THE ODYSSEY week 5 Readalong: Bks 13-15

January 21st, 2015

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Welcome back, those of you who are reading Homer’s Odyssey!

And, for those of you who chose to sit this one out (perhaps wisely, grumble), you’re welcome for the recaps, especially if you’ll be joining us next month when we start the Ulysses readalong.

(Because I seem to be constitutionally incapable of saying no to book discussions. Because the only thing better than reading a book is reading a book then talking about it with someone/s smart and funny!)

VT asked if I was “glad” to be doing the simultaneous reads of Sandman and The Odyssey. Not really. I wish Sandman could have been some other time, and spread over a longer period. One week for each graphic novel would have been ideal. But, this was the best time for others to read Sandman, and this timing for Odyssey fit nicely with reading Ulysses next year prior to Bloomsday, so, as the kids say these days, it is what it is.

Well, let’s get to it, then. There were a few weird and hilarious moments for me this week.

Book 15: Ithaca at Last

I am not a fan of gifs and such, but I really felt the call for an exclamation point with this chapter title, and that reminded me of Elaine from Seinfeld

elaine

So: Ithaca at Last!

At the end of 12, Odysseus finished his tale. Alcinous agrees that it’s time for him to go, and asks, nay, demands that his guests pony up even more swag for Odysseus than they did before.

Then recover our costs with levies on the people:
it’s hard to afford such bounty man by man.” (Book 13 l.15-16)

So, in other words, cough up a tripod or cauldron, then tax your people to pay for it. Glad I’m not one of his subjects.

Odysseus and the Phaacians sail off with the swag. O relaxes and falls asleep, so when the ship hits shore (hard) they drag him off and leave him sleeping amid his treasure in order to book it back home. Alas, Poseidon is still pissed about O killing his son and gripes to Zeus that O is returning with more treasure than if he hadn’t been screwed (literally and figuratively) and shipwrecked multiple times after the war.

Zeus says, bro, what is your problem? You’re a powerful god. Do what you want, man.

Poseidon says, well, I know that messing with Odysseus yet again might piss you off, so how about I mess with those Phaeacian mother cussers. I TOLD them not to offer hospitality to strangers. I’ll crush their ship and put a mountain around the port!

Zeus says, “Wait, dear brother,” and what I expected him to say was something like “way harsh, dude” but instead he says, wouldn’t it be great if you could turn the ship to stone just as it was getting there! THEN put up a mountain. BAM!

Thus, just as the ship gets into harbor and the sailors are glad to be home and the city excited to see them back, poof, the ship and crew are turned to stone.

Alcinous suddenly recalls that prophecy back in Book 8.

D’oh.

Quick, he says, sacrifice a dozen bulls to Poseidon and maybe he won’t put up the mountain, too! And then…

Odysseus wakes up, doesn’t recognize Ithaca, bitches about the poor, stoned Phaecians who got him there so fast and didn’t take one jot or tittle of his treasure.

Athena appears, in disguise as per her usual. Odysseus invents some tremendous lies and then she mocks him and reveals herself and says to stash the booty. Then she disguises him as a smelly beggar and tells him to go see…

Book 14: The Loyal Swineherd

The swineherd recaps the sitch in Ithaca, if you’d forgotten. Which you totally haven’t.

And then, something really weird happens in the storytelling. It’s as if Odysseus is later telling this back to the swineherd (whaaat?)

And you repled, Eumaieus, loyal swineherd,
“It’s wrong, my friend, to send any stranger packing…” (Bk 14, l. 63-64)

Then Odysseus tells a bunch more tremendous lies, then passive aggressively tells a story about a time when it was cold and he forgot his cloak in the war. And the swineherd is really nice about it and doesn’t roll his eyes, just goes and gets his best cloak of goat skin and Odysseus snuggles up in it next to the fire and falls asleep again.

Over and over, the swineherd says, when Telemachus gets back, we’ll get you a proper cloak and shirt.

telemachus

Book 15: The Prince Sets Sail for Home

After leaving Odysseus last book, Athena flies off to see Telemachus, who is sleeping with Nestor’s son, Pisistratus. Go home, she says. So he prepares a ship, laden with gifts. An eagle appears with a dead goose. Helen says, the eagle is Odysseus and the goose is those silly suitors, whom he will kill. Yay, says everybody.

Just as they’re about to leave, some guy, a prophet named Theoclymenus, shows up, is the subject of lengthy story that does not have obvious relevance to the story, and asks to bum a ride. No prob, says Telemachus.

Meanwhile, back at the swine shack, the nice swineherd tells his lengthy backstory, and then they go to sleep again.

At this point Telemachos sneaks into Ithaca (because a bunch of the suitors are waiting to ambush and kill him) and tells Theoclymenus that things are a little dicey on the homefront. Then a hawk flies by with a dove in its mouth and Theo says Telemachus’ line will reign forever in Ithaca. T then foists Theo off on a spearsmen, and heads to the swine shack, because as we know from Book 14’s title, he is a Loyal Swineherd.

So, that’s it for this week! Moving right along, as the Muppets sang. What did everyone else think? Did you find the sudden POV switch with Odysseus and Eumaeus as weird as I did? The backstories of Theo and the swineherd as boring as I did? Do you think Poseidon put up the mountain or was appeased by 12 bulls?

Discuss it in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one books 1-3: link

Week two books 4-6: link

Week three books 7-9: link

Week four books 10-12: link

What ELSE I’ve Been Reading

January 20th, 2015

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I know what I’ll do this morning, I told myself. I’ll catch up on my book blogging. I’ve been all about the Sandman and the Odyssey, but I’m reading other things too. I’ll do a few book reviews.

HOLY CATS. I haven’t blogged about other books since December. Waitaminute… Nope. November. CRAP. Well, don’t I have a lot of catching up to do? In order, then, what I’ve finished since November:

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte. Re-read, for Gods & Monsters book group. Great, dark, weird, and tight as a drum. My husband G calls it a super villain origin story. I love how difficult it is to categorize, and discuss. What is Bronte criticizing, what is she valorizing? Can a novel be great when we hate most of the characters in it, and those characters were clearly written as unlikeable?

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. For Books and Bars. Tore through it, and it changed how I think about humans as animals, and made me really uncomfortable watching Speed Racer and the chimpanzee.

Relish by Lucy Knisley. For Beer + Comics book group. Loved this comic-book memoir about food and growing up.

The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller. Re-read, this year with the focus on Emily. Fascinating deconstruction of how the poor little sick sisters have been mythologized while too often downplaying that they were righteous geniuses.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Beautiful. Like a poem, or a prayer.

Violent Cases and Black Orchid by Nail Gaiman and Dave McKean. Related reading for the #SandMN readalong.

Saga of the Swamp Thing and Swamp Thing: Love and Death by Alan Moore. Related reading for #SandMN. Also, amazing.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I borrowed this from the library after a friend made fun of it, then I read it and ran out and bought my own copy plus two others as gifts. Bizarre, and while sometimes I would laugh at it, I think reading this book has actually changed my life. Or, at least my sock drawer.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. Fascinating, heartbreaking story about Cumming’s tormented relationship with his father.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. Read aloud to the boys. This book would never be published today–it’s all backstory!

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Smart, funny, heartbreaking essays by Gay, who writes in a way that makes her fun and interesting to hang out with. I’m glad I read this before her novel, An Untamed State, it gave me good context for that one.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Read aloud to the kids. Interesting to read it as an adult, when making fun of poor kids whose parents run off doesn’t seem so funny. Still, some lovely and some hilarious parts.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. One of my favorite holidays re-alouds. The words are delicious in my mouth, and I just love Hyman’s illustrations.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For The Morning News Tournament of Books. I tore through it, and was reminded of both Steven King’s The Stand and James Kunstler’s World Made by Hand series. Felt it spend far too much time on the male characters, and on female characters with the male ones. Would have preferred more of the women.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. A book full of violence with unlikeable main characters is not an easy one to recommend. But this is full of hard truths, and a moving trauma and recovery tale. Mind opening.

Ms. Marvel volume 1. A Muslim teen girl becomes a superhero. Smart, funny, engaging, and passes the Bechdel test. Can’t wait for more!

