Archive for August 2011

On Gender Issues, Nostalgia and Fiction



If you've been following the blog-o-sphere, you might be aware of an internet spat over the depictions of women in The Game of Thrones. I've been following it with interest, though I've only seen the HBO series and haven't read the books.

While I don't feel comfortable taking a stand on TGOT, (please do read Sady Doyle's original post and Alyssa Rosenberg's response), I am very interested in the broader issues raised. I recognize that you may not all agree, and I only ask that you please be respectful in the comments.

Alyssa Rosenberg framed the following questions on her Google Plus page, which I aim to answer here:

1. Do you believe that consuming period or periodized literature implies a nostalgia for that time period?


I do believe that writers who choose these settings can be nostalgic for those settings, i.e., "I long for a time when detective stories didn't require many pages of my hero performing a Google search."

But then again, I believe you can treat certain settings almost as mini-genres. A medieval setting carries certain story-telling expectations, as does a space colony setting, as does an Emerald Isle setting. The same is true for stories set in 19th century Bath, England.

As readers, I believe our consumption of periodicized literature is guided by our preferences for particular mini-genres. But I think for a reader to make the choice to read AGOT or Lord of the Rings instead of, say, Ivanhoe, means that the reader has explicitly chosen works that reflect the contemporary period rather than the historical one.

It's also a very lazy, superficial criticism: "You only like Mad Men because you long for the days when men were men and could sleep around and drink all day."

That said, I think readers can be nostalgic for certain aspects of a period, if not the totality. Regency-era fiction is making a mint off of young girls who wish they lived in a time when social relations with men were more regimented, more polite, and less dependent on scary things like sex. But that doesn't mean they want to live in a time when they can't inherit property or vote.

2. Should fantasy stories take place in ideal worlds or worlds that are designed to provide useful thought experiments?


I'm inclined to say neither. While there successful examples of both (Star Trek: Next Generation, Atlas Shrugged) you run a powerful risk of boring the crap out of the reader. You can start your story in an ideal world, but it can't stay that way, for then it would lack tension, aka that thing that makes stories interesting.

But what is an ideal world? There is no ideal world that's ideal for everybody. The far future in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is wonderful for the Eloi, but they're not even aware of what's happening under their feet. In Brave New World it's all happy sexy times for everyone, except for the people for whom the drugs don't work.

As for "useful thought experiments?" That just sounds horrible and didactic. Fiction can and should engage with serious themes, it should be provocative, but those ideas should never be privileged over narrative. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the imagination, stupid."

3. What is the point at which depictions of domestic or sexual violence become gratuitous? Why do depictions of sexual or domestic violence have to meet a different standard than aestheticized action violence?


The first is a question that even the Supreme Court cannot answer, and I'm not sure we can either. Basically, you are asking at what point does a work stop generating artistic interest and only generate prurient interest?

In lit, if it doesn't drive a character or the story forward, then it's gratuitous. Period. If it's described in unnecessarily loving detail, it's gratuitous. How do you judge whether it meets those conditions? It differs from person to person.

As for the second question, I was not raised in a household where this was true. My parents would infinitely prefer I watched Law and Order: SVU even over the anodyne action violence in The Matrix.

That said, I think this has something to do with the real world. You will never run into aestheticized action violence in the real world, but you are very likely to encounter, be a victim of, or know someone who is a victim of sexual/domestic violence. Because being raped is a real fear, people are more disturbed by it than if their city was blown up, which is not a real fear for most in the Western world in spite of outlier attacks.

4. Is it necessarily sexist to depict female incompetence?


Definitely not. It certainly can be, especially if all the female characters are incompetent, or there's only one female character and she's incompetent (i.e. Willie Scott in the photo above), but it's ridiculous to say that this is necessarily the case. The problem is when otherwise competent women are portrayed as making silly decisions without any background as to why.

Why, as feminists, are we meant to stand up for all women? Am I expected to defend Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann? Absolutely not. Then why must we pretend women like this don't exist in fiction? Lot's of women don't like each other for many reasons, most of them quite valid. To pretend this is not true renders any work toothless. Unless of course it's a "useful thought experiment" demonstrating a world where all women are competent.

Let's look at The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. No one's gonna argue its feminist bona fides, but the most flat-out evil character in the novel is the woman in power, the Commander's wife. Is that somehow sexist? Certainly not. It expresses a truth: there are some women, like there are some men, who would do anything to hold onto their power. Likewise, there are other women who fight against those people in power.


So what do you guys think about these questions? Any examples or counter-examples you'd like to bring to the table?

Weigh in in the comments, folks!

Amy Waldman's "The Submission", and the Age of Hysteria



It seems appropriate that given the approaching 10 year anniversary of 9/11, Amy Waldman gives us the perfect novel to make sense of it and the world that followed.

In the Age of Hysteria that succeeded 9/11, most Americans have populated their worlds with flat, two-dimensional characters. What do I mean by that? That we are inclined to pre-judge people on single word epithets: Republican, Christian, Liberal, Commie, Feminist, Blogger, Lawyer and so on. Certainly, one can argue that we do this more and more because we are encouraged to by the arbiters of power: by the government, by the media, by community leaders, and so on.

In "The Submission," Waldman aims to challenge this tendency, to show that it's not useful, that it reduces humans to even less than the sum of their parts. Not only that, these oversimplifications warp our very insides until we barely resemble the humans we imagine ourselves to be.

The story is simple: there is an anonymous submission process to build the 9/11 memorial, and at the end of the search, the winner is revealed to be an American-born Muslim by the name of Mohammad Khan.

I don't need to tell you that this is controversial. Waldman, in what must have been a tremendously masochistic act, delves deep into the implications for the widows, for the firefighters, for non-violent Muslims and for the media. All receive the sharp end of her pen, but perhaps no one more than the media establishment, with its NY Post hysteria and Glenn Beck-a-likes.

When the novel introduced its central conceit, I thought I knew what the right answer was. It was very easy for me to say that the identity of the artist is irrelevant, it's the art that matters. But Waldman is not content to let my armchair liberalism lie undisturbed.

Let's return to the core truth of the Age of Hysteria, that it's easy to make decisions about people if you reduce them to single attributes. If you see Mo Khan as a Muslim, and not as a human being with the same hopes, dreams and frustrations as any other American, then it becomes easier to deny your own stated values to make a politically expedient decision.

But Waldman chooses to deepen all of her characters, not just Mo, not just the grieving widow, but even the bureaucratic flaks who usually get blamed for screwing this stuff up. In fact, as Waldman filled in the characters, my frustration with the situation at hand deepened more and more until I faced the same dilemma as all of the characters: what exactly is the right thing to do in this situation? And this in spite of my earlier certainty: that the identity of the artist is irrelevant.

