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Wednesday reading

It's been a while since I've done this, so here's about two months' worth of reading, or at least the ones I can remember:

Currently reading:

The Merrily Watkins Mysteries, by Phil Rickman

Thanks to R, I got into the Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman, and it's taking over my life. I've also put out feelers on FFA to see if there are more Merrily fans there, because I'd love to talk to more people about the series...

Merrily Watkins is a Church of England vicar and reluctant Deliverance Consultant, which is how her trendy bishop has rebranded exorcism in the late 90s when the C of E is looking for the best way to relate to wider society. The series starts when she and her teenage daughter move to a tiny village with all kinds of secrets. And suspicious deaths. All of which is made more complicated because pre-Millennial tension over women in the clergy...

If I said that Merrily smokes, takes Christ's name in vain ("it helps keep it in circulation") and is more practical than pious, it might sound like Rickman had just decided to mash up "vicar" and "rebel" tropes. But she's more complicated than that - her feeling drawn to the Church and to ministry coincided with fault lines opening under her marriage, as it emerged that her lawyer husband had some dodgy clients and a dodgier relationship with his secretary. Contemplating divorce, Merrily realised this would bar her from ordination, only for the situation to resolve in grimly ironic fashion when her husband and his mistress were killed in a horrific car crash. So Merrily completed her transition from law student to homemaker-in-a-life-padded-by-illgotten-gains to Anglican priest - there's absolution in it for her, yes, but also an intensely personal need, and a mysticism that she's learned the Church is ill-at-ease with.

So that's where things sit when she and 15-year-old Jane (my favourite detail about Jane: Merrily thinks she's dealt with her dad's death with almost unnatural calm, but aged 11, Jane secretly procured a photo of the crushed car and studied it fixedly every night - this rings so true to me about violent, sudden bereavement that I have yet to unpack it all) move to Ledwardine, in Herefordshire: right into the middle of a village stuck between the death of traditional ways, and incomers keen to start them up again while being oblivious to deeper local political and personal currents...

I guess you can see why there's so much in here that grips me. My widowed mother also attended Bible College in the 90s - she wasn't looking for ordination, but she came across a lot of the attidues and scrutiny that Merrily does. I also really like that Phil Rickman understands a lot of stuff we would now call male privilege and how it affects women - so the secluded village that looks so peaceful is a double-edged sword, because you could easily be attacked at night without anyone witnessing it; and Merrily's personal safety, dignity and authority within her own church are threatened when she overhears the organist discussing his explicit sexual fantasies about her with the organ repairman. The lesson is that for a woman, a cassock becomes a thing certain kinds of men want to tear off, and it's honestly pretty refreshing to see a male writer tackle this kind of objectification, and all its rippling social and career implications, as well as Rickman does.

Meanwhile, Jane, who disapproves of her mother's ordination, is on a very different yet parallel spiritual path, being instructed by local lore expert Lucy Devenish on the pagan significance of Ledwardine... and its orchard, where a member of a powerful local farming family just killed himself. Then there's Lol Robinson, a former rock star (think Nick Drake but still alive and gone middle aged) who chose the village as a country idyll only to see his partner go off with the local squire. And Lol's got his own unsettling secrets to deal with.

Lol was really how I finally started reading the books - I'd been meaning to because R was really enthusiastic about them (it's so rare for him to get into a series at all) and I liked the combination of women clergy, earth mysteries and smalltown politics, but then R started playing the accompanying albums on Spotify. The author and a musician have actually made the albums that are in the books, under the name "Lol Robinson and Hazey Jane II". As you'd expect, they're Nick Drake-esque, and full of references to the characters and events, but they're also very listenable in themselves.

Threaded through all these words and music are the works of Thomas Traherne, a 17th century poet, clergyman, theologian and religious writer who was virtually unknown until many of his works resurfaced in the 20th century. Traherne was a metaphysical poet whose work often sounds startlingly ahead of its time, and Rickman has bound him up in the mystery of the first novel, The Wine of Angels, as well.

ANYWAY. I think you can tell that I like these books a lot. I'm only on the second one, Midwinter of the Spirit, in which Merrily gets recruited to the deliverance side of things and is immediately in over her head...

Autobiography by Morrissey

I was just going to read this for mocking purposes (love the songs, immensely irritated by his simplistic yet noisy stances on animal rights and Ireland), but he is an awfully engaging writer. I've been stalled in it for a while - for some reason I got very depressed by the stuff about the court cases, and I actually hope that when I research this stuff it'll turn out he's exaggerated horribly. If he's even half accurate, then it suggests some very scary things about judges.

Also, Morrissey, Crohn's disease is NOT caused by eating meat. Yes, yes, Johnes Disease in cattle, and mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, I know, but nobody has actually been able to duplicate John Hermon-Taylor's research. Also, it does not automatically kill people, "slowly or quickly", and I assume the same is true of the rest of the medical conditions you throw around in that one deeply stupid paragraph.

So, that's Morrissey dealt with.


The group read of The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice is drawing to a close on [community profile] vc_media, but anyone, new or old, is always welcome to chime in. Also, if there is enthusiasm, we'll do The Queen of the Damned in the new year...

I'm also re-reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. I read the (then) trilogy in 2005 and loved the books, but this is the first time I've been back, thanks to my obsession with the TV series. At first I was rather put off by Harris's style and thought it was a case of younger!me having crap taste in prose, but now I think it's mostly that the slang and dialogue in general haven't quite aged well. Otherwise, though, it's compulsive reading, and I'm fascinated by how the show has taken little details (Molly tells Jack that, post-stabbing, Will was "obsessed" with the dogs for a while) and spun them out.

I've also got a couple of books that I finished over the summer, but I think I'll save them for next week's post as it's getting late...

Also interesting (and found via author_by_night): some people are organising a Harry Potter fandom reunion on LJ, for those who miss fandom as we did it in the old pre-Tumblr days, want to reconnect with the larger fandom, etc. etc: hp_reunion.

And here's a post from strannik01 about how LJ themselves seem to be doing some sensible outreach at long last - they've got a brand new ad on YouTube which does some smart stuff by focusing on how customisable privacy levels are, the comment threading and the strength of the site being discussion. Also, they underline the fact you can use any nickname and will never have to disclose your RL info if you don't want to; and the fact they will never filter your feed content (one in the eye for Facebook and, most recently, Twitter). I would love to see this working out for them, I really would, because while all the other social networks have strengths, LJ and Dreamwidth combine the greatest number of aspects I like with the fewest irksome aspects. And it's just the style in which I most enjoy interacting with people and having a -cough- online presence.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 18th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
I hope you do get a DW; it'd be lovely to see you on VC_Media! And I like having a foot in both sites, as much for backup as anything else - I crosspost from the DW to here and it makes me feel a little safer, having seen various other sites go down the tubes over the years.

(Deleted comment)
Nov. 26th, 2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
Added you back! :)

We're actually going to start a QotD re-read in January!
Oct. 19th, 2014 08:33 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised that Livejournal didn't alert me that you linked to my post. Or tagged me. But still - it's nice to see that my post got some traction :)
Oct. 19th, 2014 08:42 pm (UTC)
It seems kind of erratic about those alerts!

But hi! :)
Oct. 20th, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
Hi :)

Incidentally - now that I read the whole post (as opposed to just the part that originally brought me here), I have to say that your review of the The Merrily Watkins Mysteries has intrigued me and I'm going to see if my local library has it.
Oct. 20th, 2014 08:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, fantastic - the more Merrily fans, the - well, merrier. :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )