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I know where it lives

My son calls: "Mom, you like to keep an eye on local FB groups, do you remember has a cat been lost recently?"

Me: "How does it look like?"

Son. "Big, fluffy, I think it is grey"

Me: "Are you on Kuru street? Because a big fluffy grey cat lives in second house from crossroads there. It is very friendly."

Son: "QK then. And now it is asking for a petting — it sure is a big and fluffy one!"

Worldcon 75 hesitations
I am fighting a suspicion that I have made a mistake in thinking I should try a Worldcon - it seems suddenly so overwhelming, confusing and scary.

Has anyone reading this entry been to a Worldcon? May-be I should just tell myself that I have given my money and THAT is the part that matters - being supportive of the good thing. That being there in person would be something I will not be able to enjoy anyway.

I do plan to vote for HUGO awards, I have also bought all the novels on list (I have to finish the 2 last ones and am not yet sure how I will vote).

But I do feel scared to go in person, sure that so many strangers will be too hard (and the stress makes me fall into the traps of self-hate. And - may-be I should not force myself to do something that makes me fall apart?)

I would like to hear about first time Worldcon experience - about both the good and the bad.

Full of spoilers

There are different kinds of pleasures in books. As I read for escape, I throw my nets widely, as whatever I read, it will STILL be escape from my life (well, unless I would write an autobiography, I guess. Reading THAT would probably not be an escape).

Anyway, from one side "Boy's Life" was something I did not enjoy very much. I have read enough about the period it covers not to find much that was new data for me, from one side, and, from other side, in small details that can make a connection, spur nostalgia and open the heart of the reader, the book described a too different world from the one where I grew up.

As for plot - and plot CAN make even a fluffy book inviting - there WAS one, yet it was so weighed down with all the details around that it seems, looking back, as though the book was one long wandering in nostalgic mist.

Yet, while I ended up checking the themes one expects in fiction about a boy - boy and his father, boy and his dog, boy and his bicycle, I also found the sheer MAGIC amusing. And, for me, this WAS something that WAS similar in the Soviet childhood - the wish to catch a Nazi war criminal!

In the end, this juvenile greediness described was what made me want to write about the book - I know the feeling of wanting to be an actor in everything dramatic one has learned about. To catch a Nazi war criminal, to know personally someone who has experienced slavery (the character the boy meets has be 106 years old for that, but who cares!), to fight and to drive away a monster!

For me, when I was the mental age of the hero of the book, it seemed that the issue of slavery in USA was being dealt with, but I was obsessed about the fate of Native Americans, for example. And, may-be, that was also what confused me about the boy - he was interested in what had happened in Europe, he thought about slavery ... yet he did not obsess about the Native people on whose land he and his family were living. Why? OK, there was a friend with collection of arrow heads, but if there was anything about the descendants of the people who had made these arrowheads, I did miss it.

December: gnomes and shoes

Postcard with an illustration by Anne Linnamägi (1966) for "The Santa Claus Who Was Afraid of Kids" by Leelo Tungal (Tammeraamat, 2010)

I have shown this postcard before, and the question I got was: "Why all the shoes?"

The sussipäkapikk* or a shoe-gnome is a tradition that reached Estonia in late 1980s from Scandinavia. Children will leave their inside shoes on the windowsill on December evenings and if the child has been good, in the morning there will be some candy in the shoe, left there by a visiting gnome!


On this postcard from year 1987 artist Regina Lukk has drawn the shoes most children wore in kindergarten and, as you can see, the children have been good, so there are sweets in their shoes (as each child leaves only a single shoes, this pair must mean a pair of kids, I assume)

* I have not made up my mind what would be the best translation for suss. Sussid are inside shoes - they could be called slippers, just that often sussid have closed heels. Does English have a special word for inside shoes?

"What's the idea of Estonian literature?"

I still insist I am only a common reader, never even tipping my toes in the flow of literary matters, just that it has accidentally happened that I ended up reading books by two literary scholars so close by. Also, "Travels with Six Guides" can be viewed as a comfort read - after all, I have read the travel writing by those authors, whose footsteps Janika Kronberg followed in his book.

The title quote comes from a casual conversation Janika describes having with a random New Yorker, who asks the standard questions of a good mannered American and then follows them up with "What's the idea of Estonian literature?" (I mean, really - why would anyone write something that in theory can reach less than one million people?)

Janika comes to answer: "To go on living in our own language."

"As what else could be the idea of the Estonian literature. What other reason than to live, think and write, to tell truth, to write in verse* and to tell fibs, to remember, to love and to hate in our own language - what other meaning can a literature have?"

