John Green’s follow-up to the unprecedented success of The Fault in our Stars was always going to be tough. Usually what you do when you follow something big is that you go deeper. Something that plays closer to the bone, more intimate. All at once, I was reminded of that dorky teenager I was when I first discovered him, how his books felt like validation for my experience. In that vein, I feel like I appreciate this book more than I liked it. Which is not to say I disliked it. There’s a lot to like and we’ll get to those but mainly I wanted to write that I appreciate that Green was willing to talk so candidly about mental illness and in particular the mental illness that he suffers from. I don’t want to understate the courage it takes to even mention it let alone write a book exploring its nuances, especially for teens considering the mindfuck of being a teenager.
So! Let’s talk about the qualities of the book. In a lot of ways, this is the most intimate book Green has written. Rather than the quirky plots of his previous endeavours, it feels more locked in to Aza’s experience of the world, to its credit. Green stepped into the shoes of her and I could experience the world as she saw it. The recurring image of a spiral tightening infinitely is quite a powerful image in my opinion and gave me a glimpse of suffering with her mental illness. I loved the friendship between Daisy and Aza which felt grounded and believable. The jokes, the arguments, the missed points of connection. It makes the smaller-than-usual cast make sense because they are the heart of the book (despite what the romance would lead you to believe). Again, counter to the more affected TFioS, Turtles had a stronger sense of realism.
What didn’t work was the, er, plot or the lack thereof. There’s a disappearance of a wealthy man that instigates the plot and is a good setup for stuff that drifts in the middle with a sudden wallop of the ending that renders the mystery moot. Other than getting the main romance started, the mystery is pointless. It’s a shame because it’s an interesting set-up and could have been the bulk of the plot. I’m not above no plot but when you shift your A plot to B plot status and do basically nothing with it, it is a bit of a cheat. It’s like Green didn’t feel settling into this plot.
Overall, this is solid John Green and solidly John Green. Neither bucks his trend nor cheapens his career’s quality. He might not get another book out very soon but I’m excited to see what else he could come out with.
Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche
“Socrates belonged by extraction to the lowest of the people: Socrates was rabble.”
The hammer speaks, and its voice rings loud and clear. Rebel, visionary, immoralist, the man of many talents, of such mental dexterity in the time we shall not see again.
This is how old Freddy would like you to see him. It’s hard to ignore his genuine brilliance and as you read I feel a pull to prove him wrong, point out the logical inconsistencies, the contradictions and I think in that he has achieved his goals. As I see it, the book has two aims: 1.) to provide a synopsis of his body of work of philosophy, and 2.) shock you out of your intellectual slackening. It did make me want to deal with the specifics of his other books and my frustrations led me to read closer, think harder, think better.
I can see how he’s popular with intelligent young people, people who think of themselves as misfits. I view him as a fascination: the Edgelord Prime, willing to outright denounce one of history’s most important thinkers as rabble, something that I still laugh about now, weeks after reading that passage. But I honestly can’t get over his arrogance, the constant self-aggrandisement, the brow-beating of pretty much everyone else. But you don’t have to like Nietzsche, you just have to think, engage, not slouch into dogma and he will have succeeded for what he wants from you. You will have gained. And I suppose in a weird way I’m grateful to him for helping enable that.
Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb
What’s this? A happy ending? Well, sort of. What a wonderful adventure, deserving of its size. Hobb learns when to slow down and when to speed up the pace of the book, something she’s struggled with before. As usual, it’s not perfect, as in the beginning, but the wheels that turn build up to a fitting end to Fitz’ story (for now, at least) and bittersweet for others. Nothing in life comes easily. Fitz loses a lot of what he’s always had access to in this and gains a lot more as well.
In terms of story, this is one of the most epic and eventful of the trilogy, focusing more on the character moments than events, although there are some chilling (both literally and metaphorically) events in here. There’s not much else to say without a spoiler deep-dive. I loved it. I want more. I will miss these books when I finish them all, miss discovering this story for the first time. But I will always cherish what they have given me. Not just the stories themselves, but the people I connected with them through.
This is the 11:11 life railway train to Fuck Knows Where, where the train terminates. Please mind the gap between your dreams and your reality.
They say you can’t lose yourself on train tracks
but I’m not anyone.
waiting for the train that
will take me to the place at the horizon
where whispers of gold-paved streets conspire.
