Robin and Rowling

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Assassin's Apprentice

Despite having been an avid fantasy reader when I was younger, I have been unable to read fantasy fiction as an adult. Those who are bored enough to regularly read my blog will remember that several months ago, I wrote a post about this. I ultimately concluded that, for some reason, I was no longer able to suspend my disbelief to the extent that fantasy fiction required. I don’t think I’ll be shocking anyone when I say that fantasy fiction is proliferated with less than competent writers, who recycle saccharine storylines with ironically unimaginative characters. And also, at the other end of the fantasy spectrum (and perhaps edging more toward the sci-fi realm) are those intimidating novels which present universes vastly different from our own, which simply require too much effort to comprehend. And frankly, I couldn’t be bothered.

I read often, and broadly. I took a recent foray into magic realism, and then diverged into gruesome Japanese thrillers, and then ended up with allegorical social commentary. But for a long time, I’ve had a longing for an absorbing, well-written fantasy book that would satiate my wandering imagination. And I have found it.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy has had me utterly engrossed for weeks. At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up the first book, Assasin’s Apprentice, in the midst of a drought of reading material. I trudged through the first third of the book without any particular interest. It told the story of a young boy pretty much dumped on the doorstep of the castle of the royal family of the Six Duchies as the illegitimate son of King-in-waiting Chivalry. I read about how he was taken in as a stable hand, and developed a strange bond with a puppy. A few chapters later, he had been addressed by King Shrewd, his grandfather, and had been forced into the ominous position of the King’s assassin. And then I followed the boy, nameless at this stage, as he undertook training in poisoning, strangling, weaponry and manipulation. And when he developed ability for the telepathy known in the Six Duchies as the Skill, I suffered through the torturous schooling required to hone it so that it could be of use to the monarchy. And when the boy, who soon took on the name FitzChivalry, was sent on his first mission as an assassin, I basked in the awe and wonder of the Mountain Kingdom he was sent to.

When Fitz was being tormented by the sadistic Skillmaster, Galen, I hated Galen with an aggressiveness I had not felt toward a literary character for a very long time. When the royal procession pulled up to the Mountain Kingdom, I read and reread the description of the setting, trying to place the excitement and thrill I felt at being brought so fully to such a brilliant place through the novel’s pages. I developed a gruff fondness for Fitz’ surrogate father, Burrich, the competent stablehand whose motives are often undiscernible (at this stage in the trilogy). And I felt a fierce admiration and kind of loyalty toward the Mountain Queen, Kettricken, who entered into battle for the people she ruled, and came out bloody and bedraggled.

I read the first two books, which are considerably long, in a couple of weeks. I literally got so much joy out of them that I wondered why it was that I hadn’t reinitiated myself into fantasy fiction before this. I spent a good deal of time wondering what it was that made them so compulsive and so addictive. And then it struck me. I realised that I hated Galen in the same way as I had hated only one literary character before in my life – the greasy haired, repulsively sarcastic potions master of Hogwarts. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy has elicited from me, at the age of twenty, the same response that Harry Potter evoked in my ten year old self.

It is the fullness of the world that Hobb has created. It is the reality of the characters, and the complexities of their livelihood and relationships. It is the humour that exists in their day to day lives. It is the sprawl of the politics, contrasted with the minutiae of courtly interactions. It is the experience of delving into a vibrant environment with an unknowing guide, in Fitz and like Harry. It is the dread of impending threat, from the Red Ship Raiders, as it was from the Death Eaters that haunted my childhood nightmares. It is the heart-wrenching pain that goes along with the losses Fitz experiences, and the giddy excitement when he has an unexpected gain. It is in the writing that sweeps the reader along so smoothly that they do not remember the point where they stopped reading and began experiencing.

There is almost nothing that the plot of the Farseer trilogy has in common with Harry Potter. It is simply the nature of the experience that drew me in, in the same way that only Rowling has managed before.

Literature is so very, very important to me. I have said before, and will undoubtedly say again, the Harry Potter series changed my life. I can only compare the emotional connection I have to the Harry Potter books to the way in which some people relate so strongly to the music they listen to. It is an investment in the characters and the world in which Harry lives that has been a part of the composition of my own character since I was ten. It opened up true literature to me as a child, and influenced my decision to study to be a teacher. From my incessant gushing, I’m sure you can imagine, then, that Robin Hobb’s books are so incredibly special to me. I’m making my way through her bibliography, and I’m very excited that there are a number of trilogies, and that her books are quite lengthy to boot! So I wanted to share this excitement with my friends who read, and especially with those who inhabited Hogwarts in the same way that I did (for those who did not, I’m sure I’ve come off as a raving loony…but you get that). Thank you also, to Niki, who recommended these books so wholeheartedly to me. Bet you didn’t think they’d be this important to me.

Because comments make me feel good, tell me:

If you loved Harry Potter as much as I did, have you ever found a series that you experienced in the same way?

Have you read Robin Hobb’s books? What are your thoughts on them? Can you recommend other books that are as good as hers?

Do I use too many Latinate words in my prose? (No, don’t answer that…I know I do, my Shakespeare professor told me so!)

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Queensland Floods, Brisbane River Bursts Its Banks

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In the last forty-eight hours, residents of Brisbane have had to watch as their city was taken underwater. This comes after the horrendous atrocity faced by Toowoomba, where a relentless wall of water swept through the town, literally devastating everything in its wake and claiming the lives of ten citizens. The Brisbane River, around which the city is built, burst its banks on Jan 11th, overflowing into the central business district and the iconic South Bank. Those working in the city were slowly but effectively evacuated, and the waters throughout Brisbane continued to rise. Residents were forced out of their homes, and others were stranded from accessing their properties as a result of flooded streets. People lost their houses, their possessions, their pets, their security, their homes. And all of Brisbane looked on in horror as the city gradually filled with water. My school, which sits behind South Bank, will be affected, and my university has been flooded. I was devastated to watch South Bank itself fill with water, from the boardwalk up. South Bank is Brisbane’s heart, the convergence of the city’s individuality, spirit and atmosphere. It was an escape and a refuge for me during high school – a link to the freedom and anonymity afforded by the CBD itself. And now it is saturated.

This is an event which has been experienced, witnessed and communicated over the internet. The Queensland Police Service has been tireless in their constant updating over Facebook, working incessantly to keep the public aware of the situation and the way that it affects them. On my news feed, my friends posted statuses to say that their power had been cut, asking if others could keep an ear out for updates related to their area. People posted photos of their areas and roads, broadening the view of the flood’s impact. One friend, badly affected by the floods, asked if residents of West End could look out for lost cat. On Twitter, radio host Meshel Laurie, whose parents live in Toowoomba and who lives on the city’s North side, produced a continuous stream of hard encouragement and direction, urging followers to continue to look forward, to work toward a solution and to reflect on the lasting impact later, at one point tweeting: “Not to downplay heroic stories, but we don’t have time to reflect right now guys, or to wallow or lose focus. We haven’t peaked yet. Forward”. My friend tweeted that she would donate the profits of the sales from her Etsy store to the flood relief, admirably doing her bit to help (I have already made my first purchase – link here). And of course, the SES and emergency services are simply incredible – their work is amazing. Thank you to them all.

South Bank before the floods

 

I plan to volunteer with friends this Sunday, to help in any way that we can. But I guess I wrote this to urge anyone who may have stumbled across this blog while searching the topic of the Queensland floods to please, please find a way to help too. This is a spirited and vibrant community which is still in shock from this disaster. Before the impact of this situation sinks in, please exercise your generosity and donate to the flood relief.

Quick thoughts

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1. It’s too hot!
2. The silly season brings with it an abundance of tinsel, gift wrap, replays of Mariah Carey’s Christmas track, and RUDENESS. Calm down everyone, there is enough time for us all to indulge in heavy consumerism!!
3. I have to eat my words in regards to Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel Dune – it is amazing, after all. Stand by for a more comprehensive rave review in the coming weeks.
4. I have a hit counter attached to my blog – I keep track of the search terms used to locate it. Some interesting ones come up sometimes, recurrently…
5. My most-played lists now contain an eclectic mix of TSwift, Katy Perry, 30 Seconds to Mars, Kings of Leon, Tegan and Sara and Little Red. Yup. That’s where my cool-points are derived from.
6. I bought The Bourne Identity. Anyone read it?

Now taking music and book reccommendations. Any takers? 😀

Review: Unbearable Lightness

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I have never been interested in reading non-fiction books for recreation. This is probably because for me, reading is an escape, designed to enable me to relax into a world of someone else’s creation. However, Portia de Rossi’s promotion of her memoir, Unbearable Lightness, had me intrigued. I saw her on the 7pm Project, where she talked about how she was not a victim of her eating disorder, but its survivor. I heard Meshel Laurie on Nova, our local station, talking about the book, and the fact that Portia had specified that only women were to interview her throughout her promotions. When the men on the station complained that this was a pathetic grab for publicity on Portia’s behalf and that there was no reason to impose such a measure because men liked lesbians too, I realised exactly why she had asked for female-only interviewers. And without ever having read her book, I began to admire her. So her promotional tour was a successful one, because it convinced me to buy her memoir. I carted it with me up to the Sunshine Coast on my holiday with my boyfriend, and for the first day, could not keep my nose out of it.

