Monthly Archives: July 2015

Full Fathom Five Read Along: Week Two

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(join the discussion here!)

1) So Margot too is hoping that Izza can lead him to the Blue Lady. What do you make of his vision? Especially in relation to the nightmares that Kai is having. Do you think they’re related?

So I had initially thought that because of the way she jumped in the pool, Kai would “become” Seven Alpha. Now I’m starting to nebulously revise that. I’m thinking that Izza’s stories of the Blue Lady got sort of tied up into Seven Alpha and gave it it’s proto-consciousness (if I really understood everything which, eh, debatable at this point). So Izza is essentially the creator of the Blue Lady/Seven Alpha and maybe also the embodiment of her? Somehow???

(clearly I am at the part of the book where I feel like the Village Idiot).

2) Teo! Did anyone expect to see Teo? What role do you think she’ll play in the rest of the story?

I did not at all expect Teo, though perhaps I should have with all the other characters popping in. It was interesting to see her character from a totally new perspective from someone who does not love, or even seem to want to tolerate, her. Did anyone else get the vibe she was hitting on Kai? Complicated.

3) Kai is worried that Mara has set her up. Do you think it likely?

Yes. The way Gladstone’s books go? Yes. What she’s been set up for I’m still not exactly clear on.

4) It seems everyone is having discussions of faith with one another. That’s not particularly surprising given the tenor of the books, I know, but still. How does what we’ve learned from Cat and Margot in these chapters affect your feelings on the idea of gods, Craft or Idols that Allie asked?

I don’t think my feelings really have changed. All three options require differing levels of sacrifice, and it sort of depends on who that person is and what they need to determine what level of sacrifice they can give. I definitely there’s a class and cultural basis behind who chooses what option. I think gods-followers and Crafters would each like the world to be totally, completely organized in their way, and Idols are this hybrid force that keeps their fragile compromise standing. Maybe my understanding has deepened but I don’t think I had any major reversals of opinion.

5) We’re getting a better idea of what Penitence means for the people of Kavekana. What do you think of their idea of punishment now that you have a better idea of how it works?

It’s horrific. It also seems to not be really…working…in a sense. As a deterrent, definitely, but if your only option in atoning for some “crime” is to be tortured until you give up or go mad, it does not seem like you can actually make a meaningful change. And that the cost is way too high for the security benefits. It’s unabalanced.

6) Kai has built up an idea of what’s going on, but what do you think happened? Did Margot really steal soul without realising it or is there something else going on?

Yes. Margot does not seem like the kind of actor who could pull of that sort of deception. Now, maybe someone (Mara?) set him and others up to steal soul, so that they could hide it from Kevarian until they could profit. Or maybe Seven Alpha became conscious to the point where it decided what believers to give soul bits to. Or maybe a bit of both.

 

Whew. It was a bit of an exhausting read, this go-round, huh?

Just a heads up, I will probably be posting the Week 3 questions to the group a bit early, because (hopefully) (*fingers crossed*) I will be taking a surprise weekend vacation. Look for them on Thursday.

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Short Story Sunday: “Jon”

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First line:  “Back in the time of which I am speaking, due to our Coördinators had mandated us, we had all seen that educational video of “It’s Yours to Do With What You Like!” in which teens like ourselfs speak on the healthy benefits of getting off by oneself and doing what one feels like in terms of self-touching, which what we learned from that video was, there is nothing wrong with self-touching, because love is a mystery but the mechanics of love need not be, so go off alone, see what is up, with you and your relation to your own gonads, and the main thing is, just have fun, feeling no shame!”

Jon” by George Saunders, published in The New Yorker.

