Aug 19, 2014

LonCon3 Report

LonCon3 badge
Reader, I made it to a WorldCon!

LonCon3 Report
LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, was happening too close to me this year for me to be able to resist temptation. So last Saturday I got up at an ungodly hour, got on a train to London, and spent the day at the ExCel Convention Centre attending panels where writers and critics I admire discussed various aspects of speculative fiction and fandom, going to readings by some of my favourite authors, and wandering around.

LonCon was the biggest WorldCon to date in terms of number of members, and as expected the ExCel was very busy on Saturday. However, the size of the venue and the smooth running of the con meant it didn’t feel busy: if I was at all worried I had been too harsh on LFCC, my experience at LonCon disabused me of that notion. What a difference it makes to have access to several toilets that remain clean throughout the day; to have enough places to buy food that you don’t have to queue up for 35 minutes for a bad sandwich; to be able to move around without stepping on and/or elbowing people: in short, to be at a busy event that’s actually prepared to handle large crowds.

Also, even though the LonCon programme was overwhelming in the sense that there was just too much good stuff on (often at the same time), once I made my choices and printed out my personalised programme I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I said that YALC was a bit too much for me, but that wasn’t the case here — at least not in the same sense. There were maps and clear signage, plus lots of friendly volunteers ready to answer questions. My main concern was that I’d end up getting lost on my way to something I wanted to see, but I found the space extremely easy to navigate despite its size and I could get to everything I was aiming for without any issues.

I want to tell you about the programme items I attended in detail, but first, a quick virtual tour of LonCon:

London Docks view from ExCel
The view from Level 3.

LonCon crowd

LonCon crowd with tiny light sabre wielder
Tiny light sabre wielder!

LonCon exhibition hall
The exhibitions hall.

Gollancz stand at LonCon
These gorgeous Discworld special editions were 3 for £25; it’s a bit of a miracle that I managed to walk away without any.

LonCon book stands
ALL the books!

I had a brief moment of great excitement when I thought I’d spotted a copy of The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge, an out of print book Memory highly recommends, but alas — it was one of the sequels.

A rather lovely display on writers and their cats.

James Tiptree Jr Award display at LonCon
...and another on the Tiptree Award.

PEN stand at LonCon

LonCon pigeons

LonCon stand selling iron on patches

Cosplayers at LonCon

Bryan Talbot signing at LonCon
Bryan Talbot signing — sadly my copy of The Tale of One Bad Rat was many miles away. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to do any signings, to avoid carrying books all day and because I was going to be running from panel to panel as it was. But actually, both Cory Doctorow and Connie Willis were happy to sign books after their readings, so I could have had my chance easily. Alas.

Tribute to Iain Banks at LonCon
A tribute to Iain Banks.

Art display at LonCon

LonCon replicas of previous Hugo Awards
A Hugo Award! Well, a replica anyway.

Art display at LonCon

Plasticine moulding at LonCon
The arts and crafts zone was pretty awesome.

Pigeons and rockets at LonCon

LonCon Fan village seen from level 1
The Fan Village.

LonCon Fan village seen from level 1

LonCon gaming tent

TARDIS at LonCon fan village

LonCon fan village

Iron Throne at LonCon fan village

LonCon library

Puzzle at LonCon

DISCWORLD HAT! This was the second coolest thing I saw all day: the coolest was the absolutely perfect Kaonashi (from Spirited Away) cosplayer who wandered into a hallway I was in in absolute silence and then wandered out again just as quietly. I was a bit too stunned to remember to take a picture, but I think that for a moment we all felt like we were in a Miyazaki film.

LonCon 16th August readings schedule
As I said earlier, I made it to a few readings: Cory Doctorow’s, Kari Sperring’ and Connie Willis’. Doctorow treated a packed room to an excerpt from an upcoming novel called Utopia, which is actually a dystopia and “a sort of prequel” to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. He was an engaging speaker and reader, and the bit he read was funny and warm and full of the political themes that draw me to his work. I can’t wait for the book to come out.

