Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deliverance and My Conscience

I think it's possible that I'm a bad person.  When our protagonists are assaulted in the deep backwoods and kill one of their attackers in self-defense--well, I don't think anyone specifically disagrees with that choice.  But then, standing around the body in various states of trauma, horror, sociopathy, and denial, they debate whether to go to the authorities or bury the body and pretend it never happened.

I posted earlier when I'd just started reading Deliverance by James Dickey, and I stand behind the things I said there--weird, possibly dated things about masculine identity, beautifully written in many respects.  Right after I wrote that post, it went all Big Tuna.  Not like in The Office; like in Wild at Heart.

So there's a lot of weird ugliness here, and there's an odd sense that this is not a story of man vs. nature, but man vs. man.  The whole thing is paced out and the narrator's presentation is like that of someone who is battling the elements, the river, and his own body.  But there is never as much tension around those encounters--they are almost always about the sense of joy that comes with the mastery of nature.  The real fear is associated with people--the mountain men, the hill folks, the poor, ignorant, violent back country hillbillies who are the real threat here. (Book and movie are about 40 years old, but to be fair: spoilers.)

Okay, that's actually creepy; I'm on firm moral footing so far here.  But let's go back to that dead guy who just abused one of our party.  He's got an arrow through him, his friend just ran off into the woods.  You were just supposed to be on an innocent camping trip.  One of your friends has just been through what is, at the place and time you inhabit, a literally unspeakable trauma.  You are so far from civilization that you don't even know what contact with the outside world looks like around here.  Let's be honest--doesn't hiding the body and pretending it never happened seem pretty darned tempting?

I feel like there's something morally bankrupt about me that I'd even contemplate this.  And you know, in the end, I think my doing the right thing would really depend on my belief that I couldn't get away with it.  That's horrible too, right?  I mean, I don't know about 1970, but nowadays there's no backwoods in this wide world where you could be sure of not getting caught, never mind in the USofA.  So I know I'd do the right thing, because I'd get caught.

I don't know, maybe it's just that I've been thinking lately about the difference between law and justice.  And I can't say that, by the end of this book, I had a lot of respect for the protagonist, or at least not as much as I started with.  I mean, I understand the ambivalent and even positive feelings that come with dealing with something hard and awful and doing it well.  But there isn't a lot of ambivalence here, not even around the parts that are pretty undeniably horrible.  Even given that, though, I don't know that I wouldn't make that same decision they made on the riverbank.

Of course...I know how the story ends.  And lesson learned--no camping, pretty much ever.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

More on Buffy: Willow in Wonderland

I have never gotten a Netgalley that excited me as much as this one.  I am one volume behind in my Buffy comics, but they very generously gave me a copy of Willow: Wonderland, the spinoff miniseries in which Willow takes Buffy's scythe an travels interworldially (word? no.) to try to bring back magic.  I got to read it!  I am squeeing!

It's all out of order; this story steps right out of Buffy Season 8, or rather the very beginning of Season 9.  Basically, the source of all magic has been suddenly (and awkwardly, but that's for another review) from Earth.  This has had some awful side effects, and eventually Willow sets out to get the magic back.  This involves leaving Earth and traveling through other worlds.

I think Willow is my favorite character in the Buffyverse.  I love how sweet she is, and how her sweetness does not mean she's not also mean or angry.  I love that she's powerful, and that her power corrupts her and she has to fight it.  I love that she's brilliant and funny and sensual.  I have a total crush on Willow.

The best thing about Wonderland is Willow.  The strongest part of a lot of these comics is that you get to come back to these beloved characters.  So many things about the comics don't really align with the TV show/s, but the flashes of pure Willow--her quirky way of talking, her approach to poking around for the meaning of a situation--are the best part here, by far.

The things she learns about herself--after the whole magic addiction, Dark Willow, recovery storyline--are a nice touch, anchoring a very human, if not surprising.  The trials she goes through and the people she meets are exciting and fantastical, but they're pretty far removed from the Buffyverse. 

I guess that's my takeaway from this--it's a pretty good other-realms-quest fantasy story, but there's not a lot of BtVS here.  I'd say there's not a lot of Joss Whedon, and that might be true, but a lot of other parts of the comic franchise are pretty far from Joss but closer to what I love.  In a lot of ways, this felt as much like a good episode of Charmed as it did like something from its own universe.

Speaking of which, damn, wasn't the millennium a great time for girl power fantasy TV? 

Wonderland was the fix I was looking for, but it wasn't the mainline I really wanted.  I'm so grateful that this franchise lives on in comics; I hope they're able to hold onto a lot of the integrity that made it so affecting.

