George R.R. Martin, Jim Grimsley, Lynne Truss

A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin: Finished this book during the summer, but forgot to add it to the reading log. I have to admit, for about the first half of the book, I was getting sick of the story. At one point, I was feeling particularly upset because the only characters I even like in the book (the Stark family) seemed to all have died—I had to remind myself that actually most of them were alive and that they only believed one another to be dead. (Although…Robb! Augh!) The whole Daenerys subplot enrages me more and more (which is sad because I really liked her when Khal Drogo was still alive), and I hate the Lannisters without reservation, Lord Tywin included. I was also really, really close to getting sick of even the Night Watch subplot (even though I like the Night Watch characters the best and the wildlings were much more interesting than I’d initially thought). Although I have to admit the two…uh…marsh people? The ones that hunt frogs and have the green sight? Oh, I feel terrible for not remembering their names…anyway, those two characters have won my heart. Such rare exceptions aside, I was almost about to stop reading the series altogether…but! In the last chapter! Just for that last chapter, I will read the next book as soon as it comes out because, yes, Jon Snow! At that moment I felt that something was finally going right, and I now have some motivation for continuing the series.

Winter Birds, by Jim Grimsley: Actually, my friend lent me this book, along with Dream Boy, during the summer, and I finished it a couple of months ago. I probably should update more quickly as I finish books, especially since I don’t have the time to read all that much anymore (now that the school year’s started), and I only need to quickly note down impressions for one book at a time. Hm, but what to say about Winter Birds? I was initially intrigued by the narration in second person, present tense (I tried that once at CTY in fifth grade and failed miserably, which is why I’m impressed at anyone who pulls it off). The trick apparently is to narrate as if you’re telling the story to yourself rather than to someone else that participates in the action with you. Still, it’s no easy technical feat, and I think Grimsley carried it off gracefully.

That being said, I must add that I have a hard time reading books set in contemporary (or at least relatively recent post-World War II) American Midwest. I had the same odd sensation that I had while reading Franzen’s The Corrections—that I was reading about strangers whose lives could not be more different than my own. I find it more “fantastic” and “unrealistic” in fact than genre SF/F, not because they don’t portray reality accurately but because I can’t relate to it. Of course, I’m from New York, which is not only urban but metropolitan in a way that not even cities like Boston can match, but I spent my elementary school years in the American suburbs (in Texas, no less), so one would think that this world wouldn’t be entirely alien to me. I think a lot of it has to do with family dynamics. Not that my family isn’t without its traumas and dysfunctions—but they happen to be uniquely Asian traumas and dysfunctions. And of course, Winter Birds becomes even more difficult because the family environment is not only in serious need of psychological help but because it’s abusive as well. I haven’t read any literature about abused children so far, and sometimes I don’t really want to. I don’t deny that family abuse occurs, and I suppose it’s important to write about it instead of pretending it doesn’t happen (or even Dahl-izing it into a not-so-serious matter, no offense of course to Roald Dahl), but…I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just that I don’t want to read about it in this context, where one is helpless and the issues remain unresolved. Actually, I think that’s what bothered me most about both The Corrections and Winter Birds: the static aspect of the story structure. There was some change but no real resolution…or even a clear lack of resolution. No movement whatsoever.

Dream Boy, by Jim Grimsley: Dream Boy had many sweet moments, although the abuse theme was present again, and in this particular case, even more bizarre. I mean, I know that there are homosexual boys who do undergo sexual abuse from their fathers, but I think it was a bad choice to draw a connection between the two. Because obviously, the two are not necessarily correlated, and it helps encourage the fallacy that homosexuality is a diseased condition. I also felt it was utterly unnecessary. I don’t know, I just really dislike stories about sexual abuse. If the writer is writing from personal experience, I feel awkward, as if I’m prying into someone else’s private matters, and if the writer isn’t, I feel like he’s somehow trivializing the trauma of abuse. I know it’s important to communicate rather than repress, but I think that one should verbalize these issues in a private context, not somewhere so public like a book.

I guess I just don’t like angst. Or rather, that’s what I tell my friends; what I really mean is that I don’t like enjoying angst, particularly mindless angst where the characters suffer and suffer and suffer some more. I never understood the whole trend in certain genres of fanfiction where the author exclaims about all the torture she puts her characters through. It’s kind of cold and inhumane. Grimsley writes about these agonized, helpless, abused characters, and all I can think is that he doesn’t allow them any chance for dignity. The truly moving tragedy is when the hero undergoes complete humiliation and yet struggles to hold on to his humanity, his dignity. He may fail in the end, but the struggle makes it that much more effectively tragic. I’m sure Grimsley’s sympathetic to the boys he writes about, but they not only seem helpless but indifferent to their own helplessness, which makes his writing pathetic rather than tragic, as Arthur Miller would say. In this sense, he doesn’t really respect the characters he’s created.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss: In her manifesto, Truss writes (I paraphrase because I have a bad memory for exact quotes), “Sticklers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably you never had much of that anyway.” So true. My personal crusade against Netspeak has been regalvanized! After all, I have the admirable example of the printers who started the Russian Revolution by demanding that they get paid equally for punctuation marks as letters. I must admit that I’m addicted to emoticons, but no more will I turn my eyes aside and let the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon, the dash be unused! I have resolved to stop relying on the dash and to utilize the semicolon and colon gracefully. I have resolved to make a stand against misplaced apostrophes and demand that they be restored to their rightful place. I have resolved to readmit the period to the ends of my instant messages; it may take an extra millisecond to type but it is worth it. Truss’ book was hilariously written, with the perfect sort of half-tongue-in-cheek, half-serious sort of humor that I enjoyed. I plan to put a whole list of unforgettable quotes up on my LJ sometime soon. Everyone must read this book.