Posts Tagged ‘Hunger’s Brides’

Sarah Zettel and The Big Book — Part Three

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As you might expect, HUNGER’S BRIDES, otherwise known as The Big Book, is a complicated book.  Wow, is it complicated.

It’s a time-jumping novel.  Not time travel, but it divides its storyline between the story of a modern girl, mostly told from the point of view of her professor who was a self-excusing womanizer, and who was sleeping with her because she was pretty and didn’t think much of it (yeah, he’s a peach of a guy), and never bothered to understand that she had issues.  Okay, not issues.  She had subscriptions — abuse leading to anorexia and other self-destructive behaviors.  The other part of the story of Sor Juana Inez Delacruz, who was a scholar and nun in the time of Imperial Mexico and ultimately falls afoul of the Inquisition.

It’s an ambitious trick, and when you’re doing it in 1300 pages, it’s pretty natural that some bits would succeed better than others.  I want to talk about one of the places that really succeeds.  The depiction of friendship.

Female friendship is something a lot of authors seem to grapple with.  In SF, we’ve gotten used to seeing a woman paling around with the guys particularly if she’s a military officer, a kick-ass heroine of some sort, or a prostitute.  But she’s on her own.  She gets to be friends with the guys and fall in love with them, but friends with other women?  Nope.  Not there.

In The Big Book, there are lots of friendships for Sor Juana.  Her life is not ideal.  She’s tightly cloistered, but within the cloisters, she has a tight circle of friends, and Anderson portrays them very believably.  They’re genuine, complicated, have good days and bad days, little secrets, little confidences, big blow ups, small ones, attempts to help that are sometimes clumsy, sometimes successful and always human.  Not afraid of this strange world, not afraid to show these people as fully human.

It made me so happy.  It’s a simple thing, but I can’t help thinking that the portrayal of friendship is startlingly absent from a lot of genre fiction, especially for women.  It’s one of the reasons I love the Thor movies.  Dr. Jane Whose-last-name-I-never-Remember has a friend, one who is roughly her age and is also a woman.  They talk, they tease, they help each other out.  Stop a second and do a count.  What other genre movies have you recently seen where there’s a scene between women friends?  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  I’ve got the most recent Hunger Games, and even there it’s sketchy, and Frozen, which is between sisters.  How about you?

Interestingly, the miserable, abused, self-destructive modern woman has no women friends, not currently.  She meets up with an old friend during the course of the book but does not let herself stay with that woman.  She doesn’t make any new female friends.

For all of us, gender aside, friendship is a huge part of our world.  We get so caught up in talking about sexual relationships, we forget about the complexities, the intricacies, the vitality and absolute importance of friendship.  We need to remember more, inside the genre and out of it.

Sarah Zettel and the Big Book — Part Two

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bookshelves    I belong to the Subculture of the Book.  In my culture, books are not just containers for words, they are prizes, trophies, and they come with bragging rights.  I have had whole conversations with friends about how many books we own, how many new bookshelves we’ve had to buy; the problem of trying to squeeze one more bookshelf into a small house or apartment; how many individual volumes we own and whether they’re double stacked on those shelves.  We bemoan the difficulties of book storage and management in that particular way that is really kind of closer to bragging than actual regret.  And we always buy more books.  The size of your To Be Read pile is a big part of the Subculture of the Book.
Ebooks have not changed any of this.  That may be because I hang out with fellow geezers, but there you have it.
The Big Book is emblamatic of my culture.  I did buy it because I was curious about the contents.  But I also bought it simply because it was big and beautiful and I wanted it.  Some people do this with shoes or cars.  I do it with books.  And clothes.  But mostly books.
Lately, though, I’ve begun to question the subculture of the Book, and I hate to say, it’s in part because of the Big Book.  It’s turned out to be a good book.  There are parts of it that are really brilliant.  But like I said in my previous post, this Big Book sat on my shelf for years, and it had plenty of company.  That shelf?  Let me show it to you.  It’s six feet tall, four broad and it’s stuffed with books I haven’t read.  And I keep buying more and piling them in.  I mean there’s a TBR pile and there’s hoarding.  If books were cats, the neighbors would have called the humane society by now.
A few years ago, I tried be systematic about things.  I was going to start at the top left of the shelf and read every book in order.  I mean, I bought them, right?  I bought them because I wanted to read them, not just own them right?  What is the point of a book you don’t read?
That effort, I confess failed miserably.  So, there it sat, big and beautiful and completely unread, with all those other beautiful, unread books.
Books are a good thing.  You can never have too many, right?  This is practically the motto of the subculture of the Book.  And yet…and I ask this seriously…what is the point of having more than you can read?
Has counting coup and the luxury of ownership become more important to me than the stories?

Sarah Zettel and The Big Book — Part One

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books and pen graphic    I’m reading a Big Book.  Seriously.  This thing is big.  Douglas-Adams-space-metaphor-level big.  Over 1300 pages long.
It’s called Hunger’s Brides and it’s by a Canadian scholar/author named Paul Anderson.  In part, it’s about a scholar nun in 17th century Mexico named Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (,  who was a famous poet and thinker and who I’d never heard of.  She also, incidently, fell afoul of the Inquisition.  Wrapped around this is a modern story featuring a couple of literary tropes: the Middle Aged Man who is discovering he’s missed the point of his own life, and the tragic, sexually abused girl.  More about them later.
The Big Book has actually been sitting on my shelf for a long time.  I admit, it came home with me under somewhat shameful circumstances.  I got it on a vulture run.
My town used to have a bookstore in my town called Shaman Drum.  Shaman drum was kind of arty, and more than a bit highbrow.  Great poetry section, lots of “literary” novels, and a lot of obscure and scholarly history books I’d never see anywhere else.  This was mostly why I went there.  I’d get a new project going and I’d always drop in at Shaman drum to see what they had on the relevant area of science, history or politics.
This was where I first saw The Big Book.  It was hard to miss.  It had a lovely cover, all black and terracotta, and took up as much shelf space as 3 regular books.  Plus, it had a little staff recommendation card underneath it, attesting to the fact it was not just any old Big Book but a Good Big Book.  I’m pretty sure I remember picking it up at the time, mostly to marvel that such things were still being published.
Then came the Millenium and all that followed, and like a lot of bookstores, Shaman Drum closed.  With the closing came the sale, and I went, with mixed feelings as I do to such sales.  I want the books, but hate the fact that I’m buying so many because they’re cheap because the store is closing.  I hate the feeling of not just robbing a corpse, but a friend’s corpse.
Well, there I was, trying to sort out which books a) were the most interesting and b) I was least likely to stumble across elsewhere, and there it was — The Big Book.  I could not resist.  It was a lovely book, with a lovely cover, and, in case you haven’t guessed by now, it fed into my fascination with books as artifact.  This one was dramatic.  Big Book came home with the rest of the stack, and went onto the 6 ft. tall Ikea bookcase that is my personal TBR pile.  There it sat, for…years.