This Week, I Read… (#41)

141 - Four Ways to Forgiveness

#141 – Four Ways to Forgiveness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 10/10/18 – 10/12/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I loved it. I didn’t realize when I picked it up I was about to read sci-fi liberally spiked with actual romance; romance has rarely been more than a passing subplot in all the Le Guin I’ve read, and certainly nothing like this has appeared in the Hainish Cycle works up to this point.

So, being a fan, I was surprised and pleasantly impressed with the depth of feeling in each novella, the importance given to love and personal connection, contrasted with the larger workings of culture and society that the Hainish Cycle usually focuses on near-exclusively.

I was charmed by the small ties between the novellas, even an occasional recurring character. The four stories are definitely distinct and carry slightly different tones, variations on the theme of forgiveness, but they’re similar enough to feel like a unified whole at the end. (Which is a feat in and of itself.)

I thought when I read The Left Hand of Darkness I had seen the best of the cycle, and I still think maybe I have, but this runs an extremely close second.

142 - A Day Late and a Dollar Short

#142 – A Day Late and a Dollar Short, by Terry McMillan

I couldn’t make myself keep going. DNF @ page 50.

The three characters I got POV chapters from are all unlikable in their own unique ways, but unified in how they present their narratives as though nothing is ever their fault. And that’s most of what’s on the page–whining about how none of them have gotten a fair shake, how someone else is responsible for their misery, how they’d be better “if only” this, that or the other thing.

It’s natural for most people to do some blame-shifting in their lives, I get that. But this was fifty solid pages of “I love my (son/husband/wife), but… (this is how they’re awful and I can’t stand them anymore.)”

Very little actually happens in each chapter. Viola’s, at the start, has her in the hospital after an asthma attack, and her husband comes to see her briefly. His chapter, next, has him realizing he’s forgotten his car keys in her room and stalling as long as possible before going to retrieve them, because he doesn’t actually want to see his wife again. And their son Lewis, the third POV chapter’s character? Near as I could tell, he’s actually not doing anything at all but whining.

Fifty pages of miserable family-backstory exposition dump. I couldn’t find a reason to get invested in any of these characters.

143 - The Bookseller of Kabul

#143 – The Bookseller of Kabul, by Åsne Seierstad

What you see is not what you get.

The title and blurb both imply that the story will be about the “bookseller,” the head of an Afghani family who defies whatever regime is in power in order to sell books. And it does, for a little while, look that way at the start, detailing the measures that Sultan Khan takes to continue to sell books that are prohibited.

But most of the book is about the members of his family, portraying their daily life and the struggles of the family power dynamics.

That still might have been an interesting book, though a depressing one; women have absolutely no agency, and reading about their constant misery and mistreatment is difficult.

But Seierstad’s decision to present this as literary nonfiction, effectively erasing herself from the narrative, is one that in the end, I don’t personally agree with. The text is book-ended with her personal observations, revelations, explanations, and justifications; I went into the narrative knowing that she was present even if she chose not to include herself. And at the end, when she gave a brief rundown of what happened immediately after she left the family, I was shocked and disappointed–several of the least-respected, most downtrodden family members left, a move that defies everything we learned about them in the book and which would have made a far more interesting story, but also made it hard to believe that Seierstad had no influence or impact on the life of the family, as the style of her narrative suggests.

I understand not including the family separation, as she wasn’t present for that, and that’s the conceit of the book–her as the chronicler. But it simply doesn’t hold up, especially when the prologue presents this as an “atypical” Afghani family worth reading about because of their involvement with books, but the epilogue admits that they were actually fairly typical after all, because while they had more money than most, Khan refused to spend it on his family, so they lived poorly anyway and didn’t deviate much, if at all, from traditional values.

When this was first published, it might have been shiny and new and interesting to people who knew little about Afghanistan, with whom my country has been at war for well over a decade now; but I’ve educated myself from other (apparently more reliable) sources, and this didn’t give me anything worthwhile.

144 - The Vixen and the Vet

#144 – The Vixen and the Vet, by Katy Regnery

Some things are done well, and others are unbelievable, trite, or cheesy as hell.

Savannah goes from a career-driven woman to a sappy pile of goo in less time than it takes to melt a marshmallow. Not that Asher’s not appealing, because he is–I’m a sucker for a sensitive dude–but they really race to the finish line on their romance.

Asher may be badly scarred by the injuries he sustained during his service, but he’s not convincing as the “Beast” or even just a loner hermit when Savannah pulls him out of his shell after only a few visits. While I have no personal experience with the subject, I’ve seen/read enough to know that it can take years of therapy to overcome traumatic events similar to Asher’s–so Savannah’s presence/meddling “fixing” Asher in so short a time is like her waving a magic wand.

That being said, if you ignore the speedy time frame, Asher does actually deal with his problems on his own, which I appreciate. Savannah doesn’t make him better by existing–she makes him want to deal with his issues in a constructive manner. Which is the way “love can fix anything” narratives should work; love might be the catalyst, but the person has to actually do the work. Which Asher does.

The big fight and the happy ending? Strong mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a truly legitimate conflict; Savannah’s (heavily edited, not-as-intended) article constitutes a huge betrayal, even if we know it was an unintended one. Asher has every right to toss her ass out the door, whether he believes her innocence or not, because she’s brought tons of unwanted attention and scrutiny into his life.

On the other hand, when she writes “the real story” and that solves all, 1) it’s so cheesy I almost reached for my lactase supplements, and 2) it’s distractingly meta, as the fictional book is for charity, just like the actual book it’s featured in.

Other small things bothered me. Asher’s scars, while described as truly disfiguring, were also given so much page space that I felt like I was intended to fetishize them–look how awesome I am that scars like this don’t bother me! I liked the story much better when Savannah got to the point where she stopped noticing them, not because that meant I could pretend they didn’t exist, but so I didn’t have to feel like I was supposed to be attracted to Asher because of his scars. I also got tired of the repetitious mentioning of certain key phrases to evoke specific moments–if I don’t ever have to read “your/her sister’s sundress” or “with a plate of brownies” again, EVER, I’ve still seen it too often. Kill your darlings!

Asher being super-likable, if not entirely believable, saved this from being a DNF, but I’m not impressed with the whole package.

145 - Grendel

#145 – Grendel, by John Gardner

I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I’m just not sure, a year from now, I’m going to remember it.

The prose is often bizarre; I don’t hate it, but I can’t see what purpose it serves until it makes me sympathize more deeply with Grendel. And it doesn’t.

For all that Beowulf doesn’t give us about the monster or his mother, that this tale might be setting out to rectify, I still have questions. There are still gaps.

But I’m not sure I still care? I’m more bewildered than anything else. It’s unsettling and sometimes creepy, but it can’t settle on a consistent voice to underlay and support the variation of tone.

Literary fanfiction usually leaves me disappointed, and I think this falls into that category. Next time I read Beowulf I don’t think my experience will be enriched by having read Grendel, and I don’t think it really scratched the itch it was supposed to.

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Fictober18: I’m Actually Writing Again!

cathedral

My next novel (or at least, novel draft) is taking shape thanks to #fictober18 over on Tumblr. The event is a dialogue prompt every day, which we incorporate into a fic. (Aimed at fanfic writers, but there are plenty of people doing original fiction too.)

I’ve been using each prompt in a scene for my new project, currently going by #spookyromancenovel. It’s paranormal romance; I’ve got a rough idea of how it’s going to progress and eventually end; I’m aiming for 100K for the first draft, and whatever I don’t have done through Fictober will become my NaNoWriMo goal next month.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll seek out an alternate source of prompts for November; but I may still be working on the ones I have, since (as of writing this post) I’m behind. There have been a few days where I simply couldn’t find time to write, which is a shame–but at least I’m motivated to write again, after months of waffling about which project to work on and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In order to wrangle thirty days’ worth of prompt responses, I made a WIP page for the project, which I want to stress is not complete (no worldbuilding or FAQ sections yet) but has all the scenes I’ve done as well as a blurb and some short character bios.

Below is the first scene, based on the prompt: “Can you feel this?” If you enjoy it, please visit the WIP page for links to the rest!


A ghoul was listlessly banging on the door to the shop. I’d lost track of time doing inventory, and darkness had fallen early because of the storm. I turned the lights out in front. If the thing lost interest and wandered away, I could still make it home tonight. If I was careful.

But if I were stuck in the shop overnight, I could finish the inventory and get a head start on next week’s orders. Ghouls and ghosts and other foul beasties weren’t the only reason I kept a cot, some canned food, and a clean set of clothing in my office.

