Jan. 15th, 2016

metaphortunate: pirate saying "I need a convoluted narrative to really get off" (get off)
A couple of days ago @thefourthvine asked "what are the best books you read in the last year?"

When I gave her my list, I did not include A Seditious Affair. Probably this was partly internalized sexism-type reluctance to admit to loving a book in as stereotypically-middle-aged-woman (that's me! Hi, me) a genre as romance. I mean: let me admit, romance is legit a pretty limiting genre. The conventions of the form are strict and the premises are precisely, inflexibly, and, you know, kind of ridiculously bent. And if you don't like that sort of thing, it's not going to be the sort of thing you like.

But I cheerfully volunteered that one of the best books I read was Rat Queens, and that is a series in a genre where you literally have to have (1) mage, (1) thief, (1) cleric and (1) fighter. You know what genre that is, it is only for people who know it and love it, it relies entirely on those conventions, but within those parameters it is funny and fun and great. So, I admit to loving a book in a dumb boy genre, the dumb boy genre, c'est moi; I suppose I can repeat, once again, that the dumb girl genre is aussi moi. It's not like I'm hiding it. Not successfully, anyway.

But the other part of it is, even given the restrictions of its genre, I can't say that it was one of the best books I read last year. I can say that it was one of my favorites.

It's like this: the first aerial silks performance I ever saw was in a Cirque de Soleil show. It changed my whole concept of acrobatics. I'd never seen anything like it. It was so unprecedentedly beautiful. I was riveted. I couldn't stop trying to sketch the act all the way home.

And then, because I used to have free time and I spent it hanging out with jugglers and their ilk, I saw like 800,000 more silks acts, of varying quality. And I still like silks! But I'm not unable to, you know, tear my gaze away from the performance now. It's a cool act. I evaluate the performance. I roll my eyes a bit if I only see the same tricks I've seen a million times, and nothing new or daring.

But a while ago, I saw an amateur silks performance by a woman whose first performance in public it was. And maybe part of it was that I had a balcony seat, so I watched her climb up to me rather than being on the ground watching someone rise into the air like you normally do. But this woman, she was good: she didn't make any mistakes: she made all her tricks: but she was not good enough to make them look effortless. I remember watching her biceps bunch and release, bunch and release, as she hauled her weight up to the ceiling. A really good silks acrobat looks like she's floating on the fabric. This woman showed exactly just how goddamn hard and dangerous of a thing I was watching someone try to do. It was fascinating, it was the most I've enjoyed an acrobatic performance in years.

And similarly, I know there are books that seamlessly weave together plot, character, emotion, suspense, humor, history, social commentary, sex, family and poetry. Those are some great books, I like those books, I have read a lot of them because I have read a lot. I have consequently also read a lot of crap, of course. But this book was not quite either, this book was good enough to do a lot of the good stuff but it was not good enough to do it effortlessly. You could see the muscles pulling. And for some reason, seeing that happen was fascinating.

It is also relevant to my first source of hesitance that this series - this is the second book in a series, and the first one (A Fashionable Indulgence) is unfortunately not as good as the second one, but if you enjoy the second one you will want to have read the first one first because the second one thoroughly spoils the first one and also benefits from character development and setup from it, which is the perennial chicken fox and goat problem of the series reader - anyway, this series is explicitly about wanting things that you are not supposed to want, and how to deal with that. And Charles does not gloss over the fact that if what you want are things that are not respectable, you will not be respected. And not just in an inspirational poster "but only by people who don't matter!" way. You will not be respected in a personal way, maybe by people who are very important to you; and you may not be respected in a broader way, with consequences financial, social, maybe penal. The consequences are real.

But the things we want define us. Look, I hate to drag Ayn Rand in by the shoulders again, but she was right about this one: "My real soul, Peter? It’s only when it’s independent - you’ve discovered that, haven’t you? It’s real only when it chooses curtains and desserts – you’re right about that - curtains, desserts, religions, Peter, and the shapes of buildings." You define yourself when you choose, when you say this is for me and that is not, and also you expose yourself, and it's scary, Lord knows it's much safer, in both vague feeling and absolute immediate concrete ways, to look around you and see what other people are choosing and what choices are respected; but you have got to think about the fact that your soul may be embarrassing and inappropriate but it is the only one you have got. To what degree can you get along without it. Anyway, The Fountainhead this isn't, but it is in its own way a manifesto about letting your freak flag fly and paying the price for it. So: the dumb girly genre, c'est moi, and incidentally let me mention that unlike The Fountainhead, this book is also hot as the flames of hell. In case that is the sort of thing that your own personal soul is into, too.

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