It is a tribute to Jeanette Walls that I could not get through this book without comparing it dozens of times to The Glass Castle, with The Glass Cast...moreIt is a tribute to Jeanette Walls that I could not get through this book without comparing it dozens of times to The Glass Castle, with The Glass Castle coming off as its genius granddaughter or fashionable little sister. I probably should have read this first, as a child or teenager, but it’s too late for that now. No regrets! I could not help wondering why Betty Smith wrote this story as fiction rather than memoir, and the fact of it being fiction made me notice a lack of complexity in Francie’s character. Smith did not love, admire, and criticize Francie in the same way she did the Rommely sisters or Johnny Nolan. I am sure that it is because, although Smith uses the omniscient third person, Francie is Smith, and the story is thoroughly from Francie’s point of view. It is difficult to treat yourself as a fictional character. At the same time, the comparison of the two books is also a tribute to Jeanette Walls because A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a very wonderful book with many, many beautiful moments. I enjoy photographs that take something ordinary or dreary in real life and turn it into something interesting and beautiful, and this book is the written equivalent of that.
There is a section of this story when Francie meets with her English teacher, in which Smith states one of her theories on writing, and it has stuck with me. Always an exceptional writer, Francie has recently stopped writing romantic, idealized descriptions of things she’s never seen, and begun writing stories about her father’s alcoholism. Her teacher dislikes these stories and tells Francie that successful writing is always about something beautiful and better than life. This is a major conflict for Francie because her father was a beautiful, better-than-life person to her despite his alcoholism, and she feels her teacher’s judgment of their poverty. She also finds that once she has begun writing about real things, it would be superficial to write about anything else.
This exchange was thought-provoking for me because I generally land on the side of Francie’s teacher in this argument. I read for pleasure, and so when an author seems absolutely bent on being vulgar and unpleasant, it makes me angry. I like for fiction to be beautiful and better than life. At the same time, Smith made me realize that my argument is a myopic generalization. Smith’s descriptions of the Nolan family’s poverty and Johnny Nolan’s alcoholism are beautiful and delicate, even though the facts of both are not beautiful or delicate. The descriptions are even important, because it is so easy to oversimplify classes of people into noble or lazy, rather than seeing the complexity of individual situations. I’m glad that Smith did not take her English teacher’s and my advice.
While I enjoyed most of this book, I did not love it. I think this was because I did not love Francie, or even have a very definite image of who she was. I loved all of her family members and the stories of their lives. I found the Rommely family wonderful and fascinating, even Katie’s evil father. I would never argue that this was not an important book, and I am glad I read it. As fiction and even as a coming of age story, there was not a specific plot point drawing me through the book, as most of the events were pretty well foretold from the first 100 pages. I do not think this was a failing on Smith’s part, because I believe her intention was more photographic – a series of snap shots of life in Brooklyn before World War I. I am looking forward to watching the movie, though, as I think I will benefit from having a face for Francie. (less)
Twilight follows what I think has become one of the great traditional plotlines: star-crossed vampire/human truelove. So, move aside, Jack London. In...moreTwilight follows what I think has become one of the great traditional plotlines: star-crossed vampire/human truelove. So, move aside, Jack London. In acknowledging my friend Ms. Meyer’s role in developing this new tradition, I feel like the first important thing to say is that Stephenie Meyer is not The Man. While most criticisms of the Twilight series are empirically true, it is nevertheless also true that this series is ubiquitously influential in culture right now, and I don’t think it’s influential in the same way as the War on Terror, or even Sarah Palin. The War and Palin are both The Man in ways that I refuse to believe Ms. Meyer is. I do concede, however, that Stephenie Meyer is a polished and packaged product of culture, and that she is the same package, in almost every way, as me. I don’t care about age or cynicism, I am the audience for this book. If you want to see my reaction summed up much more quickly than I plan to, I refer you to Paul Bryant’s Georgia . To introduce you more thoroughly to the audience for whom this book was written, I’ll start with a little summary of the story.
Bella arrives, at the opening of the story, in the small town of Forks, Washington, and she’s not thrilled. She’s like, A little town, oh, it's a quiet village - ev'ry day like the one before. Little town full of little people, waking up to say, bonjour!
She checks in at school, which is awkward because everyone’s staring and whatnot. They’re all, Look there she goes that girl is strange, no question, dazed and distracted, can't you tell? Never part of any crowd, 'cause her head's up on some cloud. No denying she's a funny girl that Bella.
Even her father doesn’t really get her and goes around thinking, Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar. I wonder if she's feeling well. With a dreamy far-off look and her nose stuck in a book, what a puzzle to the rest of us is Bella!
Even when she makes friends, they still just don’t understand that she’s an old soul – too old for dances and shit like that. Everyone still wants to be her friend, though, and they go around whispering, Look there she goes a girl who's strange but special, a most peculiar mad'moiselle. It's a pity and a sin, she doesn't quite fit in, 'cause she really is a funny girl – a beauty but a funny girl. She really is a funny girl – that Bella!
If, after that brief summary, you don’t have a very particular song (and maybe some dance moves that you made up to go with the song at one time or another in your life) stuck in your head, then you are not the designated audience for Twilight. I’m not even intending to be disrespectful or critical when I say that the resonance people feel with Twilight is the resonance of Disney. It is the dividing line between those who fall in love with this story, and those who can’t stand looking at the cover art. Interestingly, though, I think most of the people who cringe at the mention of The Twilight Saga would still go see a new Pixar movie or even Beauty and the Beast if it was re-released on the big screen. It’s got the candlestick and the teacup, right? Who doesn’t like to see inanimate objects sing and dance? It’s just awesome. Disney, however, is totally The Man. Disney is, like, whatever is above The Man telling The Man what to do. I would call it The Superman, but I don’t want it to get a big head.
Disney is smoother than Twilight because it knows that you can’t just present the story of a young, beautiful girl falling in love with a potential abuser without including a catchy tune and some dancing flatware. In that way, I guess it’s a mixed blessing that the movie version of Twilight is so freaking boring and awkward. It gives you time to reflect on whether it’s not a little convenient that our girl thinks it’s so groovy to have a vampire stalk her in her own bedroom. It lets you stop and think that undying for love might not be all it’s cracked up to be. The book version has lots of sparkles, though, and cars flying in every direction, so you don’t have to dwell on the unfortunate implications of the central relationship unless you’re inclined to. But, let’s face it, most of us have contemplated that at one time or another. If you haven’t, now’s your chance. What do you think about a cartoon that encourages little girls to stay in abusive relationships because underneath the gruff exterior of the abuser lies the heart of a prince? What do you think about a book that has women across the country swooning at a cadaverous stalker watching a teenage girl sleep?
