2010 archive

#s 6-10: The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Rereads)

Pawn of ProphecyLast weekend, Rachel and I somehow ended up discussing epic fantasy. We both grew up on fantasy paperbacks, thanks to my dad’s fantastic collection.1 And we realized that, for all Tolkien is considered the granddaddy of epic fantasy, neither of was able to get into his stuff — too much elvish poetry, if memory serves, though I was pretty young when I attempted them — and so we’d both imprinted on David Eddings as the master of high fantasy. (I was sincerely bummed when he died last year.)

I remember the first time I read the Belgariad pretty vividly. It took me months to get through Pawn of Prophecy, the first book — but as soon as Ce’Nedra, the series’ obligatory spunky princess, showed up in the second book, I was hooked.2 I remember flying through them. I remember the chair I was sitting in when I finished the fourth book. I remember bringing the last book to school and reading it under my desk, because I couldn’t put it down. I immediately devoured the Mallorean, the five books following the Belgariad, and then the Elenium and Tamuli.3 I reread the series a few times — at least once more in middle school and once in high school — but hadn’t read it again since. And I was a little nervous, because rereading something I loved with a more critical mindset now that I’m an adult often leads to disappointment.

Queen of SorceryI wish I could say that didn’t happen, and the series is perfect. But goodness knows it isn’t. Two major things stood out to me now that didn’t when I was a tween. First, a major trope in fantasy and sci fi alike: all members of a race/species are exactly alike in terms of personality. The Belgariad has that in spades. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Chereks are drunks. And all Murgos are evil. Alllll of them. Which meant that the characters often talked cheerfully about wiping out the Murgos once and for all, and sure, in context it makes sense (because of the eeeeeevil), but as an adult I was like, “Whoa, really, genocide is the answer?” It was pretty jarring.

Magician's GambitBut even more so… (Sigh) the female characters. That was particularly disappointing because I remember loving them growing up. There are only two of particular importance, Polgara and Ce’Nedra; as a kid, I loved them both. A lot. In high school, I sort of realized that Polgara is actually extremely controlling and can be horrible for basically no reason. On the one hand, she’s treated with reverence by basically everyone else; on the other hand, there’s a lot of, “Well, Polgara, you know how she gets…” involved. And Ce’Nedra, who I adored… It makes me make this face: :-/ I love what the series does with her, that when she’s left behind so Garion can go off and have his big hero moments she realizes he’s not there to rally the army — literally — and takes it upon herself to do the things he isn’t there for. It’s pretty awesome. On the other hand, there’s a lot of time spent in the narrative on how she’s completely devious and constantly playing mindgames with Garion. And with both her and Polgara, there’s very much a feeling of, “Women: who can understand them? They’re all crazy, amiright? lollllll”

Castle of WizardryEven more distressing, the climax of the second book is Polgara facing down Salmissra, queen of the snake people. Salmissra is obsessed with appearing young and flawless, and the potions she takes to stay that way give her an insatiable sexual appetite. So she’s evil: those horrible things (female sexuality, oh no!) make her willing to ally herself with the villains, in return for said eternal youth and beauty. ‘Cause you know. Women who care about that are all shallow and evil. Again, :-/

Enchanter's EndgameBut with all that said, these books are compelling. I once again tore through them, unwilling to put them down.4 I love Garion; he’s a very, very archetypal destined hero, but he’s basically a sweet kid who wants to do the right thing, even when he’s terrified. And I love the major supporting characters, especially Silk, the sneaky thief (one of my favorite archetypes); Barak, the wry bruiser; and Durnik, who is clever and nice and basically the most awesome ever. One other thing I realized upon rereading is that not a lot actually happens in this series. The first book, in particular, is just pages and pages and pages of people walking to a place, getting sidetracked and having to go somewhere else, and then getting sidetracked and going somewhere else again. Which sounds pretty painfully dull, but these books are so enchanting that it’s enjoyable.

So in summary: as an adult, rereading these books, I had quibbles. I think if I’d read the for the first time just now, instead of having fond memories from discovering fantasy in middle school, I’d have even more — but I’d still have enjoyed them. As it is, I feel pretty confident that this won’t be the last time I reread them. And I kind of want to go pick up a bunch of other Eddings novels now. They’ve got flaws… but they’re pretty much delightful.

