Sunday, January 10, 2021

“As if the whole weight of sin had suddenly fallen upon the world”

My brain insists it was a Faust story. There were three plot threads all happening in the same university: a group of students was making a film (bullying and other violent acts were increasing overall in the university), a troubled relationship between a guy and a girl, some (male?) students had noticed a guy who was VERY  weird. He could quote really OLD, classic texts but was totally unfamiliar with basic pop culture things. He seemed not to know how to human. He was Satan in disguise. 

He also strongly insinuated himself into friendship with the guy in the love story and was a total wingman for him. Trying to get him and the girl together. She was a troubled person I think, the violence I mentioned touched her I think because a boyfriend ended up hitting her? The violence in campus increasing (along with other ugly acts) was a side-effect of  Satan hanging around. 

The climax was a bit muddled but my main takeaway was that Lucifer had come to earth because another demon was here running around loose. He was either unconsciously influencing the dude in the love subplot OR was actually him (he had forgotten he was a demon?) and Satan accused him of using his powers to seduce the lady. He was a Faust-Mephistopheles all put together. And that was all fun and games but he needed to set out the rules of the contract. That is how things were done. That is FAIR. 

There was a wonderful scene where Lucifer in all his formerly angelic glory landed before this prodigal demon and exposed him. I think having come to earth was part of a coup? Something like that. Lucifer, very kindly, said to the girl: “You are with him and think that you have never felt like this before, sex has never been as good with anyone else as with him, you have never been this in love? It is because of what he is.” 

This is where the Faust theme becomes muddled. Lucifer forces the demon to give the girl a contract, like the one Faust had. But I am not sure if the girl was getting the contract or it was actually the guy getting the contract, because he and the demon were not in fact the same person. The plot twist was that HE was not getting the contract it was her. I think Lucifer razed the place. Or something happened and SHE died. But there was a scene with her dead where Lucifer asked her a variation of the Faust thing “Was it worth it?” And she smiled and said yes. In spite everything she had loved the guy. In spite of everything she had been very happy. Lucifer smile and let her go, Thank you, he said, thank you for that.

It might be because of reading His Dark Materials lately but the whole theme of the dream seemed to be that Lucifer was just enjoying vicariously experiencing humanity through the humans. I've thought about it, and it must have been so lonely and frustrating to not be able to inhabit the earth for too long, lest you cause the worst impulses in humanity to flourish. You love them but can never be among them for too long.

I woke up thinking I have GOT to read The Master and Margarita and a friend suggested watching Lucifer on Netflix too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Review: The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On December 24, I started The Amber Spyglass like I did its predecessors, as I would read any other fantasy book. I enjoyed it, like I enjoyed the other two, wondering at the differences it had from all other fantasy books I've read, so many written by people of faith.

On December 25 my grandmother died of covid-19, in the hopistal, alone and away from all the people who loved her and needed her.

Then Lyra and Will arrived to the Land of the Dead.

I have no idea how to begin to explain how little by little, between the 25th and 30th of this month, these two things, the death of my grandmother and The Amber Spyglass came into my mind, into my soul, and left me cold, shivering, alone and terrified, but in awe of the simple beauty we, human beings, create with our ordinary lives.

During the last nine or so years, from 2011 maybe to the present day, I've struggled with a growing understanding of my fear of death. That no matter how kindly he's portrayed in fiction or how comforting I've tried to be to myself about him, how much I try to remember that death is immaterial, that what matters is, as Philip Pullman said, what we do here, that we build the Republic of Heaven here, where we are, heedless of other worlds and other states of being that have very little to do with our present, brief, messy and wonderful lives... I still fear the end, the finality of it, the loss of consciousness, of everything that makes me who I am.

I read somewhere that Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials as a response to the Narnia books. That if the Narnia books were to end in a death that brought Heaven, a death that revealed the truth of the shadows in Plato's cave, a death that loved the spirit more than it loved matter, his books would end in the triumph of matter, in the beauty and pleasure of the material world and our material lives. If there is no God then it doesn't matter because what we do while we live is purpose enough. If upon death we scatter into a million atoms, in a stream of stardust, the only consolation we should need is the thought that we are to go back into the world, to make more beauty and more meaning, regardless of conscioussness. Oblivion is bliss, because we don't need the spirit to connect with the universe and all the matter in it. We are the stuff of creation and we don't need a God to make us cosmic.

I don't know if I believe either Pullman or Lewis. But I know that reading Pullman today I can't stop crying for the poor, crude matter we are made of, the artless brevity of our lives, the loss of consciousness and being, the loss of the perfect individual creature that my grandmother was.

When they are contemplating their separation, Will says to Lyra "memory’s a poor thing to have. It’s your own real hair and mouth and arms and eyes and hands I want." In the end, the real matters, the physical reality of our daily experience, MATTERS.

I wasn't ready for my grandmother to pass away. I don't think any of us were. I take comfort in the fact that she was always strong and aware, never senile or dependent. At the same time, I feel a deep, resentful rage at myself that I let it lull me into a sense of security, an illusion that she still had many years before her. Because memory is a poor thing, but now all I have is memory. I remember her cooking. My maternal grandmother took longer to die. It was a slow goodbye. She went gentle into that good night and I had time, precious time, to ask for all her cherished recipes, so that I could have her with me always, in all her physical materiality.

But now, if the material is all we have, if memory and spirit and the Land of the Dead are all a poor substitute for what is real and physical, what am I to do Mr. Pullman, now that I've been left to stumble? She is gone, into a million atoms, into the stuff of creation and I forgot to ask her how to make cream of beet, its brilliant purple color so magical to me when I was a girl, clotted cream cookies that I remember making with leftovers, with my cousins when I was little more than a baby, chiles en nogada, that she made with goat cheese and in her splendor, in the endless generosity of the Flores family, she fed to the first real boyfriend I ever brought home.

What to do now that all I have are memories, so poor and pitiful, in comparison to the real human being? Am I to tell stories of her? True stories?

These books are written for children, and I started reading them when I was, perhaps not a child, but certainly not an adult. On December 25 the last of my childhood died in a hospital bed, where we could not say goodbye. Today I finish His Dark Materials, all grown-up, unable to tell what lies ahead for me, or how to build the Republic of Heaven here. The material matters, and my cousins and uncles and father are far from my arms. I cannot hold them or comfort them or kiss them, but I can take care of them, because our lives here matter, what we do matters.

Take care of each other. Be glad that you are alive. 

Olimpia Ortiz Brugada

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Review: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in high school when I first read this book and remember it much more clearly than the Subtle Knife, which I am also rereading. I never finished the trilogy and I thought it was a good chance to do so.

I remember loving it and being riveted by it and thinking it excellent fantasy. Looking at it from an adult perspective all of that remains true, but I think I can be a bit more critical of its flaws.

In this first book Pullman still depends a lot on the infodump. Instead of finding out about Lyra's parents organically throughout the story, we just get a huge infodump from the Gyptians (another problematic element I only picked up on in this second reading). I don't think my young self had the presence of mind to notice this back in the day, all I remember is being very excited, so they don't really slow the narrative down a whole lot.

I don't think I will ever not love the concept of the armored bears or the daemons. I am still very much in love with Lord Asriel, while being abhorred by his actions in the book. This second time, just as the first one, I couldn't put the book down.

And I remain firmly in love with Lyra as a fantasy protagonist; she is proactive in ways girls in traditional fantay often aren't while still being very believable. I am tired of the performative feminism some fantasy female leads exhibit, where they have to be perfect and fighters and edgy and in many ways become the worst wish-fullfilment MASCULINE ideal in order to be considered A Strong Female Character. I loved Lyra because sometimes you forget she is only a little girl, very alone in the world, she seems so confident and daring... and then reality will come crashing down and grownups can overpower her easily. She is never any less amazing or admirable because she is vulnerable. She lies and she is good at lying. She is bold and sometimes that saves her and sometimes that condemns her.

In short, she is an indiviual and not an ideal and I believe her triumphs because they are achieved in a way only Lyra could. I've already started with the Subtle Knife and I can see how different Will is, how he too is an indivual and how they complement each other. I'm looking forward to finally finishing this trilogy!

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Review: Hogfather

Hogfather Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A part of me felt that it had been reading this book for a long time. All other Pratchett novels I've read (and loved) have been telling a very similar tale... about humanity, about love, about our need for fantasy and stories.

Pratchett was always brilliant, but as someone who generally read his later stuff first I firmly believe that he got more and more brilliant as he matured as a writer. This isn't always the case with authors, as they get famous, respectable and sometimes revere, there's sometimes a feeling that their editors aren't quite so harsh with them, don't quite dare to cut out what needs cutting.

But Pratchett just kept growing as an author.

I'd watched the TV movie. I'd read other Death books. I loved them so much that I must admit I was half afraid that the real deal wouldn't be quite as good as later adaptations had made it.

It was better.

It almost feels like this is the book where he lays it all out, his thesis statement. This is what my books are about. This is why I choose to write fantasy. This is why it MATTERS. And all the rest of the beautiful, wonderful books I've read expound upon it, examine it, break it down and build it back up.

Stories are important. Be careful what stories you write.

Moist von Lipwig. Tiffany Aching. Polly Perks. All the later characters I loved, before knowing if I loved the Big Names like Granny Weatherwax, Rincewind, Sam Vimes, work upon what Hogfather laid down: that stories and belief in stories make us human, that the tales we well, about justice and about gods, little and great, about children and about monsters, are the essential building blocks of our very essence. Strange how Death and his author love us so much, not in spite fo our monstrous lies but because of them. May we endeavour to make our lies so beautiful that we may deserve their love.

