Poetry Hit

John Donne, by Isaac Oliver (died 1622). See s...

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What do you think of The Flea? Convincing seduction? Coercive and creepy? 19th Century version of “Come on, let me just put it in for a minute”?

by John Donne

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.


What I’ve Been Reading

English: Portrait of the author Joan Aiken

English: Portrait of the author Joan Aiken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All my requests came in at once at the library, so it’s been like a feast for my brain.

Warning: non-spoilery to very spoilery.

Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord. The writing is amazing. I had to read some non-fiction after I finished because I couldn’t read any other fiction with her words and style in my mind. I hugely enjoyed this book for precisely the reasons it will drive some people crazy: it’s episodic, it’s intimate, it is not what you expect of an after the end of the world plot, there’s consensual sex and none of the non-consensual kind, there’s a love story, and it’s social science fiction.

That said, I was bewildered by the ending. There are some things about violence and gender expectations at the end that I just didn’t get; there were some unanswered questions–why exactly were there so few Sadiri women left?–, it seemed very heteronormative, in spite of the asexual and genderless character and the mention of polyamory, and very procreation focused, even for a frontier world/race trying to rebuild itself, and the no sex before marriage reference just confused the hell out of me.

Still I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time, and it’s become a new standard of what science fiction and fantasy can be. It does not edge out Redemption in Indigo for first place in my affections.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress. SPOILERS. This book is also focused on repopulation after a disaster; somewhat strangely so IMO. I couldn’t understand why the survivors would want to restart the human race, and I couldn’t help thinking about those poor girls who would be expected to breed and breed and breed to achieve that goal. This was probably heightened for me by Kress’s choice to use an adolescent boy narrator whose narrative is often framed by whether he wants to stick his cock in the other female characters.

It is one of the few books that looks at what we are doing to the Earth head on and central to the dystopia and I respected it for that. I zipped through it, but I have ambivalent feelings about it.

Listening to Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, by Leonard S. Marcus. I’ve never read a biography like this–it’s a compilation of interviews with people who knew her in different ways, from only slightly to very well. It’s divided in sections like Writer, Matriarch, Icon. I’ve been fascinated by L’Engle ever since I was a kid and read her books, every single one I could get my hands on, and even more so as an adult, reading her adult books and autobiographies and then the famous New Yorker profile in 2004 that said L’Engle’s autobiographies are as much fiction as her novels. Some of the interviews seem to focus a bit more on the person speaking, but most (so far) include a fascinating anecdote.

Aunt Maria, by Diana Wynne Jones. I haven’t finished this because the villain is too true to life. She’s one of those manipulative relatives who guilts everyone else into doing what she says and it makes me squirm and get so angry every time I can only read a few pages at a time.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken. Two people in a row told me to read it, so I did. It was exactly what I was in the mood for, a kids’ book from 1962 where scary things happen but you know everything is going to be all right in the end. Plus it’s interesting to remember that so many books were written in omniscient back then, which is not fashionable at all today. Absolute bonus: whenever the main character does something outrageous, the dad says “Well, girls will be girls.” Love it!

Fragment of Language Geekery

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...

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Here’s a fragment of a post I never finished, where I geeked out about metaphors and changes to English, inspired by one of the books on The 20 Best Books for Language Lovers list.

In a section of The Unfolding of Language, by Guy Deutscher, on how metaphors enrich language, providing emphasis and impact, and then become so dead we don’t even know we’re speaking in metaphor any more, he has this sentence as an example:

Sarah was thrilled to discover that the assessment board had decided to make her barmy rival redundant, after she suggested that he had made sarcastic insinuations about his employers.

