Still in Westeros: ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (1/4)

The lesson: Never decide that a book is too heavy to carry around, for lo, you will find yourself reading many other books, as public transit is a wonderful place to read.

The result: I’m making very slow headway throne A Dance With Dragons. But enough of that! Enough of the three other books I’ve finished (or nearly finished!)! Enough half-assed, spoiler-ducking conversations with friends who’ve finished the thing and insist on just saying, “Oh, kittens. Kittens, kittens, kittens,” whenever I bring up unresolved plot points.

I’m on page 252. I’m whelmed. Not over, not under (cue Sloan); just whelmed.

Here there be spoilers.

Continue reading “Still in Westeros: ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (1/4)”

Still in Westeros: ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (1/4)

Read All the … Other Things

So as it turns out, maybe, when you’ve decided that your summer reading (and beyond) project is to read all the books on your  to-read shelf, the best thing to do is NOT get yourself engrossed in a 5000 page (and counting) fantasy epic.

Translation: What I should’ve posted a month ago: BRB, going to Westeros.

(Also, there will be spoilers below, though not for the newest book.)

I just put down A Feast for Crows and will be picking up the “human-head-sized” A Dance with Dragons from the estimable Tobias Carroll tonight, or maybe tomorrow. A day or so without a Martin tome in my hand wouldn’t hurt. Right? There are, in fact, other books in the world, three or four of which are scattered around my apartment in various states of unfinishedness, and 140 or more of which are still on the bookcase that is one of the first things I see in the morning. Hey, the books say. Hey. Remember us? You said you were going to love us and read us and put words about us on the internet. Dirty liar.

The deeper I get into George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, the more absorbed I get — and the more frustrated. A Feast for Crows expands his world massively, building on the way each previous book broadened the perspective, and then stretching it even more. There are tricks with names, cliffhangers for beloved characters, other beloved characters entirely missing from the story — and new characters about whom I just don’t care at all (I’m looking at you, all the Greyjoys who aren’t named Asha). A character who once seemed deviously adept at steering court machinations either becomes an idiot, is ill-served by the men surrounding her, or gives way entirely to fear for her children; I’m still not sure which it is, or how I feel about Cersei’s story, or how I feel about Martin’s female characters overall. Something I can’t quite pin down isn’t sitting quite right with me, even as I love stubborn Brienne, can’t wait to get back to Dany, and admire the different ways Sansa and Arya are learning to adapt.

I think part of it comes down to this: Though Martin is clearly aware of, and often playing with, the limited possibilities for women in the sort of world he’s built, those limitations sometimes feel as if they still might overpower even the most dominant women’s narrative arcs. Cersei loses her grasp on the kingdom because she puts her children before all; Dany sees all her subjects as her children, and finds power in them calling her “Mother.” Catelyn Stark makes terrible, foolish choices for her family — she’s hardly the only person to do so, but she and Cersei are the only characters whose love for and dedication to their children leads them to horrible places. Ned Stark lost his head to a noble and flawed notion of honor. I’ve yet to see a man make an error in judgement, or rattle a kingdom to the edge of war, because he was worried about his kids. *

But therein lies the rub: It’s often the women whose decisions and actions set things in motion. (Women, and children, as the nasty King Joff’s decision at the end of Game of Thrones is one of the acts on which all other things pivot.) No one fears the Queen of Thorns, and to the south, there’s an entire desert full of equally prickly, sly women. When I get fed up with one aspect of the story, something else twists, things settle into place, and it works. I can barely track all the characters, let alone how I think and feel about each of their arcs, and the power given to or taken from them, and the fascinating and horrible reasons for which they make all their decisions.

I also can’t seem to get anything done but reading. So for this last (thus far) book, I’m going to do the obvious thing: Combine my distraction with my project, and blog my reading of A Dance with Dragons. It’s 1040 pages (though doubtless at least 50 of those are the endless lists of Houses and courts at the end of the book), so I’m thinking a post roughly every 200 pages.

Starting tomorrow. After I catch up on Torchwood. Which the internet seems to be barely discussing at all. What gives, nerdpals?

* Though there’s a case to be made that all Littlefinger does – and Jaime, at first – is for love, or lust, whichever you want to call it.

Read All the … Other Things

Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin

Books added to the Shelf of Doom since last post: Embassytown, China Mieville; Pretty Hate Machine, Daphne Carr. To give myself more credit than necessary, I did order PHM before beginning this quest.

