I’ve always had two different book piles going on at once. When I was in school, there were the books (or plays, or poems, or short stories) that I had to read for my various classes, plus what I was reading for fun or for myself. When I got out of college and didn’t have anyone telling me what to do, I had short time where I read whatever I wanted to, but I quickly started feeling guilt about not reading the things that I alleged I wanted to—like LOTR, or Walden, or Lolita—but were a little too difficult to be “leisure” reading. So I just continued reading whatever I damn well pleased at home, before bed or work, and started reading the books I felt were “important” during my in-between reading time—like on my break at work, or in the doctors waiting room. It’s been a good system, but sometimes I just get confused. There’s too much going on in each book, and if I have a day where I don’t go anywhere and just let myself read something ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Circle of Magic series), I end up having to reread chapter upon chapter of whatever I’m “seriously” reading. It makes for very slow going, and it’s also a bit embarrassing to be having a discussion about Dickens and start talking about something Nicholas Sparks actually wrote. And by a bit, I mean massively.
Monthly Archives: November 2011
Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea
A man came slowly from the setting sun,
To Emer, raddling raiment in her dun,
And said, ‘I am that swinehard whom you bid
Go watch the road between the wood and tide,
But now I have no need to watch it more.’
Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,
And raising arms all raddled with the dye,
Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.
That swinehard stared upon her face and said,
‘No man alive, no man among the dead,
Has won the hold his cars of battle bring.’
‘But if your master comes home triumphing
Why must you belnch and shake from foot to crown?’
Thereon he shook the more and cast him down
Upon the web-heaped floor, and cried his word:
‘With him is one sweet-throated like a bird.’
‘You dare me to my face,’ and thereupon
She smote with raddled fish, and where her son
Herded the cattle came with stumbling feet,
And cried with angry voice, ‘It is not meet
To idle life away, a common herd.’
‘I have long waited, mother, for that word:
But wherefore now?”
‘There is a man to die;
You have the heaviest arm under the sky.’
‘Whether under its daylight or its stars
My father stands amid his battle-cars.’”
“But you have grown to be the taller man.’
‘Yet somewhere under starlight or the sun
My father stands.’
‘Aged, worn out with wars
On foot, on horseback or in battle-cars.’
‘I only ask what way my journey lies,
For He who made you bitter made you wise.’
‘The Red Branch camp in a great company
Between wood’s rim and the horses of the sea.
Go there, and light a camp-fire at wood’s rim;
But tell your name and lineage to him
Whose blade compels, and wait till they have found
Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.’
Among those feasting men Cuchulain dwelt,
And his young sweetheart close beside him knelt,
Stared on the mournful wonder of his eyes,
Even as Spring upon the ancient skies,
And pondered on the glory of his days;
And all around the harp-string told his praise,
And Conchubar, the Red Branch king of kings,
With his own fingers touched the brazen strings.
At last Cuchulain spake, ‘Some man has made
His evening fire amid the leafy shade.
I have often heard him singing to and fro,
I have often heard the sweet sound of his bow.
Seek out what man he is.’
One went and came.
‘He bade me let all know he gives his name
At the sword-point, and waits till we have found
Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.’
Chuchulain cried, ‘I am the only man
Of all this host so bound from childhood on.’
After short fighting in the leafy shade,
He spake to the young man, ‘Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,
Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,
That you have come and dared me to my face?’
‘The dooms of men are in God’s hidden place.’
‘Your head a while seemed like a woman’s head
That I loved once.’
Again the fighting sped,
But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,
And through the new blades guard that old blade broke,
And pierced him.
‘Speak before your breath is done’
‘Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain’s son.’
‘I put you from your pain. I can do no more.’
While day its burden on to evening bore,
With head bowed on his knees Cuchulain stayed;
Then Conchubar sent that sweet-throated maid,
And she, to win him, his grey hair caressed;
In vain her arms, in vain her soft white breast.
Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,
Rank his Druids round him ten by ten,
Spake thus: ‘Cuchulain will dwell there and brood
For three days more in dreadful quietude,
And then arise, and raving slay us all.
Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,
That he may fight the horses of the sea.’
The Druids took them to their mystery,
And chaunted for three days.
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his down name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.
