Hey, this post was supposed to go up weeks ago!


As a kind of antidote to my last post.

Serious literature focusing on social and individual problems is good and necessary. But it should not be the only type of reading that’s available.

From a post by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown on who gets to escape, on Kaleidoscope, which starts out with that famous quote by Tolkein about prison and escape and just gets more awesome as it goes on.

When I clicked on the link, I didn’t realize this:

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios are co-editing the anthology, which has a planned release date of August, 2014. Currently we are fundraising on Pozible to make this project happen.

And from Jo Walton, who says things I want to say, but about 50 million times more eloquently, Fantasy, Reading, and Escapism on (also referencing Tolkein):

I don’t feel defensive about what I choose to read. I don’t feel proud of some pieces and ashamed of other pieces. It’s all reading, and I do it all for fun. I don’t do it to escape, I’m not in prison. I like my life. But when I was in prison, excuse me, boarding school, and when I was stuck in hospital (which is even more like prison except without time off for good behaviour) of course I wanted to escape and of course I was delighted that books were there for me to escape into. If your life sucks, escaping it makes a great deal of sense. If your life is bounded and restricted, seeing that more options exist helps, even if they’re all theoretical and imaginary. Escaping doesn’t mean avoiding reality, escaping means finding an escape route to a better place. Seeing those options can be the file to get through the bars. Anyone who thinks this is a bad thing is the enemy.

Rose Under Fire meets Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

A few things came into my head tonight that I thought might be interesting to others.

First, I recently read the Book Smugglers’ review of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein because Code Name Verity was so good and because I have no intention of reading her new book, but at the same time I also wanted to know more about it and readers’ reactions to it. (I don’t read Holocaust fiction. If I read about the Holocaust, my preference is non-fiction because the actual events are so horrific I cannot immerse myself in fiction without thinking about the real people who survived or did not survive what other people did to them. Actually, I generally can’t read fiction about war, US slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, famines or rape for the same reasons. I read non-fiction on these topics judiciously and sparingly and only when I have enough spoons.) This is what Thea of the Book Smugglers had to say at the end of her review (bold mine):

Rose Under Fire is one hell of a book. It’s a powerful, emotionally resonant historical novel about remembering and about surviving, and I truly appreciate and value that. That said, it’s also a story about a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. It’s also a story narrated by a beautiful, young, privileged, white girl who literally flies into a terrible situation. Please understand that I am not disparaging or arguing against the value of the rich canon of literature about the Holocaust, or the set of circumstances facing heroine Rose. I am simply saying this: there are so many wars, atrocities, even genocides that have happened in the last 70 years, and that are still happening now. Those truths and those stories are hardly represented today – much less in YA literature. And perhaps this doesn’t belong here in this review, but it’s something I am acutely conscious of, and I vow to do as much as I can to change this. Because I am inspired by Rose’s story and by this book, because I think it’s important to talk, to remember, and to experience that truth through storytelling, I vow to read and review books from other, more contemporary wars, from characters and authors other than that of the white, the privileged, the American and Western European. (I think I’ll start with Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, or A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah…)

So, there’s that, which I totally agree with.

I’m also reading Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz. I’m up to the section on famines. The author brings up the Irish Potato Famine, the famine of the Great Leap Forward in China, and the famine in Greece during Nazi occupation in WWII. And I’m conflicted. Why those three famines? One very well known to Western readers, one less well known (to me, China) and one slightly obscure (again to me, Greece), and all also 70 years behind us. What about the North Korean famine and the ongoing food aid the country receives to this day? Or Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia? (Like Thea, I feel I have to make the disclaimer. Just apply hers here, too.) The author does not tell us the reason she picked those three famines to discuss.

She goes on to say that mobility, food aid and sustainable use of agricultural land are essential to preventing famines and that “Famines and their accompanying pandemics are problems that we’ve been trying desperately to solve for hundreds of years.” (p 113). And that last part is where I disagree, where I think she dodged her own thesis. Famines are created. They are created by political will, either as the intended objective (as I understand it: North Korea, Stalin’s Great Famine, the Greek famine mentioned in the book) or as the unintended but acceptable (as collateral damage) effect of a different objective (The Great Leap Forward, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Irish Potato Famine). Some people may have been trying desperately to solve the problem of famine; others have deliberately pursued famine as a means to an end.

These two reading experiences came together for me and reminded me, once again, that it is SO hard for us to confront the atrocities that are happening right now, in our lifetimes, and it is especially easy when the people suffering Don’t Look Like Us, for a value of “us” that is the dominant one.

How many movies and books have been made in the US about the Holocaust? Compare that to how many books and movies, with the same popular appeal and reach, have been made about US slavery? We in the US live with the after-effects of slavery every day. It is inherent in our gun laws, in who can easily vote, in whose bodies are a battleground, who has access to education and health care, in every aspect of our laws and social institutions. The Holocaust was a terrible thing. Many people continue to live with its after-effects. But it is easier to say it’s over, the Nazis lost, besides, they were German anyway and that’s far away and long ago. If we looked, really looked at the legacy of slavery in this country, we would have to admit it’s not over and it’s not long ago.