  1. I wish I had a picture of this thing. I don’t think my dad set out to have an enormous collection of sci fi and fantasy paperbacks, but loving to buy books is a family trait so through the decades his collection grew and grew. We had an unfinished wall of the house, growing up — the back part and the support beams. Turned out that there was enough room for two novels next to each other between beams. So they were stacked at least waist-high, the entire length of the wall. It was amazing.
  2. This is no shock. I don’t necessarily need a female character to identify with — and goodness knows I’m fond of Garion himself — but having one certainly helps. And I was way too young to identify with Polgara, the only other important female character — but a plucky redheaded princess who gets swept along with the adventures while trying to run away from her arranged marriage? SIGN ME UP.
  3. I actually like those better, because there’s no time spent on the clueless protagonist working things out — Sparhawk already knows what’s going on — and also because omg Talen!!1, who I still have a serious crush on. But I digress.
  4. They even kept me mostly off my computer for a few days. My sore wrists were grateful.

A Tale of Two Non-Fictions: Founding Myths by Ray Raphael (Unfinished) and Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan (#5)

A Tale of Two Non-Fictions: Founding Myths by Ray Raphael (Unfinished) and Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan (#5)

Hey, I really like long post titles!

Will you all think I’m shallow if I say I don’t read much non-fiction? I mostly read for entertainment, and about 80% of my reading is done on the subway as I commute to/from work. That means that, in the morning, I’m bleary-eyed and haven’t yet had coffee (it’s all I can do to manage simple things like getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed for the first 45 minutes or so after I wake up; coffee gets made and consumed at work), so it’s much easier to just stick on my iPod and stare at the wall than it is to open a book. On the way home, it’s about a 50/50 shot whether I want to open a book or just play games on my iPod. So the book has to have really caught my attention to make me want to crack it open at all.

Fiction holds a serious advantage over non-fiction in that regard. Most fiction — stories, basically — is designed to make you want to come back to it, to wonder what will happen the characters and if it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Wondering about those things makes me more likely to fight my internal laziness and pick up the book. Non-fiction, on the other hand, has to be something I’m really interested in, or very compellingly presented (or both) to get to that point.

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic PastFor example — or, I guess, non-example — Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past by Ray Raphael. I picked this up because it looked interesting. And it was! But the thing is, I know how the Revolutionary War ended1 so there weren’t a lot of narrative questions gripping me and bringing me back for page after page. I enjoyed it well enough. I quite liked some of the myths that Raphael dissected, and getting a glimpse at the actual events they were based on. (Though I wasn’t 100% sold on the book’s main conceit, that the stories that have evolved hide the real and very patriotic acts that led to the country’s founding; some of the arguments towards that were more convincing than others, but overall the actual history segments of the book were more interesting to me than the arguments made about patriotism.)

But ultimately… I don’t know. I feel bad even putting out there that I didn’t finish it, because the book was interesting! I feel comfortable giving it 3 stars on GoodReads, regardless! But after a couple weeks during which I kept it in my purse, but never pulled it out, I decided it was time to set it aside and move on. (This is not helped by my own neurotic rule of reading only one book at a time; growing up, if I read multiple things at once, I tended to get the characters and plots confused, which made things pretty difficult. So basically, for a couple weeks I wasn’t reading this, but wouldn’t let myself read anything else, and so didn’t read anything at all. To combat this, I’m confessing it to the internet, and moving right along with my life.)

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance NovelsOn the other hand, my sister handed me Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels a few days ago, and I devoured it. I’ve only read a handful of romance novels, and only occasionally skim the Smart Bitches website, but I do love good media and cultural analyses. And despite its very casual tone, this book is that. (In fact, I loved its casual tone. I tend to be turned off by a Look How Academic And Serious This Book Is tone.) The book gets into sex and sexuality as presented by romance novels, in a wider cultural scope — for example, the way rape in romance novels fell out of common use with the rise of the “No means no” mantra, and how that changed the genre as a whole. They delve quickly into race and the segregation of African-American romance novels, which I wish they’d spent more time on. And they get into the structure of most of the books, which I looooooooove. (I am kind of obsessed with narrative structure. IDK.)

The book included a lot of frills (games, puzzles, illustrations) that I don’t think it needed, but they didn’t take away from it, really. Overall, it was smart and very entertaining, and reminded me of why I was an American Studies major, back in the day. It’s an insightful look at a part of the culture that is often dismissed, and it not only looks at romance, it spends a lot of time on why the genre is dismissed, and why people the people who love it embrace it anyway.

  1. Hint: Rebels won. USA! USA! … Errrr, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics lately. Sorry.

In Which I Don’t Love Irony, but Do Love Corbin Bleu. Like, a Lot.

In Which I Don't Love Irony, but Do Love Corbin Bleu. Like, a Lot.

I’ve had an idea for a post percolating for awhile about how I don’t really like irony. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, hm. Let me get more specific: what bothers me about irony is that I think it contributes to a cultural feeling that genuinely liking things — specifically, happy things — isn’t cool.1 Liking things that are artistic, or weird, or only little-known (but never popular, god no) is fine, but the only way to like something silly or fun for the sake of being fun, is to like it ironically. Which means, you know, you like it, but you don’t really like it, because that’s Uncool, and you’re way too Cool to ever just like something for fun. To me, there’s just something sad about the idea that products created just to be enjoyable aren’t worth really liking; I think it devalues joy, and I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that.

Luckily, I realized many years ago that I will never be Cool. I had angst about that for, oh, four or five minutes, then came to terms with my nerdiness and did my best to stop worrying about what other people would think of me based on the things I enjoy. And it’s very freeing! It means that when I like something, even if it is silly or ridiculous or aimed at people roughly 13 years younger than I am,2 I am free to enjoy and squee and fangirl shamelessly.

This, however, is not that post. That was merely prologue, brought up so you will all know I am not exaggerating my glee when I can share this news: Today, I sort-of-kind-of met Corbin Bleu, and oh my god I love him so much!!!11!!one

Uh, yeah, I had two friends taking pictures and we looked at different cameras. WHATEVER, IT WAS A MAGICAL MOMENT.

Let me back up: a few years ago, I watched and kind of enjoyed High School Musical. A year after that, the creatively-named sequel, High School Musical 2, aired on Disney. And I loved it. Love. Present tense. And after that, High School Musical 3: Senior Year was an actual theatrical release3 and yeah, I saw it in the theaters three times. These movies are ridiculous. I can’t give you plot summaries, because the “plots” are nonsensical. But the cast is adorable, the songs are fun, and the dances are wonderful.4 These movies are 100% joy, and my love for them is 100% genuine. I keep the music from all three on my iPod just in case I need an instant shot of joy during my day, and they never fail to pick me up.

Obviously, Corbin Bleu is one of the afore-mentioned adorable cast members. And while I’ve said before that I’ll basically see anything with any of these kids in it, no matter how bad, Corbin is my favorite. Except that should be italicized and have way more vowels stuck in, and ideally be read in a sing-songy voice: faaaaaaavorite. He’s ridiculously talented, and in interviews, he always comes across as genuinely sweet. (And let’s face it, he’s cuter than a box of kittens.) And… look, I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, but I think you get the point.

I’ve watched a lot of things just because Corbin is in them. Most of them are not very good.5 So a couple months ago, when it was announced that he’d be starring in In the Heights on Broadway — something that is actually good, not just gleeful, and which might actually show off his strengths as a performer — I made a noise so squeaky it’s possible only dogs could hear me, and then convinced my sister and two of my BFFies to come with me. (This consisted of saying, “Hey, want to go see In the Heights with me?” It was not a hard sell.)

At which point Jess — my co-blogger — pointed out, you know, hanging out at the stage door to meet actors is basically a thing that it’s okay to do with Broadway shows. And then I fainted and had to be revived via smelling salts.6

I wish there was something more to the story than that, like, oh, a sudden gaze into one another’s eyes, instant true love,7 and a marriage proposal. But in actuality, it was a brief but lovely moment; he was very nice (to me and my sistren, the girls in their early teens who also started shrieking when he came outside), even more adorable up close, and YOU GUYS, I LOVE HIM A LOT.

