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Excuse me, Ned Stark, but winter has not come

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The forecast does call for 3-5 inches by tomorrow, though. But it will all melt, and be washed away with the 40+ degree weather and rain on Monday. This is the mildest winter I can remember (not saying much, since I spent 2004 – 2008 in Montreal), and the precipitation and cold weather never seem to match up. Lame!

So here’s a reading list to put me in a wintry mood, since actual winter isn’t delivering.

The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the mother of all winter books — at least in my small world. This, along with On the Banks of Plum Creek, was my favorite of the Little House books, and solely because the DRAMA of the SNOW and the COLD was just so absorbing. I would hope so hard for a winter that would require us to build tunnels in the snow to get from one place to another. (And therein lies my fondness for The Arcade Fire.)

Pete Hamill’s Snow in August was one of the first grown-up books I read. Which is a little misleading, because although it was published for adults, the protagonist is a child. I remember being completely enchanted by the story – it was my introduction to the golem legend as well – and so it deserves a reread.

Snow Falling on Cedars and Smilla’s Sense of Snow are both books that I remember seeing on my parents’ nightstand, and remember my Dad recommending to everyone. Probably even me, even though I was about 12 at the time. I was intrigued by them, and I maybe even read the first few pages, but ultimately The Baby-Sitters Club and Animorphs held more thrall for me. Now that I’m a grown-up myself, it’s high time I actually see what all the fuss was about all those years ago.

Orhan Pamuk’s Snow first came to my attention while I was working at Hamish & Henry, a small bookstore in a small town about fifteen minutes’ drive from my hometown of Jeffersonville, NY. H&H is sadly now defunct, but I owe a lot to Sue and Jeff, who employed me, and Carol, Jeff’s mother, who was basically a surrogate book grandmother. She probably bought this for me on my birthday book spree (it was a summer job between college semesters, and my birthday was in the summer), and recommended that I read it on a hot, hot day, as Pamuk’s prose so strongly evoked winter it would cool me right down. Since I’m missing winter now, it seems just as appropriate.

I picked up Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and Stephen Emond’s WinterTown at BEA last May at the Hachette booth. I really enjoyed Emond’s HappyFace, mostly because I love the fusion of text and art to tell a story, so I’ve been looking forward to reading this, but I made the fatal mistake of putting it on my bookshelf. I don’t read books on my bookshelf! I read books on my nightstand, in my bag, readily available, or with a due date at the library. But I should totally read both of these soon. Particularly The Snow Child, since it fits in with my Sirens reading goal (as many retold tales as possible).

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Written by Emily G.

January 20, 2012 at 10:21 am

Posted in books, lists

We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death

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How many points do I get for quoting Swinburne’s Hymn to Proserpine? Oh, none, because I haven’t actually read the poem, I just grabbed a quote to look sophisticated while doing a round-up of Persephone-inspired books? That seems fair.*

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, there has been a rash of Persephone retellings as of late. Editorial Anonymous noted as much a year ago, and now we can see the fruits of her prognostications. And, as you might be able to tell from my sidebar, I like making lists! So here you go, in order of forthcoming to least recent. Let me know if I’ve missed any!

Everneath, Brodi Ashton
(January 2012)

Abandon, Meg Cabot
(April 2011)

The Goddess Test, Aimee Carter
(April 2011)

Falling Under, Gwen Hayes
(March 2011)

Radiant Darkness, Emily Whitman
(April 2009)

Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of these, although in an ideal world where I have all of the time and none of the Words with Friends Angry Birds distractions, I’d make a project of reading them all. Plus some of the other Greek mythology-inspired fiction that’s out there – particularly Stephanie Spinner’s Quiver, because hello! Atalanta! Atalanta is my homegirl. I wish there was more Atalanta out there, but Persephone seems to be where it’s at – the only Grecian girl to come close is Helen (see Nobody’s Princess and Starcrossed).

(Actually, the gorgons don’t do too badly for themselves, I’m quite looking forward to reading Sweet Venom, and Dusssie looks adorable, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The fact of the matter is, what with the great success of Percy Jackson and the renaissance of fairy tale retellings in YA, we should be seeing a lot more myth-inspired fiction out there. But it seems pretty contained to Persephone. Why? I can think of a few reasons; Persephone represents the perfect confluence of trends: the retelling, the flirtation with the dark side, themes of death, the ultimate bad boy, and let’s face it – nobody makes for a pretty dead girl cover better than Hades’ Queen herself.

