"Hey, you...guy. The dames, eh? Yeah, the dames. Stupid dames. You having any luck with the horses? No, the horses are all...idiots. You know, between the dames and the horses, sometimes I don't even know why I put my hat on."
That's how people talk in bars, isn't it?
Hemingway and James Joyce were drinking buddies in Paris. Joyce was thin and bespectacled; Hemingway was tall and strapping. When they went out Joyce would get drunk, pick a fight with a bigger guy in the bar and then hide behind Hemingway and yell, “Deal with him, Hemingway. Deal with him.”
Between this and the story about him reassuring F. Scott Fitzgerald re dick size, I’m developing a picture of Hemingway as the mother hen of the disaffected white male literary set of the early 20th century.
He probably called up Steinbeck sometimes and was like I CAN’T EVEN WITH THESE DIPSHITS and Steinbeck was all “That’s what you get for living in Paris, asshole”.
The literature: Eleanor Catton’s THE LUMINARIES
The libation: This intricate, ambitious, experimental novel is not something to be read passively - better to prepare yourself with a Gold Rush. Equal parts Goldschlager and Red Bull served in a shot glass should put you in the mood for a thriller about prospectors in 19th century New Zealand. Several servings should have you recommending both the book and the drink to your friends, loudly, with a refrain of “BOOKER PRIZE, BITCHES!”
Photo © crschmidt
Okay, I grew up—that is, was actual YA reading age—when the Gossip Girl zeitgeist was at its height. And before I get into it, I’ll say that a) I loved the shit out of GG and The A-list and The Clique and the rest of those namedroppy escapist series that were doing the same exact thing in different cities and b) I was not looking for depth in them. Even then, I knew that. It was a superficial time: sure. Since then, stories about flocks of rich girls have gone out of fashion, replaced as Trend MVP by paranormal romance (Twilight’s vamp-lite) and now dystopia, thanks to the stupid Hunger Games. Both of those trends are less my personal jam, though I have paranormals I like, and I’ll fess up to my bias freely. I think a lot about whether or not I feel like YA was “better” then than now and I can’t honestly say that’s purely subjective, even though I know it’s not at all objective. (I think the market was a tiny bit less static ten or even five years ago, and now YA is in a bigger boom and can make more money but there’s an increasingly limited scope of the stories being told because everyone’s after the brass ring. There are more emulators, and worse ones. But that’s not what I’m talking about—I’m actually talking about trend calcification, here, so I’ll save that particular leg of musing for another day).
So when I was the YA target audience, the big books were working off the Gossip Girl series template in the same way that they’re now shamelessly aping The Hunger Games and its like. (We’ll see what comes next. I’m sooooooo ready. That’s the good thing about zeitgeist: if you don’t like it now, there’s always a next thing around the corner.) And I’m not going to come out and say “GG was MORE PROGRESSIVE and Blair Waldorf was a WAY BETTER FEMINIST than Katniss Everdeen or Bella Swan” because I think that’s a nonsense argument and looking for a pedestal that doesn’t exist—the GG days, the rich-girl-series days, were crazy flawed and limited in their way (I think there are things to be said for not being expected to identify absolutely with our heroines, and I’m always here to yell about the dismantling of “likability” politics in teen girl media, but fundamentally how hard am I gonna fight re. the “progressiveness” of the mean unachievable rich girl?), just as the present is. What I think, specifically, is that there was a central grace of those narratives that has since been lost, and that is: that they were about multiple girls, rather than just one. Meaning two things:
1. there wasn’t just a central “girl” figure for the reader to project into, but rather, multiple girls, who I think could afford to be more fully fleshed out as characters precisely because there wasn’t a single protagonist to follow and identify with; similarly, they got greater leeway of “unlikability” in part because those girls would butt heads with each other, and sometimes one would get to be right, and sometimes another, and nobody was ever always right or always wrong. Even in the most awful and noxious of second-string ripoffs, like with The A-list’s painfully self-righteous Anna, other girls would get their day in the sun. Would get to be different kinds of wrong and different kinds of right and different kinds of good and different kinds of bad. So the expected audience relationship with those girls was different. Projection was expected, yes, but it wasn’t “here’s a hollow space for you to flesh out”. It was a choose your own adventure thing, but the adventure—those girls—were different, meaning they had enough dimensionality to be different, and that was the point. You had all these different perspectives you got to wear, all these choices of headspace to occupy. And what’s more—
2. Those girls loved each other, and that was the centerpoint of the story. I don’t mean to gloss that there was heaps of cheesy heteronormative romance: there were stupid boyfriends, there have been stupid boyfriends since the beginning of literature and there will be stupid boyfriends until there is nobody left to write them. But they came in second. The girls’ relationships drove the structure of those books, in part because of that fracted perspective you got where they all got a chance to think and talk and fight within their heads about the way things were supposed to be, and they fought crazy often (and again, often about boys), but they fought because they loved each other. They mattered to each other more than any of the boys: to pull back to the classic Blair and Serena ended the series (seventy thousand ghostwriters later) with each other, the boy off sailing into the sun somewhere far out of sight.
And there were so many of these series. Again with the big ones, the rich-girl prepster extravagances, but more than that: nearly every book on the market in those days was following that template. Meaning, even when you weren’t writing about rich girl prep, multiple girls were expected, and that deeply complex, difficult female friendship crucible was the likeliest place for you to live, no matter what you were writing.
Now we live with a mainstream narrative that is very much about The One Girl, and maybe the boy (or boys) she likes: The Girl as exception to the monster’s rules before, and now The Girl as foil to a whole wicked faceless regime. I’m not saying those narratives don’t have their own peculiar strengths or offer their own interesting dialogues with what we expect from our books and our heroines and our readers. Nor that the trends when I was growing up were more creatively flexible or innately progressive. But specifically, I miss having more than one girl in my big books.
WE’RE TAKING THIS EVENING OLD SCHOOL \o/
The first character I first fell in love with: CAMMIE, BABY
The character I never expected to love as much as I do now: CAMMIE, BABY. I loved her as I love all YA (particularly Gossip-Girl-era YA) queen bitches, and for being an antagonist to Anna who was loathsome, then I loved her for her Hidden Depths™ and the way those Hidden Depths™ didn’t actually defang her bitch factor, the way those things existed in tandem
The character everyone else loves that I don’t: Y R U, ANNA PERCY. Like if Gwyneth Paltrow was a Nerdfighter.
The character I love that everyone else hates: I mean. Cammie’s there to be hated, tho anyone with sense was TEAM ALL OVER THAT.
The character I used to love but don’t any longer: I thought they went very dry with things to do with Dee by like, book three.
The character I would totally smooch: CAMMIE SHEPPARD IS TEXTUALLY BOMB IN BED, also I’d fuck that guy (Ben?) and make him cry.
The character I’d want to be like: [redacted]
The character I’d slap: boys and men probs. And look, I don’t wanna get into a physical fight with Anna Percy because that would feed her “above that” ego—but I would love to push her into a pool while she was in three-generations-vintage Chanel.
A pairing that I love: the Cammie And Dude (Adam?) is fairly good at not being Niceguy and being hers/about her; also, the two seconds of Sam/Anna were the best Anna ever was
A pairing that I despise: Anna/Ben is so bad; credit to them: not only do they junk it, but they junk it and hook her up with Daniel Craig proxy. Reasons for which include “why not?” and “why the hell not?”
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book Americanah has been listed by the New York Times as one the year’s best fiction novels, as selected by the publication’s editors of The New York Times Book Review.
Straying from Nigerian landscapes, as seen in her previous books, as suggested by the title of the book, the story centers around a young woman who moves to the United States for educational purposes - a common decision for many young Africans pursuing tertiary education opportunities, and her experiences with her multi-layered dual identities as she struggles aligning herself fully with each, and the allegiances that lie on either end.
Why I Need YA Lit
Tell me why YOU need YA Lit in your school (or just your life, in general)
I’m a teacher candidate trying to defend the use of YA Lit in schools. I think making YA Lit available and encouraged reading in the classroom is really important for a bunch of reasons.
My main reasons are:
- YA Lit can be just as intellectually/emotionally compelling as traditional literature, but is more accessible to more students
- YA Lit is not perfect, but is still WAAAAY more diverse than the Western Canon (the books traditionally taught in English classes), which overwhelmingly feature neurotypical, able-bodied, white, cishet male protagonists*
- YA Lit can help students become stronger readers AND
- Not all students have access to the time and/or materials to be able to read YA Lit outside of the classroom
So those are my reasons. But I want to hear yours. If you’ve got a spare minute, hop on over to Why I Need YA Lit, and tell me why you need YA Lit in your school (or your life).
All types of submissions and submitters (students, teachers, librarians, once-were-students, etc.) are welcome.
*To Clarify: I’m not trying to get rid of traditional literature. At all. I’m just trying to make more room in schools/curricula for the YA Lit that many students enjoy and benefit from.
The truth is, when you banish the gods from the world, they eventually come back - with a vengeance. Humans can’t stay away from gods, and gods can’t stay away from humans. It’s the natural order of things.
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.