Authors before books

It’s unusual for me to know anything at all about an author before first reading a book of theirs, but there are four authors I’ve read who I first knew online, from their blogs, from their presence at The Slacktiverse, or, in the last case, on YouTube.

In order,

I met Kit Whitfield initially in her comments on Fred Clark’s blog Slacktivist, and later in her role as a moderator on The Slacktiverse. She blogs mainly about literature (I’ve mentioned her first-line analyses before). Her two novels, Bareback and In Great Waters, are absolutely excellent. Particularly the latter. See posts 64 and 88 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts.

I also met Ana Mardoll through The Slacktiverse, where she commented frequently. On her own blog, she writes about feminism, literature, and other bits and pieces. I’ve mentioned her novel Pulchitrude here before, and also linked to some of her discussions about art and culture. See post 87 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts on Pulchitrude.

John Scalzi is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He has his own blog: Whatever. He writes about writing (both the process of putting words together and the business of publishing), about the politics of fan-run conventions (particularly controversy in the past few years about the Hugo awards), and about anything else which takes his fancy, which of late has included quite a bit of American politics. I’ve so far read only one of his novels — Old Man’s War —, and I very much enjoyed it and intend to read more in the same series and in others.

John Green is one half of the Vlogbrothers on YouTube (his brother Hank is the other half). He’s also a noted YA author. I enjoy the Vlogbrothers — both their main channel itself and their educational spin-off channels such as Sci Show and Crash Course, so I sought out some of John’s books. So far I’ve read only Paper Towns, which is a fun read. It has a message, of course — all YA books do — but it’s subtle enough. It’s a well-crafted novel.

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night was published in the h2g2 Post on the 21st of September 2006. It’s a rather beautiful story by ianhimself. It’s set in Northern Ireland, and manages to be raw and true while absolutely not being a polemic. Also, it’s not at all about what you might at first imagine it to be about.

In Toastmasters, I’ve given thirteen speeches. I did the ten from the first manual, so I’m now a “Competent Communicator”. In fact, I finished them at the end of our last Toastmaster year (that is, the beginning of the summer: our last meeting before the summer break was my last speech from that manual), but I’ve only just officially registered for the CC award on Thursday night. To get the CC award, you need to do ten speeches, each focussing on different skills: gestures and body language, vocal variety, visual aids, persuasive speaking, inspirational speaking, and suchlike. I found those last two the hardest: my default type of speech is the informational: here’s this cool thing I found out about, let me tell you all about it.

That final speech from the CC manual was actually my eleventh speech, as I’d also  given one in a competition. It is possible to count competition speeches toward an award, if you get someone to evaluate them, but I hadn’t bothered. Besides, it was a recycled, polished up and improved version of a speech I’d given before.

In this Toastmasters year I’ve so far given two speeches. The first was from the Entertaining Speaker manual, I think. I don’t actually have that manual, and am unlikely to try it any time soon, but there’s a speech in the back of the CC manual as a taster, and I had a funny story to tell, so I told it. (It was actually about my visit to Reims for a h2g2 meet at the beginning of the summer. That’s a story I must write up for h2g2 one of these days.) I got that speech evaluated, of course, but it won’t count toward an award.

My next speaking award will be the Bronze. The task is to do two complete manuals. Each of these manuals has five speeches. (That’s why I can’t count my entertaining story: I’m not doing that manual now, and if I eventually do, I’ll start it again from the beginning.)

And, at the last meeting, I made my start on the Interpretive Reading manual, reading a story. Namely, The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night. It went down very well, I must say. (I did get some constructive feedback, focussing mainly on vocal projection, so that’s something I’ll have to work on.)

I don’t think I want to do too many readings in a row, so my next speech will have to be from another manual. Probably Speaking to Inform. As I said, that’s what suits me. If I do a reading as every third speech, which is what I think I’ll try for, it’ll mean I’ll have two and a half manuals done before I get the Bronze. Nevermind. That would mean I could then jump quickly to the Silver.


Film: Calvin & Hobbes

Bill Watterson has said that there will absolutely definitively not be a Calvin & Hobbes film. That’s probably a good thing. I can’t imagine that any such film could be anything less than a travesty. However, there is going to be a film about Calvin & Hobbes and Bill Watterson. It’s called Dear Mr Watterson, and looks like it might be interesting and rather pleasing.


Christian Horror Films: Horrific Christian Culture?

Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.
— Andrew O’Heihr, at Salon, reviewing the film The Conjuring.

And this is why I read Slacktivist, because he takes wonderful quotes like that and examines them.

This wholesome demonization of marginalized women is expected to “appeal to faith-minded audiences.” And it does.