More Cover Fail!

My god, the world is full of cover fail these days.  For those of you who, like me, read Flowers in the Attic at WAY TOO YOUNG AN AGE, is this or is this not the creepiest cover you can imagine for this book?  Is this or is this not a VERY MISLEADING way to sell this book to a new generation of twelve-year-olds?

For those of you who haven't read the book, that lovely blonde couple canoodling on the cover?  They're brother and sister.  Yeah.  Sit with that for a minute, and wonder if maybe I should not have read that book at twelve, and then wonder if maybe this cover does not understand what a delightful, depraved gothic book this is.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Boycotting Ender's Game

I had forgotten this movie was coming out.  I haven't read anything by Orson Scott Card in ages, mostly since I learned what a rampaging homophobe he is.  He doesn't just have opinions and write articles--he's on the board of an organization that actively works against gay rights.  Yuck. 

But I'll admit that this coincided pretty closely with the point where I realized he was a kind of weird about women, too.  There's a whole thing in Homebody about a woman who seems perfectly nice and normal until you find out she wasn't happy being a mother and the horrible secret tied in with this.  It's just a bit weird, and there are other things. Anyway, I drifted away from his writing for a few reasons like this.

Here's the thing, though: Ender's Game is an amazing book.  It's poignant and painful, and it deals with some of the horrors of war in a very accessible way, and it presents some very complicated moral issues and doesn't cheat or let its characters off the hook.  There are real world complications to the things that happen here--children being turned into soldiers, enemies being turned into monsters--and they are ugly.  If you look at it from some angles, the book might come down on the side of the people who made the uglier, more frightened decisions, but in the real world, those decisions do get made, and they make sense at the time.

But am I going to see the movie?  I'm not convinced I would anyway--the book is really almost too perfect to mess with in my mind.  But of course, there's the bigger issue of "supporting" the author.  It's all kind of nebulous--what percent of my ticket price does he get?  And is attending the movie really supporting an agenda that does not relate directly to the movie itself? 

I don't think anyone can deny that bad people can create good art--it's not even surprising, since in this context "bad" is a moral judgment and "good" is at least partly an aesthetic one.  But how do I feel about appreciating it?  Here's someone who's thought a bit about it in this context, with some advice for the range of options between ignoring it an boycotting it.

But I think I like this link better.  I can imagine feeling different; I can imagine wanting to see the movie badly enough to make the decision to go.  But I just don't think I do.  Right now, the name Orson Scott Card makes me cringe a bit, and while it might not make much real world difference, I'm not going to fight the psychological ick factor for this one. 

That is to say, I'm going with my gut.  Or rather, with my gut, I'm staying home.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Library Let Down

A succession of small indignities this week.  Having my bike stolen has many down sides, but one big one is that I just realized the Belmont Public Library is only a mile and a half from my office on a lovely bike trail.  And they had a copy of Call The Midwife in, which I've really wanted to read, though I think I might have gotten myself too invested in reading the book before watching the show.  But I can't get over there and back in less than an hour without the bike (even with the car, between the walk to the lot and the horrific traffic at Fresh Pond), so I have to wait till I can buy a new bike.  SIGH!

I think, with a memoir like this, reading the book first is a good idea if you want to do both.  I'm assuming it's something like All Creatures Great and Small, which is a charming book and a charming TV show, but which is very episodic in nature.  A TV program (or, in these cases, programme) tends to create narrative arc which is often not there in this kind of story.  But most of the raves I've been hearing are for the show, so maybe I'll just skip the book this time.  It's not like my To Read list isn't longer than my expected lifespan already.

The other library let down this week requires a bit more explanation, because I have not been blogging in the right order.  This past winter, I went through an extremely obsessive thing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched the whole series (except a couple of early episodes I skipped before I realized what I was doing), read the Season 8 comics, then caught up with Season 9, Angel & Faith, etc. But I was so absorbed with it, so jumbled up with FEELINGS that I didn't really blog any of that.  (I was also embarrassingly aware of the fact that I came into this about six months after a bunch of bloggers had done a watch-along, so I was stumbling late to the internet.)

So far, I've only reviewed Angel & Faith. I want to write about Season 8, and about what I think about Season 9 so far, and I'm waiting for Spike: A Dark Place from the library, and I just got to read Willow: Wonderland as an ARC (I have never felt so privileged, pretty much literally). So there are some more posts forthcoming. But for the purposes of this post, I'm pretty much out of new Buffy.

