juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it belongs on my rereads tag, aka my favorite tag in the history of all tags.



I’m doing another co-read with Missy, George Orwell’s 1984, a reread for both of us. He read it in school, and hasn’t reread it since then; I read it ages ago and many times since—but not in the last few years, so I suppose I was due.

My copy is inherited/gently stolen from my mother, and was published in 1961; there’s a typo on page 17 ("her sweep supple waist") and pencil notes on the first page, an about the author, to underline Orwell’s name and list "Winston—the everyman; Julia—the everywoman"; it has that distinct almost-musty scent of used books of this specific page weight and quality and era; it once sold for 95 cents; I remember reading it as a … preteen? young teen? while accompanying someone else’s trip to a college campus, and feeling very smug that I read literary canon of my own volition & and that’s why I, too, would belong at college some day.

It’s impossible for me to have a discrete experience with the book, to judge any sort of objective or relative quality or how it’s aged (objectively, relatively); I’m still tied up in that early encounter, because what I took away wasn’t the value of literary canon—rather, it was that the Important, Classic novels I would one day read for school* were also speculative; that genre was literature. It was the first time I encountered that overlap, between "real" books and speculative books. As speculative books go, it’s the definitive opposite of fun, even though dystopias have their own "what if" hook; it’s a weird book to memorize, to fondly recognize all these scenes were people are miserable, miserable in grindy petty banal ways atop the high-concept stuff. But there’s a perfect fondness: the velvet-smooth worn paperback, that distinctive scent, returning to a novel that literally changed me as a reader.

* I never did read it in school, but I did do projects comparing it to other dystopic novels!
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I just finished rereading this! I frequently start lists of media-mentioned-in books I love, and now that I'm making those lists on OneNote via my phone, it's remarkably easier to complete, edit, and publish them! Bless. So:


Media and pop culture mentioned in The Cipher by Kathe Koja
(In order of appearance, except where references reoccur; including just about all media, but probably not exhaustive.)

From the epigraph: “Mukade”, Shikatsube no Magao (poem); Rick Lieder (author)
Wise Blood, Flannery O'Conner (novel); later, “The Enduring Chill”, Flannery O'Conner (short story)
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (mentioned multiple times, including: the Rabbit Hole, the White Queen)
Artists: Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Hieronymus Bosch; The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (mentioned in specific later)
The Twilight Zone (television)
Weekly World News (tabloid)
Typhoid Mary
Xanadu
Tabu (perfume) (some aspects of this list are weirdly exhaustive)
Films: Streetgirls II, Dead Giveaway, Dogs Gone Wild (cursory searching and common sense indicate these are fictional); later, also fictional: Booby Prizes, Mommy’s Little Massacre
Faces of Death, dir. Conan LeCilaire (film)
Wild Kingdom (television)
Art Now (magazine)
Artists: Caldwell (can’t pin down who this is), Richard deVore (Malcom’s mask is compared to these)
“Borscht Belt (Jewish comedy) parody of Hamlet (Shakespeare) doing humble”
Pied Piper
The New Testament: Peter on the water; the Old Testament: Shadrach
Romper Room (television)
Author: Ben Hecht; in the final epigraph: “Love is a hole in the heart.”
Vulcan (Roman mythology)
Cinderella
(Obliquely) Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Phantom of the Opera(’s face and mask)
“Saints and idiots, angels and children.” (“It’s a quote, you dipshit.” From where? I don’t know! Enlighten me.)


I started recording media mentioned in books because I'm a dork because, as I may have said about 40 times, using narratives to create or explain your narrative is my modus operandi and thus my favorite thing to see in narratives. (Narrative-ception.) There's a danger of creating self-referential and -congratulatory recursive narratives that require googling rather than reading because without immediate knowledge of the referenced material you're in the dark. That's occasionally lampshaded, particularly in books where the references are fictional and their excess is intentional (the navelgazing of House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski; the aesthetic and plotty footnotes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke).

But, more often, narratives about narratives do one or both of these things:

The references create a palate. I've described The Cipher's atmosphere and aesthetic as "thriftstore decadence" and the characters as "gritty dirty poor horror-kids," but what describes it better is the book's references: Alice's rabbithole as metaphor for the Funhole, the grotesque art prints cut from art magazines, Flannery O'Conner's heartless black humor and the parody-titled sensationalist films; the combination of sleazy and Weird is never meant to be pleasant, but it has as strong an atmosphere as the most stylized, idealized fiction.

and/or

The narrative not only extends itself to contain the referenced material, but builds a whole greater than the sum of the references. Reader, I adore this: texts played against each other, narratives that address the reader/writer/character meta-relationship. This was what made Fire and Hemlock, Dianna Wynne Jones, so exceptional. Polly spends most of the novel internalizing, creating herself around Tom Lynn, but he also challenges her when she merely regurgitates the influences he throws her way—Tom Lynn's creation of Polly extends so far that he demands that she create herself, a contradiction they must both confront in the denouement. Fire and Hemlock borrows structures and dynamics that Polly is unaware of (Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; Cupid and Psyche); it's about the dozens of books that she reads and internalizes; it's about the story that she turns around and writes herself, and about the necessity and limitation of the inspiration she's taken from what she's read. And it's so good.

