fanny hill

February 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm (reading, reviews) (, , , , )

The other day I was feeling like watching a costume drama set during the era I’m currently writing about in the novel, so I rented the 2007 version of Fanny Hill. I knew a little bit about it but never got around to reading it during my Master’s (moft likely becaufe I was focufing on Moral Novels written earneftly by Moral Women, about fuch ferious topics as Slavery, and not common fmut).

The movie was good, though despite the absolutely gorgeous, lavish costumes (see the image left, one of the prettiest dresses I’ve seen in a costume drama, ever) and good acting it had a rather, ah, Skinemax feel to it. I enjoyed it. Even better, oh joy of joys, certain things about the film intrigued me in terms of my ongoing 18th century research, so I immediately purchased  the Oxford World’s Classics unexpurgated edition and read it with extreme quickness on my trip down to Tampa. Rarely have plane trips been so enjoyable.

First, a few issues regarding the actual text itself. For a while now, OWC has been updating their look: matte covers rather than glossy, sometimes cropping cover images to look more modern, adding a white bar with the title at the bottom rather than the old school red banner at the top, etc. Unfortunately, they have not upgraded their absurdly-easy-to-smear print, which I feel would be a nice thing to do for customers who care more about the durability than the appearance of their books. This issue of quality, and the fact that I find OWC’s system of endnotes to be distracting while trying to enjoy a text, has made me more likely to purchase from Broadview if I want a critical edition of an older novel, but unfortunately, Broadview has yet to release a Fanny Hill. On an infinitely more superficial level, I am freaking tired of seeing Boucher’s “Resting Girl” every time I pick up pornography from days of yore. There are plenty of other risque images from the 18th century if one looks a little– and if OWC wasn’t going to use something from Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, which would seem a natural choice, I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick something from, oh, one of the countless illustrated editions of Fanny Hill which aren’t exactly difficult to find (a quick Google search immediately yielded one NSFW site full of dirty pictures, another half-second’s worth of looking on wikipedia gives up a lone image from a collection by Edouard-Henri Avril). Many of those could be cropped down to something acceptable for a book cover– maybe not that particular Avril image, but there are others. So, just sayin’. On to more substantial matters!

The book is a good read. More and less filthy than I expected, Fanny Hill is not exactly one-handed reading, it’s instead one of those cultural oddities like Lost Girls, e.g. erotica for people who like to think in general and who also enjoy thinking specifically about the nature of arousal, what is and is not considered erotic throughout time, who like to occasionally be confronted with the discomfort that can arise from fantasy stemming from things that would be unacceptable in reality. So, yeah, I just wrote that ridiculously highbrow explanation for consuming vintage smut.

Certainly there are passages that read as pure pornography, including Fanny’s lesbian experiences, her voyeuristic observation of a prostitute servicing her lover, her later affair with the well-endowed manservant of her gentleman keeper Mr. H–, the bacchanal where Fanny yet again sells her virginity, the interlude where Fanny and a lusty sailor fuck in an inn. But there are doses of reality that interfere with pure enjoyment, especially for a modern individual, but that would likely have given most readers some degree of pause when it was published in 1748-1749 and then surreptitiously re-published and circulated before the Lady Chatterly’s Lover obscenity trial that made it widely available in the 20th century. For example, Fanny’s defloration is pretty grisly (like all other deflorations in the book, the pain the women experience is not glossed over, nor does it disappear after their first time), and then Fanny is raped by a gentleman while she is very depressed over miscarrying due to the shock of her true love being sent to the South Seas. In Volume Two, a fellow whore in a “cluck” of prostitutes Fanny becomes a part of tells of losing her virginity to a rapist, and another whore seduces a mentally handicapped young man, to name just a few things that made me say “huh.”

I haven’t read a lot of the academic criticism of Fanny Hill, though there have been many treatments of the book, including one by my personal academic heroine, Janet Todd. For myself, on both a critical and an uncritical level, I enjoyed it. I was personally unsettled by the casual way rape is discussed, and how women who are raped generally come to admire, if not love, their assailants, but given that Fanny Hill makes several references to Pamela, that sort of nonsense was not entirely surprising. I was also unhappy about the section toward the end of Volume Two that heaps vitriol upon male homosexuals, but it seems that John Cleland’s stint in debtors’ prison, where he wrote Fanny Hill, was due to a debt to Thomas Canon, who wrote a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, so there might have been an ulterior motivation to discrediting practitioners of the art of buttfucking.

