Libraria

I don’t think I’ve used my local library this much in over 20 years. I also haven’t read this many books in quick succession in over 20 years. I definitely don’t feel like a kid again, partly given the kind of books I’m reading these days, but still, not complaining. I thought maybe university had ruined recreational reading for me, but apparently all I needed was to discover the world of pulpy paperback novels. Also probably to not be at university while reading them. That probably helps.

I’ve finished reading 7 Dresden Files novels at this point, and thanks to other people existing in the world and borrowing the books that I want to read I can’t actually continue with the series for probably another month or so. It’s pretty frustrating. And now, anxiety-inducing, because I have to read *deep breath* other books in order to fill the time. I’m sticking with Urban Fantasy just to make sure I don’t pop a vein or something.

I need help.

And also I only picked up 3 books, and I’ve put in requests for the next parts in these series already so that, with any luck, I’ll have more books to pick up by the time I’m done with them. Gonna give that Iron Druid book another chance; I hated it the first time I tried reading it (also there was a pubic hair on one of the pages, which I found pretty fitting given the rest of the content of said pages), but having seen just how much problematic content I am able to stomach perhaps I’ll have a different reaction the second time around.

It’s so … weird. I’ve never read books in this manner before; I’m binge-reading, and while it’s amazingly fun it’s also kind of … unsatisfying. It’s like a constant stream of snacks that can’t ever make you sick, but I can definitely imagine myself getting sick of them, and fairly quickly. The little bits and pieces I’ve read online about this genre is that you can encounter some pretty lethal burnout, mostly concerning the kinds of leads that tend to crop up again and again: tough, no-nonsense, leather-pants-wearing badasses who snark at everyone they meet and never quite seem to find a challenge that actually, like, challenges them. I think I may indeed get tired of that pretty quick.

But we’ll see. For now it’s enjoyable, and I do think writing something in this genre is something I’m interested in trying out in the fairly near future.

I haven’t worked on Tallulah since the last time I wrote about working on it. I think I need to set an alarm for myself or something. I think if I can just get past this second chapter – it’s always been a difficult one to deal with, for whatever reason – the note-making process will get easier. I think the issue is that this chapter is just boring as hell, which it probably shouldn’t be, seeing as it’s where we get the Inciting Incident – or it was, anyway. Now that I’m re-evaluating what this story is about and what I feel needs to be focused on for this second revision, this chapter is starting to seem really superfluous, maybe better-suited to being chopped up and having its various parts distributed across other chapters …

But, that’s easy to say before I’ve actually finished making notes, and I’m going to make an effort to stop making these kinds of blanket predictions/assumptions about the conclusions I’m going to come to for work I haven’t even done yet. It’s a very weird habit of mine, one I’m fairly sure is born out of years and years of acclimation to utter boredom and stir-craziness. I should probably stop it.

And the books are helping in that regard. They annoy me, so much, but they’re so freaking fun to read. Kind of like Game of Thrones; the show itself is not what I’d call fantastic, especially in the more recent seasons, but by Frigg is it fun to watch. It’s got a killer hook, and these books have that as well. Maybe if I turn my brain on a little more I’ll be able to work out what it is. This power must be mine. So sayeth the Ubermensch!

In the morning, though. I doubt I’m going to get to sleep anytime soon – another thing I need to work on – but at the very least I can stop staring at my gigantic glowing plasma screen that has given me these weird involuntary facial tics for the past month.

Doing is believing

Last night was pretty rough for me. Having anxiety involves a lot of lying awake in bed and ruminating over all of your moral shortcomings and mortal shames. Thankfully, at this point in my recovery – it’s odd to think of it as a recovery, but it is, an ongoing one – I wake up from those bad nights feeling cleansed and unburdened, and even with a few solutions to deal with the various grievances aired, vented and exorcised in the night.

One of these is writing. I have lamented so many times about letting opportunities to dive headlong into a writing project pass me by, about intentionally keeping myself from taking opportunities to enjoy writing because, I dunno, toxic habits die hard, and a particularly toxic one is the “but it’ll take effort” excuse. It’s not a rational excuse, which is why I keep making it. Mental illness will do that to you.

But no more. The Ubermensch has spoken!

Because this year, I’m going to finish my god-awful fucking YA werewolf novel, and then I’m going to go back to my Christmas story. I’m going to read over it and make notes, and I’m going to read over it again and make different notes, and then I’m going to discover that I have a plan and fucking execute it.

I’m going to do this because I do have good ideas, and they deserve to be worked on – but more than that, because this morning I’m feeling optimistic and life-affirming: because deserve to work on them. To have awesome ideas and stories to be responsible for developing. It’s a good feeling.

And it won’t get done unless I do it, so I’m going to make myself do it.

It’s the same obstacle as it always is: getting started is the hardest part. I still want to finish Tallulah as well, and it’s much closer to being completed than my Christmas story, but I want to get started on this Christmas story first because, well, I wrote it first, and it’s been way too long. I’m fed up with letting good stories go stagnant; I want to get into the habit of obsessive working when it comes to stories of mine that I really like, which I keep myself from doing these days.

Of course, while I’m reading this Christmas story I can also tinker with other books I’m writing. I need to get better at setting limits on my self-directed work; I started at the end of my MA, and I can see that it needs to continue going forward, as opposed to almost every other thing I’ve learnt or experienced as an academic that has pretty much fallen out of my head. My limit with this Christmas story is reading. Writing – that’s not even something I want to think about right now. Just reading. Getting out of the fantasy of writing something or how it’s going to be when it is eventually one day written, and focusing on the actual writing process, which is always more fun.

And goddammit, it’s been too long. The werewolf thing didn’t even feel like part of the writing process; I hate to say it but, as much fun as I’ve had writing it, I can’t even remember the fun times. But working on something over a long period of time like I did with Tallulah, or the Christmas story before it – that I remember. It feels awesome. And I like feeling awesome.