Most examples—often the best examples—do all of these things. In Catherynne M. Valente's engaging The Labyrinth, some references are in Latin; the fantastic The Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett, made me read it with google in one hand and book in the other. Both are exhausting, both are worthwhile. Caitlín R. Kiernan is (obviously) my favorite, because in this way her brain works like mine: her stories are a web of narrative influence, mentioned by name and date or casually misquoted; the way I process wolves/werewolves/black dogs is how her protagonists process their experiences, from their ancient failed romances to their trespasses into the bizarre: these external narratives have become their internal metaphors, necessary tools for interpreting the world. The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl in particular are stories about telling stories, by necessity, imperfectly.

(And all of that is who I am, and what I do.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
A Book of Tongues is basically an ode to the fact that loving someone is no guarantee that you will do right by them.

Dee bought the rest of the Hexslinger novels (which somehow I'd forgotten would even exist, despite following their writing process?? this is why you can't trust me with series: I so begrudge the extended demand of my time/resources/investment that I will actually wish away the knowledge of sequels), so I'm rereading from the start.

I collect interpersonal relationships—they're my main draw to all media, and the relationships here hit my buttons: they're messy, crazy intimate, unconventional, unforgiving; it reads like what it is, original fic that functions as fanfic, settled firm at character- and id-level, for all that the Aztec-apocalypse plot may blindside you. My love of interpersonal relationships runs an uneven line between the gratifying and the meaningful—I'm personally invested in the concept of unusual (by which I mean, apparently bizarre or unhealthy) intimacy in particular, but most fictional interpersonal relationships fascinate me rather than speak to me.

This particular one, however, does.

I have a few formative mantras, like my compulsive honesty; I know exactly where they come from, and at this point perhaps they shouldn't define me so completely, but I can't shake them because—well, I suppose because they're necessary parts of how I understand myself and explain my history. "Love is not enough" is one of those mantras. Someone can love you, or claim to love you; they can intend to do what's best for you, or claim to; they can still cause you inadvertent and even willful harm.

Unlike most weird intimacies, that particular dynamic isn't something I fetishize—although it works a lovely tandem, here, with everything which is fetishistic, so that the tension between want/don't want is never allowed to fade. But, unexpectedly, I value it. This is the sort of book I'd expect to have feels about, sure, but not more. Wild West with horror and magic and apocalypses and slashfic! it's shouldn't be heartfelt meaningful to me—and yet. It's such an important mantra. It explains huge swaths of my adolescence. There's a joyless, fierce vindication in seeing it in a book.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I stumbled into a Maledicte reread (I swear, I just wanted to check Mal's eye color—which is black, by the way), and had a moment, as one does, where I held the book to me and said, "This is my favorite book."

And upon consideration: it is.

I don't mean that it's the best book, insofar as there is such a thing (the head-hopping was particularly obvious in this reread); nor is it even the book I'd recommend to the most readers. But I’ve read it an easy seven times since it was published in 2007, at least enough for once yearly and maybe more than that. It’s one of the few books which makes me fannish, or introduced me to one of my favorite characters.

Subgenres are just about my favorite thing, precisely because I love tropes so much—and subgenres are genres turned specific, their tropes distinctive near to the point of exaggeration. Maledicte slides into the deepest niche of fantasy of manners—voiding the genre's tendency to limit fantasy to a fictional setting, its worldbuilding incorporates dark, chthonic magics; its intrigues aren't complex or delicate: they're heartless, bloody, unrelenting, and the complexity instead sits at the interpersonal level; the setting and style has a gleeful abandon, a near exaggeration, from the crumbling divine-smote Relicts to the insubstantial, bickering, reactionary veneer of courtly politics. Taking its cue from Swordspoint, it's queer as fuck: one of the most convincing and complex examinations of gender performance and identity I’ve seen. Think Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths gone slantwise, more compact, more willing in its cruelty, more idealized (when it wants to be) in its darkness, its beautiful and flawed violence. It has the sort of vivid strokes I expect from visual media, but the complexity and amorality I treasure and which text makes room for. And Maledicte, its heart, my heart, temperamental and seductive, frequently unforgivable but capable of such love.

