I’m stuck at home with the world’s most boring dose of the flu, I’ve a slight fever, a slight stuffy nose, and slight sore throat, a slight headache, and leaving the house makes everything worse - so, not going to work, not taking the dog out much, not exercising, but not sick enough to be tired at night. This is my second night with insomnia, I stayed up all Sunday night and finally got to bed around midday yesterday. I aim for 6am today.
So, time to catch up with what I’ve been reading lately. I’m going to go backwards, just because.
( Read more...Collapse )
And tonight’s topic for burbling is: Enough with YA already! SF has been swept with YA books lately, they are all that people talk about, all that people nominate, I’m at the stage that if a review contains the word ‘enchanting’ I put the book on my Do Not Read list. I admit (and have admitted for years) that I read for escape, but it’s not something to be proud of for fuck’s sake! I just get embarrassed hearing about other people delighting in their inner child.
Rushing off on a tangent now, but I think that this kind of contrived delight, especially among western women who are old enough to know better, will be one of the things that will come to characterise our age. Oddly enough, that and the kind of attitude that considers us as far more worldly-wise than our grandparents, because, you know, we don’t get horrified meeting homosexuals.* Ignoring that maybe the wars that they have seen might maybe count as experiences of the real world that we haven’t had.**
And then I get a creepy feeling, because these two characteristics, if you like, could also be applied to society in the early part of the twentieth century before the First World War changed everything. And then I try not to think about the very big, very insane country two hundred kilometres away from me, and the kind of things that are happening in the Caucasus region all the time.
One really interesting thing is that if you watch post-War films (especially Finnish ones, the Finns had a horrible time in WW2) they are mostly light-hearted bits of fluff, singing and dancing, people speaking very properly to camera. They have happy endings, the ‘baddies’ aren’t very bad, and they just make the audience smile. They’re the equivalent of YA novels, and the opposite of the kind of gritty realism that is popular in film now. And we judge the audiences who watched those films as inferior to us, because this is what they have left us. And we forget that they’ve had enough of gritty reality shoved in their faces, and they were looking for entertainment to forget.
Right! Enough lecturing and pontificating. Time to post, read the web, and maybe go to bed at some point soon...
* It makes us more liberal, and more tolerant, which are good things, but we have more time and money and can afford to be tolerant. I just really hope that this survives into the future. I’m depressing myself now.
** No, I’m sorry, wars fought against countries that have not one single hope of taking over your homeland do not compare to conscription, rationing, and the just outright fighting in the streets and cities that
I’ve been finding it hard lately to not smoke, tempted to bum a cigarette or even go out to buy my own. When I quit last year, I found a lot of the so-called benefits to be untrue (unsurprisingly, given how anti-smoking society is) - my skin got much drier, the world smelt a worse (I’ve always had a really sensitive sense of smell), and I was sick for most of the winter. When I started cycling to work in the spring, I found that my lungs seemed to burn just as badly at the end of the journey, and it took me several months to get my speed and average journey time back to the level it was at when I smoked.
But there are advantages, and to encourage myself to stay a nonsmoker I’ll list them:
- I don’t have a constant cough, nor need to keep on clearing my throat
- I don’t feel self-conscious around nonsmokers about how I smell
- though my skin is drier, it wasn’t exactly dry to start with, and now after moisturizing it looks much healthier than before
- I can sit in a three hour meeting without fidgeting, and can face long journeys without having to work out when I can next smoke
- my teeth are much much whiter now --> this is because of all the gum I chew, I think, instead of any lack of nicotine
- now that I’m fit, I’m fitter than I could be as a smoker, my lung capacity is greater, and I probably feel much better
- I can be quite cutting to the smug anti-smokers
- My neighbour smiles at me instead of scowls at me
In which I abandon all pretence of reviewing all the books I read, and just pick some interesting ones to talk about.
46) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
audiobook read by Simon Vance
49) The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Steig Larsson
audiobook read by Simon Vance
The funny thing about joining audible.com is that it is the one place I am most likely to hear about the latest fashionable books and trendy reads, literary or non-literary. So, if I’m going to get the latest hot books, they will almost always be in audiobook format.
Which is okay! I’ve now figured out how to judge the narrator before I buy, so that I don’t have to suffer through the worst and dullest offerings any more, and given how little spare time I seem to have, combining reading with other activities, like cooking or housework or cycling to work, is a great thing.
All this is just to explain why I didn’t get near Stieg Larsson’s books until last month, and then listened to both back to back.
For people who have been living even further under a stone than I have, Stieg Larsson was a Swedish activist, journalist, SF fan, and writer who died tragically young in 2004, and whose three novels have been published posthumously to massive acclaim. They are currently being adapted for TV in Sweden, and the first has been released as a film.
Dragon Tattoo is indeed a great book. Simon Vance reads wonderfully, distinguishing the characters without caricaturing them, and to my amateur ear with a good Swedish accent when required. I was completely hooked; the story developed at a satisfying pace, the PoV characters of Blomqvist and Salander were interesting and sympathetic without being inhumanly perfect. I did not see the ending coming, although (avoiding spoilers) I had my suspicions of the alibi. I liked how the real ending was not with the resolution of the whodunnit but with the resolution of Blomqvist and Salander’s relationship, and I liked how neither of these resolutions (nor the third resolution which I can’t mention without spoilers) was too happy or perfect.
I bought Played With Fire even before I finished the first one. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment. Vance’s reading continued excellent, and it started well, catching up with Blomqvist and with Salander, following Lisbeth’s adventures in the Caribbean. But then it started to come apart and to lose my interest. One problem was that there were too many PoV characters to make an easy listen with only one narrator. I often found that I had to scroll back a couple of minutes to the start of a section to remind myself of whose eyes we were seeing out of, and then sometimes I had to think carefully to remind myself of who that character actually was.
But it goes beyond the audio format. The lines were drawn too broadly, with the good guys being too good, the bad guys having no redeemable feature, and the ease with which you could tell one from the other: if they supported Salander or not. Considering that she is supposed to be an asocial near-autistic, I found it unlikely that so many people would like her. One of the plus points of Dragon Tattoo for me was that Erika Berger, definitely one of the good guys, didn’t really like Salander - this is reality, perfectly kind and pleasant people, people you would be great friends with if you knew them, don’t like people with personality disorders.
Except that actually, Salander stopped showing any signs of her anti-social disorders when she got back to Sweden. She was polite to people. She was considerate. When she didn’t manage to foresee all the consequences of her actions, she chided herself for being inconsiderate, for crying out loud! Okay, one theme is that she has been badly misjudged, I accept that, but I still contend that the Salander of Dragon Tattoo is not the same person as the Salander of Played With Fire.
And then there’s the ending. The resolution of the plot I actually thought was pretty satisfying - some of the more outlandish elements made perfect sense, and the background to Salander’s life was logical, shocking and rang true. But. The resolution of the action, that was verging on the ridiculous. I’ll avoid spoilers, and just say : oh come on.
My book blog stopped back in January on book 5, instead of filling you all in on everything I have read since then, I'll blithely pretend that there has been no break at all.
43) The Inferior, by Peadar Ó Guilín
Whatever I say here actually won't do justice to this book, so I won't try very hard. This felt fresh the way a lot of SF doesn't any more. The world building was extremely deft, sucking me in until I began to blink on finding myself back in our own, less interesting, less stressful, world. The characters were interesting, although I think the best thing about characterization was the sheer range of different types. I can't quite chase that thought to its conclusion, but it was something that helped make this book stand out.
I don't know if The Inferior is aimed at YA or adults, the content is pretty difficult even for this old adult to handle at all times. The packaging suggests YA, however, although there is a small warning that it is not suitable for young children - this should be a big warning.
In the interests of full disclosure, Peadar is, or was, a friend of an ex-boyfriend of mine, and there are other people we have in common. I met him once or twice in College, over ten years ago, although I bet he doesn't remember me. He was an unpublished but very good writer then, it's great to see that he's continued and is now published.
44) The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (audio book narrated by Ron Perlman)
This one, on the other hand, was probably the most disappointing book so far this year. I heard del Toro interviewed on the Front Row podcast, talking about The Strain, and thought it sounded interesting.
It isn't. It was supposed to be about a virus that causes vampirism, but actually the virus (which is actually visible to the naked eye) turns people instead into zombies, or something much more like a zombie than a vampire. I had trouble following most of the plot, since my mind kept wandering, and the narrator has not got the most interesting voice I've ever heard, but I'm still not happy with the explanation for why the world wasn't long okay overrun by these zombie/vampires. It is book one of a trilogy - and luckily nobody can make me have anything to do with the next two books.
I am reading (yet another) Swedish detective novel translated into English at the moment, and I find that I'm thrown by some of the translation.
As you might guess, it's to do with the translation of the units of measurement from metric (I assume, but I'll get back to that) to imperial.
First thing is, I have taken to the metric system like a duck to water, and faced with an imperial measurement like 3 feet, I will automatically convert it back to metric. And, efficient person that I sometimes am, I regret the time that the translator spent that I just had to undo.
Then, I'll try to figure out what the original metric number was. "About sixty miles" probably started out as "about a hundred kilometres" (except in Swedish ;), I don't have to think about that one, but "around four feet" takes a bit more consideration.
Which isn't to mention the conversions that I can't do in my head, notably from Fahrenheit to Celsius, or anything to do with weight. Actually, on the subject of weight, even when I lived in Ireland and weighed myself in stones and pounds and ounces, I could never remember how many of what were in what - I mean, was it made deliberately confusing with a mixture of sixteen and fourteen? - and I can't even take a guess at it now!