An hour later, the darkness outside was near total, but the random door rattling was gone. I peered through the blinds, trying to check the street by the blinding brilliance of lightning flashes. Every inch of my shop was so intricately warded that it was a magical Switzerland, so staying put was by far the safest option. But I was craving the leftover Chinese in my fridge at home, and I was only halfway through binging the latest season of Real Housewitches of Miami. I’d never been to Florida, so I was watching as much for the beaches and bikinis as I was the catfights and petty hexes.

Something darker than shadow broke free from the brick wall of the bank across the street. I backed away from the window. Chinese food and reality TV were bad reasons to risk getting killed, no matter how much I longed for the comfort of my own bed.

I was halfway to my office when the door shook in its frame under a much heavier, more deliberate pounding. Definitely not a ghoul.

I turned back, like I could see through the door and make out who, or what, it was. I waited for a lightning flash, but all that got me was the vague outline of something tall and humanoid.

Nothing evil could walk into my shop unless I let it in. Sure, some of my customers probably used the components they bought here for less-than-trustworthy purposes, but they came by daylight, and they paid cash.

At night, the only way something could get in was if I opened that door.

Behind me, my phone rang. I’d left it on my desk, and I had to hurry to get to it before it went to voicemail. Noah Hargrove calling, the screen declared.

Noah. I hadn’t seen him for six months? Seven? As I answered, my eyes went straight to the shelf of random jars on the back wall, all different materials and sizes, some with metal lids and others with cork stoppers.

Hey.” Usually I sounded more cheerful when I spoke to old friends, but usually there wasn’t something unidentified standing outside my door.”

Can I come in?”

He asked with no lead-in and no hesitation. “You know the rules. Prove it’s you.”

Shannon…” His exasperation was obvious, but he was the one who’d helped me develop my system of safeguards, when I’d opened the shop.

I’m not budging.” I didn’t really think he’d been body-snatched by some unnameable power, or even by a garden-variety vampire. But with Noah, more than the others, I had to be careful.

It’s October, so that’s, what, biggest regrets?”

You know I can’t tell you that.” But he was right. Time to cough something up, something I could read.

Letting Larry Wilkinson take you to senior prom. He totally ruined the night for everyone.”

His choice surprised me, but I sensed the truth in his voice. The emotion didn’t have to be deep or secret, but it did have to be real. “Can’t get puke stains out of satin.” I stalked back to the door and starting the complicated process of undoing the night locks, both physical and magical. “This will just take a minute.”

What would you do if something were after me? Or whoever?”

He didn’t know who else I helped out, after-hours, but he knew he wasn’t the only one. I could never tell if there was jealousy there, either personal or professional. Noah was always the hardest to read.

I’d stand here working on the locks while you got shredded like overcooked chicken. Or whoever. This can’t be rushed, not if I don’t want the wards to snap.”

That’s harsh, Shannon.”

Hearing his voice through the phone and not through the door, even though only a few inches separated us, was odd. It shouldn’t have been, not with how heavily protected I was, but it made him feel unreal, or at least farther away. “Your fault for being tailed, if that ever happens.”

When the final lock released, a flare of blue sizzled across the door frame. I turned the knob and stepped back.

Noah came in, hanging up our call and pocketing his phone. “Thanks.”

I always forgot how big he was, when I hadn’t seen him. I backed up a step. “Thanks for taking me home early so I didn’t have to spend the rest of prom smelling like rum and stomach acid.”

He shook his head. “That kid was such a jerk. What did you see in him, anyway?”

Honestly, I don’t even remember. Maybe his smile. He had the best smile.” I started toward the back. “But you’re not here to catch up. What do you need?”

A flash from the window showed his shadow towering over me, and I hoped he couldn’t see me shudder. But his night vision was better than mine, so probably he did. I tried so hard not to let him know how much he frightened me. I never wanted him to feel unwelcome here.

More blackwort and bonemeal.” That was standard, they helped with his cravings, though seeing him casually nibbling on mushrooms poisonous enough to kill me five times over never got easy. What he said next, though, wasn’t. “And a place to hole up for a few days, if you know of one. My last hideout here gotten taken over by wolves.”

I sighed. “That turf war between the clans got messy before it was over.” And I’d spent half a night digging silver-laced shrapnel out of Sophia Summers, my old piano teacher from long-ago lessons in elementary school. Her husband had gotten turned in an attack, and she’d petitioned Clan Northriver for voluntary infection for her, and entrance for them both. She’d survived the war, but her clan had lost a third of their territory.

I can find something new over the next few nights, I have some ideas. But that storm has got the ghouls riled up something fierce, and I can take a few, but I don’t want to spend all night killing instead of apartment hunting.”

He followed me to my office, his large frame filling the doorway. The lights were on here, but I tried not to look at him too closely. I pointed at the cot. “Sit.”

Shannon…”

You’re such a baby about this.”

I hate needles, you know that.”

Because that was what I’d drawn from a kit I kept in my desk drawer. Made from gold, which soaked up enchantments like a sponge, and blessed in turn by every priest, witch, and healer I knew. “Give me your arm.”

He shrugged off his leather jacket, the same battered thing he’d had since high school, and rolled up the sleeve of his sweater. The veins stood out on his muscled forearm as I checked his pulse—strong, healthy, if you could ignore the fact it was a single beat when it should have been doubled. And the gray undertones of his skin, which was definitely more mottled than the last time he’d been to see me.

I dragged the point of the needle from the inside of his elbow to his wrist. He flinched, but I still asked, “Can you feel this?”

Yes,” he hissed. “Goddamn it, Shannon. You can’t know how much that hurts.”

No, I couldn’t, because I was still human. The needle didn’t do a thing to me. The first time I’d poked him with it, pricked the tip of one finger, he’d passed out the instant it touched his blood and didn’t wake up for five hours.

More or less than last time?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, trying to remember, maybe. “More,” he finally whispered. “A little more.”

Okay.” That wasn’t good, but it had been six months. Or seven. I should expect his condition to have progressed. “You’re not hungry, are you?”

No, I…I ate on the way. Why?” He looked up at me, and I couldn’t ignore the fear in his eyes, or the pleading.

Or the way his brown irises were speckled with black. Eventually there would be no color left. No humanity.

Because you’re staying with me for now. I wasn’t going to try to make it home tonight, but saddle up, because now you’ve got to get me there safely.”

He smiled, and I hated myself for the nervousness that shivered through my body and made my hands tingle with numbness. I had lied about Larry, of course. Noah had always had the best smile.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #40)

139 - Dracula

#139 – Dracula, by Bram Stoker

This was a slog, and I didn’t really enjoy it. While I recognize some admirable things about the writing, the pacing is so slow that it goes beyond “creeping dread” straight into “I should be scared but I’m actually falling asleep.”

What I liked best was the strong distinction between character voices. In an epistolary novel, it’s even more critical that your various characters’ writing/speaking styles don’t sound too homogeneous, otherwise it would be easy to forget just who was the central character of any given passage.

But I lacked the revelation of story that I got from reading the other huge horror classic, Frankenstein. I don’t really feel that reading this has given me anything I hadn’t already absorbed from popular culture, especially since I’ve seen the 1992 movie adaptation twice, which is the most faithful to the original work of any version I’ve watched.

140 - The Voyage of the Narwhal

#140 – The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett

I’ve always been interested both in science and in the history of science, so a book following the voyage of an arctic expedition in the 1850’s, even if it’s fictional? Yes, please.

And while I was captivated by the details of survival in the arctic, by the forming friendships and rivalries of the crew, and the constant troubles that assaulted them on the journey, then the journey was over–halfway through the book.

The entire middle section was a directionless morass of personal misery for the (arguably) main character Erasmus, and only when the assumed-dead Zeke returned home with two of the natives who saved him (a mother and her son) to tell a fantastic story of his survival, did the story pick up any speed again.

Then it’s a parable of racism, when the only way Zeke has to make any money from the badly botched journey is to put on a traveling show exhibiting the natives, and everyone else in his family is basically horrified by it (though his wife is more jealous of the time they take up than horrified by his treatment of them.) Erasmus, with a little help from the few friends he still has, rescues the boy after his mother dies of fever, and returns him home, because while they may be white Americans in the 1850’s and casually racist about a lot of stuff (and they are!) even they know what Zeke is doing is cruel and wrong.

And then it’s over.