So I was scrounging when I came upon the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus.  This is the collection of comics that were released while the show was still on, starting with a graphic novel adaptation of Joss Whedon's original screenplay for the movie, which was up there with Heathers on the rewatch list of my high school friends and stars Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry.  It is very different from the TV show (again, think Heathers), and that part of the comic was not my favorite, but the rest--which tells more about Buffy's life between her expulsion in LA and her arrival in Sunnydale--was really excellent.  And it was written when the series was in its later seasons, so all the earlier stories are told with Dawn in them, which is weird and very cool.

So the point of this post, though, was that I was surprised to find myself in possession of some really good Buffy that fills a big gaping hole of need in my life.  Unfortunately, volume 2 is elusive--BPL doesn't have it, and Minuteman has very few copies.  Fortunately, one of those is at my local library, and as of Monday afternoon, checked in.

So I made time to drop by Tuesday before work.  And apparently, in the 18 hours between when I discovered the existence of this volume and arrived to take possession, some OTHER Medford Buffy fanatic absconded with it.  I am vexed, I tell you, vexed and bitter.

And now I've told you the really boring bones of my Buffy obsession without talking about what I think or feel or anything.  So upcoming in the next week, look for a review of Willow: Wonderland and some thoughts on Season 8 and Season 9, possibly together in one post.

C'mon, whoever has this checked out.  How long does it take to read comics?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Have Some Art

None of my thoughts has been organized at all in at least a few weeks, and I've been feeling pretty inarticulate. But I always hate it when bloggers apologize for their poor posts, because I usually think they're pretty good anyway, and then it feels like false modesty.  So I'm just going to say that and then wander into my topic.

I recently found this story called Spera--well, let's be honest, Mike saw it somewhere, thought it might be up my alley, and was right.  It's a webcomic with one writer who works chapter by chapter with different artists.  I checked it out of the library to read it all at once, instead of online.

Now, this is interesting in a few ways. A while back I found and fell in love with Gunnerkrigg Court, which I read through online.  But when Sarah (hello, Sarah!) read it in book form, she didn't fall in love with it.  I was surprised, and I wasn't sure if it was just our different tastes, or if there was something about reading it online that fit better with the structure of the story.  Reading Spera--another story that was originally a web comic--I see that it does make a difference.  There is a slight difference in pacing, even when the comic is not a "strip" form, but rather individual pages of a longer story published serially.

Most comics, even those traditionally published, use page breaks as at least a subtle transition point.  It makes sense when your medium is visual, and therefore easy to catch at a glimpse.  Cliffhangers and other tension-building devices have to take pagination into account.  In webcomics, though, this goes to another level, since the unit of storytelling is, on one level, the page.  I can't quite define the difference, but I can definitely recognize it here.

It would be inane to say that the art in a comic makes a huge difference in the book, but that's the main thing to discuss in Spera.  The idea is that there's one writer, but each chapter is written by a different artist.  Some of the styles are similar, but most of them are wildly various, and each artist has their own conception of the characters.

This was a huge challenge for me in reading this.  The tone of the art varied so much, and it changed my sense of the characters, their emotions, the urgency, the tone of the story.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; I've read series before where the style changed.  But generally those were more mainstream comics, where the styles were all pretty standard--across the volumes of Sandman, say, or from Mike Mignola to other artists working on one of his series in a similar style. 

The story here is about two princesses.  Pira's mother has gone to war with Lono's father, and she's killed him.  Pira--who dreams of being a great warrior--runs away to save Lono and the two escape across the mountains toward the fabled land of safety, Spera.  With them is Pira's friend, Yonder, who is a shapeshifting fire demon, most often in the form of a huge fox, but sometimes of a man.

I suspect that before the story is over, Pira and Lono will fall in love.  Lono is learning that she's brave, even though she's never wanted adventure, and Pira is learning that maybe she needs to rein in her wilder impulses.  Along the way they face magic and danger.

In the first chapter, I wasn't even sure Pira was a girl; she dresses in boy's clothing (manly tights and bubble shorts) and wears her hair short.  It becomes clear from the story, and clearer in subsequent chapters with different art.  But I think I liked the earliest art best, where the lines were whispy and dreamy.  The later artists had more a more grotesque style, which added a darkness to parts of the story that I don't think would otherwise have been so dark.

The website for the comic is complicated, with lots of stories and notes about the stories and sketches and things.  I need to figure it out so that when I finish with the volumes I can explore it more usefully.

But you see what I mean by disjointed?  Because I didn't say much here, but my point is this: here we have a great adventure story with powerful transforming Yonder, two princesses on the run, meeting ghosts, fighting monsters, scrounging for food, and learning their own competencies, and it's a lot of fun and I'm going to go read volume two now.  Kthanxbye.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Club Debriefing

Once again, we had a great difference of opinion on the book this month, which was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. I thought it was an engrossing story and also a series of engrossing stories.  Some people thought it was unnecessarily repetitive.

