Now the year is turning and the eeriness comes: what are you reading in autumn 2021?

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A reliquary of sodden texts for the turning year.

Replaces Are You There, God? What Are You Reading In The Summer Of 2021?

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Thursday, 23 September 2021 19:26 (one year ago) link

Diane Middlebrook - Her Husband
Charles Portis - True Grit

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 23 September 2021 19:27 (one year ago) link

Said by fans to be atypical Portis, but not nec. disappointing---I still need to read *something* by him

dow, Thursday, 23 September 2021 19:34 (one year ago) link

Finished the Canadian poet Ryan Fitzpatrick's "Fake Math" this morning, and realized from the note at the end that it was written using a sort of conceptual writing practice called flarf which was popular in the aughts. Didn't seem so while reading it, which is much to Fitzpatrick's credit, as much flarf writing is garbage.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Thursday, 23 September 2021 19:54 (one year ago) link

Finished Daryl Gregory's The Album of Dr. Moreau (2021) which sputters out once all the conceits have been introduced (boyband of hybrids, murder mystery, apparently set in the 1990s).

Mat Johnson's Pym (2011) was better. Similar big concepts, so many that the Armageddon is a small side plot. Feels like a first novel where the author had to get all their ideas out, although it was the author's third.

Now halfway through Nnedi Okorafor's novella Binti (2015) which is my first encounter with Afrofuturism in writing. I can't say I find the plot engaging yet -- the biggest event so far hinged on a random item the protagonist was holding having magical powers. The portrayal of a future version of Himba culture is interesting enough to keep me going.

adam t. (abanana), Friday, 24 September 2021 02:08 (one year ago) link

I'm still on



James Joyce: POEMS & EXILES.

the pinefox, Friday, 24 September 2021 08:06 (one year ago) link

I've begun Nella Larsen's first novel, Quicksand.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 25 September 2021 16:30 (one year ago) link

cesar aira - the little buddhist monk

humorous and lighthearted novella. fun to read, but also seems like it was fun to write. and its length and simplicity made me think hey i could write something like this. there is another novella collected in the same book called the proof which ill read soon

flopson, Saturday, 25 September 2021 17:28 (one year ago) link

Finished a translation of Catalan poet Joan Brossa's poetry, El saltamari (The Tumbler), and also finished a short book of essays on poetry by the sadly departed Leslie Scalapino.

Still on the Maine book, and also reading a long book of Lyn Hejinian's related to nighttime— but the latter I'm only reading before bed/as I fall asleep. Been giving me strange dreams. Fulfills its purpose perfectly!

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Monday, 27 September 2021 15:24 (one year ago) link

QUICKSAND is quite ... melodramatic? a lot happens, she travels between continents, it's all at a high pitch. I think it's probably not as good a book as PASSING. But worth reading.

the pinefox, Monday, 27 September 2021 16:34 (one year ago) link

I finished all Joyce's poems, then his play Exiles, and all the drafts and notes to that which I'd never read before.

Then I reread an important critical chapter on Exiles.

In the last week or so I've read or reread most of the 'minor' Joyce: all the non-fiction, all the poems (including fragments from before he'd really started as a writer), the play. It was quicker than I expected, given a more concerted effort than usual. I should perhaps reread his slender volume GIACOMO JOYCE, written in Trieste.

20pp of Foster's Yeats vol 1 to go.

the pinefox, Monday, 27 September 2021 16:37 (one year ago) link

I finished anthony veasna so’s afterparties last night, ended up really loving it

starting anand gopal’s no good men among the living

mens rea activist (k3vin k.), Monday, 27 September 2021 18:43 (one year ago) link

I finished Paul Beatty's "The Sellout", an absurdist satire about a predominantly Black low-income urban neighborhood in Los Angeles called Dickens which has recently mysteriously disappeared from official city maps and signage. The protagonist, a farmer who lives in the former Dickens and grows highly potent marijuana among other things, tries to re-establish Dickens as an official place and to bring back racial segregation, though its not clear if this is just a prank. Along the way he also reluctantly acquires a slave, which lands him in the Supreme Court. There is a high zaniness quotient here which might be better in small doses, but Beatty has a charming way of tip-toeing up to the line of things you can't say and then just barreling across it.

o. nate, Tuesday, 28 September 2021 15:27 (one year ago) link

Reading Hejinian's "Book of a Thousand Eyes" before sleeping, and John Paetsch's nearly impenetrable but strangely propulsive "Ctasy" otherwise. The latter writer is an expert on Deleuze, so the impenetrable weirdness of his prose isn't surprising.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Tuesday, 28 September 2021 16:34 (one year ago) link

O.Nate: good summary. I think that book is quite outstanding in its outrageousness, the way it instals a voice right from the start and keeps going, burning through sacred cows, shibboleths, whatever other very mixed metaphors I can find ... The phrase "black comedy" would obviously be correct if "Black" wasn't such a keyword in other ways (cf the fascinating discussion very near the end of kinds of blackness, with Godard and Bjork, as I recall, in the final category!).

the pinefox, Tuesday, 28 September 2021 17:35 (one year ago) link

Reading about Joyce's PORTRAIT in the book THE STRONG SPIRIT.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 28 September 2021 17:38 (one year ago) link