It feels awesome to be doing shit, and yesterday I realised, for what is surely at least the hundredth time by now, that the reason I’ve been feeling kinda “meh” not just recently but for what is now the majority of my entire life, is due to not doing shit. So I’m going to do some shit. Reading and writing, in particular. I have an actual book to read as well: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead, which I think I may finally be in the correct mindset to read without getting pedantic about realism in this book about a fucking Succubus was the pun intended I’ll let you decide it’s going to be a good time.

And then all the Christmas books I bought myself last year and haven’t touched since they arrived. I have a goddamn Wonder Woman omnibus, the George Perez stuff when he rebooted her in 1987, which was when I was born, that explains a few things if you buy into superstition when it’s convenient to your self-narrative, which I totally do. I have Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories: Trigger Warning, which I haven’t read partly because as somebody who understands the need for trigger warnings the title just feels very exploitative, but don’t judge a book by its exploitative title or whatever. I have Clariel by Garth Nix, which I tried to read when I got it and then couldn’t because I remembered that I fucking hate high fantasy, even when it’s Garth Nix apparently. I have The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which I got because werewolves. I have Kindred by Octavia Butler, because for some reason I decided not to buy The Parable of the Sower on the day I made these purchases, but it’s Octavia Butler and I feel morally obligated to read one of her books. I might actually buy Parable today, or at least get it out from the library again. I have the first Dragonriders of Pern book by Anne McAffrey, and the first book in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, because aside from Harry Potter and literally 4 other books in my entire life I have read zero high fantasy written by women and that shit needs to change.

Speaking of which, I also have the Earthsea Quartet to finish, which I’ve had since 2011. I finished the first 2 stories and liked them a hell of a lot, despite obvious problematic elements, particularly in the first one. Also the rest of the P.C. Hodgell omnibus I have; the first story was very enjoyable, and it’s high fantasy written by a woman and starring a woman, and it is the last high fantasy book I’ve read that I actually enjoyed because it was about character and story – episodic though that story might be, but I like episodic – set in a rich, well-developed world, rather than about a rich, well-developed world infested with sentient life-forms that the writer feels forced to spend some time on to fill a quota, which is what a lot of high fantasy feels like to me. I also have The Swan Maiden, which is a retelling of an old Irish fairytale – a really fucking depressing one, because Ireland – and the only thing I can remember about it is that I opened the exact middle of the book when I bought it from the library and read the phrase “he hefted her pale globe in his hand”. I’m not sure why this was a selling-point for me, but I did buy it, along with Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman. I respect Phillip Pullman quite a lot, but really did not like The Amber Spyglass and find his writing style … well, it might work a lot better with fairytale retellings than it does with child psychology.

Man, I actually have a lot of shit I could be doing.

The Ubermensch approves!

 

Reading Skills

One of the many things they teach you in arts is how to “read” a text. This is the same “read” you would use if you are suggesting that somebody is “reading into things too much”: you get taught to do this in arts. You pay to get taught to do this, with money you don’t have. And then have to rely on the degree in “reading” you got into debt to achieve by trying to get an academic job, a narrowness of choice that you might not have had if you had studied anything other than arts. Which is part of arts’ grand conspiracy to make sure that they don’t have to suffer alone in their lack of worldly experience and life skills.

Maybe I’m reading into this too much.

What I’m not reading into too much, or at all, is the pile of books I bought myself for Christmas and am still paying off. I picked them to be both stimulating and easily readable, but I think I made a bad decision by allowing myself to buy a High Fantasy book. Specifically, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s High Fantasy and holy shit do I not have the patience to wait for things to start fucking happening. I’m up to page 20 and everything has been in flashbacks. Not even that; it’s been one long flashback, one that starts in chapter 2 and has continued up to this point, which is somewhere in the early stages of chapter 4. Which begs the question of why this book didn’t just start with the events of chapter 2 and go from there.

Fuck High Fantasy.

But it’s Robin McKinley, and I feel that I am obligated to read something by her. I think that once I get out of the pointless continuity bullshit I’l probably enjoy it, but I don’t know when that will be, especially since I’m probably going to put it down and read something else instead.

What that probably won’t be is Clariel by Garth Nix, the long-awaited fourth installment (fifth if you count the short story) in the Abhorsen saga, and oh my god was I excited to get my hands on it last year, and oh my god could I not bear to read past the opening pages of chapter 1 when I actually did. High Fantasy, man. I can’t take it anymore.

Happily I have some other things to focus on instead. Aside from writing the next chapter of my MA (fucking finally), finishing my shitty YA werewolf novel two months after Nano ended, that sort of things. I still have Kindred by Octavia Butler, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (not sure how I feel about that title), Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I’m probably looking forward to The Bloody Chamber the most (after seeing The Company of Wolves and loving it), dreading (in a kind good way) Kindred, and I might flip a coin for the other two.

And after I flip that coin and decide which order I’m going to read them in I’m instead going to pick up Succubus On Top by Richelle Mead, which I was hmm-ing and haa-ing over whether to buy or not and then found it for fifty cents at the library and decided it was a sign. I like pulp. It’s probably why I liked Storm Front a lot more than Boneshaker when I reviewed them both. I think I was both too hard on and too generous to Storm Front when I reviewed it; I got caught-up in trying to viscerally render my truest emotional self instead of just saying what I thought about it. I’d read more. I’d have trepidations re the casual, predictable and weirdly self-conscious sexism, but the thing is that it’s pulpy and fast-paced (for the most part) and fuck it I enjoy pulpy and fast-paced, “hooky” reads. Books that were written fast to be read fast, which is supposedly what this shitty YA werewolf novel of mine was going to be, but it seems I can’t do anything quickly. Not even read my own books.

