Wibble Wednesday: The walls came tumbling down (Joshua 4–6)

OK, this week I’m going to try to get done on time.

The quick snarky summary: In an almost certainly ahistorical development, the Israelites conquer a walled city. Surprisingly, they do not do it by swarming over the walls like ants or by starving the inhabitants out, but with weird wall-destroying ritual.

First blood

Thibble Thursday: Recon mission, part 2 (Joshua 1–3)

Onwards to the Book of Joshua! This book is basically national history, explaining why the tribes live where they do. Also, it’s really bloody, because team Joshua is going to kill everyone in their path.

Unlike the Torah, the Nevi’im aren’t divided up into convenient week-sized units, so I’ll do whatever comes naturally in each week’s reading.

The quick snarky summary: Joshua secures his leadership and reminds the Transjordanians that they have to fight too. He decides to send spies, since that worked so well for Moses, and they go find a whore to dally with. He continues to emulate Moses by repeating his most famous miracle.

The ants go marching

Thibble Thursday: Curtain Call (Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12)

To my shame, I’m slightly late with this one. But it’s been a busy week, full of excitement and fun!

Wow. At long last, we’ve come to the end of the Torah. It took longer than expected (I’d figured on a year), but here we are. The series isn’t ending here, though, and we’ll more into the Neviim next week, but this really is the end of an era. These final few parshot are a lot shorter, and this one, פָּרָשַׁת וזאת הברכה (“And this is the blessing” portion), is the last.

The quick snarky summary: I’ve spent the last 32 chapters verbally abusing you, so I’ll wind down by blessing you, not only collectively, but tribe-by-tribe. Except for the Simeonites. Seriously, fuck those guys. Anyways, time for me to die happily now, looking at the land you’re about to make run red with blood.

Seriously, it’s about time.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

So, to recap, I read and enjoyed Graceling. so it stands to reason I would get around to its sequels when possible.

Fire is not quite a sequel; in fact, chronologically speaking, it’s a prequel, and thematically, it’s just a shared-world story. But it’s the second book in the Seven Kingdoms series, which makes it presumably a followup book to Graceling. Certainly the one notable connection between the two books only makes dramatic sense if they’re read in the publication order.

To start with the good, Fire is excellently written, with the right level of detail and interesting themes. As in Graceling, women struggling with the burdens of power in a world unwilling to accept female empowerment is a major theme. The particulars are different enough to make the exploration from another angle rather refreshing: Katsa and Fire are very different personalities, having internalized quite different notions of responsible use of their power, guilt, and sexuality. Both are tempestuous, strong-willed characters, but they seem to be driven by nearly opposite forces. Having extensively explored emotional inhibition in her previous work, Cashore now deals with the perils and struggles of a far-too-open personality. So, thematically, Fire definitely works as a companion to Graceling, providing both counterpoint and common ground.

However, even so, the weakest aspect of Fire turns out to be its comparison to Graceling. It is somewhat less engrossing of a page-turner, and I might qualify it as significantly weaker in plot. Some of its weakness might derive from its shared-world aspect, as there is a peculiar cul-de-sac of a subplot which seems to have no real place in the story except in order to kludge in a character from Graceling (no details, as such would be a spoiler for Graceling, but it’s obvious from the prologue who I’m talking about).

The shared-world aspect in fact creates more problems than it solves, even above and beyond the dubious choice to try for character continuity. After all, the eponymous Seven Kingdoms of the series were entirely described in the first book; the addition of an extra kingdom and a region of roving sea pirates, both of which are cut off from the rest of the world by a conveniently impassible mountain range (which apparently gets passed twice, one of them in this story), feels a bit contrived. The presence of fantastical mind-controlling animals on this side of the mountains is also a bit problematic: in Graceling, mind control was a weird, exotic, and terrifying power, all while just on the other side of the mountains, shielding one’s mind from the commonplace seductive telepathic beasts is a basic survival skill. It’s weird from a worldbuilding point of view, and it’s weird from a population-genetic point of view.

