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A Game of Dichotomies

April 1, 2012

So this is it: A Game of Thrones (by George R.R. Martin).

Appropriate because Season 2 of the TV show premieres tonight!


Incidentally, the dedication is: “this one is for Melinda.”  I wonder if she made him take it back after she finished reading it.  Because, damn.

It’s clear from the beginning of the book that Martin is interested in masculinity–what makes a man a man?  Is masculinity defined as simply the absence of femininity, or by positives–loyalty, honesty, obedience?   Consider:  on the very first page of the novel, one of the Night Watch says: “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs.”

The arrogant Waymar Royce responds: “Never believe anything you hear at a woman’s tit.”

But the joke is on Royce, right?  Because the old wives’ tales are true, as he’s about to discover in a rather gruesome fashion.

It’s also worth noting that Royce, whom we aren’t supposed to like, uses “unmans” as an insult twice in as many pages–and of course, an unman is a woman.

I think one of the more frustrating things about this series in general, actually–at least to the academic reader–is that Martin is self-evidently no raging misogynist, but has equally obviously never even heard of gender theory.

He’s fallen into a dichotomous way of thinking that plagues many well-meaning but under-critical people: man/brutal/open/strong/stupid, woman/nurturing/secret/weak/wise.

In this case, the cthonic woman, attuned as she is to the old ways, the ways of the earth, and the ways of folklore and secrets, is right to fear and transmit the stories of Others and wildings.  Sure, right, she’s awesome.  But this isn’t actually about men vs. women, or doesn’t have to be; one could make an argument about book-learning vs. forest lore, city-folk vs. country-folk, Westeros vs. Vaes Dothrak–and in fact, Martin will make all these arguments and more.

The thing is, people are people, regardless of the accidents of biology–it’s culture and socialization that promote striking gender differences.  Praising women for their “essential” good qualities is not really, at its heart, any different than scorning them for weakness and folly.

This is going to be a thread worth following, though; I can already see it developing in Ned Stark, who dismisses Old Nan–“[she’s] been telling you stories again”–in the way he’s later going to underestimate Cersei Lannister.


Is This Thing Still On?

March 28, 2012

So . . . yeah. Sorry about that.

It started as: I’ve read too many books and don’t have time to review them. And then it was laziness. And then I started to question the mission. And then . . . it became March again.

I have still been reading books by women–the only exception I’ve made in the past year, in fact, has been A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, which I decided didn’t count because a) it’s really a short story and just comes in the hardbound format for The Children and b) Christmas. Also, it is beautiful and sweet and I read it aloud to the Irishman until I started sobbing so hard I couldn’t speak, which ALWAYS happens to me on the last page.

So now it’s almost April, and my self-imposed limitation is almost up. Have I learned anything?

Yes! A few things, anyway:

  • Reading books by women has been very refreshing in some respects. Even women who consciously reject feminism (or who wrote before its advent) tend, on the whole, not to write sex scenes or female characters who make me want to punch things.
  • Blogging every day does NOT work for me.
  • I’m much better at disputation than I am at dispassionate analysis; I need a certain amount of antagonism to inspire certain modes of thought.
  • Other than wanting to read new installments of a few particular series or check out the occasional book by a new author, I haven’t missed reading male-authored books–or even really felt limited.

So what will I do now that the year is coming to an end?

I think I’m going to start blogging again, this time with a bit of a different bent.  To whit:

  • I’ll be trying to blog once or twice a week with longer, more thoughtful posts.  No more daily posting.
  • No more content-free posts or reviews–if I’m talking about a book, it’s because I have something to say.
  • I will still be focusing on reading books from a feminist perspective, but all books (and indeed, media) are fair game.  Consider yourself ON NOTICE, George R.R. Martin!

I hope you will continue down the primrose path with me.

Now That’s What I’m Talkin’ About

August 22, 2011

Zach Weiner doesn’t ~always~ get it right, but when he does . . .

Better Late than Never: July

August 16, 2011

So! I kind of fell off the face of the planet for awhile. But July had a little bit going on. Mostly it was me raving about Tana French (and yes, Faithful Place is waiting for me on my bookshelf).

