dolorosa_12: (sellotape)
[personal profile] dolorosa_12
I normally work full-time, but I'm on leave today due to having a few leftover days of annual leave to use up before the end of January. I generally tend to keep a handful of the previous year's days of leave in reserve, because the return to work after Christmas is always draining (visiting my in-laws in Germany, while enjoyable, is not exactly restful, due to the travel and the whirlwind of social events, so I tend to return after the Christmas break feeling almost as tired as I did when it started), and the winter darkness itself is draining. The few days of leftover leave in January, therefore, are a chance to recharge, and just get stuff done: it's amazing how much more I'm able to get done on weekends when I know they're going to be three days, rather than two!

What that meant, over the past three days, for me, was cleaning/housework (cleaning the bathroom, wet- and dry-dusting of all the window frames, skirting boards and hard surfaces, cleaning the fridge, and the usual weekend grocery shopping in the market and laundry), exercise (running with Matthias tonight, and, blissfully, starting the day with a long yoga session which I'd normally not have time to do before work), blogging here at Dreamwidth and responding to the remainder of comments on my various Yuletide fics, and, above all, reading.

I've read five books so far this year, most of which took place over the course of this three-day weekend. Two of the books were Christmas or birthday gifts from Matthias: The Vampire: a New History by Nick Groom, which is an academic book about the development of vampire mythology and literary representations of vampires between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries (everything leading up to Dracula, basically), and N.K. Jemisin's collection of short stories, How Long 'til Black Future Month?, of which I had only read 'The City Born Great' before. The former book was a Christmas present, and the latter a birthday present (I'm born in late December).

The Jemisin short stories were, for the most part, excellent: I generally felt those set in secondary worlds (one was set in the universe of her Dreamblood duology and one in the world of The Fifth Season) were weaker than those set in fantastical versions of various cities in the US. Those latter stories ranged in setting from modern New York to a steampunk alternate history New Orleans in which technological innovation gave Haitian revolutionaries the ability not only to overthrow those who had enslaved them but also thrive and prosper (in stark contrast to what happened to Haiti in reality) and undertake clandestine operations to improve the lot of slaves and free black people elsewhere in the region, with some excellent interludes in the Jim Crow-era US South (a woman's bargain with transplanted European fairy folk aids the civil rights movement), a side trip to Italy, and a return to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These stories are in some ways a love letter to the cities in which they take place, but even more a love letter to black history, culture and communities that have flourished in those cities and regions in spite of everything.

Other than those two gift books, I read Jade City by Fonda Lee, the first in a trilogy about warring families of gangsters in a fantasy East Asian city (it seemed most like Hong Kong to me, but Lee has said that it's an amalgam, rather than directly inspired by a single place). Lee herself has a martial arts background, and it definitely shows — alongside the obvious wuxia influences. I felt it started a bit slowly, but once it got going, it was rivetting, particularly the complex network of obligations, family and marriage ties that underpinned her imagined society. Underneath all the magical jade, deadly intoxicating substances, and shoot-outs in casinos and cafes, Jade City remains a deeply human story, about flawed people, and the lonely cost of power.

I've also been trying to make a dent in my 'to read' list on Goodreads. Towards the end of last year I went through the whole list and looked up how easy it would be to track down the already published books at various libraries, or secondhand, and ordered a bunch of secondhand books. These are just starting to trickle in, and I read one such book, The Singing Stone by O.R. Melling, this morning. This was one of my most adored books when I was a teenager — I borrowed it repeatedly from the public library, and wrote futurefic about the characters, and so on — but I never owned a copy and hadn't read it for at least fifteen years. Given its subject matter (a fantasy retelling of various medieval Irish texts) I was concerned it wouldn't hold up (my background as a researcher of medieval Irish literature means most 'Celtic' fantasy is painful to read), but I shouldn't have worried. It did have a lot of the familiar 'Celtic' fantasy clichés, but its interweaving of myriad different texts (Lebor Gabála Érenn, which is one of the texts I focused on in my PhD, Scél Tuáin meic Chairill, and Cath Maige Tuired were the ones I recognised) was deft, and it mostly held up. It did that irritating thing of completely ignoring the fact that these, like all medieval Irish texts, were composed in ecclesiastical establishments, and have a huge Christian component, instead pretending that they were the work of pre-Christian times, but since basically everyone apart from medievalists thinks 'Celtic' literature is like this, I can't criticise Melling too much (and indeed, the story she was trying to tell wouldn't work if she didn't misrepresent these texts in this manner). In any case, it was a nice little moment of nostalgia, reading one of the books that no doubt subtly influenced me in my decision to pursue medieval Irish as a major in undergrad (although I had to laugh at the main character learning Old Irish to a level of proficiency that she was able to converse in it after a single year of study).

The final book I've read so far is Night Vine, the second in Felicia Davin's Gardener's Hand trilogy, but I'll leave off saying anything about it now as I want to write a longer review of the whole trilogy when I've read it.

The other thing I did this weekend was finally start filling some of the many new icon slots I have since I was kindly given six months of paid time here on Dreamwidth by a very generous friend. I've only ever had a free account here (and on LJ previously), so I'd been used to dealing with a maximum of just fifteen icon slots — hardly enough to convey the full range of emotions or subjects I want to convey when I'm posting or commenting! The one hundred I get with the paid account seems like an astonishing luxury, and I still haven't filled them all, but it's nice to finally be able to use some of the various icons I've been carrying around with me since I first went online more than ten years ago. I'm still very much looking for icons to convey the subjects of (paper) journalling, fountain pens, cooking, and coffee, so if anyone has any recommendations for places to look for these, or favourite icon making communities that focus on non-fannish icons, I would greatly appreciate it, as I am utterly incapable when it comes to anything involving the creation of images.

How have your weekends been? What have people been reading?
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