Reading

NPR's 100 best SF/Fantasy books/series

As posted here: NPR's Top 100 SF/F books

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46/100 un-read. Any particular feelings among the bolded as to what should go on my short-list? (also if you want to send me a kindle-friendly copy of any of these books that would put it on an even shorter short-list)

edited to addThis is brilliant! I've been feeling disconnected from "new" reading material for a while so it's great to have a list of things other people have really enjoyed!
sad

The Honeymoon is Over

Dear Scotland,

The honeymoon is over. That's right, over. I came here last winter and I figured it was the worst and if I could survive the worst the rest would be smooth sailing. Everyone ran around tutting about how it was the worst winter in 14 years, in 20 years, and I was fine. It was cold and I bought more longjohns and knit hats and mittens and spring came and I got all excited to see leaves and flowers and it warmed up and I went back to California for the summer and came back in August and it was lovely and then the flowers and leaves faded and winter came and it was 10 degrees (Celsius) less than last winter, last winter which was the worst winter in almost two decades, and I wore more layers and knit more hats and cuddled under a blanket even when the heat was on and I have to admit I felt pretty bait-and-switched. When it started snowing again in March (which, to be fair, it did last year as well) I was ready to throw myself off of the roof of a tall building.

But it was just winter. Winter eventually ends and once more there were leaves and flowers and the days got longer (and longer and longer and longer - today the sun rose at 4:20 and will set at 10:10, to be followed by a long, lingering dusk - there's still light through the curtains at midnight when we got to sleep) but this isn't summer. We had a couple of nice days in April when it was sunny for a week, though even on the "hot" days (20 degrees) it was still very windy and felt much cooler. May was a complete waste - it rained seemingly every day and when it wasn't raining it was cloudy, except for maybe an hour of sunshine, scattered across the day in maybe 10-minute increments.

And now it's June. We did have two nice days, last Thursday and Friday, when it was 20 and sunny with a light breeze and perfect but that only makes this worse, back to cloud cover and cold. So far today it's reached a high of 8 (though it's supposed to get up to 16) and it's so dismal and grey that we've had lights on in the house since we woke up. It feels like November. So I'm asking - where is my summer? It doesn't even have to be hot - 22 feels wonderful after living here for 10 months! - just sunny and warm.

One of my classmates told me that putting up with the weather is worth it to live somewhere without natural disasters. The occasional earthquake seems like a small price to pay for sunny and warm.

Formerly yours,

Jennifer
scarf

Ravelry and Difficulty Ratings

Some months back, I read an editorial (written by a high school student, which the printer of the editorial thought was important enough to mention so I will relay it to you) about Ravelry where she observed and wondered about the difficulty "ranking" system of patterns, noting that only two patterns were marked as Very Difficult. Two patterns in the entire Ravelry database.

Now, to start with, the only time I searched Ravelry with a difficulty filter it was to find "easy" glove patterns for some knitter friends who had expressed desire but trepidation with regards to knitting a pair. "look," I said, "here's a whole list of 'easy' glove patterns! Start with one of these!" For the rest, I've looked at how many people have knit a pattern and how happy they've been with the results. The things I am relucant to make (socks, sweaters, intricate lace patterns) have nothing to do with doubts about my technical skill but rather a reluctance to finish one and not the other, put all that effort into something that may not look good/fit right when I'm done, or have to block something. The actual knitting isn't the problem.And while I've not looked closely at difficulty ratings, I've made things and I've rated things, and I can't recall seeing something that has an average difficult of more than medium.

I've seen patterns that are incredibly intricate, lace horror stories with ripping out rows and life-lines, and recalculating, things that take months and months to complete. I've done them, and I've ranked them "mildly challenging." I've knit patterns that ten years ago would've had me in tears and thought, "that was easy!" and ranked them accordingly. How then can I tell a beginning knitter, "these patterns are all easy - try one!" and expect it to end in anything but tears?*

I think there's a lot of ego in the ranking system. If you found a pattern easy, it's not because you're a highly skilled knitter, it's because the pattern is easy. If you rank things as challenging, as difficult and everyone else said it was a quick, easy knit, then it must be because you're a bad knitter. If it requires keeping three pages of instructions spread before you, as in the case of my current project (a page of directions, and two different charts) or if people have had to email the creator to ask for clarification, surely that qualifies as challenging? Surely it's not something you'd mark as a 3 on the 1-10 scale of difficulty.

