Whew I read a lot this month! And most of it was really amazing. My favorites were Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura series (this was just nominated for a Hugo award, too!), and The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski (my review here). My favorite comics were Joyride, which I’m pumped to read more of, and the Library Wars manga series, which is hilarious but also really resonant. Yikes.
What were your favorite reads this month?
Fruits Basket 16-23 by Natsuki Takaya (5/5 stars)
Library Wars 1-15 by Kiiro Yumi (5/5 stars)
Heart and Brain by Nick Seluk (5/5 stars)
March: Book Three by John Lewis (5/5 stars)
Garbage Night by Jen Lee (2/5 stars)
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown (4/5 stars)
M.F.K. Book One by Nilah Magruder (4/5 stars)
Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates (3/5 stars)
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle? by Julie Benson (3/5 stars)
Joyride Volume 1 by Jackson Lanzer (5/5 stars)
The Force Awakens by Chuck Wendig (2/5 stars)
Lumberjanes: A Bird’s-Eye View by Shannon Watters (4/5 stars)
The Wicked and The Divine: Imperial Phase 2 by Kieron Gillen (4/5 stars)
Afar by Leila del Duca (4/5 stars)
How We Became Human by Joy Harjo (4/5 stars)
Opal by Maggie Stiefvater (5/5 stars)
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo (4/5 stars)
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells (5/5 stars)
The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells (5/5 stars)
The Siren Depths by Martha Wells (5/5 stars)
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip (4/5 stars)
Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess) by Ursula Vernon (5/5 stars)
Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham (5/5 stars)
Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia McKillip (5/5 stars)
The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien (5/5 stars)
Castles by Alan Lee (3/5 stars)
The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski (5/5 stars)
Back at the beginning of the summer, I challenged myself to read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for a bit, either because they looked difficult or because I just hadn’t had sufficient motivation to pick them up. I chose two poetry volumes, two nonfiction, and two fiction. Below are my brief thoughts/reviews on them.
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton: Girl had issues but she had a way with words. I love her odd imagery, but less so the weird sex imagery (although I’m sure many people enjoy it). My favorite collections are To Bedlam and Part Way Back and Transformations. I wrote about a couple of her poems here.
Another E.E. Cummings ed. by Richard Kostelanetz and John Rocco: This book tries to show other facets of E.E. Cummings besides his more famous poems; it gives a taste of his prose, translations, and memoir, as well as some of his less-read poems. I liked it as a survey, but I don’t think it collected his best work.
Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research Into Homosexuality by Simon LeVay: This is a really good overview and discussion of the studies and “treatments” of homosexuality done over the last 100 years. It tries to answer the questions “what makes someone homosexual?” and “Who cares?”I was very ignorant going into this book but it was reasonably accessible and comprehensive.
The History of Alexander by Curtius Rufus: Roman guys sure love their rhetoric! This reads like history for the most part, but with a bunch of headcanon speeches added in; everyone gets pages and pages of monologues. Curtius Rufus really loves Darius and really hates Greeks.
The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus: The trilogy includes Agamemnon, The Libation-Bearers, and The Eumenides, and takes place soon after the events of The Iliad. I can see why mythology was so popular back in the day if plays like this were bringing them to life. Agamemnon returns home to Greece only to discover that his wife isn’t thrilled about his new girlfriend slave or the fact that Agamemmnon sacrificed his own daughter. Shenanigans ensue as various family members deal with the curse laid on them.
The American by Henry James: Like most of Henry James’ work, I’m not certain whether we’re supposed to sympathize with his protagonist or judge him. I certainly don’t like Christopher Newman, and I spent half of the book hoping that Madame de Cintre would destroy him emotionally so that he would learn that she’s not an object to possess, and the other half hoping Newman would destroy a few other people emotionally.
I was glad I challenged myself to read these books, so I’m going to do the same thing for fall. My list is:
The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Fiction by Sarah Orne Jewett
The Awkward Age by Henry James
The Complete Works of Horace
Sophocles I: Three Tragedies
The Generalship of Alexander the Great by J.F.C. Fuller
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
What about you? Do you try to challenge yourself or approach reading more whimsically? How do you get yourself to read “difficult” books?
Oh no you think this post is about Star Wars, don’t you? It’s not*. It’s about mythology. And poetry. And how some things depend greatly on our point of view.
I’ve been reading Anne Sexton’s collected poems (like you do) and wow she is a complicated person. One of her collections, Transformations, looks at old fairy tales from different angles than we’re used to (if you like the Brothers Grimm, I recommend it, it’s really interesting) and some of her other poems are myth-related or responses to myths. I want to take a look at a couple of the latter and how they make us look at some standard Greek myths in a different way.
