I stayed dizzy most of yesterday. That was not a good deal of fun. But! I woke up this morning a great deal less dizzy. And timprov had been cleaning in here, and markgritter had cleaned both upstairs bathrooms, and there was fresh snow on the ground, and eventually the sky turned a bright blue. So happy New Year to me.
It seems like every Christmas holiday should contain a day wherein I do very little but read. Yesterday was that day. And while I'm at it, here are the books I read in late December.
Kage Baker, The Machine's Child. She is now telling the story I wanted to hear at the very beginning of this series. She is, however, telling it very slowly. So I'm enjoying this series, but -- frustrated. Yes.
Richard Feynman, The Meaning of it All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist. Hee. "And then -- oh, okay, so there was this time I was in Vegas...." Yah. Feynman is that kind of guy and that kind of writer. Going somewhere interesting, but with detours along the way. Very conversational. He said a lot about doubt and uncertainty as positive values in this book; I liked that.
Antonia Fraser, Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King. This is the sort of popular history that suffers from being read in close proximity to other works on the same topic: I spent a lot of time thinking, "Sure, you think that because you're not taking into account this other source here." Also, Fraser looked to me to have a fairly strong anti-fat bias in a way that was inappropriate to her subject matter and made her miss out on enjoying one of my favorite figures of the period, Liselotte, Duchesse d'Orleans.
Åsa Hellman, Ceramic Art in Finland. This is one of those books where the bits of secret history jump up and write themselves for you. This is one of those books that confirms how very difficult it is to predict what will be a useful thing to read for research on a given project, so reading broadly within that subject is a rewarding behavior. Did I think I needed to know about some of the difficulties of pottery in Finland before the 20th century? No. But is it going to be extremely useful for story and worldbuilding? Oh yes. Definitely. (The amusing thing is, it sounded from the note as though the person who gave me this for Christmas was thinking of it as definitely not work-related. Heh.)
Someone asked me recently about how to "keep up" in one's field as a writer, what the priorities should be. I think that part of what's going on as one learns to write is learning to balance inputs like that: how much reading time should go to the immediate subgenre of your current project, how much to the genre at large, how much to other fiction, to nonfiction (apparently related or not), to poetry. How much to activities other than reading. And I think one of the most important things is an openness of attitude. Willingness to learn from whatever is in front of you, whether it's a concise mystery novel or a paint-splashed modernist canvas or a plate of ratatouille or a friend with crazy ideas. It's important to read in one's own field and out of it -- I don't want to give the impression that I think a certain mushy good cheer towards the world is sufficient. There's nothing mushy about it. But I also think that getting tangled in how many of the "must reads of 2006" you've read from any given list is the way to madness. Same of the "50 classics of the field" or "Nebula winners of the last two decades" lists: they can be useful, but only as suggestions, not as firm rules.
It's like everything else in writing: the answer to, "How much do I need to focus on X?" is, "Enough." It will vary over time. In 1997, I started reading fairly systematically in the genre, using award lists and interesting essays as jumping-off points. That was a good system for a basically isolated kid who wanted to get a solid grounding. Now I rely a lot more on word of mouth, specific recommendations, and I have more time to learn from other genres of interest because I have a stronger idea of what I'm doing in my own. I also know more of where my gaps are without someone else's lists to tell me. And, of course, a lot of my reading has always been for pleasure, as it suits me, and I think that's pretty essential for a writer, too. There will always be stretches when your own writing is being a chore -- if your reading is always a chore then, too, things will go bad rather quickly.
Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. This is the book that had me singing Scottish songs a lot. It was...well, I understand that he didn't want to focus it more than he did, but I think that it would have been a better book if it had just traced the influences of Jacobitism and Anti-Jacobitism in the rest of Western culture. That was working pretty well in itself, and the other bits felt a bit more extraneous. Towards the end it started to feel like nothing so much as Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song, where he keeps popping up with more people who are -- surprise! -- also Jewish. And as much as it annoyed me to be humming "Ye Jacobites By Name" and all that, it was far better than, "Drink your gin and tonukkah and smoke your marijuanukkah...."
Diana Wynne Jones, The Pinhoe Egg. I think I'm glad I didn't read this one in the middle of a binge of DWJ, because I think the similarities to other themes might have gotten a bit old if I'd been reading them all on top of each other. But off by itself, it was good fun, just what I needed for a plane ride. We're going to pick up the rest of the Chrestomanci books because markgritter wants them (I had them from the library).
George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and John M. Ford, On Writing Science Fiction. I don't read much in the way of writing how-to books; three guesses why I picked up this one. It was fine. If any of you talked to Mike about how he thinks about this book in the last, oh, decade, I'd be interested to hear. There were a few of the example stories that totally didn't work for me, so when they were saying, "Oh, this worked because of that," I was thinking, "No, no, actually it didn't." But mostly it was solid as I expected. Unfortunately, the physical object of the reprint had some pretty smudgy pages. Some of them were normally clear and readable, but some were...not. So that's always disappointing; the physical quality of the book shouldn't interfere with the actual book, ideally.
Rex Stout, Homicide Trinity, Plot It Yourself, The Final Deduction, and Too Many Clients. These things, they're so ideal for holiday reading. Chomp gulp done! Stick one in your purse and maintain serenity through the long lines at the post office/grocery store/anything else you might want! I mean, I like them other times, too. Oh, and the last story in Homicide Trinity hit me particularly well for some reason. I think because the client character sort of ran away with things and bemused Archie.
Frederick Winson, A Space Child's Mother Goose. Some of these were silly and good. Some were mostly silly. I would have loved these when I was 6 or so, even without knowing a bunch of the references. Still worth my time now.
I decided not to include the books I didn't finish reading. Executive decision etc.
For the year:
Number of books read: 232
By Category: "Mainstream" fiction: 20
Graphic novels: 2
Speculative Fiction: 104
In my record keeping, I do not play the game where you decide whether the FTL drive is sufficiently scientific to make a space opera SF or whether it is sufficiently magical to make it fantasy. It's all spec fic in my books log. Most of it would divide, but I just don't feel like it.
I will also note that while the library is gaining on him, dd_b remains the major source of books-not-owned-by-us on my reading list, with 60 out of 232 books read this year borrowed from him. Other notable friendslist lenders included krittersjournal and porphyrin.