Unbearable Lightness is mostly concerned with Portia de Rossi’s struggle with her eating disorder, which falls into the category of both anorexia and bulimia. I’m not really sure what I expected when I picked the book up – perhaps a tale of young girl, pressured by Hollywood to whittle herself into an unrecognisable insect, confused by her sexuality and forced to adjust herself and her body to fit in and to be successful in the big city of L.A. I think I was expecting some tragedy, and then some epiphany, and a life-change, probably one which was affected by a brave coming out, and a supportive partner.

I wasn’t wrong, exactly. Certainly, de Rossi was affected by Hollywood pressure to be and look a certain way. She was definitely confused by her sexuality, and she indicates at the book’s conclusion that her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres helped her to overcome her eating disorder. What surprised me about the book, though, was the way that Portia de Rossi pointed the finger directly at herself. While there’s a veiled accusation that her eating disorder was influenced by her mother’s failure to accept her sexuality, Unbearable Lightness treats Portia’s severe eating disorder as a phenomenon which was mostly internal.

The book is written in an unusual way. It focuses on a constant narration of Portia’s interior thought pattern, and mostly avoids dialogue with other characters. So the reader comes to view the progression of Portia’s eating disorder, which begins as an overly cautious diet, progresses to bulimia and ends in anorexia. This has a very odd effect: you are appalled by what Portia is doing to herself, because through her interior narration, you are given the closest, most personal perspective of her abuse of diet and exercises; however, at the same time, you find yourself somehow accepting that what she was doing was a necessary, and therefore acceptable, measure to take, given her circumstances. I came to the conclusion that Portia de Rossi has written her book exceptionally well. She has managed to draw the reader into her own mental state, immerse them in her eating disorder, and enable them to understand what she was going through. At the same time, though, she has articulately shown the reader how to recognise the warning signs of an eating disorder in someone around them.

Yo-yo is an inaccurate way to describe weight fluctuation. It is not the term anyone would use to describe the highs and lows that were the basis of my self-esteem. Yo-yo sounds frivolous, childish, disrespectful. Yo-yo sounds like a thing outside of yourself that you can just decide to put away and not pick up anymore. It suggests that there are end points, predetermined stopping points where the highs and lows end, because the string of a yo-yo is a certain length that never changes. My ‘bottom’ would always be 63 kilograms, my ‘high’ 52. But it isn’t like that. There’s nothing predetermined about gaining and losing weight…My weight was my mood, and the more effort I put into starving myself to get it to an acceptable level, the more satisfaction I would feel as the restriction and the denial built into an incredible sense of accomplishment.

Unbearable Lightness does not endeavour to decimate the Hollywood lifestyle, but it certainly does not depict it favourably. Interestingly, neither does it depict the production of the hit show Ally McBeal very well. Something else of note about the novel is that it does not delve into Portia’s relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. I actually really liked this about the book, because it meant that the author could discuss the role of her sexuality without needing to relate it all back to her high-profile marriage. It does close with an epilogue where Portia depicts life as a survivor of her eating disorder with Ellen, but it does not discuss the progression of her marriage. Somehow it felt more genuine that way. I suppose that for me, it’s like her message is not disrupted by her public image. It’s simply her personal story.

There’s no sex, there’s no drugs, and there’s no rock and roll. But this book kept me hooked, and I don’t even like biographies. At its end, I admired Portia de Rossi even more, for her survival, and for the realisation of the irrelevancy of weight in the face of life, and in the face of missed opportunities. This is the realisation that saved her. Most importantly, though, I admired her for the strength of her belief that she is not a victim, but a survivor, which permeates her prose throughout the book. She is no longer someone who uses her eating disorder, or who is used by it and this is the sign of her true recovery.

Pop Culture Passport

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Do you know what I would like? A pop culture passport. So that when, say, a book is released, and you read it at that time, you get a stamp in your passport to say “Spot Goes to the Circus – Read on May 24th, 2009”. So when Spot Goes to the Circus comes to a cinema near you, and all of a sudden there are screeching teens wearing “I kissed a Spot and I liked it” shirts, you can hold your pop culture passport high above your head while you enter the cinema to watch the movie. And all the while, you’ll retain your dignity as a fan who liked Spot Goes to the Circus before it got big, and it was – God, forbid – cool.  Confused by my ramblings? I quite often am. To elaborate:

I’ve talked before about Twilight – how I once enjoyed the novels, which were (embarrassingly) once my high school escapism to a rainy, idealised world where vampires didn’t bite. See, if I had my pop culture passport back then, then I could’ve gotten a stamp that acknowledged that in 2006, I was reading, enjoying and re-reading those books. And now, in 2010, I am glaring, huffing and blatantly avoiding the Twilight cult. Yes, cult.