Kari Sperring (who I admire so much and really wish I had been brave enough to say hi to) also read from a work in progress: I missed the introduction, as I had to run down from a panel on level 3, but by the sound of it it’s a work set in the same world as The Grass King’s Concubine. The piece she read us was wonderfully written and deeply concerned with women and power, which is more than enough reason to get this book as soon as it comes out. It was also amazing and raw and the kind of thing you almost flinch to see read aloud in public, because it’s still so rarely voiced — only of course we should speak of it in public, because the whole problem is that we don’t.

(My LonCon book was Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, and it was interesting how many points of contact there were between what I was reading during downtime and what I was hearing and encountering at the things I chose to attend.)

Cory Doctorow reading at LonCon
Cory Doctorow!

Connie Willis at LonCon
...and Connie Willis!

Connie Willis’ reading ended up becoming an impromptu mini-talk, as she thought it would be more fun to tell is a bit about what she’s writing at the moment and answer audience questions (and it was indeed a lot of fun, so no complaints). Willis said she’s working on a novel (currently called The Very Thought of You but likely to change) whose premise is the following: there’s a new procedure you and your significant other can have, a sort of “outpatient brain surgery”, that makes you perfectly attuned to each other’s emotions. You become not exactly telepathic, but empathic: you can pick up each other’s moods and etc with perfect accuracy, and it’s supposed to solve communication problems once and for all. The surgery only works is people are really emotionally invested in each other, though, so couples have begun to use it as a kind of “technological equivalent to a pre-nuptial”.

Of course, in reality this is a terrible idea (Willis said she believes that having the right to private thoughts and feelings is crucial, even within the context of intimate relationships, which YES) — the first thing that goes wrong is that the protagonist, who is talked into the surgery by her partner, becomes fully telepathic rather than just empathic, and it all goes downhill from there. Willis said the novel is actually a romantic comedy (which she called her favourite genre), and I absolutely can’t wait to see what she does with this premise.

So yay: three readings/author events, three books I’m ridiculously excited to get my hands on. Last but not least, there were the panels I attended. I took a lot of notes, though as always they are very much partial and filtered through my brain, which means I unintentionally zoom in on my specific areas of interest and on some panellists more than others. Hopefully I’ll still be able to give you an idea of what they were like.

LonCon London Suite 1 Schedule
Sense of Wonder in Children’s SF with Farah Mendlesohn, KV Johansen, Ian McDonald, Jo Fletcher and Ben Jeapes: My first panel of the day asked the question, “what is this ‘sense of wonder’ within literature and how does it continue to ‘blow the minds’ of young readers? What are the most spectacular feats of worldbuilding in the YA canon?” Ian McDonald started the conversation by saying that to him, a sense of wonder is linked with encountering a world that “feels both familiar and completely far removed”: you half believe in it, but you know it can’t be reached.

To KV Johansen, wonder comes not so much from familiarity but from otherness. And for a child reader, there will be many things that will be “other” simply because their experience of the world is more limited and they could be encountering whatever is included in a story for the first time. It could happen with historical fiction, for example, because the past is different and new. Fantasy elements can of course bring about this sense of wonder, but it can also happen with quite ordinary things.

Jo Fletcher associates wonder with yearning, but unlike McDonald she believes this yearning is for something that seems to be just around the corner, rather than for something completely far removed. It doesn’t feel unattainable, and that’s what fuels the wonder.

Lastly, Farah Mendlesohn said that a sense of wonder and a half-belief in fantastical worlds was never what got her into SFF. Part of it, she said, probably has to do with being more the “geeky science fiction type” who wanted to take engineering classes and figure out how everything works. She also talked about how she spent her childhood reading books full of children doing things she wasn’t physically capable of doing due to illness, and that was more of a factor than wonder in what drew her to stories.