As goes the original quote: "Sest mis muu võib olla eesti kirjanduse idea. Mis muu kui elada, mõelda ja kirjutada, tõtt rääkida, luuletada ja luisata, mäletada, armastada ja vihata omaenda keeles - mis mõtet saab ühel kirjandusel veel olla!"

* well, as the word luuletada means both writing poems and telling fibs, I THINK Janika meant poems, as the other word he uses next in his original sentence -luisata - means telling fibs ... and also means sharpening cutting edges of tools
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A witer and his time

"My time. Conversations about literary history" by Ralf Parve. Jaak Urmet asked the questions and wrote down the answers.

"History of literature - for me it is the history of the writers, not the history of their texts" writes Urmet in his introduciaon to the book (page 6)

I loved the author, Jaak Urmet, for daring to put his beliefs like that, even if (no matter how much I love personal stories of people) I would disagree with him. I do love life-stories of the writers and I do believe these stories can be important and illuminating about the texts, but I do believe that in history of literature the texts are primary and the life stories secondary.

I sought the book out because I wanted to learn more about another writer - Lilli Promet, who was wife of Ralf Parve. I am aware of the name of Ralf Parve mostly for his travel books (written together with his wife) and for his work as editor of the magazine for children "Pioneer"

I loved the conversations in the book, though, and am likely to seek out some writings by Ralf Parve soon.

What I want to ask from my readers, though, is - so, for you, is the literary history more history of texts or more history of the people, who wrote these texts? Would you prefer to read literary history full of history of good or important texts .... or would you prefer to hear more about the people, who wrote during tricky times, even if the texts they wrote are mediocre and terribly dated by now? Is the urge to write by itself also part of the literary history, no matter how bad or good the resulting texts?
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Escapism and guilty pleasures
Since learning that for my mother the melanoma has spread to her brain and lungs, I have taken to escaping to fiction even more than I usually do.

So, this year, I have had binges not just reading writings of Carol Berg (more about her books later on!), but also of (talking only about one genre here, albeit the one that currently seems to give me most of relief) Kelley Armstrong, Robin LaFevers, Cassandra Clare, Maria V. Snyder.

These binges make me think of what do I, personally, feel as a guilty pleasure.

May-be I have misunderstood, but I believe in general the guilty pleasure is meant as something one enjoys, but feels one should not enjoy, as it is not of high quality/high culture and the peers whose opinion matters are likely to make fun of someone taking pleasure in such inferior product.

For me, the guilt comes from ... feeling a bit like an immoral predator. Taking an innocent book by Cassandra Clare like a low class virgin, having my way with it and then putting it aside with a sneer: "No need to respect my victim, as such low class one has earned no better treatment! I will badmouth it and not recommend it to anyone, as I got what I needed from it and yet I am sure I have no reason to give anything back (like a good review ... or at least not saying anything, if I cannot say something good)"

I do not feel that way about books by Robin Hobb, to give just one example, as while I do not have anything to say about these books, I read then as I like them (faults and all), I may not stand up to defend them, if someone does not like that kind of thing, but as I really do like what Robin Hobb writes, all is OK.

Hence - from the list in second paragraph, Cassandra Clare and Maria V. Snyder are guilty pleasures and others are not.

Carol Berg started out as a guilty pleasure - I believe I read "Transformation" a decade ago (and did not like it enough to buy more), then last year in USA I did read "The Spirit Lens" - was not impressed, but got into the story and after reading "The Soul Mirror" also did not forget the author. Got back with reading "Flesh and Spirit" and "Breath and Bone" earlier this year that, while spurring me to buy more Carol Berg books as I liked them, still did not yet entirely get out of the guilty pleasure territory (I even thought of writing a review, but could not get my thoughts coherent enough).

Interestingly, while I liked the story of Valen most, still it were the books of "The Bridge of D'Arnath" that changed my stand on writing of Carol Berg. I guess I should blame the fourth book of the series for that.

Spoilers, keep away if you still only plan to read The Bridge of D'Arnath series Collapse )

"Drunken Mary was under wheat this summer."

I loved this book!

In rural Suffolk, UK in 1980s, Desiree White is bothered by too many secrets - "I should never have started crawling around in ditches, kicking up people's secrets. I used to be afraid that if I tripped and fell, I'd crack my head open and they'd spill out everywhere. The stuff I knew, the secrets"

The story winds back and forth over 6 years, starting with 14 year old Desiree finding a dead, handless baby in ditch and ending with 21 year old Desiree finally believing that the ghost of the dead baby, whom she calls Peewit, has finally found peace and moved on (is this a spoiler? No, I think of it more as an indulgence to seek solace in when the going might get darker and darker at some places in the book).