Junichiro Tanizaki - The Makioka Sisters. Read almost everything by him except what is seen as his masterpiece - probably lazily so, as it happens to be his biggest book. Though I can see it. Four Sisters, two of whom need to get married. What Tanizaki does here is the quiet set of traumas bought upon by the situation and the people around it, the hierarchies they occupy. Two things it does well: 1) to shadow the odd event coming into this chamber (in this case WWII, where the Tanizaki's befriend a German family who go back to Germany just as the war is about to begin, who then send letters now and then) and the use of the telephone - there is a sorta comedic phase of what to/what not to say on the telephone, as oposed to a more formal manner - such as writing a letter, or actually having a face-to-face conversation. These are shifting formalities in the way of what actually happens: marriage as a way of arresting decline in status, marriage in the way of freedom to live in other ways, which are explored in many other novels.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 28 September 2021 22:08 (one year ago) link

William di Canzio - Alec, a novel about Maurice and Alec Scudder, the couple in E.M. Forster's Maurice.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 28 September 2021 22:15 (one year ago) link

I read The Makioka Sisters with delight about a decade ago. The 1984 film is a solid adaptation.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 28 September 2021 22:15 (one year ago) link

Heidegger - the question concerning technology and other essays.

I'm reading it, but am I understanding it? (no)

《Myst1kOblivi0n》 (jim in vancouver), Tuesday, 28 September 2021 22:17 (one year ago) link

Just now took a look into Crowds and Power, which confused my totally unfair Random Read Test w excellent anecdote about yet another Roman Emperor I never heard off, *then* explaining it like he was too used to ramming Western Civ into hungover undergrads. Oh well, maybe I'll skip those parts. Are his memoirs good reading?

dow, Wednesday, 29 September 2021 01:00 (eleven months ago) link

I loved The Sellout and find myself thinking about it often (the scene with the flooded bus comes to me at odd times).

I've been reading The Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie. It's an account of Diane Perry who became Tenzin Palmo, the first western female to become an ordained Buddhist nun. I'm quite a sucker for spiritual auto/biography, especially with extended accounts of retreat and enlightenment, but this is pretty hagiographic, with mythic elements often presented uncritically as fact.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 29 September 2021 17:06 (eleven months ago) link

I have a few pages of appendices etc to finish in Yeats, but I have already commenced Steven Connor: THE MADNESS OF KNOWLEDGE.

A dazzling discussion of the nature of how people feel about knowledge. I'm only about 5pp in to a 300pp book, and it's already said more than many 300pp books might do.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 29 September 2021 21:10 (eleven months ago) link

QUICKSAND is quite ... melodramatic?

I would say it was quite ... condensed. Larsen had a specific point she wanted to illustrate about the experience of middle class, educated, American women of mixed race and making her point required her protagonist to sample the spectrum of social niches available to her. That entailed a lot of scenery changes. Since the point was that none of these niches were happy or satisfying choices, it didn't take a lot of exposition to establish that and shuffle her into the next niche.

I'd say Larsen showed great subtlety in her explanations of the source of her protagonist's social discomforts and dissatisfaction, but by constantly whisking her away to new scenery so rapidly it reduced the stature of her main character and made her dilemma be as much about her own immaturity as about her social predicament.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 4 October 2021 17:30 (eleven months ago) link

Now I've started Highland Fling, Nancy Mitford's first novel. Not surprisingly, it shares a great deal in common with early Waugh, with just a slight nod in the direction of Wodehouse.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 4 October 2021 17:35 (eleven months ago) link

THe Guilty Feminist Deborah Franbces White
The book related to a podcast I listen to weekly. Starts with a history and overview of feminism tied in with the author having spent time in the Jehovah's Witness as a teen which left a lasting mark on her.
Been wanting to read this for a while and I think it gets its point across, may not be the best source on feminism but I think it gives some grounding. Enjoying it so far.

HOw to Rig An Election Nic Cheeseman
Book looking at how elections have been corrupted over time. Its just been talking about Kenya in the section I'm in .

Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities
1963 book on what makes a city work. I was watching a series on Planning For teh Post Pandemic City over the pandemic which had me thinking about town planning etc which this gives soe grounding for.
I saw a documentary on the writer last year which was interesting so finding this in the library was great. ONly got as far as the introduction so far but going to get into this .

Stevolende, Monday, 4 October 2021 17:41 (eleven months ago) link

I'm totally ignorant of this writer, who sounds very appealing:

Winner of the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal, and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, Virginia Hamilton (1934–2002) wove Black folktales and narratives of African American life and history into a body of work that forever changed American children’s writing and made her its most honored writer.
Join Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and award-winning children’s book author and memoirist Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) for a conversation about Hamilton’s life and wildly inventive novels, newly collected in a Library of America volume edited by Hamilton biographer Julie K. Rubini.

Wednesday, October 6
6:00 – 7:00 pm ET

Register For Online Event:


Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels
Hardcover • 907 pages
List price: $35.00
Web Store price: $31.50
(Save 10%)

Buy now
“We are all so fortunate to have these wonderful and courageous novels to guide us.”—Nikki Giovanni

Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels
Zeely | The House of Dies Drear | The Planet of Junior Brown | M.C. Higgins, The Great | Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush

Edited by Julie K. Rubini

This Library of America volume collects five of Virginia Hamilton’s most beloved works, along with beautifully restored illustrations.

In Zeely (1967), Geeder Perry and her brother, Toeboy, go to their uncle’s farm for the summer and encounter a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Watutsi queen and a mysterious night traveler. In The House of Dies Drear (1968), Thomas Small and his family move to a forbidding former way station on the Underground Railroad—a house whose secrets Thomas must discover before it’s too late. Junior Brown, a 300-lb. musical prodigy, plays a silent piano in The Planet of Junior Brown (1971), while homeless friend Buddy draws on all his New York City wits to protect Junior’s disintegrating mind.

In the National Book Award–winning M. C. Higgins, The Great (1974), Mayo Cornelius Higgins sits atop a forty-foot pole on the side of Sarah’s Mountain and dreams of escape. Poised above his family’s home is a massive spoil heap from strip-mining that could come crashing down at any moment. Can he rescue his family and save his own future? And in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), fifteen-year-old Tree’s life revolves around her ailing brother, Dab, until she sees cool, handsome Brother Rush, an enigmatic figure who may hold the key to unlocking her family’s troubled past.

dow, Monday, 4 October 2021 22:39 (eleven months ago) link

just read The Road (had seen the film but was unprepared for the cannibalism) and am halfway through Things Fall Apart, which is like what i remember of The Famished Road but a quarter of the length so i might actually finish it.

(this month's theme: books less than 200 pages, trying to reduce the backlog)

koogs, Tuesday, 5 October 2021 04:59 (eleven months ago) link

Any recommendations, I'm after some short books myself (I've read Things Fall Apart). Currently 2/3 done with Ducks, Newburyport - I gave up about halfway through a year or so ago but I no longer no why as it's obviously extraordinary.

ledge, Tuesday, 5 October 2021 08:32 (eleven months ago) link

the things i have lined up are nothing special: another ed mcbain, some short stories that have been bundled in with kindle edition of American Gods, the rest of the Aeschylus i read a couple of months ago maybe, anything else i can find in my _todo shelf on the kobo. Jacob's Room perhaps. and i have at least 4 short story collections i'm part way through.

(november is female month (Small Isle...), december is dickens)

koogs, Tuesday, 5 October 2021 12:53 (eleven months ago) link

ledge and koogs:

for fiction, I've been on a Christa Wolf kick, her books "ACCIDENT" and "NO PLACE ON EARTH" are both extraodinary and short...I'm also re-reading (for the first time in a decade!) Maurice Blanchot's "Death Sentence," which is also very short and rather extraordinary in a totally different way.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Tuesday, 5 October 2021 19:55 (eleven months ago) link

i lost all ability to focus on reading for weeks at a time so it took me a while to finish sentimental education, which i got pretty bogged down in even though it's obviously a total masterpiece

i just started malina which i am already very taken with and am kinda breezing through, feels great

STOCK FIST-PUMPER BRAD (BradNelson), Tuesday, 5 October 2021 19:58 (eleven months ago) link

Ugh, Malina is SO good.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Tuesday, 5 October 2021 20:02 (eleven months ago) link

I'd never read Joy Williams! I'm three quarters through The Quick and the Dead.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 5 October 2021 20:28 (eleven months ago) link

xps thanks table! they sound good, annoyingly none of them are available as ebooks so I can't read them RIGHT NOW.

ledge, Tuesday, 5 October 2021 20:34 (eleven months ago) link

I've been reading "The Anthologist" by Nicholson Baker, an amiable, extremely low-key novel about a published poet who has been commissioned to write an introduction to a new poetry anthology but is suffering from a monumental case of writer's block and the lingering effects of a recent break-up.

o. nate, Wednesday, 6 October 2021 15:15 (eleven months ago) link

lol that sounds both dope and extremely nicholson baker

STOCK FIST-PUMPER BRAD (BradNelson), Wednesday, 6 October 2021 15:17 (eleven months ago) link

There's a sequel to it, which I expect I'll read also.

o. nate, Wednesday, 6 October 2021 15:18 (eleven months ago) link

I'm reading The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, which has many scholarly essays in it, and Misquoting Jesus by Bart E. Ehrman which is about textual analysis of the New Testament. I'm an atheist but I find this stuff fascinating. One early example from Ehrman is that the passage in John about the adulterous woman, the "let he who is without sin" one, was not by the original author, and that Jesus' response isn't actually a good interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

adam t. (abanana), Wednesday, 6 October 2021 16:42 (eleven months ago) link

I'm still reading Hejinian's "Book of Thousand Eyes" before sleep, but last night finished a re-read of Blanchot's "Death Sentence," and this morning I cracked open my copy of Christa Wolf's "The Quest for Christa T.," her most famous book and one of hers that I've never read! One chapter in and I already know I'm going to love it.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Wednesday, 6 October 2021 17:13 (eleven months ago) link

I really liked The Anthologist and yup, it's full Nicholson Baker.

I'm reading William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. It's fun.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 6 October 2021 17:26 (eleven months ago) link

I finished Highland Fling. Pretty good for a first novel, mildly comical but nothing to get excited about.

