Siberia; August 15th

It’s August 15th!  Happy Independence Day, India!  Where my excellent friend is and I hope she is having a good time teaching children!  And Happy Assumption of the Virgin Day, Catholics!  I didn’t go to church today despite its being a holy day of obligation, but never mind, I will go another time.  And, says my newspaper, and Wikipedia agrees with me, it is also happy birthday to Phyllis Schlafly, which I normally wouldn’t mention except it’s such a coincidence because I was just thinking about her the other day reading The Handmaid’s Tale!

(When I was in high school and my mum was getting her degree in theology, she had this book called Texts of Terror, by an excellent scholar of Biblical feminism called Phyllis Trible.  And I always scowled at it blackly on the bookshelf when I saw it because I thought it was Phyllis Schlafly, and I knew I didn’t care for Phyllis Schlafly.  And then one time I pulled it out and looked at it properly, and discovered it was close readings of several Biblical incidents involving harm to women.  Not Phyllis Schlafly at all.  Phyllis Trible is someone totally different.)

But on to Ann Halam‘s Siberia, which I read about on Sharry’s blog.  Another YA dystopia book – apparently I can’t get enough of these.  In this case, Sloe and her mother grow up in a snowy wasteland of wretchedness, having been banished thither due to her mother’s scientist proclivities.  The unpleasant future here includes not only lots of hateful government taking people off and killing/banishing them, but no wild animals at all left in the world.  Sloe’s mum is the secret guardian of “seed kits”, which contain the seeds of animals that will allow the earth to be repopulated someday.  Their mission is to bring the kits eventually to a city where they will be safe.

This didn’t really work for me.  Maybe I am dystopia’d out.  This world didn’t feel real, and neither did Sloe’s quest to bring her little seed animals to safety – how could they really use them to repopulate the earth, with the government in power?  They’d just get shot!  I didn’t get a sense of the way the government works, or how the world had ironed itself out (like where were the luxury people that apparently exist?  I don’t know!  It was confusing!), and I didn’t think the seed kit animals were well-explained.  Plus, here are some spoilers for you, I was mad that Sloe’s mum was alive in the end.  I thought the story lacked an emotional punch, and I think it was partly because the environment didn’t seem terribly threatening (as evidenced by Sloe’s mum’s survival).

On the other hand, I was reading it at the hospital, an atmosphere not conducive to reading pleasure, and I have to admit, I was flying through and possibly not paying much attention to it.  I think it could have done with some more fleshing out of the world they live in, but my other criticisms may be completely unfair.  And why am I mad that the mum survived?  I always want people’s loved ones to survive in dystopian books!  Sheesh.

Sex and the Soul, Donna Freitas

I recently read Mark Regnerus’s Forbidden Fruit, and found it unsatisfyingly lacking in good stories; I have had the opposite problem with Donna Freitas‘s Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses.  Like Regnerus, Freitas is interested in exploring the intersection of religion/spirituality and sex in America’s youth, though she focuses on college students where Regnerus’s book was more interested in teenagers.  She conducted interviews with students at different types of universities – Catholic ones, evangelical ones, regular public ones – about their spiritual and sexual lives and those of their community.

Many good stories here – college students are so much more interesting and articulate than high school students, or maybe I just got that impression because Freitas quotes from her interviews so extensively.  The chapter dedicated to “Evangelical Purity Culture” freaked me out, just as those things always do.  Purity: it’s a weird thing to want.  Here is a paragraph that does my head in.

A number of women I interviewed had detailed fantasies about the role a promise ring would play during her engagement, on her wedding day, and throughout her marriage.  One young woman explained how one of her friends “melted down her chastity ring and put it into her husband’s wedding ring,” which she thought “was pretty cool.”  Another had moved her promise ring to her right ring finger when she got engaged, and had plans to present it to her husband after the marriage ceremony as a special token of how she’d “saved herself” for him.  This same young woman also spoke of her promise ring as a kind of “purity heirloom” that her husband would someday pass on to their daughter.

I have just reread the paragraph twice and I cannot get my mind around why you would want to a) wear a purity ring, and b) describe yourself as “pure” because you haven’t had sex like sex makes you dirty, and c) have your husband pass on your purity ring to your daughter like Here, honey, this is a symbol of your mother’s purity, now please live up to it and don’t be filthy and sully yourself by having sex until I specifically give you away to someone.  Ick!  This father-daughter chastity thing is so ickily Freudian to me.  Fathers are not the guardians of their daughters’ sexuality prior to marriage.  That is weird.