I wonder if I’ll understand the people’s accents
or know enough of the way via intuition,
if the bustle will be a comfort.
The passengers that come back here said something like that, I think.
Is it soon?
The station is a silence factory.
are we there yets or dead-lung conductors
or even lip-smacking couples.
Just a whirl of thoughts, the night,
and a promise.
Oh it must be soon.
When midnight tolls my ticket expires.
(Please be soon.)
Thinking of a more mindful way to phrase it
won’t change the need,
so please let it be soon.
But I suppose the train arrives when it arrives.
I hope that in the meantime I can stay apace with my dreams.
Drain the swamp, and
perhaps take the wisdom of spring:
winter branches hang bare but in time they bloom.
In time we’ll bloom.
And so, I’ll be able to catch the train soon.
It’s like the memory of a fallen life
fading and worn at the edges.
It’s like a smile that’s lost its shape,
slackened and drooping off the face.
Stay alive. Every day done is a victory.
It’s like a sudden urge to pack all your stuff and head out east.
It’s like a storm that batters the countryside forever,
breaking the dam, the river overflowing,
cutting off entry into the day
or the thick haze that follows in its wake.
It’s like not wanting anyone to cut their fingers on your thorns,
and so you disappear.
It’s like a flash of lightning—blink and you’ll miss it.
Do you get it?
It’s like every day of the week,
and just one the next:
Get up, shower, lie down, sleep.
Rinse, repeat, another year gone by.
And when you come back to yourself,
civilisation passed you by.
But I’ll stay in the game.
Get real familiar with pain.
I won’t be the whipping boy anymore—
I’ll be a lightning rod;
I may be shocked but
I’ll remain unbowed, unbent, unbroken.
So I guess now it’s like
the kindness of strangers that you’ll never meet again.
Like the silver bullet against a flood of beasts.
Like the bruise-gaited winner of the joust,
raising his visor to meet the cheers.
Get familiar with the grit under your nails,
the blood in your teeth.
Start with the large dreams. Chop them up finely and add to a pan over a high heat.
When they’re nice and browned, add the self-doubt and stir well to get them mixed together. Add lots of salt.
Leave to cook for 1-3 years at least.
Serve with a not enough experience garnish for added zest and soul-drain.
A recommended side is pretending you’re doing better than you actually are to not seem like you’re complaining too much. Other people have real issues so you they go nicely with it to the mix. Also recommended is guilt with spending Universal Credit money on non-essentials. We’re sustenance only, mkay? Otherwise, botched interviews go great with the mix.
For dessert, consider taking a break, but don’t take too many if you’re counting calories. They’re very moreish.
We recommend ghosting friends a little farther afield out of shame instead of admitting failures, but the original recipe is fine as is, to be honest.
When you’re ready to serve, who knows what stories you will tell?
Richer, better-looking, more talented, smarter. 19. Fuck. Your teen years have been wasted. Do you have the kind of trustworthy face to start a YouTube channel? I think you’re a bit sweaty to seem decent enough. Off you pop, you silly twat, we don’t want another Adpocalypse.
You entered a glass house that only has an entrance, no exit. It’s not very warm, anymore. At least you brought snacks.
TV and video games are guilty pleasures. Your applications have aged to the point that they’re leaving for university now. You’ve not the heart to warn them of the approaching storm but neither do you have the energy to tell them. Send them thoughts and prayers.
Shower whenever you choose. Weekdays are only separated by meals now. The clock moves forward as it feels. Just remember: days are light, nights aren’t.
Wank. (Again? C’mon, self-care, man.)
Understand: life right now is a tunnel with a light at the end that moves away as you move towards it. Know it is natural. No I don’t know when it changes. This was supposed to be inspirational but now it’s neurotic. Go outside for like ten minutes, and go to a lake and look at ducks, or something. They’re chill. Hear the wind sing. It’s tone deaf, but enjoys itself. Take the wisdom of the wind.
Eat whatever’s nearby. Yes, books count. Articles, too. Brain food is food, after all.
At some point you became a sideshow to yourself, witnessing your body from the outside, like in a dream when you are doing the thing and also watching yourself do it at the same time. Yeah, that. That’s natural. Some days you might pull off your skin and see how saggy and spotty it’s become. Try not freak out. Exercise helps, trust me. And fewer crisps (I don’t make the rules, okay?). Sometimes it’s exactly what you need. No, I don’t mean crisps. Let them go, please.
Money, friends, goals: Only present objects exist simpliciter.
Get fed up and you don’t want to feed your soul. Feed it anyway. Read and relax regularly. You might as well. Applications have a minimum 3-week wait. The problem’s not quite looking for jobs, it’s capturing them for good. Like fishing, patience is key, even when it hurts. Perhaps especially so.
We are in the swamp all, (yes even those talented 19 year-olds; leave them alone).
The pale blue horizon is inked with gold. Dawn will break soon, and break
“It’s a prison!”
“No it’s a coffin!”
You’re bracketed by four pale walls
daubed in failure,
sat on the fringes of nowhere in particular.
The room is multi-purpose now.
Budget cuts, you see?
Office, gym, gaming room, sleeping quarters.
If time is money,
indifference is a luxury
that haemorrhages opportunity.
They don’t want to send for any occupants in the room.
Just seal it up and leave it to be forgotten.
2018 was a sofa year,
a damp, sticky bog creeping right up to the neck.
The blues were gluing your mouth shut and
we were scared it’d never end—
the wet, recursive sucking sounds underfoot.
Still we pressed on
with all the energy we could muster,
no promise of solid ground,
planting one foot, raising the other, and on and on,
never quite sure we were going in the right direction. The swamp is vast and dark.
The goal for this year is more smiles,
We can’t drain the swamp, not yet,
but we can straighten our spines,
look the future dead in the eye and keep moving,
scream like there’s nothing that can stop us, if we have to.
2019 can’t be—isn’t—a fear year.
Last month’s reviews were trash but there is a nugget of something there that I want to develop. The core of this revolves around not using a star rating to assess the overall quality of the book in question. I often felt defensive justifying my ratings and part of me felt that detracted on the meat of the review: namely, what I thought about it. We have a general sense of what 4/5 stars means but my 4 won’t be yours. Sure, all of this is my opinion but again, the number rating felt restrictive. I will still be saying what I liked and disliked as usual. Also, in the future I might do separate thematic analysis instead of crowding the post like April’s reviews. There was the bones of something good but it being connected to a book review didn’t allow it to ascend to where I had conceived it. Some more growing pains to come.
The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb
This is the most enjoyable filler I’ve ever read. I mean this in the most endearing way.
You know the deal by now. Robin Hobb is a character-writer. Possibly the finest in any genre. The Fitz books have a level of intimacy that is almost unparalleled in any genre I’ve read. Characters breathe and behave in believable ways so much that when Fitz can’t yet see someone’s motivations, I am able to because I understand the characters, what they believe, etc. That is mastery.
Still, to achieve this, Hobb compromises in pace. In fact the main plot that is set up here doesn’t even take place until Book 3, not really. It’s a whole book of table-setting. Fortunately the politics and characters are colourful enough to make it interesting, even if it is a bit slow. But again, if you’re in at this point, you know exactly what you’re in for. Hobb doesn’t change out of her formula. This style is par for the course. But we get rich and immersive characterisation. The climax of the book was pulse-pounded and advanced storylines that I didn’t expect to enhance so if you want explosions, they’re there too. Mostly, it was fun to check in with what feels like old friends, with some new interesting faces as well. Best realised is the way in which Fitz’ life is becoming more entangled as he tries to balance his desires and duties. Somehow I get the feeling more tragedy awaits.
Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta
Dana Spiotta is so thematically rich that you can’t get everything the first time through. To this day, I’m daunted by the review because I can’t possibly think where to start.
If I had to present the themes of the book pithily, it would be a book about connection. Authentic, truthful connection, and how one can craft meaning in a world so filled with artifice.
If I was to attack narratively it’s about two filmmakers, Carrie and Meadow, who over the course of their lives drift apart. Braided with this story is Jelly, a woman is really good at talking to lonely men on the phone due to her brilliant voice and top-notch listening skills. These three connect in interesting ways. While I wouldn’t say the characters are shallow, Spiotta’s interests are clearly thematic and they’re lovingly done to perhaps not the haunting heights of my personal favourite of hers, Stone Arabia, but with important lessons about our relationship with ourselves and each other.
