claire vaye watkins

Readings: Gold Fame Citrus and A Cure For Suicide

I finished Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins this morning, and as much as it pains me to say this, I did not particularly enjoy it. Oh, Watkins is an amazing stylist, and her sentences are very finely wrought (see me gushing as I was just starting to read it), but as a whole it did not work for me. I mentioned that I had originally thought of this book as a sister book to Paolo Bacigalupi’s Water Knife, but what it really should be compared to is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Yet where Watkins’s writing is much more beautiful on the micro-, sentence-level, St. John Mandel is just better at gestalt, at bringing it all together in a much more harmonious way.

As it got to the second part, Gold Fame Citrus got too disjointed, too weird but not weird enough. At one point I got a certain Canticle for Leibowitz vibe from it and was overjoyed, but somehow that did not go where I was hoping it would go. At another point, I thought this book would make a fine reread because occasionally it just refused to get into my head but left me with a hope of maybe giving it a second go. As I got closer to the end, however, I realized that I will probably never pick this book up again and finally, I started to think that maybe Claire Vaye Watkins is just better at shorter fiction. Well, I will always have Battleborn.

cure for suicideWith the second book I finished this past weekend, we have a case of perhaps too weird. Jesse Ball’s A Cure For Suicide is brilliant, but it did not surpass his Silence Once Begun for me. It had a good chance, though, because at one point his sentences seemed to come from my own internal monologue:

… I have never been the person I want to be. Even as a child, I was someone else. Every morning, for a lifetime — a lifetime! I have woken up in this body that I feel should not be my own in a situation not my own. Why should I not end this life.

A woman called the examiner comes to a village to meet a man called the claimant. The claimant was on the verge of death and is now supposed to recover under the guidance of the examiner. The claimant learns what a chair is for, how to dress himself, how to draw, how to interact with people. Eventually he is given a name.

A Cure For Suicide is a book about a life with no surprises (‘events are just events’), book about feelings told in an almost unfeeling, clinical tone. It’s about introverted avoidance, and yet also about empathy. At times it’s almost like a Socratic dialogue within a novel, philosophy within a fictional narrative. It doesn’t seem like it should be readable, but it is. In fact, the other day I was listening to So Many Damn Books podcast, and they were talking about how Jesse Ball’s books are perhaps best read in a single sitting. I didn’t quite manage one sitting, but I did it in two. I think the part with no paragraphs tripped me up. I know it sounds silly, but it jolted me and knocked me out of the book’s rhythm. I never regained it and sort of slogged through the last part of it.

I still say that Jesse Ball and Claire Vaye Watkins are among my favorite authors. I will still read the next thing they both write. It just didn’t work out this time.

October reads: Witches of America by Alex Mar

witches of americaI just finished Witches of America by Alex Mar (out 10/20/15), and it gave me all kinds of nostalgic feelings for my pagany days. In the future I might write about those, but for now it’s enough to know that I used to be one of ‘Witches of America’ (or, more accurately, ‘Druids of America’).

Witches of America is not an exhaustive study of paganism today. If you want that, you might want to check out Ronald Hutton or similar. Mar’s book mostly deals with the Feri tradition and OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) ceremonial magic practitioners, but it is not just an anthropological study either. It’s also a memoir and an exploration of Mar’s personal spirituality, which I found particularly interesting and also very familiar. Her doubts about the religious side of the Craft, her interest in a mystery tradition, both seemed to be precisely on my wavelength.

Mar’s approach to belief is similar to mine in that she is ‘compelled by the mysterious’ and ‘drawn to the outer edges, the fringe — communities whose esoteric beliefs cut them off from the mainstream but also bind them closer together.’ At one point I labeled myself a perpetual seeker because I could not settle. I kept chasing something that would give me meaning, almost initiate me into my own mind, if you will. I also always viewed magic as a path to self-transformation. When Mar finally starts training in the Feri tradition, she talks about seemingly enrolling in therapy through witchcraft. I was also looking for something that would help me make my own narrative, a story of myself. I now realize that a lot of my search was closely tied to my uneasiness with the gender I was assigned at birth and an attempt to find a place that would make me comfortable with my body, but my approach to religious belief remains much the same.

Mar’s view on large pagan gatherings and their ecumenicism is also spot-on. It is virtually impossible to make up a ritual that will not seem diluted and bland, if you are trying to make it for vastly diverse groups of people. The largest rituals I attended were always the least meaningful for me, even if the amount of power raised was through the roof. Mar says: ”Maybe this is my problem, evidence of damage to my own psyche, that i’m looking for something deeper, darker, more layered, harder to live with.’

If anything, Witches of America allowed me to take a look at paganism from a certain remove but not as a stranger. It also made me realize that my engagement with paganism was from a perspective of a completely different person. Mar’s chapter on Dianic (largely women-only) Wicca now raises in my mind an important question of inclusion/exclusion of transwomen (Mar mentions this concern very briefly in a footnote, but it is mentioned). People going skyclad and a very binary power structure of most rituals now make me wonder if I would feel comfortable in such a cis-oriented setting. That said, I like to think that if any religion would be okay with gender fluidity and bodies that do not conform to a standard, it’s paganism. I haven’t really participated in anything pagany in many years and certainly not since my transition, but now I have this urge to dip back in and see how it would feel now.

Plus, it inspired me to clean my house and find all my Tarot decks and a bunch of cloak clasps (though the latter are mostly for the Ren Faire outing next weekend).


New books I care about, 9.28.2015

The new releases and embargoes pile in the receiving was so tall today that at one point it simply gave up, collapsed, and had to be propped up by a handtruck. September and October are normally heavy on new books, but this year the avalanche of frontlist (read: new stuff) is approaching ridiculous.

Here are a few awesome (or hopefully awesome) books that are out tomorrow:

IMG_0667Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. I had to take my own cover photo because I couldn’t find the one that adequately reflects the shiny. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t read this one months ago when I got it, so I am halfway through this on the eve of its release.

I see Gold Fame Citrus as a sort of a sister book to Paolo Bacigalupi’s Water Knife. It has a similar dystopian setting, but it explores the environmental theme in a different way. The novel is about two survivors living some time in the near future in the completely dry Southwest (survive on ration cola kind of dry). They come across a little baby girl, which sends them on the path of possibly finding a better place and life for their new family.

I’m finding it almost painfully beautiful. Watkins’s descriptions are masterful. I remember Battleborn, her short story collection, gave me a certain shortness of breath, and her novel is even more exquisite.

It also makes me really thirsty.

Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last is also out tomorrow. You might remember that I have a conflicted love/hate relationship with Atwood. At this point, it’s more love than hate, particularly after her last story collection, so I am duly excited about the new novel.

There is also the new Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which is a start of a new fantasy series. I have not had an urge to pick it up mostly because fantasy, and steampunk in particular, have somehow slipped far down on my ‘want to read’ scale, but the book exists in case I want something with airships and pirates. There are apparently talking cats (and I also have a love/hate relationship with those).

And finally, this misleadingly titled gem is out tomorrow: