What have you recently finished reading?
Uh. God. I think the most recent thing might be Attachments (Rainbow Rowell), which is lovely and warm and I love surprisingly much. Wow, that’s not a good sign — I’m not reading as much as I should. On the other hand…
What are you currently reading?
A lot. I started Patricia A. McKillip’s The Riddle-master of Hed while waiting for my grandmother to get an x-ray, and nearly finished it all in one go. I’m still reading My Real Children (Jo Walton), because I don’t want anything bad to happen to the characters in either timeline and I’m a little worried something will. I’m also reading Six Feet Over (Mary Roach), which is about what might happen after death from an attempted objective point of view. So far, not sure what I think of that. And then there’s also Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), which sucks me in as much as Attachments, but which I’m a little unsure about because of all the criticism I’m reading about it re: racism. Oh, and I’ve started reading Yendi (Steven Brust), and am still in the process of finding my feet, narrative wise.
What will you read next?
Ahaha, does anyone believe a word I say about this, honestly? But the idea is: more Patricia A. McKillip, a reread of The Night Circus (Erin Morgernstern), finally finishing Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell). More Steven Brust. And getting round to Rachel Bach’s books. I think that about covers my immediate, laughably unlikely plans!
I haven’t done the Top Ten Tuesday thing for a while, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I like this topic — top ten books about friendship.
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. The friendship between Ged and Vetch, the quiet solid thereness of it… you know for sure that Vetch would never let you down if he could help it.
- The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually thought of this because they’ve got it in their list, but it’s still true. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli… even, in a way, Frodo and Gollum, because Frodo manages to reach out with pity and sympathy to Smeagol.
- The Prize in the Game,Jo Walton. Ferdia and Darag. “Your name in my heart,” indeed. (Okay, there’s romantic aspects to that, but I think first and foremost they’re friends.)
- The Grey King, Susan Cooper. Bran and Will. The way they fit together, understand each other better than anyone else, and the way they still hurt each other because neither of them is perfect.
- Captain Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol and Steve! Carol and Jessica! Carol and Monica!
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker. Steve and Bucky. Just, Steve and Bucky. I know this is a movie quote but, “I’m with you till the end of the line.”
- The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay. Paul and Kevin, primarily, although all the bonds between the group are great. Kim and Jennifer, particularly. Just the way there are these deep loves that come entirely out of friendship. Guy Gavriel Kay is also pretty good at this in other books, too, like Tigana.
- The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence. Alex and Mr. Peterson. So unlikely, and yet Extence made me believe in it.
- Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff. Arthur and Bedwyr. Ouch, ouch. “I could have cried out to him, as Jonathan to David, by the forbidden love names that are not used between men; I could have flung my arms around his shoulders.”
- Good Omens, Neil Gaiman. Crowley and Aziraphale. Because of course.
I am a little bothered by the fact that almost all of those are male friendships. It’s partly a function of the books I’ve loved since I was a kid, before I was really choosy in any way about what I read, but still. Rec me your books with female friendship!
The latest thing I’m seeing coming up a lot on twitter is trigger warnings — not in fandom, this time, but in literature courses. Here‘s an article in The New York Times about it; I’ll wait.
The thing is, trigger warnings are pretty widely accepted in fandom. Not completely, because there are various arguments against them, like the fact that giving a trigger warning takes away from the intended emotional impact and any surprise factor. That’s fair enough, and it’s why fanfic archives like AO3 have a “choose not to use warnings” option. People then are aware going into it that it could be anything, and perhaps the fact that the author chose not to use warnings is enough of a warning in itself. Certainly, you can’t then blame the author that they didn’t warn you: they told you they wouldn’t.
The idea of trigger warnings, though, is to help protect people from things they’re not in a safe place to read. An abuse victim can avoid stories about abuse that might take them back into the part of their mind where they were so badly hurt; a rape victim can avoid being taken back to memories of that rape, etc. With PTSD, certain triggers can make you have flashbacks, panic attacks, maybe even lead you to hurt yourself — or others.