Last night I got my feet wet in 42nd Parallel, the first part of the Dos Passos trilogy, U.S.A. This work was an obvious influence on writers as diverse as Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe, but I think I'll lay it aside for now. I have a library copy of the Library of America volume of Octavia Butler that includes Kindred and that seems more inviting at the moment than Dos Passos and his impressionistic kaleidoscopic style, which reads rather crudely to me, a century onward.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 9 October 2021 18:36 (eleven months ago) link

I got that LOA on Butler from the library a few months ago. Enjoy.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 9 October 2021 18:50 (eleven months ago) link

Starting Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others - partly in anticipation of a trip to Los Angeles. Any recommendations for contemporary-ish L.A. lit that isn’t, like, Bret Easton Ellis or Hollywood nostalgia?

ed.b, Saturday, 9 October 2021 19:12 (eleven months ago) link

starting on freedom by maggie nelson

mens rea activist (k3vin k.), Saturday, 9 October 2021 22:36 (eleven months ago) link

First Love by Gwendolyn Riley. Halfway through — I always think books like this are going to be cringe and Thought Catalog-y, but it’s pretty good so far.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 9 October 2021 23:11 (eleven months ago) link

ghost wars - steve(?) coll
the Italian - Ann Radcliffe

brimstead, Sunday, 10 October 2021 16:02 (eleven months ago) link

Ed B, I am a big fan of the poet Sesshu Foster, who has written a lot about LA, though his novels tend to be speculative..the most recent being about a dirigible company and local uprisings in the near future.

I'm a sovereign jazz citizen (the table is the table), Sunday, 10 October 2021 22:24 (eleven months ago) link

This may be of interest solely to me here but I just finished The Naturalist On The River Amazons by Henry Walter Bates, from 1863. It’s the first book of natural history I’ve read through, that wasn’t by Peter Matthiessen. Overall quite readable for being a 150 year old science book although there is occasional colonialist bigotry.

The depiction of that environment though is so strikingly unique, it makes me so sad that I can never see what he saw. Of course he also had to eat a lot of really weird stuff which would be a deal-breaker for me. Quite a bit about mass slaughter of turtles too, that was not cool.

recovering internet addict/shitposter (viborg), Sunday, 10 October 2021 23:25 (eleven months ago) link

The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips which I picked up hoping, based on the blurb, that it would be more than just straightforward historical fiction (which I have nothing against, just not my cup of tea), and it was and I enjoyed it a great deal. Now on to Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which is supposedly about gender bias in data but in fact seems to be a systematic description, explanation, and statistical breakdown of gender inequality across the world in every walk of life. Which is fine. (The book, not the inequality.)

ledge, Monday, 11 October 2021 07:56 (eleven months ago) link

I prefer it too. The depiction of the gang of rich kooks descending on Water Mill, that beautiful post-clambake talk about God with her dad, the Jenkins family and their evangelism and acquisitional spirit (Fitzhugh makes the connection) -- beautiful.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 16:15 (nine months ago) link

lol dogs, I don't know if I posted about it here, but I think 'Toxicon & Arachne' is awful...but I'm not allowed to say that publicly because of the subject matter. oh well.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 17:52 (nine months ago) link

Thanks, Lily Dale. Great post! I want to read the Long Secret right away, of course, but unbelievably NYPL doesn't seem to have a single circulating copy??? I guess I'll have to buy it...

Harriet does a lot of things you wouldn't expect of a kids' book. wtf did I just read? It doesn't really have any clear point, it demands further inquiry. There's so much mirroring in it, it's practically a funhouse. Most of the characters aren't really good or bad, but the parents suck for sure and Janie Gibbs's mother is the closest thing to a Disney villainess.

Is there enough interest for a Fitzhugh thread?

Alfred, your link is broken :(

The 25 Best Songs Ever Ranked In Order (Deflatormouse), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 20:56 (nine months ago) link

> but unbelievably NYPL doesn't seem to have a single circulating copy?

amazon uk only has the first one as an ebook, none of the others. maybe that's why.

koogs, Tuesday, 21 December 2021 21:05 (nine months ago) link

Alfred, your link is broken :(

― The 25 Best Songs Ever Ranked In Order (Deflatormouse),

Oops! Here's the link.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 21:11 (nine months ago) link

Harriet's parents come off significantly better in The Long Secret.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 21:11 (nine months ago) link

They have 1 copy of the Long Secret as an audio e-book (currently checked out, not that i'd want it) and 2 reference copies at the Schwarzman bldg for in-library use only. Very strange.

xxp. thanks for the new link!

The 25 Best Songs Ever Ranked In Order (Deflatormouse), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 21:13 (nine months ago) link

Typical of Louise Fitzhugh’s tact...

Yeah, good example

The only time Fitzhugh almost disappoints me in that regard is where she employs a psychiatrist (obviously where this was going) to bring the story to a swift resolution by explaining everything. But thankfully the shrink only tells us what we already knew, and mainly just reinforces the obliviousness of the parents.

The 25 Best Songs Ever Ranked In Order (Deflatormouse), Tuesday, 21 December 2021 22:00 (nine months ago) link

I'm currently reading The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. The titular friend seems at first to be her old friend, a professor of literature and lady's man, who has recently died at his own hand. A bit later it seems the titular friend will be the first friend's Great Dane, which she feels obliged to take in after his non-dog-loving wife has exiled it to a kennel. The book builds up a good head of steam in the first several chapters, but then there is a palpable deflationary hiss as she fritters away the next several chapters with digressions. I'll have to see if the momentum can be regained.

o. nate, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 01:47 (nine months ago) link

(I am very glad that the pinefox plans to read Harriet the Spy. I might stick to my memory of it in case anything changes. I recommended it to my brother for his daughters this Christmas.)

youn, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 03:14 (nine months ago) link