What charmed me in the story was how the players were not just the villagers and the newcomers and the Americans renting an house from farmer Guppy, but also the goats and the pair of stray hens (survivors of a lorry full of chickens skidding into a ditch and spilling his load of crates full of chickens all over the road) and even the fields, especially the evil Drunken Mary:

"Those were the best times at work, when the shop was quiet, when it was just me and Elmy and I'd fold my arms and listen to his stories of when he was a boy, the places he knew, his tales of Star Naked and Shoulder of Mutton. Elmy could name all the fields hereabouts.

'Lovelands, Featherbeds,' he said, 'That's where most courting couples would go.' Those were the hideaway meadows, where the earth was as soft and as light as air. Or the faraway fields, the ones out in the middle of nowhere, like Waterloo, South Sea, and Montserrat. 'Those big old fields today, they swallowed up hundreds of those small fields to get that size,' he said.

Elmy could name every single one of them as a boy, he said. 'I was strong as anything back then, with a quick head on me.' [...]

'There was one field though,' he said.'A dark mean old field, near the back of the pub. She had a strong root pull on her, all right. Nobody went near that one if they could help it.'

I knew the one, only twelve acres or so, one of the last on the edge of the village before the prairie fields began. I'd noticed how the soil there always smelled sour after ploughing; how hares slid across its puddled clay. Dark green slime oozed into the ditches.

'It's a field that's lost its mother,' Elmy said. He reckoned it was never looked after properly, and then it was too late.'The clay got waterlogged, bloated up with hunger and turned bad. No amount of muckspreading or draining ever seemed to put it right. that's why it was always known as Drunken Mary,' he said.'That's a field that would take anyone down, given half a chance. Suck your boots off and spit your buttons out after.'"

I love the quote above also, probably, because my uncle used to work as ameliorator in a collective farm, so joining up and draining the small fields into bigger ones was his job. But, of course, Estonia being small, even our "big" is quite small. And now many of those fields are abandoned, forest taking over ...

I am a small town person myself, but my mother grew up in a farm and when one looks back in time, Estonians were the peasants (no nobility of our own, the Christian crusaders and their heirs lording over Estonians for 700 years made sure of that). So, majority of people of my generation had close relatives in rural areas, not to mention the mandatory days of "volunteer" work on collective farm fields that happened to everyone back in the Soviet Estonia. That might explain my fascination with the rural life - not just with the nostalgic fairy tales, but also with the gritty everyday.

Still, I am confused about recommending the book. From one side, I loved it and feel like everyone would enjoy it, too. From other side - I am not sure how someone entirely urban might read it. Would they be bored?

As for me, I now want to visit the UK countryside, to see the ditches and fields myself (even if, unlike the 14 year old Desiree - I would probably be too old hide away in ditches when I would like to observe and remain unseen myself)

In public transport

The tall man with long curly hair and beard had been sitting down, but then the man with briefcase and tuft of beard had told being disabled and got the seat.

"Are you one of these believers of false God?" asked the now standing tall man. "Of the one the crusaders sneaked in?"

"My mother christened me …"

"You have been spoiled! But you are a Northern man! Odin sent me back after I had been in coma for 8 days, only Odin is real God!"

Overheard in public transport
Yesterday in bus I observed a small girl (between age of 5 - 7) reciting Christmas verses to herself, while her father was standing next to the seat, attempting to read a thick paperback.

"Daddy!" said the girl eventually "Now let us imagine that you are the Santa and I will try reciting the poem to you!"

As you know, in Estonia the children have to earn their gifts.

This girl, obviously, was a perfectionist - she tried to construct her OWN poem (because making something is considered better than just repeating or giving something done by others) to recite to Santa. And it looked like she had had couple of lessons about good manners recently, so her poem started with: "We like YOU, dear Santa, more than the gifts you will be giving us!" (here she tried to go on to explain WHY that particular visitor would be welcome even without the gifts, but failed. After all, Santa is not some great-aunt Vanda, whom you see more than once in year. Why would someone even let a strange old man into their house, if not for the gifts?). Then she proceeded to compliments, starting with the traditional descriptions of a Santa "We like your red ... (she seemed to have been thinking of the NOSE, but suddenly remembered that a red nose is NOT, in general, considered attractive. So she changed direction in mid sentence) ... we like your white BEARD, can I touch it?"

She was quite proud of her invention: "Daddy, daddy, I made up that part about the beard being so nice that one would want to touch it by myself!"