This week’s gone well, I feel. I’m almost done with my current course towards my MFA (a class on reading and writing poetry), and looking forward to my next class: fiction! About time. Just two more weeks left, and one of those set aside for revising a poem for our final.
This week, I read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and spent some time reading from a collection of Aeschylus’ tragedies.
I was underwhelmed by The Sun Also Rises. Much like my experience of reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, I had very high expectations for the novel – perhaps too high to be met. Hemingway is a classic name, after all, a giant of the American literary field. I’ve not actually read his fiction before (although I enjoyed A Moveable Feast when it was assigned for a class), and I had very high expectations given the man’s reputation.
Ultimately, I think my sense of letdown was due to an unfamiliarity with the period when Hemingway was writing and living. The Sun Also Rises just sort of… ends, without resolution, and for me that was a letdown. It’s also very much a novel about a sense of decadence and depravity which feels very dated ninety years later. For example, the main female character, Lady Brett Ashley, is sexually promiscuous; this comes across much less shocking to a modern reader than a contemporary one. Sexual promiscuity is becoming a modern norm.
Not that the novel was bad! But there was a feeling of “so that’s it?” when I finished it. I think that reaction is very much due to who I am, rather than due to the novel. I’m a modern reader and writer who mostly reads big fat fantasies, and wants to write big fat fantasies. A slim (about 200 pages?), lithe novel about “We went to Spain, partied, and went home” written in an extremely understated and sparse style is quite outside my usual comfort zone. (Especially after just having read Eddison’s Mistress of Mistresses.)
For me, the most captivating element of this novel was the festival, and the bullfights. Hemingway was deeply invested in a beauty he saw in bullfights, and it shows. The festival is lively and striking. Hemingway’s sparse prose brings the dancers and revelers a great sense of energy, and his depiction of Romero – a Spanish bullfighter – is filled with a romantic heroism that put me on more familiar ground. If (when?) I steal anything from this novel, it will definitely be elements of the festival.
I’ve just started to work through an edition of Aeschylus’ tragedies (in English, not Greek), although I’ll be putting that on hold, at least for a short time. I got through The Persians, and am currently about halfway through Seven Against Thebes. It’s interesting reading Aeschylus and comparing him to any other playwright, really; he’s from an era before anything resembling “modern” stage conventions were developed. There generally are only two or three speaking characters, and most action takes place in monologue, describing events offstage. I’m reading him because I want to write a modern florid, heroic tragedy, and Aeschylus wrote ancient florid, heroic tragedies.
(Fun fact: a more direct transliteration of Aeschylus from Greek to English would be something like Aiskulos. Gotta love Latinizing words first!)
Instead of continuing Aeschylus this week, I’m going to shift my reading stack around a little and jump ahead to this volume of Ursula LeGuin’s science fiction novels.
Ursula LeGuin died this week, and it’s a loss the whole fantasy and science fiction community feels. I cannot recall which memorial essay mentioned it, but someone said “LeGuin was not always right, but she was always wise.” I often found I disagreed with her philosophy, politics, or sentiments, but she was a damn fine author who told powerfully moral stories. Her stories have always made me think and ponder, and question my beliefs, and I think there’s no better service a good novel can do.
I swear that I read her A Wizard of Earthsea when I was younger, but I cannot recall doing so. I know that I re-read the book within the last few years, and was completely charmed. It’s an intriguing world and a wonderful story, which re-imagines the traditional patterns of conflict in fantasy. The way she wrote has such resonance, that I quickly fell in love with her style.
I’ve never read any of her science fiction, but The Left Hand of Darkness (one of the novels in the collection I picked up) is considered a masterpiece. This week, I’ll be reading some of LeGuin’s science fiction as my way of remembering her. I can’t think of a fitter tribute.
On a happier note, one of my friends will be publishing her first novel soon! Caitlin Mazur‘s first novel, Him, comes out next week, on the 31st. I’ve not read portions of her work from this, but from what I hear it sounds like the story should be a good twist on time-travel science fiction. I’ll be reading it when I get my hands on it, (which may depend on if print copies are available) but if it sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to check it out!
Last week, my goal was to prepare a sample from Jiharel for my critique group, and to keep working on my experimental first chapter.
I’m pretty pleased with how my edited portion came out. It’s still not spectacular, but I think it tidied up very well from my handwritten first draft. While I’m trying to write in an intentionally overdone style, there was still places where I could tighten the language, simplify sentences without eliminating the (attempt at) poetry. My critique group seemed to like it, too, or at least appreciate what I was attempting.
Well, they didn’t flinch away when I said they’d probably be seeing more like it next week. So I’m calling that a win.
I was hoping to reach 18 pages in my handwritten draft of this chapter. I made some progress, but didn’t meet this goal. I’m currently about halfway through my 16th handwritten page (I was at the top of page 14 last week). So definitely progress, but not as much as I’d been aiming for.
When I’m done writing this chapter (whenever that may be), I think I’ll go through and do another tidying pass on it. That should give me a decent buffer space of material for my critique group while I dig deep back into the worldbuilding and outlining. This week, I’m going to aim for 20 pages in my handwritten copy (or finishing it, if it’s shorter).
I’d also like to spend some time on the fictional languages of my world this week. I don’t feel that I need fully developed languages like a certain fantasy author but having a consistent or realistic family tree of the language and sounds that my viewpoint characters speak will help make the world more alive.
I have no idea how to quantify that goal; perhaps figuring out a general sounds schema (based on some constructed language guides I’ve seen online) is a good way to start. I’d like to have an idea for numbers, or for the word “new.” In my current chapter I’m writing about a battle in the city of New Lithrates (the first city of Lithrates was destroyed some generations ago, in the first set of wars between northern and southern regions, and New Lithrates was built a few years after), and it just really bugs the fantasy part of my brain every time I read or write “New” Lithrates – I feel like the in-world name should still be from the in-world language, not a mishmash with English.
Anyway, that’s what’s on my plate for the next week-ish.
Last Week: Brush up a sample from Jiharel, and write to 18 pages of my chapter. No reading goal. Halfway complete; I didn’t meet my writing goal, but I did reach the revision goal.
This Week: I’m going to write 20 pages of my handwritten draft. I’m not setting a reading goal, but I’d like to finish the first novel in my collection of LeGuin’s science fiction, Rocannon’s World. I’ve not had trouble making sure I’m still reading, lately.