And that’s annoying, and it feels like a failed experiment, and goddammit I want my fast book. I want it real bad. I want to write it and finish it and then sling it off into the publishing world in, like, four months tops. I want that.

This post came to an uncomfortable end so I’m just going to leave it here.

Boneshaker & Storm Front (a 2-4-1 book review)

Since I can’t exactly update you on my writing because [insert incredibly valid and relatable excuse here], I may as well update you on my reading. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is one that I picked up because the premise sounded cool and I’ve always wanted to check out some steampunk, while Storm Front by Jim Butcher is Storm Front by Jim Butcher, and as it seems the book ideas I’m coming up with lately fall broadly into the urban fantasy genre I may as well know what I’m dealing with. In short: I didn’t like Boneshaker that much aside from some stuff right at the beginning and right at the end that I wanted to hit me in the feels and I guess it did, just not as hard as it could have; and while Storm Front was pretty fun and I appreciated how tight and Chekhov’s Gun-y the storytelling was, it’s also one of the more misogynistic books I’ve read lately. Which is saying something, because I’ve been reading a lot of YA paranormal stuff in the past couple of years. In the end, though, nobody does misogyny quite like men.

In fact let’s just start with that and get it out in the open: when I saw Thor: The Dark World I was incensed at how many misogynistic cliches they managed to stuff into the story, from Frigga getting Fridged, to Lady Sif being a Strong Female Character, to Jane Foster being literally reduced to the status of an object (not even the MacGuffin, just the object containing the MacGuffin). Part of why I found that so unpalatable is because it was made in 2013, a full year after Katniss invented feminism and destroyed the patriarchy. Storm Front was published in 2000, when the word “feminism” was very much still an f-word, and misogynistic shit like putting women in refrigerators, the virgin/whore dichotomy and a super-tasteful rape joke here and there were just seen as hallmarks of storytelling.

I will say this: I like Harry Dresden in the sense that he is a total loser and he knows it. The only problem is that he’s a very, how shall I put this, male character, and while some of his flaws make him interesting and even a little bit original, he also has flaws that the book goes out of its way to excuse. These latter flaws are, as you might have guessed, his views on and attitudes towards women, and the story’s treatment and casting of women make them so much worse than they would be on their own. I am pretty sick of the whole “he doesn’t understand women” character; I am super sick of the male hero having women throwing themselves at him in one form or another, whether it’s for sexual reasons or because they need somebody to save them, and Dresden ticks all of these boxes. It’s a shame, because the pacing is pretty good – this is a first novel so I’m going to cut Butcher some slack on that one – there are a lot of little incidents that end up paying off later on in the book that make the whole thing feel very well put-together, and aside from the rampant sexism is a pretty rollicking good time, especially for a first novel. It’s nothing particularly deep; it’s written to be read quickly and effortlessly, and if you can ignore the misogyny … well, if you can ignore the misogyny then we probably can’t be friends, but you might enjoy this book more than I did. And I did enjoy it. I just really, really wish it had been, y’know, not misogynistic.

I feel like I would read the rest of the series, or at least the next book or two, just to see if it gets less sexist, because it if does then the rest of it is great and I’d be very into that. The fact that it was written over a decade ago, by a man, and the fact that the series is still on-going and has 15 entries to date are not excuses for the sexism in this book, but I don’t think it’s a guarantee that just because this book was honestly quite foul in a lot of places, the rest of the series won’t get better. But when I eventually get around to reviewing the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman I will have a lot to say about the difference between a sexist character and a sexist story, and that was a trilogy that only got worse in that regard as it went along. I am dreading the same thing for The Dresden Files. I’m nowhere near as hateful of this book as one Goodreads reviewer, but I honestly wouldn’t disagree with them on many of their points, either. Maybe the one about it failing “on almost every technical level”, because while the writing wasn’t amazing it was absolutely fine, and for me it was the pacing and payoff of little things throughout the book that sold me. Also maybe the comment about Harry being nothing but another smug asshole chauvinist main character, but only because I think the story is far more guilty of being un-critically misogynistic than the character, and to me that’s what matters. I’d forgive a story for having a misogynistic character, easily, if the story made it clear that they are, in fact, misogynistic, and that this is a bad thing.

Sadly, for all of its good points, Storm Front is emphatically not that story. On the surface, it is actually startlingly refreshing that the majority of the supporting cast is female, but it’s a pretty transparent and flimsy surface. There’s a woman in this book who serves no purpose other than to be the butt of a date-rape joke about halfway through – don’t worry, “nothing happens” so that makes it okay – and to be a sexy lamp the rest of the time. There are no less than three women who are completely defined by being abused by men and unable to do anything to protect themselves, two of whom end up dead, one at least partially because of Harry (and at least he feels responsible for it, which is more than I was expecting). The two women who end up dead are also suggested to have been lovers, so there’s some good old-fashioned homophobia as well, and they were both sex workers, so throw in some casual whorephobia to top it off. The one “strong female character” is constantly belittled in Harry’s narration, shown to be near-hysterical when things don’t go her way, and ends up getting Damselled – again, at least Harry cops to the fact that it was his fault for not being more forthcoming rather than doing the tough guy thing of blaming her for “sticking her nose in”. He’s more progressive than he could be, but sadly he’s in a story that is, in places, scarily misogynistic.

