On Hiatus

As is probably obvious, this blog is on (unintentional) hiatus, due to both technical and health-related issues. I’ll be back as soon as I can and will try to play another round of catch-up before the next computer and/or body implosion.

Happy reading to all!

Deal Me In 2015: Story #2 – “Electrification” by Mikhail Zoshchenko

deal me in smFor week #2 of the 2015 edition of the Deal Me In challenge, hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis, I’ve drawn my second Jack – the Jack of Spades, representing the story “Electrification” by Mikhail Zoshchenko.

My card:  Jack of Spades Jack of Spades

Source:  Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (Penguin Classics)

About the author:  According to Wikipedia, Mikhail Zoshchenko was a Ukranian-Russian author and satirist in the Soviet era, living from 1895 to 1958.  He had broad appeal due to his “compact” and “accessible” style.

Synopsis:  The story, first published in 1924, is very short.  According to inspirationbit.com, the title of the story is taken from one of Lenin’s slogans:  “Communism is Soviet Power plus the Electrification of the Whole Country”.  (The entire story is reprinted at that link.)  It concerns a man and his wife and the changes they experience when electric lights are installed in their apartment.  This new symbol of increased prosperity proves a mixed blessing, illuminating the shabby nature of their lives – a state that had been dulled and easier to accept by candlelight.

Excerpt:    “What, brothers, is today’s most fashionable word?  Today’s most fashionable word of all is, of course, ‘electrification’. Lighting up Soviet Russia with light, without doubt, is a matter of massive importance. No one can argue with that. But it does, for the time being, have its downside. I’m not saying, comrades, that it costs too much. It costs money – that’s all. No, I’m saying something different.”

My thoughts:  The story makes a poignant point about the double-edged sword of prosperity and of being made aware of one’s own station.  I really can’t say too much about this story without practically paraphrasing the entire thing here, as it’s simply that brief a tale.  I will say that I found it a thoughtful bit of satire, tinged with melancholy and bitter humor.  I do recommend reading it.  What I find most remarkable is that it was published at all!  It’s quite critical of Soviet-style growth, in a way that I wouldn’t have thought would be tolerated, considering how many satirical works were suppressed during that period.  I had to do a bit of research to sate my curiosity.  It seems that Zoshchenko’s work was not only well-loved by readers in the 1920s and 1930s, but was also tolerated by the state. But by the 1940s he came under suspicion, and his work was targeted as unpatriotic by Stalin.

This from Russiapedia: “Zoshchenko, along with poet Anna Akhmatova, was expelled by special decree [from the Soviet Writers’ Union] and deprived of his ‘worker’s ration card’ – the only way to get food during a time of widespread starvation. Publishers, journals and theaters began cancelling their contracts with Zoshchenko, and demanded he return the advances he was given.”

Despite reinstatement to the Writers’ Union after Stalin’s death, Zoshchenko fell into a deep depression and eventually died.  It seems that after his official censure, he never regained his footing as an author, but a healthy number of his stories survive to this day, and his satirical words still have truths to impart.

Bout of Books 12: Base Camp

Bout of BooksBout of Books 12 Read-a-Thon has begun!  I’m going to keep this post sticky for the week of the event so that I have a convenient place to track my progress.  I’ll update this post at the end of each day with both daily and cumulative reading reports. As with previous editions of BoB, I’m not going to track hours/minutes spent reading but will track pages read and books completed. The show-runners for the read-a-thon have decided not to post an official linky for goals this time around, to shift the focus away from “success/failure” and more towards reading for fun, and as this seems an admirable aim, I’m not going to set hard goals for myself.  I have a short stack of titles I want to read from, but that’s about as much planning as I intend to do. I’m excited to kick-start the year with some wonderful reads and the community of Bout of Books.  Happy reading to all who are playing along!

 Books to Read:

  1. Neuromancer by William Gibson (in progress at start of event) (1001 Books)
  2. Kokoro by Sōseki Natsume (1001 Books, Classics Club, Japanese Lit Challenge)
  3. The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster (Classics Club)
  4. Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain  (Classics Club)
  5. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (short story collection in graphic novel form)

 Cumulative Progress:

Total pages read:  548
Total books finished:  3 (Sultana’s Dream, Through the Woods, Neuromancer)
Books in Progress:  Kokoro

 Daily Updates:

Monday:

Number of pages read today: 40 (page 10-50 in Neuromancer)

Books finished today:  –

Books in progress at end of day:  Neuromancer 

Challenges:  –

Tuesday:

Number of pages read today: 69

Books finished today:  Sultana’s Dream

Books in progress at end of day:  Neuromancer 

Challenges:  –

Wednesday:

Number of pages read today:  208

Books finished today:  Through the Woods 

Books in progress at end of day: Neuromancer 

Challenges:  –

Thursday:

Number of pages read today:  20 (I knew this would be a slow day, as will tomorrow.)

Books finished today:  –

Books in progress at end of day: Neuromancer 

Challenges:  –

Friday:

Number of pages read today: 28

Books finished today:  –

Books in progress at end of  day: Neuromancer 

Challenges: –

Saturday:

Number of pages read today:  88

Books finished today:  

Books in progress at end of day:  Neuromancer 

Challenges: –

Sunday:

Number of pages read today:  95

Books finished today:  Neuromancer 

Books in progress at end of day:  Kokoro

Challenges:  –

Deal Me In 2015: Story #1 – “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu

deal me in smMy first story for the 2015 edition of the Deal Me In challenge, hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis, is E.Lily Yu’s multiple award-nominated story, “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”.

(I am trying to settle on a somewhat-standardized format for my story reviews this year, as opposed to simply launching into a ramble with no framework.  I’m hoping it will help me better organize my thoughts. We shall see how it goes.)