Flet is the only Joyelle Mcsweeney I've read, besides some translations maybe. It's prose or prose-y, another "poet's sci-fi" - a lot of fun to read imo, especially as a antidote to mundane dystopias. Some great sentences and imagery (my low bar for enjoyment I guess). Haven't read Toxicon and Arachne but I know how fraught subject matter can swallow a conversation... Reading Harmony Holiday's Negro League Baseball slowly. So far I am connecting with it less than some of the more recent books of hers I've read - - but enjoying the looseness -- it's a nice horizontal book with sprawling lines.

zak m, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 04:35 (nine months ago) link

revisiting some of the books i've enjoyed this year:

deep wheel orcadia

i was surprised how well this worked. the spareness of the orkney – orkney 'supplemented by a large reserve of Scots' – seems entirely appropriate to people working at a subsistence level on the edge of void. in this space *everything* is on the edge of things, Orcadian, so to speak. the poetic lines connect only the essential elements together – people, their labour, love – so that those things feel connected to each other with no intervening matter (appropriately enough in space), and to the 'haaf' (deep space) around them. in other words people *become* their labour, in the way that subsistence labour is your life. here Olaf and Astrid out sailing/farming for Light (their income):

Thay work the park the station wis biggie
tae wirk, hint the fuel at fuels,
the oyl at owls

a interstellar system o industry,
traed, galactic expansion: Light.
Inga an Olaf is aye a kord
wi voltage differes, atmospheric
dabble, mairjins

...they work the work that the station was built to do, gathergleansnatching the fuel that fuels, the oil that oils
an interstellar system of industry, trade, galactic expansion: Light.
Inga and Olaf are always a chord with voltage differentials, atmospheric ripplesagitationconfusionchoppiness, margins.

v occasionally orkney parallels, english/scots (deep wheel orcadia/mars) and gender/youth/age politics/and the experience of youth returning home, are clumsily mapped, but for the most part the elements combine v effectively. and around and into their lenten space, the pressure of the past/future/other world is pushing in through their computer screens and machinery, and the whole is broken up into songs of the individuals and events taking place in the community.

Sheu snacks the monitors wan by wan,
fer the plant tae idle the sleepan oors.

Sheu lillilus tae her machines
her aald face in ivry gless

- but no, yin's no her face. Sheu blenks.
A karl sportan some kinno helmet

(but maed of some kinno metal? an glessless?)
is skirlan - but silent. He chairges the screen.

A flist o Light. Sheu shuts her een
but feels the sair lowe trou her lids.

But eftir a spell sheu peeks an than
thir notheen thir. Nae willan Light,

nae flegsome man. Sheu skites ootbye
an slams the doar, an waits ahint hid,

an sings a peedie bit looder, looder
as the hivy clankan an crashan inbye

at isno the weel-kent tick o the plant
mairkan hids time, but soonds instead -

no - ya - no - but -
like steel brakkan steel, a draem o a sword

She turns off the monitors one by one, for the plant to idle the sleeping hours.
She lullabies to her machines, her old face in each grey mirrorglass
- but no, that's not her face. She blinks. An older man wearing a kind of helmet
(but made of a kind of metal? and without glass?( is shrieksqualling - but silent. He charges the screen.
A rushrageboastbang of Light. She shuts her eyes but feels the harshdireoppressive flameglowflickerflare through her lids.

But after a short while she looks and then there's nothing there.
No wildwandering Light,
no terrifying man. She slidebouncesshoots outside and slams the door, and waits behind it,
and sings a little louder, louder than the heavy clanking and crashing inside
that is not the familiar tick of the plant marking time, but sounds instead -
no-yes-no-but-like steel breaking steel, a dream of a sword.

'like steel brakkan steel, a draem o a sword' shows how the lyrical is reached out of the spare functions of the space station 'tirlan in the haaf' (turntwistwhirlspinning in deep space) and the language.

The relationship between Astrid - a returning student - and Darling - a high born on the run from her family on Mars, is intimate and touching:

Than eftir, whan the cruisies brighten tae morneen,
wi Darling yet sleepan, Astrid busks an leuks
fae porthole tae bunk, fae the tide tae Darling's hair,
an speirs o the gods, at dinno exist, if
thir both fund whit thay waant, or need, or no,
or if thir maed hid, or if hid ivver matters.

Then later, when the lamps brighten to morning, with Darling still asleep, Astrid dressprepares and looks from porthole to bedbunk, from the seatimetide to Darling's hair, and asks of the gods, who do not exist, if they have both found what they want, or need, or not, or if they have created it, or if it even matters.

it does quite a lot well and is full of lovely moments - the archaeologist – english speaking, on the outside – being invited, unexpectedly, shyly, by the barman, to a festive dance at his bar:

Thir quiet a piece. He poors, sheu drinks, thay smile.
An a thowt comes tae Eynar at warms him, o somtheen
he coud share wi this bonnie aakward body.

"If thoo waants tae ken fock better, come
tae the Dance Firstday next. Hid's wiss at wird best."
Noor coudno, sheu didno, sheu wadno waant tae impose,
disno think sheu'd be walcome, canno dance,

but Eynar's insistan wi more an more blide wirds
as ony gien the night. Forbye, Noor waants
tae gang, an dance. Whan sheu's finished her drink,
he asks, "A'll see thee thir?" an Noor says, "Yaas."