This book has problems is what I’m saying. It’s the kind of story I was fully expecting to tell when I was still writing my shitty YA werewolf book, and you know what, I wouldn’t have regretted it, because I was focused on the story. And again, this book has tight, snappy pacing that, while it could have been tightened up (the majority of the filler in this book is also where a lot of the misogyny comes from, so cutting it out would have killed two problematic birds with one stone), was very enjoyable to read. The only thing is that, after I wrote my shitty YA werewolf thing, I would have revised it. And yes, this was written in 2000 when feminism was still struggling to even exist in the public consciousness, never mind be as accepted by mainstream society as it is today, and it really is hard to overstate how much things have changed between then and now, but my point is that this book reads like somebody writing as fast as they can with no thought to the consequences because they just need to get the fucking thing written. And to be fair, that’s exactly what this book is; that’s how publishing works, and how this sort of writing goes. You are expected to write fast and often, and inevitably certain things are going to be sacrificed as a result. We’re still at a place where feminist values are things a lot of us have to actively think about, rather than automatically defaulting to them, and so in that sense I absolutely understand why this book is as sexist as it is. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is as sexist as it is, either, and so if I do read more in the series, maybe I’ll skip ahead a few issues.

Boneshaker was notably less misogynistic, perhaps because it was written by a woman, perhaps because it was written by somebody who didn’t have as much chauvinistic baggage to work through, perhaps because it was written about a decade later, perhaps because of the genre – I don’t know, and it wasn’t enough to make the actual story very enjoyable. I loved the premise; I loved the prologue that sets everything up, and I usually hate prologues; I liked the idea of the two main characters, the fact that it was a mother and her son on society’s blacklist because of the dead husband/father’s crimes (which provide the premise), and the interactions between them were the best parts of the story.

Sadly, those interactions came right at the start and right at the end, because the rest of the story has the two of them split up. The rest of the story also suffered from consisting of: running away from “rotters” – perhaps because Cherie Priest is aware that “zombies” are part of the Vodou religion and did not want to contribute to the ongoing appropriation of the term, perhaps because she couldn’t be bothered coming up with something actually original and so just changed the name – meeting ambiguous allies; running away from zombies again; running into more ambiguous allies or sometimes the same ones; running away from more zombies again … it’s repetitive, it’s long-winded, and the characters are just really flat. I couldn’t care less if literally every single character had died at the end. There’s a twist at the end, and the twist is not important or meaningful or climactic; it’s just a twist. There’s a second twist afterwards that explains it and that one is better, but still. Also the actual steampunk part of the story just kinda seemed incidental; I was expecting a lot of innovative technological concepts, and there really weren’t any (aside from using the not-zombie gas to make beer and narcotics, which I must admit is pretty awesome). I don’t even know what the main focus of the story was, and perhaps Priest didn’t either, because it honestly felt like a solid first act split in two and bulked up in the middle with monotonous filler. There was a lot of potential in this story that came to nothing, and while I’d consider reading more in the series just to see if it does eventually come to something, I’m kinda not looking forward to the prospect. This didn’t have the snappy pacing of Storm Front to redeem it; at least with Storm Front I can learn a few things about storytelling technique to emulate. I can learn from Boneshaker as well, but only in terms of what not to do. Both of them have filler, but with Boneshaker the filler took up most of the story.

It’s just a shame that the “actual content” of Storm Front was so fucking sexist.

All in all, a pair of problematic texts. I definitely enjoyed Storm Front, but with huge reservations. I’m kind of ashamed that I enjoyed it. It’s that bad. And as for Boneshaker – I just wish it had been good. It had good ideas, it really did. It just didn’t follow through with them.

I get the feeling that Boneshaker is not really supposed to be a stand-alone story, that it’s setting up the world so that you can get used to it as the series builds on it, and that’s why I’m willing to give it a pass, in the same way that I’m willing to give Storm Front a pass because it is a first novel, written in a different time, and it has other elements to recommend it on. They both have potential, but it’s potential that, if it ever pays off, will obviously do so further down the line. They’re kind of polar opposites, in that while Storm Front was simultaneously very engaging, snappy and well-put-together it was also seriously fucking toxic, to a truly disturbing extent, while Boneshaker was neither offensive nor dynamic enough to really hold my attention. It took me about two weeks to read Boneshaker, and three days to read Storm Front. So if I had to pick a series to follow just on those grounds, it’d be The Dresden Files.

I have decided, though, that I do want to start getting more into urban fantasy, although from what I’ve heard Jim Butcher is hardly the only urban fantasy author guilty of rampant misogyny. I like the idea of steampunk, but maybe somebody can recommend me something more, I dunno, meaty to cut my teeth on.

And worst of all: I didn’t want to rip off either of these books. Although I might go back to my cyberpunk-fantasy series that I was super excited about three-ish years ago and then just nose-dived into nothingness. I feel like there’s some potential there.

Or I could work on my thesis. That thing I’m going into debt for as I try to prolong my assimilation into the adult world.

Or my current novel that I had a huge brainwave for the other day and was all inspired to follow through with. For the thousandth time.

And still haven’t.

Also for the thousandth time.

I think I might have a problem.

Literature

Throughout 2014 I would find books I Wanted To Read through the library’s search engine, dutifully pick them up once they arrived, and then let them sit on my dresser for a month without touching them. Eventually I stopped even picking them up, though every time they stopped being held for me I re-requested them immediately. Maybe I should be on that show Hoarders. I think it would be interesting for viewers to ponder the psychology of a man who hoards things he never actually has in his possession at any time.

Today, I forced myself to start reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which is ‘A masterpiece, utterly exceptional in every way’ according to Harpers & Queen.

I have learnt two things since I started reading it: it has lovely language, and I fucking hate Literature.

Like, hate. I cannot fucking stand the type of book that tells you how good it is instead of actually showing it. So far I am reading The God of Small Things with a sense of unwelcome dread, because everything that’s happened so far has been dancing around The Point to build tension, set the tone, let it sink in for you how Profound this whole pagebound affair is and how very sophisticated you are for continuing to read it while absolutely nothing the fuck happens. To be fair, I kinda like it because it works really well for the story, because it’s a story about trauma and memory and unfulfilled, unrealised desires. It’s not like it’s done badly, and Roy’s prose is absolutely beautiful.