I don't suppose anyone could deny that it's technically repetitive; think Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  Yes, there's a level on which the same events are playing out over and over again.  But the spots that some people (well, let's call them "Kris") found to drag were the parts that I thought were the most carefully constructed.

Wait, though, let's back up.  The premise of the book is that Ursula Todd is born, and dies at birth.  And she is born, saved, and lives on.  Later, she drowns in the ocean. But there is also a version where she is saved.  And so on, throughout her life--she dies, and, with a twist, she lives.

Now, the way this unfolds, I won't say it's perfect.  For the first third of the book, I couldn't quite get a handle on it.  Ursula was very little, and it was much more about her mother.  Really, except for the occasional do-over to save Ursula's life, it was very much  a quiet domestic story, about finding meaning in the mundanities of life in the English countryside of the early 1900s.  This is the opposite of something I would generally like to read.

But as the story moves into Ursula's adolescence and adulthood, it starts to come together.  Individual lives illustrate different points, and also fit together to look at how a life shapes itself.  A small incident can change the way you think about yourself, which might change how you react to a bigger incident, which can change the whole course of your life.  So much of what happens to us is luck--and not just luck with externalities, but also luck on how you react in a moment, what you notice, how you perceive a situation.

Anyway, as someone who has book-clubbed many a time, I thought a list of discussion questions might be the best way to approach this book in a blog post without being too spoilery.  I will leave you with the fact that I was not convinced by the first third of the book, but was quite convinced by the next two thirds, and was somewhat confused by the end.

1) What were the "rules" of Ursula's repeated lives?  Did your understanding of those rules change over the course of the book?  To what extent were the changes from one go-around to the next a result of her purposeful changes, versus simple luck? At first I thought the whole idea was a sort of quantum mechanics thing, where these are all ways things could have gone.  Then I thought it was about what it would be like to live with the idea of these other quantum realities close to you.  But by the end it seemed more intentional than that.

2) How did Ursula's character change over the course of the book?  Do you think there was more change over the large arch of the book, or within individual life stories?  Do other characters seem to change over time, or does your view of them change as Ursula grows up?  (Especially Izzie, Hugh, and Sylvie.  What did you think of Sylvie?  I had a very different opinion about  her in the beginning, when she was almost the star of the book, than at the end.)

3) Related, what kinds of things did this book have to say about motherhood?  How was Ursula's feelings about and relationship with motherhood related to her "fate?"

4) There are quite a few details that seem significant but don't come together as major plot elements, or don't carry from one story to another.  (Sylvie in London when Ursula is there in secret; the fate of Izzie's baby.)

5) Wasn't Maurice AWFUL?  Are real people ever that unadulteratedly horrible?  Do you know anyone that nasty?  (You should probably be careful discussing this one at book club, depending on whether any of the members know your extended family.)

6) What was Jimmy all about?  Why was there a Jimmy?  (Someone in book club pointed out that birth control wasn't available in the '40s, to which I reply that I know why Sylvie and Hugh had Jimmy, but I want to know why Kate Atkinson had him.)  It seems like you've already got Teddy as the baby of the family.  What role does Jimmy play in the family and in the story?

7) What happened at the end there?  Did it work?  Did one of those lives become real?  Was the last one the "getting it right" version?  There seem almost to be two endings, one where she kills You Know Who and one where she doesn't but everything turns out all right in the end anyway.  (You know, except what happened to Sylvie, but by that time it was water under the bridge, right?  You do still follow me, don't you?)

Anyway, that's my list, cleverly non-spoilery.  I really wanted to use the title of a certain episode of Dr. Who for this post, but THAT would have been a spoiler.  Although I suppose so is the prologue of the book, if you look at it that way.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Thanks to Ana at Things Mean A Lot (and congrats on the job upgrade!) for this very fun link demonstrating how important a letter can be.

Also, if you love Parks & Recreation the way I do, you need to know what would happen if their cast starred in some of your favorite children's books.

And, finally, the Gender Cover Flip, as instigated by YA author Maureen Johnson. (I may have posted this before, but we were discussing it at book club, so I wanted to put it up again.)

Sunday, July 07, 2013


I'm all about audiobooks again, but I want to see how well it sticks before I reenlist in Audible.  So I'm working my way through the backlog of last-ditch efforts to spend my credits before I closed my Audible account lo these many years ago, and this is how I ended up listening to Deliverance, by James Dickey.