They are quiet for a placedistancepartwhile. He pours, she drinks, they snile. And a thought comes to Eynar that warms him, of something he could sahre with this finepretty awkward personbody.
"If you want to know us folk better, come to the Dance next Firstday. It's us at our best." Noor couldn't, she didn't, she wouldn't want to impose, doesn't think she'd be welcome, can't dance,

but Eynar's inissting with ore and more happyfondpleased words than any he's offered all night. Besides, Noor wants to go, and dance. When she's finished her drink, he asks, "I'll se you there?" and Noor says "Yes."

but it all takes place at the sharp end of an impoverished place, at the edge of a mystery, and with no future

So mibbe this bairn'll waant tae brak

the next speed barrier, or the next?
In this peedie bunk, draeman
o cities, draeman o meanan more.
Or draeman a love fer a dwynan piece?
Whit wan o this futurs is bruckit most?

So maybe this child will want to break

the next speed barrier, or the next? In this little bedbunk, dreaming of cities, dreaming of meaning more? Or dreaming a love for a pinefadewithinering placedistancepartwhile? And which of these futures is the most brokenrubbishruined?

and in fact at the sharp edge of commerce, the question they all live their lives with, which the songs in DSO exist to question:

fer then this twa taal men
dinno hiv tae blether
aboot the peedie chairs

or age, or wirk, or Light,
or whit lot o credits
this haep o dirt is wirth.

because then these two t all men don't have to talkchatramble about the little chairs
or age, or work, or Light, or how manymuch credits this heap of mudshitrubbish is worth.

so yes, by no means perfect, but a striking, affecting, rich book with plenty to explore and bits, lines, thoughts, images that resonate.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 13:49 (nine months ago) link

currently dipping into The Atlas of Anomalous AI ed. Ben Vickers and K Allado-McDowell. It's an attempt to bring Aby Warburg's 'mapping' of cultural images and memory to the field of AI, to help it escape the 'westernised Hollywood futures that dominate popular discussions of AI'

that attempt is i think necessary and useful, but *goddam*, 'cultural' writers or critics like this need to be a lot more careful about the language they use and how it connects to the practicalities of AI. No Aby Warburg did not create a way of working that 'could be called digital' – it's not at all digital. if you're imprecise about this sort of thing, you're not doing the hard work about where there are connections.

there are reasons to think about colonialism wrt to AI, but these writers often take a lazy route to it (similar to Tom McCarthy in that recent LRB essay we complained about), and they need to distinguish carefully between the mechanics of capitalism and colonialism.

eg to call 'the black box of AI' (an enclosure, apparently) 'a hyperdimensional space' requires some... definition i think? 1) AI can often be hidden, but that doesn't mean it's a black box - in fact transparency around data updates and use case failures is an important part of the practical usage of AI. Not all providers do this, but it's definitely a practical thing that can be done, which belies the black box definition here. hyperdimensional space - well it's true that much of the data will have considerable amounts of metadata, which possibly make it something described as hyperdimensional. and indeed the 'curse of dimensionality' creating sparse local data everywhere is a well-known problem in AI/ML. here it's deployed as a sort of fuzzy high-concept word that links AI to *shamanism*.

However, as an encyclopedia of images and relevant or peripherally relevant thinking, it does serve a useful function. and it's worth entertaining the hokum, which may be just a shortcut to some interesting approaches to thinking about AI. eg medieval maps of the humanistic space wider than ours is today, that is to say of a scholastic humanism that required the supernatural as the competion of the natural world and will map angels and daemons onto a cosmos with terra and subterranean tenebrae activae, may help us think how we get outside a contemporary technocratic humanism that places us at the centre of things and allows new spaces to be mapped in new ways.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 14:12 (nine months ago) link

i should add there are good artists like james bridle mapping this space it’s just you have to tread with some care.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 14:20 (nine months ago) link

Zak M. and dogs, I think that McSweeney is at her best in the critical mode— her book, The Necropastoral, is really astonishingly cogent and well-thought through literary criticism. I have never found much in her poetry— it is, at its heart, "workshopcore," seemingly crafted for the exact environment that McSweeney was educated within and teaches within. It is not very interesting, to my mind, but I know that's a minority opinion.

Re: Toxicon, it functions similarly to Prageeta Sharma's book about the sudden death of her husband, in my mind— both are important books, but I don't find either of them interesting-qua-poetry or convincing as books about loss, but that is probably more a function of the ultimately subjective experience of immense grief than anything else, so I don't say much about either.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 17:26 (nine months ago) link

I've been trying for months to read the fairly recent Kipling biography If, by Christopher Benfey, and I think I'm just going to have to give up. It started out ok, with the young Kipling, just arrived in America, tracking down Mark Twain's house and managing to talk his way in. But now I'm at the bit where the author talks about Kipling's friendship with Wolcott Balestier, and it's written in this awful suggestive wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that never actually says Wolcott was gay or argues in so many words that Kipling was involved with him romantically, but instead says stuff like this:

Pale as fine porcelain and impossibly slender, Balestier resembled nothing so much as a graceful Meissen figurine, illuminated by candlelight.

and this, after Wolcott's death and Kipling's marriage to Wolcott's sister Carrie:
If there had been an understanding between Kipling and Carrie...the couple had kept it a secret even from their closest friends. Was there a long-simmering romance, hidden to all? Or had Wolcott Balestier, dying in Dresden, exacted a deathbed promise from his sister to marry his best friend?

I dunno, dude, you're the biographer, you tell me. And while you're at it, tell me why any human being would do that and what purpose it would serve, because I'm really not seeing the logic here.