I've loved this book since the first time I read it:

The opening of Maledicte is the only part of the novel which doesn't quite work for me, and there was no immediate click between me and the book. But as Maledicte stands in the study that first night, rude and beautiful and young, he burns like a light out of the shadows that swathe carpets and bookshelves and I said: Yes.


But I knew that; what amazes me is that I love it the most. I read a lot! I reread almost as often. I have a pile of favorites and a number of books slated for bi-yearly rereads. But this one is, likely, my favorite—favorite not because it meets some untenable standard of "best" or even because it speaks to some episode in my life or of my character, but simply because I love it, vivid dark violent, atmospheric to an extreme, rolling in its tropes and stylizations until it grows filthy with them, as decorative and sharp-edged as Mal with his sword.

That was neat to discover.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
What are you currently reading?
I'm about to go back to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I took a break about 40 chapters in because HPMOR is long and it can grow, if not tiresome, then at least repetitive, less in what is says and more in the tricks of how it says it. I didn't want the book to begin to weary me because flaws aside, what it says is phenomenal—not flawless or inarguable, and not even always particularly well rendered, but the modes of thinking resonate with me even when I wildly disagree. These are conversations that I want to and do have, edited until everyone has a stronger message and sounds about twice as succinct and witty as they otherwise would; it's a near caricature of discourse and hugely engaging.

What did you recently finish reading?
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, for intentional but hilarious contrast. I've read Wicked Lovely before (review here), and my reactions now are almost a complete inverse but focus on the same subjects: Glaring to me this time was Marr's roughness; her fairies are creative but they come in a rough littering of descriptions instead of a unified aesthetic, and the voice is amateur, full of head-hopping and utterly without artistry. The plot, meanwhile, drags and suffers contrivances, but while it may have only one feasible ending that end has nice complexity—there's a real sense that Aislinn's choice matters, despite the restrictions placed on it. It's by no means good, it even feels teenage, awkward and idealized all the way down to the word choice, and I'd recommend against it. But it has potential; I wish I could read the book it might have been, probably if another author had written it.

What do you think you'll read next?
More HPMOR; when I need to break up HPMOR, probably another reread. I've been unwilling to write reviews lately, so have almost exclusively been rereading to take some of the pressure to review new books off of my shoulders.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Mossflower's primary weakness is easier for me to accept because it's a strength in the later books: it's repetitive. It's the first book that can recycle what would become the series's core features: the food, the accents, the species-as-groups-of-people, the questing and parallel adventures, and—more blatantly in Mossflower than elsewhere in the series—the branching, interconnected world. In Mossflower, we get an origin story for near every aspect of Redwall, from the barn cat to St. Ninian's Church to the Abbey itself; often, the tie-ins are obnoxiously neat—but:

Upon re-re-reread, it's surprisingly poignant to see Martin and Timballisto reunited in Mossflower, not just because I know how their story will unfold in this book but because I've met him and heard of him elsewhere throughout the series; his presence, alongside the woodlanders and hares and the rest of the motley crew (and we know them, too, from their roles and progeny in other books), represents Martin's aggregate experience: the warrior in training that he was on the North Shores, which Tim represents, the changes he's undergone since entering Mossflower Woods, the warrior that he's become since leaving Salamandastron, and finally the figure he will be in Redwall's future—a story that overlays multiple books and an entire series.

The series's stylistic repetition is as limiting as it is comforting, that reliable redundancy about the virtues of Deeper 'n Ever Pie. But the world's sprawling mythos becomes its strength. Despite the fact that species function as essentialist stand-ins for groups of people, the interconnected sprawl of the books means that frequently an individual mentioned in one is given greater depth in another; this doesn't do much to develop the villains (and even the exceptions may be problematic, see: The Outcast of Redwall)—but it nonetheless denies the simplicity of species as characterization; it implies that almost anyone could be the protagonist of their own story, and that many are. It also creates a sense of scope, of gravitas, of depth, of emotional connection—which is why Sunflash's appearance in Mossflower's final pages means so much: it has relevance to this story, where we met Bella and glimpsed Salamandastron, but on reread it's indicative of Salamandastron's long and storied history and the continuing impact it will have, has had, on the world of Redwall.

Mossflower's repetition is frequently heavy-handed because it was the first book that could attempt it, so it's both an unpracticed attempt and a particularly glaring one; a lot of that clumsiness, for better or worse, never goes away. But rereading it with a love for the series entire, I appreciate so earnestly what it does because it's indicative of what it will continue to do: every story will have a backstory, and Martin will never be forgotten.

I finished Mossflower late, late last night.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Trying to find something distracting to consume hasn't been working overwell, so I reached for something comforting instead and am rereading Mossflower. The book was published in 1988; my copy was published in 1990, but I probably stole it from a Montessori library sometime around 1995. It looks like this, now:

My beat-up copy of Mossflower


If memory serves, the cover came to me with a small crease (it was in a school library), which developed into a second crease, which tore a couple of years ago; I still use a liberated corner of the cover as a bookmark. Again if memory serves, I think the book has gone with me to two nations, two states, two colleges, and about seven different residences.