As you work through all the different concerns, represented by different players in the novel, you find yourself judging every aspect of every character, their moral righteousness, their ethics, the legality, how willing they are to undermine "the process," the purest considerations of politics, and then, fundamentally, is each character's stated opinion even true to their own values? It becomes nearly impossible to judge certain characters' actions apart from their motivations, apart from the circumstances that brought them to the decision.

And so, when the jury is steered by pathos to what I would consider the right decision in this instance, I couldn't help but hate them for being so easily manipulated by a sensational act. I may not agree with, and probably despise, the characters who stand on the other side, but at least they've come to their decisions with considerable soul-searching and genuine pain.

This tug-of-war between a character's inner-life and their actions can be complicated for an author to bring to life without turning the character into a bunch of hypocrites. But Waldman largely succeeds in doing so.

She seems to have written the novel the way that David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest, constructing it like a Sierpinski gasket.


The large triangles are the broad stereotypes she uses as her playthings: the ambitious governor, the secular Muslim, the 9/11 widow, the angry firefighter, and so on.

But small details sell the story; they set up the expectations. For instance, intrepid reporter Alyssa Spiers is introduced a sort of real-life Veronica Mars, a Nancy Drew for the post-9/11 age. But little things mar her character: we learn that her ambition lacks grounding in honor or ethics, we learn that she is racist in subtle ways (like when she calls Curry Hill "Curry Hell" because of the resident Indian community).

Even Claire Burwell, the 9/11 widow the story focusses on, eventually succumbs to her prejudices in spite of being introduced as the only character with a conscience. Watching her give up on her ideals is heartbreaking, but Waldman skillfully navigates us through Claire's dis-enlightenment, to the point that you can't help but wonder if you'd fall prey as well.

But no matter what expectations you brought with you into the book, the last 1/4 will bely all of them. That there would be violence is perhaps to be expected, but not like this. That Waldman makes so definitive a statement in the end about who the villain is was also unexpected. But it's certainly possible that it only seems definitive to me.

Part of me believes that this novel ought to be required reading for all Americans, as the ultimate test of how strong their belief in the imagined construction of the United States really is, about how truly they hold the values of the Constitution close, about freedom of speech, about freedom of religion, about the very relevance of values.

But part of me believes that the Age of Hysteria is the wrong time for these values to be tested.

All this is a long-winded way for me to say one basic thing; I believe that Amy Waldman has written one of the Great American Novels. I do not come to praise Waldman, but to bury this era of hate and intolerance that was born of 9/11. I'd like to think that if more people were aware of the contradictions within themselves, of their very complexity, of the very real fears that guide their outward prejudices, then perhaps they can be better people.

Can a novel really cause such intense self-reflection? I can't say for sure, but I think if any novel can, this one will.

P.S. Don't let me put you off the novel by discussing its importance. I have no shame in saying that it made me cry (not just tear up, but full on bawl) on 4 separate occasions. It made me laugh out loud twice as many times.

Let me know what you think of it!

The Most Important Lesson from "Gloria Steinem: In Her Words"



Gloria Steinem has been involved with, guided and even transformed almost every major issue in the feminist movement, but there's something about her particular brand of feminism that seems to transcend any one issue.

I've been trying to think why that is. I really enjoyed HBO's documentary, which didn't feel sensational even though it covered a woman who was frequently, well, sensational.

So what makes Gloria Steinem so appealing? I admit, until I watched this documentary, she was very little more than a name to me, the woman who founded Ms. magazine and went undercover to expose the exploitation of the Playboy Bunnies (and I vaguely recall that, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she's presented as the ideal woman by all the men. Can you imagine a mainstream tv show choosing a feminist as an ideal woman today? Maybe Parks and Recreation. But I digress).

I wonder if this is an institutional problem: in all my gender history related courses at university focussed on academic thinkers at the expense of activists, which is sort of the opposite way to how education covers other civil rights and human rights issues.

This is important to note because there are very real, substantive differences between academic feminism and real-world feminism, the chief one being pragmatism. Steinem carries herself as intelligent, not bitter. She wins crowds through humor, not through righteousness and anger. If she loses a fight she doesn't retreat, she thinks immediately of the next step.

Watch this interview about Hillary Clinton losing the Presidential nomination:

She moves quickly from explaining the significance of Clinton's achievement to why the loss is disappointing to the lessons Barack Obama can learn, and by the end, you feel she genuinely supports candidate Obama. That's an amazing ability, to be true to oneself and also find ways to be positive about an alternate future (or at least to come off that way). It's incredible that she can praise and bury Clinton and manage not to insult Obama in the process, not even in a back-handed way. That's grace, that's elegance.

But I'm not suggesting you take away good sportsmanship from the documentary, but something altogether more difficult: compassion. I believe she was able to unite so many people, to affect so many lives, because she didn't frame the feminist movement in terms of power but in terms of empathy and kindness. Again and again, she stresses the ideal end result: a world where both men and women can live lives reflecting their better selves. To achieve that ideal, you can't have discrimination. It's as simple as that.

In an era where Internet debate on gender becomes ever more rancorous, it seems valuable to remember that lesson: be compassionate, remember what you're fighting for, and do not act in such a way that belies that eventual goal.

For those of you who are interested, here's a great interview that Steinem did about the documentary with Maria Shriver:

Oncoming Hope, out.


I can't find a clip, but in the documentary there is a horrendously awkward interview on Larry King Live from 1991 which seems to have inspired all the awkward humor you'd see today on Parks and Recreation or Arrested Development. Essentially, a woman calls in and says she's been waiting 15 years to talk to Gloria Steinem. Bright smiles all around. Then, you watch Larry King's and Steinem's faces fall as the woman proceeds to accuse Steinem of destroying the world and American society. It's horrible, but you almost can't help laughing.

Salute Your Shorts: Nathan Englander's "Free Fruit for Young Widows"

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My apologies for neglecting the Salute Your Shorts feature for so long. It's especially odd given that I've probably been reading more short stories than normal the last few weeks (one day I need to write about the substantive ways that having a Kindle changed my reading habits). But I wanted to kick off with "Free Fruit for Young Widows," a story that continues to haunt me long after reading it.

I am going to try and avoid spoilers as much as possible in the review, because I sincerely believe that you should read the story.


When the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of the Suez Canal, threatening Western access to that vital route, an agitated France shifted allegiances, joining forces with Britain and Israel against Egypt. This is a fact neither here nor there, except that during the 1956 Sinai Campaign there were soldiers in the Israeli Army and soldiers in the Egyptian Army who ended up wearing identical French-supplied uniforms to battle.