Jo Fletcher brought up the fact that children have a far less firm awareness of genre than adult readers do. They haven’t necessarily decided that they don’t like certain things, and that makes them more willing to embrace different types of stories. Genre categories help people decide where to shelve books, but young readers don’t necessary draw a distinction (which brings us back to what Johansen said previously about wonder not being exclusive to SFF).

Moving on to the “spectacular feats of worldbuilding” bit of the panel (aka the “I need to read ALL the things” bit), KV Johansen brought up Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master Trilogy. She also mentioned Philip Reeve’s Larklight, which she said is “full of wonder and comedy” and which her 8-year-old nephew loves. Both Fletcher and Mendlesohn brought up Diana Wynne Jones — especially, Mendlesohn said, the second Dalemark book, which “tears apart every trope about revolutions in a society”. It’s also set in an industrial fantasy world, and was written a good twenty years before we started seeing more of those. Here Johansen intervened to say that Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark books do something similar (I have no idea why I haven’t read those yet).

Returning to Diana Wynne Jones, Farah Mendlesohn said it’s no coincidence that she was part of the first generation of writers directly influenced by Tolkien: she figured out how he did what he did, and then she did it better. Then just as time was running out, Mendlesohn asked her fellow panellists to conclude with the names of their favourite YA worldbuilders: they mentioned Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones and Frances Hardinge. I can’t think of a better list to finish with.

The Review is Political with Kevin McVeigh, Abigail Nussbaum, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Elías Combarro and Alisa Krasnostein at LonCon
The Review is Political with Kevin McVeigh, Abigail Nussbaum, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Elías Combarro and Alisa Krasnostein: This panel began with the establishing of a few premises that all panellists agreed on: no reviewing choices are neutral, though some are the default, and choosing to review (or not review) something is a political act.

Nussbaum said that as an editor, she keeps an eye on the number of women Strange Horizons reviews, on the number of women reviewers they work with, and also on who to assign a specific review to. She knows that each of her reviewers will have a different focus that will make them highlight different aspects of a book, and that in itself is a political decision.

Tansy Rayner Roberts mentioned the very successful Australian Women Writers Challenge, and how participants increasingly realised that even simply keeping an eye on your reading stats can make you aware of their political implications. This has been my experience too: ever since I switched to an Excel spreadsheet that makes me aware of the diversity of my reading as I enter data throughout the year (rather than just calculating my stats come December), the fact that my reading is still less racially diverse than I’d like has been on my mind more, and that has driven me to action far more than only thinking about it at the end of the year would.

Alisa Krasnostein said that creating Galactic Suburbia, a podcast where three women discuss SFF from a feminist perspective, was a political act: they were creating a space where they got to be heard. This made me happy because it’s not at all different from the logic behind the creation of Lady Business.

Kevin McVeigh reminded us that a lot of the time these conversations are still hindered by the belief that men are “just not interested” in reading books by women, and that this disinterest is seen as politically neutral (which YES: see everything I was saying about Joanna Russ last week). Tansy Rayner Roberts added that part of it is down to the fact that people still believe the world is a meritocracy: that the “best” books are the ones rising to the top and getting the most coverage, and therefore making an effort to promote more obscure diverse authors will mean compromising quality.

The panellists agreed that the political choices you make as a reviewer go beyond gender, of course: they also involve race, sexuality, disability, country of publication, etc. Elías Combarro said he makes an effort to review more obscure books because what could you possibly have to say about a work like Game of Thrones that is new? Abigail Nussbaum offered a counterpoint to this: although there is value in seeking out works that are getting less coverage, it’s also interesting to see different perspectives on popular things, because different reviewers never highlight the exact same aspects.

Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts agreed that your political perspective is not really something you can switch off, and this is not at all a negative thing. You don’t get to take a break from being a woman, or a POC, or lgbtq; you can’t unsee things or step away from a perspective that’s informed by how you experience the world. But bringing your experience into your criticism makes it more exciting: who would want to read a review written by a robot anyway? To Tansy Rayner Roberts, deciding which reviewers you read also has political implications. Who do you listen to? Who do you take seriously and why? What is it about their perspective you value?