I enjoyed the writing style, I enjoyed the science, I enjoyed the characters for the most part. I’m a little mystified by the plotting and pacing, because everything really does fall apart in the middle. Even if Erasmus is depressed and directionless, it didn’t mean the arc of the narrative had to be.

Down the TBR Hole #11

Down the TBR Hole is a (very) bookish meme, originally created by Lia @ Lost In A Story. She has since combed through all of her TBR (very impressive) and diminished it by quite a bit, but the meme is still open to others! How to participate:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  • Order by Ascending Date Added
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or let it go?

I’ve finally got my to-read shelf under 800 books. It’s been hovering just above that mark for months now, because I was still getting new books and picking up recommendations even as I was reading stuff. Pretty soon, my read books (at least since starting a Goodreads account) will outweigh my want-to-read, and won’t that be an exciting day!

To that end, let’s do this.

#1 – The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

27712I still haven’t managed to get myself a copy, but there’s really no question about this staying on the list. I adored the movie adaptation as a kid, though I admit to wondering if I would still love it now. I even liked the (much weaker) sequel!

Maybe I should ask my family for a copy for Christmas. I do have to start making that list soon…

 

 

 

#2 – Maledicte, by Lane Robins

1108884Someone recommended this to me because of my love for Jacqueline Carey’s work, and superficially from the blurb, I can see why. But this seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it book, and the critical reviews point out a lot of issues that are particular sore spots for me.

It goes. With some regret, but I can’t read everything.

 

 

 

#3 – A Gentleman in the Street, by Alisha Rai

23618508Many, many people have recommended Alisha Rai to me, and I’m reasonably sure this was the specific book mentioned the first time someone did.

Since adding this, I’ve managed to score a different book of hers used, so I’ll be reading that first.

If I end up not liking her style, I’ll come back and take this off the list, but based on the premise and the wildly postitive recommendations I’ve had, for now it stays.

 

#4 – These Vicious Masks, by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

23688792I think I added this one because I saw it making the rounds on Tumblr, and it sounded vaguely interesting.

Taking a closer look at it, the pitch “X-Men meets Jane Austen” actually puts me off. I’m just not an Austen fan, though I’ve got plans to give P&P another try in the future, for reasons.

I think this can safely go.

 

 

#5 – Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

20663770YES YES ALL THE YES. It’s the notorious NDT, my favorite science person pretty much EVER.

It stays. Why haven’t I read it yet?

 

 

 

 

#6 – The Falconer, by Elizabeth May

15791085“…this electrifying thriller combines romance and action, steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.”

Uh, sign me up? In fact, when I saw this was on sale for 99 cents, I went ahead and bought it, while writing up this post. So obviously it stays.

This was big on Tumblr for a while, yet I never knew it was a trilogy–the second and third book are also on sale, and I’m debating getting them as well. Technically I’m on a ban, but it’s really only for physical books because I’m running out of space…

#7  + #8 – The Lions of Al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay

These are easy, because Kay’s one of my favorite authors, so they both stay. The great thing about discovering someone with a huge back-catalog is that you’ve got so much to read without waiting for a new book to come out–but the bad thing, is then you have to get a hold of all of them! I’m still missing quite a few, including these two.

#9 – Style, by Chelsea M. Cameron

30332310F/F young adult romance? I need more of that in my life, because there’s a lot of good M/M out there–I even own some of it!–but it’s much harder to find two girls falling in love in the YA space.

It stays. And now that I’m reminded of it, I must find the easiest way to get my hands on it.

 

 

 

#10 – Let It Shine, by Alyssa Cole

29522514Another romance author I’ve had recommended to me oodles of times, this novella landed on my list because it depicts interracial romance during the American Civil Rights Movement, which is just not a time period historical romances tackle.

While I generally prefer full-length novels to novellas, just because I like to have plenty of time for a good romance to develop, the very rarity of the story being presented intrigues me. It can stay.

 


As always, if you’ve read any of these and want to share your opinion or campaign for a good book to make it back onto my list, leave a comment and let me know!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #39)

136 - The Unconsoled

#136 – The Unconsoled, by Kazuo Ishiguro

DNF @ page 210 from sheer repetitive fatigue.

