I have successfully moved house, and some time this year, the old house will be clean and empty, and I will have functional, fast internet at my new place, and won’t be a massive ball of stress.
In the meantime, just about the only thing I have time for is reading as I wait for buses and take trans between home, work and the old place. So here is a post, based on a meme popular on my Dreamwidth circle in 2014, that I will try to make a regular thing.
Books Recently Read
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen with annotations by David M Shapard
S&S has never been my favourite Austen novel, but a friend was recently dumped by her boyfriend (Kickstarter to set him on fire, btw), and coped by going the full Marianne Dashwood, ie, not coping at all. And that got me thinking how this is one of Austen’s novels that translates particularly well to the modern day, and wondering how that would be done. Luckily, I had the annotated edition already on my Kindle.
Anyway, the great thing about S&S is that, while every single literate woman on the planet thinks she is Lizzy Bennet, there’s a bit more variation in the question of whether or not you’re an Elinor or a Marianne. (I’m an Elinor, obviously.)
What struck me on this read-through is that Mrs Jennings, one of Austen’s most ridiculous characters, is also extremely kind, and part of Marianne’s growth is in realising this and valuing her for it, whereas previously she looked down on Mrs Jennings for being vulgar and overly familiar.
Following the book, I’ve acquired copies of the 1996 movie, the 1971 miniseries and the 2007-ish miniseries. One day I might even have time to watch them.
Still thinking about a modern S&S, and wondering what and who Colonel Brandon would be in a contemporary Australian setting, I read…
Uncommon Soldier by Chris Masters, an account of the training, duties and general experiences of the contemporary Australian soldier, with particular emphasis on service in Afghanistan.
This was an interesting read, frequently made unnecessarily confusing by getting bogged down in acronym soup. The earlier chapters, about training, including the professional paths and cultures for recruits, ADFA graduates and Duntroon cadets, was more interesting to me, and easier to follow, than the later chapters based on Masters’ experience as an embedded journalist in Afghanistan.
I definitely learnt a lot more about Australia’s role in Afghanistan, and while I am never going to be comfortable with a situation where civilians are so vulnerable, I came away with the impression that the Australian forces were more professional and culturally sensitive than, say, the US. But also that Masters — probably because he himself is a white Australian man — wasn’t in a good position to see the times where that was not the case.
For similar reasons, I felt that Masters didn’t spend enough time discussing the experiences of female soldiers and officers, or of any military personnel who weren’t straight, white and male. (Although homsexuality is legal in the Australian defence forces, he notes that homophobia is rampant, to the point where a commando only came out at his retirement party.)
In short, an informative but disquieting read.
The Life and Death of Harold Holt by Tom Frame.
Saying “May the Sea Return Him” is all very well, but I realised last week that I don’t actually know very much about Holt as a person or politician, save that he was more progressive than he’s often given credit for, and that his life was less interesting than his death.
I’m only 15% into the book, but Frame makes a good argument for Holt’s life being, in fact, reasonably interesting — his parents divorced, his father married a woman Holt himself was courting — but also very private, with few records remaining. Of Holt’s politics, it’s too soon to say; like most Australian conservatives of the 1940s, he was primarily concerned with finding a democratic balance between socialism and fascism, and upholding the glory of the British Empire.
On entering Parliament, Holt was 27 years old, the most eligible bachelor in the House of Representatives. One highlight is his thoughts on women and fashion:
“I don’t like women to dress so conspicuously that they make a man feel hot under the collar to be seen with them but on the other hand, they should not be too inconspicuous. Women seem to be most charming in summer frocks, plain, cool linens, prints and all that sort of thing. Perhaps it’s the prettier colours that appeal to me. I like pastel shades very much and all the ‘off’ colours, dusty pinks, blues, greens and so on. They are more subtle.”
He concluded that most women ‘dress to make their sisters sit up and take notice’.
1. Thanks, Harold, but I’ll dress as conspicuously or otherwise as I want.
2. More male politicians should share their feelings about pretty colours and pastels. It’s nice.
3. It’s depressing how refreshing it is to see a bloke point out that women mostly dress for themselves and each other.
What I’m reading next…
It’s Hugo season! Suffice to say there have been some issues this year, and very little of what I nominated made the short lists.
I’ve been chewing over my voting intentions for a couple of weeks, and while I was initially tempted to vote No Award for any Puppy Slate works, I’ve decided that it would be fairer to read everything I can and vote on the merits.
Accordingly, I’ve resolved to read every short story, at least three chapters of every nominated novel, and at least 25% of every novella. And I’m going to blog about them here. Look, we named this blog for maximum confusion/hilarious trolling, it’s practically made for this type of thing.
I’ve borrowed The Three Body Problem from the library, requested the Kevin J Anderson novel, and made a note of where I can get the other nominated novels. Short stories etc can wait for the voting pack.
I’m quite excited to read The Three Body Problem, because I’ve wanted to read it since I first heard it was being translated, and until recently the ebook was going for about AU$30. But I’m also nervous, because I hear it’s quite didactic, which Stephanie says is a feature of Chinese literature, but also something I don’t much care for. Fingers crossed!
I’m hoping that I’ll like it enough to rank it above Ancillary Sword, which I enjoyed but found inferior to Ancillary Justice. I do not like to agree with the Sad/Rabid Puppies on anything, but I did feel like Leckie prioritised exposition about social justice over plot in that book. Unlike the Puppies, I’m quite pro social justice, I just like a bit of subtlety, or at least originality.
I also just became aware of Sandra McDonald, an American author with an SF series “based on native Australian culture”, according to Amazon. I like bits and pieces of the blurb, but the potential for a trainwreck is also pretty high. Again, if I have thoughts, I’ll share them here.