Thursday, August 28, 2014

Read some quality historical fiction today!

I found out big news today: Robert Merle's Fortune de France series, one of the great reading adventures of my youth, is finally being published in English! I wanted to share this with you English-speaking readers, and make a case for adding this book to your shelves.
Not too long ago I wrote a post about 6 Books that Need an English Translation a.s.a.p. My prayers (or whining?) seem to have been answered, and Pushkin Press is proudly presenting us the first volume of one of them this September: Robert Merle's The Brethren.
Fortunes of France (or, as I knew it growing up, French History) is a captivating, exciting and adventurous series of historical fiction that takes place in late Medieval France. The whole series is 13 volumes long, enough to take you through several decades of turbulent 16th century French history, and well into the early 17th century, the world of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu so well-known from... other books. In the midst of struggle between royal houses, religions, and nations, our hero Pierre de Siorac works his way through France (and most of the lovely ladies of his time). Adventures, gallantry, some plague, lots of rapier fighting, complicated politics, generous amounts of love, dark tones, likeable characters, and a quite accurate picture of life in those times makes these books an experience that stays with you permanently.

This is not really a book review. The books have been out for a while, they are a proven classic, and people who have read them already know that they are amazing. Hopefully they will be even more popular now that they are available for the English-speaking bookworm crowd.

(...Who am I kidding? I am willing to hit you over the head until you read them.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

5 Things to Love About the SCA

When you fill out the Ultimate Geek Test (which you should), you get extra points for being in the SCA, and even more extra points for holding an office in the SCA. In mainstream culture, being a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism is usually seen as an extremely geeky/nerdy activity. Which is totally fine with me, because I am a nerd. But there are also a lot of stereotypical ideas and misconceptions out there about what the SCA is, or what we do. Without attempting to dissolve all of those, today I had the inspiration to make a list of some of my favorite things about being a SCAdian:

1. Community that talks
We eat together, we sit together, we play together, and we talk a lot. I cherish the times when we sit around, everyone working on their own project of embroidery, spinning, knitting, weaving, etc. and while our hands work, we talk about things. Not just SCA things. All kinds of things. We talk about our day, and work, and the movies we like, and the shows we watch, and the books we read, and sometimes we tell stories, and we laugh a lot. In a world where I walk into classrooms full of students sitting in complete silence staring stubbornly at their phones, it is a rare thing to have one night a week when you just sit and talk to other human beings.

2. Community that dances
People who dance. Real dances (not grinding and twitching). With partners (boy and girl, girl and girl, boy and boy, no one cares). For fun. To live music. People who dance medieval dances, renaissance dances, dances you secretly admire in Jane Austin movies, in long lines, and the guys bow, and the girls curtsy, and, get this, guys don't awkwardly shuffle away to avoid it!! We dance until we can't breathe, and then we dance some more, and We. Have. DANCE CARDS.

3. Community that knows their history
One of the things I notice about my students in the USA is how different their perception of history is compared to students in Europe. Oh sure, most European students loathe history too, but they exist in a space where history has a different, long-term feel to it, and that affects how they perceive long-ago events. Long story short: If you love to have long discussions about Viking weaponry, or the dirty secrets of medieval royal bedrooms, or you love swapping Roman era inside jokes, the SCA is one of the few non.academic spaces to do it. These people are history buffs, and they know their stuff. Oh, and they also know how to make it exciting.

4. Community that creates things
Honestly, I have never been a very crafty person. I don't impulsively re-decorate, I don't make clothes, and I can only sew buttons. I used to do embroidery and friendship bracelets in high school, and that's about it. Even when I was in a Renaissance performance group in Hungary, I had my dresses made, I never got around to making them myself.
And then I joined the SCA. I joined in late August; by early November, I had a tablet weaving project. And with the woven belt came an idea for a garb, and so I started learning how to work a sewing machine. By then I had a shoe box full of needles, scissors, thread, and random tidbits. By the end of spring, I had an ongoing costume project, and a full sized toolbox full of stuff.
The joy of creating something with your own hands is severely underrated these days.

God, I missed archery after high school. So. Freaking. Much.

I rest my case.