There was enough to like at the start that I kept going–surrealism fascinates me, and I was intrigued by the way Ryder often narrated sections of the story that contained information he couldn’t possibly know. For example, early on he remains in a parked car while his companion drops in on an acquaintance, and he not only describes what he can see going on at the doorway but follows the pair inside to tell the reader about their meeting. Which he obviously couldn’t, from inside the car.

This led me to my first loose theory, that Ryder was dead, and this was his hell, a never-ending stream of obligations he couldn’t meet, appointments he would always miss, and people he would always disappoint. I even drew a symbolic meaning from his name to fit this theory–his soul could “ride” along with others, to see what he shouldn’t be able to.

(Also how he goes along with every interruption, every random demand on his time. When I stopped reading, he had left Boris, his maybe-stepson, alone in a cafe to do an interview and photo shoot, only to then be nearly abducted from that to go to a luncheon with someone else, and only hours later realizing he’d left Boris behind completely.)

My weird theory, even though I knew it was probably wrong, kept me reading.

But for all that things happened, events occurred, the story never changed. It didn’t get better, and it didn’t get worse. I read more than 200 pages of weird, semi-impossible happenings that left everyone involved in a constant state of misery, no matter how much they fawned over Ryder for his fame and talent.

I think that’s what truly wore me down–everyone is the same. Nearly everyone treats Ryder with the same enthusiastic regard, the same demonstrative deference. Which could certainly be commentary on how many people treat celebrities, but no matter how insightful it is, that doesn’t make it pleasant to read endlessly.

Pride made me want to keep slogging through, but sense told me it wouldn’t be worth it. I ran out of patience and looked up how the book ends, only to find out there’s no resolution–so many reviewers wanted it to be a dream, for Ryder to wake up, but I guess nothing happens? So I didn’t waste my time with the last 300 pages, because I’ve got way too many other books to read.

137 - P.S. I Still Love You

#137 – P.S. I Still Love You, by Jenny Han

  • Read: 9/29/18 – 10/1/18
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Still enjoyable for a lot of cute character moments, but not nearly as tightly plotted as the first book.

My major complaint is Genevieve. She’s a terrible person, and both Peter and Lara Jean are a) obsessed with her, and b) constantly making excuses for her.

1. Peter and Gen broke up prior to the first book’s beginning, thus leading to his and LJ’s fake-dating-turned-real, because Gen cheated on him. Gen is a cheater. Not everyone takes as hard a line on cheating as I do personally, but I consider it a deal-breaker. So why am I supposed to feel any sympathy for her when her “family issues” are that she’s devastated by her dad’s cheating? I mean, it’s gross that his side piece is barely older than she is, no question, but if she thinks cheating is okay (she did it, after all) then why should I be convinced she’s all torn up about it? And if she really is, shouldn’t she be examining her own actions re: cheating and having a little personal growth about it?

2. LJ is right that Peter (mostly) puts Gen first, which leads to their breakup. Loyalty is generally a virtue, but DUDE, SHE CHEATED ON YOU. Hiding his knowledge from LJ that Gen was the one to get the “sex” tape posted, when that incident was so horrible for LJ, is low; and even after that, Peter is still Gen’s friend? Why? How was that not hurtful to Peter too? Even if he’s not as affected by the double standards for guys and girls surrounding sex, how is posting the video not a deliberate attempt to sabotage Peter and LJ’s relationship? Is that something a friend does?

3. Peter says Gen is hurt by LJ because she took Peter away from him. NO SHE DID NOT. That bullshit about the kiss in seventh grade is just that, bullshit. Peter kissed her first; LJ didn’t tell Gen because she knew it didn’t mean anything and because she knew Gen would be needlessly hurt by it. Gen and Peter started dating anyway, so seriously, the kiss meant nothing, yet Gen holds on to LJ’s little white lie of omission like it was a pivotal moment in her life. Then, in the present story, Gen’s breakup with Peter had LITERALLY NOTHING to do with LJ. She wasn’t even a part of the picture until much later, when the letters got sent and the fake relationship happened–WHICH WAS PETER’S IDEA. Gen is just being a possessive bitch who can’t let go; that’s not LJ’s fault. The worst thing LJ does is go along with Peter’s desire to make Gen jealous during the “fake” phase of their relationship–but LJ’s motives are about Josh, not Gen.

