that that development was internal, about her relationship with herself, which was powerful.

10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo
"Transform your home into a permanently clear and clutter-free space with the incredible KonMari Method. Japan's expert declutterer and professional cleaner Marie Kondo will help you tidy your rooms once and for all with her inspirational step-by-step method.
The key to successful tidying is to tackle your home in the correct order, to keep only the things you really love and to do it all at once - and quickly. After that for the rest of your life you only need to choose what to keep and what to discard.
The KonMari Method will not just transform your space. Once you have your house in order you will find that your whole life will change. You can feel more confident, you can become more successful, and you can have the energy and motivation to create the life you want. You will also have the courage to move on from the negative aspects of your life: you can recognise and finish a bad relationship; you can stop feeling anxious; you can finally lose weight.
Marie Kondo's method is based on a 'once-cleaned, never-messy-again' approach. If you think that such a thing is impossible then you should definitely read this compelling book."

I wanted to read this purely because it was (unsurprisingly) the inspiration for The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, and the author talked about how shockingly effective the methods are in giving you a new lease of life. We're not really the target audience for a few reasons – we don't actually have a tidying problem (not that the flat is pristine, but I'm generally happy with the level of organisation), or as much stuff as the people she describes (apparently the average number of tops that people have is 160, which is about 70 more than both of us combined), and we don't have the money for some of the things she proposes (throwing out anything that doesn't spark joy in your heart – I wouldn't have enough clothes/shoes/dishes/etc., and there's no way I can afford to just replace all of those things). Yet there were various pieces of advice that struck a chord (most importantly and simply, that it's ok to get rid of things that I don't need or like – I think having been frighteningly strapped for cash in France has made me loathe to get rid of anything for fear of being without it in the future, and there are also various gifts that I keep only because someone else gave them to me, despite the fact that I wouldn't want someone else to be guiltily hanging onto something only because I'd bought it for them). Others didn't convince me at first but, now that I've followed them, are actually unexpectedly helpful (folding all of my tops so they can stand up on their edges and be stored vertically, allowing you to see everything in the drawer at a glance). A couple of things niggled, like her ideas about women that made me assume she must be in her fifties of sixties (pretty flabbergasted to discover that she looks like she's in her 20s or 30s!), and the fact that she talks about feeling sorry for t-shirts squashed in the back of the drawer – which I totally relate to – but then casually described cutting pages out of books and discarding the rest!!???! >:O
Mood: calm
Music: Lampenda - Baaba Maal