Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Book Review -- Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe

It only took me 6 months to finish reading a book!  It wasn't the book's fault, either.

I know next to nothing about game theory, but I know a little bit about Jane Austen and her novels, so I picked this up after hearing an interview with the author on the Freak-o-nomics podcast.  It's been sitting around for a long while, and this year I finally dove in.

I found it pretty darn interesting, although less from learning about game theory (although I may explore that topic later).  It's an interesting analysis of the novels and in particular certain characters, exploring why they act as they do and what Austen could be saying.  I especially appreciated Chew's take on Lady Catherine and Mr. Collings (from Pride and Prejudice), and how their actions are a result of cluelessness that could be related to how they use social status to interpret the world.  Since social status and relative status are underlying structures in all of Austen's work, those ideas appealed to me especially.

I also have yet another reason to revisit Mansfield Park, my least favorite of the novels, as Chwe casts a bit more light on Fanny Price (I wanted to slap her throughout the novel, mostly from frustration) and the reasoning -- or lack of ability to reason -- that guides her action and inaction.  I was very put off by Austen's "morality story" novel, but it's been several years since I read it and it might look better now.

I don't have much of an emotional reaction to the book because it is very intellectual (but conversational and easy to read).  The author dips into a variety of stories beyond Austen to explain his ideas, which makes game theory much easier to grasp.  He even goes into the reasons why both a grammatical approach and a mathematical/visual approach give different ways to understand the ideas.


In other reading news, I have a few books lined up to finish this summer (I'm keeping my ambitions small because of the problems I am having reading, some of which involve my vision and difficulty finding good reading glasses).  I am about 1/3 through Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash,  I've got a marker in the new book The Founding Myth.  I went to the book signing with Andrew Seidel, which was especially good, and the book (I'm one chapter in) is full of useful information and history.  I also got the audio book of the first in the Amber series,  Nine Princes in Amber, which I've tried to read many many years ago and now feel like trying again. I have some fun reading also lined up, but I'll discuss those as I finish books.  Right now, if I finish 4 books over the summer, I will be happy.  It will be more than I've done for a while.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Here Comes The Sun!

 It is sunny and bright today, with a hint of spring and a blue, blue sky.  I feel like I can breathe.  I took the dogs out and just stood on the driveway, watching the breeze ruffle Apollo's black puppy coat and feeling the warmth.  I have ambitions to leave the house.

Leaving the house.  I do it so rarely.  I confine myself and always for what seems like perfectly acceptable reasons.  I have no where much to go.  I have to take Zeus with me.  Leaving Apollo crated is very hard on him, but I can't handle two dogs in public (plus he needs a new training vest).  I don't want to spend money.  I don't want to talk to people I don't know, pretending I am normal and fine, explaining (again and again) why I have Zeus with me, what service dogs are about, and everything about poodles.  It's an automatic spiel anymore, automatic, an act, a performance.  Performing is very tiring.  Even going to the Botanical Gardens, once something I did weekly, seems like too much effort because it's crowded much of the time, overly noisy with cars and people and machinery nearby, and I can't walk very far anyway, even with knee and back braces on.

So, I stay home.  I am isolated.  I go weeks without having an actual conversation with anyone but The Husband and my once a week hangout with chosen e-bro Rob.  I don't talk with Bliss anymore, because she has a full time job now, and three kids, and a life.  That's how it goes.  Most of the people I know are like that, and I sometimes miss having a job with people around and things to do, even though I also know now I could not handle it.

I gave up singing in the church choir for several reasons, among which was I no longer enjoy it, it feels stressful, and I no longer feel any connection to the community.  It's a UU church,  but even so there's too much whoo and Jeeeeeezus and such for me now.  I told The Husband that I miss some aspects of being part of a Pagan community, because, separated from the stuff I know isn't true and isn't real, there are useful parts of it, of ritual and celebration and communication.  I wish there was an atheist group around here I could join, but I don't know of any, and I have doubts about my ability to participate.