There were loads of good interview stories all throughout the book, which I liked because people can tell you more (obviously) about their motives and beliefs than surveys seeking statistics.  However, I would have liked to see some comparisons between the interviews Freitas excerpts for us, and statistics from studies on a broad scale regarding college students’ sexual behaviors and adherence to religion or whatever.  As much as I was interested to see what the students were saying about themselves and their peers, I would have liked some helpful statistics to provide context.  Then I wouldn’t have gotten all skeptical-face about some of her conclusions and complained about how just because those people at those colleges said it didn’t make it true of everyone (as I’m sure she well knows).

Sex and the Soul raises questions about colleges’ roles in creating open, frank dialogues for their students regarding sexuality and religion.  Evangelical colleges, Freitas points out, provide a structure for how sexuality should go: rigid and unflinching as the structure may be, they are discussing it – giving their students a framework for navigating their sexuality.  She is bothered by the fact that institutions of higher education offer so little room for the personal, which “is not rigorous enough to warrant a place in the curriculum”.  Despite the lack of helpful contextualizing statistics, which made it seem like the author was leaping to conclusions (I am not sure about its academic rigor), I thought Sex and the Soul was most interesting, all thought-provoking and full of different portraits of college life.

Freitas has also written a book called Killing the Imposter God, about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books.  The idea apparently being that Philip Pullman is actually writing a Christianer book than he thinks he is.  Except I need to reread the Philip Pullman again, as it’s been ages since I read them last.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale is feminist dystopian satire.  It was sort of a box-tick read, but it was very good, and well-written, and I’m glad I read it and I never ever want to read it again.  In slightly-future America, now a fascist misogynist theocracy called Gilead, Offred (but June, really) is a Handmaid.  This means that she has viable ovaries, and is responsible for producing babies.  Once a month she has sex with the Commander to whom she belongs, and her life is sharply circumscribed – she can’t read, can’t walk in public by herself, can’t talk to other men.

The book is not a straightforward narration of events – what fun would that be, for a Bad Future America?  June’s narration tilts between times, the present and the past and the little she can imagine of her future.  We gradually begin to get a picture of June’s life as a Handmaid – dancing around forbidden subjects with fellow Handmaids and other members of the household, trying to navigate changing relationships with the Commander and his Wife, who used to be an awful Phyllis Schafly person in the time before Gilead became a fascist theocracy.  And June talks about her life before, her husband and daughter, and the events that led up to where she is now, including her time in a women’s indoctrination school.

The Handmaid’s Tale made me feel upset – or, actually, as I have been rigorously trained not to say that anything makes me feel anything, I felt upset when I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale.  Obviously that’s the point!  I just don’t think I’m going to read it again.  She just makes it seem so viable – they draw a comparison with Iran, and I’ve been reading about Iran, and it’s scary.  Like, June talks about the speed with which she has adapted to her new life: it’s been only a few years, but already she is shocked to see the clothes on women from other countries, skirts to the knee, and lipstick.  I don’t know – June’s life has become so small, even from what it was at the indoctrination school.  Upsetting.

Something else that upset me: June tells stories about her friend Moira, a feminist who went to her same college, and who was at June’s same indoctrination school.  Moira is brave and rebellious – she swears and gossips and escapes from the school – and June admires this.  But still she recognizes that she isn’t as brave as Moira, and she tries to imagine that Moira finds a way to be free.  “Moira is right,” she says, almost at the end.  “I am a wimp.”  (I’m not brave either.)

Oh, but (spoilers here!) there was one of those lovely unresolved endings that I like so much.  I like these because then things always end happily.  In my mind, June escaped and  she found Luke and she went through the Phyllis Schafly person to find her daughter, and then she got her daughter back, and they moved to Canada, the true North strong and free (yeah, I know that song), and lived happily ever after.  I love it when grim books let you decide what happens in the end.

A bit I liked, about the pre-Gilead days:

There were places you didn’t want to walk, precautions you took that had to do with locks on windows and doors, drawing the curtains, leaving on lights.  These things you did like prayers; you did them and you hoped they would save you.  And for the most part they did.  Or something did; you could tell by the fact that you were still alive.