4. Peter’s grand sweeping declaration of love at the end rang entirely false for me. He “doesn’t even remember why they broke up?” Bullshit again. That’s something you can say to a person after years of estrangement, not days. I had a serious falling-out with a college friend that became years of silent animosity; when we briefly reunited EIGHT YEARS LATER he admitted he couldn’t even remember what started it, and at that point, neither could I–I only remembered the sudden feeling of betrayal that he and I weren’t friends anymore, and the anger that came after, but not the spark that set the whole thing off. PETER, LJ BROKE UP WITH YOU BECAUSE YOU CONSTANTLY SUPPORT AND DEFEND A PERSON WHO HAS DONE NOTHING BUT TRY TO HARM HER. LJ’s immediate internal revelation that *she* needed to get over Gen and stopped obsessing about her is correct, BUT DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF PETER’S BEHAVIOR. Yet she just takes him back because he does something romantic.

5. Why, after all that, does LJ still want to be friends with Gen? Sure, be sadly nostalgic about when you were best friends before, that’s fair. But now? When she’s terrible and determined to do nothing but hurt you? Why? WHY?

138 - The Halloween Tree

#138 – The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury

Loved the style of the illustrations in this edition, didn’t care at all for the story.

If someone had read this to me as a kid, I probably would have loved it, so I won’t say it’s terrible all around. But as an adult I couldn’t stand it. It’s incredibly repetitive both in word usage and story structure; it’s filled with choppy, untagged dialogue; and oh, and, by the way, super sexist.

There is not a single named female character. Would I have noticed as a kid? Probably not.

But in the early chapter devoted to extolling the virtues of Pipkin, the “greatest boy who ever lived,” it says:

Pipkin, sweet Pipkin. Who yodeled and played the kazoo and hated girls more than all the other boys in the gang combined.

Okay, this was written more than forty years ago, and Bradbury seemingly wants to romanticize the life of preteen boys, as so many odes to childhood do. Fine. We have a million of those which also don’t include girls, because apparently girls don’t know how to have any fun, but fine. HOWEVER. The very best boy of all of them has hating girls the most counted as a virtue? It’s presented simply as fact.

Even if that was normal then, why should it be normal now? Why don’t we know better?

So I’m going to file this in the “We Should Stop Holding This Up As Good” folder. Don’t recommend this to people. Don’t read it to your kids, boy or girl. Find other children’s lit that doesn’t show boys having adventures in a world entirely without women. Find something that doesn’t glorify hating girls.

Because would the plot really have lost anything if the gang of eight boys had had even one token girl instead, or more than one? No reason they couldn’t still have been boisterous rapscallions who go on a magical journey with Death to find the meaning of Halloween.

Letting Go of Problematic Authors

63 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

In light of the accusations against Sherman Alexie during the #MeToo movement, it was relatively easy for me to cut him out of my personal library. I had only read one book of his, and though I enjoyed it immensely, re-donating it to the library sale where I’d gotten it originally felt right. It’s a good book, after all, and Alexie won’t profit from its resale. I also removed a few other works of his from my TBR, and poof! he’s gone.

[What I haven’t done yet, because I’m so doggedly reading through the books I own, is read more widely from other Native authors, but I plan to.]

Next, though it’s old news to many, I discovered what a hateful bigot Orson Scott Card is. There’s no accusations, allegations, or controversy about this: it’s all there in what he’s said publicly. He’s rabidly anti-LGBT, so while I loved Ender’s Game and looked forward to eventually reading its sequels, now I’m not going to.

[I don’t even need to try to replace OSC–he’s a white male sci-fi author, dime a dozen. I’m actively buying sci-fi by more diverse authors since then.]

But last week, I came to a much harder decision. I gave away my seven Harry Potter books. They went back to my mother, since the first four were hers originally anyway–she found the series before me, made me read them in college, and then I bought the rest in first edition hardcover, same-day delivery, thank you Amazon.

I’ve been mostly ignoring the notorious JKR since the publication of Deathly Hallows. Tumblr has given me a vague awareness of the stupidly problematic world magic schools (most notably for me, only one school for the US, complete with Native American appropriation and troubling colonial issues; though other parts of the world definitely got short-changed, too.) I know how generally disliked Cursed Child is but I don’t really know why.

