22 July, 2007
I’m not going to say anything substantive about the contents or main story in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I do want to talk for a moment about wizarding marriage and family culture. I have a feeling that if it weren’t for slash fanfic, Rowling wouldn’t have felt it necessary to go out of her way and point out that all her characters are straight, but she sure went through with that plan. Poor Tonks and Lupin not only get their unconvincing romance legitimized so that there can be a plug for the power of father/godfatherhood but then hardly get to do anything as individuals throughout the rest of the story. Then there’s the post-war baby boom, and that’s the part that got me thinking about how weird wizard romance is. I mean, mudbloods have two Muggle parents and I’m pretty sure there are some wizarding people who do marry and have children with Muggles, although maybe the people described as half-blood are from mudblood/pureblood pairings. I know some wizards manage to live in Muggle society, managing technology like driving cars and so on, but many of them don’t bother. So what becomes of them?
Apparently just about everyone who goes to Hogwarts ends up in some sort of marriage to a fellow Hogwarts alum of the opposite gender, although there were plenty of presumably single wizards teaching there and working in various places Harry and the students visited. But virtually all adult relationships seem to lead to marriage and children, which is interesting in a story for children and that is in so many ways about love as the core of life. I mean, sure, after all these years together it’s not surprising that there would be plenty of Hogwarts romances, but the idea that a happy ending means settling down with some high school sweetheart to have a bunch of kids seems odd to me, though I know it’s hardly unique to this story. But if I were writing for a high school audience, I don’t think I would want to send the message that immediately marrying the first available wizard or witch after graduation is the way to find true fulfillment even though I understand how this fulfillment might seem satisfying to readers who’ve grown up with these characters. I’m conflicted but still bothered.
Basically what I’m saying is that I liked the book, enjoyed the series, really hated that epilogue. I don’t like the kind of certainty it gave, but that’s okay because there’s another perfectly good ending right in front of it that I can stick to instead. And at least we have the Muggle nation to keep supplying fresh magic blood before the stock gets too deeply inbred. I know I’m being unkind since there were so many other parts of the books that had nothing to do with marriage and family-of-origin stuff, but I guess I just can’t get over a happy breeding-based solution to a war with ethnic cleansing, at least not for these characters I’ve grown to care about over all this time. But that just leaves me like most fans of the series, happy to quibble over little details but happier still to have such a sweet, thoughtful resolution to the story itself.
17 July, 2007
I just finished unloading a car’s worth of my stuff, got the books fit for public view up in the front bedroom and my stash of comics and knitting books is piled on my tables in the basement. Don’t worry; I haven’t started believing in shameful secrets or whatever that term I can’t think of for books people are ashamed to admit they like but secretly really do might be. I just don’t expect to have to lend manga to anyone any time soon and I want to keep my pattern books and yarn in close proximity.
I’m falling-over exhausted. Next time I move, I’d rather not do it like this, on my own in a Camry in the middle of summer. I’ve suddenly remembered that the phrase I wanted was “guilty pleasures” but I’m not going to bother going to go back and correct when instead I can look lazy and forgetful, which I am. My shameful secret is that I’ve seldom bothered to go back and reread my blog posts before throwing them out into the world, which probably led to a lot of bad writing in the recent and distant past.
I stopped by the library this afternoon and loaded up on a bunch of things, because there’s nothing like going through all your books and putting them in boxes and hauling them across town to make you want more books, apparently. (At least if you’re me, which you can be glad you aren’t.) This weekend I read The N Word, which had a lot of information I hadn’t known or hadn’t previously seen synthesized plus plenty that I had put out in a useful format. I recommend it. I also took David‘s indirect recommendation and read the first of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels. I could certainly tell it had been serialized from the goofy turnabouts throughout the story, but I found that sort of endearing. I don’t know that I connected deeply with any of the characters but I sort of doubt anyone could. What I found most interesting was reading about sex and love in the pre-AIDS era. I’m young enough that by the time I started reading gay men’s writing in my early teens it seemed that AIDS had destroyed not only the writers’ communities but gay literature for all time. Here the characters are all clearly enough lucky and doomed that I don’t have that Ah, if only they knew what lay ahead! response, but it does generate a sort of odd response in me, maybe like reading old science fiction set now. We’re not what we could have been, but isn’t that always how it goes?