The choice for having the main characters be filmmakers is clear. Cameras aren’t truth. They’re a lens: they refract, distort, they frame things simply due to the fact that what we the audience see is the result of someone’s efforts to choose what images and sounds make it to us. In doing so, we frame things. True things, but told in a specific way that can easily distort. That might be part of the hypnotic tendency to enjoy TV, films, entertainment, etc. that can deaden you, leaving you “wanting something deeper and more satisfying”. I can’t help be drawn to the connection to Infinite Jest, and how we use entertainment to pacify us to the detriment of true connection. It’s not absurd to make the connection to social media, where you can find yourself scrolling endlessly, not interacting or being satisfied, but not being able to tear away from it either. I think the fact that it’s not very much set in the present day helps the book rather than hurts it. There’s a beauty of the specificity of being set a couple of decades ago.
Later, where Meadow is making a documentary on people who had suffered traumas, she realises with growing horror that the content itself wasn’t exploitative or judgemental in any obvious way, but the audience would see in a specific light: happy with “the power and privilege of not getting too involved”, watching but not engaging.
The book is an urgent quest into finding truth in a world in which our lives are shaped so much by framing. Spiotta’s brilliance is weaving theme and characters so that theme never took too much away from the people who were living it, acting through it, and suffering because of it. Due to that, I think aspects of this will sit for me for a long time and inevitably will imprint themselves deeper on me when I revisit it.
Monstress: Art by Sana Takeda, written by Marjorie Liu
This is an accomplished effort. Dark, complicated, unsettling. It’s a difficult opening to what promises to be quite a sprawling story. Set in a steampunk world inspired by 20th Century Asia, we’re dropped in the midst of an ongoing conflict between humans and arcanics, sort of like beastmen of this world. Oppression, ancient gods, and powerful technology serve as the backdrop and there’s wonderfully fun worldbuilding (nekomancers!) along the darkness, both in the main character Maika and her companions, and her story.
The art is lush and detailed, with an interesting colour palette that manages to elevate character action and expression, while maintaining this is a story with a lot of dirt under the nails. The themes of oppression, exploitation, and overcoming personal and external adversity are well-realised, especially salient with focusing on women front and centre. There is perhaps an overload of information between chapters that stops it from being an all out hit, but it’s still a strong and promise of a series that looks to be only going up. I’m excited to see Maika’s story and the inevitable devastation that will ensue.
Wickedness by Mary Midgley
I picked this up from the library on a whim and I was glad I did. She is exactly the sort of philosopher I want to be reading.
It might be tiresome to say that we live in very divided times. One of the major polarities I’ve seen often is the false dichotomy of social forces and the effects they have on the individual, and the individual acts of a person. The former is usually a liberal view, the latter conservative though positing one or the other necessarily misses a lot of what Midgley does in this book, namely that these two views are not opposed but interrelated. In a way the book acts as an intermediary between the two and greatly elevates them instead of being a watered down compromise. Her wit laces every chapter and footnote (fairly rare in a good portion of philosophy I’ve read) and is I think part of a tradition that pulls apart some of my frustrations with the dualistic (it’s either “Us” or “Them”) ways in which we perceive and interpret the world.
One of the ideas that struck me is the notion that understanding someone is not the same as accepting their point of view. In general, we resist this notion because understanding involves identification on some level and in doing so makes us seem like we side with them. It’s easy to dismiss someone who does something wicked as someone who is “evil” or a “monster” but as is often the case, these people are typically banal, (in the sense that Arendt uses it, someone Midgley draws fairly freely from). She argues that what we do not understand we cannot detect or resist. The nuances of the argument get unpacked better in the book but has definitely helped streamline my thoughts surrounding these kind of topics, and someone’s whose cognitive framework we will need. My major criticism is that while having a central thesis, it is not a cohesive book but rather a collection of interrelated ideas that don’t tie up in any way. It doesn’t ruin it but does leave you wanting. In every other way, however, this is brilliant and I would argue essential reading.
Note: this isn’t an essay in a strict sense, but more of an essay-style review. I’m still perfecting the formula so excuse the growing pains as I experiment. My aim is that future ones will be shorter.
I strained myself to read some chunky books in April and throughout the process I constantly thought: “How does one build a world? What are the essential components?” If you asked Brandon Sanderson, he would say that a sophisticated system—a way to understand the various aspects of reality—is the answer. This is cashed out in the complex magic systems he devises in each of the new worlds he creates that operate more scientifically than typical magic systems.
