Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 8

The fellowship leaves Lorien with personal knowledge gained and group consultation given.  In Gandalf's absence, leadership falls to Aragorn, even if his leadership is neither to Boromir's or his own liking.  I get the strong impression that Aragorn does not wish to bear the mantle of leadership,  adding into his gratitude for the boats and a direction of travel that does not require a decision yet on his part.

The role of the Ring and that of Frodo as the Ring-bearer have weight that's beginning to show.  Clearly Boromir finds the temptation to use the ring against Sauron a compelling one, saying "folly to throw away," before catching himself.  The direction of the Fellowship lies in if they seek alliance or to steal directly into Mordor, and at every encounter the threat by the mere presence of the Ring grows.

The elves are quite generous in sending the Fellowship off.  Lembas, fair cloaks, boats, and even rope.  They also provide the gift of song, with Galadriel singing them down the river and a final meal.  I find this a touching and somewhat tender gesture, one more pronounced for the already apparent diminishing of Galadriel, seen by Frodo as "present and yet remote, a living vision of that which as already been left far behind by the flow of Time." 

In this last parting meal, Galadriel and Celeborn also bear blessed gifts, with a scabbard reminisent of Excalibur's and a token of hope from Arwen Evenstar for Aragorn, precious belts to Boromir, Merry, and Pippin, a bow to Legolas, earth from her garden for Sam, three strands of her hair for Gimli, and the bottled light of the Earendil star for Frodo.  Some gifts may seem odd to the observer, but are perfectly matched to the receiver, whether they know it yet or not.  Gimli's request and Galadriel's acquiescence are more than a courtly gesture, but a token of faith, friendship, and respect between two that should be estranged.  Frodo's gift will serve him well in the face of the encroaching darkness, but it's Sam's gift that is perhaps both seemingly the most mundane and the most touching.

I wonder at the level of deliberation in boat organization.  There is wisdom in putting Frodo (and Sam) with Aragorn, but I wonder how aware members of the party are of Boromir's growing disquiet.  Either Gimli or Legolas would also be well matched with Frodo, but their developed friendship is quite dear.  I also wonder at elves speaking of stranger rumors of forest dangers that they do not fully comprehend.  Armed with foreknowledge I know they speak of the ents, beings long of Middle-Earth, yet in this time seemingly alien to the elves.  It seems that the elves would have a closer relationship with the ents, but perhaps time and strangeness has caused distance between to grow.

The film inserts some extra footage here, in particular a very visually striking scene with Saruman and an uruk-hai.  This was kept relatively brief, but shows us the danger literally chasing the Fellowship.  The actual farewell and gifting has been largely excised, but we see Galadriel hand the vial to Frodo and watch them leave.  As they solemnly paddle down the river, footage of running uruk-hai is cut in while an increasingly martial soundtrack swells.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 7

Lothlorien may feel like being within a song, but the elves here do not exhibit the same joyful and playful musical inclinations of their brethren in Rivendell.  The whole of Caras Galadhon is great and very fey.  The Lady Galadriel knows more than news brought by courier and word of mouth, and Lord Celeborn could be a diplomat with the care and recognition he takes to acknowledge each of their guests.

The elves here know exactly what it means for Gandalf to have fallen, as they also know the threat of a Balrog.  The danger and loss causes Celeborn to speak without thought, blaming the dwarfs for their delving and rash action on part of the Fellowship.  Galadriel, in her near omniscience, calls Celeborn on his words and wins the adoration of Gimli.  The wisdom of Galadriel goes beyond reading the unspoken thoughts and cautioning against speaking from fear or anger.  Saruman's leadership of the White Council is contrary to her efforts, and as she reflects, things may have progressed quite differently under Gandalf's leadership.

Last chapter I commented on the lack of expressed grief, but our Fellowship and the elves mourn within the safety of the elven wood.  The matter too raw for Legolas to translate the mourning songs of Lorien, and strong enough to move the rarely lyrical Frodo to his own song.  I do understand that before they were under enough threat that they didn't want to stop and mourn, but that does stand a bit counter to all the time taken to explicitly admire the landscapes.  Frodo's comment that "I don't miss Gandalf's fireworks, but his bushy eyebrows, and his quick temper, and his voice," strikes me as perhaps one of the most poignant reflections on loss that I've read.  Yes, his magic was useful, but that's not what really matters when it comes to grief.

Galadriel sees what is unspoken and what is yet to come, through her own power and through tools within her reach.  In particular, she reads and speaks of secret desires, not of lust, but those to admit to may be a sign of cowardice.  For the hobbits, their secret desires are not so unknown, but simply to return to the comfort of the Shire and the lives they once knew.  Boromir won't speak to his, but even without foreknowledge and familiarity with the story one can guess his secret desire speaks to his pride and wish for power.  Her mirror itself shows much, of Gandalf's impending return, of conflict to come, forces moving, and of the Eye ever seeking the Ring.

The Lady also speaks of consequences and willing sacrifice, that the saving of Middle Earth means the diminishing of the elves.  They are truly facing an end of their age, no matter the end of this war.

I do want to commend how well they matched Cate Blanchett to Alan Lee's illustrations, and Lothlorien is gorgeously recreated.  Blanchett isn't quite as fey and ethereal as my mind image of Galadriel, but that's the issue with headcannon.  I picture someone more like Tilda Swinton who always looks fey-touched to my eyes.

The elven mourning song that Legolas declines to translate rings high and pure, more something to be experienced than to pick out the words.  Here Boromir does speak somewhat of Galadriel's voice in his mind, of his fear and his hope, while Galadriel speaks openly of the subtle strength the party holds.

Visually, Galadriel and Frodo at the mirror only lacks the companionship of Samwise to match the book and the artwork of Alan Lee.  The visions themselves, and interpretations differ greatly however.  There is no vision of one who could be Gandalf, but instead visions of the Fellowship splitting and of the Raising of the Shire.  Galadriel explicitly states that the Fellowship is splintering, and that one will attempt to take the ring, unlike her role as vision guide rather than interpreter in the book.  I don't like the 'dark queen' bit, and even before the special effects aged it never struck me as quite right, but Blanchett nails the accepting of her fate and encouraging frodo.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Reflections on RAUNCON

For those of the geeky persuasion, no, it's not a gaming con you've never heard of.  Rather it's an annual event hosted by the Darien Library for the past few years called "Reader's Advisory Un-Conference," and I finally had an opportunity to attend.

The format is a number of short sessions where we trade ideas and concepts regarding topics within RA.  I made it to Outreach & Embedded RA, Social Media & RA, and RA on Library Websites.  I look forward to the notes from the sessions I couldn't attend, particularly How to Recommend Books You Haven't Read (among other things, I read very little from the mystery genre) and Displays & Merchandising.  I think the latter one had a wacky idea involving a "book fortune teller" using an Arduino, a simple program, a spread sheet, and a receipt printer.

A few things that really stood out to me were some awesome suggestions to make more of social media platforms beyond "come to our program!" and "see our new releases!"  Some of them do take more effort than others, but we also want our posts to be more than something a viewer scrolls past.  There are widgets and features on websites I really want to integrate into ours at work (the current or the eventual new one), and thankfully librarians are the type to put their custom code on GitHub.  And I really miss my book display space.  I've been promised that I'll get something back, but I'm guessing that's waiting on a few other things to go forward, so nothing's gone up since my Blind Date with a Book display in Feb.

Helen Ellis is hysterical, and everyone should read her book American Housewife (and her twitter).  I was delighted to come away with one of her books (thanks to sitting next to the empty chair with a ticket taped to it), and I gleefully agree with her statement that one's "SPF is reading."  Our mutual "oh god, my eyes" paleness led her to autograph her book "From one porcelain goddess to another."

One of the funny parts of the conference was the ironic biting of the tongue every time someone mentioned a book... because I almost always wanted to come back with a reading suggestion for them.  Since we were there to talk about how to better provide RA, not court it among ourselves.  My efforts were not completely successful, but I restrained myself to only a handful of suggestions (that folks who like American Housewife may also like Jenny Lawson, and that the author of a booklist on Scientology may want to read A Queer and Pleasant Danger).