-"Free Fruit for Young Widows," by Nathan Englander. Story can be read for free at the New Yorker's website.

That's one hell of an opening paragraph, no? I had to read it three times to fully appreciate its elegance. From this broad sweep, we close in on the actions of one Professor Tendler, whose story is told through the eyes of Shimmy Genzer and his son, Etgar.

Nothing happens as you'd predict: as Englander shares with us Professor Tendler's parallel acts of brutality, we're never entirely privy to what makes Tendler tick, which makes him as fascinating to us as to young Etgar.

Tendler is presented to Etgar almost like a character in a folk-tale, aiding in the story's surreality given that his actions are larger than life, and yet, to Etgar, he's just this man who comes and gets free fruit from his father's stand.

For Etgar is about to become a man, and the decisions that Tendler makes to survive are the decisions that a real man must make. Or so Shimmy presents the story. But we learn much about their characters by how reluctant Shimmy is to tell Etgar the truth of the story, and we learn what sort of man Etgar will be by his reaction.

Englander does not judge Tendler for us within the story, but I believe he challenges us to, one way or the other. Personally, I'm on Etgar's side, but then I've never experienced such horror as Tendler.

But then again, none of the killings in the story occur on the fields of battle, which invites to make a legal judgment on top of our moral and survivalist judgments.

Here's an interview with Englander about the story:

Tell me what you think!

Civilization in Retrograde: Google Scribe



I don't generally buy in to the frequently posited theories about how the Internet is making us more stupid, but this new Google feature definitely aspires to reduce our thinking.

I logged into blogger as usual (by the way, the blogger re-design is the most horrendous thing I've ever seen. It may be prettier now, but it's totally useless, especially when you're working on the coding of the xml template.) There was this exciting bit of news:

"Introducing Google Scribe in Blogger."

Hello Bloggers! Do you ever find yourself writing slowly, staring at a blinking cursor or looking for words to express yourself? Today we are happy to announce the availability of the text suggestions and autocomplete feature of Google Scribe, which is graduating from Google Labs and can now be found in Blogger in Draft.

Google Scribe helps you write more efficiently by suggesting common words and phrases as you type. Google Scribe supports Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. The language is automatically detected using the text in the post.

So, for you, dear Reader, I reached out to test the product, and I simply do not understand it's existence. As my previous post was about River Song, I started with that, and ended up with this, based on following the autocomplete suggestions and inserting random punctuation:

River Song is the best way to get the best of the best in the world. When the user clicks River and the surrounding area and the second is the number of the first and second portions of the first and second, the third quarter of the year and the year of the study was to determine the effect of the drug.

Yes, the phrases and words suggested are vaguely human, but only in the sense that Mad-Libs are human.

I fundamentally disapprove of the notion that Google will write your post for you (if you don't like writing, why the hell are you blogging?) but this new trick beggars belief. Of all the useful things Google could do to improve Blogger (better photo placement controls, page templates, etc), they did this?

I believe 30 Rock provides the most logical explanation:


The Many Lives of River Song, or, Thinking Too Much About Doctor Who



With all the hand-wringing about whether "Let's Kill Hitler" was going to make too light of Hitler or not, I doubt anyone expected that he would be locked into a cupboard for the entire episode (note to Moffat--please continue with Roronicus Pond, action star).

I definitely did not expect an entire episode about our River Song, least of all that we'd get to see her first meeting with the Doctor so soon. So, while I literally shouted in surprise at least 5 times throughout the episode, it's now time to think more logically through the episode's implications (insofar as one can think logically through any product of Steven Moffat's brain).


How many regenerations has River had?

Mels/River showed no surprise or discomfort about the regeneration how many times has it happened? We know it happened once with the girl in the astronaut's uniform, but that was back in the 1960s. So she had to have regenerated at least one more time in between, to have been a child in the 1980s. Or does she? We do learn, after all, that River can program herself to age in reverse if she wants.








I propose this timeline of sorts:

1st Melody: spans from birth of Melody Pond to regeneration on the streets of New York City. It's during this time that Madame Kovarian (or whoever) train Melody into becoming a weapon to kill the Doctor.

2nd Melody: I'd like to think she regenerates back into a baby after the incident in NY, and Amy and Rory actually get to raise her this time.

3rd Melody: For Melody to demonstrate such knowledge and control over the regeneration process when she regenerates into Alex Kingston, it stands to reason that sometime in between Melody 2 and "Mels," she regenerates into an adult form and runs off and has adventures.

4th Melody: Perhaps Madame Kovarian or the Silence catch up to her, knowing that Amy and Rory are the keys to finding the Doctor, and thusly they plant "Mels" into their Leadworth lives.

So, the penny's in the air...and the penny drops:

5th Melody aka River: Dare I say the greatest Melody of them all. We don't yet know why she changes her name to River (but this could just be one of those ontological paradoxes, where the she learns that she will become River Song, therefore she becomes River Song. Now repeat after me: WIBBLEY WOBBLEY TIMEY WIMEY. That's better.).

Really wacky but totally true observation: I believe that after she's let out of prison, River is under house arrest on Earth for a time, much like the Third Doctor, and forced to work for the government. During this time, she becomes a public defense attorney. If you do not believe me, allow me to remind you that Alex Kingston had a recurring role on Law and Order: SVU. The name of her character? MIRANDA POND!! Moving on now...

If we take "Let's Kill Hitler" on its face, then we are left to believe that River has used the remainder of her regenerations on saving the Doctor. However, I think the construction of the dialogue suggests a Moffatrick:

Amy: "Apparently you used all your remaining regenerations in one go. You shouldn't have done that..."

River: "He said no one could save him. But he must have known I could."

Doctor: "Rule 1: The Doctor Lies."

For the Doctor to have said that at that particular moment means one of two things: either River did not actually use all her remaining regenerations in one go, or River did not actually save him. It's also possible that both are true.

ETA: Re-reading this post, I found that I ignored one super-glaring contradiction. Mels/River explicitly says this is the first time she's meeting the Doctor, but surely the first time she meets him is as Melody 1, when she kills him?

And let's not forget one essential part of River's parentage: the Tardis. Perhaps if the Doctor returns to the Library, he can take River's essence out and combine her with Tardis energy and make her real again (ok, now I really am just guessing).

But let's be honest. A Doctor Who world without River Song in it scarcely bears thinking about.


-One rarely thinks about directorial flourishes in Doctor Who, but this episode had a few neat references to classic film. The best one, of course, being "Hello, Benjamin." Though, admittedly, it's odd that the Doctor doesn't get the reference in this episode when he actually introduces River as Mrs. Robinson to Nixon...










