In a previous blog I talked about how I tried something different and didn’t abandon The Name of the Wind after a couple of hundred pages. This is what I usually do when I discover that a novel is filled to the brim with unconscious acceptance of ideas that I don’t much want roaming about in my head. In my idiolect -thought-weasels. When I end up in the presence of thought-weasels I don’t ignore them, because that’s how they get in. Either I walk away – ie: abandon the book, or I mentally challenge and seek to understand their twisty weasel ways so I’m forearmed for future encounters. Since I didn’t abandon this one… yeah you guessed it.
So. One of the biggest toothiest thought-weasels in Name of the Wind is the default male. This is well described a in good post about the weasel on the blog Crates and Ribbons:
"The default male makes its presence felt very heavily in the media, from films, to TV shows, to games, to books. This means that, unless the plot makes it absolutely necessary for the character to be female, or the writer is making a specific point about gender, the go-to option is usually male. … And what this means is that the characters that are female are not only fewer in number, they also tend to fall into very narrow, gendered roles—mother, hero’s love interest, damsel in distress, or highly-sexualised heroine."
Name of the Wind has a raging case of default male. From the beginning of the novel and for chapter after chapter we wander about a landscape filled with villagers, blacksmiths, soldiers, tavern keepers, farmers, servants, officials, actors, musicians, monsters, spirits, animal handlers, servants, craftspeople, none of them female. It takes seven chapters for even one minor secondary female character to turn up. Based on the frequency of male to female characters appearing in this book the gender balance of this world looks to be about 95/5.
After awhile I started amusing myself imagining possible reasons for this. Perchance some sort of sex specific plague was raging throughout the land. Or maybe this is a segregated society and all the womenz are in the womenz villages doing womenz type farming and tavern keeping and servanting. Or… most of the women are disguised as men because they belong to a secret society and are up to something sneaky? Maybe it’s a world of shape shifters, and people just generally wear their genitals as outies unless they need innies for a project?
All of these would in fact be interesting choices – I might really enjoy reading some of the novels that would arise out of those choices! Of course that isn’t what’s happening. Women exist in this world, you know that they exist because the society hasn’t developed rules and structures to deal with there being only 5 women for every 90 men. Which would have to happen. So the women are there, its just that nobody notices or talks about or to the great majority of them. Sigh. Giant toothy thought weasel rampaging about the landscape - women incidental to the narrative, women not important enough to have stories, women the invisible majority. Oh shut up you ding dang thought weasel, I am not incidental to the narrative, bugger off.
When the few female characters who exist in this tale do start to show up they most of them fit exactly into the narrow gendered roles of the default male narrative. Well we gotta have moms, somebody’s got to make sure the male characters get born and raised and fed, right? Can’t be male if some male character is going to fall in love or lust with them, because then we’ve got us a society with homosexuals in it! Just as almost everyone is default male almost everyone is also default straight. Can’t be male if in need of rescuing because only women and children can’t rescue themselves right? So that’s what we get. Moms, wives, girlfriends, femmes fatales, damsels to be rescued. Sigh again.
My best guess is that this isn’t actually intentional on Rothfuss’ part. Its just a side effect of the unconscious adoption of the default male narrative. If you never add a female character unless you’ve got some specific reason she needs to be female, and if you aren’t terribly thoughtful about gender in the first place, pretty soon you’ve got a women only exist in relation to men story taking shape.
One of the first female characters to show up is the mother of the protagonist. Kvothe’s Mom really really likes Kvothe’s dad. This appears to be her defining characteristic. She is described as clinging to him, draped on him, holding his arm, or wrapped around him so many times I started to wonder if she had some wasting disease that required her to twine herself about a support in order to move from place to place. I suspect the reason for this is that the author wanted to show that the protagonist’s parents had a happy marriage. Thing is, Kvothe’s Dad talks to other characters, he leads and manages a troup of performers, he negotiates with townspeople about where the troop will set up, he hires new members, he purchases supplies, he makes decisions. Kvothe’s Mom mostly hugs Kvothe’s dad and reminds Kvothe to eat and dress warm. She is apparently an accomplished lyricist, but the songs she writes with her husband are always referred to as “his songs,” and he takes all the credit for them. And so it goes.
