The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

What I Spent Over a Year of My Life Doing

So, I don’t know how many of you know this, but there is this thing out there and it’s called Game of Thrones. And it’s this big, sci-fi-y deal and there is a TV show and Peter Dinklage and about a million pages in the first five (of an eventual seven) books. I started with the first volume, Game of Thrones, in January of 2012, shortly after I graduated college and before I got my first ‘real’ job – which, coincidentally, I only kept for a few months – and here I was, all fine and dandy and thinking “I love Sean Bean! I like fantasy. What could really happen here”. Little did I know that Sean Bean wouldn’t be around long, and that, like, 4908 pages (yes, that’s an exact count, given Goodreads pages numbers) later I’d be just wrapping up the series.

I’ve been working on what to say about this whole Herculean reading experience, and have drafted Song of Ice and Fire posts three or four times, but I’m never sure what to say. The plot summary is daunting. The characters are daunting. I don’t even want to think about attempting a scholarly analysis of these books (although I definitely think that these books would benefit from some scholarly conversation on women, power, loyalty, and family, to name a few), so here I am. I just finished up Dance with Dragons, the fifth, so I’m kind of out of stall time to write about what I spent a year of my life doing reading. Having exhausted my other options, I shall simply have to default to my funny GIF raving – let’s begin, shall we?

nights watch

Oh, George R.R. Martin. Let me just start with the list of thoughts that first come to mind when I try to encapsulate the awestriking literary clusterfuck that is Song of Ice and Fire: Sansa Stark is a twit. Poor Reek. WHY is there so much raping? I mean, I get it – psuedo-quasi English-esque monarchy epic in which there is a constant war happening tends to lend itself to lots of rape-age. I don’t approve of it, but I get it. But this book? If it’s not a whore, it’s a rape, and 99% of all the wives in this book end up either dead or are totally vapid! It’s a little frustrating. Moving on from that…this man knows how to craft a twist. I mean, you’ve got to be to fill this many pages with a plot that keeps them turning. There where times when I just wanted to be like DAMN IT, MAN, CAN’T YOU JUST STOP KILLING ALL THE PEOPLE!

oh-the-huge-manatee

(side note: that’s basically my favorite picture EVER, mostly because it’s applicable in all situations anywhere ever). Let’s chat a bit about the characters, now that the mind-dump portion of the post is over. With these books, all the characters fall in to either one of two camps: ermaghadILOVEYOU or ewwwwwwwwwwwwwcreepdickbastard. There are those that may be somewhat fair to middling (basically the only two people I’m thinking of here are Stannis and Melisandre, for whom I have nothing but ‘meh’ fellings), but for the most part it’s either love them (Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Davos, Jorah Mormont, Cersei Lannister in a kind of fucked up way, Bran Stark, Varys) or hate them (the rest of the Lannisters, Arya, Sansa, Littlefinger, Samwell Tarly, the Tyrell’s, and Sandor Clegane). Of course, there are like a bajillion minor and side characters, most of whom I tend to skim over, but, for the most part, the characters that Martin has created are easy to love, enjoyable to hate, and when they surprise us, it’s not always for the better.

outside bra

As much as I mock, and although there truly is much that is mockable about this series, I do think that there is something to be said for books that are good enough to keep a reader interested, engaged, and to keep the material fresh enough that the reader is kept coming back for all five – and, when they’re out – seven books. George didn’t quite ace this every time (see the ENTIRETY of book four, A Feast for Crows, which was THE most painful reading experience I’ve, like, ever had. EVER.), but for the most part I think he did a really good job. And, it has to be said, I don’t think that the TV show is all that bad. In fact, it’s pretty much the shit.

tumblr_mb0sxsXxto1qjsk0wo6_r1_250As I said before, I love Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister the most out of all the things I’ve already said I love in this post. I mean, I think that not only is he a dashingly handsome man (my husband, as a matter of fact, agrees) but his acting chops, especially his comedic timing, has really taken the show to a new level, and kept me on the lookout for Tyrion’s chapters throughout the whole of the novel. Of course, Emilia Clarke does an AMAZING job as the hottie-with-dragons Daenerys Targaryen (did I mention how totally lady-boner-ific Emilia Clarke is?!) and the rest of the cast just fills out so well that, to be honest, its kind of more fun to watch the show than to read the books. Kind of. But just a little.

I’ve written almost 1,000 words of my own about these books, with narry a plot summary in sight. Which is fine by me. At the end of the day, these are those tomes of rather amazing fantasy, in which there is much pillaging, pirating, raping, political intrigue, spurned lovers, revenge gone wrong, revenge gone right, and all kinds of secrets hidden behind smiles and shadows on the wall and things that were dead that come back to life – and things that were alive are suddenly dead. It kept me on my toes for over a year (minus the few dark months of Feast for Crows) and in the end, so far all I have to say to Mr. Martin is:

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Rating: Overall, hell yeah!