I’ll tell you what I think: it totally doesn’t bother me. I mean, if those aren’t the implications that the storytellers were intending (and I don’t necessarily think they are), then oops!, but that’s the extent of my criticism. On the other hand, I think it’s equally possible that those are the implications that the storytellers intended, and, if so, they are both pretty effective in being persuasive and single-minded in their goals. The messages might be sugar-coated, but they’re still obvious. They’re not sneaky or underhanded. I don’t like it when I feel like an author is trying to sneak around with themes, but if I just disagree, it’s not so bad. I think they’re good stories, too, despite their unfortunate messages, and they are made all the better by their singing and sparkles. Whether we like it or not, stories that idealize stalking and teach girls to try reforming their abusers through patience and fancy dresses are deeply ingrained in (at least) Western culture. It seems possible that these stories are even products of a conflicted nature in humanity. Men want the virgin/whore; women want the beast/god. But, also, none of us really want those people because they’re freaky. We don’t know what we want.
(Arguably, the moral of Beauty and the Beast is that looks aren’t everything, and the moral of Twilight is that true love waits. I think those are less interesting messages within the stories, so I’m not going to address them. They are obviously there, though, so disagree as you wish.)
Maybe there is a little Harold Bloom in all of us, mentally applying for the role of literary gatekeeper every time we read a book we don’t like. I have read criticisms of Twilight that are both hilarious and poignant, and, like I say, this book has a very specific audience. When I hear criticisms, though, they usually just make me really sad. A girl I know is a mother of three young kids and lives out in the middle of nowhere. At the time she read Twilight she was mostly staying home (again, in the middle of nowhere) and being a mom. She hated the book and had two criticisms. First, she thought that the clothes were really dorky (and, it’s true, the clothes are distracting). Second, every time she looked at Stephenie Meyer’s picture on the back, it bugged her because she thought about how Meyer is “just a mom,” as though a mom shouldn’t have a valuable voice in literature.
I hate that on a lot of levels. I hate the idea of limiting literature to what I agree with, and I hate the idea of taking the voice of moms out of any part of culture. It also seems like a creepy excuse for nonparticipation to say that an entire group of people, to which you belong, shouldn’t be respected in the literary world. I’m not trying to say that Stephenie Meyer represents all moms, but I do think that a lot of criticism I have read of her writing either dismisses her as The Man or as a mom. It reflects the idea that literature should be a table at which only the cool kids sit – or at which the cool kids can’t sit. I don’t know who’s supposed to sit there.
There are a lot of totally valid reasons to dislike any book. I recognize this book’s faults, but I think that one of its greatest strengths is that it was written by a mom. I think it is a fun, hilarious, action-packed story. I think that Stephenie Meyer has story-telling skillz and that you can’t teach that. Henry James might have had a big vocabulary, but he couldn’t tell a story to save his life. Ms. Meyer could benefit from reading the dictionary once or twice, but she already has what you need if you find yourself sitting around a campfire. Possibly, she could use just a dash of self-awareness, but too much self-awareness can ruin any good story – just look at Dave Eggers. Honestly, I would rather be brave enough to write Twilight than smart enough to criticize it.
It’s funny to say, but this book actually inspired a real crisis of faith in my life. I’ve had some occasions where I’ve had major fallings out with God and then other occasions where I’m a big fan – like ya do. A crisis of faith is not unusual for me. There’s this thing that goes down in mainstream Christianity that is really annoying (I’m sure it happens in other religions, too, but I’m talking totally pop culture Christianity here so that my point makes sense). It’s this thing where people will frame a story as though the hero’s dreams are sure to fail, but then, suddenly, through the power of prayer, God swoops down and fixes everything in a magical money donation. Don’t get me wrong; magical money donations are the bomb. But does that mean that for those whose magical money didn’t come through, God’s showing that he’s angry with them? Does God speak in a reward/punishment system? I don’t think so, but I don’t really know anything about it. I know that in that situation, you’re supposed to say that God has a better plan, but that lacks something to me, also. To be clear, this isn’t a criticism that I’m making of religion in general, or even of Christianity in general, but of this Disneyland Christianity that is everywhere in America. It’s a religion of total convenience where everything has a vague, cliché explanation and, if it doesn’t, we don’t look at it. And the way people tell these stories is like they’re telling the plot of the newest movie about a down-and-out kid’s sports team. The stories are all informed by the plot development of Disney movies.
Like this Disney filter, Edward and Bella’s relationship is very convenient. Edward is immortal and can give immortality. He watches over Bella. His desire for Bella is consuming both physically and emotionally. Bella’s maturity alienates her from other humans. She is physically vulnerable. She is smart and values passion over care for her life. Edward is the Disney god and Bella his disciple. I really don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say I’ve heard God and His people described just this way many times. I don’t know why I hadn’t really thought about this before I read Twilight, but from thinking about the silly convenience of the Edward/Bella relationship, a lot of real things fall apart for me. Like, if we believe that God is really real (not just abstractly real) and we think that God is with us all the time like Edward is with Bella, why isn’t that creepy? I know I think it’s creepy with Edward, but why not with God? I think it’s because we believe God is there when we’re thinking about Him and not when we’re not. I think Jesus has become a sparkly, romantic immortal with super-strength who thinks you’re so awesome he can’t take his eyes off of you and gives you cars sometimes. This is obviously a problem, but I think any generation will interpret traditional writings through a contemporary cultural lens, so it’s not shocking. It’s just, perhaps, not the lens most of us would prefer.
On the other hand, if we think we’re completely alone when we aren’t with humans, no possibility for anything supernatural or spiritual, that seems limited and conveniently clean, too. I don’t have an answer, and it seems like it’s not really possible to have an answer that’s not annoyingly convenient on some level.
Also, I'm not saying this because I think Stephenie Meyer invented the Disney Jesus, but because I think it helps explain Twilight's resonance in society. I think Meyer expressed something very simple that both culture and religion have prepared people to receive.
It is probably important to say, again, that I’d be surprised to find out that Stephenie Meyer is part of a vast conspiracy to subdue Western civilization by reducing our worldview to clichés. Plus, I think that when someone’s worldview is a cliché, patronizing them out of it isn’t really the way to go (yeah, you know who you are. No, not you – you in the back. That’s right). Also, what do I know? Maybe, Jesus really is sparkly and has a warehouse full of new cars. It is just as legitimate to say that I don’t believe that because I don’t want to as that someone else believes it because they do want to. *sigh*
This may seem backwards, but I started reading Twilight in the mood for something fun and silly and not well written, and so I enjoyed (almost) every minute of the series. In a more anti-Disney mood, I probably I would have wanted to burn them for the weak and whiny heroine and glorification of stalking.
I think of these books like the show Friends, though. Everything works out well for everyone by the end of the episode, and so despite appalling personal choices and caricatured personalities, the stories are comforting. I don't know whether I think it's worse to be comforted by stories that present unhealthy worldviews, or to expect books to represent literal reality. Both seem suspicious, but the first seems more fun. I appreciate and think it's hilarious that Meyer loves her characters so much that she'll sacrifice anything in the plot to make things turn out well for them. I never feel like she is trying to impress me, but only writing what she wants have happen.
