Update from a Neglectful Writer

Things have been exciting lately – lots of work on a couple of key projects which I’ve fallen in love with since, oh, about this time last October. I am still reading a lot, devouring books weekly, but I haven’t been writing down my thoughts on them, which makes me feel rather more gourmand than gourmet. Can one get mental indigestion from an unalloyed diet of fiction? Perhaps. Which is why I have been peppering my diet with denser, shorter, non-fiction reading material.
So I will share a couple of articles and one novella I have read recently. Not books, true, but really resonating articles freely available on the web. After this, I shall retreat back into my wombat hole, and keep working away steadily at these mysterious Somethings, which I hope to share with you all soon.
1. Wired Magazine “Now is the Greatest Time to Be Alive” – by President Barack Obama, guest editor
This essay actually made me tear up a bit while I was reading it. Not to the point of crying (that would be melodramatic), but to the point of taking a moment to blink really hard every few lines from the effects of throat-tightening emotion. I know that Obama has left some pretty massive human rights issues in his wake (understatement – Guantanamo Bay is still operating, NSA spying etc), but he also has really tried improve lives through initiatives like universal health insurance, attempting to address the US’s hideous gun culture through tighter controls (a tragic fact of life is that it is easier to buy a gun than it is to procure an abortion), and encouraging us to recognise equally important needs for parenting by making it mandatory that men’s and women’s toilets should all have baby changing stations in government restrooms.
Obama’s ‘Editorial’ is optimistic, and far-reaching. It first encourages us to look at now: lower crime rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, and lower poverty rates (in America). Increasing life expectancy, increased numbers of people obtaining tertiary education and slowly increasing diversity in many spheres. Obama then expands this improved world – this one, today – to the rest of human society, and it’s heartwarming. It’s so easy to get battered down by the constant stream of negative news media, so having a political figure start by building us as readers up? Revolutionary.
Once he has your heart beating faster (and maybe the first hint of moisture in a stoic eye), Obama then urges us to look forward. Look at the big picture. Keep organising and voting for better prospects, keep opening yourself up to new perspectives. Science has been making each generation better to live in than the last one, so keep working on scientific progress! Society is always in need of improving, so keep protesting, keep making life uncomfortable for the status quo which relies on disenfranchising others! I loved it, and reading this essay was the key factor in my subsequent subscription to Wired magazine, so that I could see just how Obama’s vision unfolds throughout the issue (Answer: enjoyably).
“That’s how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody.”
2. Peace and Freedom Magazine, 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” – Peggy McIntosh
Privilege is a fairly commonly recognised term nowadays – along with the phrase “Check your privilege.” But what’s it mean?
While we tend to examine an -ism (race/sex/religion/ability) in the light of how it discriminates against other people or ourselves, there is a tendency towards blindness in recognising that the absent advantage caused by discrimination doesn’t vanish: as a corollary to the act of discriminating against a person or persons, these advantages are accrued by those not subject to the prejudice. If it were a boardgame, you as subject to an -ism would receive, say, -5 points at starting. And I, as exempt from this specific -ism, would receive those points as +5. I might lose advantage points due to other -isms, but the more -isms a person could be subject to, the greater cumulative effect of discrimination. Soon, you might be starting the game not with 5 points instead of 10, but with -5, or -10.
