Fat Books & Thin Women


Reading Journal: Holy hell, George R.R. Martin

Have you noticed that every couple weeks I put up a post berating myself for not posting more often? I sure have! But, you know, it’s getting hot and humid here in Tirana, which takes away my desire to do much of anything, especially write reviews of The Help or Salvage the Bones or even the books I’m reading for work and have to write about…

Excuses, excuses! I’m back today because I’m on the third book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords, and…holy crap, guys! One of the things I like about Martin’s writing is that he doesn’t show his characters an unrealistic level of mercy – in moments in which a real person would die or have a hand lopped off or be forced to marry someone they hate, Martin just GOES FOR IT. But I’ve been reading this book most of the day, mouth hanging down to nearly my belly button, because Martin is killing off SO. MANY. of my favorite characters. I won’t name any names, so as not to be that asshole, but there are times when I think, “Right on. Go ahead and flay that character, inch by inch, and deliver scraps of his skin to people around the kingdom” but there are many more moments lately when I am just sitting here, knowing that it’s been way too long since he’s killed one of my favorite characters, and terrified of who will be next to go.

So, there’s another reason for no reviews lately: I have been way too busy reading to bother writing about my reading. And there have been some great longreads lately, which I’ve been too lazy to write up – namely, “S/He”, a piece about how parents deal with transgender children at New York Magazine, and a New Yorker piece on facial transplants, “Transfiguration.”

Very New York-centric, publication-wise, but hey: what a great segue into this next topic! (Would it have been better if I didn’t point it out?) I’ve given up on twitter because everyone is talking about Book Expo America, which leads me down a scary rabbit hole of thinking: (a) holy crap, in eight weeks I’ll be back in America; (b) and then I will find a job and an apartment; (c) and as a Philly-area book blogger, I will pretty much have to go to BEA, right?; (d) and then be awkward around other book bloggers. But more seriously, I am kind of jealous that I can’t go and drink beers with other book bloggers, or whatever it is you guys do while you’re up there.

I think I’ve gathered enough strength to return to A Storm of Swords now, but before I go, a couple questions:

(a) It’s hot and gross and I don’t want to cook dinner. What should I do? Eat a popsicle? Ugh.

(b) What are your audiobook recommendations for someone (me) who tends to daydream and forget that she’s listening to an audiobook?

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The women of Game of Thrones

Maybe six months ago, I got pulled out of my Macedonia-induced cultural stupor, introduced to this Game of Thrones phenomenon by a billboard for the HBO show near the Peace Corps office in Skopje. (Yeah, there’s HBO in Macedonia! Just not in my house.) My interest in the series was pretty low, though, because (a) I am not a high fantasy kind of person and (b) I hadn’t read much about the first book of the series except for a review taking a critical look at the roles for women.

But in early July, standing in a Barnes & Noble in Florida with my dad, having already picked out copies of A Visit From the Goon Squad and The Blind Assassin and one other title which clearly means a lot to me, given I’ve forgotten what it was, I picked up Game of Thrones from the massive center display, read the first page. Read the second page, put all my other books down on the floor, and read the prologue as my dad did whatever my dad was doing. (He bought Matterhorn that night. See, good taste in literature runs in the family.)

I usually yell at people for starting reviews (or reflections, in this case) by explaining why they aren’t qualified to write the review they’re writing, but…you know, I have nothing to compare Game of Thrones to, there’s no useful commentary I can make regarding its place in the world of high fantasy, so I’m not even going to pretend. I am just going to write about the women, because I come out so far from that post that introduced me to the series. (I can’t remember who wrote about the women of Game of Thrones – if you know, let me know.) There are plenty of spoilers in here.

Martin’s world is so strongly characterized, so fully described, so elaborately peopled; and the women aren’t left out of this. Some of Martin’s characters can be labeled as types (Cersei: manipulative, cold-hearted bitch) but they’re never defined by those labels, they are always able to act in honest and sometimes surprising (but ultimately believable) ways.

Cersei Lannister, the wife of King Robert of the Seven Kingdoms, is a woman who initially appears to be little more than a woman cuckolding her husband and subscribing to some old time views on the value of pure bloodlines, but reveals herself over the course of the novel to have more power than any of the men around her. By the close of Game of Thrones it’s clear that she’s the one really ruling the Seven Kingdoms, despite her son’s unpredictable actions after being crowned. Not just that but that, without anyone’s knowledge, she has for years been manipulating those around her, sometimes acting without the knowledge of any others, to edge her way into greater power.

Catelyn Stark, wife to Robert Stark of Winterfell (who becomes the King’s Hand early in the novel), likewise reveals herself to have more depth than the woman who first appears, furious that her husband’s bastard son (Jon Snow) is living with the rest of her family at Winterfell. Apart from that slip, though, she turns out to be a wise mother and advisor to her husband, and even her tactical error of taking Tyrion Lannister into captivity is admirable for the sheer ballsiness of the move.

Daenerys Targaryen, a teenager living in exile with her brother Viserys, the only survivors to King Aerys II Targaryen, who was violently replaced on the throne by King Robert. Easily cowed by her brother Viserys early on, forced into a marriage with Khal Drogo of the Dothraki (horseback riders), she gains a sense of self and of leadership after her marriage to Drogo, eventually ordering the execution of Viserys, who has repeatedly offended and threatened her and her husband. Dany is awesome. She is totally the best character in the book. Killing her last family member! Owning dragon eggs! Learning the limits of compassion and killing a woman she earlier rescued, who she blames for the death of her husband! Awesome, Dany, awesome. If Martin kills her off in the next four books I’m going to be so pissed.

Then there’s Arya Stark. Arya, Arya, Arya. Born to be a lady, doesn’t want to be a lady, close with her bastard half-brother Jon Snow, who gives her a sword, “Needle,” allowed by her father to train in dancing, aka the Braavosi method of sword fighting. Arya is like a Tamora Pierce character transplanted into the high fantasy world, running around hearing secrets, finding secret passages, being mistaken for a boy. It’s not clear, when Game of Thrones ends, what’s happened to Arya, but as with Dany…if Martin doesn’t keep her around, I’m going to pitch a fit.

I tend to think of high fantasy as being the realm of dudes. My reluctance to read Game of Thrones was due in large part to this idea (which I’m still not willing to label a misconception, outside of Martin’s world. Tell me if I should). Even the minor female characters in Martin’s world, though, are notable for their strength, like Catelyn Stark’s sister who opts to sequester herself in a mountaintop fortress with her nutty son, threatening to throw prisoners out of doors in the floor. Women may not garner the notice of the men they stand with, but Martin repeatedly points to the ways in which the women of the Seven Kingdoms wield as much, or sometimes more, power than the men surrounding them. I am so psyched to read the rest of this series.

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