The second of the Lymond Chronicles is nowhere near as annoying as it could have been. The book that preceded this one, The Game of Kings, unleashed Francis Crawford of Lymond upon an unprepared world. Readers (specifically, me) were confused and taken aback by Lymond's polyglot erudition, his constant references to obscure literature, and his seemingly endless skill in all sorts of armed and unarmed combat, not to mention his near-godlike powers of manipulation over others. He was too perfect, and even when Dunnett had him publicly humiliated at the end of the first book, it didn't quite feel like enough. Besides, he bounced back; Dunnett clearly loved him too much to break him completely.

But aside from her main character, Dunnett's writing style is wonderful. Her conversations are effortless and easy to follow (when not sprinkled with quotations in Latin or French, not to mention the ever-present Scots), and her characters (excepting Lymond) are generally believable. Once I had recovered sufficiently from the first book, I braced myself against Lymond's inevitable pedantry and began the second.

more on Queen's Play )

All in all, quite a good read, much more fast-moving than the first book. The plot is complex and exciting, and the characters have believable motivations. Although Lymond continues to be irritatingly good at everything he does, Dunnett provides plenty of other details to distract the reader. Definitely looking forward to reading the third.
Excerpted from an email to my mom, who reads magazines in the bathroom: I keep magazines in the bathrooms but they're mostly for guests. I read books in the bathroom. (I have an upstairs book, a downstairs book, and a portable book. I only read the upstairs book when I'm upstairs or in the upstairs bathroom; similar with the downstairs book; the portable book gets read at work and when K is driving. If I read more than three books at a time, then the system gets messed up.)

So I just finished my portable book, Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover. I picked it up at a used book sale, unaware that it was actually historical fiction based on a real-life love triangle. (I would probably not have read it, knowing the background; historical fiction usually kind of annoys me, unless Shakespeare is doing it.) more on the book... )

Verdict: Good, but I won't read it again. If I find another Sontag novel for under $5, though, I'd probably pick it up.
From Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover:
You are a passenger. We are all, often, passengers. The boat, history, is going somewhere. You are not the captain. But you have excellent accommodations.

Of course, down there in the hold are famished immigrants or enslaved Africans or press-ganged tars. You can't help them - you do feel sorry for them - and you can't control the captain, either. Cosseted though you may be, you are actually quite powerless. A gesture on your part might relieve your bad conscience, if you have a bad conscience, but would not materially improve their situation. How would it help them to give up your own spacious cabin, with the room you require for your copious belongings, since, although those below have very few belongings, there are so many of them? The food you are eating would never be enough to feed all of them; indeed, if prepared with them in mind as well, it would no longer be as refined; and of course the view would be spoiled (crowds spoil a view, crowds litter, etc.). So you have no choice but to enjoy the excellent food and the view.

Nevertheless, assuming you are not indifferent, you think a lot about what is going on. Even if it is not your responsibility, how can it be your responsibility, you are still a participant and a witness. (First- or second-class passengers, these are the points of view from which most accounts of history are written.) And if those being persecuted are those who might have had accommodations as agreeable as your own, people of your own rank or who have your interests, you are far less likely to be indifferent to their present distress. Of course, you cannot prevent them from being punished if they are in fact guilty. But, assuming you are not indifferent, that you are a decent person, you will try to intervene when you can. Counsel leniency. Or at least prudence.

...just wanted to share.

(I sometimes feel like this -- defensive, helpless, vaguely disapproving but unable to effect change. It's nice to see it all laid out in pretty metaphor form.)
At the beginning of this trip I had 20GB free on the laptop; now I'm down to 16. Every day we dump the contents of our camera memories into the computer, freeing up space for the next day. It's a slow process, and leaves me plenty of time to catch up on the internet when a connection is available.

Courtesy Making Light: The Guardian is about to conclude a Harry Potter writing challenge in advance of the next book. Vegas has picked Dumbledore as the most likely to kick the bucket. If you can't wait for J.K. Rowling, see Dumbledore's death as it would have been written by Hunter S. Thompson, P.G. Wodehouse, and others. The William Carlos Williams version is my favorite.

Courtesy [livejournal.com profile] grammargasm: the awesome word Funktionslust.

And now the pictures are done downloading; time for bed. We're going to San Francisco tomorrow.
Anyone who's willing to pay money to see Umberto Eco should know that he'll be in the area.

Also, I just finished reading a good short by Neil Gaiman, A Study in Emerald, which manages to mix Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft.
This coming weekend, the Stone Ridge Used Book Sale will be in Rockville. Go if you can; it's huge and wonderful. I like to go the first day for quality and the last day for quantity. Books at $10/bag: can't beat the price.

Amusement of the day: Words you should know when going in for A-level Biology.

Oh, and don't miss out on the Unitarian Jihad.
hilarity of the moment: De clunibus magnis amandis oratio, a Latin translation of a well-known rap song.

also, I love Daylight Savings Time. Driving home during sunlight hours does amazing things for my mood.
I ran into a paragraph from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose that perfectly encapsulates why it's so much fun to read The Confessions of St Augustine.

...it has often happened that I have found the most seductive depictions of sin in the pages of those very men of incorruptible virtue who condemned their spell and their effects. A sign that these men are impelled by such eagerness to bear witness to the truth that they do not hesitate, out of love of God, to confer on evil all the seductions in which it cloaks itself; thus the writers inform men better of the ways through which the Evil One enchants them.
Sometimes I'm reluctant to see a movie when I've already read the book. Not because I think that the book would be in any way diminished, but because I don't want to ruin my mental images. I was hesitant to see the Harry Potter films, but fortunately neither Daniel Radcliffe nor Alan Rickman have stuck in my head as illustrations. On the other hand, I can't get rid of that guy who plays Hagrid, and Dame Maggie Smith has completely displaced my McGonagall. I also don't like the fact that I tend to forgive movies for structural or artistic faults that I would never forgive in a book, sometimes simply because the actor is cute. (Yes, I'm weak.)

