So long, hiatus

Dianthus, forget-me-nots, and columbine at Ft Tryon
Park Heather Garden, NYC

Well, she wrote grumpily, I suppose it’s time I added another post to my blog. Let people know I’m still around. Give my brain a bit of a workout …. especially with this new block editor on WP (WHY WHY WHY???????)!

But seriously, after months and months of ignoring this semi-obligation, I’m actually ready to reappear.

So (I’m certain you’re wondering), what have I been doing with myself? Mostly, I’ve been reading. Like a fiend. And, I’m happy to say, mostly books I haven’t read before, some even published within the past 5 years. Here are some highlights:

Barbara Pym, Crampton Hodnet and Some Tame Gazelle. These are two of Pym’s early novels, although CH was published after her death. Funny tales set in small-town mid-20th century England, featuring spinsters and lady’s companions, vicars, dashing young men and women, a few titled folk, citizens of Oxford, and various others. Quite funny, easy, escapist reading. Some have called Pym a “modern Jane Austen”, but her stories remind me more of Miss Read’s novels of village life in post-war England. Because Miss Read’s narrator is a teacher, school children (and the school’s charwoman) play important roles — in Pym, they barely appear as even side-mentions. As well, Miss Read features fewer aristocrats, and many more characters of uncertain means, than do Pym’s novels. Yet what Pym, Read, and Austen have in common is the fine brush work on a “little bit of ivory”.

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi. Others have reviewed this (see Calmgrove’s fine review here), so I’ll keep my comments short. Tough to get into, but absolutely worth the effort. With only a hint of Faerie, this is not at all like her previous work.

Imagine Piranesi, the MC, as a fussy middle-aged man, scrambling through rooms, across vast spaces, up and down innumerable staircases, all to maintain a dwelling he can never leave, where someone keeps leaving messes that he’s getting tired of picking up!

Clarke sets a puzzle, with Piranesi at the center of it. Yet he’s quite the opposite of the minotaur at the center of the labyrinth of Greek myth. (Clarke’s novel inspired me to reread Lawrence Durrell’s The Dark Labyrinth, all of whose characters get pretty much what they deserve).

Parable? Allegory? Object lesson? Mad romp? Probably all of these and more (although the last may be just my bit of fun).

And finally, this year’s stand-out read so far:

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. One of the funniest sci-fi books I’ve ever read, right up there with Doug Adams and Earl Mac Rauch (look him up).

Yu’s narrator/hero (also named Charles Yu, hereinafter referred to as CY) repairs time-travel machines that break down when the drivers try to change the past. According to CY, you can’t change the past because

The universe just doesn’t put up with that. We aren’t important enough. No one is. Even in our own lives. We’re not strong enough, willful enough, skilled enough in chronodiegetic manipulation to be able to just accidentally change the entire course of anything, even ourselves.

What is chronodiegetics? Simple: It’s “a theory of the past tense, a theory of regret… it is fundamentally a theory of limitations.” CY adds, “Life is, to some extent, an extended dialogue with your future self about how exactly you are going to let yourself down over the coming years.” And then,

The Foundational Theory of Chronodiegetics [posits that] within a science fictional space, memory and regret are, when taken together, the set of necessary and sufficient elements required to produce a time machine.

Note the critical phrase, “within a science fictional universe”. Yet much of what Yu gives us sheds light on the human condition. As CY tells us, “Most people I know live their lives moving in a constant forward direction, the whole time looking backward.” It’s that backward look, aka “regret”, that powers our personal time machines. We are all walking chronodiegetic wanna-bes, time-traveling “even when we’re sitting still.”

Looming large in this novel are philosophical and psychological issues: what constitutes our sense of self? how do we cope with loneliness? what role does memory play in how we make choices? CY has to deal with abandonment issues — his father abandoned their family when he was young, and he has recently abandoned his own mother. His closest friend is his time machine’s computer, TAMMY, whose personality has been programmed as “depressed”. (Paging Marvin the paranoid android!) He’s lonely, yet won’t even commit to recognizing TAMMY as someone he needs.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “sci-fi reader”, you might be surprised by the layers in this book.

Oh, and now that I’m back to blogging (if one post in nearly 7 months counts as “back to blogging”), perhaps I’ll get back to work on that WIP.

We’ll see.