The main criticism I hear of these books is that the love story is completely unrealistic. This is absolutely true, but it is also a series about vegetarian vampire superheroes, so I think it's important to have a little perspective about realism. I hope that we are not so culturally bankrupt as to go to Friends for dating advice or vampire stories for authentic representations of love. Unfortunately, we actually might be that bankrupt, and I sadly acknowledge my own experience with teen girls and grown women taking these books VERY seriously. I am reluctant, however, to be angry with books I thought were so silly and fun only because of other people being silly in a not fun way.
To conclude, I’m planning to petition Tim Burton to do a song-and-dance version of the Twilight movie. It will be awesome. For the vampires, we will cast all professional dancers, and for the normals we’ll cast normals. I mean, we gots a meadow scene, fast cars, and a baseball scene in here! Not to insult the My Dinner With Andre version, but my version is going to kick ass. We’ll throw in a little irony, music up the melodrama, and show the haters what a story looks like. You’ll love it.(less)
I know a couple of things about love. I know that when you meet the truelove, you “just know” because it’s like you walked with that person once upon...moreI know a couple of things about love. I know that when you meet the truelove, you “just know” because it’s like you walked with that person once upon a dream. Out to dinner one time, I overheard a man at another table describing this perfectly:
“I was at a bar the other night," he said, "and I looked across the room and suddenly noticed this girl. I felt like I had seen her before, but I couldn’t think where I might have met her, so I thought I was probably in love. You know, like they say, ‘The first time I saw her, I felt like I had seen her before.’ Then, while I was looking at her, my mouth started to water. So, I thought that’s probably what it’s like when you fall in love – your body just reacts to the other person.
"Then, I realized that she’s the girl who serves me at Taco Bell.”
That’s pretty much the story of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan as they walk on the scene in New Moon. The problem is, to continue the Taco Bell metaphor, Edward and his family are, like, ravenous fans of Mexican food. They’re like high college kids. And Bella’s not the girl who serves the tacos, she is the taco. You can see how that would be a problem.
I also know that it’s statistically proven that once a girl falls in love, if she’s ever away from the boy she loves, she goes into a coma. Traditionally, this used to happen because of the evil fairy who put a spell on the girl. Nowadays, it happens because of psychology, but this all becomes an argument in semantics, and who wants to have the dark fairy/brain waves fight again? Not me. Some go with faith and some with evidence, but let’s still be friends.
What I’m trying to say is that New Moon is an American girl reinvention of Sleeping Beauty. (Not American Girl with a capital ‘G’ – that would be way too creepy for me. This is just a vampire/warewolf story, don’t worry.) It’s American girl in the sense that instead of helpful, matronly fairies (so retro-Euro) our heroine in New Moon finds some smokin’ hot Native American boys to keep her company while she’s away from her truelove. Also, instead of baking a silly cake, they build a motorcycle – less tasty, but way more badass (in theory, if not execution). Otherwise, the stories are basically the same. They are especially similar in that the villains, not the heroes, are the stars of the show. The Bellrora (Aurella?) character is stupid, jumping off cliffs with no cliff-jumping training and climbing all through the castle to prick her finger on the only spinning-wheel needle around. You have to want to slap this girl. The villains, on the other hand, have pizzazz. Maleficent is the reason to watch Sleeping Beauty just as the Volturi are the only thing that make New Moon readable. Actually, these stories are not just read/watchable, I even really like both of them because of the villains.
The major technical place where the Twilight Saga went wrong, to my mind, was in staying with the Edward/Bella love story, which was mostly drained of any blood (bah dum tsss) in the first book. The more I got to know these characters, the more I realized that I didn’t much care for them in the first place, which is too bad because I would rather think I like them. It would have been easier to do so if Bella had undied in the first book, and Meyer moved on to tell the love stories of the other vamps in the Cullen club in the rest of the books. The thing I like the most about Meyer, however, is that she’s not ever crafting a story, she’s always just telling you what happened to her bf’s in fantasy land. She is so in love with Bella and Edward that she had to continue with their story. This has its obvious downsides technically, but it also has the major upside that nothing seriously bad ever happens to a Meyer character. Drama, sure, but no real tragedy. I hope she continues with this M.O. in the future because if you know that’s the kind of story you’re getting into, it makes for a really relaxing read. And it comes as naturally to her as perpetual frustration does to Joss Whedon or gettin in ur revew an makin ur awgumentz does to an LOLcat. I can appreciate all of them. I really hate it when I feel that an author ruins a character’s life just to prove something to the literati, and because a sad ending would be so unnatural to Meyer, I hope she doesn’t sell out.
So, there are these things I know about love from Disney and Stephenie Meyer (to recap: love at first sight, coma), but there are other things I don’t understand about love. For example, I don’t know why what I know about love would sound like a good idea to anyone. This plays out within the New Moon story in a way that is beautiful and even slightly profound, though almost certainly unintentional. The Twilight Saga is all about addiction and abstinence. Edward was unborn into his addiction to blood. Most vampires are so consumed by their desire for blood that they lose all control over their bodies when they smell it. Meyer venerates the Cullens for resisting human blood, in contrast, and clearly endorses their abstinence. Everything about Bella’s passion for Edward, however, has the same markings of crazy as the vampires’ blood addiction. She even loses it when he kisses her in the same way Meyer describes the vampires frenzying for blood. Without Edward, Bella basically dies. Meyer does not characterize Bella’s obsession as the evil addiction that highlights the Cullens’ good abstinence, though.
She probably doesn’t make the open distinction because it is a genuine inconsistency in the theme of the story, but I think it is less revealing of a flaw in Meyer’s writing than a true contradiction in American values. Don’t do drugs, kids, but when you meet your soul mate you will know because of the intoxicated feeling, and the best thing you can do is give up everything and live happily ever after. Maybe the idea is that drugs are a bad substitution for the natural high of intimacy. I’m not even scare quoting “intimacy” because I really do think the idea I’m talking about is sharing everything, not just sex. It seems to me, though, that both drugs and intimacy are a bad substitute for being an actual person. I’ve had friends who successfully avoid themselves by being obsessed with weed, and I’ve had friends who avoid themselves by being obsessed with their significant other. It honestly doesn’t look that different to me, and both end up being at the same time extreme and boring to be around.
The “happily ever after” message admittedly creeps me out a little bit. I appreciate how awkwardly it works out in New Moon, though. I’m not going to claim that Meyer’s satirical skills are what make this series a pretty wonderful satire on American culture, but nevertheless I do think it is one. I actually think it is a more successful satire for its lack of self-awareness and defenses. People react in disproportionate anger to it because of what it reinforces in our values, not because of stilted dialog and the anachronistic use of the Discman. While many of us grew up with different ideas about spirituality or politics, most of us have the commonality of knowing from Disney, our true cultural parent, that a girl sleeps until her truelove battles through the traps of evil to find her and give her love’s true kiss. I don’t think it’s bad for that idea to be out there, and I think Meyer mixes it up in a nice way by having the girls save the day once this book actually starts to get good. I don’t like or agree with the idea, though, and I regret most of the ways that I have let ideas like that influence my own life. I don’t like the idea that these stories encourage kids to think that love should look like addiction, but I also hope that reading a story won’t force kids to become co-dependent.
