01 January 2022

Eisenberg Sisters Reading Challenge

I had a sad, sad year in 2021 and read very few books. I think my mood will do better if I read more, so I'm joining a reading challenge - or two - and hoping this will spur me to turn more pages than I did in 2021. Here's the plan, subject to change:

  1. Winter theme: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  2. Women's History: Hild by Nicola Griffith (a reread)
  3. Animal: The Conference of the Birds by Ransom Riggs or maybe Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel 
  4. Technology: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini 
  5. Time Travel: Kindred by Octavia Butler
  6. National Park: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  7. Unread Bestseller: The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
  8. Thriller: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  9. Short stories or poems: Felon: Poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts (reread)
  10. Other Ethnic: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  11. Child narrator: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 
  12. Holiday: Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

28 June 2012

Co-sleeping for yiddish policemen

I recently read the Yiddish Policeman's Union, and once in a while I am reminded of something from the book. Tonight we watched Jim Gaffigan's Mr. Universe and Gaffigan's description of his children's nighttime visit to his marital bed had me chortling. After laughing for a while I was able to search for and find the reference:
"The Shemets boys set up a whistling and rumbling and a blatting of inner valves that would shame the grand pipe organ of Temple Emanu-el ... They chop at Landsman, stab him with their toes, grunt and mutter. They masticate the fiber of their dreams. Around dawn, something very bad happens in the baby's diaper. It's the worst night that Landsman has ever spent on a mattress, and that is saying a good deal."
That sounds about right. I wholeheartedly recommend both the book and the comedy special.

06 July 2011

The Hated 15: Theon Greyjoy

At Towerofthehand.com, there's a lively community of science fiction/fantasy fans that gather to discuss the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. Occasionally featured are essays by members; recently one of mine was selected for a countdown of the most hated characters in the series. (I've posted some other essays on ASOIAF before also). I present: Theon Greyjoy. Warning, spoilers follow.
Theon Greyjoy, Theon Turncloak (Artist: Felicia Cano)
Mercy is rare for the children of Westeros. None was to be had for Barra, King Robert's bastard girl. Even high-born children are prone to be victims, as Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen attest. Rebels and dis-respecters are treated particularly harshly, as shown in the treatment of the Reynes of Castamere - the entire house extinguished, every man, woman and child. The least likely place one would expect mercy would be the cold, hard North - yet this is where the son of the leader of the Greyjoy Rebellion is brought and cared for, raised alongside the noblest children of the region as their peer. He is a hostage - but the cage he is kept in encompasses Winterfell and the lands it governs (including a brothel nearby). He is out of place there, treated suspiciously by many, and never completely accepted. His time with the Starks easily looks like a fostering, which is within the traditions of the Seven Kingdoms, but to his native lands it is not understood that way. Theon Greyjoy rises in position to become a trusted companion of the King in the North, Robb Stark.

But fostering, as with other traditions of the Green Lands, is no right place for an ironborn man. Theon is gradually changed through this proximity to the Stark children to be more like his enforced companions, less like an Ironborn. His sense of his native culture is so far eroded that he undertakes to negotiate with his father on behalf of King Robb, never recognizing that his father would see him as forever suspect in such an arrangement. The glaring errors of his assumptions are displayed for his father at the worst possible moment when Lord Balon asks:
"That bauble around your neck - was it bought with gold or iron?"
Theon touched the gold chain. He had forgotten. It has been so long... In the Old Way, women might decorate themselves with ornaments bought with coin, but a warrior wore only the jewelry he took off the corpses of enemies slain by his own hand. Paying the iron price, it was called. A Clash of Kings: Theon I

In that exchange, the father remakes the son. But when does a child become a man, and responsible for the repercussions of a man's choices? Theon again is scrambling to find a place for himself - recognizing finally that he is no prodigal son coming home, but in his father's eyes he is corrupted to the soft life. Corrupted and corruptible; Balon recognizes that if Theon can be turned into an emissary for the Starks, he can be turned back against the Starks, to prove himself ironborn or die trying - either way relieves Balon of the troublesome prospect of a son who is a misfit. Balon, of course, doesn't recognize that it is his grasping, unrealistic ambitions that resulted in the surrender of his son.
Theon accepts the challenge from his father and sets out to out-ironborn the ironborn, and this is when he changes from being a self-centered, naive and selfish boy to a conniving, backstabbing man. He accepts charge of a small force of men and is charged with creating some mayhem on the Stony Shore. And, much like his father's ambition to make a place for himself he overreaches for Winterfell - and, surprising us all, he succeeds.