So hmm, reading my nice little adventure story and identifying with the female characters as one does and wait, what, my job in life is to support the men of my family and help them to be successful and happy? And let them take the credit for anything we did together, and… hmmmm where have I heard this before, it seems vaguely familiar… Oh RIGHT, avaunt ye, ye damn thought weasel! Excuse me a moment I have to go smash some things in my subconscious before they get out of hand and I find myself sitting home making sandwiches for the boys while they have adventures.
I have a little proposal for people severely infected with the default male narrative. Just stop gendering your characters at all. Make them all of indeterminate gender for the duration of your story. Then when you get done, put the names into a random number generator and let chance decide who is male and who is female. Then edit your book accordingly. I think it would be extraordinarily illuminating, especially for people who mean well but just have Prince Valiant stuck in their heads. I sympathize, I really do. I’ve got Prince Valiant and all his ilk stuck in my head too. They’re extraordinarily persistent barnacles. Barnacles that must go!
But wait, I hear some illusory straw man I want to argue with now say; this is a standard medievalish European fantasy world, aren’t you just imposing your modern sensibilities about gender politics blah blah historical accuracy snarf. Hi straw man dude or dudette! Let me introduce you to a brand new and shiny thought-weasel. So. In the first section of the book the protagonist’s tutor and mentor (male, natch) decides to marry and leave the troupe, because he has met a widow who needs help because the brewery her husband left to her is failing without a man to run it. Got that? Brewery. That sound you now hear is the sound of my head ‘sploding. Because here’s the thing. If you are going to set your fantasy in generic faux European medieval world it might be good to show some awareness that breweries were generally run by women in the middle ages.
Got that? Breweries largely female run businesses. So you can’t just toss in a throwaway line about how the woman inherited a brewery from her hubs and can’t run it. Because that makes not sense without further explanation of why this specific woman can’t do what women generally were doing in a very similar culture. Some reason is required. Other than, oh girls can’t do stuff.
I shall name this new thought-weasel the Fred Flintstone-George Jetson weasel. This is the weasel that says the gender politics of the upper middle class Victorian are eternal and omnipresent. From caveman to spaceman, from the tundra to the rainforest, from the factory worker to the ruler all societies have always had very much the same gender rules. Because they are of course natural, given, imposed by genes or evolution or the god of things being simple and familiar. Uh huh.
Hellow thought-weasel, I’d like you to meet my friends history and sociology and anthropology and personal experience of the ding dang world. Also this utterly awesome blog post by Kameron Hurley on the basis of which I read God’s War which I recommend.
My friends and the Flinstone/Jetson weasel are all going out back and have a leeetle chat. I’m going to go do something gainful, but I vill be back, because there are more thought-weasels, and yep, we have always fought them.
For reasons that I need not go into, late last month I decided to read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. I went into it with some trepidation because the genre tends to be dominated by ubermenchie boyfests, which are not my favorite fare. Sure enough, as the chapters went by it became clear that was pretty much what was happening. I probably would have abandoned it, but I happened to be simultaneously reading Joanna Russ’ The Female Man for a book club, and Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex on loan from a friend. The three together created such a lot of fascinating food for thought that I was able to mush my way through the deep snow of the ubermench world all the way to the end.
Among many other things, this got me to thinking about the Bechdel Test. (Or to honor Allison Bechdel’s preference, the Bechdel/Wallace test since it was actually invented by her friend Liz Wallace.) Name of the Wind most certainly fails, in fact it fails pretty spectacularly. I was a few chapters in before I started to wonder where all the women went, so I might have missed something early on but as far as I can tell the first female character appears after seven chapters, there are nine chapters before a female character speaks, forty chapters before a female character has an actual conversation, sixty chapters before two female characters appear in the same scene and speak to one another and never do more than two women appear in any scene nor do they speak to one another about anything except a man. Which would be so much less weird if this were a novel taking place in a monastery or some equivalently gender segregated space.