And it isn't even that good.

It's comparable to comfort food both because food is a recurrent aspect of the Redwall series and because it doesn't have to be objectively good to be comforting. I actually don't much care for Redwall, the first book in the series: the plot is central to the world's history, but it's distinctly a first attempt and while it contains many of the aspects which would become cornerstone to the series—puzzles, food, dialects, multiple adventures running in parallel—the setting and tone is only half there. In Redwall we know there are humans somewhere, building barns and horsecarts, and suddenly an abbey full of talking mice is ridiculous.

Mossflower is the change into what the series would be. It discards the human world, and without making any more justifications or sense (badgers weigh twenty pounds, a mouse stands three inches tall) the setting becomes far more convincing: talking mice and weasels, get passed it; they're not even weasels, really--species function as a stand-in, problematically, for a group of people. It takes those cornerstones and reiterates them, defining what the series would be from here--but coming early enough in the series that it feels familiar rather than redundant (both in publishing order and upon reread). And it's less insular, showing Mossflower as a place entire rather than a central building, journeying as far as Salamandastron, in a way establishing so much more than Redwall did. Redwall was a practice run, but Mossflower determines the future: it builds the Abbey and the series. And I love that series, I read it while growing up and have almost the entire thing in handsome hardback, I celebrated every new release well into my college years, and Jacques's death in 2011 crushed me because that was the death of my childhood.

All the descriptions of food, the shallow puzzles, the existentialist and/or exaggerated characterization*, are rather glaring to me on this reread, but I find I don't mind them. It's almost nostalgic, to see as an adult what it was that made this book work for me as a child. The hardest books for me to review are those with which I have history, because how to separate that history from the book itself? Mossflower is perfectly competent, utterly decent, not awfully well-written, and I love it to literal pieces—the cover has come right off.

* Except Martin. Martin, man, whose one-word characterization may be "Warrior" but whose character arcs are almost always about the conflict between warring and living: fighting is necessary to protect what he loves, but it divides him from what he loves. That conflict is reiterated in all his stories, but it's so bittersweet and surprisingly gentle—quiet, powerful, lonesome Martin, so eager to accept the first hand extended to him in friendship even though he remembers exactly how that ended last time—that I don't much mind.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I rereread The Princess Bride, as one does. Often, rereading is my favorite time to talk about a book.

A review is intended to be an equal-minded encapsulation: the whole book, with purpose, succinctly. My review of The Princess Bride is outdated and a far cry from succinct, although I still stand by it as a critique of the 25th Anniversary edition. The "abridgment" motif is the story's crowning moment in both forms, but the anniversary additions add too much; it wallows in straight upper-middle class male mundanity in a way that makes it wearying and far less poignant. On this reread I skipped "Buttercup's Baby" and I should have skipped the introduction—which, however brief, still pads the framing narrative by an unwelcome ten pages.

Rereading isn't equal-minded. It's an entirely biased return to something I know I love; it's an indulgence. This isn't to say that it's routine—I see my favorite books differently each time I reread them, and this time was particularly struck by the critiques I mentioned above—but it certainly rests on familiarity, as it's the familiarity that lets me concentrate on specific details.

And The Princess Bride is all about familiarity. I first read the book in my early teens; I assume that I was raised on the film, because it's been a part of my life for as long as I know. I remember being delighted—and duped—by the abridgment motif on that first reading. What I don't remember was feeling that the book wasn't quite as good. It's criminally easy to prefer whatever version of something you discover first, but to be honest, if you forced me to chose, I might say I prefer The Princess Bride as a book (the Zoo of Death! I understand why it was excised, but I love it). But I never quibble about which version does what better and why, or even how the best lines get a changed when written by Goldman or acted by Billy Crystal.

I can put the film on the background while I do something else and I do, all the time; the book needs my whole attention. So I hear the book lines in movie voices, and rather than preferring one version of them I'm simply glad I know them all. It's the familiarity of anticipating "oooh, the part when..."; it's the equivalent of child Billy Goldman in the framing narrative asking his father to reread the first sword fight: the framing narrative is our father, sometimes rushing us to the best parts, sometimes stopping to tell us what it all means; and we know the story already, even if we've never heard this version or maybe even the whole thing ever before—we know that life isn't fair, but true love makes it through to the end. It is a classic both in scope and by luck of the draw, and never stops benefiting from that fact.