I had strong opinions of my own formulation about Johnny Depp’s casting in the new movies, and JKR’s statement of support. Even authors as famous and relatively powerful as her don’t usually get much say in movie casting, and she pretty much has to say she agrees with it, to publicly stand with the studio, whether she truly does or not. While I understand why she did it, I’m not giving her a free pass for her complicity in furthering the career of a known abuser, and I don’t intend to ever see the movies (or any other Depp movie, for that matter, which was disappointing in the case of the new Murder on the Orient Express, which I did sort of want to see.)

But neither of those major incidents, nor the more minor problems that have cropped up from time to time, has ruined my enjoyment of the books that came before them.

This article breaks down most of the controversy about expanding Nagini’s role from just a magical snake into a cursed Asian woman, and JKR’s callous response to it, pretty clearly.

JKR has been guilty of going for “woke” points after the fact before–cough Dumbledore is gay cough–and this smacks of that, because of how poorly it’s done.

But what I haven’t seen discussed at all (though granted I might have missed something) is how retconning Nagini from a magical Albanian snake to a cursed Korean woman who is literally the slave and pet of a white supremacist recontextualizes one of my favorite moments from Deathly Hallows: Neville triumphantly slaying the Nagini as the final Horcrux.

How different do I feel about it now? Absolutely disgusted.

The Neville I knew and loved from the books would kill an evil creature to destroy Voldemort and end the war, absolutely. It’s his glorious moment, where the quiet bravery he’s been showing throughout the series finally comes to light.

But if Nagini’s actually human? Not so glorious. Yes, she’s still the last Horcrux. But she’s also an enslaved woman of color who (likely) didn’t want any part of what she became.

I don’t know that Neville could so “heroically” slay a person; and if we, the readers, had known her identity but Neville, in universe, didn’t, the moment wouldn’t reflect poorly on him, but it (probably) would have been tragic to me, not heroic.

Would her true form have been revealed upon her death, traumatizing poor, battered Neville even further? Oh, and everyone else on the battlefield, too. Or would she have died still a snake, cursed and forgotten?

Which is even worse? I can’t tell, they’re both so awful.

Since this wasn’t original to the books, we don’t know, now, how it would have been incorporated if it were. Honestly, there are ways this situation could have been presented that would have strengthened Voldemort as a villian, if thoughtfully planned out from the very beginning. (And also if more Asian representation had been included to counterbalance the negative stereotypes implicit in Nagini’s role: dragon-lady, submissive/enslaved exotic woman, etc.) Is JKR, a white British woman, the right author to be writing that story? Probably not. But if the negative stereotypes were being used deliberately in service to emphasizing the evil of the villain, [in the hands of a more sensitive author] that might have worked out.

Instead, we have this slapdash retcon for diversity after the fact, done poorly and without regard to the harmful narratives it reinforces, and moreover, the harm it does to the original series.

Up until now, I’ve been one of the many who remained a part of the HP fandom while divorcing myself from JKR’s increasingly problematic additions to her own universe. I kept the good while rejecting the bad, and I don’t what anyone reading this to think that that’s not still a valid option. Harry Potter means so much to so many people.

But I can’t stomach this any longer. I can give that shelf space to some author who deserves it more, and Harry Potter can be a beloved, if slightly tarnished, memory.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: September 2018!

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Work on any kind of writing project ground to a halt in September. I can’t even say, well, I worked on #rockstarnovel a little, because I think I got just over one chapter rewritten.

However, I have a new plan. Fictober18.

I used to write from prompts all the time! I wrote an entire novella that way as a personal challenge! I used to post drabbles and flash fiction!

Why don’t I do that anymore?

Because I was so focused on novel-length ideas. Yet, half the novel ideas I’ve had over the past year, and a few of the ones I actually tried to work on, were expansions of short pieces I wrote from prompts.

So I’m going back to that in October. Ideally I will do the prompt every day, but in reality I’d be happy with more days than not. My poor little #rockstarnovel is going in a drawer again, because I’m burnt out on it.

In happier news, I read fifteen books this month, and I’m still just ahead of pace for Mount TBR. Quite a few of them were DNFs, which still feels like cheating to me sometimes, but life is too short to finish reading books I’m not enjoying, just to say that I did.

My plans for October: write, continue to exercise and take good care of myself, read a lot. Snuggle under blankets with mugs of tea. The usual fall-oriented bookworm stuff.