-Flipping River's gun for a banana hearkens back to two Steven Moffat works: "The Empty Child" and "Curse of Fatal Death". The manner in which the Doctor kept faking out River and the gun was almost identical to how the Doctor keeps foiling the Master's dastardly plans and replacing them with a "sofa of reasonable comfort."

-Is it just me, or did the Tesselecta make no narrative sense whatsoever? But as with most Moffat things that make no sense, that usually means they'll be coming back later. But they've definitely been watching too much Star Trek.











-A lot of people seem pissed off that Amy and Rory don't act more parental about Mels/River, but I thought it was beautifully underplayed. Karen Gillan's delivery of "Why are you a psychopath? You're not a psychopath" was one of the most beautiful moments I've seen on the tv, a genuine moment of angst that doesn't overwhelm the imminent danger they face.

-River easily wins the best line of the episode: “Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I suddenly thought, ‘Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the fuhrer.’”

In the comments, James linked to an interesting post which offers a potential explanation to the Doctor's sudden wardrobe change. I highly recommend it.

Anyhow, so long and thanks for stopping by! As always, feel free to hash things out in the comments. Tell me YOUR favorite line of the episode, etc.

Friday Five: Favorite Songs that Mention Writers



Thank god it's friday, eh? After spending the day on more serious things, I get to bring you a top five list in no particular order of no great importance. Today's topic? Songs that mention writers.

The rules are simple. The song must reference the author by name, it cannot allude to the author, or simply reference one of the authors' works (which unfortunately rules out a whole bunch of Led Zeppelin, Rush, and other prog-rock).

I tried to represent a number of different styles (this list could too easily have been all-folk).

Weigh in in the comments, of course.

Patti Smith - "Land"

I don't even pretend to know what this song is about, I just know it's great. It references Arthur Rimbaud, the great literary love of Smith's life:

"And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud."

If you haven't read Just Kids yet, you really need to get on that. It's probably my favorite book of the past 2 years (and is now being made into an inevitably horrid feature film).

Here's a great live performance of the song:

Manic Street Preachers - "Faster"

This is just a fucking great song. It's an anthem for the nihilist, which I certainly loved in my youth (though I doubt I'd like it so much if I came across it today). I cannot possibly do it justice in words, so I'll quote you their own:

"I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter".

Elsie Carlisle - "Pu-leeze Mr. Hemingway!"

The reference is right there in the title, but there are some very cheeky references within the song (this song was frequently banned in the 1930's):

"I love a brave man
With big he-man stuff,
But not a caveman,
So remember not to play too rough!"

Simon and Garfunkel - "A Simple Desultory Philippic"

I think every other Simon and Garfunkel song ever written has literary references, but I narrowed it down to "The Dangling Conversation" and "A Simple Desultory Philippic." For humor's sake, the latter won. Written to be a spoof of Bob Dylan, this song is pretty much the masterpiece of random author mentions, such as:

"I've been Ayn Randed, nearly branded Communist, 'cause I'm left-handed."

And my personal favorite lyric (actually this is one of my favorite lines from any song ever):

"He's so unhip, that when you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was. The man ain't got no culture, but it's alright, ma, everybody must get stoned."

I couldn't find a live performance, sadly, but you can at least listen to the song here:

Tori Amos - "Tear In Your Hand" and her many Neil Gaiman mentions

Tori Amos' long friendship with Neil Gaiman has been noted in detail elsewhere, but for now I'm just gonna note the songs that mention him.

From "Horses," off Boys for Pele

"Will you find me if Neil made me a tree"

From "Space Dog," off Under the Pink

"Seems I keep getting the story twisted, so where's Neil when you need him?"

From "Carbon," off Scarlet's Walk

"Get me Neil on the line. No, I can't hold. Have him read 'Snow Glass Apples,' where nothing is what it seems."

There are a number of other references to Gaiman's work, but there's only one specific reference to him left, my favorite, the first, made before they even knew each other:

"If you need me, me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the Dream King. Neil says hi, by the way."

That's "Tear In Your Hand," off of Little Earthquakes.

Here's one of my favorite live performances of the song (at Glastonbury 1999, if I'm not mistaken?) (stay tuned for a super-hot guy singing along in the crowd):

Runners up include: "Hey, Jack Kerouac" by 10,000 Maniacs, and "Rave On, John Donne," by Van Morrison.

Book Blogger Hop



I've been blogging for a long time, but most of that time was on Livejournal, where it was fairly easy to build communities with like-minded people.

While I enjoy the opportunities that Blogspot has provided to add a level of professionalism, I've found it difficult to create the same sort of community (but then again, this blog is less personal than my livejournal output used to be).

I've been experimenting with a couple of blog-hops, just to see how effective they are in building that sort of continuous interaction. So here we go again, with a blog hop hosted by Crazy-For-Books.

Book Blogger Hop

If you're at all interested in joining, here's the main page that spells out the rules and what-not:

There's a question of the week, which is whether I have any pets. I don't actually, but does my husband count?

Anyhow, come say hi!

On Maud Newton vs. "Folksiness"

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While I generally enjoyed Maud Newton's increasingly controversial piece on David Foster Wallace, there was something that rubbed me the wrong way, and I've been trying to figure out exactly what that is, until I worked out that it is, in fact, almost everything about the piece.

Edward Champion, in an absolutely superb rebuttal, accuses Newton of a lack of intellectual seriousness, of failing to do the research that shows that David Foster Wallace cannot be blamed for the so-called folksiness permeating the web. (I don't think you even have to do research to prove this, but hey, the New York Times can't openly publish an article lambasting all writing styles that aren't their own, and so they have to somehow make it relate to their books commentary).


Newton writes that:

Never before had “folks” been used so relentlessly and enthusiastically as a term of general address outside church suppers, chain restaurants and family reunions.

Um, really? I'm from Texas, and Newton has her own Texas roots, and I can guaran-damn-tee it that I heard "folks" absolutely everywhere. It's what urban/suburban Texans say instead of "y'all." It's how the politicians speak. But let's ignore her selective memory. I'm more troubled by the notion that folksiness is inherently a bad thing.

I think this snobbery comes partly from University insistence that the only good way to write is like Ernest Hemingway, clear, concise, free of embellishment. But would anyone accuse Flannery O'Connor of being unserious? How about William Faulkner? Mark Twain? Or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or David Foster Wallace, for that matter? He may be many things to many people, but even when he's funny, he's intellectually rigorous.

Newton seems to conflate unserious language with Southern dialectical norms, which is all the more surprising given how many times she's blogged about the liveliness of Southern Texan vernacular.

But I guess that doesn't bother me too much. If I had a penny for every time I heard someone act snobbish about Southern or Midwestern turns of phrase I'd be swimming in copper.


