strange fire

books. poetry. paganism. feminism. queerness. blog.

well, it certainly suits my mood… July 29, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 12:17 pm

The Lady of Shalott
You are “The Lady of Shalott”.

Which Loreena McKennitt song are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

 

Yeah, I should be posting Lieutenant Hornblower, but I’m taking quizzes instead. Was planning on finishing up Hornblower reviews this week, but I had to go on a brief hiatus and slay some dragons, so to speak. Hopefully I’ll get them all up next week.

 

Why is a raven like a writing desk? July 24, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 3:35 pm

You are The Mad Hatter

You are The Mad Hatter

One thing is for sure- you’re as mad as a hatter.

You have an obsession with time and if tea time

were to ever cease, you would probably be even

more confused.

What Alice in Wonderland Character Are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

The Mad Hatter was always my favorite.  Via Lady Crumpet

 

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower ~ C.S. Forester

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 7:36 am

May 21, 2003

The first book in the series isn’t a novel so much as a collection of vignettes, providing glimpses of Horatio from a sea-sick half-grown boy in Spithead to a reckless young lieutenant in the Mediterranean. Sometimes seeing the film version beforehand ruins the book, but not in this case. If it’s one thing Forester knows, it’s how to spin a suspenseful, exciting plotline. Sorely missed the loyal sidekick Archie Kennedy. He was kind of a necessary invention for the tv version; Hornblower’s a introspective, reticent kind of guy, and while in the book you’re privy to his thoughts, for the miniseries you need a best friend to get inside his head. Wish there was a Nautical Jargon for Dummies, because it’s all Greek to me. It sounds really cool whenever they “jib halliards” or whatever, but I have no idea what it means. So, looks like I have another area to research, 18th century naval tactics, in addition to the French Revolution/Napoleanic Wars. Good thing I like history.

 

JA, chicklit, and Bitch. I couldn’t think of a witty title. July 22, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 2:30 pm

Over at Austenblog they’ve got a post about Jane Austen and chicklit. Which made me think of the latest issue of Bitch magazine (Run out to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy right now; you’ll thank me later), which had an article dissecting the chicklit phenomenon: the good, the bad, the whys and wherefores. It came to the same conclusions as the Austenblog article:

Jane Austen, of course, is consistently identified as the great-grandmother of chick lit, and most examples conform (some more successfully than others) to the comedy-of-manners romance she honed to perfection. Indeed, the ways in which chick lit deviates from Austen’s model are telling. Austen limned the cotours of a world in which women had little choice but to marry, and the presssure to do so early and well delineates her typical plot just as it defines her heroines. Austen’s women are constricted by a narrowly defined  set of roles. Chick lit heroines, on the other hand, are generally baffled by a lack of definition. Faced with a confusing barrage of conflicting messages–build a career, start a family, find a man, be independent–they dither and stumble toward their happy ending. The nature of that happy ending–a monogamous, heterosexual relationship–may be preordained, but the author has a great deal of freedom in determining how her protagonist gets there.

So I’ve been thinking about JA and chicklit for the past few days. I don’t read chicklit. I’ve read and enjoyed Bridget Jones, but that’s about it. Frankly, I have issues with chicklit. On the one hand, I don’t want to be an intellectual snob and dismiss out of hand popular genre fiction that I’ve never read (I went through a nasty phase of that in high school); but on the other, chicklit is not that interesting to me. I’m not interested in men, I hate shopping for anything that isn’t books, I drink rarely, etc. Besides, I hate pink. But whether a book is relevant to my own experience doesn’t have much to do with my interest in or opinion of it; after all, Horatio Hornblower and I live in completely different universes, and I love that series.

(I’m writing all this as it comes to me, by the way. I’m not formulating a structured argument or anything)

So whenever I see “Jane Austen” and “chick-lit” linked, I cringe. It’s the implied synonymous relationship I really hate, as if Austen were nothing more than a Regency version of Candace Bushnell. Jane Austen was a creative genius! I want to shout. She was an artist! A pioneer both for writers and for women! She was satirizing the marriage market, for god’s sake! It’s social commentary, on women’s roles and religion and morality and family dynamics and even economics! etc. And then that guy in my Women’s Writers class (hereafter referred to as Sexist Dumbass) pops into my head and replies that, after all, she only wrote about women talking alot and getting married. Not anything important.

Jeez, that still makes me mad. I really hate that guy.

So I’m looking at the Bitch article again, which says that chicklit can be great fun, well-written and satirical; but a lot of it fails to live up to its potential. Maybe it’s the word “chicklit” that I hate; it’s got a diminutive, condescending, derogatory ring to it, just like “chick flick” (things get ugly round here when people start talking about “that chick flick” they saw).  It’s all sugar and sweet and wrapped up in pink! And I get the feeling that alot of media/marketers/what-have-you don’t realize that this is fluff reading for a lot of women. It’s fun, that’s the whole point. A gal’s gotta have her Georgette Heyer, you know? And why does it have to have its own category? Why does fiction that focuses on single women dealing with work and relationships and just living have to be segregated off into a genre, plastered with ribbons and bows (to make sure no guys accidently read it and damage their masculinity, perhaps)?  Bitch also has a side bar on “Lad Lit”, the male answer to chick lit. Not surprisingly, nobody’s reading it. It’s like Spike TV, the self-proclaimed “First Network for Men!” Give me a break. All television is for men. Likewise, you don’t need your own genre of fiction when the vast majority of literature has been written by men for men.

Chicklit’s a fairly new genre, as a concept anyway. I think it’s a potentially rich field that’s fallen prey to publishing marketers. Bridget Jones was a hit, and people realized they could make money off this thing, and turned it into a product. Water it down, play to the lowest-common denominator, sell shitloads. Or it’s just a case of So-and-So’s Law (I forget which), the one that says that 98% of anything is crap.

So is Jane Austen the great-grandmother of chicklit? Yes and no, I guess. Same basic parts, same themes, different treatments. BJ is a pastiche of Pride and Prejudice, of course; but in some bizarre way it seems like every other chicklit author has decided to take Lydia Bennet or Isabella Thorpe as their heroine, instead of Elizabeth or Anne Eliot or even Emma.  I don’t know; maybe I should read more chicklit before I draw any real conclusions.

God I love having a blog! I can get on my soapbox for as long as I want and can’t nobody stop me! What do chicklit fans think? Am I full of shit?

 

a quick succession of busy nothings July 20, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 9:57 am

About the only rule I have for myself when it comes to reading is that I never force myself to finish a book I’m not enjoying. It’s a hard rule for me to follow, because I hate, absolutely HATE leaving a book unfinished. I’ve got a nasty stubborn streak in me and it tends to turn reading into an antagonistic battle of wills between me and the book: Goddamnit, I’m gonna finish this thing even if it kills me! And it’s just not worth it. I’m not learning anything from the book, I’m certainly not enjoying it, it’s just a big waste of time. Occasionally finishing something out of pure spite will pay off, like with Moby-Dick or Thomas Hardy, but that’s pretty rare for the most part. All this is to say that I’m giving up on The Waves. A writer at the Green Man Review said in this week’s issue: “I maintain that some books come to us in their own times, when we are ready most to enjoy or find enlightenment in their pages.” Which is something I believe as well. It’s the right book, but the wrong time. Next time I have to spend ten hours on a plane I’ll know not to attempt to read experimental Modernist fiction.

Happily, however, I’ve finally found a book I know I’m going to thoroughly enjoy: Tom Jones. By the second chapter I had fallen madly in love with Mr. Fielding. I got Hornblower During the Crisis from the library finally, so expect thoughts on the first three books in the series in the near future.

Blogroll update: Mags of Tilney and Trapdoors has started Austenblog, for all your Janeite news. Lots of info on the new Pride and Prejudice movie; I can’t decide if I’m excited about it or not. They’ve cast Keira Knightley as Elizabeth. Maybe, just maybe this will give her the opportunity to show off some acting skills, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

Holy Fools ~ Joanne Harris July 15, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 9:17 am

Wherein The Humble Blogger Once Again Puts Too Much Thought Into Cheap Entertainment

(here there be spoilers)

Like I said earlier, I broke down and bought this at DeCitre bookstore because I was starved for English reading material. It goes without saying I felt guilty about it, but I figured it was a good compromise since it’s set in 17th century France. It’s a clever gothic potboiler, full of murder, intrigue, witchcraft, possession, visions, and revenge. Great fun, but the love story doesn’t make any sense. It works perfectly until the very, very end; I was just completely flabbergasted by the epilogue. The plot revolves around Juliette, former rope dancer and current nun at the abbey of St. Marie-de-la-Mer, and her ex-lover and father of her child, Guy LeMerle, the Blackbird, sometime theatrical producer and all-around con artist. LeMerle is clearly the villain of the book (well, along with the Catholic Church; cover your ears, all you decent god-fearing folk)–he’s charming, intelligent, handsome, and thoroughly cold and heartless. And Juliette knows that he’s a selfish, arrogant bastard without a conscience. I can see why she saves him, in the end, but I have no idea why she would want to enter into a relationship with him again. The rogue reformed by the love of a good woman, I suppose is the idea. I believe that some people can be redeemed, but LeMerle is not one of them. It’s supposed to be romantic, I guess, but the more I think about it the more it bothers me. Juliette builds a perfectly good, independent life for herself and her daughter, but decides she really does love a man who deliberately manipulates a young girl into a suicidal religious frenzy and attempted to burn down a church full of innocent people in order to exact some petty personal revenge. Oh, how I swoon. The moral of the story here girls is if you just put up with his shit long enough, he’ll change! You’ll live happily ever after, because he miraculously decided for no apparent reason to stop being a shithead!