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Tag: The Liebster Award

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I’ve been nominated for The Liebster Award by A Sea Change. So that’s new! Never been part of one of these things before. Thanks, Natalie. 🙂

  • Each nominee must have under 200 followers
  • Thank and link to the nominated blog
  • Answer their 10 questions and propose 10 new ones for your nominees
  • Nominate 10 blogs and tell them that they have been nominated
  • Write a post containing the questions
  • Include these rules in the post

1. You Can invite 3 people living or dead to dinner – who would you invite and why?

My grandfather Franklin, because he died over a decade before I was born and I’ve always wanted to meet him. Tom Hiddleston, because Tom freaking Hiddleston. And…oh, I don’t know…Hayley Atwell because at the moment I’m obsessed with her Twitter and I think she’s just super funny and sweet and cool and Peggy Carter is my hero.

2. What is your favourite poem and why?

I’ve never been a big poetry person, despite the fact that like 70% of my undergrad degree hinged on studying it. They just don’t stick in my head for some reason. So here, in lieu of anything else, have some Dorothy Parker:

The Flaw in Paganism

 

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,

Love, the reeling midnight through,

For tomorrow we shall die!

(But, alas, we never do.)

3. What did you want to be when you were a kid? For that matter what do you want to do now?

I went through a bunch of stuff. I wanted to be a hairdresser, a construction worker (that’s where all the boys were and I wanted to be with the boys), for a brief time an astronaut (if only I was good at math!). Most often I wanted to be a teacher. More recently, when I went to grad school I pictured myself at 30 working in acquisitions in one of the big New York or Boston publishing houses. I don’t know where I picked up this deluded idea of myself. It really didn’t work out. But now I’m a librarian, and I get paid to read a lot, so that’s cool.

But what I always come back to is this crazy writing thing, which I’m now trying to approach realistically. I doubt I’ll ever be a NYT bestseller, but one day I’d like to be able to say I’ve put something out there.

4. Tell me a joke – any joke – as cheesy as you like!

How do snails fight?

The slug it out!

5. You can have any animal in the world for a pet – what do you have and what do you call it?

A hippo named Blippo.

6. Favourite Film/ Worst Film – why?

This is difficult. I’m hardly a film buff but picking one favorite is hard. I guess on most days it would be either Newsies or Life of Brian. One’s my favorite musical, the other’s my favorite comedy, and they both make me nostalgic for different reasons. Worst film is also hard; I tend to block out bad ones. Probably the worst film I’ve ever seen is this Elijah Wood thing I caught on Netflix…I think it was called The Oxford Murders and all I remember is that there was a sex scene involving spaghetti.

7. Describe yourself in one word.

Anxious

8. What would your Superpower be?

Flight

9. What Country do you most want to visit?

At the moment, Cuba, because I never ever thought that in my lifetime I would be able to go there.

10. You can give three book recommendations – what are they?

Helene Wecker- The Golem and the Jinni because more people should know and love this book

Tana French- In The Woods because Tana French is probably the single best author I’ve discovered in the past five years

Mary Shelley- Frankenstein because on most days it’s my favorite book of all time

Questions

  1. If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  1. Tell me three of your favorite songs.
  1. What is your favorite book cover ever?
  1. You have come into possession of a time machine that can make exactly one trip- forwards or backwards. With the understanding that nothing you do in the place you visit will have any effect on your present (so that you can’t screw things up by stepping on a butterfly or use your knowledge to become rich/famous), when would you go, and why?
  1. If you could play any character in the film/TV adaptation of the book of your choice, who would you be and why?
  1. Who is your favorite superhero?
  1. You have to get a tattoo. What would it be? (Or, if you have tattoo(s), which one is your favorite?) Why?
  1. What is your favorite classic book? Least favorite? Interpret ‘classic’ however you wish.
  1. Do you think aliens exist, or are we alone in the universe?
  1. What is the title of your future Biography/Memoir?

Nominations–

Ok, guys, here’s where I fail.

Almost all of the blogs I follow have well more than 200 followers.

I know, I’m such a bandwagon jumper.

ANYWAY. If you are reading this and want to do it, consider yourself nominated! Or if you want to engage with me in the comments about any of my weird questions, have at it.

This tagging/nominating stuff is hard work.