And this, from one of the women who indocrinates June.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it….We seemed to be able to choose, [in the old days].  We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.

The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others.  How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable.  They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.

We were the people who were not in the papers.  We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print.  It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

I want to read more Margaret Atwood.  I love how she writes.  I only didn’t give this five stars because it gave me a nightmare.  Dammit.  Without even being true!

Other reviews: Book Nut, The Book Lady’s Blog, The Luscious Literary Muse, Books for Breakfast, The Bluestocking Society, Books and Other Stuff, Violet Crush, It’s All About Me, read warbler, things mean a lot, Valentina’s Room, Reading Reflections, In Spring It Is the Dawn, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Rebecca Reads, Boston Bibliophile, and let me know if I missed yours!

Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes about the structure, creation, history, and vocabulary (among other things!) of comics.  He does it, of course, in graphic novel form, with a little cartoon Scott McCloud telling us what is going on.  I love this because when he talks about a technique that graphic novels use, voila, he can show it to us too!  The book never becomes boring, which is partly down to the fact that it’s an interesting topic, but also partly because the form allows a lot of room for humor.  (I was going to write “and whimsy”, but I hate that damn word.  Though I like Peter Wimsey.)

I loved the section about the different transitions between panels.  Scott McCloud lists six categories of transitions between panels, and then does an analysis of how often different comic artists use each different transition.  He makes bar graphs.  I was so intrigued by the differences between how often American & European artists used each transition type, and how often Japanese artists did.  McCloud shows examples of each transition, and although he gives them a number, he keeps reminding you which type is which (through pictures!).  Fantastic.

My one little gripe was with the section on the (sometimes uneasy) marriage of words and pictures.  I am only griping about it because to me, the combination of words and pictures provides the most amazing and fascinating and incredible possibilities for comics.  (I like words.)  I just looked back at it, and that chapter is just as comprehensive as the transitions chapter; when I was reading it, I felt like there weren’t nearly enough cool examples.  I still feel like that actually, but you may want to consider the possibility that there are plenty of examples and I am just insatiable and can never have enough.

In other news, Scott McCloud referenced a painting of Magritte’s (“This is not a pipe”), which caused me to tell my sister “I really like Magritte,” which caused me to have to get up and bring her a book about Magritte because she couldn’t remember who he was.  And this in turn led us to find this painting, which is rather graphic so you’ve been warned, “The Rape”, which pleased me so much that I traveled back in time and thanked Magritte in pretty and fluent French for his getting a point about what it is like being a woman that people often seem to miss.

(No, you may not borrow my time machine.  I have destroyed it, along with all copies of the plans.  V. dangerous to have such a thing around the house.)

(I just found a woman called Eunice Golden who says she created (warning, this is fairly graphic too) this piece of art “in defiance of censorship (which I consider to be a rape of the mind), and as a response to Magritte’s mutilation of the female body in ‘Le Viol’.”  Am I misunderstanding her completely, or is she misunderstanding Magritte completely?  Or, possibly, am I misunderstanding Magritte?)

I have strayed from the Scott McCloud point.  I liked Understanding Comics!  I have Making Comics out of the library, and I want to get Reinventing Comics as well!  Other views besides mine:

Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot
Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness
Rebecca Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster

The Brooklyn Follies is all about a middle-aged man called Nathan Glass, divorced, a cancer survivor, estranged from his daughter, who goes to Brooklyn to die.  While there, he reunites with his nephew Tom, who is working in a bookshop for an earnest, checkered-past-y, rather gullible man called Harry.  The events of the story come together to give Nathan a life again.


I cannot decide what my final verdict on the book is.  In parts, I really really liked it.  It was extremely well-written, as I noticed from the first.  I would say this was its most notable characteristic, that it was well-written.  I was interested in what was going to happen to everyone as soon as they showed up – or if not as soon as, then definitely shortly thereafter.  There was an element of absurdism – I say an element, it was a really big element – and I am a fan of absurdism too.  The little girl Lucy who shows up and changes Nathan and Tom’s lives is adorable and (mostly) exactly like a little girl.  This was all good.  Oh, and there was a cult.  I want more cult!