That said, lesbianism is at least given some page-time, as is female masturbation, and some sexual fetishes are also explored without excessive jokes at those men with “peculiar humours,” such as the gentleman with a love of hair-brushing. There is also a simply delightful encounter with a birching enthusiast named Mr. Barvile. Also, throughout it all Cleland loves nothing more than describing with notable enthusiasm the male “machine,” resulting in several descriptions such as the following:

. . . behold it now! crest-fall’n, reclining its half-capt vermillion head over one of his thighs, quiet, pliant, and to all appearance incapable of the mischiefs and cruelty it had committed. Then the beautiful growth of the hair, in short and soft curls around the root, its whiteness, branch’d veins, the supple softness of the shaft, as it lay forshorten’d, roll’d and shrunk up into a squob thickness, languid, and born up from between the thighs, by its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure-bag of nature’s sweets, which rivell’d round, and purs’d up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect; and all together form’d the most interesting moving picture in nature. . .

or

I saw with wonder and surprize, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a may-pole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant: its prodigious size made me shrink again: yet! I could not without pleasure behold, and even venture’d to feel, such a length! such a breadth of animated ivory, perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish, and velvet-softness, might vye with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which, the fair skin shew’d as, in a fine evening, you may have remark’d the clear light aether, through the branch-work of distant trees, over the topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature; in short, it stood an object of terror and delight.

Jesus Christ. Yes, the whole book is like that.

Overall, I am pleased that I took the time to read Fanny Hill. I think it is remarkable that, though obviously written by a man (and wholly man of his era in a number of ways), this work is presented first-person from the point of view of a woman, and treats frankly her delight in sex and sexuality, as well as her ability to separate sexual enjoyment from feelings of love. This is problematic at times, especially given the uncomfortable moments with rape and sexual abuse, but overall Fanny Hill really does present a stirring and somewhat innocently bawdy picture of 18th century sexuality. The text also does much to contradict notions that sexual enthusiasm outside of reproduction is something people discovered in the 20th century, and that women’s sexual enjoyment was neglected previous to the sexual revolution. Though Fanny’s (and the other women’s) carnal appetites are presented for the titillation of a male audience, it is interesting to note that the notion of old-timey British sexuality being somewhat repressed (“close your eyes and think of England”) is really a misinterpretation of Victorian propaganda. 18th century notions of female sexuality recognized that women masturbate, that women can be active participants in the sexual act, and can (and should) orgasm during sexual encounters. Those same notions often presented problems for women– for example, though the female orgasm was considered important, it was considered such because doctors thought women must orgasm to conceive, which in turn was used to discount women’s complaints of rape if they conceived, since if they conceived, they must have orgasmed, etc.– but they also created a world in which female sexuality was at least talked about, if often inaccurately.

So, all in all, time well spent.

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back to it

January 14, 2010 at 12:01 am (reading, this and that, writing) ()

Huzzah! The contest is now over, the entries published, and I can now get back to my regularly scheduled nothing-much around here.

Things have been good around my neck of the woods, but as usual, once I felt like “yeah! I’m truckin with the novel!” I got seriously, unhappily stuck. Thems the breaks. I really want to get back on track, it sucks. Oh well. Something will trigger me sooner or later!

I did however bang out a short story earlier this week. I’m not sure if I like it. It is kind of gross and kind of weird and kind of about morally bankrupt people and. . . well, that’s not usually my thing. I can’t decide if I’m going to submit it to the venue I wrote it specifically for. We’ll see.

I’m thinking about applying to go to Clarion.