So I am trying to rank things with an eye, not to how much I struggled with the pattern, but based on whether or not I'd recommend it for someone who just finished their first scarf or their 30th, whose most ambitious project was a bulky raglan sweater or a pair of intarsia mittens on size 2 needles. I will try to help novices and intermediates find patterns that will reward, not frustrate them. I will decide that I am a 7 (out of ten) in skill and that things I find somewhat challenging must be around a 7 in difficulty. I will try to make Ravelry the kind of place where it's okay to say, "I am talented" and "I found it challenging" rather than everyone sitting around, modestly insisting "it was easy" and "anyone could've done the same".

*for the record the friends who knit the easy gloves seemed happy with their results, but I think they will low-balling their abilities.
mellow

Follow-up: "Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance"

The New York Times, in it's online blog, yesterday posted...well, you can't really call it an apology.

,lj-cut text="I've copied the post here">The story quickly climbed The Times’s “most emailed” list but not just because of the sensational facts of the crime involved. “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” published on Tuesday, reported the gang rape by 18 boys and men of an 11-year-old girl in the East Texas town of Cleveland.

The viral distribution of the story was, at least in part, because of the intense outrage it inspired among readers who thought the piece pilloried the victim.

My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim.

While the story appeared to focus on the community’s reaction to the crime, it was not enough to simply report that the community is principally concerned about the boys and men involved – as this story seems to do. If indeed that is the only sentiment to be found in this community – and I find that very hard to believe – it becomes important to report on that as well by seeking out voices of professional authorities or dissenting community members who will at least address, and not ignore, the plight of the young girl involved.

Let’s consider the particulars:

The story by James C. McKinley Jr. reported that residents of the town noted the girl dressed “older than her age,” wore makeup and fashions “more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” and hung out with older boys at the playground.

The story also quoted one resident, saying, “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?”

Referring to some of the defendants in the case, the same resident was quoted saying, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

The fourth paragraph of the story laid out the basic themes of the story:

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?
These elements, creating an impression of concern for the perpetrators and an impression of a provocative victim, led many readers to interpret the subtext of the story to be: she had it coming.

The Times, responding to a wave of complaints, issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Nothing in our story was in any way intended to imply that the victim was to blame. Neighbors’ comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk.”

The statement went on: “As for residents’ references to the accused having to ‘live with this for the rest of their lives,’ those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter’s reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old.”

Philip Corbett, standards editor for The Times, told me earlier today that the story focused on the reaction of community residents and that there was no intent to blame the victim. He added, “I do think in retrospect we could have done more to provide more context to make that clear.”

The Associated Press handled the story more deftly, I think. Its piece on the crime also noted the community view that the girl dressed provocatively and even the view of some that the girl may have been culpable somehow. But the AP also quoted someone in the community saying: “She’s 11 years old. It shouldn’t have happened. That’s a child. Somebody should have said, ‘What we are doing is wrong.’”

The Times, I have been told, is working on a followup story. I hope it delves more deeply into the subject because the March 8 story lacked a critical balancing element. If upon further reporting it is found that the community of Cleveland, Tex., universally believes that the 11-year-old girl was culpable in this crime, then that would be remarkable indeed. But if it proved to be the case, The Times should take care to interview mental health and legal experts who can provide context to a story about a vicious sex crime against a young girl.


I don't really have the energy to explain why I find this answer unsatisfying (blog post; lack of apology still blaming the mother; Someone should have said "this is wrong" because she was 11 - so if she was 21 it would've been okay?) but at least they heard that the tone of their article isn't acceptable and they're backtracking. I guess that's a win?
Snowdrop

Oliver and Libby and the Case of the Mousie

Oliver's favourite toy(s) are his little mousies. We have about a zillion at this point as they have a way of vanishing until the next time you move all the furniture and a zillion mousies means we can put this off, often for a month at a time. Libby likes them too, but she's obsessed with string and only plays with them intermittently.

We keep the mice in a bowl on top of a book case. The bookcase is in the dinning room* which is separated from the sitting room by a few steps and a guard rail. Originally this served as a convenient way to keep some of the mice in reserve so we didn't have to move the sofa every 2hours to find mice for sad kittens. We've switched to the aforementioned Sheer Quantities of Mousies system because Oliver disovered a way to climb up on the railing, walk along it to the corner where the bookcase is, pick a mousie out of the bowl with his mouth, and bring it down to play with. Often times he'll retrieve a mousie, decide it wasn't actually a very good mousie, and immediately get another one. Today he climbed up with a mousie already in his mouth, realized he couldn't pick up another one, and climbed down today. After several weeks of watching Oliver do this, we finally witnessed Libby do it as well. She's a better jumper and can, if she so desires, jump straight from the upper-level floor to the railing, but for the most part she goes the easy way.

Tonight we were privileged to watch Libby climb up to the railing, make her way daintily along it, select a mousie and start back. Oliver (who had gotten down at least five** since dinner), saw that Libby had a mousie and ran over to the railing. Libby leaned down towards him as if to say, "Yes? What do you want?" Oliver jumped up and tried to swipe the mousie from her mouth. Well, she sat back up and decided that wasn't very nice and tried to walk to the end of the railing, the easy place to climb down. Oliver beat her there, jumped up, knocked the mousie away from her, and followed it over the side.

Remember those steps I mentioned? Yeah, the floor is lower on the other side. He went sailing over the railing, after his stolen mousie, and landed with quite the thump. Chris and I stared in shock, then burst out laughing. A few seconds later, Oliver came trotting triumphantly up the steps, mousie in mouth. Libby, still on the railing, watched this, saw that he was occupied with the mousie, and went back for another. Oliver looked up to see Libby with another mousie and again freaked out and ran over to the railing. Libby ran to the end, jumped down and ran upstairs with her mousie. Oliver followed. A minute later, Libby came back down, mouseless, and once more went on a mouse-retrieval expedition. It's worth mentioning that there are some 7 mice scattered around the dinning and living rooms, but no, Libby wants a fresh one.

Oliver caught up with her just as she curled up on the bean bag chair with her new mouse. He batted it away from her, then just walked off. She looked down at the lost mouse (six inches away) and got up to get another mouse. Her most successful trip was when she knocked a mousie down in picking hers up, and he was distracted by the fallen spoils. She managed to keep that mouse for almost two minutes.

This went on for about half an hour. They seem to have hit a mousie saturation point as they both wandering around the rooms at random, spotting a mousie, chasing it around for a few minutes, finding another mousie (which was there the whole time) and deciding to chase that one instead.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: our cats are absolutely bonkers. And amazingly. And yes, Oliver bullies Libby. The thing is we know she could kick his fluffy ginger tail seven ways to Sunday if she actually wanted to. We've seen her do it.


*room names are arbitrary and merely reflect the current primary function of the room in question.

**I took advantage of their trip to the cattery this past weekend to do a lot of hoovering and moving of furniture - things that, if they're home, tends to seriously freak them out. Oliver more than Libby - he's a big scaredy cat and Libby is Explorer Kitty.
the look

"Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town" - Rape case in Texas

Last Thanksgiving an 11-year-old girl was gang raped by at least 18 men, ages "middle schoolers" to 27-years-old. The case came to light when one of the girl's classmates showed a cellphone video of the attack to a teacher. On the 8th, the New York Times published a story by James C. McKinley, Jr which is, um, rather more concerned with the potentially ruined futures of the assailants than, well, anything about the child who was gang raped. Here is a slightly more balance article from AP reporter Juan A. Lozano via Houston Chronicle. There's also an editorial, "The Careless Language of Sexual Violence" prompted by the McKinley's story.

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love

Happiness is...

Happiness is that feeling you get after exercising, for me usually dancing but today it's swimming, that feeling that you're completely centred in your body, occupying it fully: fingertip to fingertip, head to toe. When your body says, "you can stretch me further, work me harder. Give me more!"

Happiness is so much sunshine you have to pull the curtains to keep some out so you can see, rooms fully of tiny rainbows from scattered prisms, plants stretching and growing, snowdrops and crocuses, and even the daffodils in the planters opening their faces to the world.

Happiness is trying new recipes and eating delicious food and thinking "I made this." It's getting a box of vegetables, figuring out what you got this week, and what you can do with it, and a long list of "leftovers" in the freezer if you don't feel like cooking.

Happiness is cuddling on the sofa with your fiancé; a kitten to your left and one to his right, both asleep. Watching them watch birds, tails twitching, making their little chirping clicks when they spot one. Having them seek out skritches and cuddles and look pathetic (Oliver) or imperious (Libby) to coax you into playing their favourite games.

Happiness is talking to friends (even if "just" online) and drinking tea and feeling loved and making plans to hang out with someone new, or see a familiar face for the first time in months.