I mentioned this spectacular Bechdel fail to a few people. Some had never heard of the Bechdel, some had noticed the problem but pushed on through, some had abandoned the book, and some asked me variants on the question why does it matter anyway? Which got me to thinking, what does it mean to pass or fail the Bechdel and why DOES it matter anyway?
Passing the Bechdel doesn’t mean the book is a shining example of egalitarian literature. The Bechdel is intentionally a pretty low bar. A book that can’t get over it really isn’t trying very hard. Failing it doesn’t mean the author, or the book or its fans suck- severally or en masse. They might, they might not but simply being clue free about gender is a widespread condition that affects all sorts of people and creative produc ts that still have many other redeeming qualities.
Also, as I said before there are perfectly valid reasons to fail the Bechdel. Books set in a gender segregated space, books about creatures without gender, books that only have one character. BUT if a book isn’t set in a monastery, isn’t about silicon creatures from Epsilon Theta who reproduce in triads, and it still doesn’t manage to have enough female characters to fill a phone booth or to actually give them any lines, then it’s a book that I personally don’t particularly want to read.
Because here’s the thing, I grew up in the patriarchy and I already have enough noise in my head about how my gender is secondary and not that important and mostly of use as support system for the real movers and shakers. I absolutely do not need to invite more of those voices into my head. I’m working really hard on shoveling out the ones that have already crept in there. And a bunch of them are slippery little buggers who keep sneaking back in as soon as I shovel them out!
I started to imagine those nefarious little notions that creep in and infest your brain when you’re just trying to enjoy a nice adventure story as those weasels that creep into Toad Hall when Toad is in jail. Drinking all the booze, swinging from the light fixtures, wiping their hands on the drapes until I sweep in with Badger and a big stick to drive them out again!
So if I’m going to read a book that is going to infest me with more thought-weasels that I have to hunt down and remove, then I – personally – your mileage may vary – have to argue with it as I go along. I yell at it. I sometimes throw it. I certainly complain about it. A lot. Because that’s my way of beating back the thought-weasels. That takes quite a bit of energy and sometimes annoys the bystanders. So often, I just wont bother. I will get a few chapters in, discover the book is full of thought weasels, and abandon it. In this case I didn’t so there’s likely to be another blog post soon where I battle the thought-weasels of this particular book.
For now I just wanted to share my Bechdel musings. How about you? Do these kinds of things inform your reading? Do you battle thought-weasels? If so, what do yours look like and how do you battle them?
Well the days and the weeks go by and my blog is still the bog standard, blog standard? format that gets handed out to newbs. I keep meaning to somehow make or find the time to dig up the tutorials and figure out how to make it pretty and/or clever. And meantime I don't blog because the blog format isn't purty yet. Because one of these days I'm going to fix it and start out right... right?
And the days and the weeks go by and my shelves still make no sense because the import brought through the books okay but the dates read and the shelves came through all jumbled, so children's books are listed as murder mysteries, and books I read as a child are on my 2013 shelf, and ... so clearly I can't add MORE books to my shelves since the shelves still need to be organized properly... but I don't have TIME to fix the shelves because I haven't even made my blog pretty yet.
Meantime I'm reading books the whole time which aren't going onto my shelves... And the days and the weeks go by and I'm not reviewing because I've got this backlog of books I've read but not shelved and I should really go back and review all the ones I've missed before I aaarrrggghhhh ENOUGH already!!
Its time to just stop messing about and talk. Ain't never going to be perfect so just move on along.
“No shortcuts!” Many people support this statement but sometimes they are really useful and let discover new paths. So why not? We let you take two kind of shortcuts on BookLikes, with your Dashboard and Reviews.
Shortcut #1 - Dashboard
Form now on Dashboard is available in optional view with shortened posts. Now it will be easier to stay up to date with your friends reviews and bookshelf updates. To switch on new view of your Dashboard, go to Settings/General, select new option for feed activity at the bottom of the page and Save.
Once you select Dashboard in new view, you’ll see that posts are shortened and of similar size. With new view you’ll see title and the beginning of the posts, the rest will be hidden and will be revealed once you request to see entire post at the bottom of the text.
