Posts tagged with "reading" - Faerye Net 2013-05-27T19:37:06+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Bring Up the Bodies 2013-05-27T19:37:06+00:00 2013-06-03T03:55:34+00:00 <p>I am off series books. It&#8217;s been so for a time: my &#8216;to-read&#8217; list on Goodreads is a shocking 260 books long, and might be longer if I hadn&#8217;t preserved it by the expedient of a &#8216;to-maybe-read&#8217; list. Series addiction would send the thing spiralling out of control.</p> <p>But here I am, finishing <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781250024176'>Book Two</a> and <em>chafing</em> for the next. How did I get here? (Besides the exemption in my series fear for audiobooks, that is!) I have a sneaking fondness for <a href="" target="links">Booker winners</a>, so I was curious about Hilary Mantel&#8217;s <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780312429980'><em>Wolf Hall</em></a> already. The only thing I knew about it other than its Bookerness was that it and its sequel, <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781250024176'><em>Bring Up the Bodies</em></a>, were about the reign of Henry <span class="caps">VIII</span>.</p> <p>Now, I was rather interested in the history of the Tudors as a child, due largely to feminist-schoolgirl awe of Queen Elizabeth, but also due to morbid-schoolgirl fascination with messy history. I didn&#8217;t even realize at the time what messy history Henry <span class="caps">VIII</span> was following! Now, Henry&#8217;s story, his desperate quest for a legitimate male heir, seems to me haunted and beset by that of Edward IV, whose legally flawed marriage(s) created such a succession crisis. (See Josephine Tey&#8217;s <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780684803869'>The Daughter of Time</a></em> if you need convincing that Edward IV&#8217;s overactive tendency to put a ring on it, not any evil of Richard III&#8217;s, overthrew his little son.) Anyway, I had a very shallow sort of knowledge of Henry VIII&#8217;s reign, just enough to school my family in &#8220;Divorced, Beheaded, Died&#8230;&#8221; and explain which queen was which when we visited England when I was 13. In college I learned a bit more by taking a class on Medieval and Tudor History of England.</p> <p>I never went in for the recent fad on Tudors, however. There&#8217;ve been some very successful book series and movie adaptations as well as the <span class="caps">HBO</span> &#8220;Tudors&#8221;, but I couldn&#8217;t summon much interest. Elizabeth, after all, is appealing to me &#8212; complicated, cagy, iconoclastic and independent. Henry <span class="caps">VIII</span>? Choleric, wife-killing Henry? Just a stage-setter, an interesting little soap opera backstory for my heroine. So it&#8217;s possible I came at <em>Wolf Hall</em> with precisely the right degree of ignorance and knowledge: broad background in the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation, enough knowledge of the course of Henry&#8217;s marriages to appreciate foreshadowing and see the other shoe about to drop, but enough ignorance to be constantly surprised.</p> <p>Mantel has chosen her hero so well: Thomas Cromwell, a low-born but brilliant man who rose to stand at Henry&#8217;s right hand. I haven&#8217;t read up on what&#8217;s known of his life yet (that might mean <span class="caps">SPOILERS</span>!) but he is a wonderful character for a smart, thoughtful novel (or two, or please soon, three!) on Henry VIII&#8217;s struggle for an heir. He&#8217;s an outsider but not: born in England but educated all over Europe. This allows him to see Tudor English customs as non-transparent, to show them to us and remark on them, without losing any credibility as a character truly of his age. He isn&#8217;t blindered and constrained to the life of the court, so this isn&#8217;t the familiar, gossipy soap-opera version of Henry VIII&#8217;s court intrigues.</p> <p>Thomas&#8217;s life story is interesting, and his upwards social trajectory is appealing to a modern reader who is unlikely to believe in the divine right to rule or the intrinsic superiority of noble blood. His background in Europe and his interest in the Tyndale Gospel and the reformation of the Church make Thomas a big-picture thinker. And somehow, despite my semester of Medieval and Tudor history, this big picture is one that hadn&#8217;t really sunk in. Henry&#8217;s desperate need for an heir (and obligatory assumption that the fault was in his women, <a href="" target="links">not in him</a>) was not only a catalyst but an <em>opportunity</em> for many. Henry&#8217;s easily mocked desire to cast off his first/brother&#8217;s wife constituted a huge challenge to papal authority at a time when many were already chafing to throw off Rome&#8217;s yoke. Thomas Cromwell, early (and secret) Protestant, smuggler of banned texts, reader of the Gospel in English, is the perfect character to lead us through this foment. This is not just about Henry&#8217;s heir or Henry&#8217;s bed: this is the end of the Medieval. This is the cusp of a new world.</p> <p>Mantel writes beautifully but often simply. Her style here, third person present and relentlessly Cromwell-focused (until the second book, she routinely uses &#8216;he&#8217; to refer to Cromwell whether or not there has been another masculine antecedent, which can be a trifle confusing,) serves the story well, lending immediacy to these centuries-old events. The narrative inhabits Cromwell so thoroughly that his asides, his incidental associations, become part of the fabric. His memories, images or words, bob back up in my consciousness a week after finishing the book, as they bob back up throughout the first and second book. I can&#8217;t wait to hear his voice again in the third.</p> <p>Also, how sinister and wonderful is the <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781250024176'>second book</a>&#8217;s title? Bring up the bodies, bring up the bodies, bring up the bodies&#8230;</p> Too cozy for comfort 2011-08-22T14:11:48+00:00 2011-08-22T14:14:47+00:00 <p>I&#8217;m listening to a cozy mystery on audiobook. You know the sort of thing I mean: no gore, no guns. Just a puzzle and a well-behaved British sleuth working it out. I wasn&#8217;t too many chapters in before I thought, &#8220;this may just be <em>too</em> cozy for me.&#8221; At first, I thought it was a certain tendency of the author to include too many non-telling details: she turned right on Such Street and walked north to Another Street before proceeding west on Yet Another&#8230;she folded her newspaper under her right arm. But as I closed in on the three-quarter mark in this book, I realized that I had yet to meet an unpleasant character.</p> <p>There&#8217;s conflict: World War I and its aftermath, the struggles of a character transcending her social class&#8230;I&#8217;m not a huge conflict addict myself, I can make do. But when I realize that I&#8217;m reading a book <em>with the breakdown of social class as a theme</em> where no character shows any attachment to the old ways, and the high-class characters show no evidence of reluctance to change, vested interest in a system that privileges them, or snootiness toward a &#8216;social climber&#8217;&#8230;I stop believing.</p> <p>I harp a lot on the Vivid Fictive Dream described by John Gardner in <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780679734031'><em>Art of Fiction</em></a>, so maybe you&#8217;re sick of it. But this sort of thing &#8212; a world with no jerks, no snobs, no self-absorbed idiots making trouble for characters &#8212; breaks the reader&#8217;s suspension of disbelief. We&#8217;re used to accepting, even if we feel a few steps removed from them, flawless protagonists (perhaps especially in mysteries) but flawless supporting cast? Flawless extras? An entire Europe, hell, an entire <em>World War</em> with no human flaws? It&#8217;s cloying, and it&#8217;s <em>unbelievable</em>. As Agent Smith says, &#8220;The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.&#8221;</p> <p>I love escapist literature. I have comfort books where the hero saves the day and all evil is defeated. These are not particularly realistic things, but a good author can make me believe in them &#8212; and one of the ways you convince me to believe in your happily ever after, in spite of everything I know about human nature and the capacity things have to fall apart, is not to lie to me unnecessarily on the way. Gardner tells us that the novel &#8220;imitates the world in all its complexity&#8221;. That means jerks and petty tyrants, even if you&#8217;re not telling a story that needs epic tyrants or sociopaths. The thing about readers is we want you to lie to us, but we want you to tell us a lie we can believe.</p> Superreaders 2011-07-20T16:28:37+00:00 2011-07-20T16:32:34+00:00 <p>My mother, I told a fellow author once, is the kind of reader you want. One time I recommended <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780547085753'><em>The Hearts of Horses</em></a> by <a href="" target="links">Molly Gloss</a> to my mom &mdash; actually, I may have bought it for her as a present. Either way, she loved it. She bought several more hardback copies to give as birthday presents, and I am pretty sure once the trade paperback was out, she bought <em>two</em> extras to lend out to friends. I stress the two because buying one extra copy of a book she owns and loves is fairly ordinary for my mom. She sticks her return address labels on the extra copies and presses them into the hands of the friends and quilters with which her life abounds.</p> <p>One library copy of your book, I&#8217;ve been told, translates to some number of readers &#8212; and those readers may in turn recommend your book, buy their own copy, or buy it as a gift. My mom, I&#8217;m convinced, is even better than a library, if she loves your book. In the case of <em>Hearts of Horses</em>, she probably bought at least five copies herself, and spurred some unknown quantity of other purchases.</p> <p>I used to think of this specifically as something my mother does, until the other day I was talking books with my friend Dan. I know Dan reads ravenously and always has, and he is free with his recommendations. But as he pressed a <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780825462900'>historical murder mystery</a> into my hands, I protested, &#8220;My to-read list is over 250 books long! If you give this to me, you&#8217;re not likely to get it back.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Oh, I don&#8217;t count on getting any book back that I lend out,&#8221; he said. &#8220;If I was worried, I&#8217;d buy a second copy to lend.&#8221; Suddenly, I realized: Dan is constantly extolling his favorite books. He lends books like you&#8217;re doing him a favor by taking them off his hands. I&#8217;m pretty sure he drove his friends&#8217; reading as early as middle school (although I didn&#8217;t know him then, so it&#8217;s merest hearsay.) Dan is like my mom. Perhaps like <a href="" target="links">my friend Jan</a>, the English teacher with the vast bookshelf of lending books for her students &#8212; books she buys herself. They&#8217;re <em>superreaders</em>.</p> <p>This is not meant to impute miraculous powers. While I imagine it&#8217;s easier to consume large stacks of literature and promote the chosen few if you read quickly, superspeed is not the defining characteristic: not being content simply to read and enjoy is. These people are boosters, and part of their enjoyment of reading is sharing it. These are the people who will drive the sort of social recommending model I envisioned in <a href="" target="links">&#8220;The Future of Genre&#8221;</a>. They&#8217;re tastemakers, pushers, book evangelists.</p> <p>Who do you know that takes their love of reading out of the page and into the world? Are you a superreader?</p> Pedantry Pays 2011-03-10T22:56:24+00:00 2011-03-10T23:00:40+00:00 <center><a href="" title="My free Norton Critical Edition of Hamlet by Felicity Shoulders, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="375" alt="My free Norton Critical Edition of Hamlet" border="0" /></a></center> <p>I have often been told that it just isn&#8217;t worth the effort to correct people on the internet, and I&#8217;ve largely been convinced. It&#8217;s sometimes rude, or a disingenuous means of avoiding substantive debate, and often the matter simply isn&#8217;t that important.</p> <p>A few days ago, however, I decided I had to speak up. I saw a <a href="!/NortonCriticals/status/42987681029955584" target="twitter">typo in the Norton Critical Editions&#8217; twitter stream</a>.</p> <p>I adore <a href="" target="links">Norton Criticals</a>. Their footnotes are consistently useful, their historical contexts and critical essays interesting. The books, expensive though they are, give you a solid, rich feeling. When you have a Norton Critical in your hand, you feel you really have a handle on the text. (It is a continuing &#8212; no, really &#8211; source of regret to me that I sold back my <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780393960693'><em>Great Expectations</em></a> back after English 10 in high school. It was so beautiful! And had both endings!) I am currently in the midst of my <a href="" target="links">winter campaign</a> through <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780393966473'>the Norton Critical <em>War and Peace</em></a>, complete with footnotes both by the modern editor and by the translator, who was <em>friends</em> with Tolstoy.