On the other hand, the author kept bringing up weighty matters very casually, and then not paying them off.  For instance, he mentions the 2000 election a number of times, just matter-of-factly complaining about Bush’s awfulness and how that election was handled badly, without actually discussing it in a serious way.  I don’t mind characters having political views that they don’t talk about in depth, but it came up often enough in The Brooklyn Follies to feel like a preachy message from the author, rather than a view held by the characters.  I don’t like preachy.

Furthermore, I did not like the way the character of Aurora was handled.  I am not sure I can articulate the way I felt about it, but I will give it a go.  Aurora is Tom’s sister, and Tom tells a long tragic story, awfully long and awfully tragic, about how he lost track of her and then one day he discovered she was doing porn and then she had been gang-raped by the porn crew, and then he was taking care of her, and then she vanished again.  Later on she gets married to a cult member who keeps her locked in a room when she refuses to keep going to church after the cult leader comes on to her and she gives him oral sex (this story she tells at some length to her uncle).

It’s not that the characters are saying, Hooray for rape and bad culty sex behaviors.  They are upset that Aurora has gone through all of this.  But still I do not feel comfortable with the way it’s handled.  Aurora hardly ever speaks for herself, or does anything for herself.  She undergoes many miserable trials, and en fin Uncle Nat rescues her.  There’s never any attempt to deal honestly with what happens to her, or pay it out emotionally, which makes you wonder what it’s all in there for, this rape and bad culty sex behaviors business.

As I say, the book was well-written, but this Aurora problem bothered me enough that I wasn’t able to enjoy it.  Perhaps I shall try a different Paul Auster book instead?  Any Paul Auster fans out there who want to weigh in on this issue?  Am I imagining things?  Is there a method to the madness that I’m just not picking up on?

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell

Let us begin with two girls at a dance.

They are at the edge of the room.  One sits on a chair, opening and shutting a dance-card with gloved fingers.  The other stands beside her, watching the dance unfold: the circling couples, the clasped hands, the drumming shoes, the whirling skirts, the bounce of the floor.  It is the last hour of the year and the windows behind them are blank with night.  The seated girl is dressed in something pale, Esme forgets what, the other in a dark red frock that doesn’t suit her.  She has lost her gloves.  It begins here.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is all about a woman called Iris who owns a vintage clothing store and represses feelings for her step-brother, who inherits a crazy old great-aunt she never knew she had when the mental health institution where she has been housed for sixty years closes down.  The story is told from Iris’s point of view, and Esme’s memories of her life before, and the disordered memories of Esme’s sister Kitty (Iris’s grandmother), who now suffers from Alzheimer’s.

This book was really good.  Really, really good.  I liked it so much.  I’ve read reviews that said that Iris’s part of the story wasn’t fleshed out enough, but I thought it worked really well actually – the juxtaposition between Esme, who is institutionalized for being inconveniently unwilling to adhere to the standards required of a woman of her time and class; and Iris, who, like Esme, doesn’t want the marriage thing but lives in a time when she can be a professional woman and that’s what she chooses.

As the book goes on, it carefully, carefully starts to explain why Esme’s family had her committed to a mental institution, and why her sister Kitty pretended to her family all her life that she was an only child.  It’s not a very nice story, but it’s a good story.

Good partly, of course, because it’s true – when Iris is researching to find out why Esme was committed in the first place, she finds records of women and girls who were put in mental institutions by their families for things like not wanting to have their hair cut, taking long walks, refusing marriage.  That happened.  It’s upsetting, and it doesn’t pull any punches – if you were in a place with people who were crazy, and everyone was constantly telling you that you were crazy, you’d have a hard time hanging onto your sanity.

So, read it!  It was really good!  The end was ambiguous!  Fantastic title!

An Inconvenient Wife, Megan Chance

I love books about the Victorians.  It’s Oscar Wilde’s fault for being one.  And I like books about mental illness, as long as they do not do that stream of consciousness thing, which I absolutely can’t stand.  So when I read about this on the other Jenny Claire’s blog, I was pleased as punch to read it; and yes, I did mess up my don’t-check-out-any-more-library-books thing in order to get this book.  And, okay, yes, since I was at the library anyway, I may have gotten a few other books as well.

An Inconvenient Wife is about an upper-class American woman called Lucy who is very depressed and anxious and has been having panic attacks, because she’s unhappy with married life.  Her husband William wants to take care of her.  After a number of failed attempts to fix her, her husband arranges for her to see a neurologist called Victor Seth.  Seth becomes obsessed with trying to make Lucy all strong and independent, and let’s just say that their doctor-patient relationship does not remain entirely a professional one.