 

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in Am reading, Fantasy, Humorous, Science fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to So long, hiatus

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I’m now expecting your post’s title to have originally read (in honour of Douglas Adams) So long, hiatus, and thanks for all the books as this is the wording that sprang to mind! Welcome back, despite the inconvenience of the Block Editor, which I’ve reluctantly started using. (It helped that my posts using Classic Editor were starting to look like one long unparagraphed rant when displayed in the WordPress Reader, now at least it looks as I’ve actually put my thoughts in some kind of order.)

    I’m seeing a few other posts in favour of Ms Pym, so I glad you’re enjoying it! I tried the first Mapp and Lucia tale, expecting high things after TV adaptations and your praise, but I couldn’t have been in the right mood because I didn’t get much past the first couple of chapters, sorry. Will I return? Possibly, but not in the near future, at any rate. Now Piranesi, that I will be be revisiting sooner rather than later. And you’ve definitely whetted my appetite for the Charles Yu!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Thanks, Chris, for thinking me more clever than I am. The nod to Adam’s title was definitely not in my mind.

      I’m not surprised you weren’t instantly hooked by Queen Lucia, but that might not be the best starting point. Give Miss Mapp (book 3 of the series) a try, moving to books 4-6 before tackling 1-2 (but only if you’re inspired by Benson’s characters — they are not for everyone. And I must confess that I read these books after watching the 1980s BBC tv program. Having those actors’ voices in my head while reading was a joy).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Calmgrove says:

        Okay, I’ll try Book 3. As for me, I have the later TV series actors as my go-to Mapp and Lucia, with Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor taking the roles Prunella Scales and the late Geraldine McEwan played in the 1980s (which I’ve never seen). https://youtu.be/9-Hn1C5ztKQ

        Liked by 1 person

        • Lizzie Ross says:

          And don’t forget Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie in the 1980s series. Absolutely perfect!

          Members of Fb’s Mapp and Lucia group still argue about which televised version is better, but most of us remain loyal to Geraldine, Prunella, and Nigel. We’re a gossipy collection of Benson fans, altogether too attentive to tiny details — e.g., the recent series’ faux-frontage erected to represent the Garden Room (struck by a bomb in WWII) is missing the door for storage of garden tools. How gleefully Miss Mapp would have leapt upon that oversight!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Lory says:

    I’ve been reading Barbara Pym too – after the Paula Byrne biography I wanted to read all the novels. I’m on Less Than Angels now and enjoying it a lot.

    Oh, and welcome back! The block editor is annoying but I’ve gotten used to it. Why can’t things just be designed properly in the first place and then stay that way? More akin to things like paper, pencils, and books – great designs that have lasted quite a while. I think it’s because the tech developers know they’ll be out of a job if they don’t have to be constantly “improving” everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Thank you, Lory. I’ve had a huge collection of Pym’s letters for ages, but thought I should read a few of her novels first. And then, eureka! One of my local Little Free Libraries had a stack of her books waiting for me to come along.

      As for “Proper initial design”, I suspect that concept conflicts with “planned obsolescence”. Sometimes I think that “upgrade” is the most terrifying word in English.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Jeanne says:

    I loved the Charles Yu novel and haven’t read about it many other places, so glad to read your take on it! It does make a person think of other time travel stories. In my post about it I listed the main ones it made me think of, and then got a lot of other suggestions in the comments: https://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/how-to-live-safely-in-a-science-fictional-universe/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ola G says:

    Welcome back, Lizzie (hopefully for good!)! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice to see you again! I have not loved the Pym books I’ve tried, even though by every description, I should love them. Oh well. I’m excited that I finally have a copy of Piranesi to read, and I hadn’t heard about the CY novel — it sounds fascinating! I’ll have to get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lizzie Ross says:

      Thanks, Jean. It’s nice to be back. Too bad about Pym, but, as the saying goes, that’s what makes horse racing!
      I borrowed Clarke and Yu as e-books from my local library — I’m not willing to spend money on something I don’t absolutely love. Now I’m ready to buy both!

      Like

  6. J says:

    I remember when you said for me to read Jonathan Strange and slog through the first 90 pages. Piranesi seems to be true to form. Glad to see you giving yourself a little refreshing. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good to see you blogging again. I always find something interesting in your posts be it information or a new title (I think I have to read Piranesi) or both. I am hiatusing myself at the moment and I am not sure of a return, but it’s good to “see” you again.

    Liked by 1 person

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