I cried exactly where I was supposed to in The Princess Bride—its cues aren't subtle, just satisfying—but it wasn't the gross sobbing which accompanied my reread of His Dark Materials. I don't read popcorn books/beach reads/fluffy comfort books, less out of judgement and more because those books don't fulfill those requirements for me: they don't tickle the pleasure/comfort part of my brain. But The Princess Bride does. It's fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants. It's a story I know inside and out, a story that works even better because I do, which is more poignant because I can't skip Westley's death but I can promise myself a miracle.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I am rereading the His Dark Materials trilogy (and not reviewing them separately—because I dun wanna, that's why.) It's an extraordinarily intense experience.

Intense in part because a character walks into the book and something in my chest clenches hard because I know them, I know their entire story. When the film of The Golden Compass came out I found it watchable but redundant because in all but a few details (the ending, Mrs. Coulter's appearance) it was almost too like the book: so exactly the characters, so precisely imagined, adding nothing. But even that says something, because normally characters are hard for me. Because I don't visualize, I don't give faces to names; I find it difficult to distinguish individuals, and tend only to bond to characters in visual media.

Here, I knew them the second they walked on screen and they seemed right, not random (my problem with every other book to film adaptation, ever). Here, I know everyone. I hear about a rogue armored bear, and I know his rescued armor and fencing Lyra and fighting Iofur, and the name Silvertongue. An aeronaut, and suddenly I'm in Alamo Gulch and Hester has her face pressed to his. Each character is powerfully individual, a combination of caricaturization and the intense spirit that lights each of them from within. The power of their motivation exaggerates without simplifying their character; sometimes it defines their character, as in the intensity of Coulter and Asriel. It means I remember them all, and in each event I see their entire character arc—and in this series that's a vast and painful and beautiful thing.

And intense in part because my heart aches for a dæmon. Where Valdemar-style Companions never captured my imagination as a child, dæmons did. Perhaps it's because they are integral to the self: the bond with them is not acquired but rather both innate and universal, and even Tony has his Ratter. Perhaps it's that they can take any form, and that their form is also representative of self.

I am so introverted that I make most introverts look like uncommitted poseurs, and the only relationship I've ever had I don't find severely taxing is the one I have with Devon. As a result I idealize relationships of similar intimacy, ones so innate and complete that they can be socially fulfilling without drawing from my shallow pool of social resources (see: my interest in romantic friendships). That's what draws me to the companion animal trope, and most of all to dæmons. They are perfect companionship. They're more intimate than any relationship with an outsider, because they are ultimately a relationship with yourself; they are an end to loneliness; they are so meaningful that they are literally a conversation with your soul.

Like Will watching Lyra, I feel an intense sense of loneliness—as though without my dæmon, I am bereft of the companion I was always meant to have.

I know what she looks like, is the thing. I know that she's a she. I know that she's a feline beast, about fifteen pounds, markings that could be tabby in what may be brown or may be gray, fur long and wild and wispy so that she looks both larger and smaller than she is; she's scruffy and unremarkable and beautiful. You wouldn't call her a hous cat, but she's not any wild species either. I know how it feels to press her against my belly. I wish I knew her name. There are people that believe in the existence of dæmons, and that makes perfect sense to me—like any meditative technique or religious belief, it's just another way of conceptualizing self and defining interactions with one's environment. But I'm not that type of person, despite desires to the contrary—I've never been able to visualize, I've never had faith; she is so close and I almost know her so well, and yet she is so far away.

But in one of the first moments when Lyra could truly conceptualize what it would mean to lose Pantalaimon, "She swept him up and hugged him as if she meant to press him right into her heart"—and I know that feeling. It's the feeling I have every time that I hold August to me—the desire to press her right into the heart of me, so that nothing in the universe can ever come between us. August is not my dæmon—she's a stupid willful independent pooping cat. I don't expect her to talk to me, or solve my problems, or even remotely privilege my wellbeing over the existence of treats. But in a way, the love I have for her fulfills some of the need I have to see my soul made flesh, personified in the form of a beast which purrs.

And August is much prettier than my dæmon would ever be, anyhow.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
From every indication, Story of O is one of those books which marks the reader, which leaves him not quite, or not at all, the same as he was before he read it. Such books are strangely involved with the influence they exert, changing in accordance with that influence. After a few years, they are no longer the same books, and consequently the initial reviewers soon seem to have been a bit simple-minded. But that cannot be helped, a reviewer should never be afraid to make a fool of himself. With this thought in mind, the simplest thing for me to do is admit that I hardly know what to make of it, or what it all means.

Happiness in Slavery, Jean Paulhan, in introduction to Story of O, Pauline Réage, xxiii


This thing I do when rereading my most favorite of favorite books, when I revisit them and see their pages in a sharp light that illuminates them as never before, and then write posts less concerned with the moderation and scope, as in a review, and instead trying to convey what I saw in that light. The truth is, I've done to to Story of O already, see: initial review, and two-part discussion during my first reread (one, two). But as I've told anyone who will listen as I do this third pass through the book, I've seen it different this time than any other; it's without question been the best.