If you were to ask George R.R. Martin, he would say a world’s history provides the basis of the world, replete with genealogies. But it’s more than just plainly stating history as pure untainted fact. History is not an absolute source of information. It is riddled with biases and is infallible as we are. Perhaps that’s part of what makes it valuable.
Often, however, it’s the only way in which we have a sense of communion with earlier cultures of humanity and that can frustrate our sense of what is true. Is there truth if there’s that much unreliability? If you asked Plato then searching for truth, for love (or perhaps a true love) can be a bridge, that understanding that gets us access to real truth. Maybe we don’t have every single fact but we do have something over nothing. What can we make of these beliefs? What can we learn about ourselves through looking at such ideas?
If the main title wasn’t clear enough, spoilers abound.
Oathbringer, the Joy of Worldbuilding, and Bloat
“The longer you live, the more you fail. Failure is the mark of a life well lived.”
In Oathbringer, the third book of the projected ten-book series The Stormlight Archive, we find ourselves with a lot of book. Large books themselves are assertions of their size and implied complexity, if nothing else, I find.
In comparison to the previous two volumes, Oathbringer was a bit of a struggle. I didn’t know why at first. It’s probably because the assertion of its size wasn’t a lure of a story that went on longer than most of contemporaries, but the inverse: that it went on for too long.
I’ve come to think of a Stormlight book as a season of your favourite show. Sanderson himself says that it’s “outlined as a trilogy plus a short story collection (the interludes) and is the length of four regular books”. At 450,000 you can definitely see it. But mainly I like to think about them as series of a show because of the amount of moving parts at once, not to mention that each book has its own arc that starts and ends, while continuing a larger plot.
Oathbringer is one that starts and ends pretty strongly but loses a bit of the momentum in places in the middle. To extend that metaphor again, it’s sometimes like the equivalent of watching an episode of a Netflix show where nothing happens. Sanderson never gets that bad because even the filler is never boring. But there is filler. Mainly in the shape of Bridge Four who had some emotive and hard-hitting bits that do have pay off. Some of it, however, felt like we were deterred from the main story and that hurt the book. Especially given that some characters like Szeth that don’t appear in the last third have a more immediately interesting development could have gone in their place. I really enjoyed his training arc and honestly that could have taken the place on a good portion of the Bridge Four stuff without hampering the overall plot.
This book structurally felt very Wheel of Time in the sense that there was a large build-up to an explosive conclusion that feels epic and a little rushed in equal taste. Jasnah Kholin, believed dead by the main cast managed to escape her fate last book in the last minute. Her return is business-like, just like Jasnah herself. I’m okay with that from a character perspective. She’s devoted to her mission above all else. But her return in the narrative bears a more detailed explanation, at least a little bit. Escaping to Shadesmar and returning to the main world needs some more time spent on but mostly it’s just skirted over in service of other plots. I hope we get more of that but mostly I am left wanting for more but not in a good way. We should have got answers, resolutions, and consequences.
Which brings me onto my final gripe: Adolin Kholin’s murder of Sadeas was poorly handled. The short of this for me is that it read like it was a good idea that Sanderson regretted but couldn’t do anything about. But what should have been a seismic event (and in the beginning felt like it would rock the foundation of the kingdom) got shrugged away which was frustrating. We’re not done yet so this could escalate but as it stands it’s one of the bits where Sanderson was too generous with his main characters.
A World Away in Worldbuilding
I have full faith that he can bring it back together, though. Stormlight as a series is more epic than it is bloated and that is to its credit. He’s doing stuff most fantasy authors dream of and doing it consistently well most of the time. It’s complex with basically 10 mini-magic systems, a super-continent of cultures all with their own interests, a huge cast, and so much more.
But there is a lot of forward momentum which is difficult given the amount of stuff that’s in it. It asks a lot of interesting questions about reality, fairness, and struggle. Understanding the ugliness of war and oppression helps us to understand ourselves, in my opinion, and the series continues to expand its lore to some brilliant and somewhat chilling revelations.