 

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Diversity

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters (example: features minority/religious minority, socioeconomic diversity, disabled MC,  neurotypical character, LGBTQ etc etc.)

I can easily come up with a list of diverse characters or authors I love, but a list of books specifically embracing diversity is harder. I think YA in general does a fantastic job of celebrating diversity. Good on ya, YA. Other genres where diversity should be part and parcel of the game fail terribly. I’m thinking specifically of sci-fi/fantasy, communities which should be a haven for the weird and the lonely and the marginalized, genres open to a billion possibilities in creating new worlds and how they choose to reflect this one. Yet in recent years, it seems like some people in sci-fi/fantasy communities are becoming gatekeepers who still insist on only seeing the white, straight, male perspective as valid.

I don’t like those people.

So since I’ve called them out, I’m going to try to come up with ten adult sci-fi/fantasy books that do celebrate diversity. I haven’t read widely in longform speculative fiction for a few years (probably in part because of those gatekeepers), but I’m trying to get better-read. So any suggestions you have for me would be awesome as well.

117742721.The Dreamblood Duology- N. K. Jemisin

There are a lot of reasons to love these books, but the reason I put it on this list is that there are barely any white characters at all. Not a pseudo-Medieval European in sight. And guess what, this white girl survived reading it. The sky did not fall. The real world is not default-white, and fantasy worlds don’t need to be, either.

2. Ancillary Justice– Ann Leckie

Leckie starts with a very simple premise–what if ‘she’ were the default pronoun instead of ‘he’–and uses it to immediately unbalance the reader. (I am old enough that I was taught in school that ‘he’ is the only pronoun to use in universal concepts. I’m telling you, that simple little tweak sort of blew my mind.) But way beyond that, Leckie’s universe is truly one of the weirdest I have read in a long time. It houses all kinds of cultures that aren’t just thin analogs of human societies. 

3. The Craft Sequence- Max Gladstone

White male authors are not the enemy. I quite like a lot of them. And a lot of them do write diverse characters. Currently I’m really enjoying Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence books, which feature lots of people of color and of differing sexuality and gender identities. More importantly–perhaps most importantly–those people are featured on the covers, a space where even diverse books have often been whitewashed in the past.

4. The Mercy Thompson series- Patricia Briggs

From what I know of urban fantasy, I think it does fairly well at including diverse characters. Unfortunately I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy. But I like the Mercy Thompson books for how many different cultures and colors and sizes are included. Sometimes she can get a bit heavy-handed and lean on stereotypes, but for the most part this wide-ranging cast of characters is a good one.

5. The Nightrunner series- Lynn Flewelling

Oh hey look I made it five whole entries before I reverted back to Lynn Flewelling, my default fantasy recommendation. In all seriousness, though, guys, I love these books. They are not as diverse as some on this list, but what was important to me is that there are gay and bi characters and it’s just an accepted part of the world, most everyone is ok with it. There are certain bigoted characters who have problems with homosexuality, but for the most part it’s just a fact of life.

Also: matriarchy. Matriarchy matriarchy matriarchy. (if you say it three times, does a misogynist get heartburn or something?)

6. The Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines

It is so, so rare to read about a woman my size as anything other than the fat friend, the object of pity, or the comic relief. But in Lena Greenwood, Jim C. Hines has written a woman who is sexy and desired and strong and funny and not a size 2. Actually, for books with a male narrator I was pleasantly surprised with how many women–how many different types of women–have important roles. There are also people of color and some…unusual…romantic relationships.

So, as far as adult fiction goes…that is unfortunately all I’ve got. Fail.

Give me lots and lots of suggestions, guys! From the prompt here, I’m particularly intrigued about disabled and neurotypical characters, because I wracked my brain and yet could not think of a single example.

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Full Fathom Five Read Along: Week One

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(join in the discussion here!)

1) Kai kicks off the story by risking her life in an attempt to save the idol Alpha Seven. Why do you think she chose to try? Do you think idols truly non-sentient?