I also got to meet some really need people (note: thank god for friendly people more extroverted than I).  Attendees came from quite a wide radius, all throughout MA, CT, NY, and NJ.  Possibly some from RI, but if so that didn't come up in the sessions I took part in.

I spent a fantastic lunch break geekily chatting about books with a wonderful woman from Library Journal (per usual, I try to avoid mentioning names without explicit permission).  Topics went all over the place includingthe amazingness that is Shadowshaper and Daniel Jose Older (both of us cannot wait for the continuation of that series), concepts and treatment of death from cultures besides 'white American' in novels, issues with reclaiming (and how to handle it when it's very unsuccessful and insulting...), and more.  Short version: two women who are passionate about books got to geek out.  It made for an awesome lunch break during a great event.

Meanwhile, I'm off to a brief return to regular life (work) before gallivanting off again, this time to attend an opening art show party at the Worcester Art Museum called Meow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 2, Chapter 6

The mourning of Gandalf's loss is both theatrical and minimalist.  Theatrical for lines such as:
"Farewell, Gandalf!"  he cried.  Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware?  Alas that I spoke true!"
Or even Gimli shaking his fist at the mountain.  Minamilist since at this point that's about the extent of their expression.

In many ways, this chapter is a setting piece.  The grandeur of this dwarven homeland, the ethereal beauty of Lothlorien.  Even the details of the river supersede any grief.  The emotions we do get are relief and wonder at the discovery of the mithril mail (as to the rarity of mithril - the dwarf has never beheld it), love of the land, and wariness at the fair and strange elven forest.

I find it interesting that in Gondor fear and uncertainty of the elves has started growing.  That Boromir espouses the belief that "few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed," indicates that this isn't just rumors and fear among the populace but a living concern among the governing class.  This may not just be the influence of Saron, but an issue of isolation and tribalism.  The elves are different, and as their age wanes they withdraw more and more from the world at large.  Aragorn nails it with "Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you speak the truth."  Rivendell is a elfhame, but is more of a sanctuary at large, "the Last Homely House."  Lothlorien is singularly a elfhame and the Lady Galadriel makes Elrond look like a common youth.  This is a place that reminds men how different they are from elves.

But then it's not just the men who are wary, but the elves of Lothlorien closely guard their home and secrets, and have long memory of past enmity.  It's not quite xenophobia, lacking rancor and hatred, but a very stringent caution and distrust of outsiders.  They may insist on a blindfold for Gimli, but they aren't rude about it.  Just very, very emphatic on the rules.  Aragorn plays the diplomat, insisting that the entire company, Legolas included, wear a blindfold, which is probably the most even way to handle the situation.

The heart of Lothlorien is like nothing else our travelers have encountered.  Frodo remarks that "I thought Elves were all for moon and stars: but this more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of.  I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning."  I feel that is a really wonderful description, especially with the musicality of elves.

In the film the pain of loss is much more dramatically displayed, as is the antagonism between dwarfs and elves.  The mystical otherness of Lady Galadriel is heightened, with the dwarf speaking of a great witch and her speaking directly in Frodo's thoughts.  There is little warmth or friendliness in the greeting of the native elves, with even Legolas drawing his bow in defense.  All in all, the chapter is translated into a very short passage, slicing through the focused admiration on the surrounding environment and the majority of fears.