The first time through I became so wrapped up in each stage of O's journey—and Réage, in d'Estrée's translation, writes so lucidly, frankly, coldly that there is nothing there between reader and scene; it's an immediate sort of captivation, one that demands rather than entices, and you cannot look away or see beyond it—that each one consumed me. I saw each tree down to the very needles on the branches; the forest, behind, blurred almost to nothing.

The second time through it was the progression I was watching; I remembered a deep envy and admiration I'd felt for O, and kept waiting for feel it again; I followed her motivations, the forms of her servitude, its paradoxical interaction with her ownership of self; I wrote about the book in two halves, but saw it best for how one half matured into the next. Forest, that is to say: only the shape, the expanse, of the forest.

This third time, I see it all. Forget the tired analogy: I know the book so well (so brief and direct, its memory stays clear) that I experienced it all as if simultaneously. I saw the arc of O's progression, in status and in mind, but was drawn into every scene and page with the immediacy that the text demands. I looked forward and back, saw each stage in relation, but drowned within each scene. This is the sort of book which will swallow you whole, in no small part because it demands as much of the reader as it does of O: the body, the mind; violently erotic and more than psychological.

I hate most to review the books which I love best, and often detest what reviews I do manage to write of them. Honestly I didn't do half bad by Story of O, but my point is that now I better understand why that happens. It's not just that I can't do the book justice, but that nothing can; a work like this evolves with time and with each reader and with its role in culture in which it exists; there is no way to write the whole of it, because that whole grows ever larger.

I hardly know what to make of it, or what it all means.

That's only the third page of the essay, of course; it continues on for a dozen more. These are impossible things to write, but we write them, we write them all. We shouldn't be afraid to make fools of ourselves.

ETA: I should add, of course, that Paulhan is a raging sexist douchebag who does make a fool of himself and barely gets the point. He tries to generalize a wholly unique experience—for the book says little about women and everything about O's individual sexuality, desires, aspired and attained role, and love—and, knowing what we know now (that he was the author's lover, that she wrote the book addressed to him, in response to a comment made by him) his coyness about her identity and the essentialism by which he assigns her gender seem like a poor joke. One good observation does not a decent introduction or human being make.

But it is a good observation.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more himself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightening, or frost from fire.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 63


It seems, to me, that it is almost cool these days to hate Wuthering Heights, to deride it as non-romantic, to argue that it's actually about two miserable people that make each other even more miserable as if that's some sort of revelation.

Wuthering Heights is not a Romeo-and-Juliet romance, star-crossed lovers, the perfect pair thwarted by outside forces; Cathy and Heathcliff thwart themselves, and that's the point. It is a story of soulmates who are horrible lovers, a story of people fated to one another who push each other away, it's a story not of what the world can do to you but what you can do to yourself. And that, to me, is more the tragedy: when you create your own hell, you suffer all the more in it.

You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it—and in breaking it, you have broken mine.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 126


And for all of that I still think it's one of the best love stories ever told—because it is a story about love, a thing as strong and violent and real as a force of nature, a thunderstorm, a hurricane. And it is as awesome, as beautiful, and as heartbreaking as that sort of natural disaster. Catherine is selfish, hurtful, over-dramatic; Heathcliff is as brutal as a beast and equally without conscience. They are as miserable to the rest of the world as they are to one another, and I would want to know neither of them. But they are both vivid, and real, and I admire a soul so strongly blazing, a heart so boldly beating, as can feel that sort of passion and contain that sort of love—even as I pity them for it.

To romanticize it is to miss the point. To dismiss it for being as miserable as it is is to get stuck at Reading Comprehension 101. To see it as both romantic and miserable, as beautiful and tragic, is to appreciate the book.

"Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnsaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe—I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 132


The plot is seems sillier this time around than it has in the past—and silly and over-dramatic it certainly is. But it's gothic literature—silly and over-dramatic is half the joy. And behind that silliness, the raw and bleeding heart of this book drives me to tears. It is not simply enough to say "I am rereading Wuthering Heights," although in a way that is all I can say. I wear the statement like a badge, an indicator of all there is behind it, all that I can't quite find the words for. I am rereading Wuthering Heights, and I love it.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I just completed a reread of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. No better time for it than while living in dread of my jury summons. There are some books that I reread often simply because I like them—they're enjoyable, engrossing, artistic, escapist, intelligent, thoughtful, beloved, any such combination, and those are all meaningful things themselves. But there are some books that I reread slightly less often but still come back to again and again, books which I do find enjoyable but which are more importantly a part of me. They are formative, or self-descriptive; they are the sort of books which I can hold up and say: Me. This made me. This explains me. This is a part of me. Shirley Jackson writes those sort of books, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of them.