Here’s Fred Clark on Christianity, horror films, and conservative social roles:

  1. The Amityville Horror is not based on a true story.
  2. The Conjuring reminds us that the only way to stop Satanic baby-killers is to punish women.

This film is a pep rally for a witch hunt. Witch hunts do not lead people toward God. Witch hunts and witch-hunters lead people, instead, toward the lethal notion that it is their job to identify and destroy the enemies of God. The stories witch-hunters tell are never true stories, but the victims those stories produce are all too real. And there is nothing “wholesome” about that.

And so it goes.


Kit Whitfield on first sentences

Kit Whitfield has published a large number of analyses of the first sentences of novels. (These really are analyses, not book reviews. They’re involved, detailed and based on a thoughtful close reading of the subject matter. Spoilers, of course, abound.) Her writing is pitch-perfect, and it itself is full of quotable sentences. From Jane Eyre we have, “Some books begin with a flourish, others with a handshake.” The series has covered the two most famous opening sentences in fiction — Pride and Prejudice (“Austen is an angry writer, sometimes a furious one, sometimes even a hateful one — but my goodness, does she promise us the world”) and A Tale of Two Cities (“There is no authority noisier than Dickens, especially when he’s slapping down a rival authority”) — and classics from Nineteen Eighty-Four (“With Orwell, the language is vehemently simple, ideologically simple, a declaration of war against obfuscation and half-truth”) to Anne of Green Gables (“Anne may talk breathlessly and at great length, but the narrative can match her word for word”). Also included are two Terry Pratchett novels: Sourcery and Pyramids (“some books begin with a handshake, and Pratchett takes this a step further: in effect, his first sentences are secret handshakes”).

When she posted an analysis of The Catcher in the Rye I didn’t read it, because at that point I had not yet read the book. I have now, so I went back and read Kit’s post. I think I’m going to have to read the book again now. (“How does Salinger get away with a first sentence that refuses to to talk to us?”) Awesome stuff.

I can even find much of value in analyses of books I’ve not yet read, such as her take on Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky and Co. (I love Kipling’s Kim so I probably should read Stalky and Co.)

The most recent, and perhaps also the best, post in the series is Middlemarch. Wow. Just, wow.


I know nothing about Morrissey

I really do know nothing about Morrissey. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard his music. Apparently, it’s powerful stuff, and Morrissey himself is a powerfully controversial figure, whose public statements are often deeply problematic and at contrast with the nature of his work. This is a very good article, and it’s an interesting look at our interaction with and appreciation of problematic art, but I’m linking to it also because the writing is awesome:

I don’t know Morrissey’s motivation for writing the Smiths tune “Accept Yourself,” in which he sings “Anything is hard to find, when you will not open your eyes, when will you accept yourself?” I may never know what he intended when he wrote “Dial-a-Cliche,” but I know when I heard the lyric “You find that you’ve organized your feelings for people who didn’t like you then and don’t like you now,” it made me consider how, in remaining closeted, I was performing for an audience most of whom hadn’t paid a dime to get into the show.

Wow. Now that is art.


“sexiness is feminine-coded”

This is a righteous rant.

What do women who like guys want in their porn? Well, it varies (women: not a hive mind), but here’s a reasonably common desire:

‘smiling dudes’, ‘dudes giving bedroom eyes’, ‘cock’

Seems reasonable to me.

And here’s what the patriarchy thinks women want:

tough, aloof-looking shirtless guys with power muscles and weapons

Which some women definitely do want, of course (see: not a hive mind), but in many ways it’s also a masculine power fantasy:

  • Men in comic books/movies/TV/video games/etc. are who men want to be.
  • Women in those same media are who men want to fuck.

Which is a problem. It’s a problem which is addressed head-on in this rant by moniquill:

We could probably use this as a really interesting launching point for the fundamental disconnect between ‘what people actually find hot’ and ‘what society/patriarchy presumes is hot’ and how the assignations of gender roles and sexuality fuck with that.

Go read the full thing.


Note: These links are to Tumblr, which means it’s impossible to work out what’s going on. The thought process behind Tumblr seems to have been, “Let’s take a blogging platform, and remove all the features which make it usable, such as understandable navigation, and release it on the world. And let’s replace the comment system with a strange system of reposting stuff you like onto your own blog, and adding a note there. Or simply reposting without adding a note. Which means that anything popular will be duplicated a few hundred times and you’d usually have to follow a very very long chain of links to find the original.”

If that’s what the thought process was, well, congratulations, because that’s what they produced.

I do not like Tumblr. I do not understand why Tumblr is popular. At least the Tumblr blog “Sex Is Not the Enemy” tends to reformat and tidy up the stuff they repost, rather than just hitting the “reblog” button, so their Tumblr is readable, unlike most others. So read the article there.