I guess I feel about Disney, and The Saga as its awkward stepsister, like that quote Augustine is attributed with having said, “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” It’s probably possible to say that of anything deeply cultural that we struggle with but ultimately feel connected to. It has that level of, “I can say what I want about my family, but you’d better watch your mouth,” but also an acknowledgment that we can honor our roots and disagree with them at the same time. Sleeping Beauty isn’t a future that I embrace, but it is a past that I feel tender about. There is something so certain and easy about true love’s kiss that it is comforting, even though ultimately I think I prefer the brutal unpredictability of life. Less anemic. I don’t like for books to imitate life, though. There’s enough of reality everywhere without books forcing it on us. I like for books to be action-packed, hilarious, and melodramatic. It is nice when books can achieve some kind of insight into life even if the story is far removed from reality, but I don’t need that. I’m happy with crazy villains and unintentional satire, but if I read this again I plan to skip the boring part where Bella is sleepwalking. Sleeping Beauty is a more successful story in that Aurora knew to find a bed with a nice canopy and leave the action to the other characters.(less)
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to rewrite my review of The Hunger Games so that I could tell you why I don’t just love this series, but why I also t...moreFor a long time now, I’ve wanted to rewrite my review of The Hunger Games so that I could tell you why I don’t just love this series, but why I also think it’s important. It is beautiful for the unflinching way it shows you, as a reader, your own willingness to disregard people who are different from you - how you are the Capitol audience. But, it is important as a story about girls. I had not initially thought about articulating that point because it seemed so obvious to me, and I am bad at recognizing my own assumptions. Lately, though, I have seen so many people, both men and women, acting as though this remarkable book is a piece of fluff that I realized maybe what I love most about The Hunger Games is not as obvious as it seems. To me, this series is important because it is a landmark departure from the traditional story about girls.
Sidebar: if you are inclined to now google the word "fleshlight," I encourage you to consult the urban dictionary definition here before doing that, as the google results will probably be NSFW and also NSF those of you whose parents might check your browsing history. Do parents know how to do that? Sorry for the sidebar, I am just intending to make an explicit point, and now I am feeling uncomfortable about what that explicit point might mean to the target audience of this book. Girls, you are probably badass like Katniss, and you are definitely not a fleshlight.
So, in all of those links, I have tried to include books written by men and by women because I think that women think of ourselves this way almost as often as men think of us this way. The link from The Ugly Truth, for example, shows both a man and a woman treating women like fleshlights. I have also included both books I love and books I hate because, ultimately, I do think girls adopt this story about themselves, and I also think we can pretty easily identify with a male protagonist and disregard female characters who look nothing like humans. For example, The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite books in the whole world, even though it does not contain any women who resonate with my experience of humans. And I don't think it's necessarily bad that I can enjoy stories where women are only fleshlights, as long as I can still be whoever I want to be without a positive role model. I think it's good to enjoy stories and take what we can get from them, and so I don't regret that I love The Sun Also Rises.
In seeing some male reactions to The Hunger Games, I am reminded that most men do not identify with female protagonists the way women have been trained to identify with male protagonists. This seems like a huge disadvantage for men to be in, to me, and if you are a man reading this review, I would ask you to check out your bookshelves. How many female authors are on your shelves? How many of the books those authors wrote have no central male character? If you have a minute after that, check the shelves of a woman you are friends with and see how many of her books were written by men or have no central female character. Odds are the results will be pretty different.
The Hunger Games is such a groundbreaking and deliberate example of a woman’s perspective on war and family and even men that it floors me. I think it partly floors me because, other than Buffy, I can’t think of another example of a female character who really fights for herself in such an obvious and hopeful way. Katniss is strong and broken, and powerful in her brokenness. Collins’s image of a woman’s perspective is not, admittedly, as effortless as Moira Young’s in Blood Red Road, but its deliberateness has its own value.
It is not an accident that the story shows Katniss’s emotional growth and that Peeta, as a more emotionally whole person, facilitates her emotional growth. It is not an accident that the story does not discuss the effect Katniss has on the erectness of Peeta’s and Gale’s penises. The first is not an accident because in reality, men do not have to be the emotional cowards that the stories I’ve linked to above make them out to be. Masculinity does not have to mean emotional cowardice. The second is not an accident because the story is not from Peeta and Gale’s perspectives. Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, it is my experience that women pretty seldom think about their effect on men’s penises. Hopefully, we never think of our primary purpose in life, in the way so many stories think of it, as making penises erect. Hopefully, we never think of ourselves as gadgets that are super fun for other people.
There are so many reasons I love The Hunger Games series, and all of this is one I wouldn’t have initially even thought to say. I saw this Eleanor Roosevelt quote earlier this month, and it said, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” I think The Hunger Games is a candle in the overall dark narrative of girls’ perspective on life. Yes, it is also a poignant critique of reality TV and Western callousness about the catastrophes caused by industrialization in the developing world, but that, too, resonates with me in many ways because of its remarkably feminine voice. It absolutely makes sense to me that this book is not for everyone because of its violence, but I still think that it is objectively important because it shows a perspective that seems authentically feminine to me – that talks like a girl, not like a sexy, fancy gadget. I’m not saying that in my opinion girls don’t or shouldn’t ever think about being sexy or erect penises, I’m just saying that it is my experience that we think and care about many, many more things than penises, clean houses, and food, and very, very few stories are willing to tell you about that. The Hunger Games is one that does, and it does so in way that is beautiful and important. (less)
I went to see Inglourious Basterds a couple of times this past month, and there is that scene where Eli Roth and Omar Doom are in the theater, and the...moreI went to see Inglourious Basterds a couple of times this past month, and there is that scene where Eli Roth and Omar Doom are in the theater, and they dress themselves up to look like waiters and then whip around the corner and kill the two Nazi guards to some funny Ennio Morriconi(ish?), spaghetti-western sounding music. And everybody in the theater laughs, and then the film cuts to Hitler laughing, watching a movie of a Nazi soldier killing Americans. It’s one of those great story-telling moments where I’m nice and comfortable and morally superior, until I realize that actually I’m exactly the same as someone I think is Evil. There was a moment when I first saw Merchant of Venice that was like that, and I was depressed for a month after I read Notes from the Underground because of the same type of experience. I don’t know where you get that brand of story-telling ability, but Suzanne Collins has it coming out of her ears, in the sort of young adult variety.
