strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
This is a day late because I have been at a (very enjoyable and stimulating) conference for the past two days. It actually took place only three blocks away from my house, which makes it probably the closest-to-home conference I will ever attend for the entirety of my academic career. But I still couldn't post to LJ yesterday evening anyway, as I snuck out of the conference to go to the cinema with the lovely [ profile] ms_siobhan instead - which I'll post about separately, of course.

Anyway, my favourite Christmas book is easily Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. I must have read it first soon after it was published (in 1996, when I was 20), as I simply bought and read each new Discworld book as it came out in those days. In fact, I often asked for the latest one as a Christmas present from my little sister, so it seems very likely that she first gave this book to me that Christmas. Certainly, I have made a point of re-reading it around that time of year several times since I acquired it.

What I like most about it is Pratchett's explorations of the Hogfather as the result of a long process of cultural evolution - all safely-contained jollity in the present day, but with his roots in much earlier primeval festivals centred around brutal rituals of sacrifice. I already knew before I read the book that Christmas had not always been celebrated in the form I was familiar with, and had basic elements in common with mid-winter festivals from other times and cultures (not least from watching The Box of Delights as a child). But I think Hogfather gave me a much more powerful emotive understanding of Christmas as an evolving, multivalent festival, and a clearer sense of what options that opened up for me as someone who didn't believe in the teachings of Christianity, but still loved celebrating festivals and felt a sense of magic and significance around Christmas in particular. It remains a great way for me to tap into that feeling when I need to.

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on computer, thanks to [ profile] innerbrat.

A cracking evening's viewing. OK, so the animation was fairly basic - but in some ways, lowish production values rather suit Terry Pratchett. His books are about finding the profound in the mundane, and his characters for the most part humble, ordinary folk. So something big and flashy and pretentious might have seemed rather at odds with the story.

Last night, Semillon Chardonnay in hand, I even started having thoughts about how, since much of the story in Wyrd Sisters is about plays and players, and their plays hardly have the highest production values either, you could even see the slightly ham-fisted character of the animation as a deeply symbolic meta-narrative parallel for the offerings of Vitoller's strolling players. This morning, I'm not so sure, but... it's a thought.

Pterry's story-line was followed fairly closely. I remember thinking this didn't work so well for Hogfather over Christmas, but it seemed much more effective here, perhaps because the adaptation was much shorter (2h20). I was a bit confused by the range of accents apparently encountered in Lancre, especially since the three witches themselves seemed to 'ail from Zomerzet way, and I've always considered Lancre to be at least northern (Lancaster, very hilly) and possibly Scottish (Macbeth references in Wyrd Sisters). Still, Nanny Ogg does work quite well as a Somerset lass, I'll grant.

And of course, importantly, there was the added joy of Christopher Lee as Death. Nothing much to say here really - he was obviously perfect for the part, and he got it just right. Yay!

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very enjoyable. I think overall I slightly preferred Wintersmith, mainly because its story-arc felt better crafted - some the scenes in the Queen's domain dragged a little for me. But I like Tiffany all the more now, and I warmed to the Nac Mac Feegles over the course of this book in a way I hadn't with Wintersmith.

I'm also now in a better position to appreciate the genesis of the unity of setting which I noticed in Wintersmith. People who've read Hatful of Sky can put me right if necessary, but it looks to me now as though all the Tiffany / Feegles books do the same thing. And this is great, because I've always felt that Terry Pratchett is extremely good at writing landscape - not just as some hills or rocks, but as a quasi-living entity which shapes the people who live on it. The whole of the Discworld benefits from this, but focussing on the Chalk in the Tiffany books really gives him the opportunity to bring it out to a new level - and I think it is actually the thing I like about them most of all.

The motif of the picture on the front of Jolly Sailor tobacco packet has left me with a puzzle, though. I'm sure I've read some other children's fiction book in which a rather isolated near-adolescent girl derives solace from a similar rugged tobacco-pouch sailor, coming to think of him as 'her Hero'. He may even have appeared as a real person in some form towards the end of the book. But I can't for the life of me remember what this book might have been. All I can say is that it probably wasn't by Diana Wynne Jones, because feel that I read whatever-it-was quite some time ago. That rules out all but the Chrestomanci books, and none of them have the right kind of isolated female character at their centre. I've browsed my shelves, but can't see any clues - and might not anyway, as quite a few of my older books are in storage with my parents. Can anyone else enlighten me on this?