So, friends, what have you all been reading? What have you loved, loathed, or put down out of indifference?

SANDMAN Readalong week 6: The Kindly Ones

January 18th, 2015

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Welcome to week 6, the penultimate week of the Sandman readalong. You can comment on this blog or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

The Kindly Ones is the penultimate storyline of the series, and contains its climax, the death of Dream.

I was going to do a whole spoiler spacing thing, but c’mon, these issues came out 20 years ago. The spoiler period is OVER.

Originally planned as 6 issues, this story more than doubled that, and also if I remember correctly, started coming out less and less monthly as it went. I remember many, many people complaining at the time that they hated the art and didn’t like the storyline.

What I noticed on this re-read is that this is a storyline full of assholes, and in which lots of beloved characters die. (But do they die fer real? We’ll have to see next week, with The Wake.) It is mostly illustrated by Marc Hempel, whose iconic, seemingly simplistic art wasn’t a fan favorite. I liked it then, I like it more now, and think it does a great job moving us through this long, echoing story to the climax of the series. Dream is drawn about as reductively as he has been throughout the series, and he still is by far the saddest, worried-est looking he’s ever been until the very end, when he looks, to me, at peace.

The opening story, The Castle, was part of a Vertigo promo piece, and does a good job of re-situating us in the series and reminding us of a lot of the minor players.

Each issue opens with an image of a thread, and comments that can relate to Dream, to knitting, as well as to the process of creating the Sandman itself.

Is it ready yet? Are you done?

Nearly.

1. Lucifer and Mazikeen! Daniel kidnapped.

2. Lyta meets the three-in-one, Cluracan strays from the path and is an ass, Nuala is wimpy Dream is an ass,

3. Loki and Puck. Hob, Destiny, Delirium, “And she went off to look for [Barnabas], trailing occasional fish.” Lyta goes nuts, flashback to Doll’s House and other issues.

4. Remiel is (still) an ass. Lyta bops between fantasy and “reality” but both are real enough, in this series. Rose Walker! Catches a peeping Abel, and oh, SHE was the sleepy sitter. Hey, who are these two sisters that look like Chantal and Zelda? So many echoes! Note: grey background is dream-y, white is realer. Corinthian 2.0!

5. “Can I have more water please? My hair drank most of it.” Rose passes Lyta, and visits Zelda, dying of AIDS, who now speaks because Chantal is dead. Rose is sent back to England, Corinthian 2.0 and Matthew are sent to find Daniel. Poor dead Carla. I feel like we’ve got a whole list of dead nice people that litter the path of this comic.

6: No strings, and we’re echoing Doll’s House again, and the first time Rose flew to England. I love Glyn Dillon’s version of Rose. Cute solicitor, 3 old ladies (the one who says she killed someone after destroying his life is Lyta’s birth mother, the first Fury), a creepy old-school fairy tale, and we find Paul and Alex from the beginning of the series. Alex has Ethel’s picture on the nightstand, and has the original Piglet with him (did he nick it from Christopher Robin Milne?)

7. Love the snake cover. It’s Dave McKean’s favorite. Hey, we know this woman, but not by “Larissa.” And what does she wnat with Lyta? Thessaly kills a little lamb (she really is a humorless bitch through this) and Lyta finally finds her way in the dreamscape to the Furies, I mean, The Kindly Ones, and while they can’t avenge Daniel, they can go after Dream who killed Orpheus in Brief Lives.

8. A day in the life of Dream. Delirium tries to recruit Dream to find Barnabas but he’s not going. Rose gets some action, the Corinthian eats eyeballs to find Carla’s killer, and the poor dead Gryphon. “Larissa” eats lamb stew (stone cold, that one) Nuala pines, Rose gets dissed: “Very perceptive”.

9. “Almost time. Nearly. Very nearly.”

Rose meets her grandfather on a grey-backed page, and her heart is returned, just as it’s learning to break. (Readers of Wicked + Divine, were you reminded strongly of Luci with this scene?) Corinthian battles Loki. Oh, poor dead Gilbert. I loved him so, even if he was a place, not a person. And we finally learn who the woman is who broke Dream’s heart, or vice versa, and their talk does not go well, as was previously prophesied (by Destiny?)

10. “There.” Puck, Loki trying to get Thor to kill him, why does that poor skinny woman stay with Loki? (what is it with women in servant roles?) Poor dead Abel, boring Faerie, badass Merv Pumpkinhead goes out like Rambo alongside his bats with bowler hats. Nuala meets Delirium, Rose flies back and gets chatty with Ethel Cripps’ niece (I was very fond of Judith Krantz books when I was young, and don’t recall having to look up words. I preferred Mistral’s daughter to Princess Daisy, though. Less rape-y.) Shirley Jackson We Have Always Lived in the Castle reference, and now I get it, woo hoo! “I am here, Nuala.”

11. Which McKean illustrated with a fish on a string and a music stand even before Gaiman wrote 12 which had both those things. Weird. No more string as it was cut last issue. “Who’s there?” Hamlet reference! In case you hadn’t guessed, this is a tragedy. Goldie! Oh, Nuala. Barnabas! Lyta realizes she’s made a terrible, terrible mistake.

12. Penultimate issue of penultimate story line. Dream prepares for battle (again.) Delirium meets Satan! “Down the road I go, following my fishie.” Matthew takes a stand, and we see Hempel’s version of Death which I really like, and Dream sheds all his stuff (but keeps his pants on, and finally doesn’t look scared.

13. Unlucky 13. “What are you doing? “Waiting for you.” Indeed.

Hal is less of an ass. Rose is knocked up. (Again, echoes of Unity).

The nurse is reading a paper with the headline “Local Solicitor Kills Himself when Gay Lover Walks Out.” Could this be Rose’s Jack?

Alex wakes finally so perhaps there is hope for sinners after all. Daniel grows up fast, and the Kind Ladies have tea.

“There. For good or bad. it’s done.”


The Kindly Ones
. I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats, because as Lucifer said about the song ‘Memories,’ “the melody is trite, while the awkward paraphrases of lesser Eliot poems in the lyrics are grating in the extreme.”

What did everyone else think? I found it immensely satisfying as a whole story, though I am left with a nagging feel that the women characters in this: Larissa/Thessaly, Nuala, Lyta, the Kindly Ones, are more dastardly than they need to be.

Previous posts:

Sandman Readlong week five: link

Sandman Readalong week four: link

Sandman Readalong week three: link

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

ODYSSEY readalong wk 4: bks 10-12

January 14th, 2015

simpsons

Welcome back to week 4 of readalong for The Odyssey. Finishing book 12, we are now halfway through! Woo hoo! But, that’s not counting introductions and back matter. D’oh. Go to the end of the post for links to the schedule and previous posts. You can also tweet with the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Without further ado, let’s get to this week, which ends at a new beginning.

When last we left Odysseus, he was in the castle of princess Nausicaa’s mom and dad after a sporting event. He revealed who he was, and told the story of how he’d killed Polyphemus and thus incurred the wrath of Poseidon, which brings us to

Book 10: The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea., who is Circe, yet she is referred to as having shining braids just like Calypso. Confusing!

The book starts not on Aeaea, but on the Aeolian island, where Aeolus gives good host, then sends Odysseus and his men on their way with a sack of wind. Tee hee. Fart joke. They get really good wind mileage, but the men begin to grumble (take note: most of the bad things that happen are portrayed by Odysseus as because his men did them. And the men are all dead and gone by this point, so who’s to contradict him?) and think he’s got a sack of treasure, so they open it, the wind escapes, the ship stops moving, and they have to row all the way back to Aeolus’ house, where he refuses more help, saying anyone dumb enough to lose the advantage he gave them before is obviously screwed by the gods.

O and crew row off, dejected, find a new island, that of the Laestrygonians. They seek hospitality, but the Laestrygonians are both giants and cannibals. Run! Run away! Some of the men die.

