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All I read in September was
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed (reread)
I've been kind of embarrassed at how little I've been reading lately, but I think I probably gave myself unrealistic expectations by first starting to keep track during the peak of an unusually heavy period. (It was also a much more innocent time in terms of academic stress.) That tends to happen in waves, so it will be back eventually, and really it only bothers me when I'm considering my reading habits in isolation; when I consider what I've been spending my attention on instead, I don't regret it at all.

Anyway, here's the bookkeeping bookkeeping for my second year of noting these things in my weblog: I read 58 novels, 11 of them rereads. (Also, two of them at different times were Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, so maybe that should count as 57 and 10.) This is a little under thirty fewer new books than I read in my first year, which actually isn't as bad as I thought it might be.

Leaves are starting to change en masse, and it's noticably chilly even when the sun is out; before either of these signs of autumn, before even the equinox formalized it, the days were already getting radically shorter. This feels heavy with narrative significance, because, like a proper existentialist, I am casting out portentious meaning onto everything around me. (You should see my recent relationship with fortune cookies.) I had an excellent summer, charmed and optimistic in a way that was thematically in keeping with and maybe enabled by the daylight still lingering when I got out of my classes at 9 PM. It's not that the sky's recent indifference has me pessimistic instead; it does seem an important difference of tone, though, to be moving into the seasons during which humans really need to work to make their own light.

(One place where I was not actually so good at projecting meaning onto things was in my Japanese course, where on the third day of class or so I had the literally nightmarish experience of having a piece of paper put in front of me and having no idea what to do with it. So I dropped that course and replaced the course I was going to take next term with the equivalent of the last course I took at Langara, which will hopefully catch me back up but which means that I won't be graduating from UBC in April. The need to make up the credits I've thus abandoned did give me an excuse to sign up for the awesome-looking "Feminist Pedagogies in the Classroom and Community" course that Isabel is going to be in, though, which I hadn't thought that I was going to be able to justify.)

Later: something about the election, probably.
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When I was down at Rachel's this time, she taught me how to brush my hair starting with the tangles at the bottom, and working my way up, which is much, much faster and more effective than the way I'd been doing it heretofore. I have to assume that this has been an established part of human hairbrushing technology for hundreds if not thousands of years, so I find it entertaining that I had long hair for more than a decade before I found out about it; what comes, I suppose, of descending from short-haired people!

Man, January is almost over. I answered Brendan a while ago about The Pinhoe Egg and Slave Day, and I've been taking classes for about three weeks now. Metaphysics is fun in the expected Philosophy way, as well as containing a majority of people I've either been in philosophy classes with before or recognize because I've often seen them about the halls. This seems very thematically appropriate for my last semester.

As you may recall, I eventually after a fair deal of consideration chose a section of English with an unknown professor, entirely because it was going to read Le Guin's The Dispossessed. I arrived on the first day of class to find that that professor had fallen victim to some unspecified misfortune, and that his classes had been taken over by one of the other professors in the department -- who brought with her an entirely different syllabus. So much for making decisions! Perhaps it was a little lazy, anyway, to try to keep so to studying books I already love, although I would like to take an English class focused on SF sooner or later. Meanwhile the revised class is adequately interesting, although I'm noticing a strange trend in the English classes I've taken so far of treating the students like we're younger and less, hm, trustworthy, than most of college has assumed -- a strange mixture of academic rigidity and intellectual tentativeness.

Astronomy is pretty awesome in a bunch of specific Astronomy ways I didn't quite know how to expect. Here are some of the awesome things we do in Astronomy:

  • We talk about the night sky in ways that are fascinatingly anachronistic -- for instance, we speak as though the stars were affixed to a rotating 'celestial sphere' -- which feels very Steampunk to me.

  • Sometimes we get laser pointers, which we use to point at where various stars would be if the room were the sky. We tend to sort of swarm; most of them will be clustered pretty close to the right place, but there are always a few outliers wavering nervously around the edges, so that, while they're clearly part of the general effort to point, they also wouldn't seem to be anywhere near it if no one else were up there. One of the laser pointers instead of a dot projects a large shape of the Eiffel Tower, which was apparently a prank of a previous term's class (the professor is French).

  • We watch slightly corny Discovery Channel-style movies about the makeup and behaviour of celestial objects (one each for the sun and the moon, so far), which leave me feeling surprisingly but powerfully peaceful, like I'm exactly the right size in scale.

  • Once she gave us grids and had us colour in the boxes based on charts of sunspot activity, so that we could see the patterns over years. (They sort of make eleven-year-long arrowheads.) The general joke is that they've misunderstood what type of 'arts students' we are, but actually that was a lot of fun.
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First, Saturday, the day of my birthday party; )

then, Sunday, a day of misadventure. )

Monday was anticlimax and anticipation. )

Now, it's now; still basically Monday. It's still not actively snowing, and everything is kind of holding its breath. I printed off my English essay, did some kanji homework, wrote this entry, and go back to waiting with the rest.
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The Dispossessed has such an excellent title. How many things does it refer to? To the Annaresti, who have renounced possession, so that it's a little bit of a pun; the Urrasti, too, no longer have possession, if nothing else, of Annares. Each planet has lost the other, and is in some way poorer for it. And there are the poor of Urras, who feel this most keenly, as well as the other, more direct dispossession of their class; and the aliens, with their ancient sadnesses; and Tirin, mad, and rejected by his people; and Shevek himself, not only on Urras (though there most dramatically), but for much of his life on Annares, often voluntarily. Away, so often, from his family (and Rulag, too, has lost her son). Obligations, and what it is to have things even when you don't, and what Takver thinks when she watches Shevek sleep, near the end of the book. I was moved enough by that paragraph this time around that I typed it up and sent it to Rachel; now I wonder that that may nearly have been a spoiler (unlike this paragraph - go figure). That passage may be the heart of it all.

The other thing that struck me about the book this time around was how much Shevek loved and believed in Annares, and how much he and others were able to criticize what it was doing. I draw strength from that, because I'm aware that I've often been a little ginger about expressing dissatisfaction with some function of Windsor House. I don't want to give others cause to smile in triumph and say, "Ha! So, it is a failed experiment." I don't want to imply even indirectly that it's less wonderful and less important than it really is. I don't want to sound like I'm rejecting it; I don't want to actually reject it. What if this criticism, looked at straight, is a rejection? No, says the book, it's not. It has a lot to say about this. It may be a little bit hubris on my part, but the analogy seems almost eerily direct.

I think I may have to end up putting this on my list of ten, after all. If it would knock out any, it would probably be Fahrenheit 451; I'll have to think about it.
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I finished the essay on Saturday, finally and late (I hope that will be the last time I do that this term); even more cathartic than printing it out was the literal weight off my shoulders as I returned the relevant books to their respective libraries. The finished product was just as mediocre as I could have dreamed, but at least I think I got the format right.

That evening, after, was a well-meaning and well-funded if clumsy production of Into The Woods, with a whole lot more people than the last time David tried to get folks to see that play. It was glorious to have my obligation discharged, and feel no guilt for an activity I so enjoyed. Then there was general hanging out; both the weekends, I stayed out past midnight talking to people in person. That's wonderfully revitalizing.

Sunday was Karen's birthday party, which was built from lovely things piled one atop another like bricks. There was a rainbow - two rainbows, and hints of more, as bold as I've ever seen - and, in the other direction, the sun spilling everywhere, soft and wet and gold - and we all went out in awed little bunches to watch until it faded. There was pool (which I mostly abstained from, but I enjoyed the social aspect), and tasty Katie-catered food, including a cake shaped like a game of pool, with gumballs. There was a lot of singing (including a period where everyone sang in a different language at once), and talking (I had a bunch of conversation with Elise, which was nice; I never really had before), and some sort of open source German board game, painstakingly drawn by David, and still more; one atop another, like bricks.

Yesterday, my internet at home exploded, which remains one of the most peculiarly frustrating things in my experience, like an amputation. I think it was back up this morning, though.

The Dispossessed is just about as good as I remember. Possibly better.
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Sumana has a post about classics, and moral and immoral depictions in stories, which I find really interesting.

Ages ago, having been asked to, I put together a list of ten books (or chains of books) which had had great impact on me; I couldn't bear to choose favourites, so instead I tried to decide what was formative. I posted about five of them in my weblog (and one day still mean to cover the remaining five). These are books that remain landmarks for me; they provided substantial new metaphors with which to think about things, including, in many cases, ethical decisions. And a lot of that, of course, lies in that they depicted behaviours or difficulties that had never occurred to me, or better than they had ever occurred to me.

(His justification is that the very portrayal of the sin might influence a child who had not previously considered that sin.)

I think it's fair to say that all of those books - and others - are personal classics, though I'm not sure if they're all classics very far outside my sphere. If you asked me at the moment (as, clearly, I'm pretending that you have), I would say that a classic proper was something with that sort of impact on the general consciousness (or a fairly sizable subset, e.g. a classic of science fiction), and on other works thereafter. (At the Allentown gathering this winter, a number of us sat down to watch a portion of the anime series Uchuu no Stellvia. At one point, Nate remarked, "This is reminding me of Ender's Game," and most if not all of those in the room knew exactly what he meant.)

Considering this, Sumana's probably right that The Matrix ought to be counted, much as I might prefer that it be stricken from the canon (and perhaps replaced with Dark City). It didn't offer me anything new and worthwhile when I saw it, but it seems to have a lot of people, and it has had some effect on common vocabulary.

Used Books

There's a used book store near Lonsdale, on fifteenth, which I've been meaning to check out, and today I did. It's slightly more expensive than most, at $4.00 for a good-size paperback, and only moderately well-stocked in the speculative, but even so, I found The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin, which might have made my list of ten if I hadn't read it so long ago that I've forgotten all the plot, and The Waterborn, by J. Gregory Keyes, and The Doors Of His Face, The Lamps Of His Mouth, a collection of short stories by Roger Zelazny. I bought them all.

It's interesting; I feel very little attraction to the thought of 'shopping', in general (which means there are a great number of ads on the busses right now which miss me by a large margin), but there is an enormous, grinning, lighthearted satisfaction which is afforded to me by almost nothing but successfully shopping for books (occasionally music can do it). It's wonderfully energizing; it's one of those bizarre and entirely impractical things that I wish I could somehow make a living off of. The characters in the TV series have since devolved into caricature, but one of the things that caught at me when I first saw the first episode of the Read Or Die OAV, long ago, was its recognition of how good this feels. Yomiko is very easy for me to empathise with.


One of the few downsides of this house, as compared to my previous one, is that there are very few places well-suited to pacing in circles, but I was still able to instinctually seek one out while thinking about this entry.


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Andy H.

February 2013

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