*seriously it’s not about Star Wars at all, everyone has already written about Star Wars and mythology, I can’t do it, I won’t do it, looooooooove Bahnree.
“Where I Live In This Honorable House Of The Laurel Tree”
I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to foot in flight,
have only this late desire to arm the trees
I lie within. The measure that I have lost
silks my pulse. Each century the trickeries
of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed
in honor for you are gone in time. The air
rings for you, for that astonishing rite
of my breathing tent undone within your light.
I only know how untimely lust has tossed
flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears
toward the intimate Rome of myth we crossed.
I am a fist of my unease
as I spill toward the stars in the empty years.
I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys
my out of time and luckless appetite.
You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.
There is no one left who understands
how I wait
here in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Apollo, the god of healing, prophecy, and the sun, once fell in love with a nymph named Daphne, the daughter of a river-god. Daphne was a huge fan of Diana (or Artemis) , the maiden goddess of the hunt. Daphne wasn’t interested in marriage, and rejected all suitors, but of course one day Apollo spotted her hunting in the woods and fell madly in love with her. Daphne tries to escape him, but he chases after her, and at last she begs her father for help, and he turns her into a laurel tree. Daphne would rather be a tree forever than give in to Apollo, and when the story is retold it’s always about her unwillingness and his obsessiveness.
However, in this poem Daphne seems to regret her escape and now views it as a prison. She’s upset about her “wooden legs” and “green hands” because they’re not made of flesh, they’re trapping her blood inside. Everything about her is frozen: “Frost taps my skin” and her real body is “glossed” over. The poem implies that given the choice again, Daphne would totally bang Apollo, as she’s spent much of her time obsessing over him and her previous choice. Now she has a “late desire” and “luckless appetite” that she can’t act on even if she wanted to; it’s ironic because Apollo took her agency first by trying to force himself on her, but now she seems to be accusing herself of taking her agency by locking herself in a tree. Now she has honor but nothing else, and “the crown of honor,” i.e. the laurel crown that is given to champions (a tradition started by Apollo because he loves laurel trees).
This poem is tricky because it doesn’t seem to judge Apollo (it SHOULD judge Apollo, he needs to learn some hard facts about consent), but it also empowers Daphne by showing her as a person who made her own choices (even if she comes to regret them).
“To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”
Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn
of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well.
Larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!
Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually
he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling
into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.
Icarus and his father the inventor Daedalus were imprisoned by King Minos of Crete, because Minos was convinced that Daedalus had allowed his Athenian prisoners to escape. Daedalus crafted wings for himself and his son so that they could fly out of their prison, the Labyrinth (which Daedalus had also invented) and get away from Crete. Everything went fine until they were in the air, and Icarus decided to fly to the sun. The sun burned up his wings and left him to plunge to his death in the ocean. We judge him for his hubris and warn others against similar acts. The myth of Icarus is generally held up as a warning against arrogance, recklessness, and/or attempting to do or get something that is out of your reach.
This poem, however, applauds Icarus, and I dig it. Whereas “his sensible daddy” Daedalus keeps his focus on escaping from Crete and “goes straight to town,” Icarus forms a higher goal, one that isn’t for his own personal safety but for something bigger than that. This poem admires the risk Icarus took, admires his daring in “acclaiming the sun.” Everything else besides Icarus that is mentioned in the poem is “awkward,” “shocked,” and” sensible.” Icarus is the one who seizes his own agency and uses it; he glances up, not down or forward or back, and dies from “wondrously tunneling” toward his goal.
I don’t know the context for the friend that Sexton seems to be directing this poem to, but she (or at least the poem’s narrator) is valuing and praising Icarus’ choices rather than warning against them. There are worse things than dying in a blaze of glory, after all.
This week on Dracula: we learn, once again, that COMMUNICATION IS SUPER IMPORTANT.
Communication as power is a huge theme in this book, intentionally or not. Keeping people ignorant is a terrible idea especially when there are vampires out to get you – Lucy’s mom agrees with me, I’m sure of it! Like, I understand that Van Helsing is struggling with other people’s inability to believe in blood-sucking monsters, but GOOD. GRIEF. All of the dudes keeping Lucy and her mom in the dark about everything, Van Helsing and Seward trying to keep Arthur in the dark about Lucy, Mina and Jonathan trying to stay in the dark about whatever happened to Jonathan….UGH. JUST. COMPARE NOTES ALREADY.