This dual betrayal - of Balon's orders, and Robb's trust - gets Theon quite a ways down the road to being hated by the reader. Then he compounds our reader's misery, slaying children to further his scheme and mistreating Winterfell's people. It is almost a relief when Winterfell is lost to Theon, and Theon is captured by the Boltons - but the cost of Theon's comeuppance is the razing of Winterfell and that seems too high a cost. This, too, we blame him for - that Winterfell, centuries old, should be ruined due to his recklessness makes us hate him more.

Is redemption possible for such a flawed soul with such mistaken motives? For a man who cannot be grateful that he was warded instead of slain, who can't be true to his friend, who mistreats the women around him, who cannot satisfy his father, who is responsible for the deaths of children and the destruction of the Starks' home - what hope have we? What hell would Theon have to survive, what right acts could he perform as penance? A Dance with Dragons might offer the chance for redemption and an escape from his hated outsider status (certainly Theon must be punished - how much is sufficient?) - or it may make us hate him all the more. I hate to leave the choice up to Theon, as he makes such poor choices. Is he ready to choose, to join the game again?

01 July 2011

Dogsbodies and Scumsters by Alan McCormick and Illustrated by Jonny Voss

Quirky tales of ne’er do wells and washouts strive side by side with poetical furniture and terminally ill wives in this short story collection. I found the characters endearing and whole in the sketches of these fractured souls and recommend the series to any who delight in witty, bite sized fiction that grows more worthy upon reflection, even as it captivates you during the read. Roast books has excelled again in putting forth this new author for their readers and fans; where do they find these story tellers? If I were to ask McCormick, perhaps he could spin a tale of the underground vat where he was grown on a diet of hearty adjectives and high-protein nouns. I’ll highlight two stories that were favorites in this collection, and leave you, reader dearest, to enjoy the rest unprepared as I was.

“Deal or No Deal” is Brenda’s tale, and Brenda is a very pitiful creature. The story opens mildly, with the socially awkward girl struggling to understand her sister’s harrangues, handle the insults of her bratty niece and nephew and understand her grocer’s friendliness which is just as confusing to her as the nastiness she endures from her family. I was completely caught up in pity for her, an apparent  lost soul. And then, as she goes through her day making tea and watching a game show in the company of her neighbor, her past slips out in dribs and drabs until suddenly the pity switch flips back to neutral. I didn’t suddenly feel that her family was right to be nasty to her, but I could understand why they were. That McCormack could get me to flip by judgment in 6 pages of concise text is a cunningly efficient maneuver which left me a bit wobbly in my reading parts.

“Storyteller” finds Katie careening through her life at a fast pace, following a bomb blast. As she unwinds the knots of her tangled tale her patter becomes less and less assured, her poise starts to slip. She lives a mendacious life, and she knows it, justifies it, and celebrates it. She never apologizes, and  doesn’t entertain the possibility that there’s another honest way of living – at least not for her. But how far would she go to protect her carefully structured identity? And if not apologetic, is she vindictive towards those who she believes set her on the lying path? 

In coming weeks, I’ll be on stage for improv again and am sorely tempted to bring to life on stage some of these irascible, weirdly bewildered characters – I can imagine Katie, in a Grace Kelly scarf patiently explaining herself to a reporter with mounting anxiety. Brenda could easily appear on a bus, riding along in silence and needing a retreat from the world with to trouble her. I wonder if McCormack would be willing to let me let these dogsbodies onto the stage- or if they are better kept in a jar, in a lab, underground, and away from the light of day.