A lot of arguments against using trigger warnings in lit courses and other serious settings revolve around censorship, narrowing the discussion, etc. I think it depends on what you think trigger warnings are for. For me, in that context, they’d be saying, “We’re giving you advance warning that you need to be in a safe space to read this. Don’t try to cram it in at the library before class. Give yourself time, and space, and kind people around you. It’s still required reading, but we’re giving you a chance to make yourself as safe as possible.” And if you then make the choice not to read it, the impact on your grade is your responsibility (unless you can prove extenuating circumstances through existing methods).
It’s not actually a good idea to use trigger warnings to avoid stuff all the time. Avoiding something increases your fear of it. Take it from the person with GAD. You know, I actually have an appropriate bookish situation to bring up here: in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged stirs up an awful dark power which chases him, which intrudes into his life in nightmares and shadows, even when he thinks he’s safe. And as long as he runs from it, it gains in power. When he finally turns to chase it in turn, to hunt it, he is at last able to defeat it.
That’s where I am with my anxiety, with the aftermath of bullying and all sorts of attached problems I don’t want to talk about (and let’s avoid discussion of the specifics of my personal issues). I’m chasing it. I like to think I’m somewhere out on that impossible shore, like Ged, closing on my fear and about to name it with my own name and make it part of me, a part of my strength, not something which oppresses me. It helps. This isn’t the only narrative there is, and maybe some people will never be strong enough to turn and face their fears, and that’s not their fault. The least we can do is give everyone the opportunity to take care of themselves, though.
It’s difficult to make a hard and fast rule. Some triggers are just not common — I’m terrified of insects and parasites, for example — and it’s hard to figure out where the line is between ‘this is offensive’, ‘this may cause harm’ and ‘this isn’t a comfortable read’. But to my mind, warnings for basic triggers like abuse, violence, rape and gore would help protect people and actually foster debate, not stifle it. If you give people the tools to protect themselves, they will know they’re safe engaging with the material you’ve set, rather than holding back out of fear.
I unexpectedly adored this. I was tempted to stay up late to finish it. I pretty much devoured it. I feel the urge to defend it against bad/lukewarm reviews. And I don’t even really know why — there’s something in the writing style, the characters, the warmth I feel from it.
I love that it deals with heavy issues like self-esteem and miscarriage and self-loathing without making them seem incidental and trivial: Lincoln falls in love with Beth partly because of how she comforts Jennifer, and so did I. She seems a wonderfully warm character, wise, and yet not perfect. If she were perfect, she would have seen her relationship with Chris for what it was. Jennifer is a side character, but she’s not just a plot device: I cared about her issues with having a baby, with her grief and guilt. I cared about Lincoln’s mother’s issues, his sister.
Also, I loved the nostalgia. I was a kid at the time, I guess, but I still remember the new millennium, the worry about the Y2K issues with computers, and I remember those email filters on the school computers and… I think that’s likely to seem like a completely different world to readers only a little younger than me, but I was a bit charmed by the nostalgia factor there.
Bottom line, it’s not a life-changing book, it’s not going to shake your world view in any way. But it’s enjoyable and sweet, and I loved it. It’s a chick flick in novel form, in terms of theme and plot, but it takes serious things seriously, and that makes the whole thing work.
Time for the Stacking the Shelves meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. Busy week! These actually came in an assortment of omnibuses, but seeing the individual books with their old covers seems more fun to me.
Also received my print ARC of Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life! <3
Oh, and some comics…
Oh, and one final review copy…
I’m not a big fan of Emma Rios’ style, but I do enjoy Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, so I’m excited. And yes, this post is pretty much the Steven Brust and Kelly Sue DeConnick show.
What’s everyone else been up to?
What did you recently finish reading?
Most recent was The Twelve Caesars (Matthew Dennison), which was disappointing in its total inability to make any concrete statements. Like being wrapped up in wool. Ugh. I’ll stick to getting round to Suetonius. Before that was The Door into Summer (Robert Heinlein), which I liked well enough but didn’t blow me away (and creeped me out in the place it usually creeps people out).
What are you currently reading?
My Real Children (Jo Walton). I gulp it down when I get a minute, but I haven’t been in the mood to read as much so I haven’t been making the minutes. Also The Buried Life (Carrie Patel), same issue.
What will you read next?
For once, I’m fairly certain: it’ll be Steven Brust’s Yendi. Otherwise, I’m still going to work on the endless currently reading list, though I am for some reason very tempted to try Jim Butcher again, and to try reading more Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold). Because it’s not as though I have enough on the go already, right?
The quote on the cover calling this ‘gossipy’ is right; ‘insightful’, not so much. There’s a lack of meaningful dates and orientation, and Dennison avoids picking a side so much that he immediately undermines any definite point with something else. He talks about Tiberius, for example, presents him as a little reluctant to take power, and then a couple of pages later presents him as a power-hungry tyrant; he talks about his simple, ascetic life, and then repeats gossip about his sexual proclivities and excesses.
It mostly seems as though Dennison is unsure about what the truths are, and isn’t willing to put in the scholarship to figure out how true or false any particular assertion may be. He just seems to present it all.
So yeah, didn’t find this all that entertaining, really. It’s just so vague about actual events.
I haven’t previously managed to get through any of Heinlein’s work, but I am nothing if not determined, so I finally picked this up and decided to have a jolly good go. And it was okay. The style is easy to read, conversational; matter of fact, even. It’s almost not like reading a story, except of course you know that few of Heinlein’s predictions work out (though he did predict the Roomba).
It’s an interesting take on cold sleep/time travel, and a personal one. Dan isn’t saving the world, he’s just setting some personal wrongs right. Despite that, I didn’t find it particularly driven by character: my sympathy for Dan as a character comes from the situation he’s in, not for any personal qualities.
The best bits about the story are Dan’s cat, who has a personality all his own, and who I rooted for more than anyone else in the book. Cat lovers will appreciate this one, and I think Heinlein got close to poetry in the way he talked about Pete, particularly at the end. It was certainly the best of his prose.
People rightly find the plot with Dan’s friend’s stepdaughter, Ricky, pretty creepy. I mean, he meets her when she’s a kid, she has a crush on him which he knows about but treats as a joke… until the grown woman he’s engaged to turns out to be scamming him, and then suddenly he says that if Ricky had been a little older, he’d never even have looked at Belle. And then follows a whole plot where he wants to track her down and marry her, and ends up going to her while she’s still a kid and telling her to put herself in cold sleep when she’s twenty-one so that he can then marry her when she’s an adult. It’s a bit of a fairytale anyway, a kid that age knowing what she wants and going through with it like that without ever doubting or changing her mind (not that we get to see Ricky’s thought processes or how she grows up). But knowing her as a kid and deciding, based on that, that he wants to marry her, without ever meeting her as an adult — yeah, kind of disturbing.
All in all, it’s an easy read and interesting, but I can’t say it’s converted me to being a liker of Heinlein. I do want to try one more of his, since all I’ve read is this and part of A Stranger in a Strange Land, but it’s the sort of thing where you have to keep the words “of its time” very firmly in mind.
I was pretty sure I was going to like this, since some people whose taste I trust have mentioned it to me before. (The whole series features in Jo Walton’s series of posts on Tor.com/in her collection of those posts in book-form, and was one of the ones from the list I made while reading it that I have underlined several times as a priority.) Still, I wasn’t sure enough, so I only ordered the first omnibus, which contains the first three books. Ten chapters in, I ordered the rest. Unfortunately, I’ve had them sent to the wrong address, so I am pondering how to pace out reading Yendi and Teckla so that I don’t finish them before I am, one way or another, in the same place as the rest of the books.
At the same time as noting that I loved this book, I will add that knowing a bit about this series to begin with helps. Like, knowing that so much of the series was planned in advance, appreciating the fact that it all plays with time… And knowing people I like love it makes me inclined to extend it some credit. Still, I did very much enjoy it for itself. It’s nice that there’s a whole complicated background to discover in time, over the course of the series, and that Brust avoids any unnecessary info dumps. I did feel a little bit expositioned at, a couple of times, but it was in Vlad’s voice so it still worked.
Very interested to see where this goes, how Vlad develops, and how various things that I know about from reading mild spoilers in reviews come about. And now, onto Yendi.