All of the main characters of the Craft Sequence so far seem to be risky, impulsive people. I think that’s what makes them so much fun to read about, to an extent. I would have thought Mara would have to be a hugely important person to Kai to make Kai take such a risk, but so far she seems to be just another coworker. Which says its own things about Kai’s personality. She’s really, really sure of herself, or really reckless, or both.

The idols seem to have some sort of consciousness. Maybe it has evolved or developed through years of the process. It seems like people in this world make a lot of assumptions about magic that then turn out to be wrong.

2) I think this is the first time we’ve seen idols, and they have their similarities and differences to gods and craftsmen. Do you think they serve a useful purpose? If you were in this world, would you prefer faith, Craft, or idols?

The soul-as-finance stuff is such an original concept, and Gladstone keeps adding layers to it. I like that. I feel like in this world you’re hampered a bit by your upbringing: you don’t have much choice over the path you take because it depends on where you were born. Or maybe it’s a class issue: the people relying on faith are the masses and the underclass, while the wealthier people are, the more they can turn to Craft and idols to keep their souls secure.

3) I found it interesting that priests/priestesses are able to change or reform their bodies in the pool, during their initiation. If it were possible, would you want to make use of this power or not?

I would totally do so. Kai mentioned people fixing their vision problems, implying that was small-potatoes magic, but I would definitely do that! It’s dangerous, because to an extent I believe you have to learn to be happy with what you’ve got, so maybe I wouldn’t fix much cosmetically. But definitely my vision and maybe my creaky knees.

4) A few familiar faces show up from Three Parts Dead, Cat and Ms. Kevarian! Is this how you would have expected them to be living, after the events of that novel? 

I was a bit surprised how excited I was to see both Cat and Ms. Kevarian. I didn’t think Cat made that much of an impression on me in Three Parts Dead, but it was cool to see how she’s evolved in the wake of that book. I hope she continues to be trustworthy. Kevarian is an awesome character. I feel like she was probably in a “cameo” role here (I believe she is back more heavily in Last First Snow), but she’s just so creepy/cool to me, I loved seeing her.

5) Izza is in a difficult situation; she wants to take care of the other street children, but she also wants to protect herself. What do you think of how she is attempting to meet both goals? Do you think she was right to stop leading the stories and rituals for the other children?

Izza is the most interesting character to me so far. Her problems seem the most real and costly…Kai kind of has brought everything on herself so far, but Izza is trying to navigate outside forces that are really dangerous. She seems strong in a way that could be reckless like Kai, but it is tempered so far with empathy, however reluctant. I like that reluctant push-pull relationship she has with the kids, the way she isn’t really at home in that role but could be, if she let herself. In the short term I think she was right to stop the stories for her own personal safety, but there will probably be some significance to them down the road.

6) There is a lot that is hinted near the end of this section, with the line “Howl, Bound World” and the poet Edmond Margot. What do you think it is that ties together Seven Alpha, Kai, Izza, and Margot?

I’m intrigued to see how all the story threads intersect because I don’t really have a clue at this point. Something about Margot…I’m probably entirely off base on this, but I have this weird feeling he’s like Kai in a trans sense. Maybe I’m thinking this because his last name is so tied in my head to a female name, but something about his interaction with Eve and on stage…I’m wondering if he is seeking to be “remade” in some way. Izza, I’m thinking, will bring gods back to the island in some form and maybe Seven Alpha/Kai are that god…obviously, my head’s bouncing around quite a bit with different possibilities right now!

 

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Short Story Sunday: “Swan Maiden”

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First line: “The windowless theater makes it impossible to keep track of the days, but I am certain that years have passed since Fyodor’s last visit.”

Swan Maiden” by Barbara A. Barnett, published by Flash Fiction Online. 

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On ReReading

When I heard that Tanith Lee had passed away, I waited about all of fifteen minutes before I put down everything I was doing, went to the shelf, and grabbed The Silver Metal Lover. I’d only ever read it once, though already it was one of those rare, remarkable books that feels like it had been with me for years.

My mother is moving house and recently brought me most of the books I’ve been storing with her the past ten years.

These two things are related. Just bear with me for a second.

First, the books:

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Despite the crummy cell phone pic, what I want to convey is that that is a lot of books, some of which I’d forgotten I owned. There are about fifty altogether, totally demolishing the little bit of shelf space I had left (hence, the floor). There are some children’s and YA books, my Anne of Green Gables books, and all of my old Discworld books.

And unpacking the boxes, I immediately wanted to dive right in and read them all again.

Which got me thinking about re-reading.

I love the process of revisiting books that I know. To me, rereading a book is like going back to visit a place you used to love. It gives me a chance to really explore the language, and the way authors choose to convey things. When you know what is coming in the plot, that frees you up to pay attention to different things. There are certain books that, like songs, evoke sense-memory in me: I can feel where I physically was when I first read the book, be it on a park bench in Boston or hiding under a table in a church schoolroom. And yet, for all that I love rereading, I don’t do it nearly enough anymore.

Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the pressures of blogging schedules and reading challenges. It’s hard not to feel that as a reader I should be caught up on all the best new things. Obviously no one can read everything, or not at once, but it’s easy to feel guilty when the TBR pile starts to overflow, and hard to justify going back to a book I’ve read before. Because really, there are so many things to read and so little time.

Which brings me back, in a really roundabout way, to The Silver Metal Lover. 

I have read bits and pieces of Tanith Lee’s short fiction over the years, but as far as I can remember, The Silver Metal Lover is the only one of her novels I have yet tried. When I heard of her passing, I knew that I had to go back to it, to see if it held up to what I remembered.

It did, and more.

At first, I was a bit confused. Why did I like this? Geez, Jane is annoying. But then, something clicked. And as I was reading it the book sort of unfurled, and I started to remember why I’d loved it, what was coming next, how I would react to it. It was cool, and a little weird, and made me remember why I love rereading.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year. But I’m pretty sure none of my reading experiences has quite matched up to the fun I got sitting on my couch for two nights, wondering how much sleep I could forego and still function at work in the morning, getting lost in the enthralling future of Lee’s fictional world. I can’t really explain why it was so great, except to say that after a mountain of depressing or difficult books, or books I read because I felt like I had to, choosing to set all that aside and pick up something purely because I wanted to was a breath of fresh air.

I need to do more rereading. But I need to do it without pressure, I think. I should reread To Kill a Mockingbird, but I know if I force myself to get to it before Go Set a Watchman, it’s not going to be any fun. I want to reread the Glamourist Histories, but likewise I should approach it organically, rather than forcing it. I want to reread David Mitchell, and all those Anne of Green Gables books, and half a dozen Discworlds. But there’s not enough time in the world. So some of them will just have to be content to sit on the shelves a little longer.

What are your thoughts on rereading? Yay? Nay?

Also, if you’ve read Tanith Lee: what the heck else of hers should I read? She has so many books that I’m not quite sure where to go next.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Newest Ten

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is The Last Ten Books That Came Into My Possession (bought, library, review copies)

161482081. Max Gladstone- Full Fathom Five (bought)

2. Paula Hawkins- The Girl On the Train (library) [oh my gosh, finally, it took six months to get through the holds list on this book!]

3. Sarah MacLean- Nine Rules To Break When Romancing a Rake (bought, ebook)

4. Karen Abbott- Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (bought, ebook)

5. Nele Neuhaus- The Ice Queen (library)

6. Caitlin Doughty- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory (library)

7. Terry Pratchett- Unseen Academicals (bought)

8. Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (bought)

9. Sally Beauman- The Visitors (library)

10. Lauren Owen- The Quick (library)

So that’s a fairly good mix of library-first, books, I think. Some of these I would have actually purchased for the library, but I feel a bit guilt seeing how small the budgets are and not knowing if I would be the only one to read them or not…so the ones that are not ebooks may end up as donations at some point.

And hopefully by the end of today I will have my hands on…Go Set a Watchman! I literally never preorder books for budgeting reasons (I know it’s generally great for authors, but I can’t spend real money on theoretical books.) But I caved. Because I have to have this book and see what it’s all about.

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Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

10964Title: Outlander

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 3 stars

Outlander, the seventh book I have read for the TBR pile challenge, almost broke me. It was by turns fascinating and frustrating, at least three hundred pages too long, sometimes a slog to get through and sometimes impossible to put down. I have such mixed feelings about this book, I’m not even quite sure where to start.

So how about a summary? In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, when she’s whisked through a portal of standing stones and ends up in 1743, where she finds herself in the crosshairs of a number of dangers, her only protection provided by a young Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser.

I recently watched the first half of the Starz Outlander series and found myself entranced by it. It was gorgeously shot, I loved the characters and the costumes and the music, and I was inspired to pick up the book. But now, knowing what I’m in for in the second half, I’m not sure I want to continue with the TV series. I definitely am not continuing on with the book series, for the very basic reason that I don’t have enough time in the world for all those pages.

My main issue, I think, is the narration. I found it impossible to like Claire, and I think that was primarily because of the use of first person. I didn’t have problems with her at all in the show. But first of all, in the book she is completely, utterly perfect. The woman travels two hundred years back in time and barely blinks. Almost immediately she’s able to pick up on proper etiquette, attire, and speech. Problems generated by her foreknowledge don’t appear for over four hundred pages, and when they finally do they are spurred by outside factors. Claire has copious medical knowledge, she has totally bonkers sex skillz, she can kill a wolf with her bare hands. You know. As you do.

So she’s perfect, and she’s kind of boring (even the bare-handed wolf killing was boring. Really!). She’s prone to really strange extremes of logic–deciding on one course, and then immediately and drastically reversing this. And for a first-person narrator she’s really extremely reluctant to undertake any sort of self-examination. It took hundreds of pages for her to say anything at all about the husband she left behind, and how that made her feel.

I really think the first person was totally, completely wrong for this book. So much of the plot relies on Claire conveniently hanging around doorways eavesdropping on conversations, and then misunderstanding what she hears. Which was frustrating.

My other big, big problem was the violence and rape.

Now, I’ve read plenty of books with violence and rape. A Song of Ice and Fire springs to mind. But again, I think the big problem for me was having this presented in first person. When I was watching the show, though things hadn’t quite reached the extent that they do in the second half of the book, I didn’t have much issue with the violence or rape. But in the book I found myself completely dreading what would come next. I also was not at all cool with how beating children and wives was presented as excusable, even looked on with nostalgic fondness. Yes, I am aware that in the past (and present) people beat their wives. No, you can not have the hero of your book beat his wife and then expect me to look at him and swoon about how charming he is, no matter how much you try to explain it away. I was expecting Jamie to be this completely romantic figure, and instead for more than half of the book he gave me serious skeevies. He repeatedly calls his own sister a whore, and even this is chalked up to “Scottish stubbornness.” Fuck that noise.

So, what did I like? Well, the whole conceit of the double-historical novel was fascinating to me. I liked learning about a time and place that I knew little about. I liked most of the characters most of the time–outside of Claire (oops). And the writing wasn’t bad, just overly long and in the wrong POV.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the possibilities-the roads it could have gone down. Where it was lacking for me was in the execution. I’m tempted to do a wikisearch about the series just to get the rundown of the plot without having to slog through eight massive books, or whatever it is. Because I am interested to see where it might go.

I’m glad that I read Outlander because I like to have reference points in pop culture even when I don’t have the entire experience, but once was definitely enough.

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Short Story Sunday: “A Man Like Him”

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First line: “The girl, unlike most people photographed for fashion magazines, was not beautiful.”

A Man Like Him” by Yiyun Lee, published by The New Yorker.

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