Archive for books

a journal of the plaid [shirt] year [#2]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2022 by xi'an

Read Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain, which I also found in a Montréal bookstore. At first, I thought it was connected to the masterpiece House of Sleeping Beauties,  which I read eons ago, as dreams are also central to that (mostly) domestic and familial story, but this was quite another, more personal, and poignant reflection on aging and the irreversibility of time. As well as an unsuspected window into immediate post-war Japan. (With the realisation that abortion was completely acceptable then.) Also spotted Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children in my Canadian cabin, which I started and finished later with a Kindle version. As I was unaware of a sequel to the fabulous Darwin’s Radio. Overall, I was almost as enthusiastic about it as I was with the first book, but obviously suffering from an academic bias as the author engages into speculative population genetics, which may prove too much for non-academics… (Imho, the end is wasted, though.) And (binge) read January Fifteenth on the flight back (leaving too early to sleep!), which is a short novel whose only speculative aspect is the move (by the US Government) to a universal basic income (UBI) for all individuals, and the consequences on several women’s live. This was indeed a very quick read, presumably due to the high proportion of dialogues, with (variably) interesting characters that avoid a direct take on the concept, but somewhat charicaturesque nonetheless. The implementation of the scheme is rather vaguely described: January 15 is the calendar day people pick their yearly UBI and they have to do it in person to avoid been coerced or scammed into transferring it to someone else. As someone rather interested in this societal propsal, this book did not modify my views on the concept or on its practical aspects, but shed light on some potential consequences of (one version of) it.

Had a great time in a Lac-Saint-Jean cabin, with direct access to the lake. Albeit requiring the emergency purchase of a neoprene swimming suit, as the temperature of the lake was rather low for extended swimming without it. But otherwise, having a swell time every morning, often running and swimming and biking. Before hiking. (The last week, farther south, next to a much smaller lake I could easily cross, did not require the suit!) Also appreciated very much the almost flat véliroute des Bleuets (blueberries) that run all around the lake (even though some sections are alas shared with cars). Has for instance an uninterrupted 15K connection to the nearest (genuine) bakery+cheese-mongery! Made an attempt at kouign amann, but using the wrong type of both flour and cassonade, plus an unknown oven and the poor substitute of baking soda for yeast predictably failed the experiment, even though the outcome was eatable (and eaten within a few days).

As usual (!), did not spot much wildlife, beyond groundhogs, pikas, squirrels, beavers and muskrats in our rental’s lake, moose tracks here and there, and a few Virginia deer in the Mauricie National Park. (Which made me realise that national and regional [Québec] parks co-existed in the area.) Had a few traditional hikes, reconnecting with Deet to keep mosquitoes and black flies at bay.

Watched nothing at all! In part due to my wife often borrowing my laptop for its Netflix connection, in part due to my early sleep caused by earlier rise, as light comes before 5am in this part of Québec we were staying, which made an ideal opportunity for very early run, swim, and… Biometrika editing!

a journal of the plaid [shirt] year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2022 by xi'an

Read The priory of the orange tree, bought in one of the many Montréal bookstores [where I could have purchased many more books!] This fantasy novel was a Goodread fantasy recommended read, plus a NYT best-seller and nominated for some fantasy award, but I am quite surprised by the enthusiastic support. Indeed, I found the book had a very shallow and predictable scenario, with most of the tropes of the genre (e.g., ninja-like fighters, heroes uncovering long-lost magical artefacts, , super-evil entity about to return to life/power, a few predestined characters saving the Universe). Unrealistic events, all-too-convenient coincidences, with little efforts put in the construction of the world, of the magical rules, or of the political structure there. The second half was particularly bad.

Enjoyed very much my week in the Plateau part of Montréal, with the green spots in from of every house, the density of shops (and not only restaurants), and the fantastic network of BiXi stations that made travelling around so easy and essentially free! (Glad I brought my 661 helmet from home, even though it attracted many questions during the conference!). And lived essentially on (Saint-Viateur) bagels and (Kinton) ramens. With a funny linguistic incident when I ordered a bagel [which I pronounced bah-gael in the Parisian way] in a bakery and was offered a baguette!

Watched The Chase, an improbable but funny Korean film about a grumpy old man uncovering a serial killer, helped by a former cop escaped from a psychiatric facility. Given that the heroes were mostly senior citizens, this made for a welcome major change from the series I usually watched. Also came by chance upon the 2003 Japanese anime Tokyo Godfathers, which I found amazing, despite my rare foray into anime! A most unconventional Christmas movie, to watch in July or any other month.

a [delayed] journal of the plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2022 by xi'an

Read a short story, An Unatural Life, which I found a highly original take on the legal rights of humanoid robots, when a robot on the mining moon Europa stands accused of murder. His (its?) case is taken by a young lawyer, despite her misgivings, and she gradually builds a case. The ending is not fully satisfactory but the fundamental questions behind the story are deep enough for me to recommend the story. And finally gave up on Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, as I could not proceed through the artificiality of the universe construct. (Some friends reported similar defeats!)