At least there is sunshine today. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

So Far, So Good

It's still February, but not for much longer.  It's rained most of the month, to the point that the ground squishes and  there are flood warnings.  This winter has been very rainy.  For the first time, I miss Florida.  Florida winters are dry and bright.  Even when there is sun, it is wan and anxious for when the clouds come again.

It's having an effect on my mood, duh.  

So, I turned 54.  No fuss, no bother, not much attention paid by me or anyone else.  Once upon a time I would have cried, fussed, been upset.  Now, I'm content with just letting the day go by.  You see, my mom died just after she turned 54, so that's lurking in the superstitious part of my mind, back there under the reason and logic.

And with that in mind, I had a colonoscopy.  The procedure itself was quick, painless, and one of the best naps I've ever had.  I wish I could have that sedative for sleeping at night, although during bad times I might just sleep all the time.  Everything inside is good and healthy and I can wait another 10 years before I need to do it again, which is good because the prep was horrible.  2 days of headache, plus a little vomiting.  I don't vomit very often, and usually when I do there's a trip to the emergency room right after.  I won't go into details because I'm kind, but it was more gross than I expected, considering I had an empty stomach beforehand (except for the Gatorade and the meds).  But it's over, I'm fine, and there is no particular trauma associated with it.  The Husband had his two days after me, and his went even better.  Seriously, we were in and out within 2 hours.

Aside from that, and the lurking darkness that is my depression using the weather to try to kill me, there are positive things.  I'm reading a book, something I haven't managed in 6 months (or more).  Nonfiction, something from which I want to take notes, borrowed from the university library.  This is so good that chocolate can't improve it.  The downside?  I need to replace my reading glasses -- my nice ones are scratched to hell and the other readers I have handy are single vision.  I need freaking bifocal readers because 3 or 4 inches makes all the difference between reading and writing my notes.  I am planning a trip to Walgreens, woo hoo.

The Husband just got his C-PAP machine yesterday.  Some bugs need working out, like getting his mask properly fit so that it doesn't wake me with a loud and prolonged buzzing hiss when it slips.  My sleep was a bit disturbed, especially while I tried to figure out what the hell that noise was.  When I reached over to tap his mask back into place, he got mad (in his sleep).  He hates it when I mess with him while he's sleeping, like closing his mouth when he snores by pushing up his chin.  BUT, there was no snoring and the machine itself is silent.  It will improve HIS sleep and his health, which will actually improve my sleep.  Getting older is complicated as shit.

Oh, I'm reading "Jane Austen in Hollywood", a collection of essays about the various Austen movies.  I can't explain it.  I just wanted to read it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


This song does and does not quite underly my life at the moment -- what I'm shoveling and cleaning isn't snow, but I have been frozen for a while.

Depression is a beast, a chorus of demons, a paper bag over my head, a strait jacket.  Looking back, I know it started rising up while we were still in Maine and just keep getting stronger through the fall.  I lost contact with friends because my thoughts were all "Who cares what I say?  I do nothing important, I have no real life, I'm just existing, don't bother them."  A few maintained that they did, indeed, want to be bothered. 

I got my meds adjusted.  I got a puppy.  I stopped writing, stopped reading, stopped singing, stopped beading, curled up in my recliner and didn't move for hours, playing stupid games on my tablet and thinking about everything I had lost.  I didn't feel much because when I did it was strong, painful, overwhelming, and I didn't want to go through that over and over, so I got my own personal Novocaine going.  It works, it really works, but you know what?  Not feeling is pretty much like being dead, only you're still eating and shitting and taking up space.

I'm not out of the darkness yet, but I'm better.  I had some story ideas pop into my head.  My same old movies and games bore me.  I keep trying to read, but without focus and with the current newness of ringing in my left ear (just a product of aging and the assorted assaults on the human body) distracting me, it isn't going as well.  But, yes, there are times I can tune out the sound, which is just my brain trying to make up for what I don't hear anymore (very high tones, ones I barely notice my left ear can't hear).