Oh, and the show was good, too. I don’t want to understate that. I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough about such things to really critique it, but it certainly seemed to me to be very well done. Loved the music, loved the use of the setting, loved the interwoven stories. (Though my favorite moment was the joke about the 1/9 train, and how the 9 no longer exists — or more specifically, the audience reaction. Which is to say, only a handful of people laughed, a nice way of picking out who was not a tourist in the crowd.)

But let’s face it: above and beyond all that, I love this guy:

Credit: Joseph Marzullo/Wenn.com

So thank you, sir, for existing, and making my not-at-all-inner fangirl very, very happy. ♥

  1. I feel like this was a very Gen X thing that has really stuck around, but haven’t done any research to back that up.
  2. Holy crap, 13-year-olds are half my age, when did that happen?
  3. I think the only series that’s ever started as made-for-TV and made the jump to theatrical, not the other way around.
  4. Discounting Zac Efron, who is charming as all get out, but really, really not a dancer.
  5. Case in point: a show so bad even the CW wouldn’t keep it on the air.
  6. Okay, not gonna lie, I actually had to be talked into this. When I meet someone I’m that emotionally invested in, I tend to freak out. Not that it’s happened often, but for example, when I met the bassist from my favorite band in 12th grade, I actually forgot my own name when he offered to sign my ticket. You know the cliché girl who bursts into tears when she meets her favorite teen idol, as illustrated daily on TRL for a decade? SO ME.
  7. On his part, clearly, since that’s obviously already true on mine.

#s 3 & 4: Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

#s 3 & 4: Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

I chopped a good five or six inches off my hair yesterday. It’s the shortest it’s ever been now, I’m pretty sure. This is what it looked like when the stylist blowdried it. It, uh, doesn’t look like that when I blowdry it. But whatchagonnado?

Anyhoo.

Two very different books this week: historical romance and contemporary YA.

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase

Mr. Impossible by Loretta ChaseI was really looking forward to this one — I’d already read two of the Carsington Brothers series (Lord Perfect and Miss Wonderful) and found them charming, but both of the people who’d recommended them told me I’d like Mr. Impossible best, because a) it’s basically The Mummy in prose form (without an actual mummy) and b) Rupert is a charming scoundrel.

Basically, the book is about a scholar named Daphne, who has to pretend it’s her brother who’s the genius because no one will accept a woman who’s smarter than they are. But her brother gets kidnapped as they’re studying ancient Egypt, and the only one around who can help is Rupert. She and Rupert set off together and through a series of adventures, they fall in love. He thinks her smarts are hot, she thinks his hotness is hot (and it is!), and they have lots of good sex. Hooray!

My one complaint is that it’s set up very clearly at the beginning of the book that Daphne is the brains, where Rupert is the muscle; Daphne is logical where Rupert is rash. But Daphne spends a lot of the book bursting into tears and missing the obvious, while Rupert picks up on clues and does the actual mystery-solving. While Daphne’s smarts showed through in her scholar-ing (that’s a word now), when it came to the plot itself, it was very much an applied attribute. That said, I loved her character growth as she came to terms with being smart and not being ashamed of it, and began to embrace who she is. And I loved the romance (which is, obviously, kinda key to enjoying the book). She and Rupert are delightful, and I would read a million more books about their adventures.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Some Girls Are by Courtney SummersI’m honestly not quite sure what to say about this one. It’s really not my genre; while I read lots and lots of YA, very little of it is contemporary and of that, basically none of it is stories about mean girls and social hierarchies, because those are not things I particularly want to read about. But I adore Courtney — her twitter is super fun to follow if you love Lady Gaga or hate werewolves (or both!) — and despite it not being my genre, I enjoyed her debut novel, Cracked Up to Be, quite a bit.

And I can’t say I didn’t enjoy SGA. I read it in one sitting, and stayed up quite a bit past my bedtime to do so. It’s compelling. But it’s definitely a story about mean girls being mean. And not in the Lindsay Lohan-movie way. The book is brutal: it kicks off with an attempted rape, and the antagonists laugh about it and use it as a way to torment the protagonist throughout.