Each book follows one character closely from flashbacks up to the present day and the structure of this one was well-integrated into the main plot. Dalinar is our POV character and contrasting his bloodier more violent past with his more fastidious and restrained present was well-done. As we know from before, his memories of his ex-wife have been erased by the Nightwatcher, even as going as far as him not being able to hear or remember her name. But they’re not gone for good. The flashback chapters start to move through some unsettling revelations as he begins to remember.
Through his story it asks some interesting questions about personal identity and redemption, namely, how much someone could or should be held to account by their past actions—can they overcome them and redeem themselves even in the same way? How does that affect the way people react and interact with you?
Personal identity is explored in a way pretty much only fantasy can in Shallan’s story. If you asked me in book 1 who the main character was in Stormlight, I would say that it would probably be a toss-up between Kaladin and Dalinar. But since book 2, seemingly to make up for her absence from most of book 1, Shallan has dominated a lot of the stage. Even when I would say large portions of Kal’s story is more interesting than hers. Except for her fragmented sense of self.
Part of Shallan’s magic is making illusions around objects and people, usually herself. In order to breathe life into her disguises, she inhabits those roles fully and goes full method acting: thinking, acting, and living them. This is a problem because her illusions start to take up a life of their own and fight her for mental space. Which one is real? Who is Shallan really? In short, all of them, but it’s a fascinating arc that leans on the strengths of the characters and the magic system. The way you build a world, then, is through the sophistication of the systems: you need understanding. Of yourself, of others, of the world that you occupy. If you have that then you can forge your own path; or perhaps, your own path is forged by following the thread of understanding to greater personal heights. All the characters are trying to construct their worlds through understanding: whether through changing their arc to be more redemptive, having a scientific understanding of the world, knowing and then overcoming vice, and so much more. Dalinar’s book is thematically interesting as it ties into Martin’s questions about a world: about how the past affects us.
Fire & Blood: A Song of Fictional Histories and a Modern Unfolding Tragedy
Look, we get it, Winds of Winter still isn’t out. But the various complexities of the series mean that they’re probably going to be slow-going. I think most fans have accepted that. So a big book like this coming out before Winds feels like a slap in a face. Given its size (700 pages), it packs a bit of a wallop.
This is clearly not an A Song of Ice and Fire entry in the tradition sense, though. The intricacies of the main books are missing which means it will have a quicker and easier gestation hence why this is here before Winds.
Hearing anything from GRRM is like a modern tragedy unfolding of fans being more aggravating in their cruelty. This is in-line with other authors have had a bit of a while between books. I get that book 6 isn’t out and you don’t want side books until the main series is done. But the usual authors aren’t your bitch applies again. They’re under no obligation to write a book because fans want him to.
A particular 2016 blog post still breaks my heart today for one line. Addressing expectations on him delivering he said:
“…but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me.”
I think that goes to show the impact of his progress is taking on himself. He wants to write this book as quickly as possible, despite people thinking he is trying to milk the series for every stinking dollar it’s worth. And that’s the important point: he wants to write this book. If he wanted to get more cash like people commonly accuse him of, he could, you know, publish Winds right now and sit back as we all sponge it up like the thirsty heathens we are. But he hasn’t done that. He wants to do it right. And that means taking his time. I’m fine with that. It ain’t easy doing so, due to the aforementioned intricacies of the world and plot (let’s not even get started on the Meereenese knot). And as a fan, it’s not comfortable to wait for something beloved for so long. But it’s how it is. Us being mean won’t make him work faster. Only he can determine how fast—and when—it gets done.
As a creative endeavour, it’s a wonderful thing: it has a specific aim that it achieves and deepens an existing world in a meaningful way. It’s not a novel in a traditional sense. It’s a history book of Targeryen rule from Aegon the Conqueror that pays homage to the themes of the main series: of the unreliability of history, of the flawed nature of humanity, of struggle and conquest.
Greed, ambition, and cruelty are on full display here and I did love the notion of conflicting testimonies. It elevated what could have been a dry and boring bit of “history”. Our present is built upon the backs of what happened before, of people who lived before. We have a communion with our past selves through studying and understanding history. And we have very limited means to access the past. Things have got lost or muddied through the unreliability of information or are lacking in info entirely. But we’re still here. Their experiences mattered.
It’s a well-executed idea, with great illustrations by Doug Wheatley, that perhaps goes on too long, but ultimately demonstrates the depth of the world Martin has created and for that at least he should be proud. This is an accomplished book1.