What troubles me more is how she defines the nature of blogging and internet communication, how she ignores its many and varied uses and the exciting transmutations of language within.

I suppose it made sense, when blogging was new, that there was some confusion about voice. Was a blog more like writing or more like speech? Soon it became a contrived and shambling hybrid of the two. The “sort ofs” and “reallys” and “ums” and “you knows” that we use in conversation were codified as the central connectors in the blogger lexicon. We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged; no one was merely confused, but kind of totally mystified. That music blog we liked was really pretty much the only one that, um, you know, got it.

I remember when blogging was new. You know who blogged? People who wanted to share information, but weren't able to do so through available media channels. Teenagers. Mothers. Would-be writers. Political agitators. Sports Fans. Pornographers. Every variety of geek. These groups are unified ONLY in that they are now able to express themselves to large audiences without conforming to any demands of "style." These are not people that communicate in the real-life sphere, so the idea that there was some "confusion about voice" is patently ridiculous. Was there someone attempting to develop a "style guide" for the internet? Absolutely not. The magic of the internet is its freedom from such shackles.

Early bloggers knew this, and the immense variety of writing styles reflected this. Does Salon resemble Slate resemble Gawker resemble Drudge Report? Of course not.


Let's just look at the music blog example she uses (out of nowhere, and without any relevance to the story at hand). First of all, she seems not to comment on the writing within the blog, but how we react to it, which has nothing to do with her central point. Secondly, has she ever read a music blog? Let's look at Pitchfork, one of the greatest internet success stories.

First paragraph of original review of Funeral, by The Arcade Fire:

Ours is a generation overwhelmed by frustration, unrest, dread, and tragedy. Fear is wholly pervasive in American society, but we manage nonetheless to build our defenses in subtle ways-- we scoff at arbitrary, color-coded "threat" levels; we receive our information from comedians and laugh at politicians. Upon the turn of the 21st century, we have come to know our isolation well. Our self-imposed solitude renders us politically and spiritually inert, but rather than take steps to heal our emotional and existential wounds, we have chosen to revel in them. We consume the affected martyrdom of our purported idols and spit it back in mocking defiance. We forget that "emo" was once derived from emotion, and that in our buying and selling of personal pain, or the cynical approximation of it, we feel nothing.

Wordy and pretentious it certainly is, but there's not a single "um," "sort of," or "kind of," in the mix.

This, on Radiohead's Kid A:

"The experience and emotions tied to listening to Kid A are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax."

Still no sort ofs or ums, and yet it's a completely different style! Variety in style! Imagine that!

And just for fun, go read comedian David Cross's spoof of the Pitchfork style. Still not a single 'sort of' or 'um'.


Newton concludes that:

Qualifications are necessary sometimes. Anticipating and defusing opposing arguments has been a vital rhetorical strategy since at least the days of Aristotle. Satire and ridicule, when done well, are high art. But the idea is to provoke and persuade, not to soothe. And the best way to make an argument is to make it, straightforwardly, honestly, passionately, without regard to whether people will like you afterward.

When she refers to soothing, does she describe DFW or the blogosphere? Neither would be described as "soothing" by any reader. I would argue that nowhere has her closing sentence been more ably accomplished than in the wild west of the World Wide Web. The problem with her article is that she offers little or no evidence to support her conclusions, apart from the aforementioned oblique reference to "music blogs". In many ways, I resent most that the target is David Foster Wallace, who isn't even alive to defend himself against these poorly delineated charges.

I have been harsh on Maud Newton, who writes a blog that I genuinely enjoy. It's possible that the failures of this article may be more generally attributable to the New York Times's general need to stand up for the status quo (for the internet revolution will eventually render them bankrupt). There are a large number of players in what I would describe as the "monetized paper" industry that are invested in protecting their superiority, in preserving their position as standard-bearers. It's sad when the only way to do that is to denigrate evolution in language and in style. And in this case, the article explicitly condemns certain trends without providing any examples to support that those trends even exist.

Sandman Re-blog Issue #23: Season of Mists Chapter 2


Screen shot 2011-08-25 at 12.20.29 PM.png

First things first, how gorgeous is that opening shot of Hell? I'm trying to figure out whether it's one giant dead thing or a pastiche of many dead things. Or if it's constructed like the prison in Jonathan Lethem's short story The Hardened Criminals, where all the prisoners with life sentences are molded into bricks and made part of the prison wall.

Anyhow, it's up to Morpheus to figure that out. He's just been handed the keys to the kingdom. I wonder how he'll deal with ruling over actual beings instead of just their imaginations?


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First, let's talk about Breschau of Livonia, who actually cries at the thought of being forced out of Hell. Breschau, and all the other lingerers, tell us something interesting: could it be that some beings actually want to remain in Hell? In some ways Breschau seems like the serial killer who wants to be caught, for only once he is caught and punished does his crime actually go recognized as his own. Breschau has had 1100 years of undivided attention as he brags about his misdeeds. He's about to lose it all, to lose his central sense of self: that he is an evil being, therefore he finds belonging in a domain to house evil beings. Where will he go next? Where can he go next? As Lucifer says, no one remembers Breschau. Livonia is gone. He is powerless and now he is alone.

The three strange demons are funny: we are shown that the closest friendships are forged in Hell. In this case, quite literally.

Mazikeen teaches us that love exists, even in Hell.

So where will they actually go?

It's interesting that it almost seems as though Lucifer was placed in charge of some deranged cult. Anyone of them could leave at any time, but they are sustained in their belief that they belong there, that Lucifer is their jailer. As they're all slaves to trangressing what they believe to be morality, will that morality change? Will they return to what they were before they came to Hell? One would certainly imagine not, as everything changes over time. How many will find that the sins they are self-flagellating for are no longer sins (sodomites, abortionists, etc)?

The only universal truth is the passage of time. And time changes everything.


Pay attention to Lucifer's list of possible occupations. If memory serves, he does in fact do all of them in subsequent issues.

Look at the image below. Doesn't that look a bit like Morpheus with his head is chopped off? Methinks Gaiman doth foreshadow:

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Very Silly Things

1. In which Sandman indulges in a particularly silly sci-fi cliché:

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2. In which we observe Dream go through the many stages of constipation:

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Poem of the Day: "The Nitro" by Clare Rossini

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I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that comic book superheroes have become so ubiquitous in culture that they've even invaded poetry, and I have little interest in wading into that debate [today].

I do find it intriguing that even as actual sales of comic books are at their lowest ever, their cultural currency continues to increase (not without limit, however. The genre runs risk of over-saturation in the movies, at least).

However, I was immensely startled when I read this poem, available as a free read on the website of the Paris Review, of all places. It's a wonderfully evocative piece, suggesting the alternate push and pull between God and man, a tension that results in superheroes and supervillains, Sinestro in this case.

Or I'm misreading everything and it's about nothing more than a roller-coaster.

Either way, enjoy!

THE NITRO by Clare Rossini

I wanted sky. That was my ambition. And now I'm being tugged
Up a small steel mountain,

A burly chain beneath the car hauling my weight
And a trail of my fellow aspirants. Poised at the top, we waver.

Then the slow turn downward,
The gathering speed, hurtling

Toward the earth from which, with a paste of mud and spit,
In that one foreboding

Story, the god
Made the man.

Upward again, turning and writhing in air, my body become a space
Where, as in love,

The great forces stream through:
Space, wind, light, the seconds blurring by like years.

O my god, I hear the cries of those around me as we are borne up and
Down and up and down,

Our breath three
Tubular steel

Hills back.
Let this not end, my body says and, at the same time, Let it be done,

As with a sudden jerk, a brake
Catches, the train slows, we arrive

At the platform milling with the shades
Called the living. Down the ramp. Back to a frail rain

Glossing popcorn stands, the carousel's splintered mirrors, and
Hey! It's some dude

Dressed as Sinestro from the Legion of Doom, his power ring strobing,
Scattering the crowd.

-The Paris Review Spring 2011

Filling the Gaps: Broadcast News




I'm as mystified as you. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and at least in the description, this sounded a bit like the movie version of the same, also written by James L. Brooks, who wrote all my favorite episodes of MTM.


Broadcast News is often linked, unfairly in my opinion, to Network. For my money, it's the superior film. The satire is much more on-point; Network fires guns at far too many targets, to the point where the whole thing becomes a bit absurd. Network offers us wonderful lessons about our age (as I wrote about here), but the various subplots do not achieve the resonance of Howard Beale, orator for the ages.

Framed by a love triangle, Broadcast News keeps its theme simple: what is the state of journalism now? And what will it become? The future did not look bright, even in 1987.

Everything in the plot centers on these questions: on the surface the film's about Albert Brooks's wonk-ish journalist vs. William Hurt's vacuous anchorman, but Jane's slow transfer of her affections from one to the other isn't merely a statement on the peculiarities of love and loss. It's a statement on the debasement of her own values, occurring simultaneously with the debasement of broadcast journalism.


Broadcast News features one of the best depictions of a "career woman" put to film. Despite decades of Hollywood and conservatives telling us otherwise, being a career woman doesn't actually mean you give up on all other life, or that you become shrewish or mean.

But of course James Brooks knows this, he created the first successful television show about a career woman, even managing to avoid weird misogynist traps like Bill Holden's speech to Faye Dunaway at the end of Network (again, I wrote about this here). (Now that I think about it, I could write an extremely long feminist critique of Network, as every last woman in power in that film is seen to be corrupt, laughable or dangerous. But those old men, they have principles.)











Jane is in many ways the logical product of everything Mary Richards fought for (through the course of the show, we see Mary fight for equal pay, her right to adult sexual relations outside of marriage, and most importantly, her right to find definition and meaning in her life without marrying and having children). In many ways, the show normalized a wider conception of femininity, allowing that women can focus on their careers and still be women.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show transformed societal thinking because television had unprecedented power at the time. When 25 percent of all households are watching your show every week, you really can change expected norms. Broadcast News similarly exists in a world where television has this kind of power. And it suggests that the cheapening of television can lead to the very cheapening of the viewer, making the viewer's tastes less discerning and more consumptive in nature. And Jane brings this to life, making an explicit choice of Pretty-But-Dumb over Intelligent-Erudite-But-Often-Depressing.


Of course, part of what makes the film great is William Hurt's performance as Tom the handsome anchorman. Tom's essential lack of intelligence is always right there in front of you, but like Jane, we want so badly to like him, and so we do. He is that charming, that attractive. So even when we learn the truth about his on-air duplicity, our instinct as the audience is to forgive, and we want Jane to forgive him as well, even though we know that it's wrong, that he's wrong for her, and so on.


-I fell instantly in love with Holly Hunter's Jane, who is surely the prototype for Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. She's not a woman concerned abut having it all; she has it all, and will never lose it.

-Why do Mary and Holly have the same haircut? We're talking 1973 vs. 1987 here.

-How do you get Jack Nicholson to do a cameo in your film? Maybe he's not the egomaniac he's always seemed like. His quick appearances do resonate, however.

-Joan Cusack definitely deserves some kind of award for her general fashions in the film (look at that wonderful hair!):



-First Holly Hunter film

-First James L. Brooks film


Do you want Jane to end up with Tom or not? Should she have dumped him or not?

Hot Movie Trailer: Carnage

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I will say this only once, now, so I don't have to say this again:

"Why the hell are these people working with Roman Polanksi?"

Moving on though, this movie looks awesome. Strange to think about Polanski doing a comedy (though Rosemary's Baby definitely played up absurdist elements). And it's definitely great to see Kate Winslet re-engage with her funny side.

Molly Ivins on Rick Perry

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As a Texas girl, I feel I should be able to offer some sort of special insight into hurricane Rick Perry. The truth is, the man is a complicated mix of occasionally competent and wildly dangerous. He's never met a special interest that he hasn't bowed to in exchange for money, a number of his published and stated beliefs are openly unconstitutional, and yet he handled Hurricane Katrina/Rita better than anyone expected.

I've been trying to come up with something fresh yet erudite about Rick Perry, but I cannot best the evergreen words of Molly Ivins. She may not be with us anymore, but her barbs live on.

Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from her opinion columns in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Ivins on Perry's general snake-in-the-grass-ness:

Of all the crass pandering, of all the gross political kowtowing to ignorance, we haven't seen anything this rank from Gov. Goodhair since … gee, last fall.

Then he was trying to draw attention away from his spectacular failure on public schools by convincing Texans that gay marriage was a horrible threat to us all. Now he’s trying to disguise the fact that the schools are in free-fall by proposing that we teach creationism in biology classes.

The funding of the whole school system is so unfair that it has been declared unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court. All last year, Rick Perry haplessly called special session after special session, trying to fix the problem, and couldn’t get anywhere – not an iota, not a scintilla, of leadership.

Instead of facing the grave crisis that might yet result in the schools’ being closed, Perry has blithely gone off on creationism – teach the little perishers the Earth is 6,000 or so years old, that people lived at the same time as dinosaurs, and who cares if the school building is falling apart? (Jan 12, 2006)

Ivins on rhetorical strategy:

I sacrificed an hour Friday evening to watch the Texas gubernatorial debate on your behalf, since I knew none of you would do it. ... The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry stood there proudly behind that rabid following he has so richly earned - hey, a whole 35 percent of Texans want him re-elected - and simply disagreed. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response.