Mostly I have been battling the usual dark thoughts -- the desperate sadness that I have never shaken from my mother's death, the accumulation of losses over a lifetime, the thought that I no longer want to speak/write because no one cares what I think and say...yes, thinking about my death, but now because it is far closer than it was before.  I'm 54 now.  I was 30-ish when I first started blogging, and this space has been over-active and ignored by turns.

So now I take back the whole "must have a purpose" thing and am just going to ramble. 

You see, an old friend stopped by this weekend and we fell into the kind of conversation I tend to have with her and with few others -- what is it to be human?  And I realized that the meaning of life is self made, the purpose of my life is mine to decide.  It doesn't matter who else listens or who else cares.  If I don't make noise, if I don't talk and sing and write and make things, if I don't sit in the grass with my dogs and enjoy the sun, or cuddle with my cats in the dark listening to the passing trains -- if I don't do all that, I'm not a human anymore.  I'm not alive.

And I am very, very much alive.

We shall see how this goes as I thaw from my winter freeze.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Am I Still a Writer?

NaNoWriMo is coming up.  For almost 20 years, now that I think about it, I've either attempted to do NaNo or thought about why I shouldn't do it.   I've finished some novels because of it, and I've tormented myself because of it.

I'm wondering if I should bother this year.  I have not written anything in months.  Part of this is my very small life -- I don't leave the house often, I don't speak to people often, I certainly don't interact with anyone other than my husband on a regular basis.  I've withdrawn from many things because the effort of fighting off panic is exhausting.  I can't battle it intellectually, and my medications only work so far (I can push myself into a social situation, I can even have a good time, but I will be exhausted afterwards, sometimes for more than a day).  And, for better or worse, I always got my stories from bits and pieces I picked up from being around people, especially people who weren't in my current carefully curated circles. 

So I feel...voiceless.  No, more than that, I feel wordless.  I have nothing to talk about really except my lacks and losses and insufficiencies, and I'm bored with that.  I'm typing this more out of an insistence that I do something than from a deep need.  I could crawl right back into my chair and speak to no one but my critters.

I'm thinking more and more about the pointlessness of my life, too.  Not suicidally, no, but how fear has so overtaken me than I do not more more than can not move, because something might make me uncomfortable.  I'm bored, I'm stunted, I'm barely living, but I'm not constantly marshalling my forces against my emotions to keep them in control.  I'm not doing that part...which is not really healthy, to tell the truth, but seems like my only choice.

So, am I a writer?  Was I a writer?  I'm not a musician any more.  I'm not a reader.  If I'm not a writer, then I'm out of identities, because that is the one I've held onto for most of my life.  I'm a non-entity.  I'm a cat (and dog) lady.  I'm a hermit.

The sun shines outside and I have the window open for the fresh air.  Maybe I can re-assume my writer identity with a little effort, like writing this blog and doing my morning pages, and maybe even doing NaNo.  It's not something I talk over with the ones I love most -- this conversation is the kind you have with people who aren't particularly concerned over your emotional well being moment-to-moment.  It's the thing you discuss with your writing group (don't have one anymore), with someone you meet on more intellectual ground (again, I don't put myself out where those people might be).

My isolation has been a long process.  I'm not sure how to walk it back anymore.  Few notice, fewer speak, and only one or two are willing to help me pry loose of my shell for a while, because that's work and I should be able to do it for myself.  But I can't or I won't or I don't.  Maybe I could use NaNo for that.

I have a week or more to think about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why Can't I Read?

Reading has become spectacularly hard lately.  I pick up a book and start, but within a few pages I'm nervous, jumpy, and wanting to do something else.  I don't understand it, but it's a pain in the ass.

I'm going to make an effort to revive this blog and post more widely and more frequently.  Part of this is because Google, it its wisdom, has decided to kill G+ next year.  There are a lot of  people looking for other places that aren't Facebook to use, and  I will likely sign on to one or another in an attempt to stay connected to the people I know there.  It's my one real social outlet, so it's important.

But I've got this blog, which I've had for so many years, and I can use it as well.  There are comments, so people can talk back to me.

So, since this isn't a book review, let's revert back to the topics of former years. 