(For the record, I've got no objection to the idea of Kipling being gay or bi, though I think the most compelling evidence for his having romantic (not necessarily sexual) feelings toward men is in his writing rather than his biography, and I don't think there's sufficient evidence to say for sure what those feelings added up to. But I dislike the contortions writers go through to hide a lack of evidence for their assertions, and I really dislike it when those contortions feel like the writer elbowing me in the ribs.)

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 18:08 (nine months ago) link

I also dislike that particular contortional style of certain biographers, Lily Dale. I've even found myself reading fewer biographies as a result!

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 18:12 (nine months ago) link

Those two quotes would make me want to throw the book across the room, shouting imprecations.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 18:25 (nine months ago) link

Currently reading the new Gary Shteyngart (fun), and the Brothers Karamozov for the first time. Other than that, here's what I read this year, a lot of escapism but definitely some good & enjoyable stuff in there:

Arkady Martine - A Memory Called Empire
Hari Kunzru - Red Pill
Lorrie Moore - Birds of America
Wells Tower - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
Barrett Edward Swanson - Lost in Summerland (Essays)
Lorrie Moore - Bark
Patricia Lockwood - Nobody Is Talking About This
Natalie Zina Walschots - Hench
John le Carre - Little Drummer Girl
Rachel Cusk - Second Place
Meghan O’Gieblyn - God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning
Patricia Lockwood - Priestdaddy
Robin Kelley - Thelonious Monk: The Life & Times of an American Original*
Lauren Groff - Matrix
Ursula K. Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea
Jonathan Franzen - Crossroads
Claire Vaye Watkins - I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness
Ayad Akhtar - American Dervish

change display name (Jordan), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:09 (nine months ago) link

Do we have a thread for 2021's reading lists yet? I still need to transfer from my planner to a document on the computer. I know it's longer than it's ever been, I think.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:11 (nine months ago) link

Do we have a thread for 2021's reading lists yet?

We do now. What did you read in 2021?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:22 (nine months ago) link

Thank you, Aimless!

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:37 (nine months ago) link

eg to call 'the black box of AI' (an enclosure, apparently) 'a hyperdimensional space' requires some... definition i think?

Aren't the current wave of machine learning AIs typically considered as black boxes because the link between input and output is by its very nature entirely opaque? And maybe hyperdimensionality refers to the fact they process hundreds of billions of parameters? Haven't read the book so feel free to ignore me.

big online yam retailer (ledge), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:41 (nine months ago) link

a friend ran a supercomputer in australia of multiple nodes that was wired up not as a grid, or a cube, but as a hypercube. i can imagine a neural net similary connected, or moreso.

koogs, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 20:11 (nine months ago) link

_eg to call 'the black box of AI' (an enclosure, apparently) 'a hyperdimensional space' requires some... definition i think?_

Aren't the current wave of machine learning AIs typically considered as black boxes because the link between input and output is by its very nature entirely opaque? And maybe hyperdimensionality refers to the fact they process hundreds of billions of parameters? Haven't read the book so feel free to ignore me.

no, it’s useful. i take the i/o point - imv it’s opaque in one sense, in another, data scientists are always inferring results from tweaking algorithms and data sets, albeit with a fuzzy gap in the middle where the effect of that tweaking takes place, and agree it’s v hard to know all the consequences of an input even if it clearly optimises some use cases, but my feeling in the book is that the standard phrase “black box AI” is in itself being used as a bit of a black box to stand for whatever the editors want it to stand for > thus shamanism.

and yes similarly i think hyperdimensionality/multidimensionality is fine as a thing in AI, but i’m not convinced from the context it’s being used… in the same way? idk, you’ve made me want to go back and read again now. i find myself going back and forth on how legit the presentation is. as i say, the contents of the “atlas” are themselves generally interesting enough to bypass some of these problems.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 20:36 (nine months ago) link

lol what i’m trying to say with a v fuzzy head is that i’m not clear the extent to which they’re using “artistic licence” or not. my first impression was “quite a lot” with a caveat about it how much it mattered. but your comments are making me go back and re-evaluate!

Fizzles, Wednesday, 22 December 2021 21:15 (nine months ago) link

Unintepretability/opacity are not givens in machine learning but they’re pretty common problems that take work to overcome and may be in practice insoluble problems.

Pretty much every interesting model describes data in a space with more than three dimensions, ie is “hyperdimensional”.

Whether those observations of facts support the (metaphorical?) deployment of those terms in criticism I don’t know. Hyperdimensionality is extremely mundane in the technical sense, so I’m very skeptical about that being a load bearing term in critical theoretical discussions.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:07 (nine months ago) link

<Whooshing sound from previous posts>

I started to read Sylvia Townsend Warner's The Corner That Held Them. It's set in the 14th century, in a remote Norfolkian nunnery; I got about 30 pages in and a derelict, posing as a priest, was hallucinating as he died of the black death and I thought 'do I need this?' and decided no I don't.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:42 (nine months ago) link

Huh, now I want to read it.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:44 (nine months ago) link

She's fantastic and I will go back to it, it just felt a bit on the nose as it were.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:47 (nine months ago) link

Yeah, I think I just have a thing for books set in religious, cloistered communities.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:48 (nine months ago) link

Have you read Frost in May by Antonia White? That's a stunning little book.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 22:52 (nine months ago) link

Nope! Another added to the Abe list.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 23:09 (nine months ago) link

The corner that held them is great. Wonderful bunch of women to spend a half century with. Highly recommended.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 22 December 2021 23:59 (nine months ago) link

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s quite similar to matrix by Lauren groff, which I’m half way through right now, but the corner that held them’s focus is more prosaic/domestic, eg how will they fix the roof, etc.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 23 December 2021 00:00 (nine months ago) link

ooh, and that's what i like best— the stuff about hay and rooftops and long hard winters

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Thursday, 23 December 2021 00:26 (nine months ago) link

This tweet is how it ended up on my reading list

I'm reading the book, “The Corner that Held Them,” which is about a bunch of nuns at an abby over decades during the plague in the 14th century, and it's just a lot of little episodes, so I've started to treat it like Twitter and think “time to check in on my nuns.”

