So I’m at work today thinking about the Circle of Magic books, as y’do, because I found pdfs online and I’m halfway through, and I’m thinking about the idea of craft magic as so powerful, ambient magic, the little non-showy things that pin the world together. And I got enough worldview from Tammy Pierce that I’ve kind of wanted to know how to spin thread since I was ten, but this isn’t that world any more. We don’t weave our own cloth or smelt iron with our own two hands, we don’t have to grow our own vegetables to get them fresh.
Which could lead to a whole sad and sorry ‘the world is too advanced, too removed from our basics’, but no. No, I don’t want to think that way at all. Because you know what? We still have plants.
We still have plants, even in the middle of a choked and crowded city (New York, Briar lives in New York, or maybe L.A., but no place smaller or greener), and in a neighborhood where the only growing things are weeds in the sidewalk cracks and brave blades of grass in yards of dirt packed hard as concrete, Briar knows the location of every public park or weedy vacant lot within two miles of wherever he lives. So the Briar Moss of today would be constantly drifting between homelessness and foster care and juvie hall, pulled into a gang maybe a little older than book canon but still too damn young, and the dandelions and crabgrass would always get a little taller, greener, stronger near to wherever he lived.
And I’m thinking that growing things aren’t just a luxury, I’m thinking about Briar learning about community gardening, when he gets older, people growing things on purpose in the kinds of places he used to live. Guerrilla gardening in the middle of the night, because he’s got a new life now but some things you don’t forget, and I can’t stop picturing him in a hoodie and ripped-up jeans, vines tattooed all across his skin covering over the old gang signs, slouching along the sidewalk in front of the no-longer-vacant lot between the liquor store and the apartment block. There’s tomato plants there now, and bean vines, a handful of other hardy-ish food plants that Briar scattered as seeds and told to grow, strong and stubborn, no matter who tries to rip you out, and then left to the people in the neighborhood to see to after that. It’s about the only fresh vegetables you’ll get anywhere near here, and it didn’t take that much work on his part. Just a few seeds and a little secret magic, and then people do for themselves. (And sometimes Briar slouches along through the nicer neighborhoods, the really nice neighborhoods where he almost has an excuse to be now, just to make everybody nervous about the tattooed brown boy in the ripped-up jeans and the hoodie, and silently encourages every last dandelion and blade of crab grass he can find to disrupt perfect lawns and break cracks in the sidewalk.)
There’s space in this world for that kind of magic. There’s space in this world, where clothing is mass produced and machine-made, for Sandry, because people still wear clothes, don’t they? She’d end up an Etsy-loving hipster, draped in her own handmade ultra-chic knitwear and a dress she sewed herself. And there’s a difference, isn’t there, Sandry taking up knitting because it’s trendy and therefore allowed (but also because the yarn tingles magic in her fingers) as a hobby, versus weaving yard after yard of bandage because it’s needed. But people still wear clothes, and Sandry wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up, to get cloth into shape and form, to keep people comfortable and warm, to make things that look good. And somebody has to, the world needs the person who can run yards of cloth through her hands, not to painstakingly embroider all the cuffs and hems by hand, but to see the bigger picture of all the thousands of people who’ll wear this clothing once it’s made.
Daja grows up surrounded by metal, everywhere she goes, and she might never see the inside of a smith’s forge her entire life. Instead her heart jumps one tiny beat the first time she ends up in an auto mechanic’s shop. It’s factories that make these parts, cogs and gears and pipes and engines, factories and not somebody’s hammer and anvil, but they still sing to Daja once they’re made, and somebody has to know how to put them together. She can fix anything, Daja in oil-stained overalls with a kerchief tied around her hair, the coils on a toaster, the engine of a car, the delicate wiring in somebody’s ipod. She welds and solders, finds weak spots and rust, maybe invents a little here and there. Just because most people don’t know how all their modern gadgets and technology are put together, doesn’t mean somebody doesn’t have to. And that’s the point of the craft magic, isn’t it, hasn’t it always been, the idea that somebody made that thing you take for granted and there’s honor in the making?