It’s actually less that I dislike The God of Small Things and more that I dislike this particular vein of writing, the writing that smells like pedigrees and judging panels and an announcement that this won the Booker Prize (which it did, and I can see why), and I think it’s because I made myself read some winning and runner-up entries into the writing competitions we have here, and there’s a certain, shall we say, pattern when it comes to what the judges like. It’s Literary, and it’s Clever, and it Has Meaning, and I just …

I just fucking hate it.

I don’t want to hate it. I want to allow for the fact that people write the way they write, that it’s okay to play by the rules and work hard to be linguistically adroit and succeed at it because you win the approval of literary critics. I don’t actually dislike The God of Small Things. I just dislike what it reminds me of, all the way through, even as I’m reading it and thinking “man, I like how this is written and I want to know what Really Happened in this story”. I hate the way I’m invested and yet dreading what my investment will bring, all the while telling myself that this is how it’s Meant To Be Read and so it’s Actually a Good Thing.

I requested this book because I saw a quote from Arundhati Roy on Tumblr that made me give Arundhati Roy my Official Certificate of Badassness, for whatever that’s worth. A great deal to me, because I like finding that influential inhabitants of my cultural consciousness have said things at some point in some context that I agree with. I would love to find an interview with her. She seems fierce and intelligent.

The God of Small Things makes me re-think my already diminished ambitions of Being a Writer, because there is only so much that writing can do for a story, so many ways in which it can be a useful medium through which to express and make manifest one’s artistic vision. I do sometimes complain about how badly-written the YA novels I’ve been making myself read for the past year or so are, how the storytelling is atrocious and the characters range from sterile role-models to uber-privileged power-trips in character form to the kind of romanticised abusers who make Heathcliff look like Jane Bennet. Even when one thing is good, there’s a host of other issues that balance things out. Thus far the Vampire Academy series has set my gold standard for such undertakings, and I have a lot of issues with Vampire Academy, much as I adore it.

But at least it’s direct. I dunno, I like using a lot of simile and metaphor in my writing just because I’m pretentious and myopic, and I can live with that. Beautiful prose makes me want to write beautiful prose of my own, and if nothing else The God of Small Things is very much a beautifully-written story. If you can call it a story. It’s a meticulously calculated ramble, a perfect representative of the Literary Tradition I have discovered I hate so viscerally.

I’m being far too mean to a book that I’m less than 100 pages into. I honestly do not hate this book, or begrudge it for being what it is. I’m just resentful of how freshly the most obvious comparisons I can conjure up are conjured up, and how much I hate them, and how that hate reflects so clearly onto The God of Small Things.

And okay, yes, it does bother me on its own terms. It’s not all second-hand dislike. But I’m invested enough to keep going.

I think it was a good idea to start with this book, too, because it’s so heavy and because it’s causing me a lot of internal conflict. It can only go up from here, right? I’ve got Cinnamon and Gunpowder to follow it up with, which will serve as the bridge between it and Primary Colours, which I am mostly reading because I want to know how American presidential election campaigns play out – in fiction. Also in reality, but the one I’m planning on writing about will be fictional.

And since semester starts in 2 weeks and I have done almost nothing that I wanted to do with my four-month break from study that comes every year, I’m not exactly sure how to spend these last two weeks of freedom. Should I get a head-start on academic responsibility and go read some articles that seems applicable to the shit I’m studying? Should I live as though I’m never going back to study and start up a whole bunch of projects that I’ll never finish because two weeks is nothing and academia is a full-time gig? (When you’re studying full-time, that is.) Should I keep doing what I’m doing and drag out the hours with distractions and procrastination until it’s time to Get Serious and I find I’ve left everything too late to be enjoyed at all?

That last one sounds horrible, and historically is the one I’ve defaulted to. I think I’ll do one of the other two.

I still have yet to force myself to write the uncomfortable, moral-offending things I want to force myself to write, like clearing a gutter of dead, suppurating leaves so that rainwater can run freely again. I don’t know if I will. I hope I will.

I’ve found it harder and harder to focus on the here-and-now rather than the if-and-when, mostly because of the distractions I’ve been indulging in. I found out that I hadn’t actually cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription like I thought it had, and therefore it will not be running out just before semester begins like I thought it would. I might have to uninstall it entirely. Which would not be a bad thing, just a big, commitment-making thing.

As my counsellor said to me, I underestimate myself far more than I worry about worst-case scenarios. Put in my own terms, I am the worst-case scenario.

I need that to change.

So I’m going to finish The God of Small Things, or read it until I can’t stand it anymore, and then do the same with Cinnamon and Gunpowder and Primary Colours, and I’m going to finish my first draft made of chapter summaries, and I’m going to find a way to watch season 1 of both Girls and Orange Is the New Black and maybe The 100 because it sounds like yet another idea that Hollywood has stolen from me, and I’m going to make myself write things I’m uncomfortable with being the one who wrote them, so that I can progress to the things that I can be proud of being the one who wrote them. I’m going to start my first YouTube video, on my shitty laptop webcam and unflattering natural lighting and really muted build-in microphone, with the knowledge that once semester begins I will not have the time nor the energy to finish it.

And then semester is going to start, and I’ll find out if that’s actually true, or if I can handle more than I expect of myself.

Man, I’m actually a little bit excited about this. I don’t know what to make of that.

I guess I’ll just be excited about it.

 

I dunno have some things

I finished Bitten. I tried to write a review. It didn’t take.