Ivins on Perry's incredible hair:

Bush was replaced by his exceedingly Lite Guv Rick Perry, who has really good hair. Governor Goodhair, or the Ken Doll (see, all Texans use nicknames—it's not that odd), is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But the chair of a major House committee says, "Goodhair is much more engaged as governor than Bush was." As the refrain of the country song goes, "O Please, Dear God, Not Another One." ("Shrub Flubs His Dub"—The Nation, June 18, 2001)




Torchwood In Review Podcast Part 2

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Welcome to Part Two of our Torchwood-In-Review podcast.

This time around, we try to work out what we like about the series. This quickly devolves into a number of tangents, and Maria shares some wonderful anecdotes from deep in the fandom.

Let us know what you think!

The player is above, and the mp3 is below if you'd rather download it:

Hot Movie Trailer: Underworld Awakening

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Yeah, yeah, I know all the serious, quality films are finally coming out, after what has probably been the worst year for movies since I've been borne. Usually there are at least a couple of decent action movies to tide me over until Oscar-mania begins, but no. We've had Bridesmaids, and that's it (though to be fair, the awesomeness of Bridesmaids makes up for about 3 bad/mediocre movies).

So before The Oncoming Hope turns to all things serious and worthy, I must bring you a trailer for a movie I have an irrationally strong desire to see - Underworld: Awakening. The fourth film in the franchise, it's brought back Kate Beckinsale (hooray!). But like the trailer, I have one question: where is Michael?

Friday Five: Greatest River Songs



Aha! I fooled you! After all, there is and can only ever be one River Song, even if she is part-Timelord and can possibly even regenerate. But Doctor Who returns tomorrow, and I can't wait for more River, so to tide us all over, here's a few river-related tunes, along with my totally objective assessment of when/if she might listen to these songs.

1. Joni Mitchell - River

One of the most beautiful songs every written, the live version below is even more haunting.

Would River Song listen to this river song: I imagine she would listen to this pretty much constantly in her creepy house of quasi-death, along with her team of quasi-dead researchers. In reality, I can imagine Amy Pond listening to this song every moment she has alone, until she finds her daughter. "Now I've gone and lost the best baby that I ever had," indeed.

2. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Proud Mary

The ultimate Woodstock anthem, "Proud Mary" became successful twice over, as the Tina Turner version became an even bigger hit than the original.

Would River Song listen to this river song: Not only would she listen to this song, I would lay money down that she was at Woodstock in the crowd, and hooked up not only with CCR but with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Probably at the same time.

3. Bruce Springsteen - The River

I don't even know what to say about this song. Just listen to it. The video below is its first ever performance I believe, and the emotion is so raw. Just beautiful. Seriously.

Would River Song listen to this river song: Just a general comment on these river songs. They're all fucking classic songs in their own right. We know River hangs out with musicians, so maybe they all separately wrote songs about her. Maybe, just like the Doctor leaves random evidence of his existence throughout time and space, River leaves a bunch of awesome songs.

4. Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks

My favorite Led Zeppelin song by far. The first time I ever heard it was actually when Tori Amos covered it, the day after the levees broke in New Orleans. It's a powerful song that perfectly captures the awesome power of nature with that driving guitar riff which seems to get bigger and bigger every second.

Would River Song listen to this river song: Yes. During sexy times. Which, in her case, is pretty much all the time. But you know what I mean.

5. PJ Harvey - Down By The Water

This isn't specifically about a river, but oh well. It COULD be a river. I posted the mashup below because it's the best. thing. ever. It's a mashup of "Down by the Water," "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos, Bjork and Massive Attack. It's awesome. And you have to listen to it. I don't care if you don't like the artists, you need to listen to it anyway. It comes together beautifully.

Would River Song listen to this river song: Maybe not the original version, but definitely the mashup. "I'm going hunting for a mystery," indeed. And you know that River's taking fashion advice from all three of these women (fiery redhead with a wild mane of curly hair, who always has the most inappropriate outfit for any occasion). And while we don't know the whole truth about River, we do know that she is a mashup of some variety.

Torchwood Podcast Part 1



Hello one and all to Part One of our Torchwood-In-Review podcast. A great time was had by myself, Maria, and Julia.

In the first half, we talk about everything from John Barrowman's acting ability to Russell T. Davies's writing ability. We also discuss the character of Jack at some length.

Let us know what you think!

The player is above, and the mp3 is below if you'd rather download it:

Awesome Thing of the Day: Before Sunrise Comes to Life


I began reading Roger Ebert's wonderful Questions for the Movie Answer Man today, and I have no doubt that I'll zip through it by tomorrow. It's a compilation of the Answer Man column he runs on his website.

There's tons of interesting material and obscure factoids within the book (black-washing people in posters, etc) but I can't stop thinking about this one story, one young gentleman's tale of Before Sunrise coming to life in a very personal way for him, and possibly ruining his life.

Q. I wonder whether you'd be interested in my story. I recently saw the movie Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet each other on a train, start talking, and end up spending the night walking around Vienna, Austria. Caught up in the romance of it all, I boarded a train from Philly to Charlottesville, Virginia (I had to go there anyway.) On the train I met a woman dressed exactly like Julie Delpy and about as beautiful. So began a rather romantic trip that began with her asking me to come to Atlanta with her and ended with my return to law school two days later.

But now the story takes an interesting twist, and could probably be called After Sunrise. Since I had missed some school, I felt the need to explain to a professor where I had been. Unfortunately, I was too embarrassed to relate the full details, so I informed him I was sick. Two weeks later I was asked to leave the school for lying to a professor.

My legal career is probably now over. So why do I write to you? To be honest, I don't know -- but the link between the movie, and my life seemed so strong I felt someone in the industry should know. Make of it what you will. (Daryl Elfleld, Berkeley, Calif.)

A. I am always getting letters from people who wonder if the movies these days are not a baleful influence on young people. In your case, Before Sunrise sparked a grand gesture of romanticism, which would have been wonderful if the consequences had not been so dire.

Having been a college student myself, I relished the way you worded this phrase: "I felt the need to explain to a professor where I had been." My guess is, this felt need was inspired by the professor's curiosity about your absence from his classes. In a similar situation I, too, might have hesitated to reveal the whole truth. On the other hand, rules are rules. In law school I am sure it is especially important to enforce the honor code, since, as we all know, no lawyer has ever said he was sick to get out of anything.

Curious about your case, I made a few telephone calls.

The woman you met on the train was Jessica Turner, a Spanish teacher from Fryeburg, Maine. I talked to her to check out your story.