And then he gives us the original meanings of the words:

Sarah was pierced to un-cover that the sitting-by plank had cut off to make her full-of-froth person-from-the-river overflowing, after she carried-under that he had made flesh-tearing twistings about those who fold him. (pp. 124-125)

I had to read aloud to my husband the passage from Genesis that he reproduces in current English, from the King James version of the Bible circa 1600, the Wycliffe Bible circa 1400 and the AElfric translation from circa 1000. I can’t reproduce them here because I have no idea how to enter the special characters from Old English that we don’t use anymore, but it’s pretty amazing to see what has changed and what has not: words, spelling, order, plurals, pronouns. Just for an example, “I” was “ic” (pronounced itch) 1000 years ago. By 1400 it was spelled “I” but was pronounced ee as bee; the pronunciation later changed to ay as in day and only in the 18th century did it move to the eye we use now.

A surprising number of words were recognizable either immediately or after some thought: and, he, men, God in at least one variation; ofer = over, fram = from, cwaeth = quoth. And a bunch more might as well have been Greek: ofthuhte = displeased, gesceop = shaped, ansyne = face….

…And then I wandered off and did something else. But since I had written this much, why waste it?

Kitchen Sink Links

If you haven’t read Kameron Hurley’s post We Have Always Fought: Challenging the “Women, Cattle and Slaves” Narrative, what are you waiting for? Go, now, right now. It’s over on A Dribble of Ink.

Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing – anything – women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I developed a paranoid healthy fear of hippos while visiting my brother-in-law in Kenya. Everyone warned us waaaay more about hippos than lions, buffalo, leopards or rogue lilac-breasted roller birds. So when I saw this I was swallowed by a hippo, on the Guardian, I had to read it. Though this isn’t the way hippos usually get people.


Lilac-breasted-roller-on-stick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The frozen calm of normalcy bias (io9). Why we’re bad at reacting in emergencies.

Although movies show crowds screaming and panicking, most people move dazedly through normal activities in a crisis. This can be a good thing; researchers find that people who are in this state are docile and can be directed without chaos…

The downside of the bias is the fact that they tend to retard the progress of the 10-15% of people who act appropriately.

A post by E.M. Kokie on how we don’t have words to describe female sexuality. All true, all frustrating, so worth the read.

I was shocked to find a complete lack of language for the female anatomy in all but one of the books I checked, and none at all during an intimate scene. Despite effective and appropriately done intimate scenes, none of these books actually used specific words to refer to the female anatomy below the waist. Almost none of them refer to the obvious reactions these female characters would be having to the scene, and none while the character was actually in the moment.

Continuing the discussion, Malinda Lo’s Sex and YA fiction.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept of awkward YA sex comes not from adolescents but from adults who are looking back on their own experiences and applying an adult lens to those memories.

Some Thoughts about Call the Midwife

Complete with spoilers. You were warned.

I’ve been sick. I’ve been watching a lot of TV.

So Twitter friends told me about Call the Midwife and for the most part I find it fascinating. You don’t get too many TV shoes that focus so exclusively on women’s lives, and while there’s at least one baby born and delivery scene per show, there’s so much more. I particularly like that the main women characters are friends. I know, what a novel idea! Women! Can be friends! On TV, just like in real life. Some of the minor characters have rivalries and are catty, but in about a proportion that’s way more true to life than most depictions of women’s lives.

And the childcare, childbirth, reproductive options and economic situation is fascinating. In a lot of ways, it seems like the 1950s wasn’t that much different from any of the centuries that came before in terms of giving birth (although sanitation and penicillin are no small miracles). In other ways, it’s clearly a time of transition, where old ways and new technology and new ways of thinking are butting up against each other, sometimes clashing and sometimes co-existing. A lot of times I want a running commentary on the science–like we don’t treat pre-eclampsia this way anymore, or we now know that’s a myth, or the fatality rate from TB was such and such.

I’m also constantly wondering how much has been dramatized for the program and how much is based on the memoirs of the Jennifer Worth. I guess that’s what the book is for. I think we often think that our time has a monopoly on certain kinds of social situations, and shows like these make us see that isn’t so. I’m thinking of the white woman who had a one-night stand with a black man and had a black baby in the extremely white London neighborhood. Or the twin sisters living with one man. In a marriage? It’s not exactly clear. Or the sister and brother who possibly have an incestuous relationship that the nuns know about and look the other way.

