Tag Archives: social critique

Challenge: Legal Theft: We Flew Higher (569 words)

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Airports are a strange place, a place of waiting, a place of change, a place of passing, a place of chance encounters. Round as a temple, like a wheel, doorways open at the ends of spokes, and through them people pass, in and out, touching down and taking off. Airports are hubs. They remind me of taverns, wayside inns, except we’ve forgotten how to use them—for meetings, for exchanges. We don’t use them for chance encounters. We see hundreds of people, and some of them look familiar, like an intersection in your hometown, where you frequently stop, look both ways, but never stay, like someone you should know. But we keep our heads down, noses pressed to books or phones or i-devices, and we don’t talk expect to those we came with. We talk to no one if we came alone.

Planes are even stranger. You’re delegated to a small seat that you’re only allowed to leave during certain periods when everything else is behaving as the pilot would have it. Often you can only stand by disturbing someone else. The staff decides when and what you eat, and its usually overcooked and determined to be subpar by those who know. On longer flights, the staff decides too when you should sleep and when you should wake. Rules dictate behavior, and your seating partner becomes your only companion.

Too frequently we ignore our cellmates in the airplane as much as we ignore the other pilgrims in an airport. We miss the chances. We take the earbuds that our wardens provide us, and we plug ourselves into the small screen that is all that we can see if we look ahead. We look ahead instead of looking sideways at those with whom we bump elbows. If we look sideways, our eyes are captured by others’ screens.

And we forget about others.

I looked left.

The screen was still stuck on its homepage.

And I was greeted by a shy smile.

His black hair fell a bit toward his dark eyes. His teeth were white.

Haltingly, in a language that was not his first, he introduced himself, and I gave him my name, and we made small talk, exchanged destinations and where we’d been and why we were traveling.

That might have been the end of it, but we had eleven hours with only each other to talk to, and the entertainment provided by the plane was not in his language and did not cater to ESL.

So when the plane leveled out and we’d found that our eyes watered from staring at a screen too near and our feet hurt from our confinement and our knees ached with no where to go, we turned to each other again, and we began again to exchange stories in that stuttering English, where we ended sentences with the climb of a question, and we supported our meanings with our hands.

And somehow the hours passed. And somehow his face became familiar, and his smile more easy, and the conversation, the way his face and hands moved more engaging than the latest action films with which the plane tried to lull me, with which I was meant to be distracted, which were meant to fill my head with prescribed fluff.

They meant to tie us down, to keep us grounded even as we sought the clouds.

Together, we flew higher, Huan and I.

My sincerest apologies to Bek, my readers, and myself. I first wrote that first line in an airport at early o’clock in the morning and then next at slightly later o’clock in the morning after a heavy sleep and before running off to work. I didn’t notice till I was typing it up again that it was grammatically incorrect. Nevertheless, Bek took it and ran with it, and you should check out “Traveling Woes” on her blog, BuildingADoor, to see how she overcame my clumsiness.  I really like her piece and you might too.

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Book Review: Tooth and Claw Tears Into Social Conventions

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Some spoilers.

I first read Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw for a graduate class in children’s literature entitled Men, Women, and Dragons: Gender and Identity in Fantasy Literature.  I raved about it then to anyone who would listen, including the professor’s wife.  This January I reread it I’m pretty sure for at least the second time.  It has safely wedged itself in among some of my favorite books.  It won’t ever offer me the thrill of Riordan’s books nor the fandom and life experiences of Rowling’s, but it might find very good company among Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series.

Jane Yolen describes Tooth and Claw as Pride and Prejudice with dragons, though I have been corrected to think of it as Trollope with dragons (in her author’s note Walton cites Framley Parsonage) and have, since being corrected, longed to settle down with an inexpensive and not too lengthy book of Trollope’s but have yet to have the pleasure.

So I can’t compare Tooth and Claw to Trollope, but I can compare it to Pride and Prejudice and odds are that more of you will understand that comparison better anyway, Austen being more often assigned and having been made into more mainstream movies than Trollope.  Tooth and Claw holds all of the romance of an Austen novel with quirky heroines who aim to find themselves a comfortable home with a man whom they love and who loves them back and run into difficulty because of their social statuses and the finicky framework of their society.  The heroines find heroes of a higher social class and excellent character.  They are exposed along the way to men of less excellent character, even an annoying parson very like Mr. Collins.  Like Austen, the story explores gender inequality, social convention and faux pas, and the differences between the upper echelons and the country estates and parsonages.  Where the story strays from Austen is in the exploration of the fixture of servitude and classism within the society, the theater of the court system, the fallibility of a church, and race relations, and in the inherent violence of dragons.  Victorian-like rules rein in the violence and supposedly give pomp and ritual to it, but Austen explored very few duels, murders, or ritual cannibalism and euthanasia.

The story ends “And there […] we shall leave them to take refuge in the comfort of gentle hypocrisy” (292).  [SPOILER] It ends with all who deserve to getting a happier ending than they could have foretold and the most villainous dragon being defeated. [END SPOILER]  It was exactly the type of novel I needed to restore me when my once romantic silliness is slipping towards cynicism (it may not have been able to rescue me entirely from reality, but it made a good case for chivalry and the existence true love and companionship).

The well-written and –composed book plays host to a complex world of politics, religion, and social conventions both mirroring and deviating from our own and accounting for the differing biologies of men and dragons (which Walton expands by creating a biological meaning to the coloration of dragon scales).  It is not a fast-paced adventure, and if the reader is seeking such, she might seek elsewhere, but it is does not read at a snail’s pace to me, the text being clipped enough and enough adventures puncturing through the tête-à-têtes to keep the story rolling pleasantly at least at the pace of Pride and Prejudice if not faster.

*****

Walton, Jo.  Tooth and Claw.  New York: Tor, 2003.

This review is not endorsed by Jo Walton or Tor Doherty Associates, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

The latest editions of the book are published by Orb Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.

Book Review: Evelina: The History of a Young Lady’s Reentrance into My Life

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Here is a review of a much older book, a book, in fact, first printed in 1778 (goodness, this book is barely younger than my country!): Evelina by Frances Burney.  This is a book familiar to a number of this blogs’ potential readers as assigned reading from our 17th and 18th Century Literature class, and those same readers will probably know that I enjoyed this book enough the first time through to rescue it from resale on Half.com.  An epistolary novel of letters primarily between the young Evelina Anville and her guardian Rev. Villars, the letters tell of Evelina’s emergence from the country house of her childhood into society, the splash that she makes among the men there, and ends as so many of these novels do, with her marriage to a good man above her station.  The innocence of Evelina’s youth and the delicacy of her upbringing make her an apt lens through which Burney can critique the society—and the gentlemen—of the day.  Full of flowery language, plentiful flattery, and larger-than-life characters, those willing to wade to through the dense 18th century prose, will find a number of amusing though at times grotesque stories to delight as well as love-story worthy of the admiration that Jane Austen’s have received and a tragic family drama.

As enjoyable a second time around as the first, though I have never much been a fan of epistolary writing in general, Burney perhaps succeeds in the medium where more modern writers fail because of the ample letter-writing practice that I’m sure she received.  The letter is a dying art form in the wave of more immediate message-sending methods.  Here, the letters seems less forced than they frequently seem to me to be in other novels, and Burney does not struggle, as some writers seem to do, with how or whether to include details.  I have realized that this is another book like Austen’s where the reader is given very few descriptions of the characters, but the reader hardly notices the absence.  More frequently, Evelina describes in brief the clothes that characters have on (Burney reserves a particular distaste for the fop) than their physical appearance.  I think I would have to read the novel again with the intention of looking to discover whether even anyone’s build is stated.

What Evelina has that many of Austen’s characters do not is a truly horrific back-story upon which to found her entrance into society.  For that, Evelina is perhaps darker than most Austen novels, as Evelina must deal with cruelties that few Austen characters ever know.  It is early in the novel revealed that Evelina is the unacknowledged daughter of Sir John Belmont, who cast-off her mother, unlawfully annuling their marriage, and that she has been unlooked for too by grandmother, Madame Duval.

The first half, filled as it is, with balls and faux pas, I actually, romantic that I am, find less enjoyable than the last book, where both the romance and Evelina’s petitions to her father are more central and more emotional.  My least favorite is volume II, of which the grossness of Captain Mirvan or the Branghtons is a large part.  Though these characters serve as amusement and Burney’s command of dialect is impressive, some of the Captain’s tricks really are terrible.

****

Burney, Frances.  Evelina, or, The history of a young’s lady’s entrance into the world.  Ed. Edward A. Bloom.  New York: Oxford World’s Classics-Oxford UP, 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Frances Burney, those in charge of her estate, Edward A. Bloom, or Oxford University Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.