But these are mostly places where Fire falls short of, or fails to properly mesh with, its predecessor work. Taken on its own merits, it’s really very good, except for the aforementioned shoehorned-in character. I remain favorably impressed by Kristen Cashore’s talent for a good story with intriguing characters, and I’ll read Bitterblue when the chance arises.

Bánh mì in Louisville (part 13 of an onging series): Four Sisters

I’ve fallen a bit behind, and I really oughtn’t. A few months ago a friend tipped me off to a new place in Clifton, and about a month ago I went to see a guy in Clifton who was rumored to have a lot of mechanical devices, possibly including calculators (did you know I have a blog about mechanical calculators?), so on a hot, blistering day, sweaty from manhandling a Monroe KA-161 out to my car, I swung by Four Sisters.

[Photo of sandwich from Four Sisters]Four Sisters on UrbanspoonFour Sisters (2246 Frankfort Avenue) opened quietly in the spring in the space formerly occupied by the Zen Tea House. The decor has been changed but it still has a pleasingly simple feel, with a newly added touch of funk. The eponymous four sisters who co-operate the business are Vietnamese immigrants, who wanted to create a fusion of Vietnamese and French influences: thus, this humble establishment serves coffee, crêpes, and bành mí. Disappointingly, their drinks menu is short on authentic Vietnamese concoctions; I’d think a Viet flair on a coffeehouse would have a focus on Vietnamese coffee concoctions, and possibly other traditional beverages, but the closest I could find were smoothies in fairly Westernized flavors. Bánh mì are available with four different fillings: pork, beef, chicken, and tofu, at $7.00 apiece plus tax. I opted for the pork as the most traditional.

I should probably preface my review by pointing out that this price, while the norm for the Clifton/Highlands region, is well above what I pay for a sandwich down in Iroquois, and I don’t cut much slack for geography. A $7 bánh mì should be superior either in craft or size to a $3 one. On balance, this has mostly not been the case (with the exception of BMH’s fully loaded and well-crafted monsters), and it makes it hard to offer an unqualified endorsement of the upscale sandwiches. Certainly, however, Four Sisters’s sandwich has much to recommend it. The carrot-and-daikon is fantastic, and the pork exquisitely spiced and thin-sliced. In particular the thin slicing makes for a neater, more elegant ssandwich. They also use lettuce in good quantities, which accentuates the crunchiness of the slaw.

But there are sticking points here which are hard to square with the ideals in sandwichcraft. One point, not to harp on the bành mí as a value proposition, is the skimpiness of the meat. The thin slicing is good as a textural and presentation aspect, but it also makes it awfully eawsy to go rather light on the meat. I don’t demand meat-heaviness, which would in fact detract from the authenicity, but they could use a bit more here. But my more serious criticism is of the issue where so many places fall down: bread. A good bành mí roll should be a blending of many aspects: a frangible crust, a light and soft interior, and enough robustness not too suffer structural failure. Four Sisters has the light interior down, but that crisp exterior isn’t in evidence yet.

Like most businesses having bành mí as a primary menu item, Four Sisters is an institution I intrinsically approve of, and on many of their fundamentals they are in the right place, so I hope they can fix those minor issues and become a first-class sandwich joint.

Sibble Saturday: Swan Song (Deuteronomy 32:1–32:52)

Sorry, I’ve been on the road! I should have written this up and slotted it out to go before I set out, but I didn’t.

We are in the penultimate parsha—pretty soon we’ll get to Joshua. This one’s another short one, with פָּרָשַׁת האזינו (“Listen” portion) consisting of a mere 43 verses of poetry with 9 more of narrative.

The quick snarky summary: I’ll forget that assimilation and exile are in the future, and talk in the past tense about how the Israelites, having achieved plenty and contentment, rebelled against God and were punished for it.

Poetic devices abound