Saturday, June 1, 2013

Yet More Misogyny and Recent Reads

So there's a big flap going on about the sexist content of the recent bulletins of SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. To be clear, the bulletins aren't just little shitty newsletters, they're glossy printed magazines, and a one-year subscription will set you back $32 for four issues. To be further clear, I don't feel like saying much about this issue is really up to me, as I'm not a member of SFWA and haven't personally read the controversial content in question. So I'll summarize that from what I've read - and Googling and spending half an hour reading blogs and forums seems to be the only way to find out what went on if you don't have access to the bulletins themselves, which is why I'm talking around this instead of speaking to it directly - this is more gender bullshit from entrenched misogynists in the SF/F publishing industry, and it's worth getting pissed off about.

I have looked forward to joining SFWA for years, and now I don't think I want to, if/when I'm on the point of qualifying. E. Catherine Tobler has explained the situation eloquently here, and Samantha Henderson has responded more similarly to how I would (i.e. more weariness, fury, and swears) here. I'm a little disturbed that Scalzi didn't do more to halt this (he's the president of SFWA), but there's too much I don't know to place any real blame on him.

On to the reads.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I flew just under 6,000 miles in three days (yes, my arms are tired), and this meant a lot of reading got done.

Before I left, I read Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, a short book by William Styron about his depression becoming a full-blown breakdown. I wanted to read it because I wanted to know what a skilled wordsmith would say about madness, which I mistakenly thought he'd explore in more detail than the (far more familiar to me) business of depression. This brief book unfortunately slimed me a little with the mental ectoplasm of the Great Male Narcissist. I know the essay was meant to be about him and his suffering with depression, but even at that it still seemed overly self-involved. I think this is what happens with depression.

I also read The Quiet Room, a uniquely structured memoiresque book about schizophrenia nominally by Lori Schiller. I walked away with many remaining unanswered questions about schizophrenia, but a better picture of the course of the illness and some of the experience of it. The best part about it was the well-balanced picture of the human cost and tale of schizophrenia - how it affects loved ones over the long term as well as its sufferer. I have a bunch more books about schizoaffective disorders on my TBR list (including one about, get this, identical twins, one of whom suffered from schizophrenia while the other one didn't). It's a mental illness I don't understand especially well, and I'd like to.

On the trip I read Dead Ever After, the final Sookie Stackhouse book. A few shenanigans here and there, but EXTREMELY satisfying (although YMMV if you were an Eric fan, which I decidedly am not). I'm sorry there won't be any more books about her, but I'm also kind of glad. She's in a happy place.

I read the fourth of Chelsea Cain's thrillers about Archie Sheridan, The Night Season, as quickly as the other three. It took several unexpected directions, and I can see how it may have been disappointing for some readers, but I enormously enjoyed it.

And I read State of Wonder, Ann Patchett's latest. It's the first of her books I've read. It reminded me a lot of The Poisonwood Bible, which I didn't particularly like, and I found myself looking forward to finishing, but also reading with enjoyment (Patchett creates narrative tension extraordinarily well). The book seemed limp, dependent on its settings, and much of its plot struck me as outlandish. Yet when I was in the last chapter, I felt like I'd been through a remarkable experience. I looked back at the journey of the novel with amazement and pleasure at what I and the characters had been through. Ultimately I am confused about it.

I felt this way after The Accidental Tourist. Not a book I especially enjoyed, but I'm glad I read it, and bits and pieces of the characters and events kept popping up in my head long after I'd finished. On balance, was this a good reading experience? I have no idea.

I planned to start Redshirts when I got home, and read it halfsies with Faithful Place, a mystery/thriller by an Irish writer named Tana French who was recommended by a blogger I like. I blew through Redshirts in about four hours all told, before I'd even properly started the other book. Rollicking, most excellent fun. I read Faithful Place all last week, and I loved it to pieces. The writing was extraordinary on a sentence-by-sentence basis, witty and delightful, and the character-building and tension were wonderful. In truth, few books I've ever read have made me either laugh or ache as often as this book did. Potent stuff. Off I go to devour French's three other books.

I'm reading more and more thrillers in the last year or so, and I don't really know why. I've read heavy-hitting thriller writers like James Patterson and Scott Turow and haven't especially liked them - they feel pretty blatantly like junk food - and I don't often enjoy standard mysteries of the Christie type. But I keep stumbling upon midlist writers like Chelsea Cain and Tana French and wanting nothing more than to read them all the time.

What I really need to do is get back to my own writing. I've settled on the wikibook as the next project, and its structure is ideal for doing a little bit at a time, a few pages every day, in between research, outlining, reading, etc. But elephant-eating is a difficult business.

Picture credit to Shel Silverstein (obviously)


twinklysparkles said...

Finally I am back! Back to being able to engage in more than simply surviving with my busted shoulder!

Thanks for the post. Though I read very little, let alone within a genre in particular, I was glad to be informed about this. I read the links and all of the comments, even tried to respond.

What is encouraging to me is that the latest generation of young men who I come across on sites such as the ones you linked to seem to "get it." Yes, sexism, misogyny are rampant, cross-cultural problems that have been with us for millenia, but I notice a lot of guys who are not simply giving lip-service to equality and respect. They have been brought up with a deep sense of it. Something has shifted.

I'm glad to be back in order! twinkly

Chad said...

Hmm. In Samantha Henderson's post, if it's supposed to be more like you ... I would have expected more swearing. :) Seriously though, she seems 80% weariness and 20% fury. I'd expect the other way around - not just from you, but from pretty much anyone.

I read Darkness Visible not long ago, after reading the first few pages of it ages ago when I still lived in Richmond. Those first few pages were a revelation. I read the book in probably an hour and a half earlier this year, and reading the entire thing sort of broke that spell. It seemed like a whole lot of "I acted like a jackass to people who were really trying to be nice to me, but it's all because I was depressed, see?!?"

Katharine Coldiron said...

@twinkly, I agree with you that the up-and-coming generation of guys is really working hard to be the opposite of jerks. They are thinking and talking and acting. It's very encouraging.

@Chad, 80/20 between weariness and fury is about right for me. I don't know about anyone else.

Although I definitely agree with your opinion, I felt primarily that Darkness Visible was kind of teenage-gothy. O, the whirlwind of volcanic misery in which depression drops you (or something). Life is pain. Life is only pain. [hair-flip]