[Book Review] Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper / Daniel Jose Older
Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.
This book is amazing, and it deserves the awards and accolades it has received.  It's a book of being caught in between, following the story of a young woman named Sierra Santiago living in an increasingly gentrified neighborhood, and discovering a legacy hidden from her.  In the author's own words (provided I'm reading the tweets in the correct order):
"It tackles gentrification, antiblackness, colorism, street harassment & patriarchal douchebaggery all within the the bound of a magical adventure.  It's about Brooklyn and art and the power of memory and murals and the ocean and love and friendship and community.  It's the book I wrote because I couldn't find it in the world, as Toni Morrison taught us to do.  More importantly than all of that, SHADOWSHAPER is the book I never thought I'd be able to get away with publishing but totally did..."
I'd been reading about Shadowshaper everywhere and really looking forward to reading it... so I wrote it into my reading schedule as the April book club pick for Virtual Speculation as well as the YA book club I run at work.  The book is well paced, gorgeously detailed, and makes you think.  I highly recommend it.  As a bonus, this is a book that elicited joy from patrons who finally saw a cover art displaying hair just like theirs.

Discussion fodder (limited, but don't let that fool you, the book is awesome):
  • Race, gender, and body politics play a role in this film, in numerous ways that directly impact Sierra.  What resonates or stands out to you?
  • Do the characters or the plot stand out more to you?  What was compelling?  
  • Which characters stood out (Sierra, Robbie, Bennie, Tee, Uncle Neville, Wick, etc...)?  What do you think of the friendships and relationships?
  • How does this book tackle the issue of cultural appropriation?
  • What do you think of Shadowshaping and the magic within the book?  If you could do magic through art and creation, what would medium would you use?
  • What do you think of the Sorrows?  About Sierra's interaction with them?

Monday, May 16, 2016

[Book Review] Chaos Choreography

Chaos Choreography (InCryptid #5) / Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors that whenever I come across a book in a new series I wonder why I haven't been reading this series for years.  Chaos Choreography was my introduction to the InCryptid series, and now I need to go read the first four books.  Not to understand the story that I read, it was definitely self-contained and explanatory enough that it stands up wonderfully on it's own, but because it was absolutely delightful and I want to read more.
Verity Price is back on the West Coast and getting back into the swing of the family business: cryptozoology. She’s rescuing cryptids from bad situations, protecting them from monster-hunters, and generally risking life and limb for the greater good, with her ex-Covenant partner/husband, Dominic, by her side. Her ballroom dance career is behind her…or so she thinks.

When Verity gets the call from the producers of Dance or Die, the reality show she almost won several years before, she finds the lure of a comeback impossible to resist, and she and Dominic are off to L.A. for one last shot at the big time. 
Of course, nothing is that simple. When two of her fellow contestants turn up dead, Verity will need every ally she can find—and a couple she wasn’t looking for—in order to navigate the complicated steps of both the tango and a murder investigation without blowing her cover. It doesn’t help that her official family backup is her grandmother, Alice Price-Healy, who thinks “subtle” is something that happens to other people. 
Winning this competition may have just become a matter of life and death.
The premise sounds ludicrous on it's own - a paranormal adventure set in a dancing reality TV show.  Don't let that throw you.  McGuire takes the very absurdity of the environment and turns it into a fantastic and hilarious ride.  Definitely recommend, on it's own or as part of the series.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Monday, May 9, 2016

[Book Review] Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex / Sarah Kuhn (Powell's Books)

Aveda Jupiter is San Francisco's most adored superheroine; protecting the city from demon incursions and looking damn file while doing so.  Evie Tanaka on the other hand is perfectly happy where she is, supporting her childhood best friend and generally remaining out of the spotlight.  It's a bit of a crap job at times, with demon blood staining pricey costumes, Aveda's diva tantrums, and the joys of attempting to raise her rebellious little sister, but it's stable and Evie is good at what she does.  Then after an injury takes Aveda off her feet for several weeks, Evie is thrust into the public eye while masquerading as her boss.  From there, things start getting complicated.

This book opens with a fight scene against blood-thirsty demon cupcakes.  Score one for the book.

The story itself is light and fun, with more romance than I expected.  Pretty early on I was rooting for Evie to hit "fuck it" with the demands, expectations, and bullshit her best friend and little sister were pulling.  The support characters border on the two-dimensional, but for this story that works.  Evie herself is a brilliant, if bottled up, young woman.  The book also handles racism, both growing up among children who bully over perceived differences, and living in an environment that appropriates when it realizes it can make a profit.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.