It is a notion that we are incredibly resistant to: I see it when speaking with men about feminism. I see it in myself when talking to people of different racial backgrounds about racism. There is a willingness to agree with the obvious disadvantages of an -ism, but not to accept that corollary of privilege and the moral accountability that comes with recognising it. To accept one’s privilege feels like an admission of guilt by implication, because I am unfairly benefiting from an ongoing social construct that came into effect generations before I was born. Just as others are being punished by it.
Peggy McIntosh began questioning how men could agree that women were disadvantaged, but not accept their relative privilege in discussions of feminism. And then she began questioning what privilege she might be benefitting from, that she might be unable to see or accept.
Some of the list of privileges McIntosh describes in her essay can be definitely considered more as the privileges conferred by classism than racism, as Gina Crosley-Corcoran discusses in her article “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person”. Intersectionality recognises that people can be privileged in some ways, but not privileged in others. It is not an ultimate decider of net loss or gain, so much as a means of recognising how one benefits from an entrenched system of advantage based on an -ism.
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
3. Mask Magazine “Sick Woman Theory” – Johanna Hedva
I have been keeping this one close to my chest for a while, which is rather antisocial behaviour given that it regards a gem of an article that should be shared as widely as possible. It lives in an open page on my phone, and I flick to it whenever I want to have a thought-provoking read. I can only apologise for not sharing it earlier, in case you have not yet encountered Hedva’s essay.
“Sick Woman Theory” explores chronic illness in the framework of protest for social change, and how the traditional Arendtian definition of the political, being actions performed in public, by definition excludes those who are unable to access the public sphere to make political actions.
Hedva goes on to explore the white and wealthy definition of wellness in America today, where invisibility in the waiting room may be due to gender, but never to race, linked back again to the politics of public: who is allowed to be visible here? Who is subjected to the trauma of not being seen? She compares a white woman’s treatment in the emergency room being subjected to long waits for serious illness, to that of Kam Brooks, a black woman arrested and forcibly detained for eight days in a psychiatric ward for behaving “too emotionally” when coming to collect her car, which had been impounded by police without evidence of wrong-doing.
It is an incredible article, and continues on and on in excellence, in a perfection of social criticism which seeks to validate the experiences of those who are enduring unbearable realities, who cannot make their bodies public and therefore political statements, who live with the criticism of their existence by the dominant social and political processes. Sick Woman Theory is for those whose existence the Western capitalist system deems illegitimate and invisible, either through their physical vulnerability, through being unable to work, or reproduce, or consume and fuel others’ employment. Go, read it.
“[A]s I lay there, unable to march, hold up a sign, shout a slogan that would be heard, or be visible in any traditional capacity as a political being, the central question of Sick Woman Theory formed: How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?”
4. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper charts the slow descent into insanity of the main character, whose loving doctor husband has decided the best cure for her nervous depression is relaxation (isolation) in a low-stimulation environment (she is neither allowed to write, paint, sketch or answer letters) out in the country, in a room high up in the estate they have rented: an old nursery with vilely patterned yellow wallpaper. At first she treats his overbearing instructions with good humour, lamenting the lack of stimulus and the terrible decorations in their temporary home. But as her incarceration continues, the yellow wallpaper begins to prey more and more upon her vulnerable mind… A classic short story, which drags the reader down with it into defiant madness.
Find it: as a free download on amazon.com, or on Gutenberg.
“If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?”
“I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”