Catching Fire was maybe not as striking as the first book in this series, The Hunger Games, in making me disturbed about myself, but it definitely had its moments. Also, I was in my second week of law school and had just gotten back from an exhausting wedding when I read it, so I might not have had the capacity to self-reflect that I normally do. If you don’t know already, even though you should know, the premise of this series is a that in the future, post-apocalyptic world of the super-badass Katniss Everdeen, one rich city controls twelve poor-to-starving cities that produce all of the goods for the rich city. In order to keep the poor cities in fear, the rich city requires each of the poor cities to send one teenage boy and one teenage girl as tributes to play the Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games the kids have to kill each other until there is one survivor, who gets to party for the rest of his/her life but never really feels like partying because everything’s so fucked up. Usually they go crazy, if they didn’t start out that way. It’s very Lord of the Flies, and yes it is the same premise as Battle Royale, but not as determinedly nasty as those two books. Also, girl action hero!
Anyway, a couple of days after I finished this book, I was spacing off instead of briefing cases, and I started thinking about the description of the capital city that controls the other cities. There is a part where Katniss and another character have to go to a party at the capital, and there are as many amazing foods as they can imagine. It’s a big party, and they’re celebrities, and everyone loves them. They have one bite of every kind of food, so that they can taste everything, but unfortunately they get full. One of their entourage explains to them that there are puke closets, so that everyone can keep eating for the whole night, and our two characters suddenly step back from the party and remember their families and neighbors, who are starving while the capital lives in decadence. I was thinking about that and how the shallow people in the capital city were just as culpable for the evil in their society as the military that imposed starvation on the cities, and then, suddenly, I realized, duh, she’s talking about me. This story is really about the global economy, and (passive, consumption-driven U.S. citizen that I am) I’m not the hero.
So, that’s about three times this month that I’ve been on the side of terrorists. I don’t know whether that means story-tellers are gettin’ pretty tricky, or if it just means I think there’s a problem with the way stuff is. Or that, like, I’m becoming a rager, or something. (FBI, if you’re reading this, JK about this whole paragraph. LOL!)
When I was working my 8-5 job last year, I started listening to some iTunesU classes while I was doing my work so that my brain wouldn’t die. One of them was given by Carolyn Marvin at Stanford, and it was called “True Colors: Myth, Magic, and the American Flag.” The premise, to summarize very briefly, was that for any culture to stay together, the culture requires a blood sacrifice. This article goes into more detail about nationalism and blood sacrifice. She really convincingly pointed out how, civilized though we think we are, blood sacrifice in modern Western culture is not really significantly different than tribal human sacrifices. It’s a seriously creepy theory, but I’m not kidding when I say that she’s right. Really, listen to the lecture. So, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks doing a mental compare/contrast of the U.S. with this futuristic dystopia. We don’t come off looking too good, guys.
Obviously these are really complicated topics, but nothing seems as simple as “violence is not the answer” or, on the other side of the argument, “destroy civilization.” I’m not positive what the right answer is, but I’d like to find out. I think Suzanne Collins’s books should be taught in high school social studies classes, so maybe we could get some young brains working on this problem. How do we effectively refuse to benefit from universally destructive and dehumanizing trade practices, but still live healthy and productive lives?
So, go read everything Suzanne Collins ever wrote (including the episodes of Clarissa Explains It All because that show is awesome) and reflect on international trade and the global economy. I don’t know if you’ll be a better person for it, but I think so. Maybe after you do all that reading you can help me figure out some way for us not to be Evil. (less)
This book is exceptionally okay. It is like really, really, really, really okay. I think it would be more good and not so much okay if it started out...moreThis book is exceptionally okay. It is like really, really, really, really okay. I think it would be more good and not so much okay if it started out less good in the beginning. As it is, I felt like it had a lot of promise it didn’t live up to. But, it didn’t exactly waste my time, either, so I can’t really say I disliked it or anything. It is just SUPER mediocre. Almost good, it’s so mediocre. Even, throughout, I would think things were going somewhere, but instead things would kind of stay the same. But, the expectation of things going somewhere kind of kept my attention.
This book is about a girl who has special powers. So, right there you’ve basically got me. I mean, there are still only about five books about girls with special powers, right? Female special powers automatically give this book has a bunch of points in its favor. But, after that there is not much to the whole story, so not a lot else going for it. But, speaking of that, let’s list the books with girls who have special powers.
I didn’t include Buffy because, even though the eighth season is written down, the bulk of the story is on TV. And then there is Twilight, where the super power is kind of appalling. And then you have sort of middle-ground books like Shiver, Uglies, Wicked Lovely, City of Bones, Wither, Darkfever, etc., where there is a girl, and she is the protagonist, and there are fantastical things, but the girl doesn’t really have a power, you know? Like, I don’t think falling in love with a dog or seeing fairies is really a power. If anything, it’s a lame power and more similar to the Twilight power. Also, it is scientifically proven that the ol’ magic vagina, or the wikimagvag, as it’s popularly called, is not a super power. And if we’re going for positive role models, I’d kind of rather see nothing fantastical than see super-creepy-mom power or super-child-prostitute power or super-animal-sex power keep cropping up all over the place.
So, that’s my take on the current state of girls with special powers. Actually, now that I think about it, even in my main-contenders list, only Daughter of Smoke and Bone actually has a girl with extra powers that are above the people around her. Even Katniss is just a girl who grew up tough and learned how to shoot stuff in the woods. Man. What is up with girls not getting super powers, huh? That’s kind of a bummer. I know about Kitty and the Midnight Hour and Anita Blake, but I have not read them. Do they actually have special powers, or is that the wikimagvag all over again? And feel free to tell me about any girls I should know about.
In A Great and Terrible Beauty, our girl Gemma has some magical powers, so that’s pretty cool. The thing is that the rest of it isn’t so exciting. There’s kind of a mystery and this group of girls kind of(view spoiler)[almost destroys, but conveniently saves the world (hide spoiler)]. And Libba Bray confronts anti-feminist messages pretty head on, but, I don’t know, sometimes the way she does that is so heavy handed that it almost seems useless to me. Like, everyone is walking around this book saying stuff like, “Well, my mother told me that ladies have to find a husband and can’t work.” It has this twenty-first-century directness that is a little tiresome to see in a nineteenth-century setting. And then the girls get together and sort of undermine that message by bonding in a magical cave (ummm, and there is actually a chance that is some kind of womb imagery, which is a little tiresome, too). But, at the same time, do they undermine the anti-feminist messages? Not really. The ending is pretty ambivalent about women’s control over our own lives, I think.
A lot of people have talked about how unlikeable the girls are in this story, and I have to agree with that. Some of it seemed deliberate, but that didn’t really make it better to me. They were all grasping for something in what seemed like a symbolic way – Felicity for power, Pippa for romance, Ann for beauty. And then Gemma, the chosen one, knew that people can only get what we desire if we go at it through seeking self-actualization. And all of this plays out in the tone of a fable and ended up as kind of another heavy-handed message that I don’t really disagree with, but that I felt myself resisting only for its heavy-handedness.