I then started reading Graceling, and about 5 minutes ago was forced to concede that I could not possibly care less whether I ever finished it, and thus have opted not to. Next on the list is probably Cinnamon and Gunpowder, a story about a chef who gets abducted by pirates and forced to cook for them with the spices they steal. Pirate captain is a woman, chef prisoner is a man. It sounds too good to be true. I guess I’ll find out soon.

I signed off facebook yesterday and can already feel the strain. It’s annoying that so many of my other social media websites – blip, goodreads, pintrest – were all established by the “sign in with facebook” option. Of course I don’t have to use facebook just because I’m signed in, but I’ve been well-trained to use facebook over the past … wow, 5 years? 6? I really want this monopoly to end. I want other social media sites that perform a similar service (though hopefully better) to get big, so that there’s at least some fucking variety. I thought the whole point of living in a capitalist society was competition. And they say communism failed? Hah!

At least it means I’m not aimlessly scrolling through my feed and waiting with bated breath for that little red notification icon to pop up, telling me I’m a worthful human bean whose existence is acknowledged and Liked and sometimes ever Shared by fellow legumes. It means I’m now exerting even more pressure than normal on Tumblr to fulfil this need, but at least in doing so I’m becoming more self-conscious of it and likely to stop, or that’s the theory anyway.

And since I tried to write a Bitten review I may as well just give you the most salient points, because it’s not going to get a full review, but I do feel I have to say something about it.

  • Bitten review, kinda

I have a similar overall stance on Bitten as I do Vampire Academy: there’s some dodgy stuff in the central romantic/sexual relationship that I really, really do not like, but the rest of it is thought-provoking and – at least in the case of Vampire Academy – legitimately entertaining. Bitten has the premise of all natural-born werewolves being male, and thus the only female werewolves are women who are bitten and survive the transformation, which is very uncommon. Our main character, Elena, is the only female werewolf in existence, and there are only 35 total in the entire world, including her. Scarce resources etc.; you would think that the drama would be non-stop with a premise like that, but it actually only becomes relevant right at the end. Which is the main reason I just couldn’t enjoy what Bitten had to offer despite the horrible shit I wish it didn’t have: it offers a lot of setup that leads to very little payoff, if any at all. A big part of that is Elena’s tragic backstory full of sexual abuse and abandonment, and the other big part is the Only Girl in the World premise, which is not even remotely explored until the last fifth of the novel and we finally uncover the villain’s true intentions – and even then it seems like the villain himself doesn’t really care. I’m not saying I wish this book was more unpleasant than it already is; I’m saying that I wish it wasn’t full of false advertising, because the things it teases and then doesn’t follow through with seem much more interesting than the actual story.

It gets really obnoxious, too; there is a lot of throwaway narration about the dark grittiness of the world, including some commentary about how nobody cares if prostitutes are murdered because society doesn’t care about them, how werewolves see women as good for nothing beyond sex or food and, unless they’re one of the Good werewolves who belong to the Pack, they only ever rape women, in stereotypical dark alleyway fashion, and it’s all just … background. It’s there to set the tone, arouse some ambient outrage and discomfort in the reader and nothing else; none of this gets explored, none of this is ever relevant to the actual story, and it’s all presented in info-dump exposition that breaks up the action rather than being woven into it. At least that way it would feel immersive, though for that reason it might be even more exploitative.

I was so interested in the werewolf lore, and I wasn’t expecting to be. Bitten is written like a private fantasy, which would explain some of why it’s so fucking bad about consent and general respectfulness for the issues it throws away like used tissues. But the part of the fantasy that uses werewolves as a metaphor for gender and sexual dynamics in today’s society, most definitely the whole Alpha Male thing and the marginalised role that women play in a male-dominated world – that was interesting. That held promise. Perhaps in later books that pays off, but here it was mostly used for “hot sex”.

One thing I did genuinely like was Elena. She’s messed up, dysfunctional, pretty fucking despicable as a human being, and I liked it. It felt authentic. If only her fucked-up-ness hadn’t relied on a completely exploitative backstory that even as it’s being told – through narration-interrupting exposition, of course – completely handwaves its own impact on her character.

Actually I’ll just show you:

As I grew in to adolescence, the couples who picked me from the home changed. It was no longer the wife who chose me but the husband, picking up on my childish beauty and my fear. I became the favored choice of male predators who were looking for a very special kind of child. (35)

It gets even better:

As I grew older, I began to see them for what they were, not all-powerful bogeymen who slipped into my room at night, but weak creatures terrified of rejection and exposure. With that realization, the fear slipped away. They could touch me, but they couldn’t touch me, not the me that lay beyond my body. As the fear subsided, so did the rage. I despised them and their equally blind wives, but they weren’t worthy of my anger. I couldn’t let myself me angry at them, wouldn’t let myself waste time and effort better spent elsewhere. (35)

I am perfectly willing to believe that there are survivors of this kind of abuse who have found ways to cope that might mirror Elena’s backstory here. That’s not the issue. The issue is one of storytelling: this backstory looks important, looks like it’s telling us something about Elena’s personality, but is actually only even told to us because the thing we need to know about it is that it does not matter. Why, in Elena’s own words, is this story wasting its time and effort better spent elsewhere? Why the hell would you put something in a story that is only included to be explained away as something that does not matter? Everything in a story has to matter. That’s basic storytelling. Life isn’t like that, but life is not a story.

And I mean tell your own story however you want; there are no rules and I stand by that, but that doesn’t mean every decision is going to appeal to everyone. This doesn’t appeal to me, and combined with the lack of concern for readers who might actually have gone through something like Elena has in the way it’s framed and worded, ultimately I just couldn’t like this book. I got through it because the plot was actually fairly well-attended-to – at least in comparison to a lot of the stuff I’ve read lately – and I liked Elena as she actually is, rather than as the book tells me she is, but that’s not enough.

