Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

The Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club kicked off the year with Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

Cover of Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
Image courtesy Tor

Author: Kelly Robson

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.71 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: It’s a distant, post-apocalyptic future and the powers that be have just figured out time travel. Minh is an expert in rivers restoration and travels to ancient Mesopotamia to collect data that will help restore the Tigris and Euphrates river regions.

Recommended audience: Science fiction fans; geology and hydrology nerds might or might not enjoy seeing a future version of their science at the center of a story.

In-depth thoughts: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a pretty quick read. My only complaint is that it’s too quick: the beginning of the story sets up a lot of intrigue and possible plot points that are never really pursued or resolved. Given how abrupt the ending is, and how much is left unfinished, it feels like Robson left the door open for a sequel, but who knows if that will materialize. What’s there is fun, good writing — I just want there to be more of it!

Robson’s style and syntax itself is simple and uncomplicated, but EFL readers might trip over some of the more technical science and laboratory terms. (The story is about scientists, and the main thrust of the story is about them gathering samples, after all.) I’m a native speaker and it was hard to tell where the current-day science jargon ended and the future science jargon began. But if you can cut through some of the  academic-sounding vocabulary, it’s a fast-paced read.

Music Monday is a Thing Now I Guess: Ennio Morricone

Stockholm was a destination on Ennio Morricone’s farewell tour. Or 60 years of music tour. Hard to say what the proper title really is. Either way, if you have a chance to see a living legend, you take it. Nothing like a live performance of “The Ecstasy of Gold” conducted by the composer.

And probably the only time in my life where the audience whooped, cheered, and whistled for an orchestral performance, which is almost too bad. People should always be that excited for concerts, no matter what the genre.

Friday 5: Teal This Record

I didn’t realize that “Africa” had become a thing again in the year of our Lord 2019. Along with Weezer and Weird Al? Time is meaningless anymore.

Where in Africa would you like to visit?

There are lots of places, really. Soudha is in Singapore for university right now, if memory serves, but her travel logs series on Of Stacks and Cups really made me want to visit Mauritius. One of my teacher friends and former coworkers studied in Ghana for a semester when she was in university and made it sound like a lovely place to visit. Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are also on my “someday” travel list.

 

If you ruled the world, what would you forbid people to talk about in the company of strangers?

Nothing, actually. Even the most banal smalltalk has its purpose.

In what way do you tolerate (or enjoy) being used?

I can’t think of any. Moving on!

When did you recently have an a-ha moment?

About something or other at work, I’m sure. I feel like I have at least one every day.

What’s something you know about turtles?

Nothing that the average person doesn’t already know. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about these little guys.

L’Étranger

I read L’Étranger because I want to keep my French from slipping. I figured it would be a good choice because I’ve already read it twice—when practicing reading in a foreign language, a book you’re already familiar with is the best possible choice.

Cover of French edition of L'Étranger.
Image courtesy Gallimard.

Author: Albert Camus

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.97 stars

Language scaling: N/A (read the original French)

Summary: Meursault murders a man and finds his entire life put on trial.

Recommended audience: People who want to engage with “serious literature” (whatever that means) while they practice a foreign language.

In-depth thoughts: Something about mid-20th century French literature lends itself well to foreign language study. Okay, maybe not all of it. But this and Le Petit Prince are books I’ve read and enjoyed in a few different languages.

It’s L’Étranger. You’ve either read it or you haven’t and there’s not much need for me to weigh in on my opinion on the book, except that I’ll be balancing my (re)reading of this with a novel by an Algerian author. If you spend too long thinking about how the non-white characters in the book exist as plot devices to put Meursault on trial and then in prison it leaves an uncomfortable taste in your mouth, and the best remedy for that is to broaden your own horizons.

Otherwise I’m already falling behind on my Goodreads Challenge for the year. The falling behind doesn’t bother me as much as the not reading bothers me. Whenever I’m in a bad way, my reading drops off—or maybe a drop off in reading leads to grumpiness and depression. Impossible to tell; I’ve never paid close enough attention to notice which starts first. The two definitely feed into each other, regardless. But now I’m off the blocks and hopefully my momentum (and mood) will pick up a little bit going into February.