Prudence: Book One of the Custard Protocol – Gail Carriger

Custard Protocol

Prudence is everything I love in a Gail Carriger novel, from the wingtips of its illustrious series title (Custard Protocol! It’s better than Parasol Protectorate!), to the soles of its hobnailed, steampunk boots. The prose is frothy and bubbling with wit and amusing one liners, as I’ve come to appreciate from the author of these fantastic comedies of manners.

The titular Prudence (Rue) is the daughter of three people: a soulless half-Italian woman Lady Alessandra Maccon, her husband the werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon, and their friend the supremely gay and fashionable vampire Lord Akeldama. Prudence is clever, curious and skilled in intelligence gathering (Akeldama runs one of the finest spy rings in the world).

Entering the world of the Parasol Protectorate some seventeen years after the last book about Alessandra, Prudence purloins a suspicious snuffbox, is gifted by her father Lord Akeldama with a state-of-the-art bright dirigible painted in ladybug red and black, and sets forth on a mission of intrigue… to India. As only Carriger could make it, this intrigue is about tea: in Steampunked Britain, there is little more important than the life-giving brew. Certainly not coffee.

And this is the point at which my guilt-free enjoyment of the series stuttered to a bit of a halt. Because it seemed rather… colonial, in how it addressed the actual population of India. Discounting the supernatural set they meet in India, there is barely a named person of native Indian descent in the entire book, which felt to me like an unnecessary marginalisation. And no matter how wonderfully petticoated and resourceful Prudence is, this use of a continent as narrative window dressing and exotification was discomforting.

Which is a pity, because it is an enjoyable book, and I have already reread it twice. As the first in a series, and the denouement of a new, not-entirely-innocent but possible-slightly-naive character, I have hopes for Rue’s development into a more rounded worldview, and the fuller participation of characters of all nationalities. Carriger definitely has written with an eye to equal representation of the genders: “the senior greaser and at least half the firemen and sooties were in fact female.”

You can pick up Prudence and read it without a problem. But you may enjoy reading the Parasol Protectorate series first (my review of Soulless here), and working up from there. There are a good many recurring characters which you will otherwise miss.

K.L gives Prudence 3.5 out of 5 young women floating past on puffy clouds of ulterior motives.

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“Goodness, that sounds like a disease of the unmentionables.”

“They de-puffed out of the aetherosphere to find India spread below them like a great red and brown apple fritter nestled in a pool of blue sauce. There were sprinkles of green jungle, which, if one continued the comparison, meant the fritter was mouldy.”

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy

Attending a fairly restrictive religious school in my youth meant there were few options for good, fantasy escapist literature, and Narnia and Lord of the Rings were the status quo for fantasy, with their clear delineation of good versus evil.

Imagine then, my glee at finding the oasis that was Pawn of Prophecy in this barren landscape, and my subsequent devouring of the series which followed. Of course, we all know that revisiting the loves of one’s childhood can be disastrous… but this is what I have done.

Pawn of Prophecy is a fairly stock standard heroic quest. Garion, feckless farm boy, departs on a journey fraught with perils accompanied by a grocery list of character tropes gathered from across a series of quasi-medieval kingdoms, in order to reclaim the One Ring (sorry, sorry, the Orb of Aldur), and battle the one-eyed, crippled god Sauron (apologies, it’s Torak), and reclaim his ancient, hereditary kingdom as King Aragorn (my mistake, King Garion).

Which is a fine, time-honoured storyline, if unfortunate that most of his subsequent novels follow the exact same format.

Where the novel deviates from default narrative (historical) sexism (and more here) to achieve actively pursued sexism is in its portrayal of female characters.

Garion’s Aunt Pol, who works in the kitchens of the farm where he grows up, is beautiful and regal, with permanently soft, white hands (apparently a side effect of daily hard kitchen labour. Who knew). Fulfilling the Trinity character trope, she is an incredibly powerful, autocratic commander, obeyed by all she meets – unless they are men and decide to ignore her, at which point she… does nothing. Usually, Aunt Pol simply glares and retreats from the field of battle, uttering a comment as she goes. Acidly. It’s a recurring descriptor. Her bossiness and vengeful punishments are a subject of much mirth amongst the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (sorry. The quest group as it consists of all other men).

Meanwhile, other female characters are either seductive minxes, out to entrap the young hero with fecundity; baby-obsessed breeders who infantilize their husbands, allowable in this context by the man himself not being masculine enough to warrant anyone’s respect; coldly dutiful wives who hate their husbands but endure marital rape as their husband’s due; the occasional repulsive ancient witch, who gets her comeuppance; or enthusiastic-yet-barren wives, who desperately want to prove their love by popping out babies.

It is a horribly simplistic worldview – there is literally no occupation for women in this world other than wife, cook, or professionally chaste mystic, who is also (in one case) a cook, and later becomes a wife. Insulting, but it gets worse when one considers that these tropes are applied to literally one of the most powerful human beings on the planet. Aunt Pol (Polgara the Sorceress, daughter of Belgarath the Sorcerer and mumble-mumble-cough) can remake the fabric of reality on a whim, yet is dependant upon a grumbling, entitled boy to save the day because Prophecy.