So, all of it left me with this really mediocre amount of interest. The story was okay, the action was okay, the friendships were okay, even the special power was very, very okay. I will say, though, that I listened to this on audio, and it is a beautiful audio. The reader has this exceptional pace and lovely voice. I definitely recommend the audio if you feel like picking this book up. And I wouldn’t even recommend against reading this book, I just hoped for so much more. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I need to never run into Scott Westerfeld down a dark alley, or during a Civil War reenactment, or at Charlton Heston's house, or wherever. My deep de...moreI need to never run into Scott Westerfeld down a dark alley, or during a Civil War reenactment, or at Charlton Heston's house, or wherever. My deep desire not to be arrested for murder would have an epic battle with my need to reach for a weapon when I see his stupid face. In all fairness, as you see, I coughed up three stars for this book, so I will clarify that my empty threatening is really directed toward Pretties and Specials (books two and three in this series). I'm posting this review on the link for the first book in the hopes that it will inspire people to put this book on their list of books never to read. If you read this book there is the danger that you may want to continue with the series, but trust me, you really don't.
In listing what I don't like about this series, I'll start with EVERYTHING from the characters to the plot to the worldview that I imagine would inspire a story of this kind of depth and breadth of ambivalence. The premise of Uglies is that in the future when kids reach puberty, they all have mandatory plastic surgery to turn their bodies into a perfect standard of beauty based on human brain reactions to visual stimulus. Unfortunately (and this is a slight spoiler, so my apologies, but it really is an element that is pretty obvious from page one, though not clearly stated until later), when the kids are having the surgeries to make them pretty, the surgeons change their brains, too, to determine their decision-making abilities, capacity for independent thought, and even sense response. Basically, the pretty surgery makes most people stupid, unless the occupation that the government determines for them requires intelligence. So far so good - it's your basic government-takeover dystopia. Yes, kids, if you let the government give you free health care checkups, it's only a small step to the day they start chopping up your brain.
Luckily, said ugly teens (particularly our protagonist, Tally, through her bff, Shay) discover that if they flee to the wilderness, they will be able to live a life of freedom and romance. Oh, what's that? Did I say "romance"? Thanks again Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al. Sometimes when characters go out into the wilderness . . . I don't even know. Does the phrase "it's been done" even begin to cover my feelings on that topic? Thus begins the cat-fight between Tally and Shay that is the uniting thread of this entire series. You see, there is a wilderness boy (imagine my surprise), who is quite a catch even though he's "ugly", and there's some jealousy and betrayal and kick-ass hoverboarding. You get the idea.
Let me clarify the problems I have listed so far:
1. Suspicion of the city, using a retreat to the wild as the solution to social ills. It's a tired premise. 2. Cattiness of the female protagonist and portraying the central female character as mostly driven by her current crush and competition with other women. That is a huge pet peeve of mine.
Those, however, are small, forgivable wrongs compared to the basic disingenuousness of the moral arguments Westerfeld makes. While he on one level criticizes the idea of basing society on a hierarchy of physical looks, the characters repeatedly interact within that hierarchy, calling each other "pretty" and "ugly" at every turn and defining "pretty" people very specifically. Even the repetition of the words "ugly" and "pretty" undercuts any message Westerfeld might have against pigeonholing people. I found myself seeing people in the grocery store and evaluating whether they met the "evolutionary definition" of pretty as according to this series. It's creepy and annoying. Westerfeld can be as showy as he wants about how it is limiting to judge people based on their appearance, but I argue that he is actually encouraging that same shallow judgment if only by instruction and repetition. For example, it's like saying, "kids, don't shoplift, but here's how to shoplift if you ever want to do it. And here's a catchy shoplifting song to sing with your group of friends, who really should have a name. Hey, we could call you guys the 'shoplifting gang'! Don't shoplift, though." What's the real message there? Ultimately, the arguments of the government that requires the pretty surgeries, also, make a lot of sense in the stories. The surgeries solve anorexia, bring world peace, and save the environment. Plastic surgery sounds fun, too, and Westerfeld literally makes no compelling arguments against body alteration. At the same time, I'm left feeling that Westerfeld thinks it is a bad idea, though he is not convincing.
If Westerfeld's discussion of body image wasn't enough of a travesty, the point in this series where this backwards arguing makes me want to wipe him off the face of the planet is when he introduces cutting. By "cutting" I'm not talking about skipping school. If you are not familiar with cutting, it is a form of self-mutilation that has been growing in popularity with teenagers over the past few years (I'm going to go ahead and say it's been growing in popularity since 2006, when the book Specials was published). In Specials, our catty female protagonist and her buddies discover that by slicing up their arms, they experience a particularly satisfying high, and all of their senses are strengthened. Ultimately, they randomly decide that this is a bad idea, but Westerfeld only implies their reasoning for that decision, and again I'm left with the feeling that probably everyone should be a cutter because in the context of the story it's pretty badass. I think that was the point where I started yelling and throwing things around my house.
Unfortunately, some parts of these stories are actually engaging (not seriously engaging, but passably), and for a while I wanted to find out what happened to everyone, even while I wanted to burn the author's house down. The truly unforgivable wrongs are his wolf-in-sheep's-clothing discussions of teen body image and self-mutilation issues. His characters never develop deep self-respect or intelligent motivation for their actions, and even when their decisions seem healthy, Westerfeld makes a better argument for the unhealthy decisions. Now I realize that I didn't even talk about the uber-annoying slang language he develops for the Pretties and Specials. I'll just say that these books are not "bubbly" and leave it at that.(less)
It is difficult for me to say why I found I Capture the Castle so personally meaningful, which may mean that I will be falling all over myself in this...moreIt is difficult for me to say why I found I Capture the Castle so personally meaningful, which may mean that I will be falling all over myself in this review. When I first started reading I was bored and feared that the poverty of the characters would become dirty and depressing for its own sake, as in Angela's Ashes. Instead, it's more like a lovely BBC movie where people are always chewing with their mouth open, but somehow it is only charming. At first I resisted liking anything about it, including Cassandra's repeated use of the word "capture", but now I find myself thinking about how to describe this or that and involuntarily using the word "capture" in my thoughts. The story is at times screwball and at times elegant but always delightful and completely won me over.
Perhaps part of the reason I resisted this book is that I came to it thinking it would be romance (because of the movie poster cover of the book, which says something like, "A well-loved classic that has become the most romantic movie of the year" - hate those movie poster covers), but it is actually, more than anything, a coming of age story. I say this because I think that whether you prefer coming-of-age or romance, it helps to know what you're getting into when you start a book. In my experience, romantic novels solve the problems of life by bringing characters together in true love. I Capture the Castle is written through Cassandra's eyes, so it does not rely on romantic satisfaction to tell the story, as, perhaps, it would have if it were told by another character in the same book. Rather, like any good coming of age story, develops through revelations of the unreliability of people around Cassandra and her discovery her own independence and capabilities.