Speaking of the protagonist, Regina: she’s not nice either. She’s not a good person who’s dealing with bad things happening to her; she’s not sympathetic. She was one of the mean girls until she got frozen out, and Summers doesn’t shy away from the fact that Regina is basically exactly the same as the people tormenting her, she’s just on the receiving end for a change. It was definitely interesting; one of the main themes of the book was that everyone revels in being a bitch sometimes.1 It would have been dishonest if Regina hadn’t been, too. But that made it hard to root for her. It felt almost arbitrary that she was the protagonist and the girl she hated most was the antagonist; without changing much of the story before the very end, only flipping the point of view, it could have been about Kara getting back at Regina for a variety of horrible things Regina had done.

So ultimately, I’m not sure what to say. A few months ago, Courtney2 posted a very interesting blog entry about mean girls and writing SGA; looking through the comments, what I wrote in response was:

I really wonder if my own completely weirdo high school existences are why I don’t read much contemporary stuff and am much more drawn to sf/f. Hmmm. There wasn’t really a lot of bullying or cliqueishness in my school (that I was aware of); I never felt bullied or that I had to find a way to belong with my equally-weird friends. So I rarely see myself reflected in contemporary stuff and I rarely identify with the characters on either side.

Aside from the fact that I evidently wrote “existences” instead of “experiences,” I think that’s the best I can do to sum up my feelings on SGA. It was a good book; it just wasn’t a book for me. But Summers’ writing3 is compelling — I read both of her books cover-to-cover without stopping. So I would absolutely recommend to people who are into mean girls-style stories.

  1. Including the reader: why would you, by which I mean me, or to be grammatically correct, I, speed through a book about horrible people if there wasn’t at least a little visceral enjoyment in seeing people, you know, be horrible?
  2. I can’t decide if I should be referring to her by first or last name in this post
  3. There I go again.

#1: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

#1: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Last year, I tried (elsewhere) to keep track of the books I read. I gave up in February when I could no longer type: banishment from the computer meant I was able to read more, but not record titles or my impressions. (Handwriting is not good for sore wrists either, for the record.) Basically I gave up three months into the year.

This year I’m trying again, though I’m weirdly nervous about it. What if I lose track and slack off and this tag only ever has this one entry? What if the internet judges me based on what I read? Or, for that matter, what I haven’t read yet? I was a serious bookworm growing up — less so of late, though I hope keeping track of what I read will encourage me a bit — but I never read much that could count as The Classics. The classics I did read were mostly for English class, and that sort of damaged the joy of reading them for me.

Case in point: Pride and Prejudice. Now, basically all of my friends swear by this book. Several swoon over Mr. Darcy. But I read it for A.P. English and detested it. Which, looking back, was unfair; it had nothing to do with the book itself, and everything to do with the teacher. This was a teacher whose favorite Shakespeare was The Taming of the Shrew — LOL spousal abuse, I guess? — and when we read it in class, who declared, “Becky, you read Kate, because you’re a shrew.” Not so much my favorite teacher.1 So I have been studiously avoiding Austen and all things associated with her ever since.

Like, in this case, Sense and Sensibility. Which I have now read! My sister put the movie on a couple of months ago, and I looooooooooved it. We actually ended up watching it twice in 24 hours. So I decided perhaps I should get over my admittedly irrational avoidance, so I picked up the book, put off reading it for awhile, and finally started it on vacation a couple weeks ago.

And okay, yes. I loved it. Jane Austen: A++, would read again. It was a bit more challenging than most of what I read, because I am very accustomed to modern pacing and structure, but once I fell into the rhythm of the book I quite enjoyed it. I loved both Elinor and Marianne, and I really enjoyed Edward and Colonel Brandon. I didn’t get all of the satire because I don’t know much about what was being satirized — I know just enough to know what I don’t know, basically — but once I shrugged and accepted that the various friends and relations running around and being ridiculous were, in fact, meant to be ridiculous, and stopped worrying about keeping track of who they were related to and how all the supporting characters related to one another, it was delightful. It took me a couple of weeks to read the first section, but once I got sucked in, I sped through volumes two and three in a few days.

So in the end, I feel thoroughly enriched and glad I read it. And now I’m going to watch the movie again, because that sounds perfect for a lazy Sunday, lying-on-the-couch viewing.

  1. In fairness to her, I was a pretty snotty student. I wouldn’t have liked teaching me, either.

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