Apr 9 2014

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1

Arabian Nights

When King Shahriyar discovers his wife to be unfaithful, he begins to marry young women, only to behead them in the morning. In order to save the young women of the region, Shahrazad gives herself to the King Shahriyar. She is not expected to survive beyond dawn, but during the night she begins to tell tales, each night ending the story in the middle, leaving the king desperate to learn the ending and allowing Shahrazad to live another day.

One of my reading goals for this year is to read the complete version of A Thousand and One Nights. My aim was to find a translation that was as complete as possible, including “Aladdin” and “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves“, both of which were added in the 1700-1800s. Since there are many translations, I eventually settled in the Penguin Classics version, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, which comes in three giant volumes and claims to be as complete as possible. (Plus I really liked the covers.)

Volume 1 is 980 pages long. It includes the beginning of Shahrazad’s marriage to Shahriyar and provides up through night 294 of tales, as well as “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves” as an appendix.

Shahrazad’s tales range from adventure yarns with djinn to morality tales, love stories, fables, and war epics. Despite the variety of tales, there was also a great level of repetition, with similar descriptions of characters or expected outcomes. Though this should be expected due to how many stories there are, it can get burdensome for some readers, I’m sure.

The stories are also often nested, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just as Shahrazad saves herself through the telling of the tales, many of the characters within her stories also save themselves from death in a similar way. For example, kings are of ten saying, tell me story more wonderful than what has just happened or I’ll cut off your head. The nesting not only allows Shahrazad a longer tale to tell, which keeps her alive for more nights, but also shows how valuable the act of storytelling was thought to be. Sometimes the nesting becomes a bit too much, though, and there are so many stories within stories, it can be easy to forget the original story, until it’s finally returned many pages (and nights) later.
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Apr 4 2014

Books Read in March

1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

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Mar 21 2014

Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately

1. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman's Union CoverWell, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.

The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.

On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.

When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.

The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.

*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.

2. Goblin Fruit – Winter 2014

I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.

Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.

Each poem in this edition of Goblin Fruit is fascinating and expansive and compelling in its own unique way. This is a must read for poetry lovers. Continue reading


Mar 14 2014

FOGcon Followup

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:

It was fabulous.

The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.

FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.

In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.

Also, I picked up some lovely books.

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Book grab include:

  • The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
  • The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
  • Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
  • Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy

The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.

The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.

FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.


Mar 3 2014

Books completed in February

1. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys by Gilbert King
2. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
3. Tinkers (audio book), by Paul Harding
4. The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

REVIEWS:

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