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Project uncluttering notepad, pt. 2:

[Only I seem to be cluttering so much faster than I ever unclutter, mostly in the process of writing the project uncluttering posts, which kind of defeats the purpose... ::sigh:: ]

More fanish ramblings: the secret of interesting 'ships. )

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My attention span is all but non-existent these days. Pathetic.

During my one and a half week holiday I read... )

During the three weeks since I'm back I made my slow, slow way through The Wine-Dark Sea, half of The Commodore and the greater part of H.Heer's Vom Verschwinden der Täter, the last of which I read mostly at work.

Am now fiftysomething pages into Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I like so far, although after seventeen volumes of O'Brian I'm fairly yearning for something more modern than the Napoleonic age...

A.Oz's Eine Geschichte von Liebe und Finsternis is still lying around untouched, although I found the first few pages intriguing. Same with Yann Martel's Schiffbruch mit Tiger. And so on, and so on.

I just can't seem to focus at all, most of the time.

Instead, too much tv watchage, and is that even a word? )

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I've been going through the day in a haze of tired listlessness, my mind very, very blank, not that I was doing much of anything; desperately in need of at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, unlike tonight which was three hours with lights on and everything, wake up, brush teeth, too exhausted even to remove the contacts, turn off computer, another three hours, alarm, groan, should I go running? gah, can't, too tired, too stormy, roll over, back to sleep for another two hours or so. Not exactly refreshing.

This time of the year, with Christmas looming and the resulting stress (or is it the cold?) my mind seems to... shut down its higher functions, thoughts are sluggish, or non-existent. Even my grasp of English seems to decrease; thesaurus and/or dictionary for every other word, and continuous worrying whether this or that phrase sounds odd. (On the other hand, just now on the phone with my sister I was desperately searching, but not finding an adequate translation for mind wiped blank.)

It doesn't help that between the general fatigue and the worsening November weather (cold last week, stormy for the last few days) I haven't had many morning runs recently and am beginning to feel fat, unfit and generally cranky.

On the brighter side of things, however, generally speaking this year I'm feeling a lot stronger, more ready to deal with stress, responsibility & whiny annoying customers; not so easily intimidated. Or at least I do now, things most likely will be different come December...

Finished The Surgeon's Mate, and plot? please? ::whine:: Or more precisely, a structured plot... Sometimes it feels like he's downright squandering this wealth of narration, characterisation and high quality writing.

There are bits & pieces I liked, but as a whole it never really came together for me. The one red thread running through it are various observations about the relation between the sexes, the all-male world of a ship, love and friendship, and how the latter is perhaps impossible men and women - an odd, not to say ominous prelude, considering the book ends with Stephen and Diana's wedding.

I enjoyed the bit where they're sailing through the Sound, passing Helsingør - I still vividly remember walking around the castle more than a year ago, a foggy day, starting with drizzle that would turn into a downpour later on, looking across a grey sea towards the Swedish coast...

Stephen's chillingly understated parting words, upon being taken away to be interrogated: 'Do not be concerned,' he said, feeling for his ampulla, 'unless something unexpected should occur, I shall be back at sunset.' The ampulla (whose existence Jack, to whom this is addressed, is unaware of) being a small glass vial in his mouth, filled with poison, a means of escape in case of torture. This, a hundred pages after we've seen Jack's extreme anxiety (a sleepless night mostly spent in the maintop) during Stephen's mission on Grimsholm and Stephen himself surprised at his attachment to life...
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Tired. Christmas is already beginning to make itself felt... But so far it's still all good, I like having something to do, to have accomplished something at the end of the day - it's preferable to standing around being bored; and M. and I have worked out our little differences for the moment. Though one could wish K. wouldn't have chosen this particular time of the year for having a break-down of sorts...

Finished The Fortune of War, started The Surgeon's Mate & for the first time feel that I might eventually need a break. It's not that I'm getting bored or that the books are getting worse further into the series, but with their peculiar pacing and emphasis on characterisation and style rather than plot they begin to blur into each other a little already in my mind...