I’ve been making kimchi at home. Somewhere along the line I stopped doing homemaker-ish things and I kind of miss it. I’m trying to do more stuff like that, and kimchi is fun and delicious. Mine is too salty, I need to do something about that in the future. The past two days I’ve also been making awesome smellywater to humidify my home, as my husband’s yoga guru (I’m really not sure what the heck she is, he goes to her for yoga and massage and also apparently for little bottles of nose-oil and recipes for a turmeric-based sinus tea that has now stained my pots, my cutting board, and my mugs) suggested some of his sinus troubles might be related to a dry home. The smellywater (it’s not really potpourri since it’s not dry, I guess?) is just water in my crockpot, into which I throw lemon peels, cloves, rose petals, rosemary, and some essential oils, mostly rosemary and eucalyptus. So my house now smells like that, when it doesn’t smell like catfood (though yesterday Jesse came over when the cat-food smell was strong and asked me what the “tasty smell” was. This is not slander, this happened).

Other than that, meh. Stuck on the novel! It’s making me mad.

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contest winners! congrats!

January 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm (reading, writing) (, , , , )

I’ve heard back from everyone and thus I am happy to announce the winners of the Paper Fruit Bloggiversary Flash Fiction Contest!

S.J. Chambers earned herself an Honorable Mention with her tale “How a Blog Was Born,” a tale of a girl and her (I guess) spirit guide. Longtime readers will likely get a kick out of it. S.J.’s story will be published on Monday, January 11th.

Drew Rhys White‘s “Beth/slash/Nathan” grabbed the runner-up spot, earning himself a signed copy of the The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. His story is slotted to go up on Tuesday, January 12th.

First place was snatched by one J. T. Glover with his stellar entry, “Waning Moon.” For his efforts J.T. will get to kick back with some Philip K. Dick, courtesy of Prime Books. Check back to find it up on Wednesday the 13th!

So here is the thing: anyone who stumbles across this, please tweet/FB/blog/email your friends. I’d love for the winners to get some well-deserved attention for their stories, which rule. I am super-stoked to be able to publish them on my blog, and you should be super-stoked to read them!

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contest update

January 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm (reading, this and that, writing) (, , )

Wowza: my friends, blog-readers, and friends/blog-readers can fucking write. Not the most erudite way of putting that, but it is a sentiment as blunt as it is true.

I had nine entries for the contest, eight of which were considered, and after much deliberation we have a winner and a runner-up! I will reiterate this with the official post/publication of the winners (and after I send out all the congratulations/sincerely difficult rejections), but the gap between first and second place was so tiny as to be statistically negligent– I had to read both several times to determine whose story reigned supreme. It was also pretty tough to pull those two out of the pack as they were all very, very good. I wish I could publish them all but seriously, all the authors involved should consider submitting their work to flash-fiction markets because they were quality. I actually hesitate to publish the winners on my blog because I have no idea if that would make them “reprints” if the authors in question wanted to do anything with them later. . . but I am selfish and the stories are awesome so up they go once everything is said and done.

Thanks to everyone who participated! Expect some great fiction on this blog soon.

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fantasy magazine has interviewers!

December 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm (editing, reading, writing) (, )

Fantasy Magazine now has an three-person interviewing team that I am incredibly proud to have working for us!

The first is Mr. TJ McIntyre, who was doing Author Spotlights for FM before and is remaining on board, much to my pleasure. TJ’s profile of Nicole Kornher-Stace goes up tomorrow.

The second is Ms. Jennifer Konieczny, who was slushing for FM (and helping out proofreading stories before they went up) when she applied for this position. I am very pleased to have her working in an expanded capacity for us, and Jennifer’s first profile will go up next Thursday, Dec. 24th.

The third is Mr. William Sullivan, a new face at Fantasy Magazine. A longtime reader of speculative fiction, William’s questions caught my attention and I’m sure they will prove to be interesting reading for future Author Spotlights. William’s first interview will go up Dec. 31st.

Congratulations to all!

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at the crossroads of desire and fear, we find such things as this

August 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm (reading, thinking) (, )

File this post under Lessons Not Learned and Coming Late to the Game, but oh well. I’ll eschew language such as “misogynistic butthole” this time, and keep my critiques at least somewhat serious from the get-go.

NOTE: see the original post here.

NOTE II: If you plan on reading John C. Wright’s Chronicles of Chaos trilogy, this post contains spoilers, as the kids say.

It seems that internet-savvy fantasy fans were understandably concerned by author John C. Wright’s, ah, troubling LiveJournal post of 7/29/09 (the author claims 800 comments were made on his LJ during the fervor, but they were deleted before the actual post itself was deleted). Given everything with my move to Boulder, and my general ignorance of the modern age (authors have blogs, you say? How fascinating!) I just yesterday found out about the whole hullaballoo via my friend Jesse, who alerted me to the controversy by saying something along the lines of “hey, check this out– isn’t this the guy who wrote that YA book with the spanking that you thought was pretty alright?” So yeah.

I am somewhat ambivalent about commenting on Mr. Wright’s post at all, given that the entire internet has already, and the blog entry in question smells strongly of attention-seeking (as well as some other, stronger scents), and also he has kind of maybe apologized maybe? But though I am potentially doing nothing but giving Mr. Wright exactly what he wants, I am going to take some time to say a few things on the subject of his rant about the SciFi channel’s decision to be more inclusive in their representation of human sexuality. I know that if Mr. Wright has Google Alerts set up for himself (and chooses to read this), he wouldn’t mind me commenting on his work. Given that I bought and I read Mr. Wright’s uneven Chronicles of Chaos trilogy and, since that Mr. Wright once referred to Atlas Shrugged as “really good,” and “a story written for readers who think as well as feel,” and infused the entire Chronicles of Chaos trilogy with Objectivist sentiment, I assume that, as a paying consumer, he would feel that I have a right to engage with my purchase on a critical level. Now, given his 2008 conversion to Catholicism, whether or not Mr. Wright is still an Objectivist is not clear to me, but that’s not really where I want to go with this post anyway. Everyone who knows me knows that if I get on the subject of Objectivism. . . well never mind. Better to stop here.

Moving right along, let’s get started with a sample of the rhetoric from Mr. Wright’s free-speech-protected-but-voluntarily-removed post:

“The head of Sci-Fi channel has contritely promised to include more homosex in future shows, and to do it nonchalantly, just as if this abomination is normal and natural and worthy of no comment.”

and:

“I’d like someone, anyone, to explain to me how my culture reached a position where a public entertainment company can be criticized for failing to contribute to the moral decay of the land, and that the criticism would be taken seriously, and the company would cringe and promise to do better.”

and finally, my fave:

“Why are you willing to tolerate sexual perversion but not racism? In a world with no standards, what makes a malfunction of love higher on your standard than a malfunction of hate? Is an irrational lust and longing to mimic the mating act with a sex with which one cannot mate, at its root, any more or less disconnected to reality than an irrational fear and hatred of a Negro? How do we know race-hate is not genetic? Look at how scorned and put-upon racists are! Can we spare them no cheap Leftist pity? Why don’t we simply call racism an alternate anti-ethnic orientation, similar to hetero-toleration, but different?”

Obviously, all of these statements are simply moral grandstanding and inflammatory polemic, more annoying than offensive and pointless to get mad about. And, to be fair, he did back down from some of that sort of language. That said, even bothering to type things like “moral decay”, “malfunction of love” and “abomination” are not the sorts of things people say when they are seeking to debate rationally with the “other side” (though Malfunction of Love would be a truly great album title if it isn’t already– the album art should have a robot sitting dejectedly in a henhouse, in my opinion).

My point in listing all of these things is not to talk about whether or not Mr. Wright is homophobic, or whether his alleged olive-branch-extending in subsequent posts makes all those statements okay (in fact, I do not think it does, given that, in his own words, after seeking to be more “temperate” in his language toward the gay community, Mr. Wright had this to say: “homosexuality is a sexual perversion, like incest, like any other disordered intemperate appetite– but a person afflicted with this (the man, not the sin) temptation leads a hard life, and it is not my place to make his life harder by using hard words against him.” How sweet.) Rather, my point is to address the fact that the language of his original post is, rather, the kind of stuff people say for one of two reasons. The first is when they are trying to goad people into anger. The second–as I suspect is the case here–is to allow people to gain credibility among their own after being an “outsider” as Mr. Wright was until so very recently. All this aside, here is the heart of what struck me as fascinating in Mr. Wright’s post:

“I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light — we are all looking forward to FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO GOR, I hope. Love affairs with corpses, small children, and farm animals will also be on display in a natural nonchalant fashion in the new raft of progressive shows, titles such as I DREAM OF STINKY, PEDERASTY JUNCTION, and OLD MACDONALD HAD A SHEEP — but no Mormons, whose moral standing we all abhor. The only good thing about Mormons, as we all know, is their polygamy. That we can approve of. Anything that offends the Patriarchy, we like. Evil is our good.”