The row off to a new island, the one of Circe, who invites the crew to her house. Only two men stay behind, Odysseus and Eurylochus, smart enough to set a trap. Circe turns the men into pigs. Literally. O meets Hermes, who is just chillin’ on the island, who gives him some tips about how to avoid getting turned into a pig, plus rescue his men. He has to eat a weird plant called “Moly” (Attention, those of you also reading Sandman–the same plant used to capture Calliope by that nasty old author!) then not turn into a pig and before he has sex with Circe, make her promise not to hurt him or the men again. He does not seem to have a problem with this exchange of services, and not only restores the men but seems really nice and they stay for A YEAR till she insists that their next trip be to hell. Literally.

The men have almost no time to be happy they’re no longer pigs, before they’re crying about having to go to hell. Circe dumps a couple sacrificial animals off and disappears, her way of saying Buh-bye!

Book 11: The Kingdom of the Dead. In which Odysseus chats with ghosts. His most recently dead soldier who fell off a roof probably because he was still drunk asks Odysseus if he’ll give him an honorable burial. Roger that. Then the blind Tiresias, the one Circe said Odysseus had to go talk to, comes, drinks blood and tells Odysseus something we’ve heard before: don’t touch Helios’ sun cattle! Odysseus’ mom comes and tells him a bunch of stuff that makes him feel super guilty: Telemachos is powerless, Penelope is besieged, the kingdom is being plundered, and oh, yeah, the mom died of a broken heart because Odysseus was gone so long. Nice guilt trip. There are lots of other dead people, including Ajax who holds a grudge, Achilles who says being dead sucks, and Tantalus (tempted by water/food), and Sisyphus (pushing rock up hill that always falls down) and Heracles. I’m a little unclear on how Heracles can be both in the underworld and on Olympus, but that’s what it sounds like it says. Finally, O is overwhelmed by the dead, and he and his crew get the hell out of hell.

Chapter 12: The Cattle of the Sun. I could go into detail, but all that matters here is that according to Odysseus, they manage to get past the sirens by stopping their ears and keeping O lashed to the mast, ahem, erect, and then they pass the monster Scylla only losing six more men, avoid the whirlpool Charybdis (the proverbial rock and a hard place, plus referenced by Sting) and he wants to row, row, row their boat past the island of Helios, but they’re becalmed, and the men go ashore and he makes them swear not to eat the cattle. But they do. And it’s not Odysseus’ fault, because he was asleep. Plus, he made them swear. They try to leave, and as predicted, they lose the ship, all the men, and Odysseus has to go by Scylla and Charybdis in reverse and ends up at Calypso’s island of Ogygia where she kept him a sex slave till Hermes showed up, back in book 5.

AND since Odysseus’ tale has now looped back so we know it all he refuses to say more to the court of Alcinous. And the next chapter is titled “Ithaca at Last”, and I think we can all agree, that, yes, it’s about time Odysseus got back already.

So, we’re halfway through. Interesting how most of the heroics that live on in popular memory are crammed into book 12, not spread out over the entire book.

What did everyone else think?

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one link

Week two link

Week three link

SANDMAN Readalong wk 5: “Brief Lives” & “Worlds’ End”

January 12th, 2015

Welcome back to the Sandman Readalong. We’re in week five, reading volume 7: Brief Lives and volume 8: Worlds’ End. Note the placement of the possessive apostrophe in the last volume, that’s the end of Worlds, plural.

Again, we’re on a rigorous reading schedule. The nice thing about Sandman is that it is possible to jump in anytime. There’s enough backstory given, or enough info out in the world (or you could just ask this particular blogger) to give you what you need to dive in anytime. And you really should, because this comic book series, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, is a wondrous thing. Not flawless, mind you, not from the pen of a god, though many fans pedestal-ize him. But still, tremendous and awesome, in the full meanings of those words.

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Brief Lives is a road trip story, primarily focused on Delirium’s quest to find her brother Destruction, who abandoned his realm 300 years ago, on the verge of Newton’s science and question “are not light and gross bodies intraconvertible?”

The art is by Jill Thompson, who draws herself in the character Etain of the Second Look. (What does that MEAN, of the second look?) We first saw her work in the story “Parliament of Rooks” from Fables and Reflections. Thompson’s Delirium is younger and more childlike than the version we saw at the start of Season of Mists.

The first time I read the series, when it came out in the 90’s, I was fixated on the backstory of how Delight become Delirium. It was one of the questions I asked Gaiman when I went to my first signing (which I chronicled in My Neil Gaiman story), and one he brushed off. “Oh, someone else is going to write that sometime.”

But in the notes he gives in Season of Mists, which I read either in Hy Bender’s excellent Sandman Companion, or the, to me, less useful Annotated Sandman, Gaiman notes that Delirium is a pre-adolescent urchin, the kind who experiments with sexuality, clubs, and drugs before she’s whatever ready might mean. Once I read that description, I no longer wondered. Of course, I thought. Delirium is what happens to any delightful girl who gets shown too much too fast.

In Thompson’s hands and in Gaiman’s version for this story, she’s cuter and funnier. In fact, she gets most of the best lines. It’s hard to choose just one to quote. When the receptionist asks for a name, and she responds in surprise that the receptionist doesn’t have a name, that she wouldn’t want hers (Delirium’s, that is), and this is just before she starts summoning colored frogs, one of my favorite moments of the series. Then when she asks if Dream ever spends time thinking of ice cream flavors like telephone or green-mouse flavors. Later, when she says she’s going to grow up to be a kangaroo. But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with the one that illustrates the center of this story and maybe the series:

Delirium: Um. Whats the name of the word for things not being the same always. You know, I’m sure there is one. Isn’t there? There must be a word for it…the thing that let’s you know TIME is happening. Is there a word?

Dream: Change.

Poor Ruby. Poor Bernie Capax. Poor confused Danny Capax, eh? So much death throughout, but then again, as the lady says, we get what everyone gets, right? A lifetime. And no matter how much it is, they all feel brief and precious.

The character who has the healthiest view of life, probably is Andros, who always notices it’s a beautiful day. He’s the caretaker of Orpheus, who longs, like Rainie Blackwell, for death.

In the end, Dream makes a momentous decision, one that will have repercussions we see in the next volume and beyond.

Gaiman sneaks in yet another reference to the wizard of Oz (among a ZILLION other references, which are like delightful treats throughout that enhance the reading experience, but aren’t necessary to it), when Destruction asks whether they wants a heart, a brain, or a balloon ride. He gets the balloon ride into the sky by himself, while Delirium gets a brain in Barnabas and Dream gets a heart, one that he has not shown too often. (Though his apology to Delirium earlier in this story, and when he admits he went with her at first so he could do an earthly drive by of the lover who left and made him so delightfully Morrissey-ish at the beginning, what with the rain on the balcony are both lovely moments.)

OK, on, on, on to the next one, as the Foo Fighters sing.

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Volume 8, World’s End. This is a great example of why I’m baffled when people say of the Sandman series, “I don’t like the art.” WTF? There are like twenty different artists in this one short volume! You can’t dislike ALL of them!

So here’s a question for you, kind readers. Who’s your favorite inker in this volume?

I can’t decide. I love Allred’s iconic Prez story, plus Zulli’s spread of the sea monster, plus the 14-15, and 16-17 spreads of the last issue #56, (note how there are an unprecedented THREE full spreads in this collection.) and am at my satellite office and didn’t bring the Bender book, so I don’t have the artist for those pages.

Gaiman is doing an homage to Chaucer (who appeared earlier in “Men of Good Fortune”) with travelers telling tales. Somewhere else in the past I read that it was also an homage to Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which I subsequently read and didn’t love and can’t recall if I found a connection. Here, let me go check… AHA. From 2008, my comments on If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

There are stories within stories within stories, but perhaps my favorite is the one that is ostensibly NOT a story, Charlene’s after she notes this about the previous stories:

Charlene: There aren’t any WOMEN in these stories. Did anyone else notice that?

Jim“: But, well, what about me, missie? There’s ME. There was MY story. That was a woman’s story.

Charlene: Oh, PLEASE. Look, girl, the whole POINT of your story is that there WASN’T a WOMAN in it. Just a ship full of sailors and a giant dick thrusting out of the ocean…I mean, there aren’t any real women in any of the stories I’VE heard tonight. We’re just pretty figures in the background to be loved or avoided or obeyed or…whatever.