I must confess that what first hooked me on this book was Simon's beard. I have said that I am a sucker for a good fish story, and it turns out that I think I am a sucker for a good beard story, too. I thought the girls' fascination and horror over his beard were both hilarious and correct. I wonder why I don't see beards in stories more often. Really, when anyone I have known has a beard, it comes up in conversation almost any time the person is mentioned - and rightly so. I once asked a friend of mine, who had a bushy beard before he met his fiance, why he would have chosen to grow it out like that. He said that the reason any man who can grow a big bushy beard should is that the bigger your beard, the more authority you have over people in general and specifically over other men. He said there is something almost magical about having a big bushy beard that makes other people have to do whatever you want. I told him that was absolutely silly. Then, about a week later I was at the grocery store deciding which line to go through, and one of the checkers, who was otherwise very ordinary looking, had an enormous, bushy beard. I instinctively went to his line, and then a second later was shocked to realized that I had only done that because of the beard. I don't know if that proves my friend's point, but it has to mean something. I wonder if the castle girls weren't experiencing something like this beard-hypnosis in the beginning of the novel.
To go ahead and beat this beard point to death: I also thought it was lovely how Dodie Smith developed the beard's story. I always see authors showing the physical changes love supposedly brings to women, but not men. The women are pale and thin until they fall in love, when suddenly they become healthy looking. In I Capture the Castle Simon looks suspiciously like Satan, until he falls in love and shaves the beard. Brilliant! Also, it has the self-serving overtones of Elizabeth Bennet's visit to Pemberly in Pride and Prejudice, when the mansion shows Mr. Darcy's manners in a different light. Beardless Simon makes even his actions when bearded much less sinister. Love it.
You may not believe me, if you have read this far, when I say that Simon's beard was not what was personally meaningful to me about this story. Not surprisingly, I think it was Cassandra herself who seemed so profound. In many ways I did not identify with her, but I loved her. I found myself crying at times, not necessarily because her growing pains revealed my own, but only in sympathy for this new friend I found, who I love so much. I loved how wise and kind and scrappy she was. I actually loved every character in this novel, though, as they all had some kind of magical and hilarious individuality. It is tempting to copy some of the most beautiful moments here, but instead I think you should just read the book. On the one hand, I am sad that I did not read this in high school, when I think it may have been a more cathartic experience, but I wonder if its honesty might have hurt my feelings then. As it is, I found it both refreshing and comforting.(less)
I can understand why this is an important book, and I honestly think I am giving it two extra stars just for that. I don't want to become complacent i...moreI can understand why this is an important book, and I honestly think I am giving it two extra stars just for that. I don't want to become complacent in losing my liberties any more than the next girl, and I think it's great to write a story that would (I guess???) appeal to high school kids and get them to think about what freedom really means and how easy it is to get swindled by the government. However, while I am completely willing to admit my own geekiness, this book is a different kind of geeky than me, and possibly because of that it was off the charts on my geek-o-meter. I recognize that it may be my aversion to the XBox (am I capitalizing the right letters even? Xbox? XBOX? X-Box? Oh, how little I care . . .) speaking. One of the promotional blurbs on the back cover is from Neil Gaiman, saying, “It made me want to be thirteen again right now and reading it for the first time.” I agree. If I were a thirteen year old Neil Gaiman, I think I would have enjoyed this book.
I got the feeling that Marcus Yallow, the hero of Little Brother, lives in a different world than me (and not because of the post-apocalyptic nature. That was not very far-fetched). He lives in a world where all the kiddos love D & D and anyone who doesn't is a pawn of the Man, where it really is interesting to talk about "crypto" and "armphids" and "ARGing" and "LARPing" and whatever the hell other stuff that I still don't understand or care about. I think my brother has a couple of friends who live in that world, and they are just as foreign creatures (and just as uncomfortable to be around) to me as this book. I think I would have been happier hearing Cory Doctorow say, "Ron Paul '08!", and never hearing about how sexy he thinks math is. It's not that I'm against math or computers, and The Matrix still has me sold on the idea of the badass hacker, but to me both math and computers are more necessary evils, or means to an end, than anything else. I'm glad other people are interested in them, but I guess I'm not fascinated by hearing about it from YA fiction.
Doctorow was very conscious of sending positive and constructive messages in this story, and he gets 10 points from me for including the condoms in the sex scene. I might take away those points for his repeated use of the phrase “horn-dog”, but I’m willing to acknowledge that as personal taste. I see so many YA authors sabotage themselves by the use of the first-person narrative, though, and Doctorow is no exception. It just seemed so unlikely to me that a 17 year old boy in San Francisco would genuinely think that it was so unquestionably cool to play fantasy games on the computer and that the only villains would disagree with him. Maybe it’s the villain in me coming out.
Now to display my own geekiness. In terms of the story itself, this book is what I imagine the movie Casablanca would be if were told from the point of view of Victor Lazslo before Rick Blaine comes into the picture (i.e. with no sexual tension or moral complexity). Even without Humphry Bogart, I felt like the girls, who were falling over themselves for Marcus, probably could have done better. I felt, once again, the tragedy of Ilsa’s choice in the end. If nothing else, this book made me like Casablanca more. (less)
I guess, sometimes our emotional bones need to be re-broken in order to set them right. Maybe this was a common experience for those who read this boo...moreI guess, sometimes our emotional bones need to be re-broken in order to set them right. Maybe this was a common experience for those who read this book, but a lot of its most emotional points were like reading a bizarre dream about the last few years of my own life. I’m not going to go into it because that would be, like, an unacceptable amount of over-share, even for me. That’s just to say that I have no ability to be objective about it. This story: real or not real?
I love Mockingjay like I love The Prophet and Catcher in the Rye, and of course anything by Willa Cather and Dostoevsky. They’re all books that have at one time or another spoken to me on such a personal and emotional level that they mean something more than writing or storytelling. That is only a personal reaction, not a recommendation. Actually, it makes me not want anyone else to read the book ever. I want to keep it as my own because I don’t want to hear a bunch of fools say they think the names are funny or something like that.
There are many threads of meaning and themes you could take from this story, but the one that strikes me as profound right now, a few days removed from my reading, is, why are we so goddamn powerless? Is it apathy or, maybe, discouragement? Are we powerless against other people or government systems, or are people and systems only symbols of our general powerlessness against the universe? Throughout this book, there is a steady rhythm of characters reminding Katniss of her power and describing her power to her.
I did some research recently about fundamental attribution error, and I've probably already told you about it, but I'm going to again. Basically, the theory of fundamental attribution error says that we think that we make our own life choices because we are tossed in the wind and the crazy, random happenstance of outside forces makes us who we are. But we think other people make the choices they do because of natural inclination. Like, someone who murders might think she did so because of an unplanned series of unfortunate events, but an observer thinks the killer did so because she is naturally a murderer. This story creates an interesting contrast between the way Katniss sees herself and the way others see her. She only sees the random events that lead her to become the symbol of rebellion against tyrrany. Others see her as the natural embodiment of the symbol. And I think this says a lot about all of us and the things we choose to do or to ignore. I think Collins would say we are powerless because we have abandoned our power, or perhaps because we don't remind each other that we have power.