Backing well away from the end of that paragraph, I instead seek to bring all eyes to the first clause of the first sentence: “I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light.”

This statement wouldn’t be unusual in most rants of this sort, except for the fact that Mr. Wright has himself penned a novel that portrays aspects of BDSM “in a positive light.” Or a least in a pretty hot light (perhaps it was written during a time when Mr. Wright considered himself to be a “card-carrying sexual libertarian,” a traumatizing image given most of the libertarians I’ve known). For those of you not familiar with the Chaos series, they are based on the (genuinely) neat premise of a war among the Greek gods after Zeus dies, since the Aegis-Bearer leaves no clear heir. They are, in my opinion of the classic “great idea, poor execution” syndrome, but that’s okay. During the novels five kids– four Titan-born, one human– are caught in the balance of powers that be, held hostage in perpetual, amnesiac childhood at a British prep school run by minor deities and other figures from Greek mythology. And in the first one, at least, Mr. Wright deliberately addresses the fact that teenagers– especially cooped-up teenagers– often have to deal with strong sexual feelings, something that other such books (I’m looking at you, Ms. Rowling) fail to realistically discuss.

Now, Mr. Wright has said several times that most of his books were written before his conversion to Catholicism in order to, I suspect, excuse the sexual content of them in light of his new moral views. See, the first book in his Chaos trilogy, Orphans of Chaos (which I thought was a decent read–the second two, not so much), incorporates several BDSM-friendly scenes into what is, by all accounts, a young adult novel.

I came to Orphans not expecting BDSM-tinged writing. I came to Orphans after seeing the cover of the third in the series– a levitating girl in a plaid skirt and an aviator cap, yes please– and the knowledge that it was deeply steeped in Greek myths and legends which are, ah, vaguely of interest to me. Reading Orphans, however, I was surprised by a few things, but most of all by two scenes that jumped out as being different, interesting, and probably exciting and potentially normalizing for BDSM-inclined teens and adults. In the first, the female main character is convinced by her friend to hike up her school-girl’s skirt and provocatively arrange her blouse in order to serve a group of males, and finds the experience of servitude to be uncomfortable, but still appealing. Afterwards, she is bound by an aggressive boy who secures her with a miniature reproduction of the Gordian knot, and sexually menaced until another character comes along and diffuses the situation. Later in the book, the same character is disciplined by her headmaster with a spanking, in which she is not only, if I recall correctly, placed OTK (look it up) and repeatedly smacked on the bottom by an older male, but she is also forced to count the spanks out loud.

Yeah, it was pretty alright.

I want to attempt to bring together this whole post with a digression. Sometimes (not all the time, of course), when vegetarians or vegans abandon their dietary ethics and return to the omnivorous fold, so to speak, they overcompensate. They make youtube videos fetishizing ham, or write magazine articles about experiencing the raptures of eating dog meat, or post opinion pieces in their local paper about the benefits of ethical omnivorism, claiming vague things like “as a vegan, I just felt sick all the time” or “my doctor said I needed to eat fish protein to be healthy” or whatever (these are all things I’ve seen on the internet, by the way, I’m just too lazy to find the links). Anywho, they turn their move away from vegetarianism into some kind of public service, loudly proclaiming to the world that they know now that they were wrong, wrong, wrong, and please forgive them for their errant ways. They’ll rhapsodize about all kinds of meats– they’re just so tasty!–all so that they can once again be accepted by their peers and not looked at askance for once being part of something fringe, because they’re all better now. The tables have been turned, and they’ve been cured by bacon. They have to make sure everyone understands that they’re no longer “weird” and have, you know, grown out of all of that stuff.