My card:  Jack of Diamonds  jack diamonds

Source:  Clarkesworld Magazine, issue 55, April, 2011 (available free online as text and audio)

About the author:  E. Lily Yu is the author of a number of short stories and poems and is credited on the game Destiny, by Bungie.  She is the winner of the 2012 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, among other accolades.

Synopsis:  This is an allegorical tale of the relationships between several different societies:  the wasps – scientists, soldiers, explorers, cartographers; the bees – dancers, homemakers, mathematicians, story-tellers, ; the anarchist bees – a splinter group of egalitarian-minded types; and several groups of humans – the village humans, the officials of the human city, the scientific human community. Several themes are explored – sovereignty, servitude, colonialism, might-makes-right and manifest destiny, tradition, innovation, culture-clash, idealism, rebellion.

Excerpt:    “For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps. The villagers maintained an uneasy peace with their neighbors for many years, exercising inimitable tact and circumspection. But it all ended the day a boy, digging in the riverbed, found a stone whose balance and weight pleased him. With this, he thought, he could hit a sparrow in flight. There were no sparrows to be seen, but a paper ball hung low and inviting nearby. He considered it for a moment, head cocked, then aimed and threw.

Much later, after he had been plastered and soothed, his mother scalded the fallen nest until the wasps seething in the paper were dead. In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.

The villagers’ subsequent incursions with bee veils and kettles of boiling water soon diminished the prosperous population to a handful. Commanded by a single stubborn foundress, the survivors folded a new nest in the shape of a paper boat, provisioned it with fallen apricots and squash blossoms, and launched themselves onto the river. Browsing cows and children fled the riverbanks as they drifted downstream, piping sea chanteys.

At last, forty miles south from where they had begun, their craft snagged on an upthrust stick and sank. Only one drowned in the evacuation, weighed down with the remains of an apricot. They reconvened upon a stump and looked about themselves.

“It’s a good place to land,” the foundress said in her sweet soprano, examining the first rough maps that the scouts brought back. There were plenty of caterpillars, oaks for ink galls, fruiting brambles, and no signs of other wasps. A colony of bees had hived in a split oak two miles away. “Once we are established we will, of course, send a delegation to collect tribute.“”

My thoughts:  This was exactly the sort of speculative fiction I most love – a story that uses metaphor and allegory to examine real-world issues.  The myth-making here is simply top-notch and should appeal to lovers of both Catherynne M. Valente and Ray Bradbury.  I was particularly impressed at how deeply I felt I was allowed to understand the various cultures through just a few well-chosen words.  Yu makes every word count, truly filling out and coloring the world of her story, yet not over-decorating her sentences with extraneous descriptors.  The writing felt both subtle and complex at once, and I was drawn right in.

I was able to immediately suspend my disbelief and allow myself to believe in the fable-like presentation of anthropomorphized (in ideals, not in body) wasps and bees.  I think this was largely because I felt that the author believed in her world.  She declares it to be real and proceeds without the fluff and whimsy that might have made the story seem fey or twee.  She imbues the wasp and bee societies with such a dark realism that the reader can’t help but believe.  Things become more complex and layered, grimmer, even more real, as the story evolves, leaving me thinking back on it again and again after I had finished reading.

I will definitely be seeking out more of Yu’s work and am especially pleased to read that she’s working on a “magic realist novel about a family of Afghan asylum-seekers in Australia.” (Locus interview)

2015 To Be Read List

I think I’ve decided how I want to approach my 2015 attempt to scale another few feet of Mount TBR.  I will be focusing largely on books I already own, whether in paper or electronic form.  I intend to keep with my policy from 2014 of not buying new books, reading from my own shelves and relying on the local library for new releases that catch my eye and book group reads.  I have excellent luck with getting at or near the top of the library’s holds lists, often getting new releases first or second, as I have become expert at stalking their online database, keeping watch for pre-release titles that interest me and tagging books when they are newly on order.  I often wonder why more readers in my city don’t jump on this method, but I suppose I should be thankful that they don’t!

I have linked this list as a static page at the top of the blog and will update there as I add additional titles and cross off those I’ve read.  I expect to add another 20-30 books to this list over the course of the year, assuming I keep with my general average of 60-ish annual reads.  Most of the additions will come from farther down my own stacks and from public domain e-books, peppered again with library finds.

Here are some basic statistics on the titles I’ll be drawing from, followed by the list as it currently stands:

Total books: 35
Owned:  14
Public-domain ebooks:  10
Library books: 11
By female authors:  21
By male authors:  14
Works in translation:  10
1001 Books inclusions:  12
Classics Club selections:  12

Abbreviations:  CC = The Classics Club.  1001 = 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

THE BOOKS:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (1001)
  2. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
  3. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  4. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (1001, CC)
  5. Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic (1001)
  6. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  7. How to be both by Ali Smith
  8. Indigo by Marina Warner (1001)
  9. Kokoro by Sōseki Natsume (1001, CC)
  10. Lamb by Christopher Moore
  11. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (1001, CC)
  12. Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (CC)
  13. Neuromancer by William Gibson (1001)
  14. Nova by Samuel R. Delany
  15. Obabakoak: Stories from a Village by Bernardo Atxaga (1001)
  16. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1001, CC)
  17. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  18. Stone Junction by Jim Dodge (1001)
  19. Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (CC)
  20. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (1001)
  21. The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (CC)
  22. The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (CC)
  23. The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
  24. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (CC)
  25. The Library Window by Margaret Oliphant (CC)
  26. The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster (CC)
  27. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (CC)
  28. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  29. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
  30. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  31. The Wilds by Julia Elliott
  32. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1001, CC)
  33. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (graphic novel)
  34. Wild Life by Molly Gloss
  35. Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
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