My biggest problem with Bitten was how Elena was constantly paired up with her lover/abuser Clay, who is, I gather, meant to be sexy because he “just can’t help himself” when he’s around her, is “animalistic” in that he’s selfish, impulsive, violent and inconsiderate – which obviously means he’s fantastic in bed, because that’s totally how it works – and this “can’t help himself” bit includes the fact that he’s the one who bit her.

Before she knew werewolves even existed.

When they were engaged.

She was turned into a werewolf by her fucking fiancee.

Her side of the story I get. She is still in love with him, keeps going back to him even though she knows he’s wrong for her, and knows that if she ever discusses what happened between them it’ll mean she’ll forgive him and let him win. I get that because I was in a relationship that had a similar dynamic, though thank god it was also not abuse of a sexual or physical kind. I get Elena because so many people who are in abusive relationships go through this exact same pattern of thinking and behaving. It makes sense, it feels credible. The only problem is that this is supposed to be romantic. Which is how it explains the first sex scene, wherein Clay ties her hands together, hooks them over a tree-branch so that she can’t get away from him, literally rips her clothes off and starts to have his way with her, only to stop before penetration to tell her – get this – that all she has to do is tell him to stop. He’d never do anything to her if she didn’t want it. She’d like to think he would – can’t imagine why – but she knows he really wouldn’t.

She doesn’t say no. I can’t even be surprised. I’m only surprised that every sex scene wasn’t blatant sexual assault.

And even that, her not saying no, in effect explaining away Clay’s violation of her non-consent because she just happened to start liking it halfway through and, well, that means it’s okay, it’s not him it’s her, makes sense. She makes sense. This shit happens.

To people in abusive relationships. They defend their abusers, explain away their misgivings and objections through self-blame; it makes sense that Elena acts the way she does. But this is supposed to be the dark love story that drives the story as a whole. As a private fantasy: sure. Whatever. Private fantasies are private, and they are also fantasies. A fantasy is not a desire; it is speculation. Part of the reason I see Bitten as a book that wants to be a private fantasy is not just the romanticisation of a highly abusive relationship, but also the ridiculous contrivances that constantly force Elena and Clay to be in each other’s company, when either one or both of them clearly don’t want it. And that can be perfectly sexy in a private fantasy, because people are weird and fantasies are, again, speculation.

A published book, however, is not private, nor is it a fantasy, and as such requires consideration of what you’re actually writing, not least because of who might be reading it, and what they might have gone through – or be going through – in their lives. Until books are required to have content warnings, which they should be, y’all gotta do that shit yourself.

The cherry on top of this layer-cake of suck is that, in places, the book seems self-aware enough of how messed up Elena’s situation is that, at some point in this series, it seems plausible that she would find that she actually wanted to get out of the relationship – but then probably not, because the Pack needs to stay together no matter what, so sayeth the Alpha, and oh god the potential here to explore, respectfully and thoroughly, the dysfunctional, misogynystic power dynamic of the Pack and its male-entitled, superpatriarchal ethic. I want that werewolf story. Bitten is not it. About the best thing I can say for it is that it was wasted potential.

  • Review ends

One of these days I’ll go back and read the The Magicians saga from start to finish; I aim to read the third book before semester begins, and that one is chock-full of gender and sex issues of a similarly misogynistic nature, with a similarly ambiguous level of self-awareness. The first time I read The Magicians – the “look inside” option via Amazon – I couldn’t stand it. Then I bought it and loved it and I think it’s because it was just so male, in that very straight, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, privileged white boy way. The sad thing is that what’s “male” is oftentimes also “misogynistic”, as well as a whole host of other things, and I don’t think The Magicians is any different. And no, I don’t mean Quentin, who is meant to be all of those things and that’s part of why I like the series. I mean the story itself, the way it’s framed, the stuff that happens and to whom – I still want to talk about it in my sorta-kinda authenticity-themed “series” on this blog, because it raises some very important points regarding use of the word “authenticity”.

I was about to tell you all that I haven’t been writing. However, I actually wrote over 4k words the other night on my weird mermaid erotica side-project that I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to take full responsibility for, and I’m now thinking “Well, I’ve written a lot of it, and I keep writing it, so why not just admit that I’m writing erotica and actually do it properly?” I mean there’s nothing wrong with erotica, and just in the sense that I don’t want to contribute to its ongoing status as a genre of mockery and sexism I’m kind of politically motivated to bring it properly into my list of Things I Am Writing. There’s the tiny issue of my being a virgin/man and thus having no fucking clue what I’m talking about, but I’ve also been reading The Boss by Abigail Barnette, famously promoted by Mara Wilson in response to how god-awful 50 Shades of Grey is and how it should have been and, what can I say, I’m getting ideas. I doubt any of them are good. But that’s writing/men for you.

So actually I’ll probably finish The Boss before moving on to anything else. It’s the first e-book I’ve read besides Awoken (which you should also check out, if you haven’t already), and I much prefer the PDF format to Kindle, I have to say. I just like having definite page-numbers rather than the weird status-bar. And I’m starting to think that I can actually finish everything on my reading list before uni starts, including all the Kindle books I haven’t read. I’m particularly eager to read Chameleon Moonwhich sounds something like if X-Men wasn’t just about coding the characters as queer and were instead actually queer. I believe it was stated that there is not a single heterosexual character in the entire book. I literally don’t think I’ve ever read a book like that, and certainly not in the superhero/fantasy/sci-fi genre. There should be more of them.

And then I’ll force myself to finish my first draft made of chapter summaries before splitting focus between my weird mermaid erotica thing and my highly unimaginative high-school-kids-get-supernatural-powers thing until semester begins – and hopefully continue through the semester as well.

Maybe I’ll also finally learn to play the f-chord on my $500 guitar that I haven’t touched for like 3 years in that time. I can only hope.