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Ever wise in the ways of both literature and livejournal, [ profile] rosamicula today announced her intention to record the books she reads this year on her journal. Even more wisely, she states from the start that she will probably "record rather than review" most of them, neatly swatting aside the burdensome obligation to write pages and pages of intellectual analysis for every book.

On those same terms, I've decided to emulate her venture: mainly because I was shocked when recently filling out the 2006 question meme to find that I could barely remember a single book I'd read for leisure during the entire year, and don't want this to happen again.

This endeavour isn't likely to be terribly wearisome for the rest of you, since I'm an embarrassingly slow reader. My leisure reading mainly happens when I retire to bed at the end of a long day spent doing nothing but reading and writing, so I'm usually lucky to get through more than two pages a night before I fall asleep. I don't intend to record my work-related reading because that would be too much like, well - work - and my responses to it would be better channelled into my academic output anyway. So I'd be frankly astonished if there are more than twenty entries in this series by the end of the year, and in any case most are likely to be fairly short. But we'll see what happens as I go along.

So, without further ado: entry #1, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith.

Cut, because this one's recent, and people are almost certainly still reading it )

strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Oh dear. I seem to have spent far too much time over the last few days doing nice things or falling asleep on sofas (also a Nice Thing) to write on live journal. Let's see now:

Christmas presents: an excellent haul, aided in no small measure by the gentle introduction of parents to Amazon wish-list. I got:
  • DVDs - Life of Brian, a particularly gripping performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare.
  • Books - Architectural Guide to Leeds, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, enormous Collins English Dictionary (now all language is mine! Ha-ha-ha!), Andrew Lintott's Imperium Romanum (handy for teaching), C. Steven Larue's Handel and His Singers and The Quest for the Wicker Man.
  • Chocolate - enormous raspberry truffle, box of dark chocolates.
  • Tokens - £10 book token from paternal aunt (today converted into Plutarch, The Age of Alexander) and £15 Waterstone's token from maternal uncle (today converted into Ancient Cities by Charles Gates).
  • Other - notebook with pictures from the House of the Vettii on it, facsimile Roman oil-lamp which by an amazing coincidence happens to have the exact goddess I am going to the Dark Masquerade Ball as on it (name withheld for the present to preserve a suitable sense of Mystery), sandalwood incense sticks, ticket for ice-skating on the outdoor rink currently operating in Birmingham town centre, incredibly cute K-9 key-ring, Guinea-pig calendar, L'Oreal lipstick.
Christmas dinner: we did goose, which very nearly didn't fit into the oven, but eventually was squeezed in diagonally. It was really nice, and I think the first time I've ever had goose at all. But I prefer the taste of duck. Just a pity that one duck doesn't quite provide enough for four people.

Boxing day: went over to the Waltons', as we usually do. Chatted, caught up, and marvelled at the cuteness of little Holly. Came home and watched lots of TV. On which note:

Doctor Who: I gather a lot of people have been all snide and grumpy about this episode online. But I really enjoyed it, so I don't care what the cynics say. I was impressed that Catherine Tate managed to make her character so sympathetic (especially given that I usually can't stand her), and the Empress of Racnoss reminded me a lot of Echidna, the Mother of all Monsters from Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, both in appearance and characterisation. (The real character looked a lot more like the Empress than that action figure, but I can't seem to find a picture of her). Looking forward to the next series.

The Hogfather: I did enjoy this, especially each time I got the same thrill I remember getting from Rivendell in Lord of the Rings of 'recognising' a place I'd only seen before in my imagination. And seeing Pterry himself in the toyshop at the end was particularly groovy! But somehow it wasn't quite what I'd hoped. I think the problem is that Pterry doesn't actually write stories as such, but rather narrative explorations of abstract concepts. And so the storyline wobbled, flailed and dragged, failing to impart the significance written deep into the book, and yet I suspect also confusing those who hadn't read it. Oh well - I appreciated the fact that it was made at all, though.

Today: La Sistrella and I used our ice-rink tickets to swish and glide around in central Birmingham, enjoying watching people's rosy laughing faces, misty breath and children falling over as we did so. Then we went shopping to spend our tokens, and returned home to eat party left-overs and indulge in more nodding off on the sofa. A most satisfactory way to spend the day, except that my groin muscles are killing me now. Apparently I only ever use them when ice-skating.

And that would appear to bring me back up to date.


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