Who did I see describing this as “old school, pulpy goodness”? I think that works pretty well. I’m not sure how I’m going to relate this to Herland in my SF/F essay, but I’m thinking on it… Obviously there’s a ton of colonial, North American stuff going on here, wherein a white man from Earth comes and suspiciously saves a red-skinned princess and reforms the Martian societies to good American values…
But it’s still sort of fun, and not a chore to read: the prose is straight-forward and not too crammed with infodumps, and I did get sort of fond of one or two characters, mostly Sola (perhaps because she was “civilised” and relateable before the Great White Man’s intervention).
No real surprises here, and I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to read other Barsoom books, but it’s enjoyable in its way.
Herland is… hm. Unfortunately bland, really. Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems to have set out to portray a utopian, perfect society of women that shows up all the faults and contradictions of the contemporary world. Unfortunately, that society seems so flat and lacking in individuality that I wouldn’t want to be there. It also makes motherhood the pinnacle of a woman’s being, something to long for.
I’m female-bodied and apparently possessed of the various bits you’d expect given that. I really, really don’t want children, and I’m not interested in motherhood in any way, let alone some sanctified, deified version of it.
It is, of course, very much of its time. For when she lived, Gilman was pretty liberal, with anti-racist views and so on. But her vision of what could be was limited by that and ends up seeming rather pathetic.
I first heard of Alison Bechdel through fandom and the Bechdel test. This is a simple way of evaluating the gender bias of a film:
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.
Because it’s simple, it’s not always true. (Do Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill talk to each other in Avengers? No. Are they all female characters worth watching and identifying with? Yes.) But quite often, it is. (Sorry, Supernatural, but really. Really.)
I actually came round to reading anything of Alison Bechdel’s — beyond that simple strip that gave us those rules — through my comics and graphic novels course. I was only very vaguely aware that Alison Bechdel identifies as a lesbian, and not at all aware of her family story. Fun Home is essentially a memoir in comic form, though.
I enjoyed the literary allusions quite a lot, and I liked the art style as well. It’s not immensely ornate or anything like that, but it has feeling and personality. To say it has warmth is a bit of a stretch when you’re talking something that deals with such heavy topics and which has such an emotionally distant family at its heart, but you can feel for the characters. Fun Home feels like it was a catharsis for Bechdel, putting into words and images things she’d always felt and not voiced, making parallels that were helpful for her, figuring out links — even engaging in a bit of wishful thinking.
It’s interesting how, in my experience of reading this book, there were three levels of acceptance of gay people: not at all (Bruce Bechdel), as part of the women’s movement (Alison Bechdel) and as part of life (me). It opens a little window on what might have been my life. Not everything that Bruce Bechdel did could be excused, and I don’t want to assume too much about Alison Bechdel’s feelings, but I do feel lucky not to be trapped like Bruce and even Alison.
My coming out experiences with my parents…
ME: Mum, I’m bisexual and I’m dating Lisa.
MUM: Don’t cut your hair! You know sexuality is a continuum, right? I don’t want you to label yourself just because of something you’re feeling right now.
[Some years later]
ME: Dad, if you haven’t noticed that me and Lisa are dating, you’re possibly a bit stupid.
DAD: I didn’t.
ME: Oh. Well, we are.
I do still needle my mum about the stereotyping behind “don’t cut your hair” (it was my pride and joy at the time, waist length and thick and a little bit curly — and I’ve since cut my hair pretty short, and she likes it), but… thank goodness for my family and the fact that there was no one walking in front of a bread truck.
I didn’t mean to read this in one go, it just sort of happened. I wasn’t sure at all about the form, particularly: it’s very hard to please me with poetry because I look for very specific things. And honestly, I’m still indifferent to that choice even for this book, which I enjoyed quite a lot. On the one hand, it works: poetry is so personal, and it brings out the different voices in this interlinked collection — and being poetry, some of it is very dense and allusive. I enjoyed figuring out the links between poems, who knew who, and where and why their lives overlapped.
