Read Irresponsibly is live

Read Irresponsibly is live. Go there for new bookish blog posts. Thank you for your patronage over the last 5½ years, and I hope you’ll follow me there for years to come.

Categories: Administrivia (Site Announcements).

Miscellany

Been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Here’s the reason: I’m hard at work getting the new site ready. I decided that to incentivize myself, I was not going to post any reviews on this, the old site. I have five stacked up that will appear on the new site when it’s ready. I’m guessing I have a couple more days of work. Don’t worry, I haven’t stopped reading, and I won’t stop being a cranky internet reviewer.

In the interim, here are a couple of links that I like:

First, I point you to Con or Bust! That’s an effort, associated with the Carl Brandon Society, to assist fans of color to attend science fiction conventions. The last two years they’ve assisted people who wanted to go to WisCon, and they are looking at adding Arisia support next year. Con or Bust! funds come primarily from the auction of donated items. This year’s batch includes things such as pie from Nisi Shawl, getting yourself written in as a god in N. K. Jemisin’s upcoming novel, signed books, lots of crafted items, and more.

Second, James Nicoll is doing a project I thought about doing after my Pyr post last month, but hadn’t yet started. He’s going through all the speculative fiction publishers and tallying authors and protagonists by gender. He’s using the tag cooties to label these posts. Seems to be about two publishers/imprints a day. Head over there to see the numbers (which don’t look good for some publishers), but also to help by proofing his work. A lot of his protagonist marking is done by reading the promo copy for the book, so he can use people who’ve read the books in question to provide information about books.

And yes, this does mean I plan to do the occasional link roundup on the new blog.

Categories: Reading Life.

Site Announcement: moved Seattle Author Readings page

I haven’t had a site announcement in a long time! Remember way back in August when I said I was going to shut this site down? And remember how you are reading this right now? I looked at the Under Construction message I had on what will be the new domain and it said Coming January 2010 until a couple of hours ago. Under construction for over 15 months now. Oy. I had stuff happen last year though, so I don’t feel bad about taking a while.

It’s still coming.

However, one part has arrived. I’ve moved the Seattle Book Events page that I’ve hosted on Rat’s Reading for just under two years. Links to the old page should redirect to the new dedicated site. I’ll leave the redirect up for a while. Please update links and bookmarks though.

So, ta-da! If you want to know who’s talking and signing books in Seattle, check out the new site: Seattle Author Readings and Lectures.

Hosting it on a dedicated site means I’ll be able to introduce some new features for it eventually. Right now it’s basically the same thing as was here, with different formatting. Eventually, it’ll have it’s own associated Twitter account, blog, and maybe more.

Categories: Administrivia (Site Announcements).

Distances / Vandana Singh

Cover of Distances
Amazon Logo
Aqueduct Logo

I picked up Distances at WisCon last year, but it sat on my shelf for months. Earlier this month, the Carl Brandon Society gave it their Parallax Award for 2008, so I thought now was as opportune a time to read it as any.

The back cover blurb made the book out to be one that dealt with higher order math. I was worried that this would be too Greg Egan-esque for me. He’s the fellow who likes to write stories where the math itself is what is important, the characters are just foils for plot around the math. It’s generally been not my thing when I’ve read his short stories, but perhaps some day I’ll pick up one of his novels and see if it works better in long form.

Distances central character experiences math as a sixth sense, like vision or hearing. It turned out to be quite un-Egan like. Anasuya’s visions of mathematics for a key stretch are basically a form of virtual reality, requiring little of my It’s Been 20 Years Since I Took Math. I did not need a paper and pen to take notes while I read, as Egan recommends for his stuff.

Anasuya is a member of a tribe where most receive super-power like abilities sometime between the age of 5 and adolescence. Some learn languages for societies that don’t exist, for instance. Anasuya’s is the math thing, which first manifests as sensing the harmonies of waves as she swims. Her tribe is also very water oriented. Much of the plot takes place in a large city, where many tribes make appearances. Hers does not, though how she came to be in the city and not with her tribe comes much later. In the city, Anasuya works/studies at a temple devoted to mathematics, where offworld visitors come to get help mapping out some complex mathematics. As the best, Anasuya becomes the key person helping them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy most of the book. What I did like was the world-building, which was inventive though not particularly well fleshed-out. The key problem was that it seemed so very disconnected at an individual level.