Charlene goes on to tell a heartbreaking and utterly plausible story of her mundane life. In the end, she chooses to stay. I gotta say, Charlene is right about the Boys-Own nature of the tales, and having her stay to be a domestic sticks in my craw. Just because Gaiman acknowledges there are no women in the stories, doesn’t absolve him of the lack, and making her a domestic? Works my nerves, it does.

So, that’s more than enough from me. Join us next Monday for the longest arc of the series, volume 9 The Kindly Ones. (And speaking of art that people hate, whooee. I don’t, but MANY did.)

You can comment here, or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

What did everyone else think?

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week four: link

Sandman Readalong week three: link

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

Gearing Up for the “Brief Lives” Post

January 12th, 2015

I just scared my writer tablemates by taking a picture of my chestular region; the photo booth did a really loud countdown that sounded like my machine was going to blow up. I’m wearing my Delirium T-shirt, given to me in the 90’s when my now-husband was courting me.

photo-on-1-12-15-at-1021-am

Slightly disappointed that there are no colorful frogs, as in the Farrell travel office, but the Jill Thompson images are still charmingly bat$hit.

ODYSSEY Readalong week 3: bks 7-9

January 7th, 2015

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Welcome back to those reading along with us through Homer’s Odyssey. I think there are four of us total, including me and my husband G., but hey, I committed to this, and I’m going to do it. So if anyone else out there is lurking and reading, give a shout in the comments.

Prior to Christmas, the story finally shifted from Telemachos to Odysseus himself.

Book 7: Phaecia’s Halls and Gardens. Athena in disguise as a small girl guides Odysseus to the castle and gives him useful info, and then disguises him. He follows directions, goes in and hugs the queens knees and begs for hospitality, which they give him. This encourages him, so he goes further and asks for a ship before the queen notices O is wearing her daughter’s clothes. Another awkward Odyssey moment. He spills the beans on his trip from Calypso to Nausicaa, and everyone is very impressed, then they go to sleep. Honk shoo.

Book 8: A Day for Songs and Contests. Things get set up for a party. A blind singer tells a story of Odysseus and Achilles. O cries, but only the king notices (similar to what happened with Telemachus a few books ago). He switches things up and calls for the feats of strength to commence. Those who win are named to spread their fame. Odysseus is first invited, then taunted, and he gets up and hurls a discus farther than anyone else, and tells them to bring it on. Again, awkward! King brings back the singer, asks outright who he is, then settles back to hear about the ten years O has been missing. (Finally!)

[Aside: did you know I lettered in track in high school, and when I ask people to guess what my event was they never can. It was discus.]

Book 9: In the One-Eyed Giant’s Cave. O and his men left Troy, raped and pillaged a town, landed on an island of Lotus Eaters, who got so high they didn’t even remember home, then went to an island of Cyclopes. O insisted they try for hospitality. Instead, they got imprisoned and the Cyclops ate a bunch of the men. They sharpened a stick, got him drunk and poked him in the eye. A bunch of his Cyclops buddies came to see what the ruckus was about, but O had given him a fake name: Nobody. They left after the cyclops, whose name is revealed as Polyphemus, keeps shouting that Nobody tricked him.

[Aside: when we read an excerpt of this in 9th grade English, our teacher, Mr. S the hog farmer, told us about the girl the year before who'd had to read the Cyclops passage and had accidentally pronounced his name Polypenis. Tee hee.]

The men sneak out under the bellies of sheep, get to their ship, but then Odysseus starts taunting Polyphemus and boasts his real name. Couldn’t just sail away, but had to incur the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was Polyphemus complaining to his dad Poseidon that Odysseus was a jerk (to be fair, he was still angry about all those men Polyphemus ate), and that’s why Poseidon has been so angry at O till now. O tries to set things right with Zeus, who won’t accept his sacrifice, and that’s why Athena had to intercede on his behalf. So, just a little over a third of the way through, we’re finally getting some answers.

That’s it for this week. Join us next Wednesday 1/14 to discuss books 10, 11 and 12. What did you think?

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one link

Week two link

Tournament of Books Announced!

January 6th, 2015

rooster

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Oh, except for dairy month. And the MN State Fair. And Christmas… Well, let’s just say it’s in the top ten, shall we?

THE MORNING NEWS TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS SHORT LIST HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED!

Last year I ill-advisedly put together reading schedules for the Odyssey, Sandman, and Ulysses. On the one hand, WTF was I thinking, on the other, I know damn well what I was thinking: ALL THE BOOKS! I WANT TO READ ALL THE BOOKS! But I told myself, and I’m sure other people, oh, I’ll give a miss to the ToB this year.

NO. I will do no such thing. I’ve just finished Station Eleven (which I correctly guessed would be on the short list) and I’ve got Untamed State and Brief History of Seven Killings on deck. Who am I kidding, I am totally going to buy the David Mitchell book. And the rest I’ve now requested from the library, having had to jigger my request list so it didn’t exceed 50. (That’s not OCD, no, no it’s not.)

So, despite the fact that I’m in the middle of FOUR books already, little things like Homer’s Odyssey, Absolute Sandman v. III, The Sandman Companion, and Sandman Dustcovers, I’m going to blaze ahead, full speed. Woo hoo!

The Shortlist for The Morning News 2015 Tournament of Books

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Adam by Ariel Schrag
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

SANDMAN Readalong 4: A GAME OF YOU and FABLES & REFLECTIONS

January 5th, 2015

sandman5 sandman6

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sandman winter readalong! This week we’ll be talking about both A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50 and Special #1. At 14 issues this is our biggest chunk so far. If you’re reading in the graphic novel collections, then this was a pretty straightforward jump from volume 5 to 6. But if you, like me, are reading the issues in order in the Absolute Editions, this week required some jumping around. A$$loads of SPOILERS AHEAD.

By all accounts, A Game of You was one of the least popular Sandman storylines. People didn’t like the art, or the story. Retailers didn’t like the covers, since A Game of You was writ large, and Sandman small. Also, many readers were troubled, including the GN collections introduction writer Samuel R. Delany, by the deaths of two characters at the end of the story, Wanda the transexual, and Maisie Dobbs, the homeless “I don’t like dogs” woman. Delany (spot on, IMO) calls out Gaiman for killing off the two outsider characters. He concludes, though, that if you read the story, carefully, in the details, that what’s being put forth isn’t easily reducible.

I’ve read this story many times. Every time it makes me cry. I absolutely love the detail of the cute frog mug. So many, many lovely characters die in it, but none of them are white and hetero-normative. (Or human, for that matter.)

I’ve come to terms with all the deaths but one. Wanda, based on the set up of the story, had to die. Alas, she had to die in order for Barbie to learn, and this is not just an unfortunate trope, it’s a terrible one. But in terms of the story, in which the moon won’t allow Wanda to travel because she has a Y chromosome, and she is left behind in the brownstone in a hurricane, it makes sense that she dies, and her funeral and Barbie’s memoriams to her (including her dream) give Wanda a lovely rich, well-deserved goodbye.

Here are the things that make me not pissed (though always sad) about Wanda’s death: Barbie’s scribbling Wanda’s name on her grave with pink (which echoes her heaving of the pink Porpentine at the grey stone Hierogram in the skerry), and Wanda’s appearance in the dream, which in the context of this story, in which all the dreams are real, and all that’s real is artificial and constructed and shifting, is her true self, as Death encounters her, as a lovely person and woman. I do not see her as conflicted in her identity, which Delany scolds Gaiman about, nor do I see that the moon’s opinion about Y chromosomes is the author’s. Wanda is simply afraid of surgery; she KNOWS her identity and claimed it by leaving Kansas and becoming a New Yorker named Wanda who spouts Yiddish.

Gaiman says his aim in the story was to show that all of us, no matter how boring and bland on the outside, contains worlds of wonder within. Mission: accomplished.