</p> <p>So I figured that if this bastion of precision, this fortress of the footnote, had promulgated a common misspelling (&#8220;Suess&#8221; for &#8220;Seuss&#8221;) they should be told; if only to prevent it being spread further by virtue of their authority. I drew my pedantry around me and <a href="!/faerye/status/43071911575552000" target="twitter"><em>corrected Norton Critical</em></a>.</p> <p>This was the happy result:<br /> <blockquote><a href="!/NortonCriticals/status/43323588681531392" target="twitter">New policy: for every typo found in the <span class="caps">NCE</span> twitter feed, a free <span class="caps">NCE</span>. Your choice of new editions- Hamlet or Utopia.</a></blockquote></p> <p>Yes, gentle reader. I got something good and valuable &#8211; a free book, my first <span class="caps">NCE</span> of a drama! I can&#8217;t wait to sample the critical matter! &#8211; for telling someone they were wrong on the internet.</p> <p>A red letter day, indeed.</p> Old Curiosities: Dimensionality and Dickens 2011-01-28T15:47:40+00:00 2011-02-16T23:03:08+00:00 <p>I recently finished listening to an excellent audiobook version of <em>The Old Curiosity Shop</em> by <del>Dahls</del> Charles Dickens. This is my eleventh Dickens novel, so you know I&#8217;m a fan. I love the rhythmic beauty of Boz&#8217;s sentences, the far-fetched yet quintessentially human characters he invents. I know his flaws, and even love some of them. I keep coming back for more.</p> <p>And I am sorry to report that I was disappointed in <em>The Old Curiosity Shop</em>. Despite its formidable reputation &#8212; the Americans running along the wharf, yelling to the incoming ships from Britain and asking for news of little Nell &#8212; I found it to be engaging, but not deeply affecting. Oh, it made me cry, but in an unusual turn of events, I resented my own tears. Usually I embrace Dickens&#8217;s melodrama, which is often over the top but also really earnest. Here, it rang hollow and manipulative. Why?</p> <p><em>Old Curiosity Shop</em> is Dickens&#8217;s fourth novel, which may explain some of its weaknesses, but it&#8217;s worth noting that while his first &#8220;novel&#8221;, <em>Pickwick Papers</em>, is the only Dickens I&#8217;ve ever left unfinished, I love his second and third, <em>Oliver Twist</em> and my dear <em>Nicholas Nickleby</em>. What early Dickens failing is forgivable in those and glaring in this?</p> <p>Stereotypes. Dickens often relied on broad generalizations and character &#8220;types&#8221; in his work. His characters often have a theatrical quality, and sometimes are so defined by their role that their name never appears, like <em>Curiosity Shop</em>&#8216;s &#8220;Single Gentleman&#8221;. This is an integral part of his style, and doubtless helped prompt the memories of readers whose experience of the novels was through the serial medium. In general, this theatricality is part of Dickens&#8217;s charm: he had a deft eye for the absurd which envisioned bizarre but vivid and palpably real characters like Wemmick and the Artful. But the same capacity for exaggeration and shorthand characterization could also harm his work.</p> <p>In <em>The Old Curiosity Shop</em>, two of Dickens&#8217;s prejudices come to the forefront: the idea of the Villainous Cripple, and the Sacrificing Woman. The Villainous Cripple stereotype should be familiar to anyone who&#8217;s watched Bond movies (or apparently, <em><a href="">Doctor Who</a></em>.) It partakes of two main tropes: external appearance accurately expressing internal nature, something which I&#8217;m sure has a fancy name (hopefully with &#8220;fallacy&#8221; on the end); and another classic of disability (mis)representation, the Bitter Cripple. Thus, you sometimes see a villain with a disability or disfigurement that just adds to their drama, &#8220;frightfulness&#8221; or &#8220;wrongness&#8221;, and you sometimes see a villain whose disability has caused them to become &#8220;warped&#8221; and malignant.</p> <p>Daniel Quilp is both. He is described factually as a dwarf, then figuratively as a monkey, an ape, and a demon. Oh, so often a demon. We even have entered Dungeons &amp; Dragons-style demonic bestiaries with &#8220;imp&#8221;! He&#8217;s strangely agile (thus the monkey image) and uses his agility &#8212; and his capacity for disturbing facial expressions &#8212; to upset and frighten people, to project this demon-ape image. Of course the words &#8220;warped&#8221; and &#8220;twisted&#8221; are used. On the other hand, we see him occasionally justifying his evil &#8212; for this is an evil, manipulative, vitriolic character &#8212; by reminding himself of insults paid to him on the basis of his disability. Our working-class boy-hero, the euphoniously named Kit Nubbles, is reported to have called Quilp &#8220;an uglier dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny&#8221; after one of the central pieces of Quilp villainy is executed, and this remark is used by Quilp as justification for all his subsequent efforts against Kit.</p> <p>The Bitter part of this stereotype is as close as it ever comes to real characterization: are we to believe Quilp is evil because people mocked him for his disability? But then, why are other Dickensians stalwart and pure in the face of their afflictions and the world&#8217;s cruelty? (Is this a literary Puritanism, with an Elect and a Damned?) In the absence of any really understandable motivation for Quilp&#8217;s Herculean efforts in the service of villainy, he isn&#8217;t a character, just a malign force moving through the book and serving the plot. Greed may explain this action, revenge that, but fundamentally he hates all the good characters for no better reason than that they are the good characters. He hates, explicitly, their virtue. Unlike the general run of Dickens&#8217;s shadowy villains, nursing their monomanias and dreams of avarice, Quilp feels unfocused and emotionally diffuse. This is not a character with human motivations. This is a plot device with a face.</p> <p>The other character to whom I object is &#8212; don&#8217;t hurt me &#8212; Little Nell. I have long said, &#8220;I love Dickens, but he doesn&#8217;t love me back.&#8221; Dickens doesn&#8217;t write a lot of relatable women. At least, you can relate to some of his major characters, but I really don&#8217;t recommend doing it. The classic Dickens heroines &#8212; the Good Girls &#8212; are endless flowing fonts of generosity. They are virtuous, compassionate, and honest. All good things, but in the Dickensian heroine they are taken to excess. If you ever find yourself considering what Agnes Wickfield would do as a guide to your everyday behavior, I suggest you preemptively check yourself in for therapy. Giving as much and as thoroughly as these women do is not healthy. Their entire personalities are defined by their nurturing. In Agnes, we forgive it, because she&#8217;s a secondary character. In Little Nell, the nominal protagonist, it&#8217;s poison.</p> <p>Characters need, to state the obvious, flaws. Even in the starkly drawn world of Dickens&#8217;s imagination, heroes have them: Nicholas Nickleby&#8217;s temper (however much I find it refreshing) is a flaw. Pip, Boz help him, is a mass of flaws. The characters need something in themselves to strive against, not just in the world. Even Kit Nubbles, the bonus protagonist of this volume, introduced as Nell&#8217;s comic relief and only marginally older than she, has flaws and struggles, small though they be. He struggles to &#8220;stay cheerful&#8221; and govern his temper for the sake of his mother. He can be oblivious to others&#8217; feelings. He can, albeit less spectacularly than Nickleby, snap.</p> <p>Nell, on the other hand, is imperturbably perfect. She&#8217;s less naive than that other pure little waif, Oliver Twist, so she&#8217;s able to get herself and her beloved Grandfather (the recipient of her Eternal Spring of Giving) out of scrapes, and out of clutches. She&#8217;s sweet, kind, soft-spoken, moral, uncomplaining (to the point of collapse from hunger) and true. She likes to ease others&#8217; suffering. She wants simplicity and quiet. Oh, and of course, she is gorgeously beautiful, and small for her age, allowing her to inhabit a nebulous zone between the pitiful child and the vulnerable woman for maximum victimhood.</p> <p>We have <a href="" target="links">Mary Sue and Marty Stu</a> &#8212; can there be a Martyr Sue, too? A character with no flaws is just frustrating, not engaging. I&#8217;m willing to wait for her flaws to emerge, but at some point &#8212; and I remember the point vividly, when Grandfather was whinging at her for uprooting them <em>which she did to rescue them from his folly</em> and she answered mildly &#8212; you lose all suspension of disbelief. No one that sweet can exist, should exist. Anything you do to her to make me cry is cheap. Anything she says is cloying. She has too few dimensions to exist on a flat page.