Gifts is a quiet story, in the way that Ursula Le Guin can do really well: those moments of silence, introspection, contemplation. It isn’t my favourite of her books, but I love the things she explores here: the longing of parents to see their children succeed; love within families; grieving and loss; trying to choose the lesser evil… Orrec’s voluntary blindness and the way it affects the world around him, his fears and his wants, are beautiful; Canoc is a wonderful portrait of a difficult man: difficult to love, impossible to hate.
The whole feel of the book is really epitomised by Gry, for me; her quiet loyalty and determination, her love of Orrec which is undemanding and completely rock-solid. Their friendship and later the love between them is perfect.
I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of this trilogy; as I recall, the other two books feature more suspense and tension, and less of the solid quietness of this book. All of them have their own loveliness, though: it’s Le Guin, so how not?
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:
“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”
So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!
The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.
Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —
Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “ten authors I really want to meet”. Now, I’ve actually been lucky and met a fair few authors I love — Jo Walton, Robin Hobb, Alastair Reynolds… But I’m sure I can come up with ten more.
Ursula Le Guin. And nobody is at all surprised. Not even a little.
Patricia McKillip. I know very little about her as a person, but her writing is awesome.
J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, not as a zombie or anything, but if I could go back in time. Attend one of his lectures maybe?
Hazel Edwards. She wrote There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. Obvious.
Cherie Priest. She seems cool, I want to pet her dog, and I like her on Twitter.
N.K. Jemisin. Granted, I’d probably just babble quietly, but that’s the same with anyone I admire.
Robin Hobb. Again. I was fourteen at the time, after all.
Jacqueline Carey. Sign all my books. All of them.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Ditto.
Susan Cooper. The first thing I move into a new house is my copy of The Dark is Rising sequence, and I’m not even kidding about that. It goes in the first box or bag to enter the new place, and gets put on the shelf symbolically before anything else.
So, uh, yeah. I could probably think of more, but I’d better stop daydreaming now…
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____”. So, because I’m predictable like that, let’s have my top ten characters who love books!
Matilda, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I don’t know about anyone else, but I used to sit and stare at things and wish I could have powers like Matilda. But even better would’ve been to read as fast as her.
Mori, from Jo Walton’s Among Others. I think this one is extra-specially predictable. Shush.
Hermione Granger, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. I’m in the middle of my rereads of these books and remembering just how much I loved Hermione — I was that know-it-all who sucked up to the teachers, though I didn’t have such good and loyal friends as Harry and Ron surrounding me. And unfortunately, I still didn’t have powers.
Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Why is this list so populated with people like me…?
Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries. Well, she’s more of a writer and we don’t see her reading much, but we do see her engaging with literature, and practically sparring with Peter via quotations from books.
Beauty, in Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Gimme the Beast’s library, please.
Alec, from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I suddenly remembered a scene with Richard bringing Alec a book and the hunger Alec seemed to feel about it…
Jean, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.Jean!
Memer, from Ursula Le Guin’s Voices. I need to reread this one now I’ve remembered about it!
Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I think I actually came across Jo and Matilda not that far apart in time. Both of them lived in a world of books that only encouraged me to read more!
That was actually harder than I anticipated. Huh. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people are going with!
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books”. Which is a little bit hard, because I don’t really keep track of quotes. But there are some that stick with me — maybe not inspiring, so much, but defining.
“Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” (I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith.)
“If you marry a man like that and live his life, then I agree. You may not really want to hurt people, but you will.”
“That is hateful. Hateful! To say it that way. That I haven’t any choice, that I have to hurt people, that it doesn’t even matter what I want.”
“Of course it matters, what you want.”
“It doesn’t. That’s the whole point.”
“It does. And that’s the whole point. You choose. You choose whether or not to make choices.”
(The Eye of the Heron, Ursula Le Guin.)
Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.
(A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin.)
“For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you.” (Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper.)
“The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne’s are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.” (The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell.)
“Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, ‘Get out, you don’t belong here?’ Does the tree say to the hungry man, ‘This fruit is not for you?’ Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?” (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman.)
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” (On the Road, Jack Kerouac.)
“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” (Among Others, Jo Walton.)
“Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” (The Scar, China Miéville.)