The death I cannot and won’t forgive is that of Maisie Dobbs. Wanda’s character is deepened when she goes to help Maisie, and Wanda dying is part of Barbie’s character, but Maisie’s is not necessary, and killing a black homeless character for slight story reasons (unlike Wanda’s which I read as major) to protect a pretty white cisgendered girl is an cruel, thoughtless cliche. Shame on you, Neil Gaiman, and I hope you now regret that story choice.

Now, to see if I can sum up (ha!) Fables and Reflections. Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Fables and Reflections collecting The Sandman #29–31, 38–40, 50; Sandman Special #1; and Vertigo Preview #1: A collection of short stories set throughout Morpheus’ history, most of them originally published directly before or directly after the “Game of You” story arc. Four issues, dealing with kings and rulers, were originally published under the label “Distant Mirrors,” while three others, detailing the meetings of various characters, were published as the “Convergences” arc. Fables and Reflections includes the Sandman Special, originally published as a stand-alone issue, which assimilates the myth of Orpheus into the Sandman mythos, as well as a very short Sandman story from the Vertigo Preview promotional comic.

I’ll write a little about each.

“Fear of Falling” Gaiman says this refers to a dream he had as a child.

“Thermidor” Lady Johanna Constantine, who we first met in “Men of Good Fortune” and Orpheus on whom more later.

“August” The story itself is OK, but Talbot’s art is the thing for me, with its changing shadows and accumulations of garbage as the day progresses.

“Three Septembers and a January” Never knew about this guy. Lovely story.

“The Hunt” Another one of those seems like a “real” myth but Gaiman made it up.

“Soft Places” More history, with Marco Polo. Best line: I remember when I was just a vicinity. Hints of things to come: who’s hanging out, cooing in him?

“The Song of Orpheus” Gaiman says readers on book tours weren’t familiar enough with the story of Orpheus, which is why he did more of a straight telling of the myth than a series of riffing short stories. Hey, it’s the missing sibling!

Back in the pre-internet days, I nerded out by calling the Classics department at a local university to ask him what Olethros meant after the issue came out to confirm it meant Destruction.

Note: the other Endless never call her “Death,” just our sibling, perhaps a reference to the birth visit Olethros refers to. Also, probably not a good idea to set out on a path that Destruction sets, eh? And, Calliope’s comment about Dream not changing, and maybe even not being able to change, and finally, the ending, which shows again: old-school Dream is a jerk.

“The Parliament of Rooks” Another appearance of Goldie, yay! Also, the first appearance of the Lil Endless. Death laughing at Dream tripping on his cape is hilarious.

“Ramadan” So, so pretty, the art, the colors, the letters. Russell illustrated this from a prose story Gaiman wrote rather than a traditional script. We saw the city in the bottle when Dream put Azazel away in the Season of Mists storyline.

I’m reading the Absolute Edition, which includes a short story about a satyr, beautifully painted by John Bolton and featuring Desire in a non-jerky aspect.

Whew! I think that’s it for this week. Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #SandMN or in the comments. I’ll be here next week to talk about Sandman: Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and Sandman: World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues).

What did everyone else think?

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week three: link

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

Odyssey Readalong Week 2: Bks 4-6, Proper Entry

December 28th, 2014

odyssey

Apologies for the lame-ass placeholder a week and a half ago for chapters 4-6 of The Odyssey. You know: the holidays. I thought programming in a break would help, and it does, since I’m just now getting to this.

Book 4: The King and Queen of Sparta, finds us still hanging out with Odysseus’ son Telemachus, who arrives at King Menelaus’ house just as a double wedding is starting. Rather than going insane with stress that a whole bunch of uninvited people just showed, up, Menelaus and Helen graciously show them hospitality, an ongoing theme of the book. In the Fagles translation, Menelaus is red haired, in the Fitzgerald, he was fair haired.

Helen was the cause of the Trojan war, chronicled in The Iliad, after Paris stole her away to Troy. In Homer, Helen is the daughter of Zeus and Leda (he appeared to her as a swan–I originally wrote that he “came” to her as a swan but that felt too smutty) and is the sister of Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra. She is also the subject of these famous lines on her beauty, which Christopher Marlowe wrote in 1604, in the play Doctor Faustus:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium[1] … ?

You know what this means, right? Reading The Odyssey is preparing us for season 3 of Orphan Black! You’re welcome.

Menelaus recognizes Telemachus, who is crying at the memory of his father, so he doesn’t say anything. Awkward! Helen, however, says right out:

“To the life he’s like the son of great Odysseus,
surely he’s Telemachus! The boy that hero left
a babe in arms at home when all you Achaeans
fought at Troy, launching your headlong battles
just for my sake, shameless whore that I was.”

“My dear, my dear,” the red-haired king assured her,
“now that you mention it, I see the likeness too…” (158-164)

I was surprised when Helen called herself a whore, which seemed pretty harsh, then had to laugh when it seems like Menelaus is going to tell her not to be so hard on herself, and instead merely agrees that Telemachus is the spit of Ulysses.

For those of you with different translations, what does Helen call herself in line 162 in your editions? I’d check our Fitzgerald and Lattimore, but I sold them last night as my husband and I are continuing with the Fagles.

Helen drugs the men so there won’t be more crying, and tells stories of Odysseus, such as when he dressed as a beggar to get the lay of the land, and how she called to the men in the Trojan horse in the voices of their wives, which so tempted them that Odysseus had to clamp his hands over their mouths.

Menelaus tells the story of how he got away from the war, then Telemachus gets ready to leave for Pylos.

Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, the guy whose ship Telemachus took wants it back, and Antinous learns that T has left and vows that he and the other suitors will ambush him on the way back. Penelope also learns that T is gone, frets, and is reassured by Athena who disguised herself as P’s sister, but disappears when P asks for news of her husband.

Book 5: Odysseus–Nymph and Shipwreck. Yay, we get to meet Odysseus! As we knew before, he’s the sex slave of Calypso on the island of Ogygia. Athena asks Zeus to intervene, he can’t be bothered and sends Hermes, who visits Calypso, listens to her complain that the gods get to keep their human lovers and the goddesses never do, then Hermes tells her to let go, and since Odysseus has been sitting on the beach looking off into the distance and sighing rather than being a good sex slave, she lets him go, but not after an action montage in which she helps Odysseus build and outfit a good escape boat. He sets sail for Ithaca, but Poseidon returns from a far off trip, finds O on the water, and whips up a huge storm. A nymph sees O and tries to help him by giving him her scarf (apparently all women see him, and want him) but he’s suspicious, is thrown overboard anyway. After a long time, and rocky coast, he and Athena and a river god get him to shore and he falls asleep in a shrub.

Book 6: The Princess and the Stranger. Athena continues to help (or is it meddle?) with Odysseus’ getting home, and visits the princess Nausicaa (where Miyazaki got the name for the awesome warrior princess of his masterpiece (one of several) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) and tells her to think about marriage, and go down to the river to wash her wedding gear so she’ll be attractive to suitors. She borrows her dad’s mule cart, takes her handmaidens, and they go wash and frolic by the river. Until they see a nekkid man, Odysseus, who covers up his privates with a branch but they panic and run about anyway. Nausicaa stands firm, though, and O decides it’s wiser to talk to her than to grab her knees, and he begs her help. She, like all women seem to be, is moved by his good looks and agrees to help, and dresses him in some of the now-clean laundry, and they go back to the palace. I sense trouble ahead, though, both with Athena putting marriage in Nausicaa’s head, and her words to her girlfriends:

Ah, if only a man that that were called my husband,
lived right here, pleased to stay forever… (270-1)

are unfortunately reminiscent of Calypso.

Odysseus prays to Athena for help, and she hears him, but Poseidon is literally still seething in the sea, so we can guess it won’t be smooth sailing from here.

AND, hey! that’s it for sections 4-6. What did you think?

Also, did you know Sean Bean played Odysseus in the movie Troy? That seems about right, I think, except that Odysseus doesn’t die, and most Sean Bean characters die spectacularly.