In this way your Dashboard will be better organized and will present numerous post entries that you can easily read, like and reblog without the necessity of infinite scrolling. It’s like never-ending table of content :-)
Remember that you can still add page break to your texts while writing. Then the posts will be published with Read more option not only on Dashboard but also on your Blog page.
Let’s remind ourselves what other options Dashboard has. The right column has many useful features:
tag search box - write book title/author/tag to find other writings about a given book - great way to find new reads and new blogs to follow;
currently reading box - the book you’re reading right now - you can change reading progress by clicking the book cover and filling up pages/per cents/minutes or hit Finished when it’s done;
all posts / Reviews filter - this allows you to see all posts or reviews only on your Dashboard;
your Reading Challenge counter if you set your reading goal on Goodies page;
invite box - if you know someone who would love BookLikes, invite him/her; just paste e-mail address in the Invite box, hit Invite and the person will receive Invitation Email to BookLikes.
The upper part of Dashboard works as navigation bar which helps you to move between your admin views of your webpages: Blog, Shelf and Timeline. All changes made on your admin pages are mirrored on your public webpage with your personal address yourusername.booklikes.com. To view your public page just click on your photo on Dashboard.
Dashboard is also the place where you search books. Use search box on the top to find books from book sources we partnership with (select book sources in Settings/Search) or search through your own Shelf (select magnifying glass icon in search box).
Shortcut #2 - Reviews
The second shortcut is about your reviews and ability to edit them. So far you could edit your texts in your admin blog view. Now it can be done faster from Table view of your Shelf. We added Edit Review option to your reviewed books so if you want to add something to your published text, click on it and you’ll be moved to writing mode and text box of your review.
You can also use blog admin view to edit reviews. If you want to edit text added some time ago, you can use search box (paste post title) instead of scrolling down. Once the post is found hover over it and click Edit in upper right corner. Then make corrections and Save with your changes.
No unnecessary shortcuts :-) Enjoy!
Just in case anyone notices that my books and reviews have gone - its just me trying to fix some stuff.
I haven't been doing much with my BL account because my import needed more fixing than I had time for. The reviews came through fine but the shelves were a mess. So I've asked BL to remove my books and I'm going to try a re import.
Just bear with me, I'll get it figured out eventually!
Edited to Add:
Well that didn't work even slightly.
Okay, fix manually...
I'm sorry but this just drove me nuts. I’m kind of at a loss for what other people saw in it. Again and again I found myself channeling Diego Montoya, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Some examples:
Both of my girls are too sensible for such nonsense.""Yes. We are sensible girls. ...And so we should have no trouble in using our sensibility to convince you of the importance of new gowns..." No. Sensibility is not the ability to be sensible. It is the ability to be sensiTIVE, and open to emotional and aesthetic experience. Anyone embarking upon an Austen pastiche should KNOW that!! Dammit Janet!!!!!!
Buffington expects me to sit in on the next round of rubber
Again, no. Rubber is not a kind of game. Rubber means the best of three rounds. You could play a rubber of any card game but you would never say a round of rubber. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
a quicksilver of unease flourished through Jane's joints Um. That phrase is just wrong. Its clunky and awkward and makes no sense. If quicksilver is serving as a noun here, well the noun quicksilver means mercury and if she has mercury flourishing in her joints you might want to get her to a doctor. If, as seems more likely, quicksilver is supposed to be an adjective, then what is it describing please? It seems to me there’s a word missing from this sentence. Perhaps a quicksilver feeling of unease flourished (honestly, flourished?) or a quicksilver frisson, or a quicksilver tremor or something but as this sentence stands its just goofy, and I’m sorry but when vague random things start flourishing in people’s joints I’m just...ugh.
Rendered in far greater detail than Mr Vincent had employed in the scenery for his shadow-play, Jane could still sense his hand in the graceful line of the trunks. Please! Get control of your referents! As this sentence stands it says that JANE was rendered in greater detail than the scenery. Well I should hope so, being as how she's a person and not a backdrop.
There is page after page after page of this stuff. Gack. Just... gack. Is it too much to ask for Austen pastiche to at least aspire to prose that is not actively painful to read? Austen’s prose was lithe, elegant, balanced, lovely. If you are going to imitate her at least make a better effort than this nonsense.
