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What I've just finished reading

Radiance, by Catherynne M Valente. I haven't written anything about this previously, because I've been reading it out loud to Brian, and between our respective schedules and hobbies our reading time has been far more intermittent than I'd like - it took us well over a year to finish this. That said, a book like this, told in snippets, and where any given passage is about the language and imagery as it is any real advancement of plot, works surprisingly well in that format. I'm not entirely certain how well the various themes - of the search for oneself at the heart of the parallel journeys of moviemaking and interstellar travel, of the carelessness and lack of understanding with which humans appropriate their environment, of the story told by the camera by omission as much as by projected images, of the effects of observation on stories, and on people, and on the stories those people create - hold together, but clearly they stuck in my mind even when the details had faded. I want to go back at some point and reread this in one chunk, but given the size of my to-read list, I'm not certain when that might be.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. My enthusiasm for this one waned toward the end - Marguerite spends the entire final act doing little more than being an observer for the audience, which puts her in some slightly beyond-the-suspension-of-disbelief scenarios solely so she can over hear so-and-so's plans. I'm put in mind of more than one piece of writing advice that discourages both first-person and third-person-limited viewpoints for precisely this reason; personally, I feel that it depends strongly on the type of story you're telling - if our heroine had had more of an emotional arc in the second half of the book, this might have worked far better. Alas, for most of the ending the story feels unnecessarily chained to its passive protagonist. I did enjoy the final plot twist, predictable as it was; still, I think I'll stick to the miniseries the next time I want to experience the story - Marguerite is much more interesting in that one, and it skips the pretty blatant anti-Semitism.

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L'Engle. I'd forgotten exactly how gosh-darn quickly everything happens in this story. Reading it as an adult, the breathless pacing lends extra pathos to Meg's protestations that she and Calvin and Charles Wallace haven't been prepared for any of this - they haven't. But I wonder how much of that feels extra identifiable to young adults, who are often thrust into new situations (that may well feel life-and-death) with little to no advance preparation. Ditto to the three W's constantly telling them "we can't tell you what to do, you have to figure it out for yourself" - that reads as frustratingly condescending to me as an adult, but to an eleven year old sorting out how to navigate tricky social situations, that's basically just Saturday.

I was surprised at how much I disliked Meg, especially towards the end - it felt like she spent darn near the entirety of the book whining about the unfairness of whatever situation she was in. But whoa, did I see myself in her big moment of character development:

At last she turned to her father. "I'm--I'm sorry, Father."

He took both her hands in his, bent down to her with his short-sighted eyes. "Sorry for what, Megatron?"

Tears almost came into her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname. "I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple...So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault...because I was scared, and I didn't want to have to do anything myself--"

"But I wanted to do it for you," Mr. Murry said. "That's what every parent wants."
 

I've been pondering a lot about my relationship with my mother, and why it's felt so rocky lately.  I'm not quite sure exactly how this maps to my experience, but my gut tells me it's at least part of it.

What The F, by Benjamin K. Bergen.  The last couple of chapters deal with the legal censorship of profanity, in the context of the research that's been done to back up the claims of harm that it perpetuates - which is frustratingly limited and contradictory in its conclusions.  The author's ultimate conclusion seems to be "we need more research, but what we have indicates that moral panic over profanity actually makes the problem worse", which I generally agree with - but there are so many nuances here that aren't addressed. Bergen argues, justifiably, that whether exposing children to profanity causes harm is far more context-dependent than word-dependent - telling a kid their report card is "fucking fantastic" is way different from calling them a "lazy fucking bum".  Given, however, that profanity is most commonly used in anger, I find myself wondering if this isn't the root of the taboo - people who experienced the trauma of having their parents scream profanity at them in anger would likely have stronger emotional reactions to those words, and would prefer not to hear them again.  Which gives the whole "censorship laws are designed to protect kids!" argument a kind of pathos; it's a deflection, but perhaps not an unreasonable one, since they'd presumably want their kids not to have the same experience.  Unfortunately, the root of trauma isn't circumstance, it's that feeling of disempowerment, so assuming my theory is right, they're really focusing on the wrong issue.

What I'm currently reading

Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin.  This came recommended by a friend when I moved to Chicago, so I picked up the audiobook awhile back.  The other day, I pulled it up on a whim - and within ten minutes I was wanting to cheer aloud, while simultaneously feeling frustrated that this was a book written in 1955 and so much of what it talks about still feels so immediately relevant.  That said, I ordered the paperback almost immediately after returning home (it doesn't count as a new book if you already had it in a different format, right?); there was so much going by so quickly, and I know I'm going to want to dissect it properly for discussion here.

What I plan to read next

L'Engle's A Wind in the Door is next in the series, although Notes may displace it as my current-paper-book of choice.  (I tend to read a lot of books at once, but I try to limit myself to one in any given format.)  Other than that, who knows?
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Rose

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