On the other hand, I prefer my poetry to be very dense and allusive, more so than in most of these. I think if it were all written like that, you’d lose all individuality of the voices, so it’s probably for the best.
I liked the whole range of people and personalities, all warm and handled with respect. They’re all people trying to get on with life, not clear good guys and bad guys. And the diversity of the characters — straight, gay, black, white, Goth, church-goer, rebel… — and their stories too. It’s not all about who loves who, but also about family, friendship, faith, loneliness, fear, courage.
I think I’ll have to go ahead and say I highly recommend this, even though I’m not so fond of the format.
The Second Mango is sweet and quite silly. It doesn’t take itself or its characters too seriously at all, and the story is sweeter for it — the image of a wizard turning himself into a lizard to cling to his lady love’s door and woo her at night where no one can see just tickles me, and because it’s knowingly absurd, endears the story to me. I love that the possibly obvious plot does not happen: nobody switches sexuality by magic and the main characters don’t have a big drama between them about it. It’s a world where same-sex partnerships don’t seem to be common, but for the most part it isn’t a major drama either, which is quite refreshing.
I also really like the fact that one of the main characters has food intolerances. That’s not a “disability” (for lack of a better term, meaning here that it’s not magical in origin or anything, but a physical limitation) I’ve seen much in fiction, if at all. The mix of cultural backgrounds was interesting, too: it’s not entirely clear where all of the religious background is drawn from, but the biggest influence is Judaism. Again, not something I see much!
It’s not some epic deep novel, but it’s light and fun, and it made me smile.
Charles de Lint’s Jack in the Green is quite lovely. It’s a Robin Hood story, sort of. It brings the spirit of Robin Hood to a Hispanic community in the US, during the recession, to steal from the bankers and give to those who can’t pay their bills. It’s not that different a story to Maurice Broaddus’ version of King Arthur in a black neighbourhood, but somehow I don’t mind it at all. It feels truer to the spirit of the Robin Hood stories, I suppose.
It’s written in a straightforward, easy to read way; the magic in it is just… accepted as part of the world, not over-explained or positioned in such a way that it takes over the story. I really liked that casual inclusion of magic, impossible things, because it somehow made it feel more believable.
Admittedly, for me the story was more an interesting intellectual exercise than something that involved me emotionally, but there’s an enjoyment in that, too, in something that makes you think, “How is he going to do this? How will he make it work?”
I should get round to reading more of Charles de Lint’s work.
This is a gorgeous, bittersweet, perfect, completely unsatisfying story. It’s a fairytale that feels real. All of those things at once? Yes.
I didn’t like the other book by this author I’ve read nearly as much — perhaps not at all, I can’t remember. But this is lovely. It’s a story about longing, really, longing and love. It spellbound me, and managed to capture something I love about the sea: its beauty, humans’ fascination with it, its danger… Dar Williams’ ‘The Ocean’ comes to mind here, somewhat.
It’s not really a story tied together by plot, but by emotion, and Kir’s longing, Peri’s love and hope, the king’s sadness, it all got to me. The book is short, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while. Another comparison that comes to mind is Susan Cooper’s Seaward.
Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt, by G.R. Reader
I have, broadly speaking, not got involved in the protest reviewing surrounding Goodreads’ new policy on the deletion of reviews and shelves which refer to author behaviour. I think I’ve “liked” a few particularly creative ones. It isn’t a coincidence, though, that I’ve set up a book blog of my own now after years and years of relying on Goodreads.
This is not an off-topic review. The subject of this book is Goodreads’ own policy, and it contains genuine commentary and opinion backed up by facts. I recommend it for understanding the issue in general terms — it’s available on Lulu for $0.99, or it’s been put on Dropbox free here.
One thing from the book that was particularly interesting to me was Emma Sea’s commentary on why the deletion of reviews that focus on author behaviour is censorship: she points out that most current literary theory goes against that. You’ve still got ‘The Death of the Author’ as an influential piece and idea, yeah, but you’ve also got Marxist and feminist readings. I’m basically a new historicist, myself, I “aim simultaneously to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature, which documents the new discipline of the history of ideas.” (Confession: definition from Wikipedia. I’m bad at defining my critical approaches.) Part of the historical context is inevitably the issue of the author.