As much as the style made me nuts, the content made me more nuts. I mean come on. The two sisters at the center of the story spend most of their time backstabbing and one upping each other in hot pursuit of available men by all means necessary. They lie, cheat and steal, I’m not just spouting a cliché, they actually do all of those things. They eavesdrop, they tell tales on each other. They act like two first graders squabbling over a toy. The novelist keeps telling me these are loving sisters, but that’s not what she shows me. What she shows me is pettiness and endless rationalizations for pettiness.
The protagonist discovers that the man she’s been pursuing for most of the novel has done something horribly immoral and it does not appear to give her one moment of pause . But when she gets a better offer she drops him at once. She makes promises to other characters and then breaks them as soon as they become difficult. She always has a reason for failing to live up to her commitments, she’s full of self justifications, but I would trust her about as far as I could throw a Buick.
Plus some of this stuff is just absurd. At one point the main character passes out and lies outside on the ground overnight. !! She then hops up, apparently exhibiting no ill effects except a slight headache and some messy hair, and goes home where no one questions the fact that she’s been MISSING for twelve hours. Then, without changing her clothes or swallowing a cup of tea, she goes racing off (with her father’s blessing forsooth!) first, on foot, then in a carriage, and then on horseback in some strange eighteenth century equivalent of a car chase in order to prevent a duel.
By the way, duels are conducted according to a set of rules, none of which are even acknowledged in the “duel” portrayed here, let alone followed. Which makes what happens not a duel, but a roadside assault. But again, none of the characters even questions that for a moment.
Again and again and again the period details are just wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. The specifics, names, manners, words, games, rules of precedence and behavior, choices, are nails on a blackboard wrong much of the time. But more than that, the people are just wrong. These are not people of the eighteenth century, they don’t exhibit the beliefs or the world view of people of the eighteenth century. These are people who would be much more at home on Jerry Springer, pretending, not very convincingly, to be from the eighteenth.
I really am at a loss here. Is this supposed to be some sort of Flashman-like comedy? You know, where the joke is in the divide between the morals and manners professed and the morals and manners expressed? If so, throw me a hint, throw me a bone.
Because honestly what I’m reading here is a somewhat cheesy romance novel dressed up with some vague historical and magical set dressing which is in no way integral or important to the story. Don't even get me started on the magical set dressing. The whole business of manipulating glamour could be instantly replaced by painting watercolors or playing the piano without changing the story in any way. Which makes the magic nothing more than a decoration, which means this is not actually a fantasy novel. Nor is it a regency novel. It’s a contemporary romance in a Halloween costume.
Is through. So now we do the Friday, because its the way to get to Saturday.
Also, my REVIEWS are starting to show up on my BookLikes shelves!! Ooooh, I'm so happy to see them again!
Its funny, when I pulled my library and profile off Goodreads I pretty much stopped writing reviews. Still reading, but not reviewing. But when I saw Excession - which was the book I was reading when I ditched - show up on my currently reading I realized its been nearly six months SIX MONTHS!!! since I reviewed a book. And I miss it. I really do. So I'm happy to have gotten the impetus, finally, to clamber back on the horse.
Sometimes the only way out is through. Whether its a Friday or a website relationship(snort) that isn't really working any more.
Many Thanks to Denise for compiling this, I'm reblogging it to keep track of it for myself and make it available to anyone in my circles who might find it useful. Denise's text begins here:
There are quite a few tutorials on how to change the layout of your BookLikes blog. I figured it's good to have them all in one post, and I'd like to thank all who put a lot of work into making them so others can enjoy BookLikes.
Let's start with the customization blogs posted by BookLikes:
Tutorials made by BookLikers for BookLikers:
Note: All links open in a new window and take you to the original posts and their creators. Leave comments, likes and reblog the hell out of them so others can see it too :)
I've been meaning to read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms ever since it appeared in 2010, got good reviews from several of my friends, and then showed up on the nominations list for.... well, a boatload of awards, really! Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree, Locus, WFA... a nice greeting for a debut novel!
Only three years later I'm finally managing to wedge it into my reading life, and I'm a chapter in and having fun so far.