The laws of physics? Conservation of matter? What laws? Polgara can create matter from nothing, transform herself, read minds and is effectively immortal, yet her narrative contribution consists of raising and nurturing the hero, and she is recognised mainly for her awe-inspiring beauty… and her fantastic cooking ability.

And literally, all these Bechdel-test-failing female characters do when they get together alone is to talk about Garion, men and babies – and their menfolk, in turn, assume they are simply discussing clothes and hair, in the midst of crises of end-of-the-universe proportions.

This is all even more disappointing when you discover that Lee Eddings, David Eddings’ wife, is coauthor or consultant on all his works. Clearly the Edding duo subscribe to the belief that Simone de Beauvoir expressed as “Man is the measure of humanity. Woman is other.”

Looking back critically, I can understand how this underwhelming series made it into the rigorously policed library of my adolescence. Its like the patriarchy and Lord of the Rings (no, there’s not a difference, aside of the deniability of Lord of the Rings being a product of its time) had a child made of narrative sexism and pseudo-plagiarism. And I say that with the full knowledge that I’ve written and self-published a mashup.

Some of their ideas are good, and some of the dialogue is witty when it’s not being dismissive and sexist, or describing national identities which border on racist. But the books themselves are overwhelmingly sexist, and so…

…K.L gives Pawn of Prophecy 1 out of 5 hamstrung sorceresses.

 

Using the power of Wiki….

The Fall of Peter Pan is now featured on Wikipedia! Huzzah for expanding awareness and free advertising!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_based_on_Peter_Pan#Books_and_publications

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

New Book Cover!!

Good evening, my darlings of the Web. Ahead of the normal novel review, I’m just updating you with an update on The Fall of Peter Pan – nothing textual, merely the frosting on the cupcake of adventure. I’ve changed the cover:

The Fall of Peter Pan

The Fall of Peter Pan

What do you think?

For comparison, here is the previous cover. I’m sure I’ll rotate through them as one becomes odious, creating further exercises in stretching the same words across the same proportion of space.

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

 

Clariel – Garth Nix

Clariel

Clariel

Beyond the safety of the Wall, in the Old Kingdom, the ravenous dead walk, Free Magic creatures roam, and necromancers seek to pervert the Charter. The Abhorsens, the royal family and the Clayr fight to keep the charter strong, protecting the inhabitants of the Old Kingdom.

Nix’s previous novels, Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, take place in a time when the royal house has been all but extinguished, and necromancers roam the Old Kingdom freely. It is a dark, primitive post-apocalyptic world, roaming from the rivers of death to the crumbling ruins of Belisaere, the adventures of the title characters mesmerising and addictive.

Clariel takes us back six hundred years to just after the peak of the Old Kingdom’s power, where a mad king refuses to rule, and corrupted Guilds are steadily taking hold of greater amounts of power and wealth. The heir-apparent has been missing for over a decade, presumed dead, and there is a Free Magic creature roaming the streets of Belisaere. Young Clariel has been brought to the capital to be appraised, apprenticed and married by her parents, whilst she pines for the solitude and forests of her childhood.

Despite this promising start, Clariel failed to grip my attention in the same way as its predecessors. The setting of Belisaere was reminiscent of an overripe Roman Empire,  a somewhat cynical representation seeming to declare that crumpling from the weight of ones’ own excesses and corruption into obscurity is an inescapable aspect of any society. The character of Clariel was mildly interesting, but aside of a few peccadilloes, she fell rather neatly into the character of ‘disaffected, sullen teen outcast.’ She also seemed a little too readily corruptible in the realms of Charter Magic vs Free Magic – her transition resembled nothing so much as a rapidly burgeoning drug addiction, pursued at the cost of family, friends and logical thought.

Regretfully, I do not consider Clariel a particularly re-readable novel, as much as I loved it predecessors.

K.L gives Clariel 2.5 out of 5 broken Charter Stones.

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

Top 10 books I want to read

As an aside from my normally unscheduled book reviews, tonight I wish to do something different: book previews.

My reading list has a bridle put upon it, to stop fancy from galloping free, rampaging across the literary countryside, and eventually throwing me from the saddle to land, winded, at the bottom of a large pile of unread or partly-read novels, in a muddy puddle of insolvency.