I see this same posturing in Mr. Wright’s post about the oh-so-terrible notion that the Sci Fi channel might, sometime, somehow portray bondage in a positive light– whether or not he was, you know, totally kidding, or not. During the scenes I noted above, Orphans reads as just as much an “insider” text as Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy (though I suspect Mr. Wright Topped during any spanky-panky that he might have engaged in during the before time, in the long long ago), but now that he can comment from a position of moral correctness, he has to turn a full 180 degrees and declare any and all such acts to be Too Too Terrible and Oh So Wrong– on par with “homosex” even! I wonder if he considers consensual BDSM play as the actions of “persons with serious sexual-psychological malfunctions?” Because it’s pretty easy to spot writing intended to be genuinely erotic when it’s penned by people without at least a healthy interest in the practices they describe, and Orphans. . . well, it seemed pretty honest to me, and I read a good deal of smut. Mr. Wright did indeed write of himself in a more-recent, still-available blog post, that “[his] own humiliating experience with fighting temptation warns [him] that human beings are not made of stern stuff” so maybe it’s just that he’s a switch now?

Even if we disregard the disturbing nastiness toward the gay community, the BDSM comment makes it very much seem like Mr. Wright needed to prove something when he wrote that post. In order to gain acceptance where he now desires it so much, he just had to get in the jab at all those terrible people with their paddles and ropes and collars and restraints (buy yours cruelty-free from Vegan Erotica!) and their private goings-on. Why? Because he’s certainly not one of them. He knows better. And thus, he can tell us all just how degenerate such things are, and, you know, Wrong.

Nah. It seems that, if I may hazard a guess, it’s still too painful for Mr. Wright to consider anything so BDSM-friendly as turning the other cheek. . .

But hey, let’s talk about something more important. Sci Fi Channel? If you guys wanted to change your name back from the utterly loathsome “SyFy” handle you just rolled out, and also make Flash Gordon’s Trip to Gor, you’d have at least one viewer. Actually, if you could make it Barbarella’s Trip to Gor, it would probably be even better. Maybe you could get Rose McGowan after she finishes filming Red Sonja? Make it, but don’t send an advance copy to Mr. Wright. I think it might bother him. I heard he hasn’t skied in ages.

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independent readers

July 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm (reading, thinking) (, )

Yesterday I was in Borders trying to find Lirael, the sequel to Garth Nix’s faboo Sabriel that I devoured at the end of last semester instead of spending my time more productively translating Plato’s Apology. Sabriel was awesome, pretty much everything I could want in a novel– in brief, a teenaged necromancer with a pale skin and black hair and a glowing, rune-covered sword battles the forces of evil with a bandolier of silver bells that send the dead back to where the dead should be. And a talking cat. YES! Despite falling victim to what I consider to be the most overused of fantasy tropes (which I will not discuss here due to the fact that to talk about it would be a Serious Spoiler for future readers) I found it extremely pleasing to my sensibilities and I am anticipating hearing Nix speak at World Fantasy Con this October.

This post, however, is not about Sabriel, nor is it about my disappointment that Borders didn’t have Lirael. Instead, it is about book marketing and something strange in Borders.

The subject of this post might be something quite old in the world of book marketing but it is news to me because I usually don’t shop at Borders. I usually order everything online, mostly because I purchase research materials that are rare or out of print and Abe Books and Amazon’s independent sellers tend to do better for me. But after hearing from an author friend that it’s better to buy books from places like Borders (or, of course, independent booksellers if you have one) so they’ll be sure to carry author’s next works, I decided to go.

Thinking that Sabriel would be considered Young Adult fiction, I walked in the general direction of the children’s area only to find that instead of finding Young Adult, I found a section called Independent Readers. It contained some famous youth-oriented fantasy books (Harry Potter, etc.) marked with an indicator of age level. Despite the problematic nature of ranking books according to age due to some mythical idea of when books are appropriate for young readers (which is a whole ‘nother post), I figured this was NewSpeak for Young Adult and commenced looking around only to be baffled by an absence of Nix. I found J.K. Rowling, I found Philip  Pullman, I found C. S. Lewis. No Nix. So, thinking perhaps that Sabriel was in with the grown-up fantasy, I trekked across the store. I found Gaiman, I found Maguire, I found Pullman (same books, fancier, more adult-oriented covers), but still Nix was nowhere to be seen.