10 July, 2007
I ought to add to my last post that Cory Doctorow himself thinks people like me are pervy for paper, which may be true but isn’t exactly the point for me, I think. I’m also reminded that I find his diction extremely annoying, so my enjoying the stories well enough is a testament to something. His neologisms bother me, though they’re probably largely where neologisms are in fact headed, and his references to current tech are even worse and perhaps what made his past books seem so dated to me when I got around to reading them. I dunno.
10 July, 2007
I’m so sore from moving, so I think there won’t be a lot of content here through the end of the month. Then if there’s still not much content, it will definitely be all my fault with no excuses to be made. But now there’s a cat falling asleep on my chest and I’ve got more than an hour until I need to go get my blood drawn (just for my regular annual physical, since they couldn’t find a vein when I was there before) and then head to work, so I can at least do a little update on what I’ve been reading.
The first thing to say is that I’m a big fan of the paper mirror and that a lot of my reading particularly in the last six months has been a means of getting at how I feel about my own life, how I’m dealing with my own issues, stuff in fact that it’s sort of stupid for me to be talking about in the third post on a new blog people might someday want to read. Still, I haven’t really liked any of Cory Doctorow’s books and yet I grabbed his short story collection Overclocked when I saw it on the library’s new books shelf last week. These stories still have plenty of overhip techy touches that make me want to kick something, but I find Doctorow much stronger in short formats than when he has the time and space to really noodle with his narrative. All the stories were readable, interesting enough, not hard to follow, perfect for the bathtub if you’re the sort of reader who likes to read science fiction stories that try just a little too hard to make you feel like part of some in group but really are probably doing it because they’re geeky little stories that lack social skills and you can have a measure of forgiveness and sympathy. That was a terrible way to describe them, but that’s really how I feel. “Aww, the nice little story; it’s doing its best, really.” And yet I feel like that’s high praise, given how much Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and even Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, which isn’t nearly as smug about the messianic technology except in one annoying subplot, got on my nerves. But where’s the paper mirror making me see myself in a sentient rowboat or a girl slowly going numb to the world in a city under siege? That’s the interesting part, I think, because it wasn’t the mirror but the paper that got me.
I first read “Anda’s Game” when Steven sent me the link I’ve just used for it when it was published on Salon. I found myself rolling my eyes as I read through it in part because I always start rolling my eyes when I have to sit through a Salon ad to get to the content (though it seems right now that the story’s available without that) and in part because I was annoyed by the gender politics of it, all the girl-power geekiness that’s no more than intellectual flab until Anda and her friends are shocked into consciousness by an appealing guy with deeper insights and also I think perhaps because the way Salon makes its move-to-next-page text links just doesn’t work for fiction unless it’s going to be some kind of choose-your-own-adventure story. I didn’t know any of that then, though, except the part about ooh, a British girl gamer protagonist, how edgy and yet totally expected! but at least you know he’s a sensitive author since she isn’t hot! and hey, little exploited South American girls sure are as sympathetic a target as you can get, and they’re even cute (if not hot)! and there’s a nice guy who can be the facilitator-savior of them all, aww!, which I do still find a bit problematic even though any other gender setup in the same story probably would be too. Yet when I read the story in its book form, I glided right through. Much as I’m part of this generation that lives online (and I’m not as much as some of my generation are) I think there’s still something about real paper, printed words that grips me differently, lets me read faster but more fully. So while I didn’t learn much about myself in reading these stories themselves except perhaps that I’m not a very tolerant reader but I can be at least somewhat kind, I learned something new about myself as a reader. I may not have had the kind of passionate conversion most of Doctorow’s protagonists seemed to go through as the course of their plots (and off the top of my head I can’t think of any exceptions to this, which makes me think it’s something I should consider more) but at least I’m looking at myself.
I’ve long been obsessed with what I used to call the creation of self through narrative, how who we are is to such a great extent composed of what we tell ourselves we are or have become. So Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping should have been right up my alley since that’s all it’s about. The trouble is that I just can’t quite stomach Winterson and I’m not sure why. I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit at 16 and thought it was over-obvious and a bit pretentious, though those were adjectives that would have worked fine at describing me, too. And yet here I am more than a decade later reading Lighthousekeeping and unable to keep from rolling my eyes at a book where there are characters with names like Dark, Lux, Tenebris. And bah, more sex with a second-person-pronoun partner so that the reader has to feel guilty/titillated for reading gender into something where gender does perhaps actually matter. Every time I read a Winterson book I think this is the last one, but every time I see a new one I feel some obligation to measure up, since I know other people like her a lot. And sure, she’s writing white lesbian magical realism, which should be what I like. Even beyond that is the whole postmodern OMG, we’re all just narrative constructs and so are you, gentle reader, yet sympathetic as I am I just end up not sympathetic enough. There were plenty of other sentences like the one I used as my title that jumped out at me as not only true-ish but beautiful, yet I’m still left annoyed.