Therefore, in addition to all the books that I can borrow for free from the library, I am allowed to purchase one and only one book per month. This rule does, occasionally, get bent out of shape a little (“A $6 kindle book? Then I can buy another book of similar value to meet normal expenditure on a novel!”), but overall holds up fairly well.

(We shall not speak of the occasion last year, when I bought 4 yoga books at once in April, thus using up my potential book purchases of May, June and July in the one fell swoop. August was a month of much rejoicing).

This rule does mean, however, that I read a great many more ebook samples than I actually buy; the local temple of Athene is helpful in providing the lack, but overall, there is a lag between sample and satisfaction.

Thus, finding myself at the end of a particularly egregious sampling binge (“No, K.L.! Wait until March! You can do it!”), I have decided to share with the gems I anticipate, even salivate, at the prospect of devouring in future, in order of excitement:

1. The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

David Mitchell is the author of Cloud Atlas, which was a brilliant read made into a beautiful, poignant movie. The sample of The Bone Clocks features Holly, a fifteen-year-old girl in the act of quitting school to move in with her older boyfriend, and subsequently running away from home, fancying herself adult enough to survive alone – and possibly (though she is unaware of this) pregnant. Similarly to Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks promises a series of interlinking narratives, so I am wildly excited to see exactly where this novel leads us.

2. The Philosopher’s Apprentice – James Morrow

A Doctorate student of ethical philosophy quits – dramatically, publicly – midway through his dissertation, and is immediately hired by a reclusive geneticist to instil a moral compass in her daughter, who lost hers in a diving accident. Satirical and well-described, I anticipate reading further.

3. The Incarnations – Susan Barker

A Chinese taxi driver is being stalked by someone who claims to have known him through six successive incarnations. With the vague horror overtones, I am concerned it will feature murder most foul before long. The local library has a copy, thank goodness.

4. The Madonna and the Starship – James Morrow

A television script writer has to save the world from aliens who admire his show for children about science… And who are determined to annihilate any humans who disagree with them.

5. Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami

Surrealist and…well, Murakami. A man catchs a lift up an office building, to find himself climbing inside a cupboard, down a ladder and into an alternate dimension of pitch darkness, to find his employer’s grandfather and deliver a message. Delicious!

6. Only Begotten Daughter – James Morrow

A sperm donor is called in to explain why one of his samples has turned itself into a foetus. He then raises the daughter of God, who can cure the sick.

7. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’engle

A classic of science fiction, and also a children’s novel. Apparently highly-recommended, and well-written thus far.

8. The Last Witchfinder – James Morrow

This particular James Morrowism was less satirical that the others I sampled: I found the matter-of-fact torturing of accused witches hard to stomach, their objectification by the main character’s father, a witch hunter, being a little too well portrayed. It narrated, confessional memoir-style, by Newton’s magnum opus, The Principia Mathematica.

9. Lesbian Pulp Fiction: the sexually intrepid world of lesbian paperback novels 1950-1965  – Katherine V. Forrest

An interesting snapshot of a post-war period, and the surreptitiously blooming of the lesbian queer fiction culture, which I am keen to explore further.

10. Clariel – Garth Nix

A long-awaited continuation of the novels set in his astonishing world of the Old Kingdom, where the dead walk and the magic of the Charter is used to bind creatures of free magic. This is a prequel to Sabriel and Lirael, adolescent favourites of mine. Clariel, blood relation to both the Abhorsens and the royal family, has been unwillingly brought to the capital city of Belisaere by her parents, who seem intent on marrying her to a murderer, ignoring her dreams of a life of self-sufficiency as a woodswoman. Intrigue run rampant.

That’s all for now, dear readers. See you soon!

(P.S., have I mentioned that my novel The Fall of Peter Pan is currently the #1 bestseller in the Mashups section of the Kindle store? Have I? I have? Oh, sorry. Don’t believe me? Find it HERE!)