Conclusion: The Symposium, Ideal Love, and Life
I realise that I perhaps put too much emphasis on fictional worlds and not enough about building our world as in the components that make a life meaningful. I could argue that gossamer threads ran through the post but I should bring this to the fore.
In our world, it’s a Greek idea that our partners are our “other halves”. In The Symposium, Aristophanes says we seek love as a cure for our wound. We are literally seeking our other halves: around this time, Greeks speculated that humans were once intersex, with four arms and legs and both sets of genitals that were eventually cut in two because the gods feared our power. Life and love is a quest for that other half of ourselves. Those ideas permeate to now in the present day. That together we are stronger, that two is better than one. We seek completion. Jerry Maguire anyone?
I’m not saying that as a matter of necessity this bears out but at least the idea of halves and completion is one we’re tapped into. A lot of our understanding about romance feeds into this.
Essentially, I think the book argues that in securing a notion of love and its role in our lives, we are pursuing truth. In the true Socratic way, the quest for truth is an ultimate aim. Maybe we don’t know have the particulars of ancient thought or events played out differently to how they were recorded. That doesn’t mean we can’t use that to help our understanding of them, of us, and the world. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still universal things we value today still: love of something, at the very least.
Many of the speakers in the dialogue refer to variations of the argument that love is carved into two categories: Common and Ideal love. Common love is a more frivolous thing, concerned with more physical aspects like sex. A more Ideal love concerns a deeper spiritual connection, a means with which one can develop and grow as well as find a physical connection with someone. It’s finding that other half.
The Greeks say that women and young men are part of the former; older men are the latter. Put aside the complicated misogyny (which I appreciate is a pretty crass thing to say but I want to make abundantly clear that this is the same as wholesale acceptance of such views but quite the opposite, and so one can’t deny that such views are products of their time) and think about the truth there that underpins the particulars of that argument. Meaningful love is one that exists on a deep spiritual and intellectual level, something that is beyond the purely physical. To be clear, if people want to pursue only physical loves, that’s fine. I’m not against that. But my concern is a broader category of love, which covers friends, family, pets, the world, etc., as well as lovers. And those relationships typically don’t have a physical (sexual) element to them. Everyone needs this spiritual love and it solely needn’t manifest in romantic relationships.
Plato-through-Socrates goes further and says that Love (the god) is not merely divine or wholly mortal, but sort of an intermediary between the two, who facilitates our conversation and communion with the divine. Love essentially connects us in a very powerful and important way, something we cannot turn away from.
So essentially, constructing a world in which a deep, enriching sort of love can enable our flourishing. The beauty of this is how it connects with the other two books I’ve mentioned above: we construct our worlds to value love, that robust systems and understanding stem from it, that it can be the bridge between us and our ancestors as well as each other; it’s the ground with which we can build meaning from.
I want to do more stuff like this. My old reviews weren’t bringing me the sort of joy they used to. I might return to something closer to that older style but these slightly deeper dives might be interesting, at least for a time. I’ll endeavour to have shorter ones in the future. Let me know your thoughts below!
Notes and errata:
1 I hope he’s going to be okay. I wouldn’t want him to overwork himself, especially given that he gave himself an arbitrary deadline of summer 2020 for completion. What are you doing, man?! I hope this means you’re close because people are gonna lose their minds if not. This is not to say that they’re entitled to any awfulness if so but still. This does run the risk of inviting ire.
I did NaPoWriMo or Savannah Brown’s spin called escapril over on Instagram, writing poetry every day with daily prompts.
Since I still view poetry as a nascent skill, doing this was a mixed bag. There’s stuff I am actually proud of, stuff I’m ambivalent about, and stuff I actively dislike. But I did it. Is it tough? Hell yeah. Would I recommend it? Sure. Just know that it’s not easy making a complete thing every day.
See, the major problem with this was that I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo as well. And I was doing job interview prep (a job I didn’t get it, of course), and oh yeah other job applications.
Honestly, I didn’t actually think about how exhausting April was until April was well under way. Thing is, this is stuff that I want to do and is pushing me creatively, so I should do it. But spreading things out is key. Let’s start with poetry.