My mental health is...problematic at the moment.  I actually think I'm doing better, but it's been a difficult few weeks.  I just crouched in my corner with my tablet and played games constantly.  In part I was reacting to an overload of bad world news, the erosion of any logic or reason in the US government, and the latest turmoil which, in my opinion, ended in a very awful way, with a demonstrable liar and theocrat in the Supreme Court.  I am eager for November when I hope there will be a general voting down of the asshats and shitwaffles in charge.  We might get different asshats and shitwaffles, but that's what we've turned our political system into...

Or perhaps that's what politics has always been.  Netflix has the complete run of Monty Python on now, and I've gone through them all (very happily).  Political problems they were  complaining about in 1970 sound very much like what we are complaining about now.  That's a lot of years without a big change.

So, in short, I've gone through the usual cycle of suicidal thoughts, rotten sleep, general listlessness, and even a return to (some) emotional eating.  I'm wondering if the Zoloft is losing effectiveness (as such drugs will occasionally do) or if it is just a seasonal change/emotional change.  My brain and I -- isn't it odd how I think of myself as separate from the  particular organ that generates my thoughts?  That's peculiar, but an accurate description of my thinking.  I seem to have two different sets of operating instructions, and one has more sway because it handles all the hardware.  The other only occasionally gets control, and then mostly when there are drugs involved.

Wow, I'm remembering now why I stopped writing this way.  I feel self conscious and intrusive, and a wellspring of negative thoughts are flooding me.   I'm triple thinking everything I'm saying and trying to type fast enough to get ahead of it.  The physical symptoms of panic are starting, and I'm just sitting along in my office with my laptop.  I want to talk -- my body/brain wants me to get back in my chair with my tablet and stop bothering people.

Monday, September 03, 2018

What I Read This Summer

I missed listing a few of the books I managed to read this summer, so here goes.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

My interest in politics, while still a bit shallow, is growing, so this was a nice entry way book.  Mastromonaco is a regular on the various Pod Save America podcasts, and this book is a short and sweet autobiography about her political life, written as a sort of rubric for young women up and coming in politics.

I won't say it's a deep read, but it's a good read in the summer sun.  The stories are mostly humorous, the advice makes sense, and there is nothing earthshaking (at least to me).  I liked it, and it will go on my shelf in my small but growing set of political books.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire

This is the second of the Ghostroads series, really the first official book in the series (the first one, Sparrow Hill Road, is technically a part of her InCryptids books -- another series I intend to read).  Rose is still having trouble in her afterlife, and has to call on old friends and old enemies for help.  Saying anything about it will spoil it (and I know how some people feel about spoilers) so I will just say how much I loved this book and how much I'm looking forward to the next one (Come on, Seanan, you don't need to sleep!)  I enjoy the world and its careful consistency, and how there is still lots our main character doesn't know.  I am just enthused.  Read it.  Buy copies for gifts.

Master of None by Sonya Bateman

Djinn are, in my opinion, a rich vein for the paranormal/urban fantasy writer.  I can think of only one other series where they show up.  Djinn are the magic in this particular (and all too short) series (there's only 1 more book).

Now, I can't say this was a fantastic book, but it is a book true to the tropes of this niche genre.  We have the smart ass main character, Gavyn Donatti, all the people he loves or has damaged, the trouble he's in, and his basic goodness.  We have the strange magical individual who comes into his life and kicks over everything. He's thrown into impossible situations, discovers impossible things about himself, and decides that's where his life will go.  He deals with people who start out either not liking him or outright hating him, and then reverse. We have a lot of near torture porn to give grimdarkness to the world. No big surprises.

But it's a rollicking ride.  It's fun.  It's a little thin on the  characterization, and there isn't much emotional life in our protagonist.  Oh, Donatti has feelings, but we don't get much insight into them, or into anyone else's for that matter.  There isn't much "why".  That's the only thing that bothered me while I read.  I stayed up late reading this, which is a good sign.  I enjoyed it.  What more can I say?  How much I will wish there were more books will depend on how the second book goes.