I've always had a fondness for stories about individuals and small groups who, by choice or by force, must recreate society in isolation. I call these desert island paradises: you're stranded there but you refine it, you recreate it to fit you, yourself to fit it, and it becomes home—moreover it becomes a home better suited and more beautiful that normal society used to be, despite the inconveniences of isolation. I idolize the concept because, of course, it's my ideal—if somewhat modified to allow the wonders of the internet and occasional trips outdoors. But books based on the premise fascinate me and they make me feel less alone for my own tendency towards hermitage.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my favorite of that would-be genre, the desert island paradise. Unlike many of the books that I've read built on the premise, it's not cheap escapist literature—it's beautiful written, it gleefuly reverses so many gothic images while still preserving the genre, and the darkness it reveals in both the townspeople and in Merricat is chilling. But the book is still wish fulfillment, and that may be what I love most about it. It is a letter from one agoraphobe to another than reads: You are not alone. Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not all out to get you. You isolated yourself, you brought much of it upon yourself, but they are still unreasonably close-minded and cruel and they will tear your safety from you if they can. But if they do you have been wronged and, whether in shame or in fear, they will know they have wronged you. They will give you leave and little favors, and from the rubble of your life you can build your castle, small and odd but, to you, beautiful; to you, everything you need. You will be safe there and happy, in your castle on the moon.

That's an idealized message, wish fulfillment in the purest sense, but I find no shame in it because it is as if it were a wish made just for me. It frightens me and comforts me as if it were written for me, as personal as my own name. I am thankful for it, and loved it this time better than ever.

Relatedly: All of you are wonderful, and for you messages of support regarding jury summons (which seems like such a small, arbitrary thing to arouse such angst), I thank you. I'm sorry I left all those comments hanging. True to form I've been an anxious mess lately. Poor sleep, no sleep, dizziness and listlessness, and absolutely terrifying nightmares. But I've been keeping as busy as I can and Devon has been an absolute savoir, gifting me with dinners out and distractions and most of all with endless patience. And—what do they say? This, too, shall pass.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I think I'll start out the year by alternately reading rereads and new (to me) books. I'm sitting on a stack of rereads and sinking into them is very quiet and comforting—and with rereads there's no pressure to review, which is also sometimes a relief. But I'm also itching to talk books. Nevermind that I'm still neck-deep in Persona 3, I've been feeling bookish lately and a little more social than my usual hermitude—a coffee shop and novel reading mood, were I the kind to leave the house on my own. Instead, I blabber on books here, so a few new reads and relearning how to write reviews should scratch that itch.

I just finished rereading In The Woods by Tana French early this morning (original review), and it was a different experience this time. Murder mysteries rely on the mystery for plot and to engage the reader; it's been over a year since I read In The Woods but I have a good memory for books, and so there was little mystery for me in this reread. Instead, what held my attention was picking up on all the clues as they were dropped—solving it a step ahead of the investigation rather than a step behind. The atmosphere wasn't as engaging, but it was almost more skillful a book to be able to see every puzzle piece slot together.

The biggest impression left on me, though, was just how brutal French's novels are. The Likeness, this book's sequel, has a different protagonist and an entirely different atmosphere—more romantic, where In The Woods tends towards horror—but both are similar in what they do and how they do it: French builds believable protagonists, gives them sympathetic and intriguing backstories, puts them in idealized situations and friendships which are all the more perfect for those backstories, and then dedicates her novel to smashing that hard-won, beautiful life into fragments finer than dust. She builds beauty and obliterates it, and it is heartbreaking—for her characters, who are left in ruins; for the reader, who falls so in love with the character and the setting as to share that loss.

Depressing as that is, it doesn't too me feel unsatisfactory. Because the writing, plot, characterization is skillful—they're good novels (if perhaps not great) from an objective standpoint. But also because most books have to balance the reader's loss against his gain, and French's novels do: they are examples of "better to have loved and lost." Cassie and Rob in the first book have beautiful intimacy and repartee; Cassie in the second book ensconces herself in a hallowed sanctuary that has stuck firmer in my memory than the book's plot. That both are swiftly, brutally destroyed is heartbreaking—but it is worth it to at least glimpse at them first. What differentiates French's novels from any trade paperback murder mystery is that they have aspects like this—atmosphere, relationships, and loss—to weigh equally against the question of whodunnit. These aren't my favorite novels, but they are solidly constructed and thoughtful little books, they are much more than I expect from the genre and they are a joy—and a great pain—to read and to reread.

(Ironic, yes, that a not-review is nearly longer than the official thing.)