Friday 5: Movement

A man performing a skateboard trick in front of orange graffiti on a wall. His face is obscured by a red baseball cap and he's partially reflected in the puddle under him.
Photo by Rob Potter on Unsplash

What’s a song that recently moved you?

I still cry at “Rhapsody in Blue.” Every damn time.

What’s a song that recently moved you — right out the door?

Not a song as such, but a request.

When I lived in Korea, I used to go on long, late-night walks with another teacher friend of mine. By this time the pedestrian mall and downtown (“downtown”) Uijeongbu had been fully refurbished, with bits of greenery and benches and sculptures. It soon attracted any number of buskers, and in the warmer months our walks included stopping to take in a few songs.

One time we passed such a performance in front of an audience including a few drunk white men who were already on their way to behaving badly. We lingered, unsure if we could enjoy the music over the poor behavior.

“If one of them requests ‘Freebird,’ I’m going to lose my shit,” I mentioned to my walking companion, quietly and out of earshot of said potential troublemakers.

“What? Why?”

And as if on cue, one of them slurred “FREEBIRD!” and I had to feign a coughing fit to cover a scream of frustration. I nodded to my friend, who was still confused, and we kept walking while I explained the pointless tradition of requesting “Freebird” at concerts, regardless of artist or genre.

What kinds of dance performances interest you?

Not many, I’ll admit. I don’t have much interest in watching anything except tap or swing. I’ve watched to many Hollywood movie musicals, I guess.

What’s a good song with the word move (or some form of it) in the title?

I will never not post a Janis Joplin song if I have the opportunity to do so.

How do you feel about prunes?

I’ve never had them. But since I like raisins, I’d probably like prunes.

Currently (Still) Reading: Ulysses

Ulysses Modern Classics edition cover
Image courtesy Penguin

Here’s my initial hot take of the first few episodes of Ulysses.

When we last left our heroine, she had bemoaned “too much interiority.” Naively, she thought that she had hit the densest, thorniest parts of Ulysses. That turned out to be misguided hope.

Current thoughts: the connections between the episodes in Ulysses and the chapters of The Odyssey often seem tenuous, if there are any at all. I’m less than impressed. Perhaps the connection has been overstated by Joyce scholars over the years, meaning Joyce himself isn’t to blame?

How much work can you reasonably expect an audience or a reader to do before really, the truth is you’re a garbage writer? I recognize that Ulysses isn’t up there with Finnegans Wake in terms of impenetrability, but nonetheless there are moments. Is Mrs Dalloway a deliberately better book and an eyeroll at Joyce’s pompous view of himself? Or is it a diet version of an artistic vision Woolf had that was similar in scope and density to Ulysses, pared down out of a stronger tendency to acquiesce to other people’s opinions and input than the default male assumption of “but of course my way is the best”?

If you need an annotated version and a podcast and extensive notes to make any sense of a book, maybe the author didn’t do that good of a job. Of course studying a text deeply and thoroughly can add layers of nuance and appreciation in addition to a surface-level enjoyment, but that shouldn’t be the only way to make it through to the other side with any meaningful understanding.

Speaking of notes, I’ve let re:Joyce fall by the wayside. It was to be expected; I hate podcasts. I might listen to a podcast hateread this sucker, though! Other wise, the only study tool I’m using for this is to read plot summaries of each episode beforehand (or after) so I have a mental framework of what’s supposed to be actually going on in the world.

 

GoodReads Challenges

Screencap of a 2019 GoodReads challenge. One book behind, zero books read out of forty-eight.
So it begins.