Rayner Roberts and Nussbaum also highlighted the value of engaging with flawed media that nevertheless drives you to talk about. Nussbaum said she spent a lot of time a few years ago writing about Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse, two series that were full of problems but also of meaty stuff that she wanted to discuss (having recently finished Dollhouse myself, all I can say is YES. It infuriated me and there were things I was incredibly interested in and I’m dying to write about it).

There was a question from the audience about what each of the panellists’ political focus was and whether it was always the same: Nussbaum said this is something she’s been thinking about more and more and that has become a concern of hers. She said she’s a woman and hers is a primarily feminist focus, but there’s a danger that she’ll end up writing reviews that are a checklist of representational problems and issues she cares about. At the same time, though, these issues are important and merit discussion. She’s been trying to strike a balance between her own personal filters and reading the book as it was written. McVeigh added that no review can include all possible focuses (or even all the ones you care about, I’d say), so the important thing is to be aware of which one you’re picking and how you’re framing your review.

Feminism and Sexism in Fandom with Megan Waples, Katherine Jay, Kristina Knaving, Kate Keen abd Kate Nepveu at Loncon
Feminism and Sexism in Fandom with Megan Waples, Katherine Jay, Kristina Knaving, Kate Keen and Kate Nepveu: Before I write about this panel I need to make a disclaimer. I arrived a few minutes late because it was back to back with Cory Doctorow’s reading, and because I grabbed one of the few remaining seats at the back I couldn’t read the panellists’ name tags. This means I can’t attribute comments to the people who made them, which makes me feel terrible. But rather than not report at all on what was a very interesting panel, I thought I’d go for a bullet points approach and just highlight some of what was covered.

  • When I arrived someone was saying that the focus of the panel was sexism and feminism in fan spaces, rather than in the media we consume.

  • A different panellist then shared an experience a friend had had at LonCon a few hours before: a man had randomly approached her and said, “That’s a nice dress. Shame it doesn’t come in your size.” This got me thinking of something milder that had nevertheless upset me earlier: the fact that I was asked no less than three times if I liked SFF while browsing books in the dealer’s room. One of the times the bookseller in question actually said, “Oooh, here’s a pretty girl! Do you like science fiction?”, which feels creepy no matter how it’s meant. But even if you leave that out, there’s the fact that “Do you like SFF?” is actually a very loaded thing to ask a woman at a SFF convention. Knowing it’s probably meant to be the beginning of a sales pitch, a way in to lead to purchase suggestions, doesn’t erase the fact that we live in a world where women are constantly exposed to different incarnations of the “Fake Geek Girl” meme.

  • What the panellists were getting at, and what my experience drove home, is that fan spaces are still not always comfortable for female fans, no matter how many strides we’ve made. And as someone pointed out, while it’s important not to be pushed out of spaces you want to be in, women also have the right to choose to spend their time in spaces that already feel safe.

  • The movie crowd scene stats Geena Davis has uncovered were also brought up: on average, crowd scenes in movies only show about 17% women, which probably contributes to the belief that spaces that approach equality are actually “female dominated”.

  • It can be frustrating, someone said, to feel that conversations about gender in SFF fandom are constantly starting from scratch, but it’s important but remember people are at different points in the conversation and this doesn’t mean there’s been no progress. It can be tiresome to feel you’re constantly going back to 101, but when that happens you have to know it’s okay to take a break and walk away. You’re not alone and you can pass the torch; someone else can move the conversation forward on that particular occasion (again: yes).

  • One of the panellists mentioned the constant belittling of fanwork, which is mainly created by women: according to a recent A03 census, only 4% of respondents were male. The self-selected sample that answered the census does not equal the totality of male fanfiction writers, of course, but the fact remains that these are primarily female spaces, and this fact and the derision often directed at them are not unconnected.