"I hadn't seen the movie when we met," she told me, "but we saw it together after we got off the train in Atlanta. I really was wearing one of those black dresses, like the woman in the movie. Actually, I started talking to him. I had stopped to see a friend in Baltimore, who packed me a bagel and wrapped it up with a note that said, 'Don't talk to strangers.' I saw Daryl sitting at the next table on the train and told him what my napkin said. We started talking, he told me all about the movie, and when we got to Charlottesville, I asked him if he wanted to stay on the train and spend some time in Atlanta.

"I feel really awful about what happened. I vaguely remember him saying that his professor would never believe his story."

Then I talked with Alison Kitch, one of your law professors, at Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia.

"I had Daryl in my contract law class last fall," she said. "I am quite sympathetic with what happened to him. But he indeed broke the rules. He got thrown out for doing what the honors book says you will be thrown out for: He lied. If he had only told his professor he missed class because he met a young woman on a train and spent two days with her in Atlanta, he might have gotten a bad grade, but he wouldn't have been thrownout of school. If you believe in the honor system, then you believe students ought to do what they sign up to do."

Professor Kitch said you are "smart and resourceful," and she is sure you will land on your feet. She added: "If you have to be stuck somewhere, Vienna seems like a better place than Atlanta."

I also talked with Eric Chaffin, who represented you before the honors committee.

He confirmed the facts of the case, and added helpfully, "It's made me really want to see that movie."

Finally, Daryl, I talked with you personally. "I have a sales job right now," you said gloomily. "I'm applying to other law schools and hope to be accepted to one."

Will you see Jessica again?

"We plan to see each other in June."

"Daryl's taking me to a wedding," Jessica Turner told me. "It's in Boston. This time, he's going to fly."

Sandman Re-blog: Season of Mists Chapter One

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So this is the first issue where I had major problems, and I know you may not share my difficulties, but I'm going into them anyway. Perhaps I struggle with this because I don't believe there's a Hell, and the more I think about it, don't even have a conception of what Hell might look like.

It didn't bother me in Hell's previous appearance, back in Preludes and Nocturnes, because that introduced one domain among so many. In this issue, Hell is privileged as a place where all demons and evil beings go to roost.

Try as I might, I cannot see past this line: "there is only one that we have ever owned to be our superior. There is but one greater than us. And to him we no longer speak." Unless Gaiman's about to pull something completely left-field on us, this implies the Abrahamic God. Indeed, Hell is sold to us as a real place, but the very conception only exists in Judeo-Christian religions. And not only does Lucifer state that this God is far greater than the Lord of Dreams, he erases any ambiguity by quoting biblical verse.

So it's a contradiction: Cain resides in the realm of stories, and yet God is real and makes proclamations about this fictional character.

Also, the list of names in panel one of the issue? All of the "many names" are Judeo-Christian realms apart from Tartarus. Hades is not a place of demons, it's a realm of the dead, and Avernus is merely an entrance.

Then, when Lucifer states that no greater percentage of the hedonist Cainites ended up in Hell than of any other religion, you realize that Gaiman has set up this illogical realm to make a bad joke about the Abrahamic God, basically that his rules don't make sense and intentionally obfuscate the truth of morality to his followers, and all religions are equally valid or invalid.

Then WHY does Gaiman state through Lucifer that the Abrahamic God as superior to the Endless? Certainly he doesn't declare Bast or Inana or any number of other Gods to be so. In fact, all the other Gods have power only as long as they exist in memory, which means that their stories are alive among mortals, which is to say they belong to the King of Stories, aka Morpheus. So then, perhaps Gaiman is saying that some stories, ie the Christian one, can become more powerful than the Endless themselves if enough people believe in them. In which case this conception of Hell sort of makes sense.

We are introduced to a number of other plot points in this issue: we learn that Lyta's baby has some significance to Morpheus, and that Morpheus has a predilection for dressing like a giant coral reef.

I apologize for the lengthy digression, but I think things are going to get really crazy, really soon.

And let's not forget who Hell really is for:

Recession-Busting Recipe: Savory Tomato Tart



Remember Recession Busting Tip #2? Repeat after me: eat in season. Eat in season. It's good for the environment, it's good for farmers, and it's great for your taste-buds.

So today we feature the ever-humble tomato in one of my favorite summer dishes. It's light, it's tasty, and it fills your belly.

If you wanna use a store-bought pie crust, the prep for this dish will take about five minutes. But where's the fun in that?

Pie Crust

We're gonna keep it simple here. You need flour, cold butter (or butter substitute) and ice-cold water. The colder everything is, the better. If it helps, you can take off your shirt and pretend to be this guy:


Now get your flour into a large mixing bowl. You can use 3 1/2 cups of plain flour, but we have to pretend to be healthy these days, so I used 1.25 cups of wheat flour and 2.25 cups of plain flour.

Then, in a gesture swiftly undoing any attempt at healthiness, chop up 250 grams of butter (or butter substitute) and add it to the mix.

Flour and Butter

Massage it in until it becomes like this:


Then add half a cup of ice-cold water and mould into a ball of dough.

Now here's a neat trick you probably didn't expect. Cut the dough in half, and freeze one half of it. Why? It's extra. Save it for another pie. Through it at your husband or hated adversary if you like. But we don't need it now.


Refrigerate remaining dough for 30 minutes.

Use 30 minutes to:

  • Make homemade mustard, it's easy.
  • Read a chapter of The Great Gatsby and marvel at Fitzgerald's beautiful prose.
  • Get your dumbbells out and do a quick workout so you can look more like Val Kilmer, Ice-Man.


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 C)

Right here's the fun part. Roll out the dough.

You can either lay it into a pie tin or you can keep things loose (we're going with the latter here. Apparently this is often referred to as a galette, when you free-style the crust). Take the rolled out crust and lie it on a baking tin.

Rolled out dough

Blind bake for 5 minutes or so. Remove.

Take 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard and spread it over the crust, leaving a 2-inch border.


As you can see, I don't have enough mustard (oops!) so I whipped up a quick bechamel sauce, but normally mustard would be more than enough.


Take 2 large tomatoes and slice them thickly. Layer the slices over the mustard in a single layer, like so


Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with feta cheese (or whatever you cheese you fancy, but if you use cheddar, don't use too much or it takes over the flavor).

Season with salt and pepper and finely chopped herbs. Spoon a little balsamic vinegar on top if you have some, or some honey. Or nothing. Or chili flakes. At this point, it's up to you, but don't distract from the lovely tomato flavor.
Turn up edges of crust and fold over the filling, like so (though you can probably do it better than me):
Bake for 30 minutes, until the cheese on top starts to brown and the dough is crisp.
Et voila!

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