</p> <p>This is what we&#8217;re talking about when we say that writing in stereotypes is <em>bad writing</em>. For all the cleverness and fun moments in <em>Old Curiosity Shop</em> (and it did definitely have them), it&#8217;s strung around empty spots instead of believable person-facsimiles.</p> <p>Dickens learned by doing, as we all must. Besides the convincingly flawed Bad Girls like Nancy and Louisa Gradgrind (and less convincingly drawn Estella), he eventually produced women who were allowed to be much less than perfect and still good, like Bella Wilfer. Some of his later characters seem almost like apologias for those that came before &#8212; Jenny Wren for Tiny Tim, Riah for Fagin. I don&#8217;t resent Little Nell or condemn her as a sexist depiction. I just see her as a missed opportunity, like many before and since. Art needs justice every bit as much as justice, to get a hold on people, needs art.</p> Dickens on post-holiday blues 2011-01-07T17:41:38+00:00 2011-01-07T17:48:42+00:00 <blockquote>Oh these holidays! why will they leave us some regret? why cannot we push them back, only a week or two in our memories, so as to put them at once at that convenient distance whence they may be regarded either with a calm indifference or a pleasant effort of recollection! why will they hang about us, like the flavour of yesterday&#8217;s wine, suggestive of headaches and lassitude, and those good intentions for the future, which, under the earth, form the everlasting pavement of a large estate, and, upon it, usually endure until dinner-time or thereabouts!<br /> <br /> Who will wonder that Barbara had a headache, or that Barbara&#8217;s mother was disposed to be cross, or that she slightly underrated Astley&#8217;s, and thought the clown was older than they had taken him to be last night? Kit was not surprised to hear her say so—not he. He had already had a misgiving that the inconstant actors in that dazzling vision had been doing the same thing the night before last, and would do it again that night, and the next, and for weeks and months to come, though he would not be there. Such is the difference between yesterday and today. We are all going to the play, or coming home from it.<br /> <strong>-The Old Curiosity Shop</strong></blockquote> <p>I myself have been happily free from post-holiday blues this year. Perhaps such equanimity is the curse of growing maturity, for as Dickens&#8217;s closing figure suggests, the descent into melancholy is the obverse of a glorious ascent into joy. I am sure I do not enjoy Christmas nearly so much now as I did when I was a child, for all I do not grieve its going so bitterly.</p> <p>Oddly, in spite of the Christian (culturally so, for <a href="" target="links">I see that it&#8217;s imputed to a medieval abbot</a>, not to Jesus) image of the road to hell&#8217;s paving stones, this passage reminds me of the Buddhist idea of <a href="" target="links">samsara</a>, as I learned it in high school. This churning rise and fall of desire and disappointment, aspiration and disgust, does seem to be cyclical, a bit sad, and oh so human.</p> Classics January 2010-12-31T17:14:56+00:00 2010-12-31T17:15:59+00:00 <p>So, I&#8217;m thinking of starting a new tradition. As some of you may know, if I froze my <a href="" target="links">to-read</a> list tomorrow and didn&#8217;t deviate from it until I was done, it would probably still take me 5 years to finish. This means that any individual book&#8217;s claims tend to get short shrift, and there&#8217;s a sort of triage at play: oh, I <em>need</em> to read that as research for a project; oh, I <em>need</em> to read that so I can return it to its rightful owner; oh, I <em>need</em> to read that because I know the author. This means that if I have a whole lifetime to read a book and no greater prompting than my own curiosity or its own merits, a book may keep sliding down the list indefinitely, especially if it&#8217;s long.