Unfortunately for me, my pop culture passport would sometimes let me down, especially when it comes to music. I’m a serial band-wagon jumper, and in the eyes of the indie-hipsters that dominate today’s festival music scene, (which I avoid like the plague) my taste does not leave much to be desired, I’ll admit. Take my newfound obsession with Taylor Swift. I hopped on that bandwagon rather swiftly (ha) when her new album, Speak Now, came out. While I did actually run out and purchase her other two albums the day afterward, I believe that in the case of my beloved TSwift, I have to accept my status as a bandwagon-jumper. This is also the case for other bands or albums…like my recently developed affinity for Vampire Weekend and Sia.

But my passport stamp for The Hunger Games would be old and faded by now. I read that book over a year, perhaps eighteen months, ago, at the recommendation of a friend whose stamp predates even mine. And it’s now that I desperately wish that pop-culture passports exists, because I (and many other THG fans) predict that once Peeta has a boy-next-door, floppy-blonde-hair and sparkling-blue-eyes face, and Gale has a tall-dark-broody-and-handsome body, and Katniss has a girl-next-door-turned-bad actress to her name, we might lose our precious text  of empowerment and corruption to the same audience who turned Twilight into a sickening fad. That being said, I do not care who plays Katniss. I do not care about her previous body of work. As long as she is Katniss for the two hours or so that she occupies the screen, I will love her. I am interested in the political developments of the movie, because I like to see it unfold, but I most certainly don’t feel like weighing into the discussion about who should/should not play her. I want an unknown because she will be unknown, and THG will be kept a little more true to its nature.  I am looking forward to this film more than any other for such a long time. I just wish I could watch it at a private screening, with other fans whose stamps are as old and faded as mine. This being said, I am not against new fans of the novel – to argue that I want only a few people to consume it would be ludicrous. Of course, I want this book promoted as much as possible – but as the amazing young adult novel it is, not the grounds for cinematic wonder, or teen hype. Am I making sense?

Anyway, rant = over. (C’mon, it’s what blogs are for!)

Although, I wish to pose the following: What have you enjoyed that a pop culture response has spoiled (Please don’t say Taylor Swift – I’m sorry, okay?)?

A follow-on to my previous post

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I received an enormous amount of hits to my last post, which discussed the issue of the misuse of language in relation to social minorities. You can read it here if you are interested. The response I received, both through the sheer amount of hits and the insightful comments on the post itself, was brilliant. Flicking through the stats for my blog, I realised that a website called r-word.org had picked up the entry and had re-posted it on their twitter account. Their website is one which stands up for the elimination of the “r word”, and which asks people to pledge their determination to contribute to this cause. I thought I’d put a link up to it on my blog, because I think what they are doing is amazing. Special mention to John C. McGinley, everybody’s favourite bad-tempered doctor on Scrubs (Dr. Cox, that is), who is a champion for the cause of Autism awareness, and other causes for special needs. He has a son with Down Syndrome.  Here’s R-word.org.

Here’s John C. McGinley talking about this cause:

And because we now know what John cares so much about, and is working so hard to change, I thought I’d chuck in a little video showing us all the things his alter ego Dr. Cox does not care about:

“Jeff, that wiggle who sleeps too darn much!” :p

An important blog.

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A controversial question was posted on my FaceBook stream recently. I know that in putting it forward, the person who posted it was looking to see what people would say in response out of genuine interest. However, the question in itself sickened me, and I found some of the responses to it to be astonishing.

I need to preface this by stating that this post is not an attack on my friend, but my own response to this concept, which I felt warranted explanation. And I also wish to say that if you choose to comment on this post, and I find your comments to be inappropriate in any way, they will not be shown and I will delete them. Such is the power of the moderator! ^_^

The question was: why do minority groups contend the labels society assigns them, when there are, essentially, much bigger fish to fry in their fight for social acceptance (whatever the level)? Or, to break it down a little further – why, for example, do homosexual people oppose the fact that the word “gay” is used in the current vernacular in a derogatory manner (as in, “I have to work late tonight.” “Oh, that’s gay.”).  I am not gay, and so cannot speak on behalf of the homosexual community. However, the idea that issues such as this would be considered trivial is appalling to me. My problem with the fact that this question was asked at all was that labelling minority groups is seen as a small concern in relation to the other battles that these groups are forced to confront in society. This is not so. Imposing labels on anyone or any group, or adopting language which pertains to a particular discourse in an inappropriate manner, is not acceptable in any way.