Now, what I know about this book is about what you know about it, because it was a movie that is famous for that catchy backwoods guitar theme and the horrifying "squeal like a pig" scene (which I won't link to). But the reader is great, with just the right little Southern accent, and I read on the back cover that the author is best known as a poet.  The first page really calls that out, and shows the best of a poet's strength as a novelist--every word and image is perfectly evocative, and each one is used to a point.  There's no descriptive sprawl here, just lean, lush storytelling.

This is not to say that there are not descriptions and diversions.  The story of four men's canoe trip through the backwoods of I-don't-know-maybe-Tennessee is the core of what's going on here, but it's not the main thrust of the novel.  The main thrust is what it means to be a man in the modern world.

Now here's where things get a bit hairy.  I won't even start with the fact that I'm not a man, because I actually think that is not a weakness here--I am not excluded for not being like the author or the characters.  But the thing that makes it strange is that the book was written in 1970.  There are a lot of things about the world that has changed in the 43 years since this book is written, and a decent number of them are important themes in this book.

You've got the basic definition of masculinity, and its ties to physical pursuits and primal urges.  You've got women, their roles, their images, how they're perceived by a man like our narrator, Ed.  Race hasn't actually come up (yet; I'm only a little way in), but class is a huge deal here.  We're in the backwoods, and that meant something different before the internet.  I think it's easy for a lot of us to forget that there were plenty of people in the US in 1970 without indoor plumbing or electricity.  I'm not saying there aren't places where that's still common today, but the fact is that the world is smaller than it used to be, and the people in our part of it are more homogenized than you even realize.

This is a well-told story tied closely together with a lot of well-told sociology, and while I'm enjoying it, as a modern reader I do find myself faced with an extra layer of interpretation required to interpret the views and observations of the author and characters through a filter of the world they lived in. 

Whatever messages I'm getting or supposed to be getting here, though, it's a real pleasure to read.  The narrator has a lush Southern voice that is matter of fact and lyrical at the same time, like the best Southern writing.  I'm quite glad I thought to snag this before I closed my Audible account!

Monday, July 01, 2013


First, don't let anyone tell you Ruby Red is a book.  It's not.  Kerstin Gier has written one book and then broken it into three volumes; Ruby Red is one third of a book.  And I'm not saying I didn't guess that it would leave you poised for the next part of the trilogy, but seriously, absolutely nothing--not one minor little plot point--is resolved here.

Luckily I have Sapphire Blue in hand, but lord only knows how long I'm going to have to wait before Anthea Bell gets around to translating the third (which is called Emerald Green). Oh, huh, apparently October.  Okay, not SO bad.  Let's see if I still care by then, though.  I think momentum is carrying me along here.

Because you know, I'm meh-ish here.  It's actually kind of compelling--I like the very modern sensibility of Gwyneth, and I like that she's not instantly goo-goo over Gideon, just kind of crushy.  But there are SO MANY HOLES.  And not enough characters are asking the first questions that pop into my mind. Like, where does this poem-prophecy come from, and how do you discover that there are only ever going to be X number of time travelers born if they can only ever travel back, and how can there be some sort of universal secret that you KNOW is super important but you don't know what it is that is unlocked after you mix everyone's blood together or whatever?  And the translator did a great job except with the poem, or else the poem is just a mess in the original language, too.  Worst. Mnemonic. Ever.

It's just all over the place.  I like Gwyneth's modern day best friend and her very practical approach to things, but the questions above barely even scratch the surface.  I wish this had been one book; I think it would be better for it.

Speaking of momentum, I have Days of Blood and Starlight in hand, as well, and Laini Taylor, let me tell you, is worth spilling way more drool.  Lianna's reading it right now, and I hope we both love it as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone--more, in fact, since we have established the relationship and what's keeping them apart, sparing us the awkward romance stuff, or at least its stilted introduction. 

Akiva is really objectified--hot boy who lurves her and broods.  Hopefully he gets a little more depth here.  Also, I think I can safely say that I just want want want more of Brimstone, and that I hope this book will hold that.

My book club commitment this week is to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, (which I'm pretty sure should not have the word "after" capitalized, but I'm following the convention I'm seeing elsewhere because I'm trying to prevent my innate grammar sticklerism from taking over my life and it's hard.  So hard.) and it's fine, but I'm not quite feeling it yet.  It's got a literary thing going on so far--15% of the way in and it's mostly slice of life during WWI stuff, with some hints that the interesting twist to the structure will get more interesting as time goes on.  I really hope it does.

But I don't have momentum there yet, and anyway that will probably get its own post later.  For now--sequels!