But for now, I think I'm onto a fresh novel before I pick up The Likeness for a reread.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Some while ago, I did this for Sharp Teeth: I reread it and, though I have yet to re-review a book, I couldn't stop myself from making an impassioned, loving post in its honor—a second recommendation, more emotional, a bit revised, and just as passionate. It's interesting then that around the same time I discovered Barlow's wonderful Sharp Teeth, I also discovered another novel—and both of them immediately jumped to my list of favorite books, and they are still there now.

I am currently rereading Lane Robins's Maledicte. I have spoken of this book before—in my review, as well as a number of passing mentions since then. But coming back to it now, I can't help but take a moment to talk about it again.

This is perhaps my fifth reread of the novel. The first time I read it, I loved it. I treasured every chapter from the first to the last, and recommended it highly. Other rereads have been a smooth slide back into the dark but comforting world of the book, unraveling familiar intrigues, enjoying favorite characters. But for whatever reason, this reread is better even than the first.

When I first reviewed Maledicte I compared it to dark chocolate—and the comparison stands. It is as rich, as dark, as bittersweet as the best chocolate. It's easy to slip into, easy to get lost in, but this time I am reading it in small chunks and—like small bites of bitter chocolate—it seems best served that way. Because this time each scene, each sentence, has been striking me at my core.

Maledicte's gender is more fluid and more cleverly wrought than ever before. Never before has his journey towards revenge been more trecherous, more dangerous, more frustrating. Maledicte is sharper, stronger, so much more vulnerable. Vornatti is wiser, weaker, more lecherous. Gilly has never been so good a man, his relationship with Maledicte more fragile or more touching. And then when Maledicte and Janus meet again...

This quote may be considered a spoiler. )

These words, they sing to me. They are lush, throaty, low, a sound as sensual as a lover's breath. They are beautiful. Much of one's taste in literature is personal and subjective, so I'm thankful for the quirk of taste that makes Maledicte nearly the perfect book for me. Faultless? No. But on this reread I am so enraptured, so swept up in my love for it that I could not think to ask for better. But enough of my bombast. I could praise the book a dozen ways and still never capture my love for it. In its darkness, its passion, in its beauty and decay, I love this book. I love it more now than ever. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

And now I turn back to it, for another bite.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
There's blood everywhere,
but it's the creatures at the edge,
licking the corner of the ruby pool,
that hold your curiosity.
So get this straight
it's not the full moon.
That's as ancient and ignorant as any myth.
The blood just quickens with a thought
a discipline develops
so that one can self-ignite
reshape form, becoming something rather more canine
still conscious, a little hungrier.
It's a raw muscular power
a rich sexual energy
and the food tastes a whole lot better.
Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow, page 6

I've lately been putting most of my energy into Second Life, but I've also (following a couple month's rest after my long spree last year) gone back to reading a bit. I recently reread Sharp Teeth, and though I've spoken of this book before (in my initial review written after I first read it) I wanted to take a moment to recommend it again.

Because Sharp Teeth was even better the second time around. Knowing the end, I could better see the pieces come together—and it is a very delicate and clever puzzle of a book. I'd been away from it long enough that much of it was new again, giving fresh energy to the plot and the characters. But beyond both, it's simply one of the best books that I've ever read—though it's hard to say why. Everything I could say comes out as superfluous, clichéd praise: Barlow's werewolves are so artfully rendered, a combination of man and beast that has the strengths and weaknesses of both halves. He walks a careful line of dry humor, deep emotion, and bloody savagery so that the book hits home and hits hard but never takes itself too seriously. His verse is poetry that builds and shapes the story: a pause here for love, a tight tense pace for violence, the language and layout and story all feeding into one another.

But in the end, it's just easiest to show.

Dog or wolf? More like one than the other
but neither exactly. Standing on four legs in her fur,
she is her own brand of beast.
She could play in your yard, but
you would not want to find her
crossing your trail in the twilight.
And were you cornered by her,
eye to eye,
you would see that
there are still some watchful creatures
whose essence lies unbounded by words.
There is still a wilderness.
Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow, pages 39-40

Because this book is impossible to explain. Near the end, in the final battle, Barlow lists the dogs which die. Most of them are strangers—simply a list of names. But one after one, a line break, another list, a line break, another list—Barlow divides these deaths, even in their long string; he makes the reader pause, stop, and read every single goddamned name and mourn every death of every one of these strangers. It's just a list of names, and yet it is so much more.

And so is this novel. I'm a sap, of course I cried through the ending—but not so much for the love and the death but because it is rare to find a which grabs you between its teeth, shakes the sense from you, and refuses to ever let go. Sharp Teeth does. I've recommended it before, will recommend it again, but just had to stop and say: This is one of the best books that I have ever read. You should read it, too.

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