Remember, you can tweet, too, using the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Previous posts:

Odyssey Readalong week 1: link

Odyssey Readalong schedule: link

Sandman Readalong Week 3: “Dream Country” & “Season of Mists”

December 22nd, 2014

dream_country1 season_mists

I was toodling along last week after finishing Sandman v3: Dream Country, getting my holiday cards addressed and sent out, reading Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming which I got from the library and had to return soon, when I consulted the Sandman readalong schedule, you know, the one _I_ made, and realized with a jolt that I had scheduled TWO of the Sandman graphic novels to discuss today. So I had to get cracking. I finished the Cumming book and returned it to the library, and finished Sandman v4: Season of Mists as well as reading the chapter on it in Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion and the relevant covers in Dustcovers.

I know reading both these books in one week is a lot; we are cramming 75+ issues/10 graphic novels into a 2 month period with a week off for busy time. How is the reading process going for everyone? Too fast, or are the stories devour-able enough to keep to this hectic pace?

To the books, then. Dream Country is four short stories. Gaiman says that while he’s writing the longer story arcs, he has ideas for these shorts, that he “holds” and writes them in between times.

“Calliope.” I went down a rabbit hole by starting to re-read the comments from a readalong NPR’s Monkey See blog did a few years ago. Then I realized I’d never get done. I enjoy this story, while it also disturbs me. It’s more graphic than I’d like, especially the rape and naked stuff. There’s always the question of: is it a critique, or does it automatically implicitly condone nakedness/rape by showing it at all. Yes, Madoc is a tool, and Fry was before him. Not just a tool, but a rapist, kidnapper, and all around horrible person. But there’s this thing that happens with Gaiman fans where they worship him and say he’s such a feminist writer, (ditto for Joss Whedon, who gets called a feminist when he wrote a space prostitute, for heaven’s sake) and I don’t buy that–I think Gaiman is poking fun at himself in this comic, too. I hope he’d acknowledge that there’s some Madoc in him. But, I liked all the Greek myths, and meditations on Rules, and forgiveness, in contrast to how Dream left Burgess in volume 1.

“Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of the most accessible of Sandman stories, I think, and highlights how Dream shifts radically in appearance depending on who sees him.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” This is Shakespeare Nerd nirvana. LOVE IT. One of my favorite issues. Funny, sad, and beautiful, with Vess’s Arthur Rackham inspired art perfectly suited to the fair folk.

“Facade” Yay, we get to see Death again! Poor Rainey. All those ashtray face masks. A very different artist, Doran, and one who draws a good, real, female anatomy, IMO.

Season of Mists. Holy cats, people, how am I supposed to summarize this? The art in this one is all over the place, perhaps due to its having four different artists and four different inkers, all in different pairings except for Chapters 1 and 2, and even those had different colorists.

Episode 0: Family meeting (awkward!) The 3 ladies, again. Questions: how did Delight become Delirium? Who is The Prodigal (Pet peeve: Prodigal means wasteful, not “s/he who goes away” though that’s how most people use and understand it.) Love how Death calls Dream on his $hit. Also, favorite lines:

Death to Dream: Have a grape.
Dream. I do not want a grape.
Desire: I could MAKE you want one.

Episode 1. Dream prepares
Episode 2. The return to hell. Things don’t go as planned. How about that splash page spread of pages 2 and 3?

hell

Hey, have you watched the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune? Well, you should, as it’s awesome. One of the last things it does is shows how some of the design elements from the film that was never made nonetheless came into being in other creative works. Thus, I was reminded of this by the splash page:

jodorowskys_dune

Though the Sandman art could also have been influenced by the HR Giger interpretation that appeared in Alien:

hrgigerdunev

Wow, I am totally never going to finish this post but I am having fun GEEKING OUT.

I enjoy when Luficer asks Mazikeen for her knife, and we think he’s going to cut her, but instead slips her something else, his tongue, on the page turn and has Dream use the knife otherwise.

Episode 3: Lots of Gods! Again with the skinny, nearly naked blond woman. Boo. I love how Kelly Jones draws Dream’s robes, though, as here:

seasons2

See that shadow over Dream’s shoulder, on the reader’s right? Rumor has it that’s a nod to Dave Sims’ long-running character Cerebus the Aardvark.

[OK, I have to stop here to go home from my satellite office at the coffee shop to my small children, who I left at home while my husband G. Grod works from home. But more, later, because giving this complex storyline short shrift would be sad, no?]

Edited to add on 12/27: Episode 3: Death looks disturbingly like Sean Young on page 12. Silver city looks like it’s made of phalluses p 14. Thor is a drunk asshole! I am amused that the lord of order incarnates as an empty box.

Episode 4: Poor, poor Charles Rowland. This is another horror story, and these really stick with me, alas. Illustrated by Matt Wagner, known to comic geeks for Mage, Grendel, and the Sandman sorta-spinoff Sandman Mystery Theater. Gaiman contends that his portrayal of boarding school is a mix of his own experience and others he’s read. Obviously not Harry Potter-ish. Yikes. Death in exercise gear on p. 21 is amusing. Rowland and Paine go on to have adventures outside of the Sandman series, but as with most of the related material, the quality is up and down, IMO.

[Stopping here. Must go pick up Guppy from karate. Will I ever finish this?]

Edited to add AGAIN.

Episode 5: Starved naked woman again, sigh. Why does Nada look so different from on page chapter 3, page 17, though Kelley Jones is credited as the artist for both? The issues do have different inkers: P Craig Russell on 3, and George Pratt on 5. But, drunk Thor on p13 with champagne bubbles within his word bubbles: hilarious!

Episode 6: In which Dream gives the key to someone who doesn’t want it. Ha! Also, Azazel foolishly refuses hospitality, and Dream shows Choronzon a mercy he wouldn’t have previously in the series.

Epilogue: (slightly confusing, as shown as Episode infinity sign, which could be seen as a double entendre of 8, but it’s 7. Sigh.) Loki and Cluracan pull some tricks. (Giving a female as property. We already knew Cluracan was an ass, but Titania pimping out one of her own troubles me.) Nada is reborn as an Asian boy, and Lucifer makes a friend and enjoys the sunset. And Remiel seems to take a little too much enjoyment out of his new role in hell. Season of Mists closes with a fictional excerpt from Lucien’s Library of Dreams, by G. K. Chesterton, the author who was the model for Gilbert, Fiddler’s Green in The Doll’s House.

AND, that’s all I have. What did everybody else think? Remember, you can comment here, or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

Odyssey Week 2 Post to Come

December 17th, 2014

I am caught between a rock and a hard place, the origin of which we haven’t yet reached in our reading. As Sting sang, it’s between Scylla and Charybdis, though I often can’t remember which is the rock and which is the hard place, until I remember Marathon Man, and the brother’s code name, and that usually puts it to rights.

Anyhoo. I will do a proper write up of sections 4-6 this week later today after I finish (is it ever possible to actually finish?) the holiday card project. I’m catching up after 5 years of not doing it, and there’s been a fair amount of spelunking and sleuthing for addresses and contacts.

Also, my husband G. Grod abandoned the Fitzgerald and I abandoned the Lattimore translations, both in favor of the Fagles, which we find much more readable, not only in content, but in form. It’s a lovely trade paperback in a large font.

I’m putting this up in case you want to start commenting or questions before I do the proper write up.

Ten Gifts for the Readers & Writers in Your Life

December 15th, 2014

This post has been bubbling in my head for a while and if I put it off any longer I won’t get it out before Christmas. Alas, I may be getting it out too late for you early-present buyers, but for you procrastinating ones, here ya go.

moleskine

1. Good journal. I like Moleskine and Claire Fontaine. I tried a low-rent Barnes and Noble brand last year, and regretted it.

fieldnotes

2. Cute notebooks. Field Notes. That is all.

pen

3. Good pen. One of the best presents I ever got was the Namiki Vanishing Point Fountain pen. These Pilots are also pretty.

wh_gloves_01_large

4. Writing gloves. Love these from Storiarts.

pride-and-prejudice-purple

5. Bookish Ts, like these from Out of Print.

ella

6. Book subscription or bundle. Lizzie Skurnick Books has a couple subscription options, plus is selling a bundle of the All of a Kind Family books. Persephone Books site is down, but they have subscriptions, too. Emily Books has a carefully curated subscription of E-books.