Made numerous raspberry purées, as the bushes in our garden deliver non-stop! And further clafoutis and Sonoran tortillas, as well. Also enjoyed an Afghan dinner in Paris, with an incredibly tasty rice dish. (Maybe made better by a week of quasi fasting, following a much less enjoyable experience in a Noirmoutier restaurant..!)

Watched some episodes of Tomorrow, yet another Korean TV drama merging the current era and the afterlife, with an unexciting general thread but some interesting digs into the 1950-1953 Korean War and into the fate of the comfort women enslaved during WW II (in the sense of them being the first occurrences in TV series for me). And Lucid Dream, a Japanese SF movie about entering others’ dreams, à la Interception, but quite poor in its scenario and its acting.

a journal of the [less] plague and [more] pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2022 by xi'an

Read Rankin’s last Rebus, A song for the dark times, which takes place between Edinburgh and the Far North (of Scotland). I reasonably enjoyed it, by which I mean I was not expecting novelty, but rather reuniting with a few characters, including the Teflon villain, Big Ger Cafferty, still around at his craft. Rebus is getting older, cannot climb stairs any longer, and cannot deliver a proper punch in a fight! Still enjoyable, with a dig into Second World War internment camps for German prisoners… While not yet into the COVID era, the spirit is definitely post-Brexit, with a general resentment of what it brought (and did not bring). The character of Inspector Fox escaped me, mostly, but otherwise, an enjoyable read.

Made a light (no baking) chocolate tart, with home raspberries on top (of course) that did not last long.

Watched two Japanese shows: Any crybabies around?! by Takuma Satô which revolves around the Namahage tradition in Northern Japan (to terrify children into being obedient and no crybabies!) and the immaturity of a young father acting as such a character until disaster strikes. With a lot of cringe moments, until the utter hopelessness of this man crybaby, more straw-like than his traditional costume made me stop caring. And the mini-series Switched. Which explores a (paranormal) body switch between two teenager girls to school pressure, bullying, and depression, but in a rather perturbing manner as the girl who initiated and forced the exchange does not come out nicely, despite her overweight issues, her abusive single mother, and the attitude of the rest of the school.  The most interesting character is the other schoolgirl who has to adapt to this situation without changing her (inner) personality, but the story is slow-motioned, predictable, and heavy-handed, esp. in the sobbing department. (Plus bordering at fat-shaming at some point.)

a journal of the plague and pestilence year [back to 1980]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2022 by xi'an

Read Havoc in its third year, best surprise of the [book] year so far! I picked this book from the exchange box in Warwick, presumably before COVID-19, but only started reading it on my last trip. While it starts as a murder mystery set during the reign of King Charles I, in an unspecified Northern city in England, it quickly turns into a more sinister tale of fanaticism and religious hate, as Puritanism engulfs the country, soon to lead to Charles I’s execution… The story is centred around the coroner in charge of the murder inquiry, mostly if vainly trying to escape taking side in the growing divide between fanatics and their victims, a most human figure with doubts and defects hindering his decisions. When this fails, the story becomes more allegorical and less realistic, the coroner turning into a Christesque figure. This book reminded me of the fabulous Instance at the Fingerpost by Ian Pears, which takes place thirty years later in Cambridge.

Cooked cherries in clafoutis from our tree for a week, before birds cleaned it dry.

Watched Taxi Driver, (모범택시) a Korean TV series (inspired from the cartoon The Deluxe Taxi) that I found most disturbing in its ambiguity about vigilante justice, hence interesting to a point, and the surprising movie 26 years, also based on a graphic novel, as it is about children of victims of the1980 Gwangju massacre, who are seeking to assassinate the former and responsible Korean president Chun Doo-hwan. (Who actually died only last year.) The film is quite interesting for this historical foray in not such a distant past. (The massacre took part on the same year as Solidarność was created and repressed, which I remember much more clearly, I am afraid.) And for being produced by crowdfunding, as usual investors were afraid of the political contents. The last 12 minutes of the film actually list all 15,000⁺ donors! The scenario is imperfect, despite characters being well constructed, and the final, never-ending, scene is a drag. Since the former president was still alive 26 years later, the story was doomed from the start, unless falling into alternate reality as in Inglorious Basterds…

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