There are some beautiful moments in other stories, like The House of Flying Daggers and Hamlet, where the tragedy of the conflict culminates in good friends battling each other. Nominally, they fight out of some shallow sense of vengeance, but ultimately I think it’s more the total injustice of loss that motivates them. I think they fight because if you can fight you are still alive, and sometimes that’s all that’s left. Maybe what Dylan Thomas meant when he said, "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light." There are a lot of moments in this book that make me think of that image of friends fighting each other, but really fighting something more abstract and unconquerable. We fight, maybe, as some kind of animal scream in the face of the cold universe. But, Collins also shows how we fight because of the warm arms and kind hearts of the people we love. We fight because we are wrong and evil and stupid and cunning and loving and compassionate and fierce. There’s no simple answer.
Reading the other books in this series, I identified on a personal level with the political and cultural commentary. The way Collins held up a mirror to my own apathy and opulence was a slap in the face. This book meant so much to me emotionally and personally that I hate to pretend that my reaction is political at all. This book, to me, was the story of what happens when suddenly the person you trusted the most in the world sees everything you do as evil. I don't think I've ever seen someone write about that, and I was totally unprepared for the experience of reading it. Do you become evil because you've lost that person? Does their definition of you become your own? Do you sacrifice everything to repair the relationship? If they don't know what's real, how do you? It was so beautiful and tragic to watch that in this book, and it resonated on such a personal level with me, that after reading it I had to rebuild a lot of how I see myself.
On the other hand, I feel like it is important to acknowledge the cultural/political side of this story, and that, while this series is stylized, it is not much of a step away from reality. It, like all of Collins’ writing that I have read so far, is about adults training children to kill children. And that’s what we do, right? In Africa, the Middle East, Russia, America, in uniform and out of uniform, we train children to kill children.
I’m sure you’ve all already seen the wikileak about the American soldiers shooting the Reuters photographers and later wounding children who were riding in the ambulance coming to help the photographers. If you haven’t seen it yet, the linked article also links to the video. One of the most disturbing things to me about that video is how the soldiers laugh. Real or not real? I couldn’t watch the whole thing. When people get in fights on the listserv at school, we call it a “flame war.” Do we call it that here on GR? Anyway, a student posted that video to the listserv last spring, asking, if that video is something that we now know about, how many other incidents like this have happened and not been released to the public? That post started an outrageous flame war on the listserv, in which a couple of the military guys threatened the poster. People who I generally respect and even look up to in some ways said things like, "This is your final warning!" and argued that it is unacceptable to question people in uniform because without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t have the freedom to question them. Even aside from the circular logic, that argument just makes me go ballistic. And I think that is exactly the labyrinth of war that Collins writes about.
Everything she did here is beautiful, even, at times, poetic. I love that she didn’t glorify the rebels, and I love the image of communism she gives as much as her version of capitalism. It makes sense that she published this story in three parts, but I think it could also be read as one whole. I love her characters and her thoughtful messages. I love the way her relationships fall apart and grow back together. I almost had to stop reading this book partway through because it was too painful. But I think it was a stern talking-to that I needed. This story real or not real? For me, real. (less)
I have been reflecting a lot lately on the hugeness of my own limitations. This story represents one of my most obvious limitations when it comes to a...moreI have been reflecting a lot lately on the hugeness of my own limitations. This story represents one of my most obvious limitations when it comes to appreciating books. I don’t understand world building. I think this is my limitation when it comes to historical fiction as well. I don’t understand why an author would want to make a story more complicated than just what it takes to tell what happens to characters. That’s how I experience world building in both sci fi/fantasy and historical fiction – an over-complication of what could otherwise be an interesting story. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for you), I think A Wizard of Earthsea is mostly world building (though Ceridwen and Elizabeth inform me that I'm wrong, and I would think that they probably know better than I do what the world-building thing is about. But I am still going to proceed using my arguably faulty definition of world building).
I accidentally started reading this book at the same time that Elizabeth started reading it, and in order to not add to the breaking of Ceridwen’s heart, I didn’t put it on my currently reading. I basically agree with what Elizabeth said, and I don’t have that much to add. I’m only giving three stars because my policy is to rate based on my enjoyment, and with the exception of a couple of parts, I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book. For the most part, it had that Lord of the Rings, traveling-with-no-action quality that really puts me to sleep. I liked the battle parts, though.
Anyway, I know that a lot of people look down on Siddhartha and The Prophet, but I think what people enjoy about Earthsea must be similar to what I like about those books. They all have a wise, parabolic quality. And I like the self-discovery message of Earthsea. I just think there’s a lot of elaborate hand-waiving and rigmarole to get there. I haven’t read Siddhartha since high school, so maybe it is like that, too, and maybe all of this is about the timing of reading a book.
I think I’ve told this story before, I forget where, but when I was in college I ran into this guy I had a crush on in high school and it’s possible that I ended up dating him for a little while. He used to come into the café I was working at and follow me as I walked back and forth behind the counter making sandwiches and whatnot. He wouldn’t talk, he would just walk up and down the counter when I did. I ended up thinking he’s probably brain damaged from all of the acid he always did. One day, I got tired of him just silently following me around, so I asked him to tell me a story. He quickly said, “Oh, no. I don’t have any stories,” and continued to follow me.
A minute later, he said, “Oh, I thought of a story!”
I was relieved and asked him to continue.
“Do you know where the hot springs are?” He asked.
“Oh,” he responded with clear consternation. “Well, do you know how to get to Dexter?”
“No,” I sighed, hoping he would get on to the story soon.
“So, if you’re on I-5, you take the Oakridge exit,” he explained. “Do you know where that is? I think it’s around exit [estimate of exit number] or [estimate of other exit number].”
“Oh, okay,” I said, pretending I knew what he was talking about. “I know where that is.”
“Oh good!” He said.” So, instead of following the road left, like you would to get to Dexter, you follow it right.” He proceeded to give me a long and detailed explanation of how to get to the hot springs, all of which I have forgotten now. There were a lot of “turn left”s and “then turn right”s. After quite a while of this, he stopped.
“Okay,” I said, “What’s the story?”
“Well, we went there the other day.” And that was the end of his story.
Maybe it’s not fair to compare world building to elaborate directions, but that’s how they make me feel. Or, at least, how they make my eyelids feel (heavy). Sometimes directions are a necessary evil, and I’ll admit that some world building is necessary, but I like to get there in the quickest, simplest way possible. In Earthsea once I get past the directions and to what I consider the actual story, I like it, but the directions still made me fall asleep.(less)