Now that my niece is born I’m super excited to share my favorite children’s books with her. I really hope I get to spend enough time with her to pass on my love of books and reading. Children’s books are some of my favorite books, and the genre as a whole is really rich and delicious and I enjoy it thoroughly. Obviously I like the classics, the most basic learn-to-read books tend to bore me. Because I’m a grown up and I already know how to read, so learning sight words isn’t really titillating to me at this point. I’m seriously debating with myself as to what I’m going to read to her. I’m super excited to share Where The Wild Things Are, since it’s one of my favorites–such ripe, simple words, such incredible illustrations–plus I just bought the movie; my terrible pronunciation isn’t going to stop me from reading her the French version of Le Petit Prince–the flow of words is incredible, the illustrations rough but fit the storyline perfectly, the quotes and themes will stay with you forever (Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité, dit le renard. Mais tu ne dois pas l’oublier. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.…..sigh). I’ve got a fantastically illustrated version of Louisa May Alcott’s Fairy Stories that I’m excited to share (there are quotes hidden in literally every illustration–I’ve had the book for ten years and I still get lost in them every time I read the book) but I’m a little leery about the Grimm’s Brothers anthology that I also own. On one hand, I’m pumped to provide her with a non-Disney-fied version of the tales, and hopefully put a little crack in the spell those movies tend to put on little girls (clearly, I’m not anti-Disney, but as a feminist it’s hard to hard-core love them). From a literary perspective, they’re also pretty fantastic and I thoroughly enjoy them. Essentially I just want to pass on my love of reading to my new, beautiful, fantastic, amazing niece, and I want to ensure that the books I choose to read to her are the books that will inspire that in her.
So, I’m kind of a not-so-secret feminist. I realized it when I was pretty young, before I had a word for it, when I thought it was out-and-out bullshit that my younger brother was allowed to walk to the 7-11 down the block with his friends and my sister and I needed an adult with us because we could get kidnapped and other such nonsense. Now, I’m not out burning my bras in opposition to the patriarchy (tool of oppression or not, I love the way my cleavage looks with a good push-up), but being a woman, I am always looking for “role models” in my reading for myself and my potential future daughters (shudder).
That’s not to say I completely discount books without strong female characters—thus far, there have been like 5 women total (that’s a generous count), only one of whom isn’t purely someone’s wife or mother (Galadriel, obviously, and she’s only in the story so far for the space of a few pages). It also doesn’t mean that a girl can’t look up to a male character or see him as a role model. I’m a huge fan of the cross-gender mentoring relationship, even if the so-called mentor is fictional. Girls can learn a lot from men, as boys can from women. Before the gender of a character is considered, he or she must be an actual role model. Humbert Humbert being the main character of Lolita doesn’t instantly make him a role model. Similarly, making a woman your main character does not immediately make her a worthwhile role model—Alya from Clan of the Cave Bear is famously strong and capable, but she’s also Barbie-doll pretty and so perfect I had to make a drinking game to deal with it. That tends to be a problem with many female leads—the author is so determined to make a strong female character that they forget to give her flaws to make the reader like and root for her. What I want out of my books is females who are similar to the male characters we have so many of—strong, flawed, imperfect, but still working towards doing the right thing and being good people. Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve found some of the best female characters in the Wheel of Time series. Elayne, Egwene, Nynave, Min and Avendhiah (those are who I consider the main female roles, rest assured there are many more) are all strong and powerful in their own rights, separate from the men in their lives; they have a vital role to play in saving the world, and they know it. The very scope of the series (remember, this is the series so gigantic that reading LOTR as a “break” from it seemed a good idea) give Jordan time to flesh out each of their characters as an individual, and there are huge lengths of the book that focus purely on the women with little to no interference from the men. These stretches allow Jordan to flesh out the personality of the individual women, providing a more balanced portrait than would be allowed in a smaller series. If the series had been smaller, it isn’t unreasonable to assume the female characters would be the ones cut, to make room for the more “important” male leads.
It’s important to me as a reader and a feminist that I read things that appeal to both sides of me, and I’m always looking for new books.
I leave for vacation tomorrow morning, and I have a dilemma. Two Christmases ago I got a kindle, and I was so happy, because I love traveling and the kindle is way more travel friendly. I never run out of books, because I can always download more, so even if we get stuck inside somewhere I can always entertain myself, but I don’t have to lug around tons and tons of books. Obviously, an ereader is the way to go if you’re going to travel. It’s smaller, easier to carry and store, and generally more convenient. There’s really no good reason to bring a book with you when you can bring a million with much less struggle. But I’m almost done with The Two Towers, and I want to bring Return of the King with me, so I can potentially finish the series while on my vacation. I’m afraid that if I bring my kindle instead, I’ll lose where I am, and need to start over when I get back. Let’s face it, Lord of the Rings is a lot of information, and its vastness is hard to handle on a first reading. Thus far, the only way I’m keeping up with everything that’s happening is by being totally engrossed in the universe. If I take a week off and let myself get engrossed in something else (right now Walden/Civil Disobedience is waiting for me), I’ll probably have to start back at Fellowship to remind myself what’s going on. Not that that would be the end of the world, but I’m just so excited to get to the end and see what happens that I begrudge any interruption. And needing to start over would be a huge interruption.
These are the questions that keep me up at night. The life of a reader.