Now, I can see comebacks on that like, “an author’s behaviour may not be relevant to their book when it isn’t reflected in the contents of the book”. To which I kinda say, yes and no. The author’s behaviour may not impact the content of a book, but it still has an effect on the context of the book, and it may frame the content of the book in a new way. Which is relevant.
Now maybe Goodreads really wants to say they don’t want any new historicists or Marxist critics or feminist critics here, only people who will always and only use practical criticism to judge a book on its own merits, bereft of any context. But somehow I really doubt it. There are still plenty of ways I no doubt haven’t thought of to disagree with Emma Sea, but I like that this is a serious attempt to engage with the issue not on a visceral reactionary level, but on a theoretical one.
I haven’t got involved in protest reviewing because I wanted to abide by the rules of the site. I’ve loved the site for a long time and contributed to it in many ways, and I’m not making immediate plans to leave — or to make it easy for people to get me to leave! But this is not an off-topic review; this is not an off-topic book. In fact, my review and rating are very, very sincere: I’m amazed and pleased at the passion for the community at Goodreads which people have displayed in putting this thoughtful book together, in making it more than a prank. I very much hope Goodreads don’t follow up their previous policy of deleting this book and all the “off-topic” reviews.
Still, if they do, you can still find me and this review at The Bibliophibian and LibraryThing. Unless you are my mother, in which case, please stick to The Bibliophibian. I love you, but let’s maintain some boundaries, yes? I won’t look too closely at your pen collection, and you’ll pretend not to notice my groaning shelves? It’s a deal.
She Walks in Darkness is a posthumously published book written back in the 60s by Evangeline Walton, the author of The Mabinogion Tetralogy. It’s a Gothic novel, and reminds me somewhat of some of Mary Stewart’s work: the heroine, the cultural/historical background, the overall tone… not a bad thing, since I quite enjoy Mary Stewart’s work. Both invoke the atmosphere well, though Stewart’s heroine is in general a bit more proactive and generally intelligent than Barbara, our narrator.
The narration itself confused me a little. Not in detail, but in style and execution — the tense wavered, and sometimes Barbara would be telling another person’s story so closely that it would slip into third person narrative, as if she’d been there and could know everything that happened, only for a jarring transition back to Barbara’s opinion on it.
Other than that, though that’s a pretty big but, it’s well-written and I liked the basis on Etruscan history/mythology and theory. Some of the imagery of the statuary and paintings was just gorgeous.
I didn’t get on with the first Cherie Priest book I read (Boneshaker), but I enjoyed Bloodshot and Hellbent enough that I’m starting to try her other stuff. It seems like she can be a bit hit and miss, with me: I wasn’t a big fan of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, either, but I enjoyed this short horror novella. It’s mostly the atmosphere that works, the fact that she invokes her three narrators’ voices well, brings to life the valley and the simmering resentment between the two halves of the family.
She doesn’t over-explain or even over-describe her monster, letting it be more frightening because the characters have no idea, because we can’t even really picture it. It’s just a fear in the dark, huge and formless, and I think that stories that invoke that are really the horror stories that work. It ends abruptly, without any consolation or certainty, and I really like that — I like that Cherie Priest knew when to stop the story and let the reader go on uncomfortably wondering, because it takes as much skill to know when to do that as to carry a story through right to the inevitable end, if not more.
Still, her narrators are still somewhat talkative, and I don’t think this is one my partner will be enjoying anytime soon, since she didn’t get into Bloodshot with its more engaging (to my mind, anyway) narrator and characters. It’s not exactly creepy — or maybe with my anxiety issues I just can’t tell when I’m creeped out and when I’m just normally jumpy — but it’s intriguing and has that breathless, edge of the seat quality where it counts.