— Paul Ford (@ftrain) April 19, 2020

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 23 December 2021 00:31 (nine months ago) link

Oh I've got to read that!

Jaq, Thursday, 23 December 2021 01:10 (nine months ago) link

Unintepretability/opacity are not givens in machine learning but they’re pretty common problems that take work to overcome and may be in practice insoluble problems.

Pretty much every interesting model describes data in a space with more than three dimensions, ie is “hyperdimensional”.

Whether those observations of facts support the (metaphorical?) deployment of those terms in criticism I don’t know. Hyperdimensionality is extremely mundane in the technical sense, so I’m very skeptical about that being a load bearing term in critical theoretical discussions.

said much better than i could, caek - this was exactly what i was trying to express.

Fizzles, Thursday, 23 December 2021 06:54 (nine months ago) link

The one time I abandon a book and now I can *feel* those nuns lining up to be all like 'so you don't care about our roof eh?'.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Thursday, 23 December 2021 10:57 (nine months ago) link

Got another 2 added to the about to read list since my Xmas present arrived from my brother.
THe iNconvenient Indian by Thomas King
& Surviving Genocide by Jeffrey ostler.
Both books on the treatment of Native Americans over the 19th & 20th centuries probably a littel more on each end too.

Have had tehm gboth pretty heavily recommended so, great to get them.

Stevolende, Thursday, 23 December 2021 15:07 (nine months ago) link

I'm thinking of a spectrum from "nuns" to "sexy nuns" with The Corner That Held Them on one end, Benedetta on the other, and Lauren Groff's Matrix right in the center.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 23 December 2021 15:23 (nine months ago) link

If I receive some of the books I'm expecting to receive for the holidays, then I'll be quite busy for a while.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Thursday, 23 December 2021 16:21 (nine months ago) link

A new comet has been spotted in the skies over ILB, thanks to dow:

Bonfires In The Sky: What Are You Reading, Winter 2021-22?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Thursday, 23 December 2021 19:15 (nine months ago) link

that’s interesting table - i found that ‘toxicon…’ transcended its subject matter. i kind of went into it with some trepidation because of the circumstances of its writing, but i found a lot more than that in it. i liked its intensity and knottiness. weirdly i’m less keen on joyelle mcsweeney’s critical work, i like the necropastoral book but i didn’t get much out of her old blog, the gurlesque etc

dogs, Thursday, 23 December 2021 21:54 (nine months ago) link

Lolly Willowes (O052) - Sylvia Townsend Warner
Pattern Recognition - William Gibson (R)
The Card - Arnold Bennett
Shift - Hugh Howey
The Owl Service - Alan Garner
Dark Entries - Robert Aickman (+)
Seeds Of Time - John Wyndham
Slade House - David Mitchell (+)
The Last Day of a Condemned Man - Victor Hugo
The Man Who Was Thursday - G K Chesterton
Autumn - Ali Smith
Bleak House - Charles Dickens (R)
Ramble Book - Adam Buxton
XX - Ryan Hughes
The Old Man And The Sea - Earnest Hemingway (+)
The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch
The Sea Wolf - Jack London
Inverted World - Christopher Priest
The Story Of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang
One Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes
Amber Fury - Natalie Haynes
Alcestis - Euripides
Agamemnon - Aeschylus
Death’s End - Cixin Liu
Children Of Ruin - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn
Driftglass - Sam Delany
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
24 Jigsaw - Ed McBain
The Monarch Of The Glen - Neil Gaiman
Black Dog - Neil Gaiman
Body In The Library - Agatha Christie
An Event In Autumn - Mankell
Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) - Thomas Hardy (+)
The Castle Of Otranto - Horace Walpole
O009 Nightmare Abbey - Thomas Love Peacock
1848 Mary Barton - Elizabeth Gaskell
Small Island - Andrea Levy
Accidental Tourist - Anne Tyler (R) (+)
The Honjin Murders - Seishi Yokomizo
Anna Of The Five Towns - Arnold Bennett (+)
Slaughterhouse V - Kurt Vonnegut (R)
Sketches By Boz - Charles Dickens

(R) = reread
(+) = favourites, probably

koogs, Thursday, 23 December 2021 22:30 (nine months ago) link

(that's 40+, helped by skipping the usual long foreign novel in spring and reading a bunch of sub-200 page things in october)

koogs, Thursday, 23 December 2021 22:32 (nine months ago) link

wrong thread, dipshit

koogs, Thursday, 23 December 2021 22:34 (nine months ago) link

dogs, yeah, I guess that I was unmoved by the knottiness of Toxicon— it felt forced and unsurprising, plodding.

we need outrage! we need dicks!! (the table is the table), Saturday, 25 December 2021 15:46 (nine months ago) link

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