Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Goodreads vs. Librarything

I prefer the aesthetic of Libarything, but Goodreads is where all the kewl kidz are, so I'm on both. Which is really better, I wonder? They seem interchangeable at first glance.

Here are my profiles on L-thang and Goodreads. Friend me!

It's been a great month for Telly...

First the Olympics. Then the LOTR three night extravaganza. Now the Democratic National Convention.

And I have to say, even though I'm a hard-core political junkie, give me swimmers, sprinters or hobbits over politicians any day. Blah. (No, seriously, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton rocked their speeches and I love them. But blah.)

On another note, the movies' airing combined with my Twilight orgy has led to the perfect climate in which to re-read LOTR. I haven't read the saga start to finish in (gulp) seven years, since my Freshman year in college when Fellowship came out on the big screen. Since then, the movies have replaced the books when I need my quick fix of Middle Earth. But for whatever reason, I've gotten anxious to re-familiarize myself with the backstory of all the characters and just geek out.

So I can't wait for that! I have a queue of books though. I just finished Daphne, the latest Bronte/DuMaurier novel-spawn, and I have a Binchy book and The Historian waiting for me. I'm hoping to hit Tolkein running around mid-September. It will be glorious!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Eve Poetry: A Little Tolkein

Because LOTR was on TV this weekend and I cried a lot.

Bilbo's walking song:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Midday Poetry: Ode to the West Wind, Part IV

By Percy "I seduced my [awesome Gothic novelist] wife at the foot of her [amazingly prescient feminst] mother's grave" Bysshe Shelley.

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,

As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed

Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.

Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed

One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

This is my fave stanza of a generally kick-ass long poem. You can probably see why. The language is dramatic ("I Fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" PERCY. TRUE.). The sense of longing is potent. Shelley contrasts the heaviness of his current life with the lightness of childhood, nature and the wind. Also, he uses the phrase "skiey speed." I rest my case.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Freewheelin' Time

Like many female Dylan-fans I've been long-fascinated by Suze and Sara and Joan, the legendary women in Bob's life. Those feminists who have seen Don't Look Back know that it's hard to wholeheartedly continue one's passionate embrace of the Cult of Bob after a screening, due to his callous treatment of Joan Baez and his narcissism as revealed in that film.

So when Suze Rotolo wrote a memoir of her years as a Greenwich Village bohemian radical, I was all too eager to read it (okay, I got a free galley copy, but even so...)

If you have any interest at all in the 60s, Dylan, or the emergence of feminism, I can't recommend the book enough. It is the best example of the daily frustrations of pre-feminist existence, EVEN in liberated circles, I've ever read. Don't be turned off by Rotolo's writing: the book is written in a patchy, free-association way with lots of names and places that overwhelm even people like me, with a decent familiarity with the Dylan hagiography. This painterly style is the best evidence of Rotolo's forthright honesty and openness and gradually builds a lot of trust in her memories.

Said memories start out with a lot of fascinating stuff about growing up as a red-diaper baby, the child of hard core Italian communists/leftists and what life was like in the repressive 50s.

Later on, when things get hotter and heavier, Rotolo never exploits her relationship with Dylan, referring obliquely to their sex life and his later affairs with Joan Baez.

She also supports his controversial choices with fervor, believing in the ultimate calling of Art.
But what Rotolo is most interested in preserving and recalling is the chemistry arising from the meeting of their two minds, the kind of young idealistic love they had, and their existence in this incredible time of ferment: the early 60s when art, music, and politics all convened for an assault on Society as it was. She describes their intellectual and political fads with a respect for youthful idealism past and in her epilogue, defends her generation against those that came after:

The sixties were an era that spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded...[we] were driven by the fact that we had something to say, not something to sell.

But through it all, she also talks about the pain of being a woman with a brain, motivation, and ideas in a place where women weren't welcome yet. She mentions little things, like the constant sexual harassment and leering that women faced, to bigger ones, like having no place in the movement beyond being a helper and partner to Dylan.

I chafed at the notion of devoting my young self to serving somebody., since I was still so curious about life--questing. I hated the thought of being so and so's chick; I didn't want to be a string on Bob Dylan's guitar... but I didn't know where to put that frustration.
In a way, her extraordinarily brilliant reflections--and the nascent career in art and politics she describes-- demonstrate her point better than anything: in another era, we might know Rotolo's name as well as we know the story of the man she once influenced and adored.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic fevah.

I've been so caught up in the Olympics, readers, I've barely had time to watch any of my regular stupid reality shows or fake-news-comedy shows or cable talking-head rants.

Sometimes I wonder if the Olympics are like the official sports-for-dorks, like me. I mean, you don't have to know anything about the sports or have followed them to appreciate the immediate drama of a swimming race or high jump competition or gymnastics final. Plus, you get to enjoy the rigid structure and arcane rules of a lot of these obscure sports, which definitely has a dork/bookwormy appeal, doesn't it?

Regardless, I love it like whoah. Bring on the track and field!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Thoughts on The Twilight Saga, at last

So this weekend I put up my feminist critique of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga at HuffPo. I talked about how the book capitalizes on unfortunate sexual mores to create an irresistible pull for young (err, and not so young) readers.

But what makes the Twilight saga particularly fascinating and disturbing are the sexual currents that run through its pages. Like American culture itself, Twilight is both lascivious and chaste. Meyer, a practicing Mormon, has said she draws a line at premarital sex for her characters. But, as Times columnist Gail Collins noted last month, boyfriend Edward holds the line, not heroine and narrator Bella. Bella, after all, is so hot for Edward she tells him she's going to "spontaneously combust" and frequently forgets to breathe when he kisses her.

Meanwhile, he is equally besotted with her, so much so that he trains himself to ignore his thirst for her blood, which has an aroma that could make even a good vampire (Edward and his coven have forsworn munching on humankind) go bad. Yet Edward still won't go all the way because he doesn't want to get carried away and hurt Bella with his superhuman strength. Her physical safety becomes a symbolic substitute for her virginity, and Edward guards it with overprotective zeal.

Now that's a real fantasy: a world where young women are free to describe their desires openly, and launch themselves at men without shame, while said boyfriends are the sexual gatekeepers. Twilight's sexual flowchart is the inversion of abstinence-only/purity ball culture, where girls are told that they must guard themselves against rabid boys, and that they must reign in both their own and their suitors' impulses. But even while inverting the positions, Meyer doesn't change the game. Purity is still the goal.
Obviously, Edward and Bella are totally heteronormative, patriarchal, whitewashed characters, which perpetuates a lot of bad messages teens are getting.

But when it comes to my personal reaction to the books. Look, they were retro and problematic and the heroine sucked, but they did something amazing for me, which is get me back into reading in this incredible I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS way. I thirsted for the books like Edward thirsts for Bella's blood. And when I was done, I wanted to read something, anything, just to continue feeling the magic of reading! Yay!

There is something more sexy than all the sexiness in the world about just a hint of desire deferred, let's be real. Meyer took that and ran with it. And kept running. All the way to the bank.

Cheating with the Classics

Meyer is an admitted Austen and Bronte (and LM Montgomery!) fan. I think her formula is this: she merely lifts the sexually-fraught elements from those famous novels and stretches them out for 4,000 pages. Edward's the Byronic hero of the Bronte ouvre without any of the ugliness or meanness (so yes, he's more boring) but with all that deep, savage desire: remember when Rochester sleeps outside Jane's door, or when Heathcliff bangs his head against the tree? He's Darcy without the snobby relatives. Meanwhile, Bella is Lizzy/Jane without... umm... any of their characteristics. All the easier for the reader to imagine she's the one lusting after vampire sex.

Imagine the ending of a really good novel, where all the romantic tension leads up to one moment of realization. "Twilight" captures the feeling of going back to Pride and Prejudice and reading the proposal scene at the end over and over again: "dearest, loveliest Elizabeth." I mean, who hasn't done that? Or when you're younger, reading the end of "Anne of the Island" repeatedly when Anne's best frenemy Gilbert Blythe is dying and Anne realizes she loves him and then he gets better and it's so romantic. How about the scene at the end of Jane Eyre when Jane pours blind Rochester his tea and he starts going crazy because he realizes it's her and she's back (that scene makes me tear up just thinking about it)?

These totally romantic and sexy scenes are the icing on the cakes of novels that deal with tons of issues in human society, from gender and class to families and social ills. Twilight--is just the icing. And yummy icing it is.

[I'd add that the only really insightful thing Meyer had to say about literature was when Edward and Bella are discussing Heathcliff and Cathy and she says something to the effect of "their love was the only redeeming thing about them." Which I thought summed up a lot about Wuthering Heights fairly well!]

Twilight & co would have been even better if Edward and Bella had been realer, but I came to realize when reading it that vampires aside, it's actually way more a romance novel than a fantasy: and romance is essentially wish-fulfillment done in a talented way.

Breaking Down over Breaking Dawn: The Fan Revolt
(spoiler alert for fans, boring detail alert for non-fans!)

But one of the reasons fans were so pissed about the final installment of Twilight was that it made this romance/fantasy split more clear, and a lot of them were expecting fantasy due to the supernatural elements.

Fantasy novels are about other worlds, with rules. These guidelines make alternate worlds realistic and allow them to reflect back on our world. And readers become become immersed in these well-established worlds, taking to heart things like how tall hobbits are and what wizards can and cannot do. (No, Harry can't fix his eyesight, or make food appear, haters). So when fans think that vampires can't have babies, or that newborn vampires cannot control their impulse to suck blood, they expect the author to stick to those rules. Meyer reneged on a bunch of things she'd established and that felt like a trust violation.

The other reasons fans were upset were because Breaking Dawn was all about the babiez. Lots of teenagers, contrary to popular belief, are not all that interested in odes to the joys of motherhood. They were interested in the danger/enticing double message re:sex that Meyer set up, because that's relevant to their lives. But when sex after marriage was revealed in BD to be awesome! and motherhood was peachy! even when the baby is a mutant spawn! the novel lost a lot of that tension that pulled it along.

Finally, fantasy novels are all about a Quest, and the heroes of quests have to be victorious, but lose things along the way. Meyer's readers wanted Bella to have to give something up to have her happily ever after. Normally, the candidates for things-to-be-given-up would be Jacob, the best-friend-with-a-crush, or Charlie, the-dad-who-will-be-tasty-to-vampire-Bella.

She gets em both though, with the nasty "Jacob imprinting on baby Nessie" plot twist cementing the deal. It was so disappointing to me that Meyer didn't follow up on the burgeoning ADULT relationship between Jacob and Leah Clearwater. I would have loved to see Bella adjust to Jacob finding something new and moving on. And imagine how their relationship would have affected the pack dynamic.

Still, the book managed to replicate the breakneck pace of its predecessors, and vampire Bella had some badass aspects to her like her arm-wrestling prowess.

So Should You Read 'Em?

I think the books are fairly harmless despite their flaws and bad message. I mean, reading Oliver Twist won't make you an anti-semite if you aren't one, and Twilight won't make you hate women and cling to patriarchy unless you're already an emo-Edward fangirl candidate.

So I say, read away! And share em with the teenage girls in your life, being 100% sure to talk to them about the troubling elements. Stephanie Meyer's no feminist hero, but she can spin a yarn. And yarns are particularly good at helping us get through our humdrum lives.

Put Down That Book!

I was looking at my bookshelf the other night with friends who were over to watch the Phelps juggernaut win some gold medals (Wooohoo) and we started talking about books that we started but couldn't finish.

In the last year or so, I've read 100 pages or more of the following books, only to put them down in frustration:

  1. Snow, by Orhan Pamuk (Good, but depressing)
  2. The Gathering, by Anne Enright (boring, depressing)
  3. The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud (boring, too many descriptions of interior decoration)

and some others I can't quite recall, they were that memorable.

So yeah--we have a nobel prize winner, a booker prize winner, and a critically beloved winner. I'd be embarassed, except I'm not.

Which books have you guys started but never finished, and why?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Morning Poem: Monotone

In honor of today's rainy weather:


    THE monotone of the rain is beautiful,
    And the sudden rise and slow relapse
    Of the long multitudinous rain.

    The sun on the hills is beautiful,
    Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
    Bannered with fire and gold.

    A face I know is beautiful--
    With fire and gold of sky and sea,
    And the peace of long warm rain.
    Carl Sandburg

What I love about this poem is how Sandburg repeats the same few images and words but manages to make them mean something different in each stanza.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I loved the beginning and most of the rest of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I started halfway through my France trip in June. It's a credit to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, his unbelievable prose and the kind of imagination few people have (seriously, that's a lethal combination--like Woolf meets Tolkein) that I remained as interested as I did in what was essentially a plotless novel. I'm a plot snob and tend not to like books unless there are one or two characters whose fate hang in the balance, whom I follow from beginning to end.

For those who haven't read it, the novel chronicles 100 years in the life of the Buendia family, in the mystical town of Macondo, Colombia. In telling the history of this family, he uses magical elements and repetition to drive home the history of Latin America, from revolutions and workers' strikes to creativity, inquiry, and exploration in the jungles and seas, from floods and droughts to festivals and times of flux and exchange.

The novel bursts at the seams with its cyclical stories, characters who make the same mistakes, share the same personality traits or variations on each other, who behave stubbornly, lustfully, hedonistically, and occasionally wisely over the years, forgetting the lessons of their ancestors. It's, like, a metaphor for all of human history, folks! We rise above our animalistic tendencies, but then fall back down, forgetting lessons that are there for us to learn from.

The Jose Arcadios and the Aurielanos were wonderful companions while I remained in their world, even if I did get a bit restless towards the end of the novel, and Macondo. Marquez's almost loving, accepting views of sex, death and human error inspired me to look at the world more openly, to accept human nature for what it is: strange and immutable.

That being said, Solitude got a teeny bit repetitive for me at the end, but I accept that I'm just an impatient plot-whore in the face of Marquez's genius :)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rebecca in 800 words

[Via the ladies at Bronteblog who manage to catch literally every single Bronte reference on the web, no matter how trivial, in their astute net of bloggage]

The Guardian has a feature called Digested Classic, which is basically a parody of a canonical novel. This week they target everyone's favorite sexy aristocracy-in-decline noir, Rebecca.

The two best excerpts (spoiler alert!)

"Oh Maxim," I answered. "I don't care if you killed your first wife. Anyone can make a silly mistake. Just kiss me hard and we can make it better."


"Oh darling," I said. "I always knew you were only a pretend wife-murderer. And look! Isn't that Manderley on fire? Silly Mrs Danvers. I told her not to read Jane Eyre."

Just goes to show you that Edward Cullen and Bella of the Twilight series weren't the first controlling-dude/ weak-lady couple to win the heart of women readers. Still, Daphne DuMaurier did it better.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I've obviously been blogging quite sporadically of late; after frolicking in France, I've been having a really pleasant summer swimming whenever possible, reading as much junk as I can, and going to concerts and movies. But I can feel the urge to be productive wrap its arms around me with every pre-Autumnal shadow that creeps into view. So perhaps we'll see more bloggage.

Perhaps not, if life continues to be a "quick succession of busy nothings." Meanwhile, I revel in the hilarity that is MoDo Darcygate.

Do not F*** with sexy heroes of the literary canon. It's a cardinal rule.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Lindsay Lohan: Victim of the Patriarchy

Is it any wonder she's embraced the ultimate form of resistance to heterosexual, misogynistic hegemony?

Just listen to the way men keep trying to rule her life! I'm talking to you, Chief Bratton and Michael Lohan.

Let the woman be, ye menfolk.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

No, Maureen, No!!!

You are not even allowed to utter the words "Mr Darcy." It's so wrong on so many levels, akin to listening to Chris Matthews quote the bard. This column, to use the parlance of our internet age, is made of fail.

I imagine Maureen Dowd thinks of herself as a modern-day Austen. But she would need far subtler, more clever and more compassionate prose to reach the heights of Jane's pinkie toe when it comes to measuring great female satirists.

Although MoDo's column does prove the point that some of Austen's biggest fans are people whom she would mock most joyfully. Mo's seriously lady-Catherine-esque in terms of haughty judgmental attitudes, with a strong dash of Marianne Dashwood's bad taste in dudes.

Can you imagine a character named "Ms. Dowd" in an Austen novel, snapping at all the men to be more manly, the women to be more reserved, even while she herself, by being so outpoken, transgresses the boundaries she assiduously patrols?

Furthermore, when it comes to her own romantic prospects, I can just picture imagine Ms. Dowd bemoaning "It is a pity that there are no men suitable enough for me. It seems that every eligible bachelor whom I admire, the sort with good property in the neighborhood and a fine figure on horseback, has seduced a young women of not-yet-fifteen. I cannot for the life of me fathom it."

Meanwhile, the real Mr. Darcy sits nearby, too feminine, too sensitive, for Ms. Dowd's tastes.