Blog · book club · Reading

Happy Women’s Day!

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Photo: Daria Głodowska

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. This month we will #readmorewomen!

Right now, I’m alternating between Julie Dao’s darkly sparkling fairy tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, inspired by true stories of the horrors of Ravensbruck. Both are tales of strong women learning and navigating that strength, and finding their way in a world that seeks to overpower them.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, these are some of my favorite short stories that I’ve discovered in the last few months, all by women!
You can find more great reads at Enchanted Conversation!
Happy reading!
Kiyomi
I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.
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Blog · book club · Reading

On 200 years of Frankenstein

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The story of Frankenstein is arguably the first science fiction novel, and was written by a teenage girl. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, nee Godwin, had eloped to Europe with her lover and their friends – notably Lord Byron – in that mythic Year Without a Summer. In 1816 Mt. Tambora erupted and filled the atmosphere with thick volcanic ash, blotting out the sun, and leading to massive crop failures. As Mary and her group traveled around Europe, they couldn’t fail to notice the tens of thousands of people displaced that year by famine, seeking refuge from town to town.

The story goes that, once they settled in a chateau in Switzerland, Byron challenged the group to come up with ghost stories to alleviate the boredom of being trapped inside by the unseasonably cold and wet weather.

One of those stories, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, has come down to us as one of the most widely read and recognized horror tales of the modern era. It’s impact lies not in the body horror hidden in some mysterious process of imbuing inert matter with life, but stands as an example of the Other and Outsider in society. Frankenstein’s monster, left unnamed, represents the unknown and unfamiliar of which we are afraid.

We don’t necessarily fear the different, as long as it remains “over there,” but pressed up against our “right here,” it means change, instability, and threat to what we have known and held dear. Whatever comes after, we know for certain that our lives as they have been until now are ended. The monster seeks aid, mercy, shelter, simple human kindness, and is shunned. He does terrible things, and has terrible things done to him.

If he had been welcomed, cared for, loved instead…

But we’ll never know. Everyone dies in the end, and Mary leaves it to us to decide where the lines of right and wrong may fall. Yet she points to the possibility of other outcomes, had circumstance shifted in one way or another.

What are the responsibilities of society to the unloved and the unlovely? Should we – must we – care for the poor and broken and abandoned? The ugly and stupid and friendless? And what responsibility do we bear for the consequences of ignoring them? Left without resource or recourse, what do we expect to become of societies monsters?

Monster comes to us from the Latin monere, which means “a warning.”

Mary Shelley’s turn of the century brought her into the 1800s, the era of Victoria; an era of dramatic social change, technological advancement, population explosion, food shortage, unemployment, political upheaval, strange climate behavior, question, challenge, and doubt. What could an eighteen year old girl have to say to us from a book written two hundred years ago this month?

 

You can read my story, inspired by Frankenstein, here.

Happy reading!

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

book club

Book Club: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

I first read this book back in 2011 on a very long plane ride. Smart phones were not really the universal thing yet that they are today (remember that?) and the idea of free wifi everywhere did seem like an intriguing possibility, though even at that time, perhaps less subversive than when the story was originally written. Either way, the juxtaposition of technology and magic, and the weirdness of both, gripped me. This summer, a group of friends and I decided to launch our book club, and I was so thrilled when we drew this book title from The Hat of Destiny, and I got to share it with them!
Doctorow shares his books for free download on his website, and I highly recommend this one!  Then also go buy it, because artists need to eat too.  Fans of magical realism will enjoy the shadow world implied, though may wish more time was devoted to it – you will be left wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing!

Spoilers ahead!

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To begin, we were intrigued by the way the characters names constantly were in flux, indicating perhaps their own constantly shifting self-identity, as a result of the nature of the Sons of the Mountain (though I argue for their equally being the Sons of the Washing Machine). One of the characteristics of a fairy tale (as opposed to folklore, legend, myth and other forms of story telling pertaining to the non-empirical) is the lack of specific location in terms of person, place, and time; and while Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is established firmly in Toronto in the early 2000s, the character’s identities – as being identified and identifiable to others – certainly are not. And outside of what happens in Toronto, the specifics of time and place do blur a bit.