And here’s what’s coming for what’s . . . left . . . of August:

  • The Hemingses of MonticelloAnnette Gordon-Reed
  • Good EggsPhoebe Potts
  • The Orchid ThiefSusan Orlean
  • In a Paris QuartierDiane Johnson
  • Wolf HallHillary Mantel
  • The Rhetoric of DeathJudith Rock
  • Gaudy NightDorothy Sayers
  • Last One Down the Aisle WinsShannon Fox and Celeste Liversidge
  • Blood, Bones & ButterGabrielle Hamilton
  • The LuxeAnna Godberson


July 20, 2011

And how good it is to be back! I have missed you, internet.

Anyway, I think the next few days are going to be devoted to marriage. By sheer happenstance, I’ve been reading a lot about it lately. And it’s an important question: how does one reconcile traditional American/Western ideas about marriage with feminism? Can it be done? Or is it useless to try, even?

So we’ll begin tomorrow with a post about Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives, an excellent book which I feel contains a lot worthy of discussion.


July 12, 2011

For those of you living under a rock, A Dance with Dragons, the next installment in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, comes out today.

I’m a big fan of the series (as is my good friend SQ), and we’ve been eagerly anticipating this release for, like, years.

And I can’t read it, because it was written by a dude.


This is a self-imposed limitation, and really, if I were to read it, none of you blog-reading types would ever know if I didn’t tell you. But it would certainly be intellectually dishonest.

More to the point, if I may confess something, I’m finding reading only books written by women strangely restful. Sure they have their problems with racism and sexism and homophobia and all that jazz, but for the most part I haven’t been rolling my eyes at cardboard woman characters and appallingly blatant misogyny. In fact, Martin’s books are compelling reasons to keep doing what I’m doing.

SPOILER WARNING: Plot, A Game of Thrones

For example, when I read the scene where Dany is raped (let’s call a spade a spade, yes?) by her new husband, Kal Drogo, I thought to myself “this is what one man thinks a woman losing her virginity would feel like.” I didn’t think it rang true at all, and it made me very conscious of an alien, almost voyeuristic stance on the author’s part. Most of the rest of the book and series aren’t like this at all, to be fair, and there’s of course much to unpack and discuss about the role of women and sexuality in fantasy. But it’s been a long time since I read a scene in a woman-authored book that felt that way.

So I’ll keep to my project, and next year I’ll reread all of A Song of Ice and Fire. And I’ll blog about it then.

Hello From Scenic Idaho

July 10, 2011

Hello! I hope you have been having good summers and whatnot. I have been shamelessly lazing about the house and reading LOTS of books. Oh so many books! Today I am mentioning two in particular: In the Woods and The Likeness, both by Tana French.

My mother left In the Woods at my house the last time she visited, and this time I packed it in my suitcase, thinking I would return it to her–and perhaps read it, why not? OMG peoples, I am positively ASHAMED that it took me this long to read it. (Here I must note that this is not Mom’s fault. She TOLD me I would like it.) As it is, I devoured it in a day, then talked said mother into buying The Likeness at Costco yesterday. My only regret is that I didn’t get French’s third book, Faithful Place, as well.

So after all this hype, what are the books about? Simply put, they’re about members of Dublin’s “Murder Squad” (a creation of French’s), and each novel addresses a particularly fraught murder case. So yes, they’re mysteries, but they’re not really whodunnits–more along the lines of why-and-how-and-can-we-prove-it-dunnits. The writing is superb, the characters are finely-drawn, and, well, Ireland. I think USians are particularly susceptible to its charms, and I’m no exceptions.

Just go read ’em, okay?

Excellence of Writing: 10/10 As mentioned above. Very literary for murder mysteries, and I didn’t mind it a bit for once.

Feminist Cred: 5/10 French isn’t overtly concerned with advancing or detracting feminism; all her characters read like real people, women and men alike, and that’s more than many others in the genre.

How Much Do I Recommend It?: 10/10
Can I give an eleven? Let’s put it this way: these are the kind of books that you read in a day, resenting having to turn off the light at night.