Sunday, September 28, 2008

The life

In 4th grade, every day, we had reading time. I don't remember how long the reading time was, but I think it was actually kind of significant, like a 1/2 hour. The teacher had a bookshelf in the back of the class that you could pick books from, or you could bring your own. I don't remember much about the books I chose. I remember two that I picked in particular. 

Saga of Old city was a book about some kind of thief. I don't remember why I picked it up. I hadn't read any fantasy novels before, and I had no idea what to expect. I probably picked it up because it was thick(compared to other books). I either wanted a thick book that would last a long time, or a thick book that would seem impressive. I don't remember my motivations at the time. The book itself left little impression, it was probably standard adventure fantasy fare. 

The second book I remember is Time of the Twins. The first few pages were difficult for me, because they were detailed descriptions of places and people I didn't know. This book was written about characters we were supposed to know already, in a world you were supposed to love already. So it was difficult at first for me to get past the description of a wizard toiling up a hill to meet with a priest. And I didn't understand what it meant that he wore black robes, and that she wore white(although I probably guessed, as you just did). But after a time, I was entranced by this book. I loved the way the characters spoke to each other, how there seemed to be more understood between them than was said. I loved that there was a sense of history, and great feelings that had not yet passed. My favorite character was a warrior past his prime, drinking away his comfortable years, missing the opportunity to build his own life, because he doesn't know how without his twin brother. Somehow, even though the world I knew was nothing like the world in the book, I could picture and understand the characters. 

Now, lots of people look down on fantasy novels as merely entertaining. Some even view it with the same disdain you might feel for romance novels, with their bare-chested men, and constantly pulsating nouns. I can agree that some are "merely" entertaining, and that some fail to do even that. I can agree that some authors are churning books for money, spending less time on the art of writing, and more time on the practice of writing.

Others ignore fantasy novels because they are unrealistic, and they "can't get into them." That's true too. If you can't get into them, then you can't. For some people, the fake maps, the fake languages, the fake names, all throw them out of the book and into their heads. I can understand that.

When I read this book as a 9 year old, I wasn't looking for much more than entertainment. I wanted to enjoy my 30 minute reading time. I was in the middle of a magnet class, which had kids from India, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico(by which I probably mean Latin America in general), and all kinds of other places. I was used to names that were strange. So when I started reading a book about Raistlin, and Chrysania, I didn't think about how strange their names were, but only how I should pronounce them in my head. I loved hearing about tree houses built in giant trees, bigger than the sequoia redwoods that I had seen on a field trip.

I began to seek out more books like this one, that were in a world where people rode horses, wore armor, and fought with swords. Some of my friends also began reading similar things, and started a reading circle(where we passed a book down from one friend to the next after we finished reading it), reading Piers Anthony books. His books were lighter, and full of puns, which was great for a 4th grade sense of humor. At first, I only read books set in two worlds, the Xanth of Piers Anthony, and the Ansalon of the Dragonlance novels. Through them I learned about all kinds of creatures that are standard in fantasy, and the rules that are common to fantasy novels. I learned that heroes must undertake journeys, ask questions of wise men, and be true to their companions. Then I read The Lord of the Rings. I was slightly older, 5th or 6th grade now. This is where all those rules had begun, and where many of the creatures had been standardized, if not exactly invented. 

At the same time as I was reading these novels, I was learning words. I didn't usually know that I was learning a word(exception: feign), but scintillating, oscillating, and resilient, were all words that I understood in the context of my reading. I was really good at spelling, because I was looking at the words all the time. 

There were times where my reading had consequences. I often read the entire 45 minute bus ride home, and then read as I was walking home from the bus stop. Sometimes I read while the bus went right past my bus stop. Sometimes I read when my mom thought I should be practicing piano. Later in life, I would read when my mom wanted me to be helping her with chores or just spending more time with the family. She once snapped, and said, "Stop reading that trash." I'm pretty sure she didn't really mean it, and was sorry for calling the books I read trash almost immediately, but she was frustrated with my penchant for holing up in my room with my books.

At some point, I started to enjoy the way the battle between evil and good was so obvious, even though it wasn't necessarily clear. Even in the first books I read, the heroes were an ambitious mage seeking enough power to defeat the goddess of evil, so that he could take her place, and a pure cleric who was necessary to his plans, and wanted both to help him gain victory and also reform the mage. She learns that her own desires, while righteous, are full of pride, and ambition. Unlike real life, the battle is direct, with clear clashes of power and persuasion. But like real life, the right choice is not always clear, or easy.

Fantasy novels are an escape. They, like most fiction, offer entertainment that takes us out of our world. I loved them from an early age. I feel that sometimes, they can help us to clearly see the conflict in our real lives, and in our real world. Renegade's Magic is a story about the conflict between civilized, technocentric culture, and a nature-oriented, tribe-centric culture. While the obvious parallel is historical, with the expansion of the United States into Native American territory, another parallel is evident, with America's current cultural presence (pressure), and much of the world's resistance to it.

I love to read.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Body Image

How many books can you name that are about fat people? How many of those are "message" books(They are supposed to make you "see" from a different point of view)? How many books use getting fat as just a normal plot device?

I'm reading a book where the hero gets fat. It's just a fantasy book, and it's not groundbreaking, but I found it interesting. Everyone goes through changes in their bodies over their lifetime. Everyone has a certain image of themselves in their mind.

I don't often look in the mirror, other than to shave. I don't ever scrutinize my face. I think Melinda has a better idea of what I look like than I do. Is that common? How often do you look in the mirror? How well do you know your own face?