This story is about men, and boys, and boys becoming men, or not. It is a story about Alan, and Alan and his brothers, so that’s fair enough; but it perhaps slides a little bit into the default position of male-as-neutral. Either way, the story doesn’t have a lot to say about women – in fact, arguably there are none in the book – but presents some interesting vignettes. Mom is literally a washing machine that produces babies, keeps clothes clean, and is otherwise, largely, what you would expect from a washing machine. Alan has two love interests in his life, both in underdeveloped woman-child form. Though Marci is perhaps the most fully actualized, fully human, fully alive character in the book, and provides a dynamic counter-point to Alan’s strangeness, she’s also still a little girl, and tragically remains so. Mimi (not her real name), whose memory really only begins at age eleven (the same age Marci was, or close to it), is too broken and confused to really ever demonstrate any personal agency. She doesn’t even have a name, that we’re told, and though that may be a function of her magical character, she isn’t given the benefit of multiple appellations, but remains fixed in the name Alan has assigned her.

We all wanted to see more of her auntie, and the the story behind those pictures!

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Death and the Gravedigger by Carlos Schwabe, via Wikimedia Commons

And so we wondered if Alan’s “power” (in addition to regenerative healing) might be an ability to shape the world around him, or at least people, to his own will. The sheer force of his will and charisma are really only resisted by Krishna, whose ability to see things for what they are may have given him an advantage there. Krishna and Kurt we saw as perhaps being two sides of the same coin. While Krishna is Alec’s nemesis, who seems to revel in pointing out and mocking A’s weirdness, Kurt is Alan’s best friend, and hardly seems to notice Alan isn’t human. Kurt is the person Andrew seems to most really and truly care about. For example, consider Adam’s reaction when Kurt’s home is going to be burnt down, verses his spending several days with Kurt, pursuing their vision of free wifi for the neighborhood, after EFG have been kidnapped by Davy. Alan’s only real emotions seem to be anger and lust – stereotypically masculine – in an otherwise restrained and focused life of trying to appear normal.

The library scene was poignant. Adam’s library card was his first piece of identification, and the thing that made him real. It was his proof that he existed in the world, and the thing that allowed him to more fully inhabit it and to establish himself as a person. Documentation, or its lack, not only establishes where we have come from, but shapes the trajectory of our future. A little piece of paper can define to what degree we are allowed to exist, and what rights and privileges we’re entitled to claim. Mimi and Alan’s brothers had no such claims.

 

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By Special Collections Toronto Public Library from Toronto, Canada (Public library of Toronto children’s card) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Aaron was the only one who was ever even really able to try at a normal life. Benny, after his glory days in high school, perhaps could have, but still felt too far apart from the rest of society to pursue what his older brother did, and Carlos did perhaps achieve a degree of normalcy for what he was. For the other boys, and for Mimi, that was never really an option. The Sons of the Washing Machine were just too weird. There is a horrifying moment when Gerald points out that the others need him, not the other way around, and Alan rightly tells him, gently, that his implication is monstrous – he would leave his brothers to die. Yet who can blame Grayson for wanting to have his own life, free from the complicated entanglements of his complicated family? Who can begrudge anyone the right to live their own life? We usually resent and reject even familial claims of what is “owed” to wherever one comes from – yet that rejection, in this case, literally destroys the family and where they came from. And did Albert do any less himself, or was his departure functionally the same as what is so readily recognized as horrible to even suggest in Gary?

We didn’t have much to say about Link and Natalie, but we did wonder, where are H, I, and J??

Danny was well liked as a character by all of us. The most obvious villain (though that role may better be held by Brad and/or, to a certain degree, Alan himself), he was still a little boy trying to protect his family, his home, the world that he could understand and survive in, that was perhaps being threatened and undermined by the action of his brother. And he was also not human at all, like all of them, but instead a creature half out of fabled landscapes, and half mundane household item – similar, yet distinct from the modern world in significant ways. Perhaps because of both his naivete and because Davy is feral, he was manipulated by his brothers to become a monster, an object that embodied all their ambivalence and fear, an object that they then could (they thought) destroy. It doesn’t remove his culpability, or the terribleness of what he did, but it does raise the question of who else shared responsibility, and in what measure?

 

And there’s so much more. So, go read it if you haven’t! If you have, and you would like to share your thoughts as well, please do!

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.