Summer is nearly over, and I have an ambitious reading list for the fall, which I'm not likely to complete, but I'll deliver my book reports as I knock 'em down.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Last book of a trilogy.  I reviewed Ancillary Sword here, but I don't think I posted a review of Ancillary Justice, at least not here.

I both like and didn't much enjoy this series.  That is, I admire it a lot, how it throws ideas like gender and language and what is human around so lightly without letting them drop.  The sort of vagueness of it, the sensation that I know but don't know what's going on, that is kind of appealing.  I like Leckie's command of language and her ideas.

I can't say I really dislike a lot so much as don't have much feeling at all.  The books all end ambiguously, on purpose, with that idea that endings are just arbitrary and there's a day after the ending for someone.  That's fine, that's a good point.  The story isn't really over, it's just that the teller is done telling.  But it does let a little of the steam pressure out.  I understand why an author wants to disrupt the usual contract between writer and reader -- it's a very literary fiction thing to do -- but it's still a disruption and uncomfortable.

Then again, it's supposed to be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making Choices

As I tend always to do, I make wishlists of books that look interesting.  I keep a little notebook listing them with me, another on my e-reader, and even more in my Librarything. 

So, I'm looking at a long list of new and new-to-me books, trying to decide what would be best to add to my giant mountain of books To Be Read.  Here's what I'm currently considering -- recommendations are welcome.  Tell me why I should read these books.

Theft of Swords - Michael J. Sullivan
The Beautiful Ones - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Power - Naomi Alderman
The Tiger's Daughter - K. Arsenault Rivera
Blackwing - Ed McDonald
The Bloodprint - Ausma Zehanat Khan
Summerland - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Queens of Innis Lear - Tessa Gratton
Torn - Rowenna Miller
Good Guys - Steven Brust
The Warrior Within - Angus McIntyre
Melokai - Rosalyn Kelly
The Dragon's Legacy - Deborah A. Wolf
Godblind - Anna Stephens
Time Was - Ian McDonald
The City of Lost Fortunes - Bryan Camp
Witchmark - C.L. Polk
The Grey Bastards - Jonathan French
The Last Sun - K.D. Edwards
Afterwar - Lilith Saintcrow
The Poppy War - R.F. Kuang
Medusa Uploaded - Emily Devenport
The Tea Master and the Detective -- Aliette de Bodard
The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu
Lion's Blood - Steven Barnes
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

See why I am having problems making choices?  Ah well, I need to get back to reading the books already on my current list!

Monday, July 09, 2018

Book Review: Johannes Cabal, The Detective

Johannes Cabal, The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

I read the first book in this series with great delight and not a little sadness when my favorite character died in it.  But I hold out hope (feh, I know he comes back in subsequent books, for which I am glad).  Horst is a necessary leven to Johannes Cabal, and I felt his absence in this second book of the series.

It took me an abysmally long time to read this relatively short book, and part of that was, despite the dark humor and interesting observations that were sprinkled in, the central concept of the novel was a sort of Christie mystery -- passengers on a ship when one is mysteriously discovered to have committed suicide -- or maybe not.  The ship board mystery portion of the book was a bit draggy and lost my interest.

But Howard is a capable author, so when I resolved to finish this book before embarking on the next, I had hope things would get more interesting.  And, they did!  A little chemistry, a little necromancy, a lot of skulking around, and another glimpse into the distant event that set Cabal upon his path to conquer death.  So, it was worth reading, even if it seems to be a divergence from the overall arc set up in the first book.

I also read a short story by an author who interests me

Waiting on a Bright Moon by J.Y. Yang

SF/F stories by people of color, people with roots in non-Western cultures, and queer people are still a bit of a rarity (I think that's just beginning to change, and yay!) which makes finding good ones a real treat.  All of that comes together in this story, set in an unfamiliar universe based on assumptions and tropes that weren't terribly familiar to me.  Revolution, the risks of being "different", the throwing off of social expectations, and the dangers of love, are all mixed into some 33 pages.    I have this author's other books on my wish list.