I guess there will be many other stories about stories from Pratchett, as I work through all the books I have yet to read. In these trying times, I miss the sense of possibility, I miss knowing there could be MORE Discworld books.

I miss Mr. Pratchett, may he be making others laugh in the Great Beyond.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review: By the Shores of Silver Lake

By the Shores of Silver Lake By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With this book I'm finally caught up in the big gap I missed by reading Little House in the Big Woods and then skipping everything until The Long Winter. I must admit that this mode of reading things, rather like the original order of the Narnia books, has its own charm. The characters I knew as girls were suddenly tough as nails pioneer girls (even Mary for all her blindness and daintiness). I think parents must look at their rapidly growing children like this.

Now, I've had the pleasure of watching Laura grow up, at a time when I myself, am no longer a little girl or a young teenager. I can read about the old stories the Ingalls laughed about, the moonpath, the fairy ring, Ma keeping boarders, and finally understand the joke. But it isn't Laura's own musings on her own mortality that give me pause, rather, this is the first book in the bunch where I realized how young and inexperienced Caroline and Charles Ingalls must have been, how many mistakes they made along the way and all their myriad consequences.

In the Big Woods and Indian territory, they must have been even younger and even less prepared, but we experienced them with Laura, as her infallible, wonderful parents. By the time The Long Winter had arrived Pa and Ma have grown wiser, quicker on the uptake. They've settled down and take only the risks that luck throws at them. They don't go around moving to new places and ignoring phrases such as "grasshopper weather".

This book, where Laura begins to grow up, is the last where her parents appear as flawed people I think. Glimpses of this same thing can be seen in Plum Creek too. They lose Grace, they nearly lose their claim. Later books are genteel and civilized in the face of adversity. Here I can see the Wild West encroaching upon the Ingalls. I find it somehow comforting, to see Ma and Pa struggle like humans, like a young couple with four children, instead of like the hard-working, stoic face of the pioneer movement.

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Review: Geek Love

Geek Love Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very dear friend of mine recommended I read this book after I had told her of a story idea I was wrestling with. At first I thought the recommendation had been merely superficial. Oly was albino and my protagonist was too. They were both outsiders and freaks in their own way. There was also Arturo's cruelty which in the last half of the book became nightmarish, at least for me. The twins' rape and forced pregnancy, his continual obstruction of their attempted abortions, their resulting captivities... I think it strikes at a very primal and profound fear shared by anyone capable of bearing children against their own will.

The book seemed inconsistent to me. At times it bored me to tears, especially in Miranda's chapters. And when it seemed to pick up in interest and excitement it puttered off by introducing new characters I knew nothing about and I had to, once more, begin to build interest in them. When I read the author's bio and she mentioned having to learn how to write a book coherently it made sense to me. This book was lovely, but it seemed written by someone who hadn't quite gotten the hang of novels yet.

All this to say that I hadn't quite understood why my friend thought the book would be useful for me, albino protagonists and cruel brothers notwhithstanding.

Then I came across this quote:
"Iphy, listen. He wouldn't have hugged us anyway. They are never going to want to hug us or cuddle up afterward. They are always going to get right out of bed and zip up still wet and go away."

The entirety of the twins' prostitution was fascinating and it was exactly what I had been thinking of for some time, what I had, I thought, fruitlessly tried to communicate to my friend. That being beautiful in a way that is unconventional, that being wanted while being imperfect, is its own purgatory, where you are always in danger of the predatory nature of desire, but never protected by your value as an ornament.

And somehow all these things were always in this book, permeating its very core, in the story of Miranda and Mrs. Lick though I had found them boring before. In Oly's resentment towards the twins and their own precarious position as beautiful and desirable but never normal. And my friend, in recommending this book to me, had known me better than I'd known myself.

Because this quote and all the others relating to the twins' careers as prostitutes, and Mrs.Lick's suspicious zeal against female beautyf, made me love a book I had merely tolerated before. I think I will hug it and cuddle up with it afterwards, in spite of all its flaws.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been slogging through books I found difficult and alien to me this years and returning to this one after so much time had passed was like a homecoming.

I know the book deals in harrowing subjects, in terribles hardships, but the way she writes welcomed me back like a warm blanket.I breezed through the book when I've plodded through others, because in spite of everything, I found it comfortable and comforting. I knew her voice, and her fears and joys seemed infinitely familiar. I don't mean to imply that I can ever understand or sympathize with plights I've never known: rape and racism. What I think... is that she writes like a woman, in the best sense of the word.

I read Maya Angelou and I am reminded of what Virginia Woolf said about women having to find their "sentence", their way of writing, just as men had. She reminded me of "To Kill A Mocking Bird" not because of the similar subject matter of oppression, or even the time periods, but because their "sentence" was so similar. They seemed to know how to write about being young girls in the same intimate and conspiratorial manner. This is a book I can see myself returning to, re-reading the way I re-read Mocking Bird, because of how lovely its sentence is.

This is a book I feel I can learn from, the way Woolf said women should learn from other women.

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