So writing poems everyday, even if I didn’t have stuff to do, was pretty tough. It’s tapping into a place that isn’t always comfortable or easy to access. When I had more space to think instead of do, I resolved to figure out why. What I’ve settled on is this: it’s like giving voice to my subconscious, those subtle whispers that follow me around when I’m going about my day. Sometimes lines bubble up and demand to be written and so I have to write them. It’s hard, but taught me a lot about just writing poetry over agonising over every word and sentence, which freed up a lot of brain space to do other stuff. I know I keep writing about how much I should just write, but you’d be surprised at how much people ignore their own advice. Also, I think for every new form one learns, they have to unlearn that thought pattern of being too precious with the work. Essentially, I was listening to things in my mind and putting them straight on the page, often with little editing. This has accelerated my understanding of poetry and I think it’s properly been integrated into my creative canon.
A lot of aspects about this sort of surround the poetry project I seem to be wilfully ignoring but the lessons I took from escapril will speed it along. As of Monday, I have restarted it in earnest. I’ll stop agonising and just DO IT. I’m like at the halfway mark of the damn thing and could just finish it and say I’ve actually done a thing I set out to do.
Because it’s #Instagram, I tried to integrate as much yummy photography as I possibly could.
It’s not terrible but I think especially towards the end of the month, I was trying to balance both pictures and text. It was sort of a test of what I wanted to do with the poetry project so it’s honestly a bit surprising that I waited this long to sign up to Instagram. I think the project is suited to it.
The gentler event to help me finish my book. You think I’m joking because writing books is a longer process than writing poetry but I’m seasoned enough at books that the process bothers me less than poetry. Plus, it’s more accessible than the pretty demanding November NaNo since there’s no obligation to write 50,000 words in the month. You certainly can if you’d like—or more if you’re a glutton for pain—but what’s great about the Camp alternative is that you can set your own parameters: time spent working, word count, etc.
I set myself a goal of an hour per day and that can be cumbersome or it can be breezy but an hour of solid focused work is my baseline for serious work on a thing.
My current goal for this project is to have this draft done before my birthday which will be the fastest draft that I’ve ever written, if it happens because, well, it’s me and Some Shit Will Probably Go Wrong. But in the ideal set-up, a couple months of work to go. Not boasting at all. Okay, I’m boasting a little bit. But I’m taking this to be significant in the sense that it might be very soon ready to query—as in there are fewer things to correct. I’ll have a think. It could still be in dire straits but I think I’m reaching the limit of what I can do so I’ll need to pay close attention to the eyes and minds of others. Mostly I want to put it down so that I can focus on a newer idea that’s been burning in me the past few months and begging me to start writing it.
Reading 100 pages every day (or near enough)
I didn’t do this because I thought that I wanted to read 100 pages a day. No, I wanted to have something for my April reviews post. But I did some much needed reading.
This is 700 pages long.
This is 1200 pages. Somehow.
It’s hard to properly convey but F&B is bigger in size than Oathbringer even though the latter is 500 pages longer.
I like big books and I cannot lie.
I actually used to read 100 pages of literature everyday in college which I still think is my literary peak, all things considered. Of course, back then, I had a great deal fewer responsibilities than I do now, not to mention being a little spryer, so doing it now was surprisingly challenging. I think the reasons I was doing it in April were part of the challenge (expedience over interest), whereas for a commute to work or college I would be reading for pleasure, to pass the time. Intentional pleasure-seeking. Reading during this period felt like a chore and homework which is super not cool in a time where I have other things to think about.
But it did get me thinking about my habits in order to get that daily page count in. I would find myself on screens a lot less because screens were eating up my reading time. I might need to do it again but I need to seriously think about how much time I spend productively is in front of screens. Need to read a lot more and be more deliberate in taking more time away from blue light, methinks.
I used to spend upwards of an hour on my phone as soon as I woke up but with the reading I needed to do, I turned off my alarms straight away (they’re on my phone which leads me to the Scrolling) and read for that hour. My mood was better overall during the day as well. Correlation is not causation true but there’s a lesson there about spending my time more wisely.
So the moral of story is that doing stupid things being deliberate with habits yields to beneficial outcomes. Who’d’ve thunk? It’s like I wrote a whole essay on the thing. But that would be a stupid, right?
In all seriousness, I think I learnt a lot of what I want to take going ahead so it was a stressful, rewarding, disappointing month. But worthwhile overall. Hope May will treat you well.