Yes, language does evolve. The meaning of a particular word or phrase can change radically over the course of a few decades. For example, my grandmother uses the phrase “doing a line” in an extremely different context to me; to her, “doing a line” with somebody means being in a relationship with them. For example, I have been “doing a line” with my awesome boyfriend S (who always clamours for a mention in my blog – there you go S, said you were awesome and everything!) for three years. Of course, in contemporary culture, doing a line would refer to consuming a drug via nasal inhalation – snorting cocaine. This goes to show just how changeable language really is. However, simply the fact that language shifts does not excuse the use of some words in particular contexts.

Coming back to that idea of things being “gay” if they are irritating or lacking in any way; I am fully aware that this is an almost completely acceptable use of the word in today’s language. Consider this – how often have you heard the word “retarded” used to describe something that is substandard, confusing or mistaken? For example: “Did you see the end of CSI last night?”  “Yeah, it was retarded.”
  For me, the meaning of the word retarded in this context falls just a little too closely to its actual one. It refers to something being “stuffed up” or stupid. I hope that the problem with this use of language is apparent enough that I don’t need to expand upon it, but this proves my point that the misuse of language can be offensive. I had a high school teacher who told the class that she never marked in anything other than red pen, and that it was “a bit autistic of her” (making a ‘joke’ referring to the obsessive tendencies associated with some strains of autism). How far is it to go from calling something “gay”, to referring to something or someone as “retarded” to explicitly acknowledging an “autistic moment”?  Of course, there are some that would use language in this way and not think twice about it, and in a culture such as ours, I acknowledge that no, you can’t fight every battle. However, to suggest that there’s no reason to bother being offended by it because there are bigger, more important battles to contend with is…you get the idea.  

And here is my major issue. This notion of the misappropriation of language was somehow applied to the use of the word “nigger” in relation to black people. It was suggested that if black people do not wish to be referred to by this word by white people, then perhaps they should stop using the word in rap and urban music and comedy. This infuriated me. Here’s an excerpt from John Grisham’s brilliant novel, A Time to Kill (1989). I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

“Carl Lee Hailey walked slowly around the yard, never leaving the fence. He thought of the two boys, somewhere out there, dead and buried, their flesh rotting by now, their souls burning in hell. Before they died, they met his little girl, only briefly, and within two hours wrecked her little body and ruined her mind. So brutal was their attack that she could never have children; so violent the encounter that she now saw them hiding for her, waiting in closets. Could she ever forget about it, block it out, erase it from her mind so her life would be normal? Maybe a psychiatrist could do that. Would other children allow her to be normal?
  She was just a little nigger, they probably thought. Somebody’s little nigger kid. Illegitimate, of course, like all of them. Rape would be nothing new.”

A Time to Kill addresses many of the issues that were presented in To Kill a Mockingbird in a modern light, suggesting that despite the passage of time, these are wounds which are not healed. The use of “the ‘n’ word” in this passage is an extremely important one. Carl Lee, whose daughter has been raped by white people, believes that this happened to her because she was seen as a “little nigger”. Because to him, this phrase, when uttered by a white person, carries with it a different meaning than it does when a black person uses it.

 It’s all about discourse. Yes, I’m going to go there. To use this word from within an African-American discourse, for example, means one thing –brotherhood, identification, perhaps. So it is not for anyone to say whether the use of “the ‘n’ word” is appropriate for use by black people, because they use it in a context they find appropriate. To use this word to describe a black person from within a white discourse means something different and abominable. Just look at how the word works within the passage above.

The English language has 60,000+ words. In the generation of such an enormous language, of course there are going to be some words which are not politically correct, or which are harmful. Likewise, of course these words will slip through the cracks of acceptability, and wind up becoming a part of everyday vernacular. But language is quintessential to human existence. If somebody sees a problem with it, then it is a problem, because they believe it is. I find it highly offensive and totally backward to suggest that to contend an issue of language is a not as important as other battles which need to be fought in the fight for social equality. I see language as the starting point for many of these things.

On a more basic level, I think it’s completely barbaric to say that “there are more important battles to fight” than the misappropriation and misuse of language. What is and is not important is subjective. If, on a day to day basis, you find the use of the word “retarded” in everyday language to be a problem, then for you, the cessation of the use of the word in this way constitutes an important battle to fight.  

This is my opinion. And I’d like to hear yours on the topic. I just felt that following discussion of this concept with a number of people, and indeed, across a number of generations, that to impose your beliefs of what is and is not acceptable, and what is and is not offensive, is completely wrong. Comment on this post to contribute to this.

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