Monthly Archives: November 2010

On Writing, Unhinged, The Fellowship of the Ring, Crazy Like Us

I haven’t been reading as much this month due to NaNoWriMo, but I have finally finished another stack. Woo!

Stephen King, On Writing
I reread this in the leadup to NaNoWriMo, hoping to be inspired, since I couldn’t get ahold of the NaNo book in time. Alas, I seemed to like this book much more the last time I read it. Possibly because I’ve discovered the problems with seat-of-the-pants writing, namely that it leads to long, convoluted drafts with lots of confusion. (Like, say, recent Stephen King novels.) Oh, well.

Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged
Carlat is a psychiatrist, writing about the problems with psychiatry as a field — namely that it’s extremely vulnerable to manipulation by pharmaceutical companies, largely because it’s the field of medicine with the least tangible research to back it up with, so anybody who suggests that they have a Real Medical Solution to a problem, as opposed to just talking about feelings and stuff.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In fact I read this out loud to my roommate, who had never read Lord of the Rings before, in order to expand her cultural education. And then, two chapters into The Two Towers, it turns out she’s never read The Hobbit either. So now we’re back in Thranduil’s palace, and soon we shall get caught up again.

Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us
I wanted this book to be so much longer, but alas it was only three substantial case studies. Excellent case studies, though. Watters is examining the principles of cross-cultural psychology: the fact that, no matter what Western psychiatry may think, all human psychologies are not the same. He discusses the spread of Western-style anorexia in Hong Kong, the dangers of PTSD counseling in Indonesia, and the marketing of depression in Japan in the 1990s. Note 11/24/10 – the author dropped by to remind me that I’m forgetting the fourth case study, on schizophrenia in Zanzibar. end edit If this book had any flaws, it was in a certain amount of essentializing the cultures he discussed. He tends to talk about Western culture as though there’s a consensus about what mental illness is and how it should be treated, which isn’t true (as anyone living with a mental illness in Western culture can tell you), so I’d probably take any other broad statements about cultural attitudes with a grain of salt, too. But the discussion of how mental illnesses come into and out of existence was fascinating, and extremely thought-provoking.

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30 Days of Books: Day Eighteen

Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book

I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which require a lot of explanation before the action gets going (“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” requires something before the drama, certainly), or if it’s because I’m grabbed by the language of a book first and therefore don’t remember the imagery of the scenes until I sink into it a bit, but I can’t recall the first scenes of…well, anything.

Except for the opening of The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust. And while it’s partly the language that makes it memorable, it is indeed the scene I remember, and so it totally counts.

The Phoenix Guards opens with a young man out to seek his fortune, who has been traveling for several days, stopping at an inn, whereupon he is enlisted to assist in the preparations for a duel…

Yes, The Phoenix Guards is The Three Musketeers in a fantasy setting. And its sequel, Five Hundred Years Later, is Twenty Years After in a fantasy setting. And the three-volume end of the series, The Viscount of Adrilankha, is…yes, you get the point. Steven Brust did the whole bloody d’Artagnan Romances as a fantasy series. And it’s awesome.

If you’re intrigued, I actually recommend starting with the almost-entirely-unrelated Taltos, or perhaps Dragon or Jhereg. They’re set in the same universe, but significantly later than the Khaavren Romances, and give you a very different perspective on the world, one that can be valuable when Paarfi of Roundwood (the fictional author of the Khaavren Romances, which Steven Brust is translating for his English-speaking audience) gets into his third consecutive page of court manners. Also, there is nothing like knowing what they’re talking about when, halfway through The Phoenix Guards, Khaavren announces, “It’s okay! We’ll just take everyone to Adron e’Kieron’s place.”

30 Days of Books: Day Seventeen

Remember what I was saying about regular posting schedule? Ahaha. haha. ha. Yes, NaNoWriMo is still eating all my spare writing cycles. No, I will not tell you how behind I am. Not until November 30th, anyway. In the meantime, have some words about a book I don’t have time to read.

Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.) 

Burning Your Boats, the omnibus collection of Angela Carter’s short work, now unfortunately out of print. I was introduced to Angela Carter in college by my previously mentioned favorite English professor, Lisa Haines-Wright. I’ve tried Angela Carter’s novels, and wow, are they out there. I mean, I’m sure they’re Great Feminist Literature, but they are possibly just a little too Great for me. I don’t get them. Her short stories, though, are glorious.

One of my favorites is “The Fall River Axe Murders,” about Lizzie Borden and her life up to the day that made her famous. By the end of that story, she’s got you thinking, “Yeah, I’d murder my dad with an axe, too.” Another one I adore is “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” which she is supposed to have written because someone once argued that the only thing that a story needs is for something to happen, and Carter thought that putting that kind of restriction on something as versatile as a story was ridiculous. Nothing actually happens in “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” but it’ll stick with you forever all the same.

And, of course, this collection is chock-full of Carter’s famous fairy tale retellings. She makes these stories gruesome and enthralling, and what’s interesting is that many of them don’t need to be made feminist, they just needed to be tweaked a little to let Carter’s brand of feminism shine through. They’re wonderful, and I adore them.

I recently found a copy of this out-of-print volume at my local used book store. O, frabjous day! I recommend scrounging a copy from anywhere you can find one; it’s marvelous.

Wait, where did she go?

So I was sitting there at work yesterday (I work doing customer service in a call center to pay the bills while I wait for a library to acknowledge my undying awesome), making notes to myself in between answering people’s warranty questions about what I needed to get done. Got to clean the bathroom before guests come this weekend, dig my winter sweaters out of the closet, finish running updates on my computer, write a blog post —

Oh, crap. I have a blog.

In my defense, I’ve been doing a ton of writing, just not blog-post writing: I signed up for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, the exercise in creative masochism where you attempt to write a 50,000 word novella in 30 days. (You’ll forgive me for not linking to my author page; I first did NaNo in 2006, before I had any idea of having a professional blog, and it’s using the old username I’d rather not have linked to this identity.) I got myself caught up on Sunday afternoon, when I scrapped my first attempt at a novel and started over with a kind of dieselpunk fantasy buildingsroman.

Anyway, we will now return you to your regular posting schedule.

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