  • Another panellist then discussed the culture clash she experienced when she moved from media fandom to mainstream SFF, where it’s male voices that are valued above all others. None of this is to say, of course, than fanwork spaces are perfect: she also said that “Mary Sue” accusations are still thrown at fanfiction focused on female characters, when equivalent stories focused on men are widely beloved. She also noticed that although female-focused stories tend to get great feedback from vocal fans, they get fewer views and are shared less widely than stories about male characters. In conclusion, it’s practically impossible not to internalise some degree of misogyny when you grow up in this world, and even predominantly female spaces do have their issues.

  • One panellist offered a theory: she suspects that the pushback against feminism is becoming more visible because we’re on the cusp of a chance. She said she wants to believe this, and I do, too. Everyone agreed that at the very least now we openly discuss things that used to be silenced, and bit by bit the status quo is becoming less consensual. There’s hope to be found in that.

  • One last thing: this panel was completely packed, which was great to see. I had to miss the Q&A bit, so here’s hoping that no one in the room was there to argue that sexism is over.

    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett

    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett
    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett: My final panel began with a brief discussion of what education is in the context of SFF: for Gail Carriger, education is to a great extent indoctrination into the wider culture. You learn to socialise and become part of the herd. In her Finishing School series, she wrote about girls who are trained to subvert the dominant culture under the guise of being taught how to fit into it. She likes to play with the very notion of education, and that was part of what motivated her series.

    Frances Hardinge said that the way education is portrayed in fiction is more benign in some stories than others. It’s benign in the ones where the emphasis is on teaching the young protagonist how to think, and less so when it’s on teaching them what to think. There’s often an unpicking point in YA narratives where the protagonist realises that there are gaps in what they’re being taught. She also said she’s extremely interested in deprivation from education as a form of disempowerment, and in writing narratives (like Fly By Night) where seeking out education therefore becomes a form of subversion.

    Gail Carriger added that realising the fallibility of the instructor is often a crucial part of the process of education, while Zen Cho said the conversation thus far made her think of Discworld: Pratchett presents a system of high learning for wizards that exists alongside the unofficial passing on of knowledge of the excluded witches. One is prestigious but abstract; the other is low in status but “deeply involved in the stuff that really matters”. The dichotomy is of course deeply gendered, and the books explore that. (I need to reread Equal Rites.)

    Frances Hardinge then brought up the completion of one’s education, whether by orthodox means or not. She said the Harry Potter books transition from MG to YA as Harry and his friends learn more and more about the world, and that to her it made perfect sense that they don’t go back to Hogwarts in the final book. By then they know more than what a formal school setting can accommodate. This is visible in Garth Nix’s Sabriel too: the protagonist leaves school in chapter two, and when she comes back at the end there’s a deep contrast between what she learned fighting the darkness and the “frail and ordinary reality” or what at first seemed like an exciting magical school.

    To Hardinge, part of the appeal of boarding school stories is that they’re safe, but not too safe. They’re fantasies of freedom from parental supervision, because even when the school functions as a parental replacement of sorts it doesn’t command the loyalty that usually comes with family ties. You can choose your own friends and enemies, and eventually breaking the rules becomes an inevitability.

    Gail Carriger then said something that I just loved, and that made me want to get her Finishing School series immediately: she said she likes school settings because she likes to write “vastly networked protagonists”. She very much doesn’t want to write Hero’s Journey type narratives, where it’s a single person against the world, and school settings give her protagonists the chance to make lots of friends who then become allies and sources of support. She’s very much invested in writing stories that portray this as a good thing.

    Wow, that is a lot of works. My sincere thanks to anyone who read this far, and I hope you enjoyed the recap and virtual tour.
  • Read More......

    Aug 14, 2014

    Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes

    Burning Girls illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso

    Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes
    I’m over at Lady Business again today, this time with a discussion of Veronica Schanoes’ Shirley Jackson Award winning novella “Burning Girls”. I fell in love with Schanoes’ writing almost a decade ago, when I came across her short story “How to Bring Someone Back From the Dead” at the now defunct Endicott Studio, so of course that when published “Burning Girls” I was all over it.