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January Short Story: “Paper Menagerie”

origami animals

I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring. ‘Zhe jiao zhèzhi,’ Mom said. This is called origami. I didn’t know this at the time, but Mom’s kind was special. She breathed into them so that they shared her breath, and thus moved with her life. This was her magic.

If you guys will recall, one of my goals for reading in 2013 is to read more short fiction – I’m beginning to write more and more short fiction, and I love the beauty that tends to hide in so many short treasures, so I’m looking forward to exploring more than just the short stories I read in high school. I also want to read more globally. So, imagine my UTTER DELIGHT when Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness over at Books on the Nightstand decided to declare 2013 their year of the short story as well! Part of their short story project involves featuring a different short story every month, and the story for January is “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (which, my lucky dears, can also read online here, which I of course recommend you go do IMMEDIATELY!)

“The Paper Menagerie” was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2011 and is the first work of any length to have ever won all three major science fiction awards – the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. It’s a novel about imagination and friendship, about American culture and Chinese culture, about the way kids relate to their parents and the way that, as we age, our current self relates to all our former selves. I will admit, the first time I read through the story I didn’t really pick up on the science fiction/fantasy aspects of this story (bonus, for those of you who might find the genre titles a little off-putting) and it read to me much more like Marquez, or any of the other Latin-American magical realists. But I’m not sure that it’s easy to draw the line between when ‘magical realism’ ends and ‘fantasy’ starts, and furthermore, I don’t think it’s the fantasy parts of this story that give it the take-away. I think it’s the very-much-so real and human parts that pulled me back to this story for multiple readings.

Every once in a while I would see her at the kitchen table studying the plain side of a sheet of wrapping paper. Later, a new paper animal would appear on my nightstand and try to cuddle up with me. I caught them, squeezed them until the air went out of them, and then stuffed them away in the box in the attic.

Which of us, at one time or another, hasn’t thought that our parent’s didn’t understand us, and if only the could or would see things our way, then they would finally ‘get it’ and things will be better. I find this dynamic so much more pronounced in cross-cultural or multi-generational immigrant stories, and I think that the pull of that here in Ken’s story really just pops off the page. By the time we get to the end of the story, we, along with the narrator, see what true magic Mom possessed, and what kind of story it take to bring a Chinese woman to a Connecticut suburb. The story plays really well the concept of language, and whether or not the language you can speak with your lips is a vital or as necessary as the one you speak with your heart. I walked away from the first reading of the story feeling profoundly sad, but profoundly grateful that I feel I understand my parents, and they understand me, pretty damn well. Still, I had to wonder – what don’t I know about them, and what may I not know for a very long time?

Rating: OMFGZ!

PS: Wanting more Ken Liu (I know I was after I finished!)? Try “The Illusionist”, “Memories of my Mother”, or “The Box that Eats Memories”

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[01] The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

September is a willful, stubborn girl who, like most willful, stubborn girls, is one day approached by the spirit of the wind and a green leopard, who whisk her off to Fairyland, where she meets witches, goes on an epic quest for a magic spoon against an evil leader, and has all kinds of adventures – and some sadness too.

Hello, girl version of The Phantom Tollbooth (only not really, because I don’t think that books have genders, and especially not THAT book). But for real, this book follows a general format that definitely echoed Juster’s amazing tale about a bored boy named Milo. But I had absolutely no problem with that, as The Phantom Tollbooth has long been one of my favorite books, and I have a feeling that Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland might just one day join it. There are not only crazy adventures and memorable characters (the “wyverary” – a wyvern/library combo – and a marid named Saturday), but the whole book is written with this tone of the absurd, mixed with literary wordplay and a certain meta-recognition (*note to self: ass*) of fairy tale tropes. It allows the book to poke fun at itself, it’s genre, and to relate to children and tell them a story without teaching down to them or making them feel like using their imagination is a stupid or frivolous thing to do.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the entire book was when September when to visit the Worsted Wood in the autumn kingdom. Valente created such AMAZING descriptions of the nightly feast and marriage of the prince and princess of autumn, for the entire kingdom is one where nothing changes and everything is gold and amber and smokey and fall and, in my opinion, absolutely wonderful. True, halfway through the Worsted Wood, September begins to turn in to a tree, which was odd, but overall the adventures she had there were the ones I most wished I had been able to have when I was little.

The fact that this book was originally published online raises some interesting discussion about the nature and value of self-published books, especially those that may get picked up by traditional brick-and-mortar publishing houses, which this author desires to make NO comment on, but who would recommend the following article as a starting point!

Rating: OMFGZ

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