</p> <p>Well, I want to arrest the slide somewhat. I&#8217;ve been meaning to read <em>War and Peace</em> forever, and I have a perfectly lovely <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780393966473'>copy</a> of it to read, and by jiminy, I&#8217;m starting it tomorrow. Do I promise to finish it by the end of January? No. I am not insane. But I think starting off the new year with an old classic will be a good experience, and hopefully, one worth repeating next January.</p> <p>Who&#8217;s with me? Have you been meaning to dive into <em>Moby-Dick</em>? <em>Our Mutual Friend</em>? <em>Persuasion</em>? <em>I, Robot</em>? (I didn&#8217;t say whose definition of classic you had to use!)</p> The Antilles Theorem 2010-12-26T21:23:59+00:00 2010-12-27T15:02:53+00:00 <p>In the course of acquainting myself with <a href="" target="links">Ryan</a>&#8216;s childhood favorites, the <em>Star Wars: X-Wing</em> series by Michael Stackpole, I have come up with yet another of my kooky and largely impractical theories. I call it <em>The Antilles Theorem</em>. It is a litmus test for (old school) Star Wars fandom. Because, let&#8217;s face it, they&#8217;re lovable movies. Many people <em>like</em> them but are not fans. Fans watch and rewatch and quote; some know the Expanded Universe or play the roleplaying game. Before you jump to conclusions and start talking about mouse droids and assuming your interlocutors are aware that <a href="" target="links">Han shot first</a>, I suggest applying this.</p> <p><b>The Antilles Theorem: Any real fan of the original Star Wars series knows who Wedge Antilles is.</b></p> <p>So you just say, &#8220;One of my favorite characters in <em>Star Wars</em> is Wedge Antilles,&#8221; and if the respondent says &#8220;Get clear, Wedge, you can&#8217;t do any more good back there!&#8221; or starts babbling about Rogue Squadron tie-in novels, you are gold. (Likewise if they say, &#8220;Did you know that the captain of the blockade-runner in the first scene of <em>New Hope</em> was going to be named Antilles too?&#8221;) If they stare blankly at you, unable to recall this crucial and beloved but secondary character, I recommend smiling kindly and keeping the conversation general.</p> <p><em>Many Bothans died to bring you this post. You&#8217;re welcome.</em></p> My favorite reads of 2010 2010-12-13T22:33:10+00:00 2010-12-15T09:41:20+00:00 <p>As usual, I read very few <em>recent</em> books last year. (In fact, one of my favorite reads was the <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781570623950'><em>Tao Te Ching</em></a>, so that shows you how far back I sometimes reach for reading material.) So here, regardless of original release date, are a few more of my favorite reads of the year, along with excerpts from my reviews:</p> <p><em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781400095209'>Half of a Yellow Sun</a></em> by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A sweeping novel set before and during the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970. <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Each of the point-of-view characters, who differ in age, race, gender and class, traces a believable and human arc&#8230;.Adichie tells a complex and disturbing story with a large, vivid cast, and draws it to an ending that feels true. A remarkable book.&#8221;</a></p> <p><em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781569471425'>Breath Eyes Memory</a></em> by Edwidge Danticat: <a href="" target="links">&#8220;This book started out as a quiet little story, and ended up thundering so loud I had to fall to my knees. It has similar extremes of gentleness and brutality, sometimes intermixed in a way that is so, so human.&#8221;</a></p> <p><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781594489259'><em>The Ghost Map: The Story of London&#8217;s Most Terrifying Epidemic</em></a> by Steven Johnson: Perhaps my most timely read. I took it off the &#8216;to-read&#8217; list because it was the Multnomah County Library&#8217;s &#8220;Everybody Reads&#8221; book &#8212; for once, I was a joiner and I liked it! <a href="" target="links">&#8220;A fascinating nonfiction book about cholera, Victorian London, epidemiology, scientific breakthroughs, social patterns, and more. As that suggests, this book ranges quite a bit in topic and scope, but the transitions are excellently accomplished, so that the reader&#8217;s mind happily follows the author from bacteria to waste removal systems and back again, forging unexpected connections and learning as it goes.