    “Burning Girls”, which is also gorgeously written, combines history, fairy tales, Jewish myth and magic, feminism, and the lives of early twentieth-century immigrant women in America in one heart-destroying novella. My discussion with Jodie does have spoilers, so I’d recommend that you read the story first — which couldn’t be easier, as it’s still available for free online.

    Read More......

    Aug 12, 2014

    How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

    How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

    How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ
    Today I’m over at Lady Business with a post about How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ. The short of it is that I loved it and found the patterns Russ identifies dismayingly recognisable, even if some of the details have changed. Also, now I really want to read Villette. For more details, just follow the link.

    Read More......

    Aug 11, 2014

    Landline by Rainbow Rowell

    Landline by Rainbow Rowell

    Landline by Rainbow RowellLandline’s protagonist, Georgie McCool, has been married to Neal for fifteen years. The two still love each other deeply, but their relationship has been going through a rough patch. It’s nearly Christmas, and they have plans to go to Neal’s parents’ home in Omaha, Nebraska for the holidays. However, just before they’re due to depart, Georgie gets the professional opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to run her own sitcom, if only she and her writing partners can finish and deliver an impressive pilot in the next few days.

    Making this happen means Georgie has to say in LA, and Neal goes to Nebraska with their two young daughters. Spending the holidays apart due to circumstances doesn’t mean their marriage is doomed, but as time goes by and Neal doesn’t answer or return her calls, Georgie grows anxious. One evening, Georgie finally gets through to Neal. She’s calling him from the old rotary phone in her room at her mother’s house, and it soon becomes evident that she’s not speaking to present-day Neal but to Neal fifteen years before — Neal from the Christmas holiday when he proposed to her. This link to the past seems like a chance for Georgie to fix her marriage before it goes wrong, but what does “going wrong” mean, exactly? And if given another chance, should Georgie make the same choices that led her to the present day? Is her marriage to Neal worth it, or would they have been better off apart?

    Rainbow Rowell’s Landline goes on not so much to answer these questions but to interrogate the premises they are based on. This novel is more Attachments than Eleanor & Park or Fangirl, which is absolutely fine by me: it has everything I loved about Attachments (the characters you ache for, the smart and thoughtful and gorgeous writing about love and intimacy, the warmth and the touches of humour) minus the premise I can’t get over. The premise of this one — a magical telephone connected to the past — is one I’ll very happily embrace, because hey, awesome stories! They’re allowed anything.

    Reading Landline made me feel like someone had taken most of the items on my romance wishlist, wrapped them up in bright shiny paper, added a pretty bow, and handed this novel to me as a gift. This is a story that deals with the everyday reality of long-term intimacy rather than with the first flash of connection and the excitement of falling in love. As I keep saying, it’s not that I’m not interested in the latter; it’s just that I crave more stories about the former. Love doesn’t become a non-event when it’s no longer new, and I love finding fiction that acknowledges that.

    Georgie and Neal’s relationship subverts traditional gender roles in the sense that she’s the one with the demanding and time-consuming career that has to be juggled with family time, whereas he’s a stay-at-home dad who craves Georgie’s time and attention. This flip and the way it was taken for granted were very interesting to me; yet on the other hand I know that as personal as they are, Georgie and Neal’s arrangements do have some wider implications. Because they deviate from what’s expected, they put a kind of pressure on Georgie that is unlike what a man would experience in her place. Our world still perceives (and treats) a woman who’s more absent than she’d like because of work very differently than a man in the exact same circumstances, and this is the sort of thing that tends to get inside people’s heads.