This was a thought-provoking book – Lucy is becoming a person who does not depend on her husband and peers to define how she should behave.  On the other hand, you never feel sure that she’s doing what she wants to do and being who she’s supposed to be, because her doctor’s manipulating her, and their relationship is never going to be acceptable because he’s abusing the entire doctor-patient dynamic.  It was disturbing.  I never felt like I had found my footing.

Given the choice, I’d rather read a book that was slightly melodramatic, than one that was so reflective you couldn’t locate a plot.  However, I thought this book could have been better than it was by being just the tiniest smidge more subtle about Lucy’s mindset, and the things that were going to happen.  Towards the end of the book, a number of slightly melodramatic things happened, and they would have been completely fine (you know, more fine) if they had been handled a bit more delicately.

Virgin: An Untouched History, Hanne Blank

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ten thousand years.  I saw it at Bongs & Noodles once, when I had a bunch of B&N gift card credit, and thought seriously about getting it, before ultimately deciding on something totally different.  And then I got it out of the library before Christmas last year.  I love the library.  I don’t know how anyone functions without the lovely library.

This book is just what you might imagine, a history of virginity, or really, cultural attitudes towards virginity.  It is completely fascinating.  Really.  I’ve been staying up late the past two or three nights being sucked in by my addiction to this book and all the interesting stories it contained.  Ooo, like this one about a crazy Hungarian baroness (this is true) who thought that she could make herself young and beautiful again by bathing in the blood of virgins.  So she got all these little peasant virgin girls and utterly hung them upside down from their feet and drained their blood, and then she started a finishing school, ho ho ho, for aristocratic girls and did the same thing to them.  I think deep down she wanted to be caught.  What a crazy.

(That reminded me of how Oscar Wilde’s VILE BOYFRIEND, Lord Alfred Douglas, had an ancestor that was crazy and one time killed a scullery boy and roasted him on a spit and ate him.  It is no surprise that horrid Lord Alfred Douglas and his horrid father were so horrid and insane, with the lunatic insanity and the dangerous levels of instability.  I have long suspected that Oscar Wilde was too insecure to go out with anyone he perceived as his equal.  Too bad, because really, Oscar Wilde was great and could have done much better than Lord Alfred “I am batshit insane and so’s my old man” Douglas.)

The book discusses a number of different topics, including views of virginity in the ancient, Christian, and post-Reformation world (and by “world” I pretty much mean “West”), erotic fetishization of virginity; virginity’s apparently declining importance in the modern developed world; AND BUFFY.  Er, which wasn’t really its own chapter or anything.  I just like Buffy.  I was pleased that Hanne Blank liked what Joss Whedon did with Buffy’s story, and that she didn’t think Buffy was being punished for losing her virginity.  Because in fairness, Buffy is going to suffer miserably no matter how well or badly she’s behaving.

For a single book about a massive topic, this book covered a lot of ground, and I really enjoyed it.  There were still tons of things it didn’t get into – there wasn’t much about cultural attitudes towards virginity in the Middle East, Asia, etc., for instance.  I kind of want to read the other one, Anke Bernau’s Virgins: A Cultural History, but my library, alas, hasn’t got it.  I am thinking of donating money to the university library so they will GOD LET ME CHECK OUT BOOKS AGAIN.  Not having access to the university library is the only, only downside to having graduated from college.

The Wednesday Sisters, Meg Waite Clayton

This is another one of those I’ve read about on several different websites. Trish’s book blog, Caribousmom, SassyMonkey … probably more, but those are the ones I remember. Everyone kept saying how good it was, but the library hadn’t got it in, and I didn’t like Language of Light enough to finish it, so I put off reading it. The Wednesday Sisters is all about five women in the sixties (then seventies) who become very close friends and form a writing group. Which isn’t doing it justice, because there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist.

There are things that could be changed for the better, yes. Sometimes there are weird, jarring shifts in point of view, that don’t seem to be happening to any reason except that it became inconvenient for Ms. Clayton that Frankie couldn’t read the minds of her other friends. And I found it annoying that the narrator kept constantly pausing and making little nods to the twenty-first century, like, Back then we didn’t even think of divorce as an option! I know it’s true, and it didn’t bug me the first several times, but after a while I wished she’d quit it.

On the other hand, I found myself surprisingly addicted to this book. For a book that isn’t big on actiony action (it’s more, you know, emotional things going on), it was quite engrossing. Every time I found myself doing something that was not reading The Wednesday Sisters, I got really cranky like when a baby gets fussy, and I kept thinking, Why am I not reading The Wednesday Sisters right now? This is so stupid, I don’t want to do this, I want to read The Wednesday Sisters some more so I can be contented.

So yup, I liked it a lot.

Lud-in-the-Mist, Hope Mirlees

And once again, I have Neil Gaiman to thank for some charming fantasy reading.  First Martin Millar (darling Martin Millar! My only, only regret about my recent abandonment of graduate school is that I can now no longer use the university’s interlibrary loan system to acquire for myself the rest of Martin Millar’s out-of-print books), and now Lud-in-the-Mist, to which, I have to say, I believe Stardust owes a hefty debt.  I’m always so pleased when I discover that Neil Gaiman has stolen his ideas or plots, mainly because the man is about ten thousand times more weirdly creative than any normal person needs to be, and I’m very envious, and I feel better about myself when I notice that he does the same thing I do – and everyone does, but since I admire Neil Gaiman so much as a writer it’s especially validating to see it in him – of swiping excellent ideas from other people’s books.

Lud-in-the-Mist is about a town called Lud-in-the-Mist in the fictional country of Dorimare, which borders on the realms of Faerie but legally denies the existence of these realms.  Everyone hates fairy things, because of the Law, and they’re not allowed to eat fairy fruit or talk about fairy things, and they definitely don’t ever go into the wicked fairy realms.  Such things got banished.  But then the Mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist discovers that his son’s acting all crazy, and then more and more crazy (fairy-fruit related) things keep happening, and everything descends into chaos.  And it seems that this shady character called Endymion Leer is behind it all.

I love the names in this book!  They’re all Endymion Leer and Nathaniel Chanticleer and Mumchance and Portunus.  And the book itself is delightful – it’s funny in places and haunting in places, and Hope Mirlees has an excellent turn of phrase.  I wrote down almost as many bits of Lud-in-the-Mist in my commonplace book as I did of The Napoleon of Notting-Hill lo these many years ago (why is G.K. Chesterton so crazy awesome?).

Yummy.  Read it.

(I am coming to the end of my commonplace book, which makes me sad.  My eighth-grade English teacher gave me it after our school’s big anthology won a prize at English Day (I was its editor), and since I’m not a big writer-in-journals, I didn’t use it for ages, and I felt way guilty about it because my eighth-grade English teacher was so, so nice to me.  And then one day during a Shakespeare unit in one of my high school English classes, I went home and wrote down that line from Romeo and Juliet – “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now” – which made tim sneer, sneery tim, but which I completely love – and the rest is history.  I’ll be sad to get another commonplace book when I’ve been with this one so long.)

Oh, I forgot to say – my one complaint about Lud-in-the-Mist was that it was a wee bit on the sexist side.  More than a wee bit.  None of the female characters are very realized – it’s a fairy tale, so the characters aren’t meant to be incredibly vivid, but the women never do anything but react to what their menfolk are doing.  Plus the main character, Nathaniel Chanticleer?  His daughter disappears into the fairy realm early on in the book, but he hardly even mentions that; when his son gets taken into the realm of fairy he’s like I WILL GO AND FIND HIM AND WILL NOT RETURN UNLESS I RETURN WITH MY BELOVED DEAREST SON.  He happens to rescue his daughter along the way, but I swear he doesn’t even notice because he’s so hell-bent on rescuing his son.  Lame.

Otherwise, good!  Thanks, Neil Gaiman – it saw me through some of the endless days I have to survive before I get to read The Graveyard Book.  (Next up on my distractions-until-The-Graveyard-Book: The Red House Mystery.  If I read it very slowly on purpose and take lots of breaks to cross-stitch and write my stories, that and whatever else I’m rereading – eyeing The Book Thief but not sure I’m up for the emotional commitment – should get me through until Chalice is released next week, and then it’ll only be another fortnight before The Graveyard Book.

Other views:

Darla at Books & Other Thoughts
Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf
Brief remarks by Neil Gaiman
Michael Dirda’s essay on it, which I really like