&#8221;</a></p> <p><em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780547394602'>The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America</a></em> by Timothy Egan: Seeing him speak at Wordstock made me finally heed my family&#8217;s call for me to read this book. <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Come for the amazing stories of survival and inferno, stay for the perspective on the history of the American West, the Forest Service and conservationism!&#8221;</a></p> <p>None of the books I read this year <a href="" target="links">bowled me over</a> sufficiently to join my list of all-time favorites, but these were solid, finely crafted books I enjoyed reading. I hope I read even more next year &#8212; I have such a stack to enjoy!</p> Horror frames, revisited 2010-10-27T21:02:34+00:00 2010-10-27T21:25:39+00:00 <p>I wrote pretty extensively on the <a href="" target="links">use of framing in classic horror fiction</a> some time ago, and it&#8217;s returned to mind: I just started listening to an audiobook of <em>Dracula</em>.</p> <p>I read <em>Dracula</em> for the first time as a teenager on a trip to Wyoming, carting along the only copy the library had, a large print trade paperback. I read it (when I should have been resting up for the next day&#8217;s exertions) late at night, on the outskirts of a small town where nightly I could hear the howls of coyotes. It was delicious, and the large print, by increasing the rate of page-turning, perhaps added to the suspense.</p> <p>I&#8217;m rereading it, of course, for its own sake and mine, but this form was suggested to me by my dad, who said he&#8217;d listened to a narrated version of it once and found it fabulous. So here I am, sitting down to listen (and sew a button onto my coat), and I notice at once the frame story, a little introduction. I have transcribed this, because the first few online texts I consulted (for instance, <a href="">Project Gutenberg</a>) did not have this paragraph. Perhaps I had better research the publication history a bit!</p> <blockquote>How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.</blockquote> <p>What a different sort of frame story this is! Rather than trying to sucker you into (as described in my previous blog post) a believable outer reality so that you will more readily except the inner story, it simply begs you to believe the inner story as literally true. Facts, not fancy. And how? With an appeal to documentation &#8212; since it&#8217;s an epistolary novel, hardly a surprise &#8212; and to <em>modernity</em>. We are understood to doubt the story because it contradicts our &#8220;later-day belief&#8221; (&#8216;latter&#8217;? Remember, I transcribe.) and the things which should reestablish the veracity of the narrative are &#8220;contemporary&#8221;. In the sentence, of course, it means contemporary with the events depicted, but I find the choice of word suggestive. We are meant to believe these things happened to contemporary people, something underlined by the next lines: &#8220;Jonathan Harker&#8217;s Journal: kept in shorthand&#8221;. Recently I heard this peculiar detail called out by my learned friend <a href="" target="links">Mike</a>: shorthand, at the time, was <em>modern</em>, a new technology of the pen.</p> <p>An interesting little frame, however it ended up inserted into the narrative. It draws our attention right away (as Mike drew mine) to one of Stoker&#8217;s thematic preoccupations: modernity. This little introduction prepares our minds just as we are about to meet Harker, with all his talk of crossing from West to East, his anxiety about the paucity of high-quality maps of the area and the timetables of trains. (&#8220;It seems to me that the further East you go, the less punctual are the trains! What ought they to be in China?&#8221;)</p> <p>Before we even begin, we have this reassurance, a hint of what is to be contrasted with all Harker&#8217;s comfortable, plausible, bustling Western modernity: a very British vision of the East as Other, irrational, ancient, threatening, full of Victorian fears. Such a reassurance, that these things did happen in precisely this way, carefully and rationally set down by modern, trustworthy sources (in shorthand!) is less a reassurance, and more of an invitation to fear&#8230;.</p> <p>I&#8217;m about to leave for <a href="" target="links">this year&#8217;s World Fantasy Convention</a>, so I may not blog any more this week. If so, I must make bold to wish you all in advance a spooky and delightful Hallow-e&#8217;en!</p>