 

Werewolf things

Yet again, writelessness defines my current existence. It’s fine. I can do things other than write. Such as read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, who I am indebted to for the title of her book Industrial Magic that gave me enough of an idea to build an entire story premise out of (which I have yet to do anything with).

Bitten is … I mean I’m still reading it. It’s rather engrossing. I’ve never read werewolf fiction before; I’d heard a lot about how wolf pack dynamics are translated into super-dysfunctional power dynamics within werewolf culture – so far this is holding true – but actually reading it is … interesting. The main character, Elena, is rather messed-up and I like that, though I’m not sure just how credible her messed-up-ness is considering the reasons given for her messed-up-ness. Also there’s comparisons between psychopathy and animalistic behaviour that I don’t like, mainly because the term “psychopath” does not mean what it’s insinuated to mean here; it is not a synonym for “violent murderer”.

Also there’s some passing off of rape as hot sex.

This is not a YA book; this is aimed at adults, and presumably adults already have a healthy understanding of sexuality, including the very important line between fantasy and reality. Rape fantasies are a thing. They’re quite a common thing. They are not the same thing as wanting to rape/be raped. And while we can argue forever about death of the author and reader agency and what-the-fuck-ever else, at the end of the day there are plenty of adults who are just as impressionable as your stereotypical teenager when it comes to sexuality. Just because your target audience should be mature enough to understand that a sex scene involving sketchy consent that was obviously written to be sketchy consent is not necessarily a justification for when it happens in real life, doesn’t mean that they won’t. And also, yeah, it happens in real life; and also in real life survivors of sexual abuse sometimes read books. There are a lot of books – a lot of media in general – that handle sex, rape and consent just as badly as Bitten has thus far, and in fact many handle it even worse.

It’s not okay.

Now, all of that on its own is more than bad enough – but then there’s Elena’s backstory of messed-up-ness in which rape and sexual abuse are the main feature, and are also, it seems to me, played for rape-as-drama value and nothing more. What struck me about Elena’s backstory is that it doesn’t seem to affect who she is as a person. She obviously has trust issues, but sexual trust issues? Not that I can see. And obviously survivors of sexual abuse can and do recover and go on to have healthy sex lives; that’s not my problem. That’s, like, the opposite of a problem. My problem is that this is not real life; this is a story, and whatever gets put in a story HAS TO MATTER. Thus far – and I’m not even halfway through the book, so take this all with a bucket of salt – a lot of it doesn’t, other than as generic trust-issues angst-fuel that could have been just as effectively achieved if Elena’s backstory just went for the foster-family-didn’t-want-me angle. Thus far, the sexual abuse aspect only serves to confuse and infuriate, because it has no bearing whatsoever on who she is as a character. Bad writing and bad ethics.

Why am I still reading this again?

Well, I persist in reading Bitten because a): I paid money for it instead of checking my local library like a smart person, and b): I am honestly quite fascinated by unethical art. I am doubly-fascinated because, again, this is my first official encounter with werewolf fiction. It’s why I like songs like Every Breath You Take and Dirty Dancer; they tell us something about our culture, the people in it and the norms and values that are given precedence. The whole “beast within” thing has massive influence on our culture in particular, where repression and aggression are set up as diametric opposites in a false dichotomy of self-expression, the constant struggle between becoming an alpha or being made someone else’s beta. Werewolves just fit the bill because they’re both wolves and humans, and as we all know, wolves are ruled by an Alpha (per pack) and humans are assholes.

Except, well, that’s only half true. Humans are assholes, but wolves – in the wild – don’t actually have an Alpha. It’s only with captive wolf packs, where members are not always family members (according to the research linked above, wild wolf packs are family units; the “alphas” are just parents being parents), that the Alpha Wolf phenomenon occurs. In other words, only with human intervention did wolves ever adopt that particular power dynamic.

So actually, werewolves having that toxic Alpha/Beta mentality where their culture, such as it is, is based on unbridled aggression and an “only the strong survive” mentality … actually makes a lot of sense. But only because of their human nature being too strong to resist, ironically enough.

I like it, and I’d like it more if that was the point. Again, I’m not even halfway through this book yet; maybe it’ll surprise me with hitherto un-hinted-at insight and self-reflexivity. I’m going to finish it regardless because, again, I paid for the damn thing and I want my money’s worth – and it is fascinating. I want to write my own werewolf thing; actually my friend and I want to co-write a werewolf thing, inspired in part by the article I linked above, so it behoves me to do some research into the market.

It’s also interesting how Elena is the only female werewolf in existence – lycanthropy (never called that in the book) is only passed down through the male line, which is horrendously sexist (and makes the “no it’s totally not rape” scene even worse), but I like it for that reason. We’ve got this little world run on the same dog-eat-dog, hypermasculine ideology that our contemporary real-world society runs on, and it’s werewolves. And the one female werewolf in all of existence, who is very much aware that her role within the pack is to provide sex and/or dinner (well, she says she’s aware of it), is the main character. Never mind the story; that premise is enough to keep me reading, even if it’s not explored quite as thoroughly as I’d like – not yet anyway. I guess we’ll see. And it’s certainly giving me ideas for my own writing, and I guess at the end of the day that’s what matters. I’ll try and construct a review/critique thingy once I’m done reading; I still haven’t done my Vampire Academy one that I started in October 2013 so don’t hold your breath or anything, but I’ll try.

In the meantime, if you have to take some kind of lesson away from this post, let it be this: if you’re gonna put rape or sexual abuse in your book, do it for more than just a dark backstory. It’s old, and it marginalises the severity of rape and sexual abuse, which are real things that happen to real people. So … yeah. Don’t do it. Do your research. And just be a baseline decent human being.