What I haven’t said yet is that this is the book story of Silver, a girl whose ostracized single mother perishes while trying to provide for her in a remote Scottish town and who then finds herself apprenticed to a blind lighthouse keeper who may or may not have held the same position for the past two decades, since the lighthouse and its creator’s family served as narrative inspirations for Charles Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson alike. So Silver learns that to keep a lighthouse alive means to hold all its stories so that any sailor who passes (though none do in the course of the book) can share, check, learn. But when the lighthouse is closed, she has to move from the world of narrative to the real world, where her obsession with story creation is considered pathological, her unwillingness to accept the ordinary nothing more than a stubborn objection.
Maybe that’s the part that holds me back, the part where the story posits that there’s no way to reconcile real life with story-life and that people who think they’re doing so are fooling themselves. Because, dude, that’s totally what you’re doing anyway, right? It’s what I’m doing, I know. I can look out the window and see a billion greens on the trees and my basil and oregano in my windowboxes and they register with me, a symphony of beauty, and now that I’ve said that they’re trapped in my words. But they’re not; they’ll grow, or else the wind will blow them down or that naughty squirrel will eat my herbs again. All I can trap is a moment that doesn’t really exist but that I pushed into a bunch of ridiculous prose so that I could make a little hobbled argument about the nature of reality. Actually maybe I didn’t like this book enough because I don’t like myself or my life enough (or too much? Don’t I trust myself over Winterson?) and it leaves me uneasy.
Really, though, the problem is that I do agree we live in narrative, in metaphor. I’m a hill girl, don’t like or trust the flat lands like the plains of Indiana where I went to college amid the cornfields. But I don’t know from oceans and I’ve never actually seen a lighthouse. I know what they are, what they do, but they’re nothing but symbols for me. Awww, a light in the dark (like a foghorn, since I do know foghorns and the peculiar melancholy of their moans in the thick dark) and how much more obvious can we get? My metaphors aren’t much better — pregnancy obsessions like milkweed pods and pomegranates, which have the added mythological bonus of tasting like death, and the way images hang in shaky puddles — but they’re mine and so they have automatic significance, all the weight I’ve been hanging on them for my whole life. Maybe to coastdwellers lighthouses are much the same, intuitive symbols but meaningful enough not to be over-obvious. I do like how you can get Rapunzel and Bluebeard’s wife and an all-seeing, all-knowing witch in the same narrative space there, a single lorelei eye calling out to desperate sailors with the promise of succor and threat of destruction, but it doesn’t ring true to me the way I wanted it to.
I’m inclined to believe I’m the problem, because one of the stories that spoke most strongly to me about this issue of creation of self was Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream, a book written by a woman a few years younger than I am that (as far as I can tell, certainly) draws heavily on a childhood like mine with significant time spent lost in thought in safe woods. So maybe what I’m trying to say is that I can talk about the creation of my own self but I can’t actually talk about how people do it in a larger sense. If I did, I’d end up saying, “You know, it’s like a pomegranate full of sweet bitterness and tiny rubies you miss if you pull them into your mouth to have enough to taste” and everyone else would say, “Nah, you’re just obsessed because you think you’re Persephone.” A lighthouse wouldn’t have done Persephone any good either, because I don’t think any light cuts the gray of death, but that’s hardly the point. I also don’t think the point is that housekeeping is and isn’t like keeping a lighthouse, that femininity is a constant beacon of its own, but what do I know? I’m just forcing my way through the messy seas, looking for a metaphor to hold.
6 July, 2007
This is Rose from Peiratikos, except I’m from here now. I’ll probably write about books, movies, knitting, perhaps my cat, just basic life stuff. It was good to stop blogging, but I think now it will be good to blog again.
What do you need to know about this place? The title is an anagram. I enjoy and appreciate comments, especially ones that challenge me to clarify my thinking. I’m not sure it’s really true that “nothing exists except through language”; but I love looking at how things (and I/we) do exist that way.