Renfield is the only other dude besides Van Helsing who knows what’s up (“the blood is the life; the blood is the life!” (170) and he’s insane, and as we all know you can’t trust insane people. Right, Seward?
“I am beginning to wonder if my long habit of life amongst the insane is beginning to tell upon my own brain” (163).
The incredibly detailed interview with the zookeeper is super random, but also, why would you name your gentle loveable captive wolf “Bersicker” (164)? I’m not picking up what you’re putting down, zookeeper. I presume that the wolf that escaped from the zoo is the same wolf that breaks through Lucy’s window and allows Dracula to get in to her. But then Lucy talks about dust floating around in the room and it’s mesmerizing (174), just like Jonathan with the dust that turned into the vamp-ladies, and it seems like if Dracula could shape-shift into dust he could just dust himself through a closed window??? DISCUSS?
But to be honest, Lucy’s diary entry at the end of chapter 11 is one of the more terrifying parts of this book for me. It’s so claustrophobic and helpless-feeling: even though she’s in a house (in the middle of town?) with her mom and a bunch of servants they’re all trapped and essentially at Dracula’s mercy. I don’t know, was it scary for anyone else? Or was there another part that was scarier for you?
Ok but picture this:
you and your doctor bro are bustling around trying to save this girl you have a huuuuge crush on and you’re like “bro we need more blood” and suddenly you realize your American gunslinging bro has been sitting behind you on the sofa the whole time (179).
I don’t have a point to this, I’m just amazing Quincey doesn’t have an attack of the hysterics or something since the girl he likes is dying and stuff. He’s just…sitting there. Creepin.
Meanwhile, Van Helsing has his priorities straight:
“You’re a man, and no mistake. Well, the devil may work against us for all he’s worth, but God sends us men when we want them.”
182 Quincey knows about vampire bats and yet no one has a brain
183 Lucy tearing the paper up is also terrifying
185 “I love you with all the moods and tenses of the verb” mina/lucy 4evah
And sometimes when we don’t want them, to be honest.
I’m trying to stay focused, here, but there is just so much WEIRD STUFF in these chapters, friends! Let’s list a few real quick:
There’s a really good Renfield joke to be made here about how the older generation characters are dropping like flies, but I can’t quite manage it. Seriously, though: Lucy’s mom, Arthur’s dad, Jonathan’s boss, all in a couple of chapters. Van Helsing is lucky his grey hair hasn’t killed him yet.
There’s Van Helsing’s surprisingly pro-American comment on Quincey Morris: “If America can go on breeding men like that, she will be a power in the world indeed” (207)
There’s Arthur’s claim DURING LUCY’S FUNERAL that he’s totally married to Lucy now because they exchanged fluids (208) and Seward/Morris/Van Helsing probably all die a little inside
Van Helsing has an attack of the hysterics (208) but in a manly way I guess??? Seward’s comments on that are wild. Apparently you can lecture women right out of their hysterics, but men cling to their hysterics hard.
Ellen Terry name-drop, who was apparently a friend of Bram Stoker’s
Bizarre Twilight reference, ahoy: “I am daze, I am dazzle” (219). Are you sure Stephenie Meyer didn’t read this before writing Twilight?
I have two favorite scenes in these chapters.
Number one is when Mina and Van Helsing first meet. I absolutely love how she demurely hands him her notes, doubting if little ol’ me could possibly be of help to a brilliant physician – and then he can’t read shorthand. Of course, Stoker ruins it by making her reference Eve because Stoker hates fun:
“I could not resist the temptation of mystifying him a bit—I suppose it is some of the taste of the original apple that remains still in our mouths” (218).
My other favorite scene is the conversation between Van Helsing and Seward at the end of Chapter 14. Van Helsing completely tears apart Seward’s scientific empiricism and I’m here for it:
“Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain” (227).
“He meant that we should have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe” (229).
Whew! That’s all I got for this week!
But then again “Truly there is no such thing as finality” (225), so here’s some last facts:
Jonathon Harker makes a judgement of Van Helsing’s personality based on his eyebrows and Van Helsing mentions physiognomy. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically the study of human faces and how the way you look means you behave or think a certain way. Victorians loved it because it gives your racism some pseudo-scientific backing. Here are a couple of links.
There are a couple of references in these chapters to contemporary poems, and they’re both PRETTY EFFING DARK but enjoy:
“Death-bed” by Thomas Hood (short and what it says on the can)
“The Giaour” by Lord Byron (long and includes vampires)