I recognize that I should probably hate GoodReads. I’ll be the first to admit that its overbusy, hyperactive layout and tools are Not For Me. I don’t care what my friends are reading (sorry, y’all!) and I don’t need to see a constantly updated list of their ratings and reviews. I also don’t care about what the GoodReads/Amazon algorithms think I should read next, or what crappy and undeserving book has been voted the GoodReads Readers’ Choice. I care about keeping track of books I want to read (so easy to just send someone a link to my “to read” shelf!), keeping track of the books I have read, and motivating myself to actually get reading done—trying to keep pace with my GoodReads goal and the little thermometer on the homepage is the best way I’ve found to light a fire under my ass to actually finish books. I’ve been successful in all of them since I started officially keeping track, and I recall even using GoodReads to keep track of my annual book count as far back as 2009.

Which is why I’m posting about how it’s January 14 and I’m officially one book behind because I haven’t finished a single book out of the four I’m reading all at once.  To be fair, one of them is Ulysses, another is L’étranger in the original French, and the third is a Swedish textbook. The fourth is Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, a book that’s been in my library since it was initially published but I seem really resistant to actually reading. Maybe I should grind that one out first, just to get something done.

Friday 5: My Dreams, They Aren’t as Empty / As My Conscience Seems to Be

person using computer on brown wooden table
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

What’s got you behind the 8-ball?

Nothing in particular, but I’m posting this at around 11 PM and I’m struggling to think of anything I actually accomplished today. I don’t like days where I don’t get anything done—or more specifically, where I look back and I can’t really account for all of my time. It makes me feel like I’ve wasted my day.

Who would you like to see a VH-1-Behind-the-Music-style documentary about?

No one, actually. At this point we live in an age where if I want to know all the dirt on someone, there’s probably a tell-all biography or two I can pick up.

What are you likely to find behind your sofa?

Dust bunnies and the occasional sock.

What’s something you’d like to put behind you this year?

A couple of health issues and some less-than-beneficial relationships.

What’s something you don’t want to eat if there’s no ketchup?

Nothing, because ketchup is a foul, unholy creation that belongs nowhere near food.

My Favorite Books of 2018, According to GoodReads

Other years I’ve had to split my 5-star books into two posts, but this year I think they can comfortably be combined into one. Here were my reading highlights of 2018!

Cover of Reza Aslan's "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

My criterion for rating a nonfiction book 5 stars on GoodReads is that it has the potential for widespread appeal, or that it masterfully addresses a major social or everyday question. Reza Aslan has done an excellent job of outlining the historical context of early Christianity and Jesus Christ.

Cover of Rien où poser sa tête

 

Rien où poser sa tête

I stumbled across this thanks to the review of the English translation in Asymptote. Its chance rescue from obscurity mirrors, almost too well, Frenkel’s own brushes with death in Vichy France. Out of all my reading in 2018, this one was probably the most relevant to today’s events and politics.

Cover of Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf
Image courtesy Icon Books, Limited

Proust and the Squid

I waffled on whether to give Proust and the Squid 5 stars rather than 4, but decided in the end to be generous. While the story of the brain learns how to read isn’t the same urgent issue as Nazis or Christianity, it’s something almost all of us do and whose complexity we should all appreciate.

Cover of Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein
Sacred Economics

While Eisenstein might be more optimistic and naive than warranted, his explanation of economics, credit and inflation is the most cogent I’ve read and he dramatically shifted my attitude towards money and how I save and spend it. That’s what earned this book 5 stars from me, despite Eisenstein’s occasional lapse into conspiracy-adjacent tangents.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice

This one was a selection for Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club, and it’s books like this that make me glad I’m allowed to lurk as a satellite member in Stockholm. Leckie’s world building and vision of technology is polished and nuanced. This is how space opera should be.

I mentioned before that 2018 was a weird year for my reading, and that’s reflected pretty clearly in the fact that I only gave one novel a 5-star rating. Historically, I’ve done much better than that. Thanks to studying for DipTrans and Kammarkollegiet, my way forward in nonfiction is pretty clear and structured at this point (though ironically none of those 5-star titles are related to translation!); my way forward in fiction is still grasping at random and hoping to find something good. All while trying to finish Ulysses, at that!