Anasuya lives in a pentad, a five-person coupling. Her living situation receives the focus for several scenes, and then only cameos afterward. The Master of her temple plays a large part in the beginning and once again toward the end. But in the middle he only pops in to criticize and then he’s gone. Anasuya sees a ghost in the machine as she explores the off-world mathematics. This Vara mouths to her that she must make art. Why? Why does she show up in the mathematical virtual reality? Why does Anasuya care so much about this non-corporeal being who can barely communicate with her? The reclusive member of the pentad goes away and the relationship for everyone else falls apart. How did the one who won’t talk to anyone else become key? I constantly had questions like these, for most of the characters.

It’s not that these things are wrong. It’s that I didn’t get any motivation or backstory for the characters. Got plenty for the cultures and the world, but not for the individuals. Distances might have succeeded better for me had it been novel length, with more space to get me invested.

Title: Distances
Author: Vandana Singh
Cover creator: Lynne Jensen Lampe (designer) / Thomas E. Duchamp (artist)
Series: Conversation Pieces; 23
Imprint / publisher: Aqueduct
Format: Paperback
Length: 154 p.
Publication date: December 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-933500-26-3

Categories: Book Reviews.

Tags: ,

So Long a Letter / Mariama Bâ

Cover of So Long a Letter
Amazon Logo
Powells Logo

A Year of Feminist Classics also had Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter as a January read as well as Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

So Long a Letter is a letter from Ramatoulaye to her expatriate best friend Aissatou, the wife of her husband’s best friend. Both are first wives of men who suddenly took second wives. In the cases of the second marriages, neither of the first wives were consulted. Aissatou divorces her husband, learns a skill, and moves overseas to work in the country’s American embassy. Ramatoulaye remains married but lives separately and raises the couple’s 12 children alone. The start of the letter informs Aissatou that Ramatoulaye’s husband Modou Fall is dead. The rest of the letter relates her reaction to her widowhood and rehashes the history of her marriage to explain how she feels now.

The introduction to the book claims it to be one of the first books that presents African women not as victims. Perhaps that suggestion influenced how I viewed the book, as the practicality of Ramatoulaye shows through, as well as her resilience in the face of adversity. You can almost hear the Gloria Gaynor song fading in during the soundtrack to the movie version.

The two main women come across as flawed but sincere women who have strength and integrity. Both are educated. One second wife is portrayed as a conniving gold-digger, the other as a clueless dupe. Both of the husbands are weak, not able to face down their first wives or families. Not all men get that treatment. One of Ramatoulaye’s suitors is very dashing, intelligent, and thoughtful of Ramatoulaye’s needs without neglecting his own. I’m not sure how I feel about these portrayals. It feels just a tad manipulative, but for all I know, that’s exactly how most men who take second wives in Senegal act.

Ramatoulaye is interested in Senegal’s politics. She reminds her suitor, a member of parliament, that only 4 of the deputies are women, less than one per province. But it’s also clear that with the division of labor, women can’t participate very well. Ramatoulaye has 12 children under her care. Even before her husband abandoned her, she had little help from him in the day to day care of them. It’s not coincidence that women started gaining political power in the U.S. when they started having access to birth control (as ineffective as it was around the turn of the century) and could start reducing their family sizes. Which is one of the reasons why I think some the U.S. most effective aid is that which goes toward family planning.

One thing to note is that the polygamy portrayed here is not the polygamy most in the U.S. are familiar with, that of the fundamentalist Mormons. Although the women are young, they are not coerced or kept powerless. The harms caused are different than the ones we’re used to seeing. Abandonment and an inability to support families is what comes up in the book. Abuse is the problem we see in the states.


No links again this time. Check A Year of Feminist Classics for roundup posts and more discussion.

Title: So Long a Letter (originally Une si longue lettre)
Author: Mariama Bâ
Cover creator: Tony Richardson (designer) / John Montgomer (art)
Series: African Writers Series
Imprint / publisher: Heinemann / Pearson
Format: Paperback
Length: 96 p.
Publication date: September 2008 (originally 1979)
ISBN-13: 978-0-435913-52-6

Categories: Book Reviews.

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