As for Juliette, she’s a bit too perfect, which I don’t mind; we need some perfect heroines to balance out the simpering doormats that populate most of anglophone literature (Charles Dickens, I’m looking at you). Not to mention the Evil Harpies and Castrating Bitches. I like Juliette, for the most part. It was all very familiar, the language of Harris’ priests and nuns, full of gilded images of heaven, static saints, guilt and failure and sin, the bizarre “language of seduction” that the Church uses. The book is suffused with “atmospheric” Catholicism, but she slips up on pg. 342, when she says the impoverished abbey has a holy relic, the finger-bone of the Virgin Mary, which is impossible since the Church teaches that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul, so there wouldn’t be any finger bones left to use as holy relics. And I’m pretty sure that’s been set in stone for quite some time. And even if the nuns were passing a chicken bone off as a holy relic, as they were wont to do in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, they wouldn’t have been hurting for money, thanks to the flocks of pilgrims it would attract. So that throws a kink in the works, but only if you’re a nit-picky recovering Catholic like me. I’m sure the good Sisters of Mercy (ha) would be glad to know that 12 years of catechism classes are mainly being used to detect doctrinal errors in mass-market paperbacks.

The Tragic Lesbian makes a (mercifully) brief appearance, to my great annoyance, and Harris lays on the foreshadowing with a trowel, but for the most part it’s good stuff. Fun and suspenseful. She keeps you on your toes, switching narrators without warning or indication, slowly weaving her plot together, drawing out the questions and ominous tension until the absolute last moment. But the lit crit geek in me just can’t help pulling a book like this to pieces even though I liked it.

*****

New to the blogroll: Horatians, a discussion site for all your Horatio Hornblower needs, and the Forbidden Library, a catalogue of banned and challenged books.

 

Sugar and Other Stories ~ A.S. Byatt July 11, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 6:56 pm

I know I should have spent my short time in France reading in French, and I did for a while. I hadn’t brought any English-language books with me, but half-way through my stay I started having a rough time, culture shock maybe. I needed something in English, so when I saw Sugar and Other Stories in Decitre, I snatched it up, along with Joanna Harris’ Holy Fools and Woolf’s The Waves. I felt appropriately chagrined about buying English books instead of, say, George Sand or Zola, but I was feeling…I don’t know, frazzled. A sudden, total immersion into a foreign language like that is tough, and I was starting to feel like I was slowly drowning. It’s difficult to describe, but happily Byatt does it for me:

The exhaustion of the strange came upon her, the sudden refusal of mind and senses to take in new faces, new words, new foods, new courtesies, or old ones whose meanings had shifted and become dangerous or void. “Loss of Face,” 123.

Like Nyarly said in her blog, Byatt has an uncanny ability to articulate the subtleties of emotion, and a magnificent eye for detail. I’ve never seen anyone describe colors the way she does. Her prose is just magnificent. I bought her for comfort food, which is odd, really, because Byatt is hardly a comforting writer, and certainly not a cozy one. There’s a morbid streak running through this collection; death and mortalitly seem to be one of the unifying motifs. Nearly all the themes and ideas developed in Possession are present as well, to a greater or lesser degree. The relationship between the individual and art/literature shows up in “On the Day that E.M. Forster Died” and “Racine and the Tablecloth” (which has inspired me to read Phedre in French); Byatt’s on-going love affair with Robert Browning forms the basis of “Precipice-Encurled”; and her taste for the gothic is present in “The July Ghost” and “The Changeling.”

I don’t know why I found Byatt so reassuring. Often it was enough just to know I had the book on me, even if I didn’t get a chance to read it. The fact that it’s in English certainly had alot to do with it, but it’s something more than that, otherwise Harris would have served just as well, which she didn’t. There’s just no substitute for Byatt (her unfortunate views on Harry Potter notwithstanding). She’s so erudite and intelligent, academic but not myopic or stuffy, a writer’s writer. I finish her work and I simply want to start over and re-read it again. Maybe I sense something of a kindred spirit in her, in the characters she writes (She’d be horrified to hear that, I’m sure; it’s terribly juvenile to identify with a writer’s work, don’t you know). At any rate, I can’t wait to get her new collection.