Frustrated at that point, I addressed one of the employees. The young man in question gave me the “are you daft?” look that disaffected bookstore employees and baristas everywhere give to customers who ask them questions (from my porch I shake my cane at the world, disturbing many a cat), and led me to a different section of the bookstore, the Young Adult  section proper.

There I did find Nix (though not the Nix I desired) and a host of other books, including Gaiman’s Stardust, an entire ocean of the Twilight series in hardcover, and Libba Bray’s corseted Gemma Doyle novels. For the life of me I could not figure out why these merited their own section apart from Rowling and Pullman, since the literary stylings of Stephenie Meyer’s novels are, shall we say, less complicated than, for example, The Amber Spyglass, and her subject matter is, perhaps, less profound (“Did the cute boy come to school today?” versus “What is the nature of the soul? What is death? What makes children different than adults?”). The same for A Great and Terrible Beauty, which is also less emotionally and syntactically complicated than Pullman (but which I genuinely enjoyed after purchasing it solely on the basis of its cover).

Then it struck me: the thing that StardustSabriel, Twilight, and the Gemma Doyle books all have in common is that they all have sex in them. Though the sex scene in Sabriel is mild, it is still present and accounted for much moreso than the mention of sexuality in His Dark Materials (though they perhaps get points for mentioning genital mutilation and being children’s novels) or in any of the Narnia books. Due to grad school I have been severely behind on all fiction reading, and most notably my YA reading (which is sad, because YA fantasy novels are generally my favorite), so few of the other titles were familiar to me, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. And the less it made sense, given that I know that as a kid (or as kids seem to be called these days, “independent readers”) I would have been a heck of a lot more disturbed by the death and violence in the Harry Potter books and the Pullman novels than any of the makeout-sexy-time in the YA novels in Borders. Except for Twilight, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss that particular grab-bag of oddness.

Anyways, I wonder if my hunch is correct, and that sexuality is the signifier of Young Adult Fiction these days. If I am right, and sex has become that line in the sand, it seems really weird. I don’t know if it’s my own preference for sex over violence (call me crazy) but it seems weird to me, and really arbitrary. I wonder if Borders got a lot of letters from parents complaining that the makeouts in some Young Adult books were just too adult for their tween? I know that as a kid who grew up before the era of the nebulous “Independent Reader” section at Borders, I really appreciated YA fiction that included both sexuality and violence because those are things that are a part of life, and deserve inclusion in literature for thinking people of various ages. I think the stakes are even higher for YA/Independent Readers, since (dealing with sexuality specifically, since most kids won’t ever need to worry about taking up their father or mother’s sword to battle evil) books aimed at that age group will model for kids what sexuality could look like in the future, and thus I think the best books for are ones that deal with that subject intelligently.

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update

May 22, 2009 at 6:50 am (reading, school, thinking, writing)

Instead of just posting random links and insane rambling, this is just going to be a sort of state of the union-ish update.

1. I finished the semester having read all the Jane Austen catalogue except for the last few chapters of Persuasion (I was unpersuaded to finish it) and most of Sanditon. Also I finished teaching two great classes full of students who I already miss. It was a good semester overall, considering I managed to kick butt at ancient Greek, read a ton of Austen, and finish a personal writing project that I’ve been working on for a long time. 

2. I went down for a week to visit my and John’s family and cleaned out my closet down there. It felt good. Now I basically have family heirlooms that I don’t have space for right now (dishes, mostly), a one-person hammock that you have to bolt into the ceiling, my yearbooks, my diaries from middle school, and all my baby stuff. Other than that I am moved out. I also had some revelations as regards my personal life which have been productive, and it has inspired me to try to work on some of the personality traits I am less proud of. 

3. I have started the summer semester. I got completely and utterly overwhelmed within two weeks with the course of study/teaching I had set up for myself and actually had a bit of a breakdown yesterday. I emailed my professor and she kindly reduced my workload. That should be helpful. I am still going to have to work all day every day, but things are looking better. I have a lot of work instead of an impossible amount of work now, and on the upside my class this semester is awesome. They are reading and are either actually into the Iliad right now or they are excellent actors.