But writers don’t think about these things when they’re writing their books. The authors that sat down and penned these books started out because they loved the myth of Persephone more than any other myth. What is it about Persephone that calls to people? For me – because I love the myth too, although it’s not my favorite (I’m partial to Artemis and her devotees) – it boils down to a few things.

First, Persephone is young. She’s a girl, and more importantly, a daughter. That has powerful resonance to it — she’s not just another ineffable, adult goddess sitting on an Olympian throne. So seventh graders (I was familiar with the myth before then, but this is when it came up in curriculum) can relate to that, I think, which is important because this girl is responsible for the seasons. Maybe it’s different for people who grew up in milder climates, but here in the Northeast, everything revolves around the seasons. So: a daughter (like me) whose loss has such incredible consequences that it causes the seasons, around which the world revolves.

There’s romance, too – Hades is a tragic figure, and Persephone’s story is tragic. Lots of us are given over to that dark romanticism, all Byronic and tortured and whatnot – why else would The Phantom of the Opera be so popular? But Persephone never ends up with her lighter counterpart, as does Christine. She’s trapped: she ate the seeds, she can never fully go back. That’s what’s fascinating, I think – trying to divine how she feels about it. How you might feel about it, if you were her. Angry? Bitter? Or – as several of these retellings go – does she learn to love him? Did she love him from the first?

Persephone’s story isn’t unlike other female figures in Greek origin myths – Apollo and Daphne give us the laurel tree, and Zeus pursues countless maidens. While she is also the object of desire, it’s not that objectification that gives her power and drives her story. It’s the love of her mother, Demeter, and that’s what so attractive: the notion of being so beautiful a god is compelled to turn himself into a swan, cow, golden shower (gross), etc. is unsettling. But the notion that someone loves me so much they bring on winter when they lose me? That’s something else. This power, combined with all the tantalizing ways you could interpret Persephone’s attitude towards being Hades’ Queen, and the delicious, dark, romantic undertones of it all, are what make the Persephone myth attractive to me.

I asked my good friend Julie for some of her thoughts, as I know she’s written some Persephone-inspired stuff in the past, and she had some excellent points as well:

In addition to being intrigued by the “the whole ‘being taken into another world’ narrative arc, being tossed into wholly unfamiliar territory and having to find your way, get the hang of a new world, etc” aspect, she says,

To me, the reallllly interesting thing about Hades is that he isn’t as big of a horndog as ANYONE EVER in the pantheon, especially when compared to his two brothers. Aside from persephone, the only “CHASING A NUBILE YOUNG WOMAN!!” myth I’ve ever heard for him was Menthe, and that’s quickly curtailed because Persephone is wildly jealous and turns her into a plant. Which seems to simultaneously show 1) Hades/Persephone is one of the few god!pairings that doesn’t involve going off and banging every nymph and mortal to cross his path; 2) she did get attached to him despite being abducted.

I recently saw a Persephone!reincarnate rejected from an RPG because they focused too much on her being the cold-hearted queen of the underworld, but neglected her role in fertility and growth. So that also appeals to me, that she occupies both roles: vegetation goddess AND death goddess. ‘Chthonic’ deity meaning underworld/under the earth, and her ‘under the earth’ role applying to both death AND new life as crops.

Sorta tied to the above, I just love the cyclical nature of the tale: the going away and coming back, the longing and loss, the reunion.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of richness to mine from the Persephone myth. I do hope we see more myths inspired by other heroines of Greek mythology, though — I’d love to see someone give some freakin’ agency to Andromeda, and more depth to Ariadne, and a life to Eurydice. In other words, let’s separate the woman from the hero. (Of course, some ladies – like Atalanta, Circe, and Hippolyta – need no help, and we should see more of them, too.)

*I do really like this verse from his other Proserpine poem, The Garden of Proserpine, though:

From too much love of living,    
  From hope and fear set free,    
We thank with brief thanksgiving    
  Whatever gods may be    
That no life lives for ever;            
That dead men rise up never;    
That even the weariest river    
  Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Written by Emily G.

January 9, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Posted in books, lists

Looking back on 2011 in Books

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I started this post out on LiveJournal, but being as LJ is basically dead and, as with my twitter account, I want to move more into the public sphere of things, I decided to dust off the blog I registered and begin blogging here. New year, new blog!

But first, a retrospective. In 2011, my original goal was to read 11 books per month. That turned out to be a terrible idea, as I got way too stressed out about my goal and was cutting corners left and right. I gave up after April, something that was definitely helped along by the advent of my reading A Song of Ice and Fire. At any rate, I read more books than I read in 2010, so I count that as a win.

This got really long, click for more!

Written by Emily G.

January 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm