Mid-Winter Update

So, the last few years, I read a big tome all year. I did manage to read some other books, but the act of reading took a lot of effort. Things are apparently different here in 2023, mostly because I’m commuting to work 4 days a week. It turns out, with dedicated alone time, a well-defined goal and quality books, you can plow through them a lot faster. I think I’m also gaining time by not being forced to react at set intervals. I am reacting only to myself. A gain and a loss, no doubt.

The project has morphed — 23 books in 2023 (even that is conservative, but it at least gives me an out if I start to slow down.) All the reading on the subway has replaced all the knitting on the subway. Luckily, knitting can be done while chatting, while watching a show, or watching a child attempt a daring feat that they won’t do — or stop talking about — until you see it. #winning

Some of my insights/observations so far…

The Dispossessed

I had previously read this as an audiobook and I just couldn’t get into it. Whether it was the reader or some of the confusing time jumping, I just couldn’t latch onto it. However, reading the novel on paper was a totally different experience. I got the time-jumping immediately and I loved the parallel power struggles of the 2 worlds. The quiet suffering of the anarchist planet, the thoughtless consumption of the utopian planet. There was a lot to chew on and many different ways to have empathy for the characters.

The passage that I highlighted and resonated for me is:

“So, looking back on the last four years, Shevek saw them not as wasted, but as part of the edifice that he and Takver were building with their lives. The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.”

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Dispossessed

As a person, and parent, who has come through the pandemic with a lot of regret and guilt about the sacrifices that my children had to make, this passage made me step back and see it as part of a longer timeline. The span of life is long and there is a lot that goes into it. Even pain counts as part of the structure of who my children will be, but I can keep building them up on top of it.

The Time Machine

I don’t have much to say about this from a literary perspective, except that it seems to echo in another story. I read Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” which is a story about time travel where thunder is both the sound of dinosaur attacking, and the sound of a gun at the end, in a brutal twist and a warning against changing the past. Much to my surprise, The Time Machine also has a passage about thunder as the time machine makes its arrival in a new age.

There was the sound of a clap of thunder in my ears. I may have been stunned for a moment. A pitiless hail was hissing round me, and I was sitting on soft turf in front of the overset machine.

H. G. Wells – The Time Machine

The Time Traveller in this novel is downright reckless with how he treats altering the future. Although I couldn’t find any references online, I have to assume that Bradbury was making an allusion to the original time travelling with his story showing the dangers of playing with time.

Parable of the Sower

This was a rough one. It was a hard book to read as the first half is literally the entire society crumbling around a precarious pocket of civilization; the second half was a growing group of survivors rallying around a weird girl and her new religion.

I really wanted to like this book. I like apocalypse as a concept. The novel I am writing revolves around the loss of civilization and the will to survive (which is why I was so eager to read this). However, I think I was frustrated that there was so little cooperation. The only true cooperation we see is between the main character and her growing group, everywhere else there is mistrust, theft, murder, rape, slavery. Every atrocity imaginable.

That is just not my experience with overwhelming hardship. I even heard N.K. Jemisin speak about her apocalyptic novel The Fifth Season, saying that “people cooperate.” During COVID, despite having to stay away from everyone, I was nonetheless bombarded with people offering to give me emotional support from afar. I also took on extra work to provide this same support for others, even as I was drowning in my responsibilities.

Humans are communal people. We gain meaning through shared work and shared stories, which is ultimately the thesis of the novel. I just felt very frustrated that so little community was on display throughout the novel among the randoms around them, as that isn’t my experience.