OTOH three episodes of Call the Midwife really pissed me off. The first is the one with the story involving a white woman’s affair with a black man and subsequently giving birth to a black baby.  CTM is extremely white. I’m willing to give it some leeway for time and place yada yada, while acknowledging this is probably white obliviousness/privilege, both past and present, and laziness on the part of the producers. What I am not willing to forgive is only having black extras for this episode. If, going forward, they had continued to include black extras it wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much. But it is so incredibly egregiously messed up and racist to have one episode with a slightly more diverse cast and then to go back to white, white, white everywhere you look.

OK, crap, the second one totally fell out of my head. Some other time then.

The third is the abortion episode. I was both surprised and not surprised that there was finally an abortion on the show. After all, abortion, illegal or otherwise, is, has been and probably always be a fact of women’s lives, whether the government, the media and men want to acknowledge that or not. It actually wasn’t too terrible–except for the framing. The voiceover at the beginning, older Nurse Lee, says something like I wish that I could say all the women were brave and all the women were happy. And then in opposition to this we get the woman who desperately wants an abortion because she already had 8 children. Basically, CTM is telling me that this woman is not brave. Well f** you, CTM. Any woman who knows that she is at the end of her capacity with 8 children, who knows what she wants and goes after it in spite of the opposition of sanctimonious Nurse Lee, the public health system, social mores and the law IS a hero. And it is definitely not her fault that her only option is a woman without the training or compassion or something to give her a sanitary illegal abortion. Plus the plot didn’t make sense. One minute the woman is in a coma and her children are kissing her good bye, and the next she is miraculously recovered because they got a new flat outside of London and she can gallivant through the fields? How does that work if she was in the hospital? Still, I was happy they didn’t kill her off to punish her for daring to have an abortion.

I hope that they do more abortion episodes in the future. Was there any British equivalent of the Jane Collective?

An update about writing

Hello, interneties!

I haven’t posted often lately, because I’ve been writing! Or rather editing and writing A LOT. I finally rewrote the ending of my novel, after all the dominoes knocked each other down and I had to pick them up one by one and slot them into their spaces. That might be a mixed metaphor, but I have book brain, I can’t help it.

This is a novel I wrote in 2008-9, which I had queried and had rejected. I’d put it away for a while, but after I came back from Viable Paradise 16, I realized how much I loved and believed in the story. And oh yeah, my head was crammed so full of stuff and thinky thoughts that I couldn’t go back to the novel I’d been working on before the workshop. I was a little bit paralyzed by massive information intake. So I picked up my old novel, figuring I had a lot more distance from it and I could play around and try to fix some of the problems my so much wiser and older self was now able to see. And in the process apply some of the stuff I had learned.

I see some of you doing math. Yes, VP is in October, it’s the end of May, and I’ve been working on this for 8 months. I know. I’m slow. But I also DID ALL THE THINGS:

  • Cut 10,000 words from the beginning and rewrote it
  • Tweaked the magic systems (oh, my achey head and the problems that caused)
  • Strengthened conflicts between main characters
  • Aged up my MC slightly to make it more firmly YA
  • Worked on the pacing to make it a little faster
  • Totally re-thought and rewrote the final conflict/resolution/ending
  • Cut another 5,000+ words from all over the place

I still have some polishing to do and I have to look at the beginning and ending together now that I have both, but very, very soon I’ll be sending it out to beta readers to see what they think. I’m so excited!

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: review

I usually don’t do straight up reviews, but the reviews on Goodreads were making me sad so I wrote one there and I’m copying it here.

From the publisher:

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

My review:

Five Stars

Wow. Just wow.

If you don’t like your books challenging, this one is not for you.

If you think violence is ok, but teen sex isn’t, this book isn’t for you.

If you want the protagonist to be your best friend, this book isn’t for you.

If you love working for the payoff of an amazing book and writing, if you love characters who grow, if you are sick of violence as plot, if you love reading about future societies that are truly different than our own but reflect the concerns of our today, then read this book. Read, savor every word and experience saudade at the end. (If I understand how to use the word correctly; I don’t speak Portuguese.)