And of course weather magic still matters, because in this world, Tris would be eleven years old in the middle of tornado alley in a city where people still believe a kid can be possessed by Satan, and she would know when tornadoes were coming. Every time, she’d know. There are sturdy buildings and umbrellas and weather satellites, and for all that, one little girl can do more with the weather—can save lives, when she gets older, can nudge a tornado just a mile off course and save half a county, can face a hurricane, a blizzard—than any meteorologist or government agency could hope. Tris with her hair shoved under a hat or yanked back in a ponytail, still weird, because this world doesn’t have much space or belief for magic, but still with a place, because the wind’s still blowing in Oklahoma and the waves are climbing higher and higher off the coast of Florida, and that never goes away.
I’m not saying I want a modern AU, exactly (though this is a fandom I’ve never played around in, and if a really good one exists I would totally read it.) Just, it’s really interesting to me, to take the themes and apparent lessons of a medieval setting and see how they relate to the world that we, the audience, live in.
christinedaae said: please talk to us about your feelings on Kitty. *____*
EKATERINA SCHERBATSKAYA U COME HERE RIGHT NOW
okay god i just love her so much—i love russian ingenues so much they’re so bright and canny and they want so much, and what she wants is basically what she has, to be the belle of the ball, to be loved, to be the prettiest sparkliest best greatest girl in the room, that is exactly who she is and she knows it and she kind of loves levin but mostly she loves that and so she loves being courted but he’s not what she wants to marry, she wants to marry an officer, she wants to marry that life, that life that she has, when the story starts she wants to live in that forever and she’s not—wrong for that, i don’t think?
but she’s not complacent, she loves being surprised and she loves people who are bigger brighter deeper ~more interesting~ than her she loves women and she loves ANNA she loves anna the minute they meet and that little relationship is one of my favorite things in the book, kitty loving anna with all her direct little heart. and kitty gets angry, gets betrayed, when vronsky goes for anna, because she loses two of her loves at once—the ~perfect man~ she was supposed to marry (because she said so, because she picked!) and more importantly anna, who was deep and smart and warm and interesting, who was supposed to be teaching her, who was supposed to be loving her.
like kitty goes and gets A FEVER FROM FEELINGS (fav period novel tropes) and has to GO TO THE CAUCASUS (bc rich russians is why) and there she meets another girl she falls in love with, this time one who’s sicker than her and more virtuous and purer of heart and deeper of soul and kitty’s fascinated and WANTS TO BE THAT and chooses to be that because a) it’s the opposite of anna and b) SHE’S IN LOVE, KITTY FALLS IN LOVE AT THE DROP OF A HAT, KITTY FALLS IN LOVE WITH WOMEN AT THE DROP OF A HAT, KITTY RECONFIGURES HER IDENTITY CONSTANTLY TO BE A BETTER VERSION OF HERSELF THROUGH THE MIRROR OF THE WOMAN SHE LOVES AT THE TIME, KITTY LOVES WOMEN and all potential lesbians aside i love that in her so much? and also potential lesbians.
and kitty’s level of scorched about anna for the rest of the book makes 100% sense because she loved her most but it also makes me sad. mostly because we’re never in her head—we get her being angry that levin saw her and levin by way of lev tolstoy is like “hooHOOO! look at my GOOD WOMAN wife defending my virtue against that WICKED WOMAN over there!” and, no. no it’s not like that. when kitty marries levin she decides to be virtuous because kitty makes her own damn life and kitty goes all the fuckin way with everything so she’d tell you that’s exactly what it was like? but kitty is a chameleon and a girlwoman-liminal and you don’t believe her when she tells you what she’s like. because she’s like whatever she chooses to be like at the time.
but levin finds her when she’s just come off being in love with her caucasus-spa saintgirlfriend and is like ahhhh, she’s taken lessons in VIRTUE, we must now be WED and he believes that for the rest of the book—that she’s been Redeemed, that he must continue Redeeming her. and being a good wife means stamping out the bright belle-of-the-ball spark that makes her so wonderful and warm and compelling in a crowd even when there’s no ball (bc ~*vanity*~ heaven forfend). and i don’t like that in him. i like that the least. i really like their early days of courtship, with the skating, and i like the two of them because they’re both SO EXTREME, this is a book of extremes, i like him spluttering through society dinners and having to leave the room just as much as i like her self-convincing absoluteness, i like that they both convince themselves of what will make them good
but i don’t like that tolstoy thinks she needs a redemption arc, esp. not one through her husband. tolstoy is so weird and unreliable about his own damn book and specifically he can’t see the kitty for the OMG WIFE WIFE WIFE WIFE WIFE???? and that makes the narrative power differential in that marriage deeply unfair in the end.
Hm what else read Mayakovsky’s poetry read Belinsky’s lit-crit and letters read Gogol’s “Viy” because ACADEMIA and WITCHES I guess not in that order (Gogol’s a tough sell because he’s all linguistic art, I’ve heard Dead Souls is almost impossible to love in any other language). Always read the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, if you can.
Read Deathless (Cat Valente) and Red Plenty (Francis Spufford) for books About Russia from outside/nonRussian voices but that are really really great anyway at specifically being About Russian Stories, About Russian Storytelling. Follow that path with care, though.
Read Night Watch when it comes out in translation this winter just cos the covers are going to be super cool and because even though it’s not conspicuously Russian in the read according to my Russian scifi-specialist teacher and the belligerent Russian in our class it is in fact a Russian series that is big in Russia and also, heyo, new and interesting sf/f recs?
Oh, and don’t read any socialist realism, ever.
White is for Witching is TOTALLY on this list, which is actually one of my fav things—not just that White is for Witching is stunning perfect etc. and dealing with one of my fav tropes but also specifically, like, the University Narrative skews super white (tilts toward male, too, obviously: I was thinking the other day how much I’d kill for a female History Boys, and I don’t think that exists yet, really) in a literary-legacy sort of way buy GOD IT DOES NOT HAVE TO IN THE PRESENT, it should not in the present, so White is for Witching’s effortless college-story-not-remotely-about-white-dudes is gorgeous. (The novel is deeply racially conscious, one of the points of the book is “racist haunted house”, but the college narrative aspect of it is just effortlessly Oye’s to take for granted, the college romance is about her and Miranda falling and fucking. Which shouldn’t be rare but is. Which shouldn’t be exceptional on the list but is. (If people know others on that specific count, step in.))
And okay: I love The Secret History. I love This Side of Paradise for formative genre-stylin’ in despite of its infrastructural mess (and The Bell Jar I guess fits into genre-formative on the gendered flipside, though it’s far less academic-genre-insular). I love The Marriage Plot even though it is also a structural mess and is probably Eugenides’s least sound book. I love short story “Innocence” by Harold Brodkey which is just “college, cunnilingus, discuss”. I love Gogol’s “Viy” for this, actually?—Russians doing college narratives is super interesting and obviously you read “Viy” for the witches and the invention of folklore but also it’s randomly deeeeeeeply academic, it’s a three-prince fairytale quest except instead of three princes they’re boys in different academic disciplines! LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, on that front: mostly college jokes. (This summer’s Park production was not really a L3 production but it was set at basically-Williams-College-I-know-that-ski-lodge and that made me wish they had actually done the play instead of dicked around and made up terrible songs to sub in for the actual text.) I read Tom Wolfe’s trash heap I Am Charlotte Simmons and I DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT, I WOULD NOT TELL YOU TO READ TOM WOLFE, I AM NOT A MONSTER but if you read it you oughtta come commiserate. Skip The Rules of Attraction; fuck Ellis. Don’t read The Art of Fielding, which is boring, or Ivo Stourton’s knockoff Secret History, which is the deflated balloon version with no god just dudesorrow, or My Education which—Susan Choi seems cool but is bad at prose. BETTER THAN RUNNING AT NIGHT, READ BETTER THAN RUNNING AT NIGHT—it’s art school, I think it’s out of print, it’s sexual-artistic awakening and funny and melancholic and so so smart. Read Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin retelling. Oleanna isn’t what you want but read it anyway. Read Norwegian Wood for this, not just for getting into Murakami (though also for that).
Read other things I haven’t found yet and recommend them to me (or warn me off).
"I’m waiting for someone to ask Jonathan Franzen, ‘How does your whiteness affect your art? How does it affect your writing?’" - Junot Diaz
like how amazing would it be if someone did actually ask Franzen, who is what a human being would be like if bitter indignant white middle-aged male tears could take a physical form, how his whiteness affects his art, his writing. just his reaction would be worth the price of admission because has anyone ever asked a white author that question? (probably not.)
dickens is like that guy u kno who is super annoying but sometimes you dont see him for a while and hes nice to friends of yours so its like ok maybe i misjudged but then you talk to him again and hes like HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED THAT HOT WOMEN ARE ALWAYS MEAN and its like nevermind, bye
Hon. mention to This Is How You Lose Her (because how do you pick a single scene from that whole genius project) and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (because not technically sex but sexiest thing in YA—which is like, that’s a whole ‘nother list, though FLB is obviously on the liminal). Also, because I’m not THE NEW YORK TIMES and do not FRONT about the trash I’ve read the most memorably ~into it~ I’ve ever been was a pieceashit with a bright pink cover that I read when I was eleven, called The Cinderella Rules, which pissed me off to the core because other than a makeover scene with “fairy godmothers” (spoiler alert: nonmagical) it was NOT A FAIRYTALE RETELLING except for the scene where our bland heroine’s bland love interest slipped into the dressing room with her and ruined a few silk tops with his mouth while she tried desperately to keep her reactions quiet; that wasn’t bland, that didn’t piss me off. (Course, I can also source you for the most memorably OUT OF IT I have ever been: another pieceashit with a neon cover, read at age twelve, the last such chick-lit pieceashit I would read literally ever, which stated—again literally—that the hero had “a lead pipe in his pants.” Not stated as a metaphor! And that’s how I quit my chick-lit habit fast and hard, so to fuckin’ speak.)
ANON THIS IS SWEET OF YOU AND SO ON POINT AND ALSO EMBARRASSING
clearly allan gurganus doesn’t need to be invited to talk at my ‘writers talking enthusiastically about the importance of sexuality in writing characters’ panel (which presently consists of junot diaz, who’d be brilliant, megan abbott, who’d be sharp, and glen duncan, who’d be…glen duncan; see, we already have about as many dudes as we need we don’t need an old white guy tipping the balance (REQUESTING MORE DAMES WHO HAVE BEEN INTERVIEWED ABOUT CHARACTER & EROTICISM NEXUS (susan choi yo i think you’re supersmart but you are not invited to talk about this specific thing because you are bad at writing sex))) because i do feel like the dirty-old-man vibe would put some of the women in the audience off (and i expect a 3/4 female audience there will be an upper limit on writer bros :) i will be serving as moderator and intellectual bouncer and i will throw your ass out) but
speaks 2 me
speaks 2 me loud and filthy and bright and clear
and is refreshing after the nytimes’s ‘sex week’ was written by a bunch of prudes full-on lying to my face; you did not have your literary sex-on-the-page sexual awakening with the literal bible you had it with a b romance with an embarrassing cover, everyone did, everyone in the world has one, don’t you fucking front nytimes-credited authors i KNOW YOUR HARLEQUIN HEART