4. I have been very social of late, owing to the fact that I am going to be moving soon, and my dear friend Raechel is going out of town for about two months. This is contrary to every instinct I possess but I have been enjoying it for the most part. That said I am looking forward to going into my standard hibernation mode again.

Other than that, the usual– role playing, hanging with my two bad cats, and thinking about my next writing project. I think I’ve decided what I’m going to do next but I would be writing about a location I know nothing about, so research will be challenging!

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new blog

May 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm (reading, school) ()

I realized I never linked my new blog on this one. I have a new project going, translating Plato’s Apology. I’ve decided to create a blog out of it, where I post both results of said efforts and commentary on my experience doing the translating. It’s been motivating me very much, and I hope to use it after I finish the Apology and move on to more, uh, scintillating material.

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begone, black and blue

January 23, 2009 at 2:22 am (reading, this and that, writing) (, )

I’m sitting here in my house this lovely Thursday and it feels like my scalp is on fire. Why? Because I am currently stripping out the black and blue dye from my hair in order to see if I can get it a boring shade of dark brown. Boo hoo! This “Color Zap” nonsense is making my whole head tingle and burn, and I can look forward to this for the next hour or so. I’m really glad that the lady at Sally Beauty Supply told me this was going to happen because I would be seriously upset right now if she hadn’t. 

I’m wondering, after the wedding, if I’ll go back to bleaching my hair and making it fun colors, though, because while I really like negotiating my appearance I wonder about the ecological implications of bleach and if I’m being selfish for using it. Manic Panic is all vegetable dye and so huzzah for that, but my hair is very dark naturally and so in order to get interesting colors I have to get out the peroxide. Hm. 

In other news: I’m 2/3 of the way through good old Sense and Sensibility and I’m getting into fights in my class with other students regarding it. I really cannot stand Elinor and I’m pretty much alone in that opinion among those who speak in class. I can’t take the passive-aggressive nonsense with her, nor her (as I read it) jealousy of Marianne’s open temper and unwillingness to conform to the more ridiculous strictures of British society even to get a husband or preserve her honor. Yes, one could argue that Marianne is incredibly selfish, as her behavior has the potential to ruin Elinor’s matrimonial viability, but at the same time she is speaking truth to power in a compelling way, and I feel like through Marianne, Austen herself is questioning social mores.

Additionally, as this is my first complete read-through of Sense and Sensibility, my only impressions of Colonel Brandon have been from the Emma Thompson movie, where Alan Rickman gives him panache and a serious degree of not-sketchiness and dignity that the original character perhaps does not deserve. In the movie, Colonel Brandon to me always came across as sweet, serious, and kind, and infatuated with Marianne but willing to accept that she does not care for him. Colonel Brandon in the novel is a creepster without warning. He comes where he knows he is not wanted, and is in several places described as staring at Marianne. Though her rudeness to him is viewed by Elinor as inexcusable, I have to say, if when I was seventeen some weird old man about the same age as my mother showed up at my house and just looked at me all the time, I’d probably be less than thrilled by his attentions. Elinor, however, is obsessed with matrimony and therefore cannot see Marianne’s valid lack of regard for the Colonel, but I think the reader should not feel induced to agree with the eldest Miss Dashwood on this. 

who could argue with the hat?

who could argue with this hat? who would want to?

At any rate, my head is itching something fierce and I fear the black dye is proving stubborn. We’ll see if I’m just ruining my hair and will have to show up at the wedding all bald-headed Tank Girl style.

I’m going to take some time to work on Pharmakoi tonight and I’m pretty happy about that, though I wonder if my itchy-headedness will distract me too much from my edits. I am at a section that needs pretty heavy re-writing so we’ll see.

I will finish this night with a link to my friend Selena’s new website, which is very cool and well designed. This is a fairly amusing notice as I think Selena might be one of the only people who actually reads this blog, but in case someone stumbles across my blog who would be interested in the fiction and non-fiction writing of a very cool Poe-scholar, they would do well to check her out.

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