Slightly groggy book review… ish… ness…
I have a nasty cold. It is no fun. I intensely dislike feeling like my head has been stuffed full of cotton wool and my brain is out vacationing in Timbuktu without me. Regardless, I’m trying to stay awake so I go to bed at a reasonable hour and don’t wake up at 3 am and remain unable to go back to sleep. I also don’t want more of those unpleasant dreams where something is trying to possibly kill me and in my head I say, ‘Oh HELL no!’ and snap myself awake breathless and with adrenaline racing through me… and then once again I can’t go back to sleep for hours, as my brain obsessively fixates on the dream and how it was going and how I would have escaped and was that really what was happening and blah blah blah.
So right now my brain is still chugging along, albeit very slowly, and coughing up the occasional random thought at about the same speed as my usual coughing fits… and it occurs to me: I don’t seem to like what most folks like in literature. I remember a shared-universe book series years ago called Wild Cards that had multiple authors. A friend asked me what my favorite and least favorite characters were, then played a recording of an interview with the series editor for me. It turns out the two characters I most despised — and I use that term deliberately — were the two most popular with women. I still don’t understand why someone would want to, for example, become the inamorata of a space alien that treated you like a slave or pet and was willing to effectively give you a psychic lobotomy in order to protect himself… and I was equally mystified as to the popularity of the male pimp character that used both his prostitutes and other women as nothing more than sexual batteries to power up his abilities. Very odd.
I also read but was not entranced by Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Don’t get me wrong; I’m on his mailing list and I’m thrilled to hear he’s finally doing well, and that the books and movie are having a fantastic tour. However, when people talk about how much they loved the story, I don’t really get it. It was interesting and somewhat mythic, true. It gave me a wonderful line that I occasionally still use (“Never run from immortal things. It just attracts their attention“)… but for me the story was not entrancing; not the sort of thing I remember fondly years later.
For a book series I do still remember with great fondness, I think of Narnia. Even that, though, I apparently did differently in some ways. I read the books while I was approximately 7 through 10 years old, if I’m remembering correctly. While I twigged immediately to the redemptive sacrificial similarities between Jesus and Aslan, I thought about it — then deliberately decided that my version of Narnia was not going to be christian. Nor did I agree with much of the racism, classism, sexism, and other -isms which I at that time only vaguely realized were also in C. S. Lewis’s writing. Further, the final book in the series, The Last Battle, simply didn’t matter or exist for me; I was not and have never been a fan of ultimately obliterative Armageddons.
Instead the world I constructed in my head for these stories was predominantly a non-stagnant Eden — one that changed with the natural seasons, where sex and love and life and death and rebirth were constant variables. It was inhabited by wondrous creatures, too — all the ones I, as a lonely child, so desperately wanted to play with: talking Beasts and mythical entities living in (mostly) peace and freedom. This is why The Horse and His Boy was one of my favorites in the series, I suspect: it offered me the astonishing possibility that if I could simply persuade one of the Talking Beasts trapped in this world to share their secret with me, we could both escape to the miraculous land of Narnia. I remember with some fondness, in fact, whispering to our dog that he could trust me — I wouldn’t tell anyone he could talk, and we could run away to Narnia together!
One of the reasons the Narnia movies were such disappointments to me, in fact, was their obsessive focus on the battles. Lewis hardly describes them at all, and I think with good reason. To me the fighting was almost irrelevant to what was wondrous about Narnia, and certainly did not deserve the (pardon the phrasing) lion’s share of time within the first two movies. In fact, one of the most awesome scenes for me in the first book is when Susan and Lucy actual get to ride on the back of a GOD. Think about that for a minute: the deity has only just been reborn in leonine flesh — and these two girls get to touch his golden fur and play pounce with him — and are offered a ride!
This was thrilling for me for a couple of reasons. First, I love horseback riding. Second, in the books Lewis goes to some effort to describe this amazing, bounding, miraculous journey flashing through an almost primordial forest of intense beauty, which is in the process of re-awakening to Spring. Having ridden horses, I always enjoyed imagining myself as one of the riders as well. I was looking forward to that scene in the movie, as a result… so I was first shocked, then bitterly disappointed to realize it was offered all of maybe 10 seconds. Worse, the girls looked very much like they were sat on a table and told to rock rhythmically together and look happy. Frankly, their forced smiles looked more embarrassed than not to me.
I guess what brings this up for me is this month’s book club selection, Tallgrass. The person who selected it mentioned that she loved it, and I’m looking forward to hearing why. For myself, however… I’m finding I don’t really enjoy most personalized historical-style (non)fiction. Perhaps it’s my intellectual failing, but I find I prefer not being able to instantly recognize who the rapist is, and who were his silenced victims. When I can do that, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non, it’s painful to continue reading — it’s like watching a train wreck about to happen and there’s nothing you can do but you can’t quite make yourself look away and ohdeargod there it goes aaaugh…!
So for me, reading about these fictionalized people and events in Colorado during World War II felt too much like a train wreck, especially in regards to the women. Initially I thought the reason no one appeared to be “getting” it was because the protagonist is a 15 year old girl… but then we later see the mother too is pretty much clueless at spotting the signs. That was a major mental ‘ouch!’ to me. I consider that sort of foolish innocence to be far too often lethal — women should be able to recognize both raped and abused women, and band together to protect themselves against the rapist and the abusive husband. Hell, it’s not like the men did. Equally importantly, this pathetic old myth about it being the woman’s fault needs to die the final, brutal, permanent death, staked to the ground and with its metaphorical head cut off and stuffed with garlic, in the daytime — and then be burned to ashes.
Huh. Looks like I’m rather opinionated when I’m sick. Well, tomorrow’s book club and I’m going to try to make it. I want to hear about all the good parts of the book, so I have that perspective as well. For now… sleeping and getting better.