“That’s how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you’d have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.” (Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente.)
That was… surprisingly hard to choose. On the Road makes it only because of something else I once read that quoted that line; I’m afraid I don’t like the book itself.
Dancing at the Edge of the World, Ursula Le Guin Review from October 12, 2012
I think Ursula Le Guin’s collections of essays were the first non-fictional works that I really learned to appreciate. I was very much not a non-fiction person at the time, but Le Guin’s writing is always so full of clarity, so well considered, that it draws me in when it’s non-fiction as surely as when it’s prose.
Obviously some of these essays are somewhat dated now, written and edited in the 70s and 80s, but there’s still a lot of interest there. Le Guin’s thoughts on the gender issues in The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, years after it was published, years after she originally wrote about it, for example. Or her reflections on her mother’s life, or on Jo March as one of the few female writers in fiction to be a writer and have a family at the same time… A personal gem for me was coming across, in the section containing book reviews, a review of C.S. Lewis that almost inevitably also reflected on J.R.R. Tolkien:
J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis’s close friend and colleague, certainly shared many of Lewis’s views and was also a devout Christian. But it all comes out very differently in his fiction. Take his handling of evil: his villains are orcs and Black Riders (goblins and zombies: mythic figures) and Sauron, the Dark Lord, who is never seen and has no suggestion of humanity about him. These are not evil men but embodiments of the evil in men, universal symbols of the hateful. The men who do wrong are not complete figures but complements: Saruman is Gandalf’s dark-self, Boromir Aragorn’s; Wormtongue is, almost literally, the weakness of King Theoden. There remains the wonderfully repulsive and degraded Gollum. But nobody who reads the trilogy hates, or is asked to hate, Gollum. Gollum is Frodo’s shadow; and it is the shadow, not the hero, who achieves the quest. Though Tolkien seems to project evil into “the others”, they are not truly others but ourselves; he is utterly clear about this. His ethic, like that of dream, is compensatory. The final “answer” remains unknown. But because responsibility has been accepted, charity survives. And with it, triumphantly, the Golden Rule. The fact is, if you like the book, you love Gollum. In Lewis, responsibility appears only in the form of the Christian hero fighting and defeating the enemy: a triumph, not of love, but of hatred. The enemy is not oneself but the Wholly Other, demoniac.
I’m not sure I agree with all of that — the Southrons are most definitely Othered, and I’m not sure they’re meant to be universal symbols of the hateful. Or rather, if they are, and perhaps they are, we need to examine why Tolkien made that decision. But I do think that this is an informative way of looking at the two authors, which reflects a lot on Le Guin herself as well.
This week’s topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a great one: top ten heroines. Let’s see…
Yeine, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Seriously, seriously kickass lady who navigates politics, would prefer a fair fight, and becomes a goddess. Why not?
Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. That was always my favourite book of the bunch. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Tenar is strong in a way that has nothing to do with physical strength.
Mori, from Among Others by Jo Walton. Because she’s quite a lot like me, only she really can see fairies and she has a streak of pragmatism I could really use.
Harriet Vane, from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bit of a change of pace from the first three, being a different genre. But she’s a woman in a man’s world, pursuing both writing and academia, a strong woman who knows her own mind and sticks to her principles. But at the same time, she’s not perfect: she snarls at Peter, she’s unfair, etc, etc.
Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, from Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If there’s anything that can hold her back, I don’t know what it is. She’s gorgeous, she’s a spy, she manipulates politics and gets involved in all kinds of stuff on behalf of her country.
Katherine Talbert, from The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Even if she doesn’t want to learn to fight at first.
Ki, from Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Practical, determined, fierce, and good to her animals, to her friends.
Caitrin, from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to be a strong person at first, yet she learns to face her fears — without it ever seeming too easy.
Mirasol, from Chalice by Robin McKinley. She’s thrown in at the deep end, with very little gratefulness or support from those around her, and she pushes through it to do whatever she has to do.
Csethiro Celedin, from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. She basically says that if anyone hurts Maia she’ll duel them and gut them. Like!
I’m gonna have to look at loads of posts on this one, because stories with good heroines are definitely of interest to me!
The evil lair is where a great fantasy villain will spend the plurality of his or her time.