7. Noise cancelling earphones, maybe these?

8. Gift card for local, indie bookstore, find yours here.

truffles

9. Chocolate (or your favorite snack of choice). May I suggest the plain truffles from Maison du Chocolat. (Hint, hint.)

10. Coffee (or your favorite bevvie of choice). I use my Aeropress almost every day.

Anything I forgot?

Sandman Read Wk 2: THE DOLL’S HOUSE

December 14th, 2014

dolls_house

It is 9:30 on Sunday night, and I’m staring at this page, and it’s staring back to me, and I wonder, how on earth can I do justice to the sprawl of flaming crazy awesomeness that is volume 2 of The Sandman, The Doll’s House?

If you’re on twitter, join us with the hashtag #SandMN. If you’re not, then follow along here on Mondays. The reading schedule is here.

This collection opens with #9 “Tales in the Sand”, an African “folk tale” made up entirely by Gaiman, and refers to other tales, which he also made up.

(You really have to watch out for Gaiman. In American Gods, he made up some Slavic goddess, Zorja Polunochnaya, and depending on how you look her up online it’s really easy to believe that she was an actual goddess, and not something Neil just pulled out of his…head.)

We get the story of Nada, the woman we briefly met in #4, A Hope in Hell, who had been imprisoned there after rejecting Dream, or Kai’ kul, the incarnation of her people. If this is the men’s version, how much more scathing must the women’s version of it be? We got some indication of this before, but Dream can be a real jerk. Also in this story, we get images of hearts, as well as the difference between men’s and women’s stories, both of which will be themes throughout the series.

#10, “The Doll’s House” in which we meet the twins, Desire and Despair, as well as Rose Walker, who learns she is the granddaughter of Unity Kinkaid, who was impregnated and had a baby while she slept in issue #1. When Rose dreams, the page goes sideways. We get to see one of my favorite recurring characters, Goldie the gargoyle, who adorably says “meep” and “aarkle”. We get yet another appearance of the three witches, one of Gaiman’s favorite myths that he deploys throughout his work. And we meet the Corinthian, an escaped dream, and a very bad man.

#11 “Moving In.” Rose moves into a house in Florida so she can track down her younger brother Jed. She’s watched by Matthew, Dream’s talking raven, who used to be Matthew Cable in the series Swamp Thing. Jed is in a very bad place, and is having odd dreams that are homages to Windsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.

#12 “Playing House” we meet Lyta and Hector Hall who have been playing Sandman under the tutelage of two escaped dreams. Hector is really a ghost, but Lyta has been in a suspended pregnancy. Dream, being a jerk again: “The child you have carried so long in dreams. That child is mine. Take good care of it. One day I will come for it.” And then he lets Jed get away and fall into the hand of the Corinthian.

#13 “Men of Good Fortune” seems plopped in there, but it’s the prior engagement Dream mentions when he runs off after telling Lyta he’ll be back for the child. We meet a guy named Hob, but even better we meet some hack playwrite named Will. Dream talks to them both, and interesting things happen. This is one of my favorite issues (all the ones with Shakespeare are.)

#14 “Collectors.” That’s Neil Gaiman modeling for the Corinthian on the cover. If you didn’t like the horror in issue 6, 24 Hours, this one is pretty horrific too. But Dream unmakes the Corinthian, so while he may be a jerk, he’s pretty badass. Plus Gilbert comes back with Jed, yay!

#15 “Into the Night.” Barbie has the coolest dreams, doesn’t she?

#16 “Lost Hearts.” That’s Neil Gaiman again on the cover. Does it bug anyone else that he is his own Mary Sue/model for the King of Dreams?

Gilbert turns out to be a place, Fiddler’s Green, and while he can’t stand in for the death of Rose, Unity can. I love this exchange:

Dream: I don’t understand–

Unity: Of course you don’t. You’re obviously not very bright, but I wouldn’t let it bother you.

And we learn that the whole thing has been a long game played by Desire to bring down Dream, and he threatens Desire, whose house is a doll.

I love this, too:

Dream: We of the endless are servants of the living–we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. When the last living thing has left this universe, then our task will be done. And we do not manipulate them. If anything they manipulate us. We are their toys. Their dolls, if you will.

So, what did everyone else think?

The Odyssey Readalong Wk 1 Bks 1-3

December 9th, 2014

the-odyssey-book-cover

Welcome to The Odyssey Readalong!

Who’s with me?

My husband G. Grod is supposed to be but he can’t seem to finish reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Girl, but once he does he says he’s going to start The Odyssey, because he’s gung ho to read Ulysses next year.

As you may know by now, we’re weird like that in our family.

But, since I’m the moderator, I not only read the first 3 sections already, but also did a smidgen of research on them. This epic was written sometime between 600 and 800 BCE (that’s Before Common Era, because, especially since we’re talking about the Greeks it makes more sense to use this non-Christian descriptor even though Jesus was so important, whether he was the savior or not, that BCE and BC are the same.) That means it’s had longer than most works to be studied and debated. There is so much to know that I’ve decided I’m going to try and keep things simple, on a need-to-know basis for helpfulness in the upcoming Ulysses readalong.

About The Odyssey in general: it may or may not have been written by a poet named Homer, who may or may not have been the same one who wrote The Iliad, which was about the 10-year Trojan War, where The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ 10-year journey home from the war. There’s lots of argument for and against. One theory has it that The Iliad was by Homer, and the Odyssey by a child (Homer Jr.?) or apprentice. There are many translations, I’m reading the one by Lattimore since we had it in our house.

Book 1 opens with an invocation to Athene, goddess of wisdom.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to,; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
And he took away the day of their homecoming. Fom some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Book 1 is part of the first four books about Odysseus’ son, Telemachos. There is quite a lot here about a murder of Aigisthos, but I want to focus on the big O, who is being held as a sex captive by Kalypso on her hard-to-pronounce island Ogygia. Poseidon the powerful and moody sea god is angry with Odysseus and is impeding his trip home. We learn later it’s because O killed Polyphemus, a cyclopes and child of Poseidon.

Athene wants to move things along, so she goes to Ithaka, disguised as a guy named Mentes. Telemachos shows him/her hospitality, and she favors him and learns first hand how annoying all the suitors are who want to marry Odysseus’ wife Penelope and become king, because he’s been gone so long (20 years now ) they assume he’s dead. The suitors are eating all the food and partying and generally not being good guests. Athene hints to T that he should go find out for himself.

Book 2: Telemachos calls a meeting to complain about the suitor situation. The suitors complain because Penelope had tried to put them off by weaving a funeral cloak for Laertes, Odysseus’ father (who wasn’t even dead yet!) and every night she unraveled her work till a maid ratted her out to the suitors. Zeus sends eagles as a sign, but the crowd won’t agree on the meaning. A man named Mentor speaks up against the suitors (this is where we get that word from!) but the crowd is unmoved. Athene disguises herself as Mentor, tells T to get ready for a journey then disguises herself as T and goes about the town, recruiting for the ship, then T and Athene/Mentor and the new crew leave Ithaka.

Book 3: T goes to Pylos to get news of O from Nestor, who fought with O in the war. They arrive in a sacrificial dinner to Poseidon which they wisely do not disrupt. Lots of lines about Agamemnon and Menelaos, but I’m going to continue to not pay much attention to them other than that Odysseus waffled between which brother to follow home, and picked wrong because Menelaos and Nestor made it home. Nestor says lots of nice things about O and how T looks like O, and then Athene reveals herself as an eagle, and Nestor promises both a sacrifice of a gold-horned calf to her and horses to T for the road trip to Sparta to find out more about O.

Initial impressions: this is not a hard read, and is about Greek gods and goddesses and heroes, so full of ripping stuff. Interestingly much of the mythology is fresh in my mind from recent readings with my sons of the Percy Jackson series, which is good with some details, as in the Cyclopes being sons of Poseidon.

I’m not sure why it took so long for T to start complaining about the suitors, and why no one had gone to look for O before, but the story had to start somewhere, and 10 years plus 10 years is a nice round number.

What did others think and what questions do you have?