And, I also get thrown because it sounds so odd for a Swedish character to be thinking of miles, or talking about pounds. I find myself wondering if it is a character note, if there is some plot element that has the character using the imperial measures instead of metric. As I would if I read an American book with a character talking of the temperature in Celsius, because I know what units they habitually use, and to use others is strange or at the least unusual.
And then I almost set the book aside when I read that the footprints were size 11 1/2. Whose size 11 1/2, for pity's sake?? What does that mean? Since the intended audience of this book is not me, nor is it Swedes, then who is it and what system do they use?
I'm being slightly disingenuous. The audience is obviously American (despite it being a UK publication), and in fact I discovered thanks to this page that size 11 1/2 is pretty standard (if still pretty much a blank for me, I have trouble remembering my own shoe size never mind understanding others'). But then if all of this is translated so as not to confuse the reader with strange and alien terms, why leave the currency as Kronor?
... TV series to watch on DVD
(this actually rhymes. Ignore the scansion.)
So, I ran out of Battlestar Galactica episodes* to watch about a month ago, and decided to finish Angel Season 5. Unfortunately, Angel Season 5 does not hold the smallest tiniest candle to BSG, and I have rowed barely 10km since I switched. I need to find new TV to watch! Help me out here!
The thing that made BSG such perfect rowing viewing is that it was completely absorbing. I really needed to know what happened next, and with a strict rule that I could only watch it while I rowed, I got a lot of rowing done. The characters were appealing and interesting, so I liked spending time with them, and watching the episodes back to back was possible because of the very clever foreshadowing that was done.
I don't want to point people in a particular direction with their recommendations, so hopefully from the above you can gather what kind of thing I'm looking for.
* To clarify about running out of BSG episodes, I mean that season 3 is finished**, and I am waiting for season 4 on DVD. I'm only waiting a week, now, but pretend that I'm waiting a month because I forgot to post this entry :) Also, it will be worthwhile having the next series lined up for when I finish season 4.
** Please don't spoil season 4 for me. Please. I knew most of the twists in season 3 because of careless talk online, and it really impacted my enjoyment.
I'm going to be optimistic and say that the precipitation earlier was whitish rain, not sleet, and that the sparse white things I saw drifting on the wind this morning were due to a bird fight overhead. Not snow. Oh no.
Because, in the last few days, Spring has aggressively arrived in Helsinki. I know all the signs.
1) What used to be fields covered in snow are now lakes, with areas of farmland around the edges. And ducks. I love how ducks have this flexible view of what is a suitable body of water. "You may call this a puddle," they seem to say, "but I call it home."
2) The weather feels much colder, while actually being warmer. This is because I am (as stated above) an optimist, and have retired my winter coat and clothes too early.
3) Every walk ends with me lugging a martyred-looking Tesla into the shower because she is up to her arm/legpits in mud and freshly thawed horseshit. Now that she is over two years old, and officially grown-up, there is not one single thing about the shower that she likes anymore. I would feel guilty, except that there is plenty she still likes about sitting on my pillow, so there is no room for me being soft.
4) There is litter everywhere. Months' worth of it, hidden under successive layers of snow, and now revealed in its entirety. I call it "the sins of Winter". Not just litter. Dogshit. Drunken pukes. Mysterious piles of I-don't-want-to-know.
5) Similarly, the whole Winter's worth of grit for paths is now all in one layer on top of the path. Luckily it is still wet out there, but in a few days of fine weather the air will be filled with the dust from it and wearing contact lenses will become hazardous.
6) Everyone is much more cheerful.
Distance: 91.3 km (cumulative 161.7 km)
Average speed: 11.98 km/h - slower than in February, but the pace is much more maintainable, witness the extra 20 km I rowed
Distance left to Kinsale: 2948.4 km
Distance left to Sweden: 228.9 km
Current location: At the end of the month, I was just 1.5km short of the end of the motorway in Turku. I'm irritated with myself, but I just could not get myself that extra distance to make the milestone. After this evening's row, I'm now through the city and heading for the ferry port at Naantali.
Conclusion: great improvement from last month, still room to do more
So, I hit the 100km mark since my last update, I reduced the distance left to under 3000km, and now I have completed the first of the (many) long stretches on the journey. I'm glad I didn't find it too unmotivating to have no real landmarks to pass during the trip, as soon I will be facing the cross-water trip to to Kapellskår in Sweden, 213km of it, and then I will be spending the rest of the year on Swedish motorways.
Apart from rowing, I've not had much to say. Glorious victory in the rugby aside. I'm vaguely annoyed at work, for uninteresting reasons; I've got a bit addicted to an online game so I'm not reading here as often.
Next week I'm off to France for Easter, my first time out of Finland since June
last year. I really need the holiday.
I need to save this for posterity.
Which is healthier?
Being 10 kilos overweight
Being 10 kilos underweight
Being 10 kilos over- or underweight is equally healthy
I don't know how to convert kilos into shekels (or other old-fashioned units)
And while I'm bitching, is it so difficult for reporters to remember that being overweight (BMI > 25) is not the same as being obese (BMI > 30)?