I don’t have answers. I have questions. I struggle almost every day with the knowledge that my electronics, clothing and food were produced by slave labor–much of it the labor of children. I struggle with sexism and racism and so many more issues.

Like Thea I want there to be more books about all these things. Even if I personally am not going to read them, because at least they’d be part of our world view, part of the discourse, part of what’s in the public eye.

Kitchen Sink Links

My favorite read of the day: Did people in the Middle Ages take baths? on for debunking the myth that people didn’t; especially the picture of public bath houses where it was common to eat diner and bath in company at the same time (??!); and the mental image of Charlemagne with his sons, soldiers, friends and bodyguards, sometimes as many as a hundred men, all bathing together.

Authors are increasing their efforts to back booksellers as the holidays approach, on PW, through grants and famous authors working for a day in independent bookstores or asking fans to buy from specific stores.

The Blog Post that Lost Me Half My Audience, Kameron Hurley blogging about women being erased from the narrative on sexism because now men are talking about sexism (that’s good!) but sexism is so entrenched in society that the only people who get recognition for talking about sexism are men (not so good)

75 Years Ago Today A Time Capsule Was Buried In Queens, on (10/10/13), on what’s in the time capsule slated for opening in 4,925 years (who do they think will open it? will it be underwater?) some of the stuff is seriously dated already.

And saving the best for last:  35 Classy Slang Terms for Naughty Bits from the Past 600 Years on My favorite: Aphrodisiacal tennis court (1665). I know there are longer lists out there, anyone know where there are? Classy ones, I mean.

What I’m reading: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz. So far, I’m enjoying it. From the catalogue description:

In its 4.5 billion–year history, life on Earth has been almost erased at least half a dozen times: shattered by asteroid impacts, entombed in ice, smothered by methane, and torn apart by unfathomably powerful megavolcanoes. And we know that another global disaster is eventually headed our way. Can we survive it? How?

Poetry Hit: Poems I Hate

Actually, there’s just one poem on my hit list right now. There are poems I don’t like and poems that don’t do anything for me when I read them, but I hate As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden. I hate it because it starts out by making me love it. It starts out like a love poem, or maybe a nursery rhyme like The Cow Jumped Over the Moon:

“I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

Then it turns a corner into bleak, and it’s the betrayal of love, or the impermanence of it:

“In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

I don’t mind the bleakness, a bleak poem can be a hard kind of comfort when everything around you feels hopeless or insubstantial. No, it’s the line about Jill on her back that makes me cringe every time. I can’t read it as anything but sexualized and pejorative and reducing Jill, standing in for woman, as Jack stands in for man, to sex–and not the freely given kind, but the kind that is bought and treated like a dirty commodity.

So, what poems do you hate?

Classic Dr. Who: The Spider Planet

The Spider Planet series has not aged well. On the other hand, Cloud Atlas also had a white guy playing an Asian guy, so…we haven’t progressed much in the 40 years since then?

It’s a shame there’s so much racism and sexism in these, as they’re the last John Pertwee series, with a storyline that carries over a bit into the Tom Baker era. Besides the casting, there’s the, spoiler, Tibetan who is really a timelord who has the answer to everything, the othering and appropriation of Buddhist meditation, and the familiar all-white future of humanity. Someone actually says something like, stay home, this is men’s work. Also, for some reason this episode made me really want to know why only women are wearing skirts in the future. It seems as likely that both men and women wear skirts, no one wears skirts or only men wear skirts, but somehow it’s always women. Why?

My favorite scene–gesture really–comes near the end when the doctor admits he didn’t think of taking the blue crystal from Metebelis 3 as stealing. He touches one finger to the corner of his mouth and his face is full of rueful acknowledgement of his faults and it’s just kind of amazing. He already knows this is the end of this incarnation and it’s there in his face.

Pertwee and Baker have always been my favorite doctors. Looking back it’s because they are older and their faces are full of that life experience, and expressive of it. And the clothes. Pertwee had panache: velvety jackets, frilly collars and cuffs, great capes. Baker had a schtick, always in the coat, hat and scarf. As a kid, the scarf delighted me. I’m looking forward to see what Peter Capaldi does with the doctor.

In other news, I will never be done writing my synopsis. And writing my synopsis might lead to re-writing my query letter and then I’ll never be done with that either. Sigh. I really would like to be writing a novel again.

By the time you read this, I’ll be on a writing retreat. Writing. I hope.

Poetry Hit: Requiem by Anna Akhmatova

Reading poetry in translation is a weird exercise; there are so many more levels or people between you and the text. This is the first part of this poem, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer as it appears in The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova. You can read the full poem translated differently by Yevgeny Bonver on Poetry Lover or elsewhere on the web, translator uncredited (which is why I’m not linking. How could you not credit the translator??) or other versions translated by the same author but with different words (different versions from different years? Like I said, poetry in translation is weird.)

from the beginning of Requiem
by Anna Akhmatova

No, not under the vault of alien skies,
And not under the shelter of alien wings–
I was with my people then,
There, where my people, unfortunately, were.


In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent
seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad.
Once, someone “recognized” me. Then a woman with
bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had
never heard me called by name before, woke up from
the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and
whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):
“Can you describe this?”
And I answered: “Yes, I can.”
Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.