Currently reading: Didion, Didion, Didion

Summer does something to ambition. Or maybe that’s just me; I’ve spent my working life on either a publishing schedule (summers slow) or an alt-weekly schedule (summers slow, in theory), and I’m still adapting to the OMG humidity of Brooklyn in July. But I have been reading. And with every book I’ve picked up, I’ve wanted to just keep reading books by the same author. I resisted the urge to read more Ellen Gilchrist and read Haruki Murakami. I resisted the urge to read more Murakami and read George R. R. Martin. I resisted the urge to read more Martin … no, actually, I didn’t. But I did make a deal that I won’t get my hands on A Clash of Kings until I’ve read three more books — not these three — for this project.

But before all that, I read Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve been gnawing at my own thoughts about and around The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for weeks and weeks and weeks, and for a handful of reasons. One, I don’t so much worry about doing the book justice — plenty of others have done that, and this is a reaction blog, not a review blog — as doing my own feelings about and around it justice. And two, many of those feelings are tied up in the internet, and social groups therein, and how you come to have Ideas about things and people you really aren’t sure you have any call to have said Ideas about.

An editor friend said, a few weeks ago, that Fairyland isn’t a book for children; it’s a book for grown-ups who want to feel like they did when they read certain books when they were kids. She said this after I said it was The Phantom Tollbooth. She also said it was Lewis, and Carroll, and we threw some other things into the conversation.

None of this is a bad thing; all of this is true. Fairyland is a lot of things tied up in a bow and then decorated with Valente’s personal flourishes and those of her tribe. Or at least, that’s how it feels when you come to it from a certain (and self-chosen) just-outside-the-window perspective; I don’t know the author, but I read her blog, and some of her friends are my friends, and so I feel like I’m watching their group at lunch across the quad while talking about zines with this girl named Aimee with whom I did such things in high school.

That isn’t a complaint, not in any way, shape or form. It’s an acknowledgment of how the way the internet brings us together — I love reading Valente’s blog, and I admire the respectful, enthusiastic, giving relationship with her readers and friends that is apparent from it — can also give so many more pieces of information that we glue into our mental scrapbooks, those pages that overlay every piece of writing we come to. Every story I’ve read or heard or paged through, every LiveJournal entry by everyone, but especially by the author, is another piece of the story I read when I open a book. My book starts where your book starts, but it also starts in a million other places. Books are like New York City; everyone has their own version. This is mine.

I can’t read Fairyland as if it were written by a stranger, a mysterious woman in a high castle. I don’t want to. But if I were little, if I were 10 or 12 and done with Juster and Lewis and Anderson and Cooper and moving on, I would, and it would be amazing. Because the other person this book is for is that particular kid who wants nothing more to walk further into that world – the one where authors wear red shiny dresses to their readings and know all the secrets of all the Fairylands they can imagine (which is a lot). They will pull you into that world with their personal, glorious, ordinary stories, and resistance is entirely futile.

Fairyland works very smartly to be for those kids. September, its heroine, is not a princess or a sweet blonde thing or a girl easily frightened (I’m suddenly reminded of young Amy Pond, in the Doctor Who episode “The Eleventh Hour”). She does get scared, but she pulls herself together, makes friends with a Wind and a Wyverary and a Marid, and completes the difficult quest the Marquess asks of her, only to find that this world, to borrow from Labyrinth, is not always what it seems, and that the rules of Fairyland are no more set in stone than the rules of our own, though they’re born in the same dark places. Mythology soaks the pages; seasons reach out and grab the unwary; the scope is immense and personal, the geography gloriously imprecise, the darkness as dark as the real fairy tales, the ones Valente knows very, very well; and everything smells just like it should, from a young woman made of soap to the treats of the Autumn Provinces to a salty naked girl on her own raft.

I love this book. It’s coy and honest and smart and sweet and dangerous, and it expects you to keep up.

I should say less about Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun, not least because Murakami uses so few words to say so much. Like his Norwegian Wood, this book is slim and deceptively simple. A man grows up, missing the friend he made when he was young; he gets married, opens bars, has kids, is happy and isn’t. And then he finds the girl again. Everything goes just as you expect, which is to say that it goes every which way at once: happiness sits overlaid on deep uncertainty, and life’s plainest details reveal the character’s most hidden hearts. But that sounds slightly grandiose, which Murakami is not. Everything is normal-sized, including pain and regret and bitterness, even when they take over.

And then there’s George R. R. Martin, and here is where I will snap this post neatly off behind the “Continue Reading” button, because even though this book came out 15 years ago, a lot of us are just now discovering it and are not fond of spoilers (which there are plenty of in the next few paragraphs). Continue reading “Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin”

Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin