by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Reading”

Let Me Tell You How Much I've Enjoyed The Gallagher Girls

Posted 1 February 2010 in by Catriona

I know you’re dying to hear all about it.

Because you know me, right? (And if not, if you’re new to the blog, hi!) You know there’s nothing I love more than a good girls’ school story. Remember how excited I was when I discovered there was such a thing as vampire boarding-school stories?

This is like that time, only with spies.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is ensconced behind high stone walls, bears all the hallmarks of a posh private (or public, depending on where you’re reading this) school, even attracts the scorn of the town’s residents, who have perfected what the girls call the “Gallagher Glare” whenever they spot a student in the town.

But it’s a school for spies.

And it’s more than that: it’s a school for the daughters of American spies (and one girl whose parents are MI6, brought in at the discretion of the new headmistress). Some of the girls, the ones whose parents aren’t spies, have been brought in because of exceptionally high test scores, so, as far as their parents are concerned, they really do just attend a school for exceptionally bright students. But they’re training all the while for a future career in either the CIA or some other initialism-heavy organisation.

When I first thought about writing a piece on these books, I was thinking to myself, “It would be so easy to write one of those snippet reviews you find in the back of women’s mags. You’d just write, ‘Harry Potter meets Alias‘ and you’d be done.”

To some extent, that reading still feels accurate to me. These books are like Alias: the insane gadgets, the almost superhuman powers of the spies, the frenetic excitement of the job. And they are like Harry Potter, and not just because they’re set in a boarding school: there’s a point in the series when the focal character Cammie Morgan goes to CIA headquarters with her mother for a debriefing, and accesses the building through a hidden elevator in a department-store changing room. There are shades there, to me, of the way Harry Potter’s world existed alongside, beneath, above, or around our own, but never quite overlapped.

That delights me.

I don’t want spies to be sitting in rooms peering at computer monitors. I want them to be rappelling down the sides of buildings and if, like Michelle Yeoh, they can do it in high heels, so much the better.

Even the titles of the books delight me: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You; Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy; and Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover. (Apparently, the fourth one will be Only the Good Spy Young.)

Oh, don’t look at me like that: you know I love a bad pun from the time I wrote that blog post on Wuthering High (and its sequels, The Scarlet Letterman and Moby Clique).

But I’m not actually here to talk about puns. I want to mention instead the complex and fascinating way that these books negotiate interpersonal relationships.

The books are, according to Amazon.com’s method of categorisation, aimed at nine- to twelve-year-old readers, and that feels about right: there’s no sex, of course (unlike the Vampire Academy books, which are designed for older readers) and precious little kissing. They’re also distinctly heternormative: there’s no indication that any of the girls are attracted to other girls.

That’s not unusual for mainstream books in the 9-12 age range, of course.

But it’s also a stance that’s somewhat problematised by the books’ genre. Girls’ school stories don’t seem to be able to just adopt an unproblematic heternormative stance. Stories from the original burgeoning of the genre (from around the 1920s to roughly the 1950s) are frequently subjected to a kind of nudge-nudge wink-wink re-reading that draws on any hint of suggestiveness in the stories—I’ve done this myself, of course.

Sometimes the stories themselves are suggestive, as in the case of one I read that was a long moral tale arguing against passionate friendships with someone of your own gender: I wish I could remember the title of that one.

Perhaps that explains why more modern variants on the girls’ school stories foreground the heterosexuality of the pupils? In the Trebizon stories, for example, the girls are all paired off with their equivalent in the boys’ boarding school down the road, and the teachers encourage them to socialise together.

That would never happen at Malory Towers.

What happens in the Gallagher Girls series, though, is that these girls, who have been ensconced in a girls’ boarding school for the final seven years of their schooling, have absolutely no idea how to relate to the opposite sex.

None at all.

How would they? The only members of the opposite sex they’ve met since they were twelve—really, around the time you really start noticing other people as sexually or proto-sexually attractive—have been their teachers.

Most of them don’t even have a parental relationship as a model, because their parents are, by and large, spies out in the field. They don’t head home to home-cooked meals, family conversation, trips out to the zoo or shopping expeditions—they spend Christmas helping their parents trail arms dealers on the other side of the world.

Take the heroine Cammie, for example. She doesn’t even know how her parents met: it’s classified. So when she does meet a boy, she has no idea how to get to know him, except to treat it as a mission: she constructs an elaborate legend, presenting herself as a home-schooled, highly religious girl with a cat called Suzie, and she sneaks out of the school every chance she gets to meet this new boy.

It’s more complicated for Cammie, of course, because she’s what’s known as a “pavement artist”: her job is to trail suspects invisibly, or as near to invisibly as she can manage. And she’s good, too, but once she becomes aware of boys, she becomes rather more ambivalent: when a cute boy tells her he’d never have noticed her, she knows it’s a compliment, and part of her takes it that way, but part of her is hurt, too.

Cammie’s determination to pursue a boy who can’t know the truth about her school terrifies the teachers, who go so far, in a later book, as to arrange an exchange programme so the students can interact regularly with boys their own age.

Sure, much of what I like in these books comes down to the pavement-artist heroine, attractive but untrustworthy hero, the spy gadgets, the rappelling, and the occasional Code Red that locks the school down when out-of-the-loop parents drop by unannounced.

But I like, too, the way in which the books recognise that interpersonal relationships are complicated even if you do have a camera in your wrist watch and comms in your fake crucifix.

Re-reading Part One: Being Annoyed By David Eddings

Posted 24 January 2010 in by Catriona

I’ll be completely honest here: I have no particular hatred for David Eddings.

I first read Eddings in my early teens. I’d read many, many fantasy stories as a child, all the (cliche alert!) old classics: Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and so on.

But I’d slipped away from fantasy for a while, and I came back to it through David Eddings—to Nick, I call him “gateway fantasy,” though I know other readers who’ve done the same through Robert Jordan (whom I’ve never read) or Raymond Feist (whom I’ve never finished).

I read Eddings (specifically, The Belgariad) when I was staying with my best friend at her father’s house up on the Northern Beaches. She’d been reading them over a previous visit, so she lay on one bed with book three and I lay on the other with book one, and we worked our way through the series like that, reading the funny bits out to each other.

And they did seem funny, at the time.

But the problem, for me, is that they don’t bear re-reading. I’m a big re-reader—hence this new series for the blog.

And Eddings doesn’t have any re-read value for me: when I re-read them over this Christmas break (out of desperation, since no one bought me any books for Christmas. Not one!), they just irritated me.

In fact, it was only sheer stubbornness that got me through The Mallorean, in the end.

So, do you want to know what really bothered me? And do you want it in list form? Of course you do.

1. Casual sexism

This is the big one, for me. Yes, there are powerful female characters in Eddings’s books, but their roles are severely restricted: they’re queens, sorceresses, witches, mystics, and priestesses. Not warriors. Rarely scholars. (And Eddings’s seeming contempt for academia is another big issue for me.)

They’re infrequently rulers in their own right and, when they are, they’re often ineffectual or powerless rulers like the drug-addled Salmissra.

There are some politicians, but they tend to manipulate their domains in much the way as they manipulate men. Because the sexism doesn’t just work one way in these books: women get their way by fluttering their eyelashes, and men are helpless to resist them.

It’s a wonder that anything ever gets done, really.

Somewhere in the depths of Polgara the Sorceress—though I can’t locate the actual page reference at this moment—Polgara mentions that she enjoys politics, but not in the sense of how kingdoms operate internally or externally. No, she likes politics according to the definition of politics that means (thought I’m paraphrasing here) “manipulating people into doing what I want them to do.”

But, then, if women understood politics, the male characters of The West Wing wouldn’t have anyone to info-dump on, would they?

I’m not even going to discuss the time that Belgarath says he’s jealous of his daughter’s suitors because all fathers are jealous—that’s just too Freudian and, frankly, creepy for me.

I wonder, too, why it’s necessary to protect the child-like Queen Ce’Nedra from any mention of anything to do with sex, when she’d been married for years and has a child. Yes, I agree you might not want your wife going into that brothel, Garion, but when it gets to the point where you can’t even mention in front of her that two secondary characters are lovers? Well, no wonder it took you so long to conceive an heir to the Rivan throne: it must be much harder when you can’t tell your wife what you’re doing.

But, you know, it’s not the sexism that bothers me so much as it’s the casual assumption of authority for the most dismissive and sexist of claims. So many sentences include some variation of the phrase “All women are” or “All men do” that you’re tempted to assume that, impossible though it is, the authors have never actually met anyone of the opposite gender.

I would write more on this, but when I got to the passage in Belgarath the Sorcerer where he apologised for calling his daughter extremely intelligent and then told her it was nothing to be ashamed of, my head exploded.

2. Casual racism

Actually, there’s nothing casual about the racism in these books, not when the plots are almost entirely driven by superficial but apparently extremely important racial differences. And while I’ve been drawing most of my examples from The Belgariad et al., this casual racism carries over into the later Elenium and Tamuli series, as well.

Add to that the general muddiness of definition between “race” and “culture,” and the whole angle of racism in the books becomes more confused. What we would often describe as cultural characteristics—such as the Arends’ overwhelming nobility—seem to be categorised as racial characteristics, which I find bewildering and just a little lazy. I’m also confused by how racial (or even cultural) traits work here: is it really possible for every single Arend to be as thick as two short planks? Every single one?

Still, the important point is this: for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it’s so important to the books that the bad guys are swarthy foreigners with almond-shaped eyes.

3. Casual cruelty

There are two key examples of this in the first hundred-odd pages of Belgarath the Sorcerer alone.

My first example is this: at one point just after Beldin—the deformed disciple of the god Aldur—arrives in the Vale for instruction, he’s telling Belgarath about how he was left exposed to die shortly after his birth, though his mother fed him until just after he learned to walk, when she either died or was killed by her people for sneaking out to sustain him. Thereafter, he learned to feed himself by following carrion birds and eating what they ate.

At which point Belgarath calls him an animal.

Well, possibly, Belgarath. Or possibly he’s a toddler who is trying to eat whatever he can find. Did you consider that possibility?

The second example is when Belgarath eviscerates an Eldrakyn (I’ve never been quite sure what those are, but something like an orc and something like a troll: intelligent creatures with the power of speech and the ability to domesticate other animals) and then laughs as the creature tries to hold its intestines inside its abdominal cavity.

But he feels “a little ashamed” when the creature starts crying, so that’s all right, then.

4. Idiot plotting

Here’s my favourite example: after the dragon-god Torak cracks the world in half during the War of the Gods, he is safe on the far side of the Sea of the East with Aldur’s Orb, his theft of which is the cause of the war. The people of the west spend two thousand years trying to cross the ocean before Cherek Bear-Shoulders and his sons find the land bridge.

But then they don’t cross the land bridge, because that’s the way Torak’s Angaraks will expect them to come. So they just walk across the frozen ocean instead.

I may have groaned out loud when I read that.

Was it a particularly cold winter? We’re not told that. But, then, the main characters do spend much of the books commenting on how stupid everyone else is. Perhaps that explains why crossing the ice never occurred to them in two thousand years.

Oh, but there are more examples. How about the fact that Chamdar the Grolim spends a thousand years searching for the heirs of Riva. He finally manages to get his hands on the newborn heir, burning the baby’s parents to death in the process. So this infant is the sole remaining heir of Riva—he will not have any brothers. He is the Godslayer whose rise Chamdar and his Grolims have spent a millennia trying to prevent.

But when Belgarath catches Chamdar at the burning house with the infant in his hands, Chamdar throws the baby at Belgarath so he can escape quickly.

No wonder it took him one thousand years to locate him in the first place.

On a sightly related note, I often wonder about the argument that since the books relate to two Prophecies (Eddings’s caps, not mine) divided by an accident in the distant past, the same events are going to keep recurring until one Prophecy is chosen over the other. Really, that’s just a retroactive explanation for why the plot of The Mallorean is largely identical to the plot of The Belgariad, isn’t it?

In fact, I know it is, because the characters keep pointing it out during The Mallorean.

5. Fondness for slavery

Do you know, I can’t even bring myself to discuss this, and yet it’s such a central part of his writing that I can’t delete the item, either. I’ll sum it up like this: even if slavery is codified within a society, it doesn’t necessarily follow that slaves are happy.

6. Confusing attitude towards racial purity

I think what confuses me most in Eddings’s attitude towards racial purity is that he places great emphasis on racial differences that are, at their heart, ambiguous. Take the Alorns, for example: four different peoples—Drasnians, Chereks, Rivans, and Algars—descended from Cherek Bear-Shoulders and his three sons.

The kingdom of Aloria was only divided into the four separate kingdoms three thousand years before the events of the main story, but that’s fair enough: even the descendants of full brothers can deviate widely after three millennia in vastly different climates. So we know the sneaky Drasnians differ from the silent Algars, the sober Rivans from the carousing Chereks.

But then at other times—many, many other times—characters will sigh “Alorns!” regardless of whether they’re speaking about Drasnians or Rivans, and the question of racial difference becomes muddied again.

Not too muddied, of course, because we have to remember that the bad guys are not of the same race as the good guys. That’s the important point.

And that’s not even considering how one keeps the line of the Rivan King essentially Rivan for one thousand years, when you’re marrying the various heirs off to Cherek, Algarian, or Sendarian girls constantly. Of course, with the exception of Sendars, those girls are all still Alorns, but the books don’t say they keep him Alorn; they say they keep him Rivan. The Rivan blood would become diluted after a short while, wouldn’t you think? Not that that’s a problem—unless you’re in a fantasy world obsessed with racial purity.

Of course, if I were to consider how the term “race” is apparently synonymous with “religion” in these books, we’d be here for the rest of the day.

Lifeline Bookfest 2010 (Part One)

Posted 18 January 2010 in by Catriona

I know you’re all just dying to see what I bought at the Lifeline Bookfest. Aren’t you?

According to the omniscient Wikipedia, Howard Pyle was an American illustrator and writer of children’s stories, which explains how, despite my fascination with Victorian children’s fiction, I’ve never heard of him: I have read American nineteenth-century children’s fiction (Susan Coolidge and, of course, Louisa May Alcott), but not with the same assiduity that I read English nineteenth-century children’s fiction.

Or, at least, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Apparently (and by “apparently,” I mean “according to Wikipedia”), The Wonder Clock was published in 1887, and is based on European fairytales. That makes it right up my alley.

I’m also fascinated by the (it seems to me) particularly Victorian fascination with round-robin stories and long stories linked only by a single theme. Eliza Winstanley, for example, wrote one of the latter in the 1860s called “Voices from the Lumber Room,” in which various pieces of discarded furniture and accessories (a mirror, a chair, a fan) told stories about past members of the family.

Of course, “Voices from the Lumber Room” ended in a horrific holocaust, in which all the discarded but sentient furniture was chopped up for firewood, but they don’t all end so disastrously. Bow Bells used the idea of a round-robin story (in which various authors each wrote a chapter of a longer tale) or the loosely linked theme story (such as the one above) for their Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day special issues for years.

The Wonder Clock is along those lines: one story for each hour of the clock.

So let’s just say that this book, which I picked up entirely at random, hits a number of my fangirl buttons.

Now, the Jenny Nimmo book, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, I’m partly really excited about, because it has the word “Academy” in the blurb, and that’s (excuse the cliche) a red rag to a bull for me. But I’m partly also rather annoyed, because it’s the second book. I couldn’t find the first book, and when I nipped into Angus and Robertson in desperation, I found it’s the second book of eight. So I’m in a for a serious commitment there, it seems.

The Garth Nix Keys to the Kingdom series I’m slowly picking up one book at a time, because I can’t face buying all seven at once. But I really enjoyed the Abhorsen trilogy, so I want to read them. I now have the first four, so I won’t have to put off reading them for much longer.

I also found a copy of Nix’s The Ragwitch at this sale, so there’s much Nix-reading in my future.

I bought the Carter Dickson book despite a vague sense that I already have either this exact book under another title or another book by Carter Dickson with a disturbingly similar plot. Eh, c’est la vie.

I’m also fairly sure it was a Carter Dickson novel—but not, alas, one that I own—on which I saw the greatest blurb I’ve ever seen in my life: “He took his whisky straight, his women curvy, and murder in his stride.”

Genius.

That skinny little book on the bottom? That’s a facsimile reprint of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Nothing but the text and a two-page essay on the reproduction and original conditions of publication. Just lovely.

Does anyone else have very fond memories of Dick King-Smith? The Sheep-Pig (now, sadly, generally published as Babe, as my own copy is) is still one of my favourite books, though I am well, well, well past the age when you’re supposed to read it. And, when we were children, we used to listen to books on tape on long car trips, and one of our favourites was The Fox Busters, about chickens who fight back.

(Hmm. It just occurred to me that enjoying both The Fox Busters and Fantastic Mr Fox should have made me one confused child, at least as far as foxes are concerned. Still, it doesn’t seem to have had any lasting effects.)

I haven’t read The Queen’s Nose in years, and I’m really looking forward to reading it again.

Buying The Catalogue of the Universe is part of my ambition to have a comprehensive Margaret Mahy collection, an ambition stemming from when a friend made me read The Changeover, about which I have written elsewhere.

Irritatingly, the one book I haven’t managed to find yet is The Changeover.

One book I am excited about in this pile is The Indian in the Cupboard, because, embarrassing admission though this is, I’ve never actually read it. Isn’t that shameful?

On a similar note, I’ve not read Bridge to Terebithia for years. I’m not even entirely sure that I want to read it again: it’s a lovely book, but a distressing one. But I saw it on the table, and suddenly thought I really wanted a copy of it on my shelves, just in case I did want to read it again. Or maybe just for the feeling of actually having it. I’m not sure which.

This last little pile is a bit of a mixed bag, isn’t it?

I’m not sure where the impulse to buy Betsy Byars came from. I used to read her books assiduously when I was about . . . what? Maybe eight? Or ten? (There’s a branch of Internet bragging that would have me strung up by my heels for admitting that, you know: I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen discussions of literacy devolve into an exchange of “Oh, well, I’d read the complete works of Shakespeare by the time I was twelve”/“Twelve? I’d read them by the time I was eight!” Well, I hadn’t: I was reading Betsy Byars.)

I haven’t read Byars in years, but these three were together, and I suddenly couldn’t resist them.

And at least this pile puts me that much closer to my ambition of a full series of Billabong and Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

No, I don’t know why I have that ambition. I just do.

Bad Simile

Posted 13 January 2010 in by Catriona

I found a bad simile a few months ago. Actually, I find bad similes fairly frequently: I treasure them up, so I can amuse my first years with them during classes in which we discuss the varied uses of the comma.

But this one, while not being the worst simile I’ve ever found, has kept me permanently amused.

So what’s the actual simile?

“His voice was like honey and velvet.” No, I’m not going to say where I found it: that’s not important right now. And no, it’s not the worst simile in the world, but it’s the one that’s amusing me.

The amusement, for me, lies in the fact that the simile is so open to interpretation. To use I. A. Richards’s definition, the tenor (the subject being described) is specific enough, but the vehicle (the object—or in this case objects—whose attributes are being borrowed to describe the tenor) is so vague as to invite a multiplicity of readings.

I’m fairly certain that this should translate, roughly, as “His voice was sweet and soft.” But perhaps it’s “His voice was sweet but rough.”

Or perhaps it’s one of my more extravagant interpretations below.

“His voice was sticky and not really suitable for summer wear.”

“His voice tended to crystallise if you left it in the pantry too long, and never really seemed appropriate for daywear.”

“His voice was quite nice in a cup of herbal tea, but cost a fortune if you bought it by the yard.”

“His voice went well on toast, but felt rough if you rubbed the nap the wrong way.”

There’s no moral or purpose to this post, but feel free to join in the fun.

Lessons I Have Learned From Reading Various Teen Romances

Posted 24 October 2009 in by Catriona

1. If you don’t want to pressure your girlfriend to sleep with you, but you also know you’re (cliche alert!) “not willing to wait forever,” you probably shouldn’t be dating a fourteen-year-old girl when you’re in college.

Seriously.

Keep the May-December romances for when you’ve reached a commensurate degree of sexual and social maturity, okay? It’s just common sense.

2. If your immortal boyfriend says he’s loved you through all your various life cycles even though you’ve never managed to consummate your relationship, and he’s therefore willing to wait forever for you to be ready, you have about half a book before he

  • tries to take your pants off.
  • becomes really irritated with you and starts disappearing for long stretches of time
  • drinks your best friend’s blood
  • flirts with the school bully
  • wipes your memory
  • all of the above.

3. The important lesson to take from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is that Meg Murry definitely had boobs. Because, after all, she already had glasses and braces, right? So no benevolent deity would also make her flat-chested, okay? That would just be mean.

4. If you say you’re a feminist, there’s nothing to stop you also fantasising about literally being your boyfriend’s property, including wanting to wear a bracelet engraved with “Property of [Boyfriend’s Name]” and justifying this by saying that it’s just like the fact that your cat’s collar has your name on it.

5. As a corollary to the above, the statement “I’m a feminist, right?” is so powerful that you only need to say it once every two or maybe three books to completely negate any unpleasant after-effects of statements such as the above.

6. That cute boy you just met? Chances are he’s either

  • your brother
  • immortally bound to his actual sister, so he has to marry her eventually. Even though she’s his sister.

7. If you’re fifteen and you haven’t started your menstrual cycle or, in fact, ever seen your own blood, even after injuries, you really should think about that. Sure, we don’t expect you to realise you’re a fairy, but you know you’re not a competitive gymnast. And you didn’t know anything was odd? Seriously?

8. Wherever there’s one cute boy, there’s always another one. It’s just a fact of life. Sure, one of them’s probably a vampire or a fairy or something, but you’ll just have to deal with that, because love triangles are inevitable.

Apparently.

9. Interspecies dating is no more complicated for teenage girls than it would be for a tiger who happened to meet a rather attractive lion. Trust me on this. Just don’t wonder whether your children will be sterile, because that’s not something that’s usually covered by the literature.

10. Boys like girls who have some kind of quirk. So if you’re not a fairy, or able to see fairies, or a vampire, or the spitting image of a vampire’s long-lost love, or, at a pinch, a Catholic schoolgirl, you’re just going to have to get a tattoo.

Penny Dreadfuls

Posted 16 September 2009 in by Catriona

Yesterday, I found in the letterbox the most recent catalogue of penny dreadfuls from Jarndyce, the antiquarian booksellers who specialise in eighteenth- and, especially, nineteenth-century books.

I bought a copy of Bow Bells Novelettes from Jarndyce some years ago, which is why they offered me a copy of this catalogue.

Seductive as it is, I doubt I’ll be able to buy anything from this catalogue (not even—sigh—the copy of Eliza Winstanley’s “Entrances and Exits” that they’re offering), but I do so love Jarndyce catalogues.

Look how beautiful this one is:

And it’s full of enticing illustrations from the penny dreadfuls themselves. Agnes Repplier, an American writer, wrote (in the late nineteenth century) an essay on English railway fiction (available here from Google books) in which she argued that “the seductive titles and cuts which form the tour de force of penny fiction bear but a feeble affinity to the tales themselves, which are like vials of skimmed milk, labelled absinthe, but warranted to be wholly without flavour” (211).

I don’t know about the absence of flavour, but I know the illustrations are fabulous.

Look at this cover for “The Boy Detective; or, The Crimes of London”:

From this, it appears as though most of the crimes are committed by the boy detective himself. Still, at least he provided himself with an appreciative audience.

And, on another note, how can he even see that a crime is being committed in that room, from the angle he’s standing on?

Or what about “Risen from the Dead”?

The actual caption for this one is “‘Great Heaven! Where am I?” exclaimed the supposed dead man,” but I prefer to imagine that the caption reads, “This is a pretty complicated way of getting out of telling your wife about us.”

Then again, I have too much time on my hands.

This one doesn’t have a caption, but I’m sure we can write our own.

My current choice is “Had she been capable of experiencing any emotions at all, Sivestra would have congratulated herself on having the foresight to bring her embroidery scissors to the planned seduction.”

Duchess Novelette is quite a late addition to the realm of Victorian periodicals: it ran from 1894 to 1902. (Indeed, the novelettes were generally quite late: there’s a fascinating 2008 article from Kate Macdonald and Marysa DeMoor on the production of novelettes and supplements from Publishing History, which you can find here. That’s a PDF file, but it should open in your browser.)

Its lateness in the period explains the relative sophistication of the cover image:

Nothing, however, can explain the fact that rather than “A Wild Love,” it should probably be titled “That’s Definitely Going to Give You a Crick in the Neck, You Know.”

Also, considering the heroine—at least, I’m assuming that’s the heroine—is dead here, the hero’s expression should probably verge more on “horrified” than on “slightly bewildered.”

Speaking of sophisticated images, this one is obviously from an earlier publication. It’s labelled “The Death Struggle”:

I would have labelled it “Slightly After the Main Struggle But a Disturbingly Long Time Before the Actual Deaths.”

This one’s my favourite, so far:

This caption reads, “Kairon stooped down and imprinted a kiss on the half-parted lips of the statue, and, as he did so, distinctly felt them move!”

Um, Kairon? Unless you thought there were a reasonable chance that the statue would come to life, why were you snogging it in the first place? And who makes a statue with “half-parted lips”? I’m thinking Pygmalion has been convinced to go into mass production.

And trust me: there’s a rational explanation for this last one.

Well, semi-rational.

Spring-heeled Jack was a specifically Victorian urban legend, and popular subject for the penny-dreadful market. Sadly, he hasn’t proved as durable as Sweeney Todd or Jack the Ripper, but he certainly had his own degree of fame.

I’m assuming that what appear to be whiskers are the blue-and-white flames he was said to vomit.

And I’m rather annoyed that, having already prepared a joke about why he might be wearing a unitard, I find, apparently, a tight-fitting oilskin is all part of the mythos.

He might have had more consideration for the needy bloggers of the future.

Well, I Wouldn't Say Literature Is Dead, Exactly . . .

Posted 6 September 2009 in by Catriona

But, yes, I am as disturbed as the next person by the news I found over on Topless Robot: that HarperCollins is bringing out a new edition of Wuthering Heights—with a cover based around the cover art for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and a tag claiming that this is “Bella and Edward’s favourite book.”

That’s fine: you weep a little if you want. Or faint. Or giggle.

I’ll be here when you get back.

No, this is not a mock-up: here, have a look at the HarperCollins website, where you can pre-order this for only U.S.$8.99.

Now, I do have a problem with this and, oddly, it’s not the same as Topless Robot’s problem: I’m actually deeply fond of Wuthering Heights, as a good little nineteenth-century scholar should be.

It’s such a nasty book, you just have to enjoy it.

(Thought I do admit to bewilderment that people find Heathcliff sexy. Mr Rochester? Oh, my: yes. But Heathcliff? Not working for me, I have to say.)

And, as I’ve admitted here, I enjoyed the Twilight series—at least until Edward started really creeping me out in book three (why, yes: I am a little slow), and until I read book four.

But I have to ask: in what way is this Edward and Bella’s favourite book? If I recall correctly, Bella says it’s one of her favourites, but Edward says he can’t abide it, until he’s stuck with nothing to read while Bella talks in her sleep all night, and then he finds one of Heathcliff’s more psychotic passages about wanting to rend Edgar Linton limb from limb, and suddenly warms to the book.

Not what I would call the most common reason for enjoying Emily Bronte’s only novel.

In the long run, is this actually going to kill literature? I wouldn’t have thought so.

Is it going to make more people read Wuthering Heights? Well, it might make more people buy the novel, and I don’t suppose that the publisher cares whether the purchasers actually read it: it’s not as though Emily’s going to be writing a sequel any time soon.

So this doesn’t mark the death of literature, for me.

But it is deeply, deeply silly.

Still, there’s always amusement value in the tagline, which you can see better in the full-size image.

“Love Never Dies”?

That depends on your definition of “die,” doesn’t it?

And also of “love.”

The Great Spare-Room Book-Moving Debacle

Posted 6 September 2009 in by Catriona

If you were following my Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour last year, you’ll recall that the spare room was the point where I just stopped apologising for the appalling conditions in which I force my books to live.

In fact, it took me five separate posts before I finished that stage of the tour.

So it’s not really surprising that I decided the spare room needed an overhaul and a new bookshelf.

But despite careful measuring, the bookshelf I bought was slightly too big for the only available space, wasn’t it?

Of course it was.

So the overhaul turned out to be more extensive than planned. Every single item of furniture was moved in this room, and every single book taken off the shelves.

Still, the room looks much better.

In fact, if you were to stand in the direct centre of my spare room—well, you’d be standing on a patchwork quilt that my sister made me by hand, and I’d probably ask you not to do that.

Still, setting that aside for the time being, if you were to stand in the direct centre of my spare room and look from left to right, you’d see it looks like this now:

And, yes: that is an almost empty shelf there. Clearly, there are more than enough books still on the other shelves to fill that one up. But it gives me such a luxurious feeling of space, to have one shelf in the house that isn’t stuffed to capacity.

So empty it stays.

Until the next Lifeline Bookfest, anyway.

House of Night

Posted 29 August 2009 in by Catriona

So (through which I “obliterate all previous discourse and narrative” and simultaneously call for immediate attention—thank you, Seamus Heaney) . . .

I may have mentioned once, or twice, or, perhaps, even three times, my current fascination with vampire boarding-school stories.

What I haven’t talked about in any detail, though, is P. C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series, only five books of which have so far been published.

Now, I’ll be honest: I didn’t take to these from the start.

Partly, it was that I was uncertain about a joint-written work, and suspected that the daughter part of the mother-and-daughter team had been largely brought in to make sure the language was idiomatically and authentically teenage.

Partly, it was that the authentically teenage language made me feel, in the early chapters, as though I were too old to be reading these books, which is (firstly) probably true, (secondly) an uncomfortable reading position, and (thirdly) irrelevant.

And partly it had nothing to do with the books at all, and everything to with circumstances. I’d taken the first volume down to Sydney with me along with the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Intruments trilogy, not being certain whether I’d like either. Then I thoroughly enjoyed the Clare, and when it ended on a cliffhanger, I become so annoyed that I hadn’t thought to bring the second volume that I rather resented the book I did have.

When I gave the series another chance a month or so later, I was surprised by how much I did enjoy it.

You know, it’s almost impossible to write about vampire fiction, without talking about the modifications that authors make to the archetype. That, it seems, is the nature of vampire fiction: one selects a vampire protagonist, and then one tweaks the archetype a little (so that, to pull an example off the top of my head, your vampires sparkle in direct sunlight), and that’s all anyone talks about.

But it’s particularly impossible not to talk about that with this case, and I’ll explain why.

All vampire boarding-school stories that I have read have some justification for why there’s an all-vamp school. (This is one disadvantage that they have over the traditional boarding-school stories, since it seems that secret vampire societies don’t have any policies in place about universal education.)

So in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (and none of what is a spoiler: it’s all on the back of the first volume), there are two distinct forms of vampires, the “mortal” Moroi and the “immortal” Strigoi [yes, I have ret-conned this bit of the post: see Tim’s comments below], as well as the half-vampire, half-human dhampirs who act as guardians for the Moroi. Since the Moroi are in constant danger from the stronger, immoral, and immortal Strigoi, Moroi society is basically a succession of gated communities, of which the school is only one.

In Claudia Gray’s Evernight series, the school exists so that those vampires who were turned young and have lived long lives can find a safe place to learn about changes in modern society—so a vampire turned in the Middle Ages and living in isolation for most of the years since might find themselves programming an iPod as their end-of-year assessment task.

In the House of Night series, it all comes down to the changes to the archetype of the vampire.

In this world, vampyrism is a biological change that takes place in some people during adolescence. The new fledgling is “marked”: the tattooed outline of a crescent moon appears on their foreheads. At that point, they have two choices: they can die, or they can go to one of the world’s many Houses of Nights, where the adult vampyres secrete an airborne pheromone that helps keep the fledglings’ bodies stable.

Over the next four years, roughly ten percent of the fledglings die anyway, as their body rejects the Change. If they Change successfully, the crescent moon tattoo is filled in and another tattoo—unique to each vampyre, circling the eyes and covering the cheekbones—appears on their face at the moment of the Change.

So vampyres in this world aren’t secret: they can’t be, with sapphire-blue tattoos covering their faces. And, as an adolescent is marked, they become an emancipated minor under the law, free to choose their own names and subject only to the High Priestess of the House of Night and to their professors.

Interesting, huh?

And note that term “High Priestess.” These vampyres are both spiritual and matriarchal. They worship the goddess Nyx, the personification of the night, and, while the worship does involve blood, it also involves candles, herbs, circles of power, and such like.

And this is where my interest is really piqued. Because the heroine of these books is Cherokee, through her mother. And the vampyre rituals (and the threats to vampyre society that emerge across the books) become tied up with Cherokee legend and ritual.

(I’m far from informed on Native American legends, but it seems to me that these books modify aspects of Cherokee mythology to further their own plotlines—not that, as the cliche goes, there’s anything wrong with that. I can’t be certain, but it looks as though this Wikipedia page on the central villain of later books is drawn exclusively from the fiction, though presenting itself as an actual Cherokee legend: I’m assuming that, if that’s the case, it’s poor writing or confusion, and not deliberate obfuscation. On the other hand, authoritative sources show that this fictional threat is rooted in actual Cherokee legend.)

But, for me, it’s the mere focus on the Cherokee heroine that fascinates me, the fact that the heroine strengthens her rituals for Nyx by blending them with Cherokee purification rituals, that her knowledge of herbs (from her Cherokee grandmother) blends into this new religion that she never knew she needed.

When, later in the series, she is thrown into an accidental alliance with a Benedictine nun, and we see, running alongside the spiritual vampyres and the Cherokee wise woman, the matriarchal branch of the Catholic Church (and its elevation of the Virgin Mary to a position of importance with which other branches of Christianity are often uncomfortable), then they fascinate me further.

Does the teen-centric prose still frustrate me at times? Oh, yes.

But I’ve not read teen fiction quite like this before, and never a vampire boarding-school story like this. If only I didn’t have to wait until October for the next installment, alas!

The Varied Career of Cherry Ames, [Insert Word Here] Nurse

Posted 27 August 2009 in by Catriona

According to Wikipedia, font of knowledge that it is, the Cherry Ames books were published between 1943 and 1968, written first by Helen Wells (also the creator of the Vicki Barr mystery series) and then (as Julie Tatham) by Julie Tatham Campbell (creator of the Trixie Belden series).

(And, while I’m here and being profligate with my own parentheses, may I ask the people who write Wikipedia to stop putting brackets in their URLs? It’s frustrating and makes it almost impossible to actually link to the site without going via TinyURL.com. Thank you kindly.)

Wikipedia also tells me that the series has a propagandist purpose, in that it aimed to get young girls to aid the war effort by becoming nurses.

Which explains this cover, from a 1945 addition to the series:

What it doesn’t explain is why Cherry, dedicated nurse that she is, seems more fascinated by the plane in the background than she does by the injured GI in the foreground.

But that’s all right, because her fascination with GIs is revived in time for the frontispiece:

(That image makes me more thankful than ever before—and that’s pretty thankful—that I never served in the U. S. Air Force during World War II.)

By the much later Cherry Ames, Jungle Nurse (1965), Cherry has essentially rejected an interest in actual nursing, in favour of the less profitable but more engaging pastime of eavesdropping:

The caption for this image reads “From inside the tent came the murmur of voices,” which is evidence enough the attraction of serial fiction often lies outside the actual plot.

Then there’s Cherry Ames, Rest Home Nurse (1954):

The caption for this one reads “Mr. Stanley wheeled to face her, a guilty expression on his face.”

Why? It’s almost impossible to tell what he’s doing from the picture, except that it seems to involve a door and a chair. Perhaps he’s been caught trying to make a break for it? Or perhaps she found him jamming a chair under his door handle, so the rest-home nurses can’t come into his room when he’s sleeping, steal his possessions, and draw a moustache on his face with a texta?

I think I prefer the latter explanation, myself.

And what do you suppose Cherry’s hand gesture is supposed to express?

Still, it’s more exciting than Cherry Ames, Night Supervisor (1950):

The caption for this one is “She hardly dared to unfold it and read the typewritten words.”

No wonder Cherry ended up in the jungle and then—luckily for her—had that affair with Nancy Drew, if opening an envelope is the highest excitement possible in the high-tension world of night supervision.

The Varied Career Of Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter

Posted 13 August 2009 in by Catriona

I’ve mentioned Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter in a previous post, in which I included the cover to this book:

And I stand by my statement then: any reporter worth her salt should be probably be able to sense when a mysterious cowboy is about to shoot her in the back.

But what both frustrates and fascinates me about my small collection of volumes charting Sally’s career as a “girl reporter” is that none of them have blurbs. There’s no way of telling what Sally will be doing in this next volume, short of actually reading the book.

Well, you could interpret the title, but that won’t help much in most cases. Sure: “On Location” should tell you that this is a film set and not the actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but what about this one?

Apart from the fact that Sally certainly better not be undercover, not if she insists on carrying that notebook around with her like that, I have no idea what might happen in this book.

Okay, so there’s a cruise ship. And a helicopter. But do those two objects intersect at any point? And how are Sally and her fetching padded pink coat involved?

I have no idea!

But I can formulate a convincing story about this next one:

Oh, sure: it’s called The Runaway Princess, but then it’s also called Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter, where Sally actually looks about forty in this picture.

So I don’t think this one has much to do with a runaway princess. I think it’s more likely that, in this book, Sally shows us how to fake our own deaths and start an entirely new life (as a barber) by stealing the identity of someone who didn’t keep a close enough eye on their luggage at Venice Airport.

Plausible, yes?

In fact, I’m rather sorry now that the dust covers for my copies of Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter, in African Alibi and Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter, in Underwater Adventure are missing: I can only imagine what depths of crime she sinks to in those!

The Strangest Girl-Detective Stories On My Shelves

Posted 12 August 2009 in by Catriona

And these are only the pick of the bunch! Basically, any Nancy Drew story and most of the late Trixie Beldens qualify as “strange girl-detective stories,” but these are even weirder.

I may have mentioned this one on the blog before now, but the only reason it’s on my shelf is that it is hands down the strangest girl-detective story I’ve ever come across. Apparently, there are at least three Jenny Dean mysteries, but I’ve never seen another one.

Jenny is “a sixteen-year-old sleuth with a passion for solving some of the most extraordinary science fiction mysteries ever recorded.”

But only some of them. I guess she has to complete her homework sometimes.

In this one, Jenny and her friend Mike are troubled by the strange behaviour of their classmates: “What was causing those strange screams? Those disappearing acts? Those pale and shining complexions?”

I would suggest vampires, but that’s the wrong genre.

Still, “Jenny and Mike encountered danger at every turn—at the famous Mordern Institute, at an abandoned power plant, and at a scientist’s laboratory.”

Here’s my advice for teenage sleuths: nothing good ever came of an abandoned power plant. Ever.

Not that that bothers the young Nancy Drew, as she finds out who is “the champion of cheaters”:

I’m guessing it’s not Champion, the Wonder Horse, which is a shame. (He was a horse who solved crimes in his spare time. More or less.)

This is a version of Nancy Drew rejigged for younger readers, as you can tell from the blurb:

It’s so unfair! The Champions on Ice show is coming to River Heights, Olympic stars and all, and Nancy signed up early to be one of the skating flower girls. But she may be sitting on the sidelines instead.

Someone erased her name from the list, and she could just cry. Better yet, she’s going to find out exactly who did it. Nancy has just one clue, and it’s her only chance to learn the truth—and be a flower girl after all!

Someone erased her name from the list? Oh, the horror!

But what annoys me about this series is that it constructs Nancy as a natural sleuth, a girl who is just using her given talents to solve crimes. And that’s all well and good, but the professional female sleuth doesn’t have that long a pedigree: she only goes back to C. L. Pirkis’s Loveday Brooke, and we can’t really afford to have another professional slip away and be replaced with an amateur.

Still, anything is better than this next option:

Like the Nancy Drew notebooks, this one was designed to cash in on the popularity of Trixie Belden: neither this nor Julie Gordon: Exchange Student actually featured Trixie, but she endorsed them, in as far as a fictional character can endorse anything.

I don’t know who decided to engage Edvard Munch as the cover artist, but I think it was a mis-step.

I love the cover on this one, though:

All three characters seem to belong to a completely different storyline. I like to imagine they’re thinking the following thoughts:

JOE HARDY (BLONDE): Man, who hit me on the head? That, like, really . . . something. Hurt! That really . . . something.
FRANK HARDY (BRUNETTE): I wonder if Nancy hit Joe on the head? She’s certainly looking shifty.
NANCY: I think this brown lipstick was a mistake. I wonder if I can subtly change it before Frank gets around to asking me why I coshed Joe?

There really isn’t any justification for the next one:

“Awful” is, I think, the only possible descriptive term for this one. Apparently,
“Cassie B. Jones becomes detective Cassandra Best when her wealthy friend, Alexandra Bennett, sends her a ticket to mystery and adventure . . . at the Kentucky Derby.”

Gasp! Not the Kentucky Derby!

But, on a more serious note, why are rich girls always called something like Alexandra? If your father has millions, I suppose you need the extra syllables.

I also wonder why the blurb doesn’t mention anything about them finding a horse in their living room. You’d think that’s the sort of thing people would want to talk about, wouldn’t you?

Finally, there’s this one:

I don’t know if there were more “three Matildas” mysteries: I’ve never seen another. But I do like the way the author’s hook is to have three girls with the same name.

And, yet, she’s not satisfied with that alone, as the inside blurb shows:

If . . .

you can write your age upside down and backward and still have it come out the same, you’re off to a good start. [Query: a good start for what? That’s not the most useful skill, and it’s fairly fleeting.] There’s at least one girl called Matilda in this book who can do just that.

If you can go places wearing a dog around your neck and make people think that he’s only a fur scarf, you’re pretty lucky. [Query: Why? That doesn’t sound like luck by any definition I’ve ever heard, and I fail to see any real advantage to the process, either.] But there’s another Matilda in this book who’s been getting away with it for a long time!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a food faddist for a mother, an artist for a father, and a genius for a brother, there’s still one more Matilda in this book whom you should know about.

That’s right—three Matildas. But that’s not all.

Please, save us from the girl-detective book blurb that reads like an infomercial!

Three True Things: A Follow-Up

Posted 7 August 2009 in by Catriona

I hadn’t realised, when I followed up the Three True Things meme this morning how young a meme it was and how closely I was connected (through the Internet’s network of sociability) with its birth.

I’ve never been so close to the birth of a meme before.

So, since my post is running the risk of being buried under an exceptionally long live-blogging of a Torchwood episode, I thought I should take this rare opportunity to link to the places where the meme was born, before it found its way here.

First, Galaxy, where the meme was born.

Then Reeling and Writhing and Mark Lawrence, the blogs tagged by Kirsty at Galaxy.

Then Smithology and Nannygoat Hill, the two blogs tagged by Mark Lawrence.

All wonderful: all varied.

(What I’m liking, too, are the comment threads, and the way they’re dipping into ideas about genre fiction and where that sits in its always uneasy relationship to what the bookstores and publishers call “literary fiction.” But, then, I’m a woman for whom vampire boarding-school stories exert a strong fascination.)

So far, the meme is resting there, as far as I can see. But I don’t think this is a meme that should stop now. Surely there are more truths to fiction out there?

Three True Things

Posted 7 August 2009 in by Catriona

Having been tagged for this meme by Smithology (and being, besides, someone who talks about books at the drop of a hat, even to complete strangers in shops—though the tragedy is that my weakness for books has not corrected my weakness for cliches such as “drop of a hat”), I don’t see how I can pass this up.

I’d not come across the meme before, but apparently it requires me to post three true things that I’ve read recently that come from fiction.

So let’s start with a man who is, to my mind, one of the greatest novelists in English not just of the twentieth century, but of my reading experience:

May I say, too, that much of what I put in this book was inspired by the grotesque prices paid for works of art during the past century. Tremendous concentrations of paper wealth have made it possible for a few persons or institutions to endow certain sorts of human playfulness with inappropriate and hence distressing seriousness. I think not only of the mudpies of art, but of children’s games as well—running, jumping, catching, throwing.

Or dancing.

Or singing songs.

(Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard. 1987.)

Vonnegut is an easy enough choice, but my next choice requires me to roughly sketch in some background. Bear in mind: what follows is the melancholy tale of an unanticipated moment of overwhelming pretentiousness.

Two nights ago, Nick and I were watching an episode from season three of Northern Exposure: an episode in which Chris in the Morning is offered the chance to buy into Holling’s bar and goes slightly mad with bar-tending power.

At one point, he offers cheap beer to anyone who can recite the opening lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

And I said to Nick, “I used to be able to recite those!”

T. S. Eliot was one of the poets I studied for my H. S. C. back in the mid-1990s, and because the exams were not open book, much of my final year of high school was devoted to memorising Eliot, Robert Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and various broadly applicable quotations from Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and Arthur Miller.

Not the most effective way to learn to love literature.

So two nights ago, the juxtaposition of this mind-numbingly dull learning experience and a Northern Exposure episode led to Nick and I sitting on the back verandah in the dark and the cold, with me clutching a glass of wine and reading T. S. Eliot out loud.

We’d made it through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” before I came to my senses and said to Nick, “You know, this is the most pretentious thing I have ever done—and it developed so organically!”

That doesn’t change my response to this passage:

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

(T. S. Eliot. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917.)

If the meme demands true statements from books I’ve read recently, the next quotation should be from something with a vampire in it, since that has made up the majority of my reading material for the past month. Much as I enjoyed them, though, I can’t think of a statement that struck me as essentially true.

(Though it is true that I came to an important realisation while reading—and thoroughly enjoying—Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy. It may not have been the intended moral of the story, but what I took from it was this: No matter how doughty a demon killer your brother is, snogging him still shows a paucity of imagination.)

So, instead, I’m going to fall back on a quotation from one of my all-time favourites, which I first read in 1993 and only recently read through and adored once again.

It is, fittingly, a quotation about truth in fiction:

What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true? Haroun couldn’t get the terrible question out of his head. However, there were people who thought Rashid’s stories were useful. In those days it was almost election time, and the Grand Panjandrums of various political parties all came to Rashid, smiling their fat-cat smiles, to beg him to tell his stories at their rallies and nobody else’s. It was well known that if you could get Rashid’s magic tongue on your side then your troubles were over. Nobody ever believed anything a politico said, even though they pretended as hard as they could that they were telling the truth. (In fact, this was how everyone knew they were lying.) But everyone had complete faith in Rashid, because he always admitted that everything he told them was completely untrue and made up out of his own head.

(Salman Rushdie. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. 1991.)

There’s more truth in fiction than can possible be covered here. So, since one good tagging deserves another, I’ll see what truth Wondering Willow and A Billion Suns find on their bookshelves.

At Boarding School, No One Can Hear You Scream . . .

Posted 5 August 2009 in by Catriona

At least, so says the tagline of the first of the Bard Academy novels, the brilliantly named Wuthering High.

And, yes, I’m as bewildered as you are by the adaption of the tagline from a horror movie for a teen novel based on a famous nineteenth-century novel. But it made such an excellent title for a blog post.

The taglines for the other two novels in the series are “Being unpopular at private school? There’s nothing scarier”—which is (firstly) almost certainly not true (Clowns? Sharks? Giant spiders? Being buried alive?) and (secondly) banal—and “Bad things happen when fact and fiction collide,” which is just vague.

But once again I have let my snideness and my talent for long, rambling non-sequiturs run away with me, because I’m actually thoroughly enjoying these novels. And when I’m enjoying something, I think the least I can do is not be snide about it on my blog.

I first mentioned the Bard Academy in this post over a year ago, but I’ve only just now managed to get my hands on them this last weekend. (The same weekend, incidentally, on which I bought this book, which I came across even longer ago. And also got my copy of this. So, an excellent weekend in terms of working through the back catalogue of my own blog.)

And I’m enjoying the books even more than I thought I would.

I could go into more detail about why I’m enjoying them, but it’s the first week of teaching (since I’m not lecturing this semester) and I’m tired. So I’m going to settle for quoting this section from early in the book, where the heroine is mistaken for someone else by a mysterious man on the school bus (which is being driven by a suicidally reckless bus driver whose name tag reads “H. S. Thompson”):

“Miranda Tate,” I say, extending my hand. “And you are?”
He looks at my hand, and then at me. “Heathcliff,” he says cautiously, taking my hand. His hand is rough and calloused. Either he’s a guitarist, or he’s done some hard work on a farm.
“So who’s Cathy?”
I watch as a storm cloud settles over his features, then his face settles into a scowl again. He says nothing. I guess it’s a sore subject. (27-28)

Admit it: you laughed.

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