Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't Strain Your Brain

I judge whether I've had a relaxing holiday by the amount of reading I've done. If it all happens on the plane, then it's not relaxing; one needs to spend rather decadent amounts of time by the pool / in the hot tub / on the beach / wherever reading for it to constitute a seriously restful time. Luckily, our hols were just that and I got to read an array of books that really did cover the gamut - Jeeves & Wooster, spy novels (the excellent Alan Furst, whose entire collection I am now queuing up in my library account), P&P&Z, the new Mark Haddon (having loved A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), the new Sarah Waters plus TTV.*

When I came back I knew I had to return a book to the library, but having waited ages for it, decided to brave the fine and finally plough through Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh. I'd heard great things about it from the RH Reality Check podcast, but I have to confess, I was expecting something different. I was expecting something that, frankly, was far less classy than the final product: more mocking, more jeering, more generally making-fun-of-the-crazies. Not that he doesn't occasionally, but it's more the hypocrisy and cruelty that he gently takes apart and mocks. Indeed, most of the book shows his utter fascination as a highly secular Jewish humanist from Brooklyn with this "parallel universe" - which itself is a pretty apt description. I remember hearing a Christian version of I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly in the south, because R. Kelly hasn't been saved, so you couldn't listen to his version if you were a good Christian. There is just this parallel world, that most people don't realise exists.

This was a thoroughly engrossing look at the people who purvey the alternative culture, and their motivations, their passions, and, yes, their hypocrisy. But, more often than not, Radosh (and the reader) is surprised by the generosity, warmth and compassion shown by some, as well as horrified by others' cruelty and intolerance and, indeed, sheer thoughtlessness. There's a harrowing bit where he engages with a "youth" about IVF, which for Radosh hits a raw nerve, and the discussion in which Radosh engages with the young man shows the problem with sloganeering generally, and needing to think through one's positions thoroughly - this lack of logic and compassion pains Radosh and the reader as much as the abhorrence of his views.

Particularly striking is Radosh's probing of the acceptance (or not) of Jews by the people he meets. People's reactions to him are very interesting, and he explores his discomfort and intrigue at the range of opinions he encounters.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

* Conclusion: interesting, good romps/reads, but really, nothing touches Fingersmith, which I maintain is one of my favourite books, ever. Also, The Little Stranger is nowhere near as sad or creepy as another of hers, Affinity.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Something old, borrowed, new?

WARNING: Spoilers if you have not yet read Pride & Prejudice. Even if your beloved other half bought it for you ages ago. And yes, that OH may not have read all your gifts, but this particular book might just happen to be one of the aforementioned O.H.'s favourite books of all time and if she could be anyone in literature, it would probably be the main character.

Where was I? Ah, yes, after all the preamble of spoiler warnings, I wanted to note that, while away holidaying, I read with a mixture of amusement, fascination and horror, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It was... pretty good, actually. I have just two grumbles. One, it makes use of puns on "balls" much more than I really think any book needs, let alone an Austen, updated or otherwise (too much of something blue, methinks). Two, part of its very joy - things "falling into place" in the plot - are things that I find on some level troublesome and, really, a failure to understand the importance of the original. For example, Charlotte's decision to marry Mr. Collins makes much more sense, according to some reviews. But of course, in the original, her decision is due to feeling in danger of being left on the shelf, being stuck at home with her parents, and without anyone to take care of her were they to die before she married. The things that don't seem to "make sense" actually do when you look at them through the prism of how clearly women did lack choices and control over their lives.

Nonetheless, I'm not trying to write it off or be (too) humourless about the book. There is an interesting look at gender in both, and knowing the original is essential for getting the point of the later version. In P&P&Z, a large proportion of the nation's defenders the scourge of zombies are unmarried women*; a woman's worth is partly based on her immense strength and ability to kill zombies - Lady Catherine is an absolute legend in that field, which aids the narration by explaining why such an awful woman is so greatly esteemed. P&P&Z elevates women and explicitly recognises how vital they are to a nation's health; it also mocks the things that women were actually valued for - not strength or intellect, but sewing and being gentle and playing the piano - not that playing the piano isn't awesome, but it doesn't make you worth having a relationship with - unless you're really good, I suppose.

What reading P&P&Z mainly brought about was the renewing of my obsession with Austen books, and I have just re-read Persuasion in a day. I do utterly love that book. P&P does win out for me, but the older I get, the more Anne Elliot resonates, and the sadder and more thrilling the story. Maybe it's time to re-visit Emma, too, and of course, Sense & Sensibility - before S&S & Sea Monsters emerges. Would that I were joking.

* When they are married, they cease this work to devote themselves to the presumably much more important job of getting pregnant.

Cross-Posted at Hall of Shame.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smug as a Bug...

And I really am. It's been an astounding couple of weeks. First we had the big move. Not that it's really over, yet, but we are here. We still have a mountain of things to do, furniture to buy, and, sadly, boxes to unpack, as well as sifting through all our crap because we packed so hastily that we did not have time to really do a big sort and offload/throw away a lot of stuff that we really do not need or want. Of course, because we're now in a much bigger place, we didn't have to worry about space.

Still. It's lovely. The garden is gorgeous. The exposed brick wall is heavenly. The dishwasher and washing machine / tumble dryer have changed my life - I - and not the Doctor - now do laundry! Me! For the first time in YEARS I've done the washing twice in a row. Astonishing, indeed. The cats took a while to adjust, but Clem has ceased hissing at Winston every time he comes within four feet of her. They're absolutely intrigued by the garden but, as yet, haven't made a break for it. I've signed up for the amazing food co-op nearby, and signed up for a local blog that showcases cool (and bad) things about the large avenue that delineates the start of Crown Heights to our east - and tonight my dinner was bought from the organic, 24-hour mini-supermarket I found out about on that blog.*

Plus, we just had one of the best holidays of my life, complete with manta rays, tons of fresh fish - both to look at and eat - an active volcano, stargazing, beautiful beaches, and a hot tub, plus fresh papaya and mangoes everywhere. It was wonderful. AND the end-of-hols gloom was defeated by England winning the Ashes and Spurs being top of the table.

Something, clearly, must go wrong soon. But for now - life is sweet.

* I also got called a "pot-bellied bitch" by local youth just past there. Well, not to be too egocentric about it, but I think it was directed at me. Having bought a giant bar of chocolate to comfort myself while the Doctor is in RI and having barely done any exercise in the past four weeks, I am inclined to agree. Of course, it is the product of several amazing weeks of overindulgence, and I'm therefore quite attached to this reminder of the fabulousness of the past month. I patted it fondly in response.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

So This Is Goodbye

Dr. TOH and I have two more nights left in our apartment. This is the apartment in which we first lived together. Now, it's hard to imagine a time when we didn't live together. But this was our first home. So it will be sad to say goodbye to it.

Living in that apartment opened up not just another chapter in our relationship, but opened our eyes to a whole social world outside our university-based friends, simply because our neighbours were friendly when we moved in, and we jumped on their overtures. Together with them we tried out restaurants, took swimming classes together, did football training before work, ate marvellous food, played ping pong. That simple generosity and open nature is something I hope I've taken on, although our lack of familiarity with the current neighbours belies that hope. Nonetheless, I want to take it into the next building we live in. Because I have learned, finally, that neighbours should be there for one another, and that's when good neighbours become good friends.*

So while it's sad to leave it, it's worth remembering how much we valued being next door from a wonderful set of people. Because now we're off to the outer boroughs, we get to be a lot closer to a lot of people, including our former neighbours. We get to explore a new neighbourhood, a new park, a new set of shops and restaurants. Find our bearings there.

Five years is a long time in any place. It's time to move on.

*Sorry, could not resist it.