Now of course, there are some really iconic ones — Saruman’s Isengard, Sauron’s Mordor, even Shelob’s Cirith Ungol and Smaug’s Lonely Mountain — but I’ve been racking my brains to think of something a little off the beaten path. So I remembered a quote I read somewhere quite recently, about the people who ultimately do the most evil being the people who are unshakeably sure they’re right.
Which gave me…
Roke, from The EarthseaQuartet and The Other Wind. It’s a stagnant world, not willing to bend with the times and let in new people (particularly, women). It’s the Establishment, really. With the best of intentions, they make a total mess of things. I think that goes for a lot of magic regulating bodies in fantasy…
Malthus and Aracus’ strongholds/camps/etc from Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering. I could’ve picked Satoris for this without twisting it even slightly, since most people view him as the bad guy — essentially this world’s Sauron. And yet, his side are more accepting of grey areas and outcasts, while Malthus and Aracus’ forces are completely self-righteously convinced that they’re on the side of right. That’s more dangerous, to me.
Sky, in N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. There are some good people trapped in the system there, mostly kept turning by Itempas’ injustice…
10 Downing Street, circa Tony Blair’s stint as prime minister. Oops. That’s not fantasy.
Looking forward to seeing what other people came up with, here; hoping it won’t make me want any new books, because I don’t have a debit card to buy them with at the moment!
Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.
So I thought about this and for some reason my mind was totally blank. I mean, there’s various forces of law and order in fantasy, of course, but I couldn’t think of specific ones. In a lot of what I read, they’re just in the background — the king’s guardsmen, the city watch, whatever. Anyway, I’ve done my best to think of some of the forces of law and order that we don’t normally associate with the men in blue, as such. Like…
The Avengers (Marvel comics). You’ve never met a more law-abiding, law-enforcing person than Steve Rogers! And, admittedly, he does wear a mostly blue uniform.
The wizards on Roke (A Wizard of Earthsea). They’re pretty insular a lot of the time, granted, but if there’s a problem out there in the world, they’re probably the only ones who can solve it. And Ged is very aware of that fact. There’s the short story in Tales from Earthsea where he goes after a disgraced wizard, and then there’s the whole plot of The Furthest Shore…
Valek (Poison Study). The Commander might be the centre of power, but he wouldn’t be that way without Valek keeping people in line.
And for a guy who does represent the boys in blue, though this is not strictly fantasy (it’s alternate history)…
Peter Carmichael (Small Change trilogy). Because he tries to do his job even when it’s hard. Because despite all the risks to himself and those he loves, he subverts the regime he’s in, and supports real justice.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is ‘ten books I’d love to read with my book club’. I am a member of an awesome group for SF/F, so that’s easy — except that we’re quite particular about the sorts of books we end up reading for discussion. So hmmmm.
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. This is kind of cheating, because we are discussing it. And actually, I’m supposed to be leading it.
Mélusine, Sarah Monette. Because it’s so different to The Goblin Emperor! (It’s the same author under a pen name.) And it’s a bit more dark than I’d normally go for; I need some impetus to get on and read it.
Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Or really anything by Reynolds; I used to like his work a lot, though I haven’t read any in a long time, and Century Rain was my favourite.
Lock In, John Scalzi. We’re planning to read this anyway, but it does sound fascinating. We normally enjoy Scalzi, and this sounds like there’s a fair amount to chew over here.
Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Because hey, I love this series and I want to share it. And talk about how it could be even better and all the places we wanna see Carol go.
Just about anything by Octavia Butler. I think we’ve probably already discussed some of Butler’s work, but it’s all great to talk about (and sometimes problematic, too, in ways that would make it even more interesting to bat it back and forth).
The Unreal and the Real: Collected Stories, Ursula Le Guin. It’s most often Le Guin’s short stories that I find I want to discuss and pick apart to make sure I really understand them.
The Just City, Jo Walton. And we probably will, since we’re big fans of Jo.
Under the Skin, Michael Faber. I’ve been convinced to buy it, so let’s discuss it. I think someone in the group actually suggested this one, too.
Anything by Ian McDonald. I think they might’ve discussed one of his books without me at some point, but I’ve read a couple of his older ones that’re really interesting too.
What about you guys? Any reading groups online to recommend?