At any rate. I really enjoyed Finding Neverland as a movie -- good acting, good transitions between Barrie's fantasy world and the real one, kids that weren't overly annoying. It's been at least a month since I saw it, and I thought I'd managed to forget the details. But apparently not, because Johnny Depp is now the voice of J.M. Barrie in my head.

I mean... when I read this, I'm imagining it in Depp's faux-Scottish accent, picturing him telling a story to those little freckled kids: Cosmo is a cadet at Osborne, and properly proud of his station, but just now he looks proud of nothing. He is plunged in gloom. The cause of his woe is a telegram, which he is regarding from all points of the compass, as if in hopes of making it send him better news. At last he gives expression to his feelings. 'All I can say,' he sums up in the first words of the play, 'is that if father tries to kiss me, I shall kick him.'

more on the play 'Alice Sit-By-The-Fire' )
Climbing last night: exhausting, an overhang I couldn't overcome until the nth try, not to mention a corner chimney route I couldn't quite dislocate my hips enough to finish; I left the gym quite happy actually. Dinner last night: romaine lettuce and pita chips. Had chicken and pasta ready to go but body denied both; body really, really wanted the lettuce. Body is generally quiet enough about food preferences (apart from "chocolate? ooo! more chocolate?") that I've learned to listen when it has an opinion.

I find the smell of boiling romaine to be wonderfully reassuring. Grandma made it for my sister and me, either fifteen or seventeen years ago when one or the other of my brothers was being born and Mom was away from home. Grandma (this is Dad's mother; Mom's mother isn't much for the kitchen) had precisely one method of preparing vegetables: boil 'em up in soup (normally chicken bouillon). Serve on rice.

It's really tasty.

I'm progressing very slowly with St Augustine; over the past week or two I've been continually distracted by Neal Stephenson and I haven't even started Douglas Adams yet. Not to mention I've still got Dorothy Dunnett, who more or less fell by the wayside pre-November. But when I did bother to pick up St A again, I found him busily appealing to the angsty teenager in all of us.

rambling on St Augustine's teen angst, cut to spare the uninterested )
Saint Augustine is hilarious. He really can't deal with children.

Most of us conceive of children as cutely self-centered little beings; we forgive them their faults because they're adorable. St. A, on the other hand, sees all their faults and finds nothing lovable in them. He judges their actions by what he sees is right, and condemns them as nasty, amoral creatures.

At first I thought that the child-lambasting was a reflection on the ill he thought of himself; after all, the volume is titled Confessions. He begins the litany of his sins at his own conception, sparing his young self nothing. He relives all of his childhood misdeeds, from throwing baby tantrums to not paying attention in class to his regret that he enjoyed the tales of Dido and Aeneas as opposed to the words of God. His words may strike sympathetic guilty chords in his readers:

I even stole from my parents' larder and from their table, either from greed or to get something to give to other boys in exchange for their favourite toys, which they were willing to barter with me. And in the games I played with them I often cheated in order to come off the better, simply because the desire to win had got the better of me. And yet there was nothing I could less easily endure, nothing that made me quarrel more bitterly, than to find others cheating me as I cheated them. All the same, if they found me out and blamed me for it, I would lose my temper rather than give in.

He then bemoans the fact that these faults followed him to adulthood, as they do all men. (This is where he goes from specific to general, condemning all children and not just his past self.) If his own childhood is any example, then children are selfish, arrogant beings; where is their purity, their much-lauded innocence? How are they any better than the adults who admire them? Upon which he addresses God, and this is where it gets really funny:

Can this be the innocence of childhood? Far from it, O Lord! ... It was, then, simply because they are small that you used children to symbolize humility when, as our King, you commended it by saying that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

"simply because they are small"! He's trying to find some justification for the widely accepted goodness of children, but with no logical proof at hand, he falls back on their size. "I guess God only likes them because... they're cute."

It must have been a terribly unsatisfying conclusion for poor St A.
Keyed up, perhaps due to ill-advised mochalatte after dinner. Middle of the night, even the cat is asleep, and I'm wide awake. Normally I would be reading, but St Augustine's Confessions isn't quite soothing enough at the moment. Instead, I shall post poetry.

[livejournal.com profile] something [livejournal.com profile] there [livejournal.com profile] is [livejournal.com profile] that [livejournal.com profile] doesnt [livejournal.com profile] love [livejournal.com profile] a [livejournal.com profile] wall,
[livejournal.com profile] that sends [livejournal.com profile] the [livejournal.com profile] frozen-[livejournal.com profile] ground-[livejournal.com profile] swell [livejournal.com profile] under [livejournal.com profile] it,
[livejournal.com profile] and [livejournal.com profile] spills [livejournal.com profile] the [livejournal.com profile] upper [livejournal.com profile] boulders [livejournal.com profile] in [livejournal.com profile] the [livejournal.com profile] sun,
[livejournal.com profile] and [livejournal.com profile] makes [livejournal.com profile] gaps [livejournal.com profile] even [livejournal.com profile] two [livejournal.com profile] can [livejournal.com profile] pass abreast.

-- [livejournal.com profile] from [livejournal.com profile] mending [livejournal.com profile] wall, [livejournal.com profile] by [livejournal.com profile] robert [livejournal.com profile] frost

(lj-poke yanked from [livejournal.com profile] chresimos)

...what, except for "sends" and "abreast" they're all livejournals? Even the little tiny words like "is" and "in"? Geez, people have to be more inventive with their usernames.

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