What still fascinates me, though, are all those tiny touches and subtle shifts of mood, the alteration and/or combination of a light ironic style (perhaps more prevalent in the earlier volumes) with deadly seriousness and deep emotions, the one setting off the other to the best advantage, never incongruous; how you have to pay such close attention to the tone of voice, the turn of a phrase. The details, the prose, the descriptions and characterisations are what makes these novels so enjoyable.

Occasionally though, part of me can't help wishing he would be just a little more... conventional maybe. Characters introduced and built up only to be randomly killed off when one has come to expect to see more of them... true to life, occasionally slightly exasperating in fiction.

The Fortune of War is another of those unstructured rambling novels, starting with a deceptive calm and lightness of tone, until all of a sudden and in short order there is a ship going up in flames, our heroes adrift in a boat and almost dying before they're picked up, a lost battle with Jack almost dying again; the remaining two thirds of the book are a moody, melancholy and rather introspective description of their time in American captivity, together with a little political intrigue and Stephen meeting Diana again, then, in the space of the last twenty pages or so, another battle, this time victorious. What I really liked best about this novel are the psychological aspects - Stephen to his dismay discovering how his feelings for Diana have changed, and his near-despair at this revelation; a gloomy Jack recovering from his wound in an hospital-cum-asylum. On the downside, I don't really like Diana, or rather I'm perfectly indifferent to her; in fact O'Brian has yet to write a female character I find even remotely interesting. I still can't quite pinpoint why exactly I feel like this - at a guess it's because in such a male world women by necessity play a less central part, and the connection the male characters share, in the very basic sense of knowing each other, is just so much stronger and more intriguing to the reader. Or maybe because he tries too hard and his (so far) invariably beautiful, interestingly flawed, courageous and slightly unconventional women bore me.

Jack cut the thread and handed back the mended coat; he looked out of the window, where the
Shannon's topsails winked in the evening light, and said, 'Dear Lord above, how I do wish I could set you clear of all this dirty, ugly, underhanded mess: how I long for the open sea.'
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For many, many years he had been unable to open his mind fully to any man or woman at all, and at times it seemed to him that candour was as essential as food or affection: during most of this period he had used his diary as a kind of surrogate for the non-existent loving ear - a very poor surrogate indeed, but one that had become so habitual as to be almost necessary. He missed it now, the close-written coded book, and having stared at the fire for a while he turned full to the table. His indifferent eye fell on the note, addressed in that familiar hand, and he drew a sheet of paper towards him.

'If I no longer love Diana,' he wrote, 'what shall I do?

[Stephen in O'Brian's The Fortune of War]

"And so do you really think they're still out there, loving each other, and then being separated, and him finding her again, only to be separated again?"

"Yes. I do," Finnegan said.

"What a terrible way to live."

Finnegan considered this for a moment. "Love makes its demands, and you listen. You can't bargain with it. You can't fight it. Not if it's really love."

[Clive Barker, Abarat 2: Days of Magic, Nights of War]
solitary_summer: (ship (© clive barker))

# Crawling out of bed at about 10:45, and realising, upon turning on the computer, that it's not even 9 am. Very nice.

# Wanted to mention this yesterday, but forgot... Mandarin ducks. They look absurdly glamorous among the more prosaic local ducks, sculpted and painted pieces of art floating in an also rather prosaic local fountain, surrounded by typical Austrian autumn scenery. I've only noticed them once or twice before... are they from the zoo? migrating?

# My four free days in a row are no more, no thanks to co-worker's gyn appointment, but I get Friday off instead, so it's ok really. Only two work days this week.

# Finished Desolation Island, and... wow.

cut for length and spoilers )

... it's absurd (not to mention shallow) to complain about what sets O'Brian's books apart from any other series of this length, or from your average swashbuckling historical adventure novel - the subtle shading of the characters and their development -, but especially during the first half of DI with everyone older, more disillusioned and bitter, and, at least before they return to sea, somehow at odds with themselves and their lives, I felt a certain nostalgic longing for the youthful enthusiasm & exuberance and greater carelessness of the first two (perhaps three) volumes, wishing he'd lingered there a little longer instead of rushing on so fast...
solitary_summer: (brothers (© clive barker))

... and affection it is that brings me here, no doubt. Even a frigid, self-sufficing man needs something of this interchange if he is not to die in his unmechanical part: natural philosophy, music, dead men's conversation, is not enough.

(Stephen, in PC)

To say I don't like Stephen as a character would not be true at all, but I recognise too much of myself in him to be in any danger of romanticising him. The reserve, the cold, observant, academic view of life, unless something truly goes against his principles, the awareness of some darkness threatening within; the need for privacy, the dislike to feel himself indebted to anyone... even the tendency to be (*cough*) something less than orderly. Falling - hard - for someone he knows is going to hurt him. Perhaps this is why I, like he, was so instantly drawn to Jack's much more candid, impetuously enthusiastic character...

# Chinese zodiac, gacked from [ profile] czaria... It doesn't match a hundred percent, and I'm not sure how much probability there can be in assigning a bunch of characteristics to people born within a whole year, but I'm much closer to the Rat than to what the typical Gemini is supposed to be. A streak of the artistic perhaps, but little else fits.

# [ profile] 50bookchallenge update here
solitary_summer: (Default)

Sometimes privacy is necessary, sometimes I don't want to bother taking care how to exactly phrase things in order not to give a wrong or skewed impression. [Edit: On second, or third, thoughts, unlocked. ::shrug::]

Running before work helps relieve the tension, after 70 mins I'm pleasantly tired, the edge is taken off a little, I'm less energetic, but also less likely to be irritated and/or irritable. I can stand by (step back) with a certain amount of lethargy, nod & agree & let her do whatever she wants to do in whatever disorganised way she choses to. Can convince myself that I don't much care. Petty, certainly, but if your ambition is constantly to be cut short at a certain level, if your energy isn't wanted... if this is the way she wants it, then so be it.

I'm not happy with this, but for the moment it seems the better course of action, rather than constantly struggle with anger and frustration.

So I look at Aivazovsky's paintings, and dream...

Part of me feels (obliged to feel) slightly guilty about this recent unexpected bout of fangirlishness, but the greater part is just unabashedly happy, because it is so very good to feel positive, enthusiastic, alive about something again, even if it's something comparatively stupid or trivial. Tired as I am at the moment it's hard to recapture the emotion, but this afternoon I felt it acutely. Not dead inside. Alive
solitary_summer: (wizard (© clive barker))

Tired, for no very apparent reason; not so much the morning run (clear skies, magnificent sunrise), I guess, rather my lingering on-&-off annoyance with M., her disorganised, hectic way to start a million things at once, where ultimately everything, if it doesn't get lost in the totally unnecessary self-created stress & chaos, takes so much longer.

It's not my task to remind her to order books for customers - if she insists on being The Boss and the only one to order books, it is her responsibility, not mine, and I'm equally sick of having to make excuses because once again it took her ages to finally order a book, and of having to remind her again & again & again, it's not as if there are all that many orders. I tell her, I stick the notes where she cannot miss them, unless she purposefully ignores them... I don't get it. As I see it, we're a book-store, not her personal playground, and satisfied customers should come first, everything else is secondary. She can damn well re-arrange the order of her beloved medieval history books later.

And when you're in that kind of mood already, it's all kinds of ridiculously small details that irritate you out of all proportion... Who the fuck (except M.) puts books upside down on the shelf, so that you can read the titles on the spines more easily? Not customers who pull them out to look at them, that's for sure, and after a few days it's a total mess with no order whatsoever.

[/rant mode]

*sigh* I'm aware that I'm kind of anal about keeping things orderly & systematic at work; It doesn't take a psychologist to tell me that this is probably an attempt to make up for the mess the rest of my life is, to at least give me the feeling there are some things I can and do control. It's perfectly ridiculous too, considering the state my flat usually is in.

[Also, note to self, bring instant coffee to work. I never really woke up after lunch-break today.]

Finished Mauritius Command, which for once has a rather straight forward plot, all threads tied up neatly, and also quite loses the Austen-esque light tone - for the greater part action-driven, hard-edged and full of bloodily realistic battles, which makes for an interesting change of pace after the much more introspective HMS Surprise.

However, there are bits, especially in the beginning, that have my not-so-inner feminist struggle with the futile desire of wanting to smack O'Brian upside the head, much as I love the books otherwise; his female characters & his treatment of them... *shrug* it may be a personal quirk, but something there rubs me entirely the wrong way..

Still... *sigh* ongoing stupid fascination with ships, something I couldn't have cared less about a few weeks ago, and I'm really forcing myself not to delete the cd from the next amazon order just to get it earlier... there are other books that need reading, and yeah. A break is good. Moderation is good.

:: interest meme :: )
solitary_summer: (head (© clive barker))

Cold. Alarm at six, crawled out of bed, shivered, checked the news website for the weather (still no thermometer after four years in this flat), and, wtf, not even three degrees; morning run canceled, coffee postponed, back to bed, woke up again at nine, cranky, disorientated and more tired than three hours earlier.

It went downhill from there, fast.

(Though either I was exuding bad karma today (always a possibility), or it wasn't just me who had a bad day, because customers were generally annoying and two of them told me, unprompted, that this was the kind of day where just everything went wrong.)

Jack glanced up, and there against the Southern Cross, high on the humming topgallant forestay, was the sloth, rocking easy with the rhythm of the ship.

(from HMS Surprise)

The sloth, I might mention, cheered up what remained of the day immensely....
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Finished Post Captain, and, hm. It's not as if I didn't enjoy it, because I did, very much so. Or that I regret having already ordered the next two volumes. Might as well admit it, I've come as close to developing a 'literary crush' (Jack) as ever in recent (or not-so-recent) memory.

However, some of my reservations from M&C still stand.

PC on the whole is a little more focused than M&C, but it still has a rambling, episodical quality; O'Brian's particular style makes it at times oddly sketchy and almost uneven. On the one hand the change of pace between more detailed descriptions and hasty impressionist sketches, consisting mostly of fragments and half sentences, makes for an interesting reading, on the other hand it does give it an almost abbreviated half-finished air, as if O'Brian was jotting this down for his private amusement mostly, fleshing out scenes that interested him, leaving others alone, and generally not giving too much thought to structure or plot. It does maybe even lend the books a further touch of realism, because life, after all, most of the time doesn't sort itself into great dramatic arcs, but as a work of literature is leaves something to be desired...

As for the romantic sub-plot... ((Not that one.)) But in all seriousness, and putting aside the slash coloured glasses for the moment, what makes the books so special, the main theme, to which everything else is rather secondary, is the friendship between Jack and Stephen, and this is where O'Brian is at his best. Brilliant characterisation, emotions, psychology, subtlety, and he's got the balance of 'show' vs. 'tell' down to a fine art; all their scenes together are pleasure to read.

Which is all very well in M&C, but makes for an a little strange effect here. I don't think it is just a personal perception that somehow the question of Jack's success with Sophia is never so pressing a concern to the reader as his rift with Stephen and its resolution, which, synchronised as it is with the near-suicidal attack on Chaulieu and the sinking of the ill-fated Polychrest, constitutes as much of a dramatic climax as this book is capable of. Granted, it's perhaps that to a certain extent O'Brian with his Austen-esque style simply fucks with one's expectations, because in a way we seem to be programmed to expect, when there's genuine romance/love, for it to automatically become the central issue of any given plot. But still, here one can't quite help the feeling that at least part of the romance plot, the rivalry over Diana, is there merely in order to further develop their friendship through a crisis, give them a deeper insight into each others' personalities...

((And putting on the slash-coloured glasses again... it'll be hard for Jack and Sophia to be more married than he and Stephen are in this book. I'm just saying...))

And damn it, now I want the movie dvd.
solitary_summer: (Default)

[ profile] 50bookchallenge:

#31: Thomas Mann, Tagebücher 1933-1934

Interesting as always, not the least because of the historical/political background.

#32: Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander

Very well written, a joy to read, introducing you to a world you've so far been unfamiliar with, a book to make you giggle and laugh out loud, characters quirkily original, at once interesting and likeable... How can you not love them? What more can one want in a book? I so enjoyed reading it that I feel quite bad for finding any fault with it, but the novel's one weakness is its plot, or rather the lack thereof. Over four hundred pages, where nothing much happens; there's the odd sea-fight, we see Jack establishing his authority and forging his crew into a well-functioning unit, there's the court martial in the end, but there are no great dramatic arcs, no real emotional build-up. Dillon's conflict of consciousness is touched upon, but never really resolved, the plot-line cut short by his death. It gives the whole thing a kind of soap-opera-esque quality, but after all, it only is the introduction to a twenty volume series...

But this is really a minor quibble and doesn't diminish the enjoyment.

What actually most amazed me was to learn that the series has a sizeable male following, because techno babble nautical terminology and details aside, more often than not this is reminiscent of nothing as much as Jane Austen. A gay kind of Jane Austen, on ship board instead of in a drawing room. More explict, with darker, appropriately realistic touches - while he doesn't exactly dwell on the more unpleasant sides of naval life or battle, he never lets you forget them for too long either - but there's a quite Austen-esque irony, sense of understated humour in small touches.

Perhaps one can't altogether escape clichéed ideas what male or female writing is 'supposed' to be like, even while rejecting them in one's mind, because what I find really wonderful is that these characters were in fact created by a man, male characters that aren't gruff, monosyllabic and generally emotionally stunted, but men who are emotional, moody, who have no problems talking about their feelings, who have this really deep, beautiful friendship...

And don't even let me start on the slashiness, that's a subject for a entry of its own...

Another pleasant thing is that this is a novel you can read whether or not you are interested in or knowledgable about ships: I don't have the slightest emotional attachment to ships (Conrad's novels tend to leave me slightly baffled) and probably couldn't identify the various parts of one even in German, but at the end of M&C one has acquired a tolerable knowledge of what's what, without ever having been left in a lurch for too long or bored by over-lengthy explanations.

I'm good for at least another volume or five, if perhaps not for all twenty of them...

#33: Peter David, The Long Night of Centauri Prime. Book 1: Legions of Fire

Not bad at all; the best and most in character B5 novel I've read so far. Perhaps not perfect, but definitely an improvement on what I've come to expect after Cavelo's and Drennan's work; competent prose, fast paced, the canon characters spot-on and the original characters quite interesting and fitting well into the plot.

#34: Donald Windham, The Dog Star

Strange, how in some ways utterly alien a novel set in the south of the US during the 40ies can be... Came across this book in TM's diaries, and it is indeed a powerful novel, that drew me in, despite the fact that the subject itself didn't instantly appeal to me. The protagonist's teenage angst sense of alienation, search for identity, the male insecurity turning (among other things) into misogyny and violence, is something that at this point of my life I have only limited interest in.

It was only towards the end that the narration really gripped me, when Blacky's decision to reject any outside influence, to cut all emotional ties, drives him faster and faster towards the inevitable outcome; here in my opinion the story transcends the subject and becomes more... universally valid, in a way.

The prose is maybe what fascinated me most throughout - quite spectecular, simple, clipped, sometimes almost brutal, yet at times also astonishingly poetical; very evocative, creating images and impressions that linger, lines and paragraphs that make you stop and re-read.


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