    There’s a whole story that could be told around this, but that story is not Landline. Landline leaves the social angle aside, and while I can understand how this might disappoint some readers (it wasn’t so long ago, after all, that I was talking about how something that touches on the same sort of issue of personal vs social focus was a deal-breaker in a different story), the intensely personal focus nevertheless worked for me in this case. This is a story about how a couple negotiates life’s demands, rather than a story about the pressures put on women with careers; as before, I want the latter, but I want the former too. Of course, the distinction is to a large degree illusory, as one will inevitably impact the other, but I’m more than willing to embrace Landline for what it is, because what it is proved so immensely satisfying.

    Rainbow Rowell’s exploration of married love is just so affectionate and lovely. Georgie is in love with Neal, and that love permeates everything. There are problems, yes, but there’s also a lot of warmth, and the end result is a perfect illustration of how (I love Kristin Cashore’s wording so much that I’m going to borrow it at every opportunity) “every configuration of people is an entirely new universe unto itself”. Fifteen years later, Georgie and Neal are still working out the rules of their universe — this is, after all, a project for a lifetime.

    I love how much attention Landline gives to the process of making your life fit with another person’s; of choosing to make things works day after day. I love how it focuses on the different undercurrents that always exist in an intimate relationship, and on how you work through the bad not to get to the good, but because the good is always there alongside it and makes it worth pulling through.

    One thing I would have liked to see is a more detailed unpacking of Neal’s jealousy of Georgie’s best friend Seth. The two do talk about it, and it’s not like Neal tells Georgie “you can’t be best friends with a man” or any such nonsense, but I still wanted more because this is something I’m infinitely interested in. How do you strike a balance between sensitivity to someone feelings and care with the things that might make them feel insecure and the establishment of boundaries that safeguard your own well-being and freedom of movements? How did Georgie make sure that her knowledge of Neal’s insecurity didn’t poison her every interaction with Seth, a person who’s also hugely important in her life? Each couple negotiates these things differently, and I could easily have read a whole novel about that.

    Still, Landline is for the most part the exact kind of romance I like, and Rainbow Rowell’s usual strong writing and characterisation really make it stand out. Also, there’s a Fangirl cameo! Don’t you want to read it for that alone?

    Bits I loved:
    “Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen—because you love each other.”
    “But…” Georgie stopped herself. She didn’t want to talk Neal out of this, even if he was wrong. Even if she was the only one who knew how wrong he was.
    He sounded exasperated. “I’m not saying that everything will magically work out if people love each other enough…”
    If we love each other enough, Georgie heard.
    “I’m just saying,” he went on, “maybe there’s no such thing as enough.”

    You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
    She didn’t know that at twenty-three.

    Georgie couldn’t change the past—she could only talk at it. If Georgie had a proper time machine, maybe she could actually fix her marriage. She could go back to the moment that everything started to go bad, and change course.
    There hadn’t really been a moment like that.
    Things didn’t go bad between Georgie and Neal. Things were always bad—and always good. Their marriage was like a set of scales constantly balancing itself. And then, at some point, when neither of them was paying attention, they’d tipped so far into bad, they’d settled there. Now only an enormous amount of good would shift them back. An impossible amount of good.
    They read it too: Capricious Reader


    Read More......

    Aug 6, 2014

    Brighton, Eastbourne and Beachy Head

    Brighton, Eastbourne and Beachy Head

    Beachy Head

    Usually I like to give my picture posts a bookish angle if possible, but my only excuse for this one is that this blog occasionally moonlights as a travel blog. I went to Brighton and Eastbourne last weekend, and it did me a world of good to see that no matter what great or small anguishes I find myself immersed in, there’s the sun and the sky and the sea, and I’m still capable of enjoying just being in the world.

    I haven’t read Brighton Rock (I should, shouldn’t I? Should I?) and I didn’t make it to any cool bookshops on this trip, so the only bookish thing I have to share is my visit to the very impressive Jubilee Library, whose children’s area gave me serious library envy. Remember everything that frustrated me about the new Manchester Central Library? Well, Brighton gets it 100% right.

    Brighton Jubilee Library
    Read More

    Read More......