Sandman Read Wk 1 PRELUDES & NOCTURNES

December 8th, 2014

sandman_preludes_and_nocturnes

Welcome readers to the online readalong of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic-book series! We’re reading one of the 10 main graphic novel collections a week over December and January.

This week we’re discussing Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, or issues 1-8 of the series. I’ll be posting here, and we’re tweeting under the hashtag #SandMN.

This post will be to start the conversations.

I was hooked by all the literary references and the comic-book ones too, even if I didn’t know who Scott Free and the Martian Manhunter were. (AND, guess what–you don’t need to!) BUT, that said, “24 Hours” is one of the most horrific issues I’ve ever read. I shudder when I remember it, and it’s one that friends have told me stop them from continuing through the series.

It certainly is one of the most overtly horrific issues of the series. Also, it’s the first after artist Sam Kieth (of The Maxx) dropped out. (Makes me wonder if he dropped out because of the script of “24 hours”.)

I advise people to read through issue 8, ‘The Sound of Her Wings’, before bailing. That issue, with its dramatic reveal, is one of my all-time favorites both of the series specifically, and comics in general.

A note about editions: I’m reading from the Absolute Edition Sandman Volume 1 which reprinted the series in large, lovely slip-covered editions, and what sold me on buying something I’d already owned twice (first in single issues and then in the 10 issue of graphic novels.)

Below is a good example of how wonky the color was in the original series and GN reprints. The original of p. 11 in issue 1 is on the left, the recolored version on the right. I’m not a color expert, but looks like an oversaturation of Yellow that made poor Stefan Wasserman’s face green. In the recoloring, it doesn’t look so weird.

img_20141208_071442_032

Please note that when you send a comment it goes to moderation till I approve it. Otherwise, we’d be slammed with spam, and no one wants that.

What did everyone else think? What version/edition are you reading?

From the Archives: Five Holiday Gifts

December 2nd, 2014

Second day of December, third day of Advent, not too late this year in re-posting this as we gear up for the holidays.

I’m thinking this year of leaving off gifts to love (they have plenty of stuffed animals and the elder has dust mite allergies) and to read–our house is filled with books, so is the library, plus we buy books all the time. Instead I”m musing, wondering if there’s a way to combine gifts for the both of them so that we have fewer, but awesome-r presents this year.

In the meantime, I’ve picked them up some new long johns.

***

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love. Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games. These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity. From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

From the Archives: How to Layer Like a Minnesotan

December 2nd, 2014

Winter has hit early and hard this year. NB: I am not complaining. That would be stupid to complain, as I choose to live here in the frozen tundra. And so, I will once again share my accumulated wisdom after many winters here.

Preparing to Go Outside: The Order of Operations

First, determine the outside temperature. This system of layering will be too warm for above 20F, but below that should stand you in good stead.

Next, remember what your mother said: use the toilet.

If you wear eyeglasses, consider contacts, as they don’t steam up. I’m heading steadily into bifocal territory, though, so I rarely wear my contacts anymore. Steamed lenses are better than loss of close vision.

Apply moisturizer to face, neck and lips. Heck, everywhere. During the winter, I forego sunscreen to maximize what little vitamin D I can get from the sun.

In order, don:

1. Underwear (underpants, and bra if you wear one)
2. Undershirt (thermal or silk, longer length is best)
3. Long johns (thermal or silk). Pull waistband over bottom of undershirt. This will keep your lower back (or overbutt, as my 7yo calls it) from unwanted exposure.
4. Socks, long and thick. Pull tops over bottoms of long johns.
5. Shirt(s)
6. Pants, over bottom of shirt. Do NOT tuck overshirt into long johns.
7. Sweater
8. Snowpants
9. Boots, hat and scarf
10. Gloves/mittens. Gloves inside mittens is the warmest, but diminishes dexterity.
11. Coat. The lower the temp, the puffier and longer it should be, covering at least your butt and the top of your thighs.

This order of operations has you always pulling something over a previous layer, rather than tucking in a subsequent layer, which makes for a smoother line and means you don’t have to double back, for example if you accidentally put boots on before snow pants.

Stay warm. And remember, it’s only six months till spring.

Start Your Engines: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” Readalong

December 1st, 2014

sandman

My friend Jeff K, who leads Twin Cities’ Books and Bars, the folks of Beer + Comix at Wild Rumpus, and I are doing a readalong of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic-book series. (Original post was here.)

(This is in addition to my Odyssey readalong, because I’m a glutton for punishment.)

The original series was 75 issues plus some specials. They’re most commonly collected in 10 graphic novels. Full-price retail is about $20 each though they can be gotten for less at Powells.com and other retailers including your local, independent comic shop. Digital copies are available for $12.99 each at Comixology. Most libraries have the ten volumes as well as some of the other collections (Absolute, Annotated, and Omnibus). They are also fairly easy to find used.

I’ll have weekly posts here at Girl Detective on Mondays, plus both Jeff and I will be tweeting about each week’s issues starting Monday, too.

On Twitter, Jeff is @BooksandBars and I’m @kjboldon. We’ll use the hashtag #SandMN for our discussions.

We’re reading over December 2014 and January 2015. The dark of winter will be a great time to read or re-read this intricate, atmospheric work.

12/1/14 start reading Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes v. 1 (issues 1-8)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/8/14 about Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes v1, #1-8 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/15/14 for Sandman: A Doll’s House v2, #9-16 (8 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 12/22/14 for Sandman: Dream Country v3 #17-20 and Sandman: Season of Mists v4 #21-28 (12 issues)

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/5/15 for Sandman: A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Sandman: Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50, Special #1 (14 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/12/15 for Sandman: Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and Sandman: World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/19/15 for Sandman: The Kindly Ones v9 #57-69 (13 issues)

Blog post and tweets go live on 1/26/15 for Sandman: The Wake v10 #70-75 (6 issues)

Meet up! We’ll meet in person on Monday January 26, 2015 at 6pm at Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis to discuss the series and celebrate.

Are you interested in reading along? Do you have questions, or need advice? Email me at girldetective (at) girldetective (dot) com, or ask in the comments, or tweet at me. I hope you will join in!

Odyssey Readalong!

December 1st, 2014

odyssey-homer-hardcover-cover-art

I know you all have LOTS of time over December, right?

Me too (HA!) so to fill my idle time, I’m doing not one but TWO readalongs! Both will take place over December and January. One is for Neil Gaiman’s comic-book series The Sandman.

The other is Homer’s Odyssey, which I’m reading in preparation for a group readalong of Joyce’s Ulysses in 2015 that will take place from February to Bloomsday June 16, 2015.

I will be posting about the Odyssey chapters as I go, and tweeting about them as well with the hashtag #TCOdyssey. Posts for each new section will go up on Wednesdays.

The Odyssey is divided into 24 sections. I’ll read 3 sections a week, which in one of my translations is between 40-50 pages a week.

I have not committed to a translation yet, but own both the Fitzgerald and Lattimore, and am considering buying the Fagles. Go with whichever edition is easiest for you to lay hands on. Here is the link at Project Gutenberg, which contains the condescending introduction:

rendered into English
prose for the use of
those who cannot
read the original

12/1 or later: start reading Homer’s Odyssey sections 1-3

Blog post and tweets go live 12/10/2014 on sections 1-3
Blog post and tweets go live 12/17/2014 on sections 4-6

break for holidays/catch up

Blog post and tweets go live 1/7/2015 on sections 7-9
Blog post and tweets go live 1/14/2015 on sections 10-12
Blog post and tweets go live 1/21/2015 on sections 13-15
Blog post and tweets go live 1/28/2015 on sections 16-18
Blog post and tweets go live 2/4/2015 on sections 19-21
Blog post and tweets go live 2/11/2015 on sections 22-24
Odyssey done, woo hoo!

Please let me know: does this schedule make sense of what to read for what date? I often thinking I’m being clear and am not. As David and Nigel say:

David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh…

Nigel Tufnel: Clever.

David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever.

Upshot: start reading now, read sections one, two and three by next Wednesday, then visit her where I will write about it, you can comment, and you can also comment on Twitter at #TCUlysses.