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I'm currently in CA, near San Francisco. My good friend Usakeh's mother has just died, so I have come out here to offer moral support. It's quite a blow for anyone, and harder when your mom is so young. [livejournal.com profile] millari is here, too, and it's been nice to spend time together. Things I like about it here: it's so sunny and mild; the gorgeous countryside of rolling hills; there aren't any mosquitos to eat me alive when I'm out exercising. What I don't like so much is that everything is more costly than back home in MA. If I were living out here, I'd really have to get a job.

Usakeh's dad is a Stanford prof, and he's been very accommodating of our presence, but I'm sure he'll be pleased to see the end of lounging on his sofas. Happily, it's a large, sunny, pleasant house so there is at least enough room. (Actually, the previous owner was apparently an AV nut, so there's a home theater room that's like a more comfortable version of the little downstairs venue at the old pleasant street theater.

We spent last weekend in Carmel, with U's grandparents (retired professors originally from Vienna), in a gorgeous villa overlooking the sea. It's probably worth millions now, but they've been there for decades and it has a pleasantly lived-in feel. It sort of reminds me of my grandmother's house, for all that it's a comfy Adobe structure on a slope with a gorgeous view of the bay, rather than a stodgy box in North Andover.

Lots of great places to go walking out there, and the most beautiful was Point Lobos state reservation. There were deer, seals, pelicans and many other birds, plus some truly gorgeous terrain and vegetation. I took a bunch of pictures, mainly thinking how Mole Underfield would love them and how he might paint them.

I'm flying back tomorrow, and then... Well, we'll see. No civil politics this week, as we're all away, which is a pity as Cruz and Kasich dropping out leave only Trump in the running for the GOP nomination is probably worth a few minutes discussion.

I have started reading the Three Musketeers, and enjoying it quite a bit. Dumas is quite the storyteller, and it's interesting to me how much I'm enjoying it despite the characters all being rather broad and archetypal. I wonder how much of that is because he created the archetypes? I have seen various movie adaptations, so I'm familiar with some of the story and general plot elements, but it's interesting to see how much of the milieu, the flavor of the story, comes from Dumas. Also, I'd forgotten that he was black. It fascinates me how much of the most popular pop culture is created by marginalized people.
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Yesterday M and I went back to Andover and celebrated the holiday with my family and hers together at the LANAM club.  It was all buffet style this year, and it created a relaxed atmosphere that made it the best Thanksgiving meal in many years.   It didn't hurt that we got there on time, for once.

Afterwards, I watched most of 2001 with my brother.  He's got hi-def TV and an HD-DVD player, so the picture quality was state of the art, and better than it could have been in earlier decades, and Kubrick's genius really stood out.  The film looks fabulous--flawless, in fact.  Everything was done without CGI, of course, and it looks better than almost any film I have ever seen, better than many state of the art movies of much more recent vintage.  There were little touches, like people moving within distant windows, that are still tough to do today, and which Star Trek, for example, couldn't afford to do 20 years ago, yet Kubrick did it 20 years before that. 

I like going on trips with M.  It was great to chat in the car, brainstorm about fic she's writing, start to plot for Xmas, etc.  Also, we listened to about an hour of Pratchett's latest book, Making Money on CD.

Right, bed time.


ETA: I should make a list and count them, but I have read a number of books lately, and I think I should have no trouble making the 50 book challenge, if I haven't already.  Since the trip to Vancouver, I have read the Undercover Economist, Pattern Recognition (by William Gibson), The Tipping Point, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Black Dossier, and started Cloud Atlas.  I have also read a bunch of comics.  Right, now bed, for real.  Must work tomorrow morning, and then there's RAZOR tomorrow night.

Oh, yes: I'm famous

Well, slightly.
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After some thought, I believe I know why I found the epilogue to Harry Potter 7 disappointing.  (Many others have told me that they hated it, too, but no one who's explained their dislike to me feels as I do.)  Nineteen years after defeating Voldemort, Harry (when he would be only a year younger than I am now) and his friends is seeing his two sons off on the Hogwarts Express.  The scene is rather mundane.  His kids are nervous about going to school, or jealous that they aren't, and Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione are gossiping about their kids and their friends kids.  We hear about a few of the other characters (Neville is now a respected professor at Hogwarts), but nothing about Harry and his friends, except that they are parents.  His scar hasn't bothered him for nearly 20 years.  All is well.

Which is great, but feels quite unsatisfying.  Grappling with the happily ever after problem challenges even the best writers.  One of the reasons the Lord of the Rings is so good is that Tolkien devotes the last tenth of it to what happens after evil is vanquished, and in so doing integrates the extraordinary experiences of the book into the ordinary lives of the hobbits, explores what it means to live happily and explore the limits of human accomplishment, and tells us what happens to our heroes right up to the end of their days in Middle Earth.

Rowling's epilogue is less ambitious, but disappoints because it leaves unanswered so many questions.  What else do Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny do, besides spawn?  Harry is rich anyway, and I imagine that the public might well have awarded them a pension for saving the world, so they probably none of them need to work, but does that mean that they don't?  Does Hermione really stay home and make more Weasleys? 

The seventh book highlights the simmering tensions between human wizards/witches and the intelligent magical creatures of the world: centaurs, goblins, giants, and elves.  The humans treat all of them as second-class and restrict the activities of other species in a manner not unlike apartheid. Harry and his friends are keenly aware of this injustice, and one of the reasons they triumph in the end is that they are able to enlist the aid of these unter creatures, and one of the reasons Voldemort was so evil was that he wanted to enslave or exterminate the lesser species.    Has nothing changed in these volatile politics over the intervening 19 years?  Has the death of Dobby meant so little to Harry that he has been content to sit at home and not advocate for elf rights?  If selfless compassion is what made him so heroic, has he really just packed up and retired after defeating Voldemort?  Was defeating Evil enough for him?  Did he really not go on to fight for justice, too?  Rowling clearly wasn't overly interested in world building, and her setting has always had some unanswered questions, but she's actually good at establishing characters and cultures.  As rollick pointed out in her liveblogging piece on the Onion AV club site, the brief discussion of goblin ownership customs really is alien and does a lot to establish them as a culture different from Harry's or ours.  So, Rowling can do it, and do it succinctly, so ignoring these issues at the end looms even larger for me. 

I wonder if she'll return to this fictional world with new characters, and perhaps take up these gauntlets she has left for herself.  If she does, I'll be interested to read it.  If not, it's a real blemish on what was otherwise a really strong ending to the series, though I don't think she needs to die in a fire because of it.
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I haven't made much time for reading these past two months, but I have made my way through a few good books.

The currently extant Temeraire books, His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War.  In brief, they posit a world in which dragons are real, but which is otherwise the same as ours.  The protagonist is Captain William Laurence of the Royal Navy during the wars with Napoleon.  After his frigate captures a French ship with a dragon egg aboard, he winds up becoming a dragon rider, and having many interesting adventures.  These books are fun, quick reads.  Author Naomi Novik has a good feel for the period, and creates characters who are, as best as I can tell, true to the 18th century in thoughts, customs and manners, and yet sympathetic to modern readers and differ logically from the actual period because of their fantastical circumstances.  I would recommend them to anyone.

The Measure of All Things, by Ken Alder.  This book won the 2003 Davis Award from the History of Science Society for books directed to a general readership.  It's not as prestigious as the Sarton medal, but it's still a big deal, and a great start if one is looking for good books in the history of science.  This book is focuses on Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain, two astronomers from the French Academie des Sciences who, in 1789, embarked on an expedition to measure very precisely the distance along the meridian through Paris to allow the Academy to establish the proper length for the meter, which was to be the basis for the new metric system.  It's a very well written book.  Alder explains complicated things simply and clearly, paces his story well, and breaks out from a well-researched history of a few particular people at a particular time (Delambre went north, Mechain south, and it took them seven years to finish their task, only partly because of the Revolution.)  Alder also considers more general issues of measurement, such as: why we measure things in the way that we do, the ways that measurements not only subdivide our world, but embody our social contracts and our sense of justice; how do we understand error--what it is, how we deal with it and what our response to it says about who we are; and also, some insight on the way the savants of ancien regime became the professional scientists of our own era.  I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who thinks they would enjoy it, but, in particular,  [livejournal.com profile] gfishshould read this book, and professor Hanson should use it if she ever again teaches her class on history and money. 
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When I was younger, from when I learned to read into my mid twenties, I read a lot.  Science Fiction and fantasy mostly, but I read a fair bit of history, some science fact, and other fiction, too.  I noticed last week that I don't read much prose anymore.  I read a lot of the stuff that comes into the store, of course, and unlike [personal profile] omnia_mutantur I consider comics to be real reading, but I just don't consume books the way I once did.  In part, as I have aged, I have become pickier, and I just don't enjoy what I used to enjoy.  (I notice this trend in movies, too.  I probably would have liked XMen 3 more when I was 20 than I do now at 36, though I don't think I would have loved it.) 

Also, I have more going on in my life, and I spend more time with people I love, especially[personal profile] millari .  And, I find that I am increasingly more interested in my own stories than in other peoples'.

That said, though, I do want to be someone who keeps reading, who keeps engaging with someone else's ideas and perspectives, so I'm making a point of reading at least ten prose books this year.  So far, I can only think of one such book that I have read, The Translator, which I discussed in a post last week.  So...

1) The Translator, by John Crowley.[profile]

I'm working on/about to start:

2) Historical Understanding, a collection of essays by Louis Mink.  He's a tremendous thinker, though I still have read little by him, and I don't think many people know who he is.

3) Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake, though it seems that I should actually have gotten out Titus Groan, since the jacket blurb says that Gormenghast is a sequel.  (Albeit the main character is only 7 years old when book two starts, so what the hell happens in book 1?)

4) Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Actually, Millari will be reading this to me.  I look forward to it.

Eventually, I shall start 5) The Dark Tower by Stephen King.  I enjoyed the first six, so I look forward to the finale.

I welcome suggestions, too.


On the graphic front, I just got around to reading Craig Thompson's